Art in a State of Mobility

Mason Gross Presents 

Panel Discussion


Tuesday, October 25, 2016, 5–7 P.M.


Mirene Arsanios
Mariam Ghani
Daniela Kostova

Modereated by:

Sara Raza

The theme of the panel organized for Fall 2016 is a response to the contemporary situation and discussions around the masses of people moving around the globe. Whether to seek greater economic or social opportunity, global warming or through forced migration due to conflict or persecution, 244 million people migrated across borders in 2015.

In Reflections on Exile Edward Said writes, “Modern Western culture is in large part the work of exiles, émigrés, refugees. In the United States, academic, intellectual, and aesthetic thought is what it is today because of refugees from fascism, communism, and other regimes given to the oppression and expulsion of dissidents.”

Said’s reflections remain accurate in the age of global war today. He describes modern warfare, imperialism, and the quasi-theological ambitions of totalitarian rulers, all of which precisely refer to the current, tragic situation in the Middle East. Said expresses particular interest in the creative character of exile, in that much of life in exile is taken up with compensating for disorienting loss by creating a new world to rule. He observes, “It is not surprising that so many exile seem to be novelists, chess players, political activists and intellectuals.”

Said further relates his observation about the condition of exile to occupations that require a minimal investment in objects, but rather place a great premium on mobility and skill, thereby suggesting that exile is implicitly tied up with movement.

The discussion will be moderated by Sara Raza whose recent show “But A Storm Is Blowing from Paradise” is currently on view at the Guggenheim Museum thru Oct 5, 2016. We hope to bring together three artist with her whose practice address the contemporary notion of mobility on a global scale.

Recommended reading prior to the panel:

What is Freedom by Hannah Arendt

Reflections on Exile by Edward Said

Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, a documentary film directed by Ada Ushpiz, …will be screened the week that follows in the spirit of this theme.

Thursday, November 3, 2016, 6:30–8:30 P.M.
Room 110


Pizza and Popcorn will be served. The screening will be followed by a discussion moderated by Ardele Lister, and joined by some members of the faculty.

Biographies of the Panelists and the Moderator

Sara Raza

is a curator, writer and educator. She is currently the Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Middle East and North Africa, based at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Sara has curated several international exhibitions and projects for biennials and festivals, including Collateral Events at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013). Sara writes for numerous publications and is the longstanding desk editor for West and Central Asia of ArtAsiaPacific magazine.  Formerly, she was the head of education at Yarat Contemporary Art Space, Baku, Azerbaijan, founding head of curatorial programs at Alaan Art Space, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and curator of public programs at Tate Modern, London (2006–8). She earned her MA in Art History and Theory, and BA in English Literature and History of Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London.  Awards include the United Kingdom Arts Council’s Emerging Curator’s Award at the South London Gallery (2004) and winner of the 11th ArtTable New Leadership Award (2016). Sara is an artist adviser for ISCP in New York and the author of Punk Orientalism: Central Asia’s Contemporary Art Revolution, set to be published in 2017 by Black Dog Publishing, London.

Mariam Ghani

is an artist, writer, filmmaker and teacher. Her research-based practice spans video, installation, photography, performance, and text. Her exhibitions and screenings include the Rotterdam, CPH:DOX and transmediale film festivals, the Sharjah and Liverpool Biennials, dOCUMENTA (13) in Kabul and Kassel, MoMA in New York, the National Gallery in DC, the St. Louis Art Museum, and the CCCB in Barcelona. Ghani has collaborated with artist Chitra Ganesh since 2004 on Index of the Disappeared, an experimental archive of post-9/11 detentions, deportations, renditions and redactions; with choreographer Erin Kelly since 2006 on the video series Performed Places; and with media archive collective since 2012 on the Afghan Films online archive. Ghani has been awarded NYFA and Soros Fellowships, grants from Creative Capital, Art Matters, NYSCA, and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, among others. She holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from NYU and an MFA from SVA. Ghani currently teaches in the Social Practice MFA program at Queens College and the Film Studies program at the Graduate Center, and is a Visiting Artist at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School.

Daniela Kostova

is an interdisciplinary artist who holds M.F.A. from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, NY and the National Art Academy in Sofia. Her work is focused on hybrid cultures and architecture, resulted from migrations and changing global socio-cultural conditions. It addresses issues of geography and cultural representation, the production and crossing of socio-cultural borders, and the uneasy process of translation and communication. Kostova has exhibited at venues such as Queens Museum of Art (NY), Institute for Contemporary Art (Sofia), Kunsthalle Wien (Austria), Antakya Biennale (Turkey), Centre d’art Contemporain (Geneva), Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, (Torino) and Kunsthalle Fridericianum (Kassel), among the others. Her work is reviewed in New York Times, Brooklyn Rail, Flash Art International and Art in America. In addition, Kostova curated the BioArt Initiative–art & science project of the Arts Department and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at RPI. She is also a co-founder of the Bulgarian Collaborative, interdisciplinary collective that includes artists, musicians, literati and architects. Kostova lives and works in NYC. She is the Director of Curatorial Projects at Radiator Gallery and a Board Member of CEC Artslink, New York.

Mirene Arsanios

is a writer who was born in Beirut, Lebanon. She co-founded the collective 98weeks Research Project in Beirut and is the founding editor of Makhzin, a bilingual literary magazine. Her work has appeared in The Animated Reader, The Outpost, and The Rumpus, among others. Arsanios was the recipient of the Enizagam fiction prize (2014), and Forum Fellows, Art Dubai, Dubai, U.A.E (2015). She was an artist-in-residence at the CCA, Warsaw, Poland (2015), and at the Villa Romana, Florence, Italy (2012). Arsanios received her MA from Goldsmiths College, London, and an MFA from the Milton Avery School of the Arts, Bard College. She lives in New York where she is currently a writer-in-residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

A Sea of Data: Apophenia and Pattern (Mis-) Recognition

This image from the Snowden files was captioned: “A single frame of scrambled video imagery.”

Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s lifelong secretary, demonstrates the “Rose Mary Stretch,” a gesticulation that purportedly led to the erasure of a section of the Watergate tapes. The quality of noise in this section of the tapes has been throughly analyzed to understand if the omission was intentional. Photo: Wikimedia commons.

This photograph from June 6, 2012 shows a student pilot and sensor operator manning the controls of a MQ-9 Reaper in a ground-based cockpit during a training mission flown from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, New York. Photo: AP Photo.

This is an image from the Snowden files. It is labeled “secret.”1Yet one cannot see anything on it.

This is exactly why it is symptomatic.


Not seeing anything intelligible is the new normal. Information is passed on as a set of signals that cannot be picked up by human senses. Contemporary perception is machinic to large degrees. The spectrum of human vision only covers a tiny part of it. Electric charges, radio waves, light pulses encoded by machines for machines are zipping by at slightly subluminal speed. Seeing is superseded by calculating probabilities. Vision loses importance and is replaced by filtering, decrypting, and pattern recognition. Snowden’s image of noise could stand in for a more general human inability to perceive technical signals unless they are processed and translated accordingly.

But noise is not nothing. On the contrary, noise is a huge issue, not only for the NSA but for machinic modes of perception as a whole.

Signal v. Noise was the title of a column on the internal NSA website running from 2011 to 2012. It succinctly frames the NSA’s main problem: how to extract “information from the truckloads of data”:

It’s not about the data or even access to the data. It’s about getting information from the truckloads of data … Developers, please help! We’re drowning (not waving) in a sea of data—with data, data everywhere, but not a drop of information.2

Analysts are choking on intercepted communication. They need to unscramble, filter, decrypt, refine, and process “truckloads of data.” The focus moves from acquisition to discerning, from scarcity to overabundance, from adding on to filtering, from research to pattern recognition. This problem is not restricted to secret services. Even WikiLeaks Julian Assange states: “We are drowning in material.”3


But let’s return to the initial image. The noise on it was actually decrypted by GCHQ technicians to reveal a picture of clouds in the sky. British analysts have been hacking video feeds from Israeli drones at least since 2008, a period which includes the recent IDF aerial campaigns against Gaza.4 But no images of these attacks exist in Snowden’s archive. Instead, there are all sorts of abstract renderings of intercepted broadcasts. Noise. Lines. Color patterns.5 According to leaked training manuals, one needs to apply all sorts of massively secret operations to produce these kinds of images.6

But let me tell you something. I will decrypt this image for you without any secret algorithm. I will use a secret ninja technique instead. And I will even teach you how to do it for free. Please focus very strongly on this image right now.

Doesn’t it look like a shimmering surface of water in the evening sun? Is this perhaps the “sea of data” itself? An overwhelming body of water, which one could drown in? Can you see the waves moving ever so slightly?

I am using a good old method called apophenia.

Apophenia is defined as the perception of patterns within random data.7 The most common examples are people seeing faces in clouds or on the moon. Apophenia is about “drawing connections and conclusions from sources with no direct connection other than their indissoluble perceptual simultaneity,” as Benjamin Bratton recently argued.8

One has to assume that sometimes, analysts also use apophenia.

Someone must have seen the face of Amani al-Nasasra in a cloud. The forty-three-year-old was blinded by an aerial strike in Gaza in 2012 in front of her TV:

“We were in the house watching the news on TV. My husband said he wanted to go to sleep, but I wanted to stay up and watch Al Jazeera to see if there was any news of a ceasefire. The last thing I remember, my husband asked if I changed the channel and I said yes. I didn’t feel anything when the bomb hit—I was unconscious. I didn’t wake up again until I was in the ambulance.” Amani suffered second degree burns and was largely blinded.9

What kind of “signal” was extracted from what kind of “noise” to suggest that al-Nasasra was a legitimate target? Which faces appear on which screens, and why? Or to put it differently: Who is “signal,” and who disposable “noise”?

The Russian TV station Zvezda claimed this flock of birds over New York City appeared to form the shape of President Vladimir Putin’s face. YouTube video screenshot.

Pattern Recognition

Jacques Rancière tells a mythical story about how the separation of signal and noise might have been accomplished in Ancient Greece. Sounds produced by affluent male locals were defined as speech, whereas women, children, slaves, and foreigners were assumed to produce garbled noise.10 The distinction between speech and noise served as a kind of political spam filter. Those identified as speaking were labeled citizens and the rest as irrelevant, irrational, and potentially dangerous nuisances. Similarly, today, the question of separating signal and noise has a fundamental political dimension. Pattern recognition resonates with the wider question of political recognition. Who is recognized on a political level and as what? As a subject? A person? A legitimate category of the population? Or perhaps as “dirty data”?

What are dirty data? Here is one example:

Sullivan, from Booz Allen, gave the example the time his team was analyzing demographic information about customers for a luxury hotel chain and came across data showing that teens from a wealthy Middle Eastern country were frequent guests.

“There were a whole group of 17 year-olds staying at the properties worldwide,” Sullivan said. “We thought, ‘That can’t be true.’”11

The demographic finding was dismissed as dirty data—a messed up and worthless set of information—before someone found out that, actually, it was true.

Brown teenagers, in this worldview, are likely to exist. Dead brown teenagers? Why not? But rich brown teenagers? This is so improbable that they must be dirty data and cleansed from your system! The pattern emerging from this operation to separate noise and signal is not very different from Rancière’s political noise filter for allocating citizenship, rationality, and privilege. Affluent brown teenagers seem just as unlikely as speaking slaves and women in the Greek polis.

On the other hand, dirty data are also something like a cache of surreptitious refusal; they express a refusal to be counted and measured:

A study of more than 2,400 UK consumers by research company Verve found that 60% intentionally provided wrong information when submitting personal details online. Almost one quarter (23 percent) said they sometimes gave out incorrect dates of birth, for example, while 9 percent said they did this most of the time and 5 percent always did it.12

Dirty data is where all of our refusals to fill out the constant onslaught of online forms accumulate. Everyone is lying all the time, whenever possible, or at least cutting corners. Not surprisingly, the “dirtiest” area of data collection is consistently pointed out to be the health sector, especially in the US. Doctors and nurses are singled out for filling out forms incorrectly. It seems that health professionals are just as unenthusiastic about filling out forms for systems designed to replace them, as consumers are about performing clerical work for corporations that will spam them in return.

An animated gif shows a dirty data sandstorm.

In his book The Utopia of Rules, David Graeber gives a profoundly moving example of the forced extraction of data. After his mom suffered a stroke, he went through the ordeal of having to apply for Medicaid on her behalf:

I had to spend over a month … dealing with the ramifying consequences of the act of whatever anonymous functionary in the New York Department of Motor Vehicles had inscribed my given name as “Daid,” not to mention the Verizon clerk who spelled my surname “Grueber.” Bureaucracies public and private appear—for whatever historical reasons—to be organized in such a way as to guarantee that a significant proportion of actors will not be able to perform their tasks as expected.13

Graeber goes on to call this an example of utopian thinking. Bureaucracy is based on utopian thinking because it assumes people to be perfect from it’s own point of view. Graeber’s mother died before she was accepted into the program.

The endless labor of filling out completely meaningless forms is a new kind of domestic labor in the sense that it is not considered labor at all and assumed to be provided “voluntarily” or performed by underpaid so-called data janitors.14 Yet all the seemingly swift and invisible action of algorithms, their elegant optimization of everything, their recognition of patterns and anomalies—this is based on the endless and utterly senseless labor of providing or fixing messy data.

Dirty data is simply real data in the sense that it documents the struggle of real people with a bureaucracy that exploits the uneven distribution and implementation of digital technology.15 Consider the situation at LaGeSo (the Health and Social Affairs Office) in Berlin, where refugees are risking their health on a daily basis by standing in line outdoors in severe winter weather for hours or even days just to have their data registered and get access to services to which they are entitled (for example, money to buy food).16 These people are perceived as anomalies because, in addition to having the audacity to arrive in the first place, they ask that their rights be respected. There is a similar political algorithm at work: people are blanked out. They cannot even get to the stage to be recognized as claimants. They are not taken into account.

On the other hand, technology also promises to separate different categories of refugees. IBM’s Watson AI system was experimentally programmed to potentially identify terrorists posing as refugees:

IBM hoped to show that the i2 EIA could separate the sheep from the wolves: that is, the masses of harmless asylum-seekers from the few who might be connected to jihadism or who were simply lying about their identities …

IBM created a hypothetical scenario, bringing together several data sources to match against a fictional list of passport-carrying refugees. Perhaps the most important dataset was a list of names of casualties from the conflict gleaned from open press reports and other sources. Some of the material came from the Dark Web, data related to the black market for passports; IBM says that they anonymized or obscured personally identifiable information in this set …

Borene said the system could provide a score to indicate the likelihood that a hypothetical asylum seeker was who they said they were, and do it fast enough to be useful to a border guard or policeman walking a beat.17

The cross-referencing of unofficial databases, including dark web sources, is used to produce a “score,” which calculates the probability that a refugee might be a terrorist. The hope is for a pattern to emerge across different datasets, without actually checking how or if they correspond to any empirical reality. This example is actually part of a much larger subset of “scores”: credit scores, academic ranking scores, scores ranking interaction on online forums etc., which classify people according to financial interactions, online behavior, market data, and other sources. A variety of inputs are boiled down to a single number—a superpattern—which may be a “threat” score or a “social sincerity score,” as planned by Chinese authorities for every single citizen within the next decade. But the input parameters are far from being transparent or verifiable. And while it may be seriously desirable to identify Daesh moles posing as refugees, a similar system seems to have worrying flaws.

The NSA’s SKYNET program was trained to find terrorists in Pakistan by sifting through cell phone customer metadata. But experts criticize the NSA’s methodologies. “There are very few ‘known terrorists’ to use to train and test the model,” explained Patrick Ball, a data scientist and director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, to Ars Technica. “If they are using the same records to train the model as they are using to test the model, their assessment of the fit is completely bullshit.”18

Human Rights Data Analysis Group estimates that around 99,000 Pakistanis might have ended up wrongly classified as terrorists by SKYNET, a statistical margin of error that might have had deadly consequences given the fact that the US is waging a drone war on suspected militants in the country and between 2500 and four thousand people are estimated to have been killed since 2004: “In the years that have followed, thousands of innocent people in Pakistan may have been mislabelled as terrorists by that ‘scientifically unsound’ algorithm, possibly resulting in their untimely demise.”19

One needs to emphasize strongly that SKYNET’s operations cannot be objectively assessed, since it is not known how it’s results were utilized. It was most certainly not the only factor in determining drone targets.20 But the example of SKYNET demonstrates just as strongly that a “signal” extracted by assessing correlations and probabilities is not the same as an actual fact, but determined by the inputs the software uses to learn, and the parameters for filtering, correlating, and “identifying.” The old engineer wisdom “crap in—crap out” seems to still apply. In all of these cases—as completely different as they are technologically, geographically, and also ethically—some version of pattern recognition was used to classify groups of people according to political and social parameters. Sometimes it is as simple as, we try to avoid registering refugees. Sometimes there is more mathematical mumbo jumbo involved. But many methods used are opaque, partly biased, exclusive, and—as one expert points out—sometimes also “ridiculously optimistic.”21

A plate of spaghetti meatballs return our gaze, courtesy of Google inceptionism. Source: Mary-Ann Russon, “Google DeepDream robot: 10 weirdest images produced by AI ‘inceptionism’ and users online,” International Business Times, July 6, 2015

Corporate Animism

How to recognize something in sheer noise? A striking visual example of pure and conscious apophenia was recently demonstrated by research labs at Google:22

We train an artificial neural network by showing it millions of training examples and gradually adjusting the network parameters until it gives the classifications we want. The network typically consists of 10–30 stacked layers of artificial neurons. Each image is fed into the input layer, which then talks to the next layer, until eventually the “output” layer is reached. The network’s “answer” comes from this final output layer.23

Neural networks were trained to discern edges, shapes, and a number of objects and animals and then applied to pure noise. They ended up “recognizing” a rainbow-colored mess of disembodied fractal eyes, mostly without lids, incessantly surveilling their audience in a strident display of conscious pattern overidentification.

Google researchers call the act of creating a pattern or an image from nothing but noise “inceptionism” or “deep dreaming.” But these entities are far from mere hallucinations. If they are dreams, those dreams can be interpreted as condensations or displacements of the current technological disposition. They reveal the networked operations of computational image creation, certain presets of machinic vision, its hardwired ideologies and preferences.

One way to visualize what goes on is to turn the network upside down and ask it to enhance an input image in such a way as to elicit a particular interpretation. Say you want to know what sort of image would result in “Banana.” Start with an image full of random noise, then gradually tweak the image towards what the neural net considers a banana. By itself, that doesn’t work very well, but it does if we impose a prior constraint that the image should have similar statistics to natural images, such as neighboring pixels needing to be correlated.24

In a feat of genius, inceptionism manages to visualize the unconscious of prosumer networks: images surveilling users, constantly registering their eye movements, behavior, preferences, aesthetically helplessly adrift between Hundertwasser mug knockoffs and Art Deco friezes gone ballistic. Walter Benjamin’s “optical unconscious” has been upgraded to the unconscious of computational image divination.25

By “recognizing” things and patterns that were not given, inceptionist neural networks eventually end up effectively identifying a new totality of aesthetic and social relations. Presets and stereotypes are applied, regardless of whether they “apply” or not: “The results are intriguing—even a relatively simple neural network can be used to over-interpret an image, just like as children we enjoyed watching clouds and interpreting the random shapes.”26

But inceptionism is not just a digital hallucination. It is a document of an era that trains smartphones to identify kittens, thus hardwiring truly terrifying jargons of cutesy into the means of production.27 It demonstrates a version of corporate animism in which commodities are not only fetishes but morph into franchised chimeras.

Yet these are deeply realist representations. According to György Lukacs, “classical realism” creates “typical characters,” insofar as they represent the objective social (and in this case technological) forces of our times.28

Inceptionism does that and more. It also gives those forces a face—or more precisely, innumerable eyes. The creature that stares at you from your plate of spaghetti and meatballs is not an amphibian beagle. It is the ubiquitous surveillance of networked image production, a form of memetically modified intelligence that watches you in the shape of the lunch that you will Instagram in a second if it doesn’t attack you first. Imagine a world of enslaved objects remorsefully scrutinizing you. Your car, your yacht, your art collection observes you with a gloomy and utterly desperate expression. You may own us, they seem to say, but we are going to inform on you. And guess what kind of creature we are going to recognize in you!29

CGI acupuncture: Face Robot, a general-purpose animation system, promises efficiency in motion capturing actor’s faces through this 32-point system.

Previously unknown archaeological monuments have been revealed as of September 2015 by the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project. The findings include new information about the world’s largest “super henge” and include ritual monuments such as the mortuary building pictured above in a 3-D reconstruction. Copyright: LBI ArchPro, Joachim Brandtner

Data Neolithic

But what are we going to make of automated apophenia?30 Are we to assume that machinic perception has entered its own phase of magical thinking? Is this what commodity enchantment means nowadays: hallucinating products? It might be more accurate to assume that humanity has entered yet another new phase of magical thinking. The vocabulary deployed for separating signal and noise is surprisingly pastoral: data “farming” and “harvesting,” “mining” and “extraction” are embraced as if we lived through another massive neolithic revolution31 with it’s own kind of magic formulas.

All sorts of agricultural and mining technologies—that were developed during the neolithic—are reinvented to apply to data. The stones and ores of the past are replaced by silicone and rare earth minerals, while a Minecraft paradigm of extraction describes the processing of minerals into elements of information architecture.32

Pattern recognition was an important asset of neolithic technologies too. It marked the transition between magic and more empirical modes of thinking. The development of the calendar by observing patterns in time enabled more efficient irrigation and agricultural scheduling. Storage of cereals created the idea of property. This period also kick-started institutionalized religion and bureaucracy, as well as managerial techniques including laws and registers. All these innovations also impacted society: hunter and gatherer bands were replaced by farmer kings and slaveholders. The neolithic revolution was not only technological but also had major social consequences.

Today, expressions of life as reflected in data trails become a farmable, harvestable, minable resource managed by informational biopolitics.33

And if you doubt that this is another age of magical thinking, just look at the NSA training manual for unscrambling hacked drone intercepts. As you can see, you need to bewitch the files with a magic wand. (Image Magick is a free image converter):


The supposedly new forms of governance emerging from these technologies look partly archaic and partly superstitious. What kind of corporate/state entities are based on data storage, image unscrambling, high-frequency trading, and Daesh Forex gaming? What are the contemporary equivalents of farmer kings and slaveholders, and how are existing social hierarchies radicalized through examples as vastly different as tech-related gentrification and jihadi online forum gamification? How does the world of pattern recognition and big-data divination relate to the contemporary jumble of oligocracies, troll farms, mercenary hackers, and data robber barons supporting and enabling bot governance, Khelifah clickbait and polymorphous proxy warfare? Is the state in the age of Deep Mind, Deep Learning, and Deep Dreaming a Deep State™? One in which there is no appeal nor due process against algorithmic decrees and divination?


But there is another difference between the original and the current type of “neolithic,” and it harks back to pattern recognition. In ancient astronomy, star constellations were imagined by projecting animal shapes into the skies. After cosmic rhythms and trajectories had been recorded on clay tablets, patterns of movement started to emerge. As additional points of orientation, some star groups were likened to animals and heavenly beings. However, progress in astronomy and mathematics happened not because people kept believing there were animals or gods in space, but on the contrary, because they accepted that constellations were expressions of a physical logic. The patterns were projections, not reality. While today statisticians and other experts routinely acknowledge that their findings are mostly probabilistic projections, policymakers of all sorts conveniently ignore this message. In practice you become coextensive with the data-constellation you project. Social scores of all different kinds—credit scores, academic scores, threat scores—as well as commercial and military pattern-of-life observations impact the real lives of real people, both reformatting and radicalizing social hierarchies by ranking, filtering, and classifying.

Could this image be a representation of the neo-neolithic? Source: Mary-Ann Russon, “Google DeepDream robot: 10 weirdest images produced by AI ‘inceptionism’ and users online,” International Business Times, July 6, 2015

Source: Anh Nguyen, Jason Yosinski, and Jeff Clune, “Deep Neural Networks are Easily Fooled: High Confidence Predictions for Unrecognizable Images,”, 2015

Gestalt Realism

But let’s assume we are actually dealing with projections. Once one accepts that the patterns derived from machinic sensing are not the same as reality, information definitely becomes available with a certain degree of veracity.

Let’s come back to Amani al-Nasasra, the woman blinded by an aerial attack in Gaza. We know: the abstract images recorded as intercepts of IDF drones by British spies do notshow the aerial strike in Gaza that blinded her in 2012. The dates don’t match. There is noevidence in Snowden’s archive. There are no images of this attack, at least as far as I know of. All we know is what she told Human Rights Watch. This is what she said: “I can’t see—ever since the bombing, I can only see shadows.”34

So there is one more way to decode this image. It’s plain for everyone to see. We see what Amani cannot see.

In this case, the noise must be a “document” of what she “sees” now: “the shadows.”

Is this a document of the drone war’s optical unconscious? Of it’s dubious and classified methods of “pattern recognition”? And if so, is there a way to ever “unscramble” the “shadows” Amani has been left with?


Acknowledgments: The initial version of this text was written at the request of Laura Poitras, who most generously allowed access to some unclassified documents from the Snowden archive, and a short version was presented during the opening of her show “Astro Noise” at the Whitney Museum. Further thanks to Henrik Moltke for facilitating access to the documents, to Brenda and other members of Laura’s studio, to Linda Stupart for introducing me to the term “apophenia,” and to Ben Bratton for fleshing it out for me.

© 2016 e-flux and the author

Publication Intensive


Please apply via our online form, here. The deadline for applications is midnight on Monday, April 11, 2016. Participants will be notified no later than Friday, April 15. If you have further questions, please write Read a conversation between participants in 2014’s program here.

What: A two-week program in the history and contemporary practice of publication.

Where: At Triple Canopy’s offices in Brooklyn and various arts spaces around New York City.

Cost: Tuition is free, though participants must arrange and pay for their travel and accommodation. All reading and viewing materials will be provided free of cost.

Triple Canopy is pleased to announce its second Publication Intensive, a two-week program in the history and contemporary practice of publication, for twelve higher-level college students, graduate students, and recent college graduates. We invite applications from prospective students with backgrounds in areas such as writing, art, literature, art history, new media, and design. During the Publication Intensive, Triple Canopy editors and invited artists, writers, and technologists will lead discussions and workshops with participating students, who will research, analyze, and enact an approach to publication that hinges on today’s networked forms of production and circulation but also mines the history of print culture and artistic practice. The program will take place at Triple Canopy’s venue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and will include visits to studios of artists and designers, archives, and cultural institutions.

Bunker Gallery


BUNKER is a pop up art gallery specializing in emerging artists who create engaging, beautiful work that often involves technology. 

BUNKER operates under the assumption that art doesn’t have to be inaccessible and pretentious in order to be valuable. 

BUNKER is a gallery for people who hate technology but love art.

BUNKER is a gallery for people who love technology but hate art.

BUNKER is curated by GABEBC

Information Fall-Out: Buckminster Fuller’s World Game extended

Film stills courtesy of the Herbert Matter World Game Archive at Stanford University Libraries.
Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Information Fall-Out: Buckminster Fuller’s World Game extended
September 18—November 20, 2015

Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery
Buell Hall, Columbia University GSAPP
1172 Amsterdam Ave
New York, NY 10027
Hours: Monday–Friday noon–6pm, Saturday 3–6pm

Columbia GSAPP Exhibitions presents Information Fall-Out: Buckminster Fuller’s World Game, an exhibition at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation.

Initially proposed for Expo 67 in Montréal, Buckminster Fuller’s World Game was played for the first time in 1969 at the New York Studio School for Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture. Over the next decade, the World Game evolved and expanded through workshops, seminars, strategy papers, and building designs. Across its different manifestations, the World Game remained focused on the goals of overcoming energy scarcity and altering conventional territorial politics through the redistribution of world resources. This anti-Malthusian, anti-war game was meant to discover conditions for perpetual ecological peace and to usher in a new era of total global resource consciousness. Mirroring Cold War command and control infrastructures, proposals for World Game centers described a vast computerized network that could process, map, and visualize environmental information drawn from, among other sources, Russian and American spy satellites. Fuller claimed that their optical sensors and thermographic scanners could detect the location and quantity of water, grain, metals, livestock, human populations, or any other conceivable form of energy. Among Fuller’s abiding obsessions was the limited range of the electromagnetic spectrum available to human vision. Fuller argued that the World Game would serve as a corrective to this limitation by rendering visible global environmental data patterns that evaded normal perception.

Assembling documents related to various iterations of the World Game conceived, proposed, and played from 1964 to 1982 along with materials from the World Resources Inventory, the exhibition examines the World Game as an experimental pedagogical project, as a system for environmental information, and as a process of resource administration. A related symposium will bring together scholars and architects with Fuller partners and collaborators to speak about the World Game in relation to its ecological, informational vision, and to the current stakes for environmental data and its representation.

The exhibition is curated and designed by Mark Wasiuta, Director of Exhibitions and Co-Director of the Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture Program, and Adam Bandler, Exhibitions Coordinator at Columbia GSAPP. Florencia Alvarez Pacheco is assistant curator.

For more information, please send an email to

The Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), provides a platform for developing original curatorial projects and for experimenting with the spatial distribution and visual organization of research material. The gallery is simultaneously a testing ground for exploring new approaches to architectural exhibitions, and a space for considering and analyzing architecture as it has been formed through exhibition. Its exhibition program follows several distinct series. “The Living Archive” interrogates and exposes important and underexamined architectural archives, while other exhibitions resulting from collaboration with contemporary artists, architects, and scholars aim to provide models for novel forms of architectural speculation and spatial practice.

Baskets & Data Making Weather Tactile in the Digital Age

Thursday, April 10 / 4pm
Nathalie Miebach, Artist

Miebach discusses her translations of scientific data from the realms of astronomy, ecology, and meteorology into sculpture, installation, and musical scores, while exploring the intersection of art and science. Links to Miebach’s 2011 Ted Talk and the January 2014 issue of American Craft Magazine, featuring a cover article about the artist, are available on her website. This lecture is offered in conjunction with the exhibition Diane Burko: Glacial Perspectives.

Part of the interdisciplinary seminar series Polar Perspectives on Art and Science. The museum’s partners include the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy; Department of Geography; Rutgers Climate Institute; the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences; and the Institute for Women and Art. These partnerships are co-sponsored by the Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs (GAIA Centers) as part of the 2013-2015 Biennial Theme: “Global Health!”

Free with general admission.

NEUROMEDIA: The Intersection of Art and Science

Visiting Artist: Dr. Jill Scott
Thursday Dec. 6, 2012

Reception: 5 pm CSB lobby
Presentation: 6:40 CSB 110/117

The Electric Retina is a “neuromedia” sculpture which combines retinal research with interactive media art and metaphorical associations in order to explore the complexity of visual perception. Based on her residency in Neurobiology at the Institute of Zoology, University of Zurich, Scott gained a deeper insight into the genetic control of visual system development and function by analysis of zebra fish mutants, which are used as the main phenotypes for human eye disease research. While the Electric Retina displays examples from some of this research at the lab, its surface is constructed according to the rod and cone pattern array of photoreceptors in the human retina inspired directly from the Scanning Electronic Microscope. When the viewer looks into the “cones” or oculars, animations appear about the histological evidence, behaviour tests, molecular staining, cellular research images and related keywords from the researchers. The issues covered are macular degeneration, human diseases of the eye, genetic deficiencies and polarization. It is as if the viewers are looking through the tunnels into the neural chemical layers of the eye. From the other side of the sculpture, films of underwater movies are projected onto the wall. These are shot from the perspective of the impaired subject, which shows how visual impairment can affect neural behaviour. Therefore the projected films (affect) are directly related to the content of these ocular films (evidence) and aim is to allow the general public to gain a better understanding of how vision is affected by genetics, disease and degeneration.

The media artist Jill Scott has created the neuromedia sculpture “The Electric Retina” during her residency at the Neuroscience Lab University Zurich, Switzerland. The Artists-in-Labs program offers 4 annual residencies in Swiss science labs to artists. Scott initiated the program and is its director. Currently the docu is also shown in Singapore at the ISEA, an electronic arts festival. The film maker Anet Nyffeler directed this docu and currently develops a TV-documentary on the subject ArtSci and this specific program. Transdisciplinarity is a current overall development in the arts and science.

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing!” -Socrates Conceptual art requires a subjective approach and the process of discovery is often evident in the final artwork that is produced. The aim of Neuromedia is to explore how conceptual art interpretations and scientific illustrations of the human body can be combined to transfer information about how we think and how our senses work together. While Scott makes unique screen based sculptures embedded with macroscopic views of molecular and cellular evidence, over the last few years, the increasingly popular subject of Neuroscience offers many artists a reality that is now considered to be an “extension of cinema”. After all, perceptual feedback loops are at the heart of both disciplines, a fact that is causing more collaboration between artists and neuroscientists to occur. What is the value of these collaborations? Are the results are objective and subjective at the same time? Under the headings of “inspirations, constructions, challenges and reactions” can Neuromedia not only humanize science but also deepen the tangible and experiential experience of art itself?

BIOGRAPHY Jill Scott is originally from Australia, but has been working and living in Switzerland since 2003. Currently she is a Professor for Art and Science in the Institute Cultural Studies in the Arts, at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZhdK) in Zürich and Co-Director and Founder of the Artists-in-Labs Program (a collaboration with the Ministry for Culture, Switzerland) which places artists from all disciplines into physics, computer, engineering and life science labs to learn about scientific research and make creative interpretations. She is also Vice Director of the Z-Node PHD program on art and science at the University of Plymouth, UK-a program with 16 international research candidates. Her recent publications include: The Transdiscourse book series: Volume 1: Mediated Environments, 2011, Artists-in-labs: Networking in the Margins, 2011 and Artists-in-labs: Processes of Inquiry: 2006 Springer/Vienna/New York, Artists-in-labs Processes of Inquiry both from Springer/Vienna/New York. Her education includes: PhD, University of Wales (UK), MA USF, San Francisco, as well as a Degree in Education (Univ. Melbourne) and a Degree in Art and Design (Victoria College of the Arts). Since 1975, she has exhibited many video artworks, conceptual performances and interactive environments in USA, Japan, Australia and Europe. A monograph entitled: Coded Characters Hatje Cantz 2002, Ed. Her most recent art works involve the construction of interactive media and electronic sculptures based on studies she has conducted in residence in neuroscience labs at the University of Zurich, called “Neuromedia” (a Springer Publication in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name in KULTURAMA Science Musuem in Zurich). These particularly relate to the somatic sensory system and artificial skin (e-skin) 2003-2007, molecular and retinal behaviour in relation to human eye disease (The Electric Retina-2008), nerve damage in relation to UV radiation, in the skin and on the landscape (Dermaland- 2009) and Somabook (2010) about the problems in the development of neural networks in the pre-natal stage. Currently, she is working on two new projects about the neural systems of hearing and taste, inspired by a residency with neuroscientists at SymbioticA, University of Western Australia.

‘K Karl Holmqvist, Book Launch and Reading

Artists Space : Books & Talks
55 Walker Street

$5 Entrance Donation
Members Free
Limited capacity, entrance on a first come, first served basis

To mark the New York launch of his recent publication ‘K, Berlin-based artist Karl Holmqvist will give a reading at Artists Space : Books & Talks.

Holmqvist’s work centers on the printed and spoken word, extracting meaning out of often oblique textual arrangements with tools such as humor, repetition and vocal cadence. Forsaking linearity for a networked approach to language, Holmqvist’s “writing” connects words through their printed aesthetic qualities and aural pronunciations. A collage of cultural references and quotidian language implicates a direct call and response with the matter of contemporary life. To produce ‘K, a large part of the book’s material was also gathered as “loans” from historical movements that emphasized a graphic and visual approach to text, such as Futurism, Vorticism, and Lettrism, as well as from the work of contemporary artists such as Shannon Ebner and Ferdinand Kriwet.

Holmqvist’s work has been shown at Bergen Kunsthall, Norway (2012); Établissement d’en face projects, Brussels (2012); Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2010); and included in Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011).

‘K is designed by the artist along with Joshua Schenkel, and published as a collaboration between Kunsthalle Zürich and Bergen Kunsthall, with JRP Ringier.

Digital Art History

Digital Art History (November 30 – December 1, 2012)
Organized by Jim Coddington

Live streaming by Ustream

The impact of digital technology on the practice of the humanities has been a subject of considerable discussion, debate and even consternation. In the context of art history the integration of digital tools and processes has lagged, in varying degrees, in comparison to other disciplines like archaeology and literary studies. Some approaches have been fruitful, such as computational subjects like image processing for technical art history, virtual environments, visualization, use of GIS data in archaeology and others.

Explore “This Exquisite Forest” with Chrome and London’s Tate Modern

This morning, in partnership with the Tate Modern in London, Google released an online art experiment called This Exquisite Forest, which lets you collaborate with others to create animations and stories using a web-based drawing tool.

It is so disappointing that it requires Chrome.

Undergraduate Annual exhibition – Open Call for Art Work 2012

Here is a message from Amee:

Undergraduate Annual exhibition – Open Call for Art Work 2012

You are invited to submit one work on the theme of “Systems”.
(You can find great examples for inspiration in the Zimmerli’s group show “Art=Text=Art” and the work of Ruth Vollmer, who used mathematics and the Fibonnacci series/sequence to produce her abstract sculpture.)

Both BA and BFA students are encouraged to submit one piece each; all are accepted.

The exhibition will be on view from Monday, October 29th  – Tuesday, November 13th, 2012.

The opening reception is Wednesday, October 31st, from 5-7pm.

The show will be curated and installed by the BFA Thesis class (Section 1) and participating students should bring their artwork to the Visual Arts office from Monday, October 15th – Thursday, October 18th between the hours of 10am-5pm.


  1. Fill out the two attached labels completely.
  2. Turn in one copy to a Supervising Graduate Student in the Visual Arts Dept. Office (CSB124) and attach the other to the artwork being submitted.
  3. After label has been submitted to the office, take art work up to the third-floor crit room where it will be stored until the exhibition is installed.

Let’s make a great show!

Amee Pollack
Undergraduate Program Coordinator, Visual Arts
Mason Gross School of the Arts

Art In Your Pocket

September 21, 2012 7 pm.

The computer we carry in our pockets is also an emerging platform for interactive screen-based art. Art In Your Pocket takes its name from a series of texts Jonah Brucker-Cohen wrote for Rhizome on art made for smartphones. This panel will assemble leading media artists working with mobile devices and discuss current trends relating to this practice.

You might want to take a look at artsy before coming.

Design in the Service of Subversion

Article on ‘Graphic Design: Now in Production’ on Governors Island on NY Times

Published: May 31, 2012

A person working in almost any field could have written a book like “How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul”: designers don’t have a monopoly on worker alienation, after all. But that title of Adrian Shaughnessy’s 2005 book reflects the special circumstances of graphic designers, who generally practice their art in the service of clients and commerce.

How much soul was or wasn’t lost in various acts of creation is not the ostensible point of “Graphic Design: Now in Production,” an exhibition, at Building 110 on Governors Island, of posters, books, magazines, typography, branding and film and television graphics created since 2000. And yet this theme underlies virtually every aspect of the show, which was organized by Andrew Blauvelt of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and Ellen Lupton of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, and which vacillates between design made for industry and design that critiques it.

The catalog is oriented toward the latter, and toward a view of design as a force for social change. Inspired by “The Last Whole Earth Catalog,” a ’70s guide to off-the-grid living, it includes essays like Ms. Lupton’s “Designer as Producer,” a quasi-retooling of Walter Benjamin’s “Author as Producer” (1934) — which encouraged artists and writers to transform their mediums in order to turn passive consumers into active producers — and a piece by the Dutch designer Daniel van der Velden that includes an epigraph from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s post-Marxist anti-globalization epic, “Empire” (2000).

Even some of the most corporate designs are displayed in a way that aligns them with counterculture. The wall label introducing Google Doodles, the changing home page logos of that Internet behemoth, describes how the first one, in 1998, was meant “as a message to users that the founders were ‘out of the office’ attending the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.” Examples here, shown on small video screens, include illustrated commemorations of Earth Day and John Lennon’s birthday.

A before-and-after display of redesigned corporate logos, including those of Pfizer and Starbucks, as well as the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library, incorporates a device recognizable to those familiar with contemporary art history: a polling system with plexiglass boxes in which viewers place chips to vote on their preferred versions. The display recalls Hans Haacke’s “Poll” art works, like “MoMA Poll” (1970), in which viewers were asked to register their opinions of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, a MoMA trustee, and his position on the Vietnam War. (Mr. Haake has said the work essentially got him banned from exhibiting at the museum for the next three decades.)

Avant-garde practices also inform a series of posters created for the exhibition by the Amsterdam design firm Experimental Jetset. The works borrow heavily from the French affichistes of the ’50s and ’60s, who appropriated torn posters from the streets, and the ’70s British punk designer Jamie Reid, famous for his Sex Pistols record covers. A quotation from Walter Benjamin’s “Arcades Project” (1927-40) on one of the posters compares the experience of viewing a cluttered commercial landscape to reading while stoned on hashish.

Books and magazines offer some of the most compelling designs here. David Pearson’s covers for books on the Penguin Press backlist, like Thomas More’s “Utopia” and Freud’s “Wolfman,” and Angus Hyland’s books of the Bible retool the canon for contemporary readers. Underground magazines like Manzine, The Gentlewoman and Sup Magazine spoof mainstream genres like men’s, women’s, and hipster-lifestyle magazines. Even typefaces, several examples of which are displayed on placards around the show, are treated as insurrectionary: Aktiv Grotesk, designed by Dalton Maag in 2010, is described as “a head-on challenge to the ‘over-hyped Helvetica.’ ”

Projects in which designers use their skills to turn information into more art-like objects and installations, away from the gaze of the client, make a more believable case for design’s radical potential. Kai Krause’s “True Size of Africa” (2010) is a map in which various non-African countries are fitted into an outline of the continent to offer a sense of Africa’s enormous size and, by extension, of its underrepresentation in geopolitics and world economics. Christopher Doyle’s “Identity Guidelines” (2008) is a series of self-portrait photos and texts that parodies fashion and personal branding, while the fake military patches that make up Trevor Paglen’s “Symbology (Volume I)” (2006) mimic the scary self-seriousness of classified intelligence units. “Facestate” (2011) by Dutch designers Metahaven is a canny if visually underwhelming kiosk installation that critiques social media as a method of surveillance and social control.

Works like these remind you that graphic designers possess a powerful skill set: the ability to persuade with images and text. What they actually do with these weapons of mass seduction is another story, however. The art critic Arthur Danto once suggested that American graphic designers helped win the cold war, since their products looked better on store shelves than their drab communist counterparts.

The subject of design in a utopian society is brought up in the catalog by Dmitri Siegel, who asks, “What would be the role of the designer in a truly do-it-yourself economy?” He offers Flickr, YouTube and MySpace as provisional examples; a series of eco-conscious Green Patriot Posters installed near the bathrooms suggests a darker, more dystopian view.

Within the exhibition context, design can easily be presented as utopian. It is striking, however, that from the building where this show is installed you can see, just across the water, the towers of Wall Street — a center of global capital, but also the physical and spiritual locus of the Occupy movement, which so far has barely tapped the radical power of graphic design.

“Graphic Design: Now in Production” is open weekends and holiday Mondays through Sept. 3 in Building 110 on Governors Island; (212) 849-8400,

A version of this review appeared in print on June 1, 2012, on page C21 of the New York edition with the headline: Design in the Service of Subversion.

The Happy Show by Stefan Sagmeister

April 4 – August 12, 2012

Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister not only tests the boundary between art and design, he often transgresses it through his imaginative implementation of typography. Filling the Institute of Contemporary Art’s (ICA) entire second-floor galleries and Ramp, and activating the in-between spaces of the museum,The Happy Show offers visitors the experience of walking into the designer’s mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via mediation, cognitive therapy, and mood-altering pharmaceuticals. “I am usually rather bored with definitions,” Sagmeister says. “Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” Centered around the designer’s ten-year exploration of happiness, this exhibition presents typographic investigations of a series of maxims, or rules to live by, originally culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in a variety of imaginative and interactive forms. The Happy Showopens on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 with a reception from 6–8pm, and will remain on view through August 12, 2012. | New Brunswick, NJ