Lion’s Breath is a participatory, generative installation that amplifies the complicit role humans play in the sixth extinction. This immersive project reflects the role and impact of humankind on the loss of species in a global environment with reduced biodiversity. In the installation, we choreograph time to create an experience in which participants degrade an audio representation of the sixth extinction by contributing a single breath. The soundscape translates biodiversity to sonic variety—the taxonomy of animals is used to design musical structures that, with each breath, becomes sparser and more monotonous. It begins with a multilayered, wild orchestration of the lives of animals undergoing extinction. A part of the aural landscape is removed with each breath until the installation transforms to silence. Upon entrance, the projected image displays a blue sky with white clouds. Adding a breath to the installation animates a single-channel projected image to darken until the sky is black. In Lion’s Breath, breathing—essential for life, reduces the soundscape and fades the scene to black. Mass extinction requires no extraordinary activity on behalf of the individual. We present a poetic representation of human impact in a changing global landscape.
This semester Dr. Sabrina Starnaman and I continued our collaboration on a project that I have been calling a “recovery through mediation.” We worked with Dr. Starnaman’s class, Rebels, Reformers (and Recovery) to create a participatory media project that further recovers the text, Life in the Iron Mills by Rebecca Harding Davis. Published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1861, Life in the Iron Mills was first recovered—a once lost text now considered “a point of origin” for social realism–by Tillie Olsen on the Feminist Press (CUNY) in 1972. Students created a Mechanical Turk HIT (job) that asked Turkers to create self portraits expressing what they would imagine the Korl woman to look like. We sent these Turker selfies to a Fivver worker who created a 3D object file that we in turn fabricated as a larger-than-life portrait of a “digital Korl being.” The students then re-inscribed the sculpture with text from Davis’ novella. We are grateful for the support the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology showed us with a grant that put this pilot project into action.
ATEC graduate student Philip Barker helped us fabricate our 21st Century, mediated version of Davis’ Korl woman. Phil made this documentary video of the project as it unfolded in Spring 2016.
The Women of El Toro is a #CalHumanities funded project that Dan Sutko and I are working on in collaboration with the Center for Oral and Public History (COPH) at Cal State Fullerton this year. For the project we are developing a site-specific iOS app that augments The Great Park in Irvine, CA with oral histories told by female marines and wives of Marines who were stationed at El Toro in the 1940s (which happens to be on the very same ground as The Great Park). The interviews with these amazing women were created by COPH during the transition between the military base and the new park circa 2007 and have since been stored in an archive on campus at CSUF. Our app brings the important cultural history and community stories that COPH archived to the public while they might be experiencing a balloon ride, farmer’s market, children’s play area, soccer game, or even more banal infrastructure (the bathroom, the parking lot, or even just looking at the sky) in the Great Park.
The app should be available from the Apple Store this summer. For now, you can read more about the project in our interview with Cal Humanities.
Twitterbots automate the process of tweeting, proliferating the social tweet-scape with messages crafted for specific hashtags, themes, or replies. @IKnowTheseWords is a ‘bot I created to assist me in nearly automatically generating a wordhord from the OED Word of the Day (WotD) database in a “live” online environment. My ‘bot is a helper-agent. In order to develop my own database of known words it is essential that I talk back to my ‘bot, letting it know (and anyone else who views these tweets and replies) which words should be included. This process will take years as my ‘bot and I perform the tasks: tweeting an OED WotD, sorting each word, then capturing those that are part of my current vocabulary using a Twitter archiving Google spreadsheet. With two “I”s involved in the process of knowing—or not—these words, @IKnowTheseWords speaks predictably and intelligently as a ‘bot and randomly, with culturally specific musings as the “I” who replies to each tweet.
I’m sitting in the Burlington airport, awaiting my flight home from a sweet time in Montpelier, Vermont during “Hi-Res.” In opposition to the MFA low-residency program that alumni undergo at VCFA (some from as long ago as 1992!), Hi-Res is the first annual, multidisciplinary alumni conference for VCFA MFA students. In the good company of visual arts grads who presented works such as Ambivalently Yours by (I was going to include her name but remembered how she likes to remain anonymous online…let’s just say a 2012 graduate) and Cards Against Brutality (Kristin Serafini 2014), I presented my recent project Mediations on Digital Labor. MFA grads from the writing programs as well as a spectacular presentation made by Beth Bradfish from the Music Composition MFA program all centered on the theme of advocacy in the arts.
I’m still abuzz from my Vermont experience. VCFA never fails to deliver a sense of belonging, community, and commitment to our practices that fills the soul.
On May 2nd from 7-10pm I hope you will join me at Grand Central Art Center (Santa Ana, CA) in the Project Room for my opening of Mediations on Digital Labor.
The exhibitions statement follows:
Mediations on Digital Labor began with a hijacking of the Amazon.com Mechanical Turk website (Murk.com) for a critical, poetic, and alternative practice: Artist xtine burrough hired the Turkers to pause from physical labor.
As a play on the Mturk model, for which an industrial-sized, global workforce is paid less than minimum wage to work in untraced conditions, earning “rewards” paid on Amazon.com gift cards, the artist offered her set of workers 25 cents to break from labor for up to five minutes. She instructed the rested workers to describe their experience in 10-100 words. Trebor Scholz uses the word “playbor” (as in play/labor) to identify the tension between digital work and play that takes place not just on sites like Mturk.com but in all facets of online pseudo-participation. Scholz writes that in digital culture, “It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between play, consumption and production, life and work, labor and non-labor.”
When more than 50 Turkers took burrough up on her alternative job she imagined the international group sitting together, respecting each other in silence. Though it is impossible to target a single worker, or a group of workers, for employment on Mturk.com she posted another “HIT” (Amazon’s word for “job” is “human intelligence task” or HIT) requesting a 10-second video of the worker chanting the word “Om,” for which she paid 75 cents per video and received nearly 30 responses. These videos became the pool of digital data stored on the jump-drives hanging from the Grand Central Art Center Project Room’s walls. Each digital container has one file, a single disembodied “Om” chant from a virtual worker. The workforce extends from the USA to India, and these chants are in various mother tongues. One of them was made electronically, the computer itself speak/chanting “Om.” Some of the videos include an image. Many are black or some variation on pink or red, the color made when a video-maker’s finger is pressed against the camera lens to conceal her identity.
On the floor of the gallery burrough has spent time in silence drawing out the Turkers’ feedback in chalk. Presented here is a small selection of the data, on her hard drive there is more than she could fit on the floor. Burrough chose the texts that resonate with her own experiences with intentional resting, or meditation. As viewers step into the gallery her chalk letters are unencrypted, analog data for human participants that morphs and erodes. Viewers are encouraged to participate: Reach for the sky to select a (now recycled) recording of the Om chant, or sit on the ground and rest. Use the chalk provided to add your feedback. What was it like to rest, intentionally, for a couple of minutes? How did you feel before and after your rest?
Like Scholz’s gray space between play and labor, this collection of digital chants, compiled from a virtual job board, showcases the voices of disembodied strangers making a sound that can accompany one’s return to her body at a vibrational frequency found throughout the natural world.
This is a first attempt at assembling a group chant from single media submissions I have received in an on-going call on the Mturk.com website for “Om Chants.” Yes, it’s sort of a weird job to ask the Turkers (as the workers call themselves) to complete. One worker labeled his file, “A Chant for all Turkmanity.” Indeed.