All posts by Michael Connor

Rhizome Today: Digital Preservation Book Report

This is Rhizome Today for Tuesday, January 13, 2015. This post will be deleted on January 14.

 

In preparation for my upcoming (Dragan Espenschied-inspired) class "Storage Wars and Data Dumps: Narrating Digital Archives," which will run over seven sessions at NYU's ITP program, I've been catching up on my digital preservation reading. In particular, I finally cracked open Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito's Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory, which looks at digital preservation primarily as a social process, and argues that digital objects should not be fixed in a specific historical state but allowed to be re-used and re-made. Only through the variability that attends social use and circulation can digital objects be expected to survive.

In its emphasis on the social, the book forms an interesting counterpoint to Matthew Kirschenbaum's Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, which focuses on digital preservation as a material process--opposed to the common rhetoric around new media as an "immaterial" or "ephemeral" medium. Kirschenbaum discusses social processes in depth as well, but subsumes these as components in a larger materialist perspective.

I found it striking that there was so little reference to Kirschenbaum in Re-collection, and I wanted to think about the relationships between their respective approaches in more depth. Luckily, Annet Dekker already made a start on this. Writing in the Journal of Computational Culture, she pointed out that even the concept of "variability" versus "fixity" in digital preservation--characterized by, say, the perfect copy versus the recreation--breaks down on a material level:

As Matthew Kirschenbaum explains: "One can, in a very literal sense, never access the "same" electronic file twice, since each and every access constitutes a distinct instance of the file that will be addressed and stored in a unique location in computer memory. [1]

Thus, as argued by Kirschenbaum in the same article, "preservation is creation – and recreation." In other words, the distinction between creation and preservation collapses. The copy is seen as the result of a process of copying. In this case, the notion of variability may not be very helpful because it is questionable whether the copy is an instantiation of the original or if it is something new. 

Even the process of making a digital copy, then, enacts a certain transformation. I enjoyed this perceptive analysis, but I wonder if it, in fact, highlights common ground rather than philosophical distinctions. The term variability is, I think, intended less as a technical description than as a guideline for institutions to rethink their institutional practices. In this context, Kirschenbaum's argument that each digital copy of a file is, in a way, a recreation, only reinforces this point. 

In other words: "Everything inside the computer is a performance."

 

 

Rhizome Today: A split-screen society

This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and usually taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at rhizome.org/today. This post will not be deleted.

 

Today, we're republishing our past Today columns on #Ferguson, thinking of Eric Garner's family, and considering how to address our own involvement in a brutal and racist system.

This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, August 14, 2014. (By Rhizome Staff)

Dread Scott, Sign of the Times (2001)

Peter Watkins, Punishment Park (1971)

James Baldwin, via Huw Lemmey:

When a city goes under martial law, everybody in the city is under martial law. If I can't go out and buy a loaf of bread safely, then neither can the housewife. That’s why she's on the range, learning how to shoot a pistol, in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

They're confusing themselves with the Indians, you know, they're back on the wagon train. But we all know who's in the streets of America. We all know to whom we are referring when we talk about "crime in the streets". We know the son of the president of Pan Am is not in the streets. Only one person in the streets—that's me! And they’re plotting to shoot me, in the name of "freedom", dignified by "law". And I'm supposed to agree.

No, no, no sir. I won't be disorderly no more. Alas, the party is over. The question is "what shall we do?". Everybody knows it. The question is in everybody’s lap. From Washington to London, to Bonn. Everybody knows it. They're trying to figure out what to do. We should figure out what to do. 

Martine Syms, Reading Trayvon Martin (2012-ongoing)

Tracy Clayton's Twitter list of people actually in Ferguson right now.

Isaac Julien, Territories (1984). Still frame from video.


This is Rhizome Today for Monday, August 18, 2014 (by Michael Connor)

Forensics

With the escalating attacks by government security forces on the civilian population of Ferguson, Missouri, we've seen a number of people take to social media to ask why police in the United States don't have dashboard cameras and helmet cameras as a matter of course.

These arguments reminded me of the fact that the video made by George Holliday of Los Angeles Police Department officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano assaulting Rodney King was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial. In the context of the biennial's focus on art as a political practice, the video was seen to have merit because of the social transformation it wrought, even though it wasn't intended as an artwork per se; Holliday probably had the shortest artist bio ever found in a Biennial catalogue.

The killing of Michael Brown, in contrast, was not caught on tape, and this is one of the reasons it has become such a flash point. In the context of differing claims made by witnesses and police, the absence of a video record begins to seem suspicious. Video forensics can be a powerful tool, and in the months to come I fully expect and hope that video evidence be used to convict those officers who went just over the legal line in an otherwise officially sanctioned effort to bring violence and chaos to the community of Ferguson.

But forensic evidence, video and otherwise, has its limits. This point was underlined over the weekend when a private autopsy concluded that Michael Brown was shot once in the top of the head. Per the presiding Dr. Michael Baden: "This [wound] here looks like his head was bent downward...[this] can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer."

Forensic objects must be interpreted and narrated, and the ways in which they are narrated often reflect existing power imbalances. This is true for medical reports as well as for helmetcams. As Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizman pointed out in the wall text of their co-organized exhibition Forensis at HKW, the Roman forum was a "multi-dimensional space of negotiation and truth-finding in which humans and objects participated together in politics, law and the economy." In their review of the exhibition for Rhizome, Harry Burke and Lucy Chinen observed that this multi-dimensional space has been replaced with a cultural bias towards material evidence; in this context, witness accounts are "deemed unverifiable and thus illegitimate by scientific communities."

To contest the official "truths" of Ferguson, we need to advocate not only for helmet cams, but for a public discourse in which witness accounts are considered legitimate even when scientifically unverifiable, in which human accounts participate equally with forensic objects. As Burke and Chinen put it, "forensics is a political practice primarily at the point of interpretation." The truth is not only documented, it is also narrated.

What is most urgent now is not only to celebrate the new generation of George Hollidays livestreaming the protests via smartphones, but to listen to the witnesses as well. To listen to #Ferguson. [MC]

@brokeymcpoverty's Twitter list of people in Ferguson:https://twitter.com/brokeymcpoverty/lists/ferguson-locals-journos

Burke & Chinen on Forensis:http://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/apr/1/forensis-haus-der-kulteren-der-welt-berlin/

Baden and Parcell's Report on the autopsy:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/us/michael-brown-autopsy-shows-he-was-shot-at-least-6-times.html


This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, November 26, 2014. (By Lucy Chinen)

As when the news of Michael Brown's death first broke through into national conversation, the past few days I've seen people tweeting and facebooking about the level of filtering that goes on in our social media feeds during times of public outcry. Sensing distortion in her own feed during the August #Ferguson protests, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci compared filtering across platforms for related terms. She made clear the threat, asking: "Would Ferguson be buried in algorithmic censorship?"

Yet in the days following the grand jury decision, while on certain sites still slow to trend, Ferguson is now more or less everywhere, being felt and experienced visibly and globally. (See, for instance, the hashtags in solidarity circulating in other regions.). It is unknown whether this is the result of a skew in the algorithm in response to criticism about the lack of visibility in August, or an increase in personal responses that burst a strong-as-ever bubble.

The study of "digital phenomena"—how they are shaped by algorithms and locale, how they leak into the streets, the efficacy of online or offline protest, the quantification of circulation via that trope of the sudden spike in a graph—doesn't really describe the difficulties and pitfalls inherent in trying to interpret the events of Ferguson from a geographic, or academic, distance. To correct for that, I think it's helpful to look, as well, to a project like Martine Syms' continually compelling Reading Trayvon Martin. The project collects Syms' personal bookmarks in a long, text-only list, serving as a record of the intense attention she paid to the trial. This simple bibliographic format speaks to the familiar and widely shared experience of navigating through the onslaught of press, witness accounts, and opinions in order to position yourself within a broader "public opinion."

But the bibliography is overlaid by images of the objects that surrounded Martin's killing, and became synecdoches for that loss and for the larger public tragedy of racism and violence in America: the hoodie, the Skittles, the Arizona iced tea. If immersing oneself in the flows of news can lead to a problematic sense of detachment, objectivity, or fascination, Syms' project is a reminder that at the heart of this conversation is very real grief, demanding empathy and solidarity.

Rhizome Today: A split-screen society

This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and usually taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at rhizome.org/today. This post will not be deleted.

 

Today, we're republishing our past Today columns on #Ferguson, thinking of Eric Garner's family, and considering how to address our own involvement in a brutal and racist system.

This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, August 14, 2014. (By Rhizome Staff)

Dread Scott, Sign of the Times (2001)

Peter Watkins, Punishment Park (1971)

James Baldwin, via Huw Lemmey:

When a city goes under martial law, everybody in the city is under martial law. If I can't go out and buy a loaf of bread safely, then neither can the housewife. That’s why she's on the range, learning how to shoot a pistol, in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

They're confusing themselves with the Indians, you know, they're back on the wagon train. But we all know who's in the streets of America. We all know to whom we are referring when we talk about "crime in the streets". We know the son of the president of Pan Am is not in the streets. Only one person in the streets—that's me! And they’re plotting to shoot me, in the name of "freedom", dignified by "law". And I'm supposed to agree.

No, no, no sir. I won't be disorderly no more. Alas, the party is over. The question is "what shall we do?". Everybody knows it. The question is in everybody’s lap. From Washington to London, to Bonn. Everybody knows it. They're trying to figure out what to do. We should figure out what to do. 

Martine Syms, Reading Trayvon Martin (2012-ongoing)

Tracy Clayton's Twitter list of people actually in Ferguson right now.

Isaac Julien, Territories (1984). Still frame from video.


This is Rhizome Today for Monday, August 18, 2014 (by Michael Connor)

Forensics

With the escalating attacks by government security forces on the civilian population of Ferguson, Missouri, we've seen a number of people take to social media to ask why police in the United States don't have dashboard cameras and helmet cameras as a matter of course.

These arguments reminded me of the fact that the video made by George Holliday of Los Angeles Police Department officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano assaulting Rodney King was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial. In the context of the biennial's focus on art as a political practice, the video was seen to have merit because of the social transformation it wrought, even though it wasn't intended as an artwork per se; Holliday probably had the shortest artist bio ever found in a Biennial catalogue.

The killing of Michael Brown, in contrast, was not caught on tape, and this is one of the reasons it has become such a flash point. In the context of differing claims made by witnesses and police, the absence of a video record begins to seem suspicious. Video forensics can be a powerful tool, and in the months to come I fully expect and hope that video evidence be used to convict those officers who went just over the legal line in an otherwise officially sanctioned effort to bring violence and chaos to the community of Ferguson.

But forensic evidence, video and otherwise, has its limits. This point was underlined over the weekend when a private autopsy concluded that Michael Brown was shot once in the top of the head. Per the presiding Dr. Michael Baden: "This [wound] here looks like his head was bent downward...[this] can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer."

Forensic objects must be interpreted and narrated, and the ways in which they are narrated often reflect existing power imbalances. This is true for medical reports as well as for helmetcams. As Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizman pointed out in the wall text of their co-organized exhibition Forensis at HKW, the Roman forum was a "multi-dimensional space of negotiation and truth-finding in which humans and objects participated together in politics, law and the economy." In their review of the exhibition for Rhizome, Harry Burke and Lucy Chinen observed that this multi-dimensional space has been replaced with a cultural bias towards material evidence; in this context, witness accounts are "deemed unverifiable and thus illegitimate by scientific communities."

To contest the official "truths" of Ferguson, we need to advocate not only for helmet cams, but for a public discourse in which witness accounts are considered legitimate even when scientifically unverifiable, in which human accounts participate equally with forensic objects. As Burke and Chinen put it, "forensics is a political practice primarily at the point of interpretation." The truth is not only documented, it is also narrated.

What is most urgent now is not only to celebrate the new generation of George Hollidays livestreaming the protests via smartphones, but to listen to the witnesses as well. To listen to #Ferguson. [MC]

@brokeymcpoverty's Twitter list of people in Ferguson:https://twitter.com/brokeymcpoverty/lists/ferguson-locals-journos

Burke & Chinen on Forensis:http://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/apr/1/forensis-haus-der-kulteren-der-welt-berlin/

Baden and Parcell's Report on the autopsy:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/us/michael-brown-autopsy-shows-he-was-shot-at-least-6-times.html


This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, November 26, 2014. (By Lucy Chinen)

As when the news of Michael Brown's death first broke through into national conversation, the past few days I've seen people tweeting and facebooking about the level of filtering that goes on in our social media feeds during times of public outcry. Sensing distortion in her own feed during the August #Ferguson protests, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci compared filtering across platforms for related terms. She made clear the threat, asking: "Would Ferguson be buried in algorithmic censorship?"

Yet in the days following the grand jury decision, while on certain sites still slow to trend, Ferguson is now more or less everywhere, being felt and experienced visibly and globally. (See, for instance, the hashtags in solidarity circulating in other regions.). It is unknown whether this is the result of a skew in the algorithm in response to criticism about the lack of visibility in August, or an increase in personal responses that burst a strong-as-ever bubble.

The study of "digital phenomena"—how they are shaped by algorithms and locale, how they leak into the streets, the efficacy of online or offline protest, the quantification of circulation via that trope of the sudden spike in a graph—doesn't really describe the difficulties and pitfalls inherent in trying to interpret the events of Ferguson from a geographic, or academic, distance. To correct for that, I think it's helpful to look, as well, to a project like Martine Syms' continually compelling Reading Trayvon Martin. The project collects Syms' personal bookmarks in a long, text-only list, serving as a record of the intense attention she paid to the trial. This simple bibliographic format speaks to the familiar and widely shared experience of navigating through the onslaught of press, witness accounts, and opinions in order to position yourself within a broader "public opinion."

But the bibliography is overlaid by images of the objects that surrounded Martin's killing, and became synecdoches for that loss and for the larger public tragedy of racism and violence in America: the hoodie, the Skittles, the Arizona iced tea. If immersing oneself in the flows of news can lead to a problematic sense of detachment, objectivity, or fascination, Syms' project is a reminder that at the heart of this conversation is very real grief, demanding empathy and solidarity.

Bodies on the Line

"You can have the party. Give us the power!"

Andrea Fraser had already been onstage in front of a packed house at the New Orleans Museum of Art's auditorium for more than half an hour. Dressed in a black suit, she was delivering a monologue based on the transcript of an epic 1991 city council meeting. In that meeting, an ordinance was discussed that would ban discrimination in any of the social clubs that apply for parade permits in New Orleans. The discussion opened up into a marathon airing of thoughts and grievances on racism, heritage, and the role of the carnival in a city defined, in many ways, by its Mardi Gras.

Fraser's performance was astonishing. In one moment, she would be raising her voice in anger, playing the role of an activist speaking on behalf of marginalized black communities in a largely white district. In the next breath, she would be stridently castigating that activist, channeling the presumably white woman who represented these affluent uptown neighborhoods. Then, a nervous bumpkin who hadn't been to a council meeting since elementary school, interspersed with drawling asides from a dry, imperturbable council president. The performance wasn't just based on city council archives; it seemed to tap into an archive of gesture and voice and facial expression and lived experience, brought together, through performance, in the body of the artist.

The line paraphrased above was from one particularly powerful speaker, who made the argument that the economic benefits of Mardi Gras were unevenly distributed. Who, she asked, owns the hotels and restaurants? Who even gets to work in those establishments? If Mardi Gras generates $400 million in economic activity, and $35 million of that ends up in city and state coffers, then where was the rest of it going? Not to the city's many disintegrating black communities, who are so important to the city's culture. It was at this moment that the performance began folding back on itself. It was at once a profoundly moving testament to what art can do, to what it can be, and a critique of its own context. It was impossible not to draw a parallel between the unevenly distributed benefits from Mardi Gras and those derived from Prospect.3, the Biennial that commissioned it. And it did this while paying devastatingly powerful tribute to the city and its people.

Artists who attempt to grapple with the ethics of their host institutions would do well to look hard at Fraser's work. This week, another performance work (this one playing out in a hotel room, by email, and on social media, with a series of drawings generated as part of it) has garnered a great deal of discussion. Ryder Ripps' ART WHORE was made in response to an invitation from a hotel to stay in a room and make art for one night, and be reimbursed up to $50 in supplies. Ripps' response to this appraisal of his value, which he has characterized as exploitative in his online discussions of the project, was to hire people who were advertising sexual services on Craigslist and commission them to make drawings and pose with them for his Instagram feed, where they became fodder for a social media shitstorm in which Ripps has avidly participated.

Comparing and contrasting this work with Fraser's performance is instructive. Both works involved people who were in a position of less power than the artist. Both works made use of content created by these people.

But the differences are instructive. Fraser did not put any words in their mouths apart from their own; Ripps did, often making the claim that they were fine with the experience or enjoyed it. Fraser did not use labels except those used by her subjects; Ripps seems only ever to refer to his participants as sex workers. Fraser's work did not visually represent her subjects' bodies, but Ripps' did. Fraser used her own body in her performance as a way of making her own position (of power) visible; Ripps depicted his own body in the full documentation video, but not in the more widely circulated photographs.

By choosing to narrate the experiences, define the identities, and depict the bodies of those in a less powerful subject position than him, Ripps acted in a way that was ethically unsound: It reinforced and did not interrogate inequitable power relationships. (The argument has been made that no one was hurt and that there was therefore no ethical problem, but this is actually beside the point, and also, the only ones who can say that for sure are Ripps' "sex workers.")

This claim shouldn't be controversial; it seems pretty much aligned with Ripps' intentions going into the project. The work was framed as a response to the often asymmetrical power relationship between brands and the artists they hire; this asymmetry was performed in the relationship between artist and the "sex workers" he hired.

Some defenders have bandied about the name Santiago Sierra, which offers us another useful opportunity for compare and contrast. Sierra has staged spectacles in which participants are hired to perform exhausting, painful, and demeaning tasks for menial pay; this labor is made visible as a performance, often in a gallery or museum. For his work Nine Forms of 100x100x600cm Each, Constructed to Be Supported Perpendicular to A Wall (2002), a series of crude rectangular volumes are displayed in the gallery, supported at one end on the gallery wall and on the other by several dozen workers. This work was shown at Deitch Projects in 2002, with a press release consisting only of Sierra’s proposal for the work. In it he demands that: "The workers will always remain facing the wall and have to be Mexican or Central American."

One reviewer described the experience of seeing the work in the gallery as follows:

The workers in the gallery were neither exclusively from his two areas of preference, nor were all facing the wall. They were slightly bemused, somewhat pissed and eager to voice their opinions about the work, which were polite, but, as might be expected, negative. The workers were also very good at getting around their absurd job, and asked viewers to stand in their place to see what it was like. One pulled down his shirt to show me the bruised shoulder on which Sierra’s large minimalist forms were supported. At that point, the white, thrift-store-clad gallery attendant came over and asked if everything was OK. (Menick)

Sierra's work and Ripps' both involve paid workers, from sectors of the labor force that are undervalued and not infrequently in harm's way, in the production of a work or exhibition. Both make the economic transaction behind this involvement explicit. Both reveal the bodies of the participants. Both reveal the specifics of the underlying economic transactions.

One central proposition of Sierra's work is that the gallery visitor is prompted to confront his or her own role in the perpetuation of inequity and oppression: What cause could there be for imposing such discomfort on the workers, except to present this situation to an audience? It's not just the institution; the visitor is the root cause of this exploitation. In order to do this, Sierra not only foregrounds the economic transaction, he also makes it explicit that the job required will be painful and is only available to people of a more marginalized racial group.

In contrast, by playing down the role of race and downplaying the potential negativity of his participants' experiences, Ripps makes it less obvious to the viewer that inequity is in fact being perpetuated, and many have argued that his actions were not unethical. Thus, the work can't be defended on the basis that it reminds the viewer of their complicity. If measured by the standard of Sierra's work, it is a miserable failure.

To be perfectly clear, giving this project positive attention, and to some extent any attention at all, does make one complicit in Ripps' unethical actions. I'd rather not write about it, because this makes us even more involved, but it became necessary to do so because we are already complicit in the attention this project has received, thanks to our support of his earlier work and our public statements on Twitter yesterday, in response to requests for comment.

I once tweeted that no one understands the "biopolitics of branding" better than Ripps, in other words, that he understands the way that brands get inside you. Someone who understood the biopolitics of branding should understand that, as a curator and writer who has previously bought into and supported on a personal and organizational level, the brand of Ryder Ripps became a part of me and of Rhizome, and our public knows this. In fact, our support for Ripps' earlier work, most recently with a prominent nomination in the Prix Net Art, is one small reason why people have felt all fucked up about his project for the past few days. ART WHORE essentially forced us into taking a position. On the one hand, silence, which would be (and was) interpreted as tacit approval of the project; on the other, public disavowal of the work.

If the project was intended as an elaborate troll, which is the most generous possible interpretation, then it was still not interesting. A more nuanced troll would have forced us to confront contradictions in our own position, making it difficult to make any statement at all. The lines drawn by Ripps' project are just a little too clear; we have little doubt about our own position, and binary opposition seems like the only possible result.

Right now, we are seeing a crisis resulting from the perceived erosion of the internet (and of technology in general) as a white male-dominated space. The effort to police that space in subtle ways or via outright harassment in order to retain control will inevitably fail, but it is already clear that the effort to foster an internet culture that supports a diversity of digital experience will take persistence over years, in the face of bitter opposition.

Fraser offers us a glimpse of how bitter arguments can suddenly open up into moments of possibility, yielding real social change. In the meeting that came to life again in her performance, antagonistic viewpoints were expressed, voices were raised, names were called, people were ejected forcibly. And yet, in the end, something happened that made things a little less unjust in the Crescent City, and the vote was unanimous. I still get chills thinking about it.

 

Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ripps did not appear on camera; as corrected above, he did not appear in still documents, but he was prominent in a webcam stream.

First Look: Amalia Ulman—Excellences & Perfections

Amalia Ulman's social media performance Excellences & Perfections is presented as part of First Look, the ongoing series of digital projects co-curated and copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum. For this presentation, Rhizome's new social media archiving tool was used to capture the Instagram portion of the performance. View that capture here.

Amalia Ulman, Excellences & Perfections, 2014 (detail). Performance: Instagram. Courtesy the artist.

On April 19, 2014, Amalia Ulman uploaded an image to her Instagram account of the words "Part I" in black serifed lettering on a white background. The caption read, cryptically, "Excellences & Perfections." It received twenty-eight likes.

For the next several months, she conducted a scripted online performance via her Instagram and Facebook profiles. As part of this project, titled Excellences & Perfections, Ulman underwent an extreme, semi-fictionalized makeover. 

She pretended to have a breast augmentation, posting images of herself in a hospital gown and with a bandaged chest, using a padded bra and Photoshop to manipulate her image. Other elements of the makeover were not feigned; she followed the Zao Dha Diet strictly, for example, and went to pole-dancing lessons often.

Through judicious use of sets, props, and locations, Excellences & Perfections evoked a consumerist fantasy lifestyle. Ulman's Instagram account is a parade of carefully arranged flowers and expensive lingerie and highly groomed interiors and perfectly plated brunches. These images are excessive, but also believable—because they're so familiar. For many privileged users, social media is a way of selling one's lifestyle, of building one's brand. And Ulman went to great lengths to replicate the narrative conventions of these privileged feeds, from her use of captions and hashtags (#simple, #cutegasm), to the pace and timing of uploads, to the discerning inclusion of "authentic" intimate or emotional content (a photo of a lover or a moment of despair).

Critic Brian Droitcour has described the rise of social media as a rebalancing of image-making power: the "aestheticization of everyday life in social media…has leeched the authority of image-making from mass media and from art." In an important shift, social media has given far more people than ever before the means to self-publish.

At the same time, though, the power relations on social media simply mirror those at play in the world at large. Powerful, savvy people are powerful, savvy social media users. Even while power is leeched away from traditional mass media and the established art world, social media too often reproduces or even amplifies the same kinds of cultural values seen in those spheres. As artist Hannah Black has written, "Once, only the professional Hot Babe adorned all major media outlets; now social media makes of everyone a Hot Babe, should they be willing."

In response to these conditions, Ulman conceived of Excellences & Perfections as a "boycott" of her own online persona. For three months, she allowed her profiles to be exactly what social media seems to demand—that she be a "Hot Babe." As a result, she garnered the support of other women who had endured similar makeovers or procedures. She earned criticism for seeming to promote retrograde physical ideals, she was the target of cheap flattery, vulgar propositions, and abusive comments. Her close friends were often confused, unable to demarcate the Ulman of social media as a separate fiction, even when she would try to explain the project away from the keyboard. By repeating a lie for three months, she created a truth that she was unable to dismantle.

On September 14, 2014, Ulman posted a black-and-white photograph of a rose, the kind of banal image one might find in a frame purchased at a "tasteful" department store. The caption read, "THE END-EXCELLENCES AND PERFECTIONS." It received 129 likes.

Amalia Ulman discussed Excellences & Perfections last week as part of "Do You Follow? Art in Circulation," copresented in London by Rhizome and the ICA. Watch below:

Amalia Ulman's Instagram was captured using Colloq, Rhizome's protoype social media archiving tool. Colloq is funded by the Knight Foundation and is based on the web archiving toolchain pywb, developed by Ilya Kreymer.

First Look Sponsors

First Look is made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Additional support provided by the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund.