Working with the Turks, again

I can’t stop myself from working with the Mechanical Turk workforce. As a digital media artist with a participatory, collaborative trajectory, the great thing about the Turkers is that they are totally willing to collaborate on digital projects at a price I can afford. I consider my Amazon payments to be the price of “art supplies,” in the same way a painter has to buy brushes and paints…And as far as the Turkers are concerned, I think that much of the work they do on the site basically constitutes a digital sweatshop. The laborers are far underpaid and work in conditions that go undocumented (that is, who knows how much time they spend working or if computing-related health hazards occur because of their work on Mturk). So I hope that my projects, which mostly get them off of the screen and encourage some kind of in body experience, are worth the small payments that I can afford.

So I was trying to think of a way to work with the Turkers again in 2015, seen as how it is not an Olympic year (for those years I host the Mechanical Olympics and the Turkers perform athletic, sometimes silly, Olympic-style events). I had a bit of an “aha” moment one night this January, as I was reviewing events of the week with the Turkers tucked away somewhere in the back of my mind. During that week I had an incredibly fruitful meditation session. Now, I can’t say that I meditate regularly. I try to do it everyday but it often doesn’t happen. However, there was this one day, one time, that I felt truly rested when I came out of the meditation. I thought: Wow, that’s what it’s all about. I felt my body gain something tangible from just resting for several minutes. As I revisited that experience I had the simultaneous thought: That’s it! The Turkers should rest! So…off I went to my requester account to pay the Turker workforce for doing: Absolutely nothing. Please, let me pay you to do nothing. Let me pay you to rest and experience what it is like to just sit for a few minutes with nothing to do but be.

In the instructions, I asked the Turkers to set a timer and rest for 1 to 5 minutes. Then I collected their thoughts (they were encouraged to write 10-100 words about their experience). Here are a few thoughts from the Turkers on being paid to rest or just on resting, in general:

  • I rested for 3 minutes. To be honest, it wasn’t as restful as I would have liked, since I have a horrible stomach ache, and I don’t want to be working right now, so I spent the time wondering how to avoid these situations in the future.
  • Well, my rest consisted of sitting here and fidgeting. I have a hard time just sitting still with my eyes closed. Also my cat started using my leg as a scratching post and my fiance asked me why I was sitting there with my eyes closed and if I was all right. It wasn’t too terrible though. It was nice to not do any hits for a minute (well 4 minutes) Thank you.
  • My rest was a much needed break from all of the stress I am under right now, so thank you! I closed my eyes in bed and the few minutes that went by passed so slowly. It really was great!
  • I went and relaxed on the sofa in my office for three minutes. It was nice to take a break from staring at the computer screen, though I wish had it been a bit longer. It was a short, but enjoyable break that I appreciated.
  • i laid on the couch with my cat for two minutes. then thought i’d fall asleep and forget to submit this. now, i’m going to go take a nap since i was so comfortable there.

Cal Humanities Grant Proposal > Work Samples

The following links to an iOS app and a website, an interview transcript (PDF), and an interview audio file (MP3) are included in support of xtine burrough and Dan Sutko’s proposal, The Women of El Toro:


The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies

xtine holding routledge companion to remix studies

Nearly three years ago Eduardo Navas and Owen Gallagher reached out to me to collaborate on a book project they had been developing on remix studies. Just weeks ago, our years of working together arrived on my doorstep in hard-cover form: The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies.

The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies comprises contemporary texts by key authors and artists who are active in the emerging field of remix studies. As an organic international movement, remix culture originated in the popular music culture of the 1970s, and has since grown into a rich cultural activity encompassing numerous forms of media.

The act of recombining pre-existing material brings up pressing questions of authenticity, reception, authorship, copyright, and the techno-politics of media activism. This book approaches remix studies from various angles, including sections on history, aesthetics, ethics, politics, and practice, and presents theoretical chapters alongside case studies of remix projects. The companion website is a valuable resource for readers, educators, and students.

This project was truly fun to work on and I’m honored to have collaborated with so many creative and thoughtful artists and scholars.

Handmade Scroll of Jack Holding His Scroll

Halftone scroll of jack holding his scroll

Halftone Scroll of Jack Holding His Scroll.
Digital prints on vellum with Highland tape, 5.5 by 14 feet.
Right wall: Marked-up book and On The Web via touch-device.

Image tiling in Illustrator was the key to production in the making of this giant scroll of Jack holding his scroll. A happy accident: The pixelization in the halftone pattern sort of looks like a copyright symbol (appropriate seen as how the image this is based upon is appropriated from a photograph taken long ago by Gerry Nicosia) and/or a smiley face (an image that sometimes appeared on LSD stickers, I forget how I know this but it’s not by direct experience…anyhow, Jack would have probably liked that reference even though the publication of On The Road was a little ahead of the Timothy Leary era).

On Brands and Branding in Chapman’s 2013 Design Symposium Branding Issue

x with chapman journal

Chapman University 2013 Design Symposium: The Branding Issue, Vol. 1, Issue 1

Chapman University published its first design journal to accompany their 2013 Design Symposium. Though I wasn’t able to attend the symposium, my article, On Brands and Branding was included in the journal—a beautiful, hard-cover issue that also includes contributions from Brittany Rosenblatt, selections from the 2013 Orange County Design Awards, Iridium Group, and Armin Vit.

keep calm and carry on in pixels

From footnote 21: Remaining quiet and immobile creates a mass audience that remains passive and more easily manipulated.

My article, “On Death Brands and Dying Branding” is a selective remix of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ 1969 book, On Death and Dying. The words “brand” and “branding” are substituted in salient quotes from Kübler-Ross’ text for the words “death” and “dying.” The Swiss-born psychiatrist developed her “5 Stages of Grief” hypothesis to help the medical industry understand the emotional processes undergone by patients suffering from terminal illnesses. By substituting “brand/branding” for Kübler-Ross’ primary target (death/dying), I suggest a culture in which brands and branding are the norm will enact a process of grieving akin to that of the terminally ill.

“On Death Brands and Dying Branding” appears on pages 39-47, but the bulk of the investigation is within the footnotes, pages 44-7.

Walk On Wire

walk on wire on an iphone 4

Walk On Wire previewed on an iPhone 4.

My goal this summer was to create an app for publication in the iTunes store, and here we are nearing the end of July and the app is available! I watched the better part of 3 videos and cobbled together a lot of code I found out there on the web. The Apple Developer program, thank goodness, comes with two free emailed Q+A with an Apple guru. I only had to use one of them (saving the other in case something else comes up). So here it is: I created Walk On Wire in homage to Philippe Petit’s famous high-wire walk between the NYC Twin Towers on August 7th, 1974 (he performed this only 20 days before I was born in Albany).

xtine walking on virtual wire

xtine walks her virtual wire, nearly 40 years after Petit’s NYC high wire performance.

You can download the app for your iphone or ipad. Open it, click and hold to create a pin, telling the app where your walk should start and end. Your virtual high wire will be drawn between your two pins and the view shifts to an aerial perspective.

Part balancing and athletic challenge, part game, part homage to Philippe Petit’s NYC high-wire walk, this app enables anyone to experience what it’s like to perform a high-wire walk without leaving the ground. Just keep one thing in mind: Don’t look down!