10 January 2006

Universal Acid in SURGE

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Beginning today (and extending through all of internet eternity, depending on how you look at it), Abe Linkoln and I are included in an online exhibition called Surge. The show is organized by Free103Point9 and Rhizome and it includes our Universal Acid project, along with several other very interesting transmission-related projects by others. Here's the description:

Surge includes works by artists 31 Down, Abe Linkoln and Marisa Olson, Angel Nevarez and Alex Rivera, NYSAE (New York Society for Acoustic Ecology), Jim Punk, and Leslie Sharpe. The featured projects employ new media tools to both conceptually and formally address different possibilities for transmission art online. Some consider the nature of signals as they move through the ether; others appropriate forms of wireless transmission, such as the military’s aerial ‘drone’ or the programming language AsCii, to propose new kinds of digital communication. A public presentation in conjunction with the exhibition will take place at Participant, Inc, in New York on March 28, 2006.

And while I'm at it, here are some [admittedly lengthy] excerpts from our original proposal:

In Universal Acid, the artists will use a video blog as a bulletin board to trace their transmission, manipulation, and re-broadcast of music videos. The content of the videos will trace the evolution of recording technologies, while also creating a visual narrative about the evolution of a work of art. [....] While the moniker may evoke the senses of science fiction & psychedelia employed in these videos, “Universal Acid” is actually the phrase that Daniel Dennett famously uses to describe Darwin’s notion of evolution. His point is one about the concept, itself, and the conditions of its transmission—that the notion of ‘evolution’ is so far-reaching as to transcend field and genre, and that it is so powerful as to eat away at traditional worldviews. Dennett argues that Darwinism is about more than natural selection; it reveals that complexity can arise by itself through automated algorithms, rather than by intelligent design.

While viewers will by no means need a background in science in order to understand the Universal Acid vlog, the project will nonetheless take up the tropes of automation and complexity. Like a strange “culture,” our videos will mutate and grow within the controlled environment of a video blog. Each experimental step will be recorded and transmitted, and yet the viewers might be challenged to test their own faith with regard to the fidelity of the media engaged by the artists.

Indeed, what happens when a video contagion enters the environment of a performative blog? Sometimes, through replication, evolution leads to degradation. In these instances, what happens to the identity of the species? And what is the relationship between the origin and the copy, the producer and the receiver? While the songs selected for recording by the artists will be inspired by nearly three decades of obsessive radio listenership, what difference does it make that the channel of transmission, in this case, will be a “static” (though nonetheless highly self-reflexive) vlog, rather than a dynamic space of flows, like the radio? [....]

The practice of applying metaphors of evolution to culture has an admittedly shady background, as doing so has often formed the raison d’être for imperialism and cultural “standardization.” The discourse of science accounts for this practice, in its use of Richard Dawkins’s term, “meme,” an analogue to the gene referring to non-genetic units of replication. It is through memes, often called “viruses of the mind,” that cultural information becomes transmitted and rebroadcast.

Evolution is, itself, a mechanical process. The doctrine that describes it is one informed by a modern culture obsessed with parts and their functions. When parts (songs, video clips, images, technologies) are sampled outside of their original context, or distorted to play a different role, the result of those memetic transmissions just might be a radical corrosion. And it might even be fun to watch!


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