Thinking Through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places

I’m enjoying reading this new book which discusses three of my works (Give Me My Data, Camp La Jolla Military Park, and Keyword Intervention): Thinking Through Digital Media:Transnational Environments and Locative Places by Dale Hudson and Patricia R. Zimmermann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

Give Me My Data offers users a tool to see, if not claim, their data under Facebook’s (frequently amended) privacy rights, which often make seeing one’s data impossible. In 2010, the new Facebook interface threatened to “erase” user data, so the app offered a way to save one’s data and “refill” one’s Facebook profile, which is also useful in cases of identity theft. Users select the data they would like to see and then choose a format in which to see it. Data can be imported into a document or spreadsheet or visualized as a graph or cloud. Users can speculate on how corporations automate their data: sorting it through different filters, running it through different programs, interpreting it for different reasons. The app allows users an opportunity to investigate the types and meanings of information about themselves available outside their control. They are prompted to reflect critically about data they freely and willingly give away to corporations and governments.
—Dale Hudson and Patricia R. Zimmermann

Thinking Through Digital Media Thinking Through Digital Media

Art and the Internet book published by Black Dog Publishing

Here are some shots from the recently released Art and the Internet (Black Dog Publishing, London) with contributions from Joanne McNeil, Domenico Quaranta, and Nick Lambert. The book is a welcome update to writing on the subject and contains many well known works by artists I’ve admired for years. Nice to be included.

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Trust (Evidence Locker) (2004) Jill Magid. Essay by Joanne McNeil.

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Simple Net Art Diagram by MTAA (1997). Essay by Domenico Quaranta

art-internet-_0003_Layer 16 (2008) by Rafaël Rozendaal

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Every Icon (1997) by John F Simon Jr

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Tommy Chat Just Emailed Me (2006) by Ryan Trecartin

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1:1 (1999-2002) by Lisa Jevbratt

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They Rule (2001) by Josh On

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My Generation (2010) by Eva and Franco Mattes

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Artist’s Statement No 45, 730,944: The Perfect Artistic Website (2000) Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries

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I am Unable to Fulfill Your Wish (2012) by Owen Mundy

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“The Influence of Non-places in the Concept of Latin America” by Eduardo Navas

Curator and theorist, Eduardo Navas, has published an essay he wrote to accompany the Transitio_MX 2009 exhibition which included Anemophilous Formula for Computer Art by Joelle Dietrick and myself. The essay, “La Influencia de los No-Lugares en el concepto de America Latina.” (English “The Influence of Non-places in the Concept of Latin America”), was published in Spanish in Errata #3, Cultura digital y creación Dec 2010.

Here’s an excerpt of the essay in English. You can read more about (in English) on Eduardo’s blog or the full text is available in Spanish here.

Airplane travel and airports, which have been a key reference in the theory of non-places by both Augé and Ibelings finds direct commentary in Anemophilous Formula for Computer Art. This time-based work consists of a photograph of the Tallahassee Airport Check-in area, which hosts a wall sized reproduction of McClay Gardens Park. In front of the wallpaper image we find: on the left hand side a plant in a pot and on the right a portable fan, next to three airportline-dividing-poles which are connected with a dividing strip, and a dolly cart at the far end. The photograph of the actual lobby is projected on the wall along with a series of numbers, located at the bottom of the screen’s frame, complemented with an algorithmic simulation of Tree Pollen falling surrealistically, while a sound track of birds plays in a loop. In essence the airport check in lounge is turned into a staged moment where the reproduction of a natural environment is treated as a mere decoration.

Anemophilous Formula for Computer Art (2007) by Owen Mundy and Joelle Dietrick

In Anemophilous Formula for Computer Art the airport as a non-place is taken apart. The image is not only commenting on how parks are careful orchestrations of nature to fit human ideals, but also exposes how this aesthetic has entered the airport, a space of transition, in order to make people feel comfortable upon their arrival or departure. If one tries to believe that what one is looking at is real nature, or even a meta recording of nature, one only needs to notice that the pollen is falling just a bit too perfectly, executing an algorithm meant to appear naturally, magically. This orderliness, this pristine aesthetic, as in the other four selections has a direct link to the control that is inherent in supermodernism: “This boundless space is no dangerous wilderness or frightening emptiness, but rather a controlled vacuum, for if there is one thing that characterizes this age it is total control. The undefined space is not an emptiness but a safe container, a flexible shell.” Anemophilous Formula for Computer Art exposes the type of activity that more privileged migrants perform—those unlikely to work in maquiladoras or any other blue-collar job. Therefore, the wall projection is a commentary on the growing supermodern aesthetic of glocalization, and thus a critical commentary on a specific activity that is ingrained as much in Latin America as well as other regions. Viewers can project themselves into the computerized image, and feel comfortable in the virtual airport lobby; whether the viewer may potentially be in Japan or Mexico is irrelevant because the language of non-places has transcended space in this sense. And therefore makes the conceptualization of a constant migration an issue of class rather than identity.

—Eduardo Navas

Drain Magazine – Power issue and new site

I am happy to announce the launch of the new website for Drain: Journal of Contemporary Art and Culture and the corresponding release of issue #11 POWER, which I co-organized with Avantika Bawa.

POWER, issue #11

This issue of Drain attempts to expose the cultural faciality of power, as well as manifestations of power as simulacra which obfuscate traditional inquiries into its construction. If power connects the virtual and the actual, how does cultural creativity channel or destabilize this connectivity? The corporate-academic-entertainment-military-industrial complex and its front-end, the global information machine floods us with images and images of images, to cause sensory overload, and yet, at the same time, acute sensory deprivation. Most of all, power entrenches a visual literacy that allows us to see only its style, leaving us unable to access other ways of seeing and becoming. How can we parody this visual literacy, and the speed, cadence and grammar of this power and its affects?

Necropolis by Roi Kuper

If the simulation of power is necessary and absolute, can creative acts and molecular politics slip through the surveillance and desensitizing of territorializing systems?

GWOTEM by J.M. Badoud

This issue of Drain presents artworks, essays, and other creative works to actualize answers to these questions and re-channel them into different connectivities, ways of becoming and conceptual production.

The Gift of Giving by Oscar Perez

We are pleased to present Ian Buchanan and Roi Kuper as our feature writer and featured artist. This issue also includes essays by Emma Cocker and Chris Revelle, as well as interviews by Alexander Stewart with artist Andy Roache and Bertha Husband with Blazo Kovacevic. In our Creative Writing section, we present works by Camille Meyer, BT Shaw & Elizabeth Lopeman, Vanessa Norton, Emma Cocker and Morgan Campbell. Art projects works by Jamie Badoud, Diana Heise, Cyrico Lopes, Bob Paris and Oscar Perez.

Past issues

Camp La Jolla Military Park: Creative Disturbance Through Adaption of National Park Iconography

I recently published an essay, “Camp La Jolla Military Park: Creative Disturbance Through Adaption of National Park Iconography,” in the Parsons Journal for Information Mapping (PJIM) documenting my thesis work at the University of California, San Diego. Here is the abstract for the essay:

This paper details the motivation and the method behind the creation of Camp La Jolla Military Park, a fictional national park on the current site of the University of California’s San Diego campus. Camp La Jolla Military Park borrows the iconography and language from historical battlefields as designated and protected by the U.S. Congress; the use of such iconography and language allows for the investigation, as well as consideration of the campus as a site for research and development of weapons and technology for the defense industry. The website is the publicly accessible collective of the research and expression behind Camp La Jolla Military Park.

The project began by developing a data-collection system in order to record the historical, geographic, and economic ties that bind the relationships of power within the complex of military, industrial, and academic institutions in Southern California. Through appropriating the vernacular language and imagery of the National Park System the research was made public and accessible to audiences both within and outside of the protected spaces of art and academia. This writing introduces the concepts and processes of the project in order to encourage the restaging of other similar creative disturbances.

Drain Magazine – Supernature: Call for entries


Supernature is more than nature as science, or nature as art – it exceeds the boundaries of these classificatory systems and opens up a space where the species of things conjure wonder and curiosity, as well as fear and repugnance.

This issue of Drain calls for a rigorous exploration of the habitual ways by which nature is known to us, a questioning that unfolds the limits of the subsensible imagination.

How does supernature allow us to read the unwieldly connections between nature, art and science? Is it possible to open up to a supernature which creates and lives through us?

Please send submissions to: Celina Jeffery or Avantika Bawa

Submission guidelines

Plutonian Striptease VIII: Owen Mundy

Originally published in Plutonian Striptease, a series of interviews with with experts, owners, users, fans and haters of social media, to map the different views on this topic, outside the existing discussions surrounding privacy.

PS: Social networks are often in the news, why do you think this is?

OM: Assuming “social networks” refers to the online software, application programming interfaces (APIs), and the data that constitutes sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, I feel its popular to discuss them in the news for many reasons.

Online applications that enable enhanced connectivity for individuals and other entities are relatively new and there is an apparent potential for wealth through their creation and the connections they enable. News organizations are businesses, so they naturally follow the money, “reporting” on topics which are considered worthwhile to advertisers who buy space in their pages, pop-ups, and commercial breaks.

Additionally, the public is still grappling with the ability for online software to collect and distribute data about them, both with their permission and through clandestine means at once. Most users of social networking software don’t understand the methods or potential for behavior manipulation in these user interfaces and therefore are wary of what they share. Other users seem to be more care-free, making many private details from their lives public.

Finally, online social networking software is still evolving, so it’s difficult for users to establish a consensus about best practices. I believe the accelerating functionality of web 2.0 software will continue to complicate how we feel about online social networks for much longer.

PS: In what way do they differ from older forms of communication on the Internet?

OM: If web1.0 consisted of static pages, web2.0 is made-up of dynamic information, generated by the millions of users accessing the web through personal computers and mobile devices. This rapid rise in user-generated content has been made possible by the development of online applications using a myriad of open source programming languages. Sites like (launched 2005 and written primarily in Python) and (2004, PHP) which consist entirely of content contributed by users, store information in databases allowing for fast searching, sorting, and re-representation. Initially, the web consisted of information and we had to sift through it manually. Web2.0 allows for the growth of a semantic web and possibilities for machines to help us describe, understand, and share exponential amounts of data through tags, feeds, and social networks.

PS: Who is ultimately responsible for what happens to the data you upload to social networks?

OM: Obviously users are responsible for deciding what information they publish online. Still, Facebook’s “Recommended Privacy Settings” should emphasize more not less. While their privacy settings always seem to be a work in progress. One thing they do consistently is default to less privacy overall, thus more sharing of your information on their site. For a website that depends on user-generated content the motivation to encourage sharing is clear enough. Still, why do they use the word “privacy” if they’re not actually embracing the idea?

I honestly feel that all software that accepts user input, credit cards and phone companies, should be bound by strict written rules preventing them from sharing my information with advertising companies or the government. It seems like a basic human right to me. If there are laws preventing me from downloading and sharing copywritten music then there should be laws protecting my intellectual property as well.

PS: Do you read Terms of Use or EULA’s and keep up to date about changes applied to them?

OM: Only when curious or suspicious. They’re usually intentionally full of so much legalese that I don’t bother torturing myself. But as an artist and programmer, I have an interest in sharing my information in public space because I benefit from its appreciation. Perhaps a more accurate answer to this question would come from someone who doesn’t have this interest.

PS: Do you think you’ve got a realistic idea about the quantity of information that is out there about you?

OM: Yes I do. I am definitely conscious of the information I share. In addition I also research methods of surveillance and incorporate that knowledge into my art practice. So while I haven’t seen the visualization that determines the likelihood that my grandmother is a terrorist threat, it’s guaranteed that one is possible with a few clicks and some multi-million dollar defense contractor dataveillance tool. This is true for any human being through aggregation of credit card records, travel information, political contributions, and what we publish online.

PS: How do you value your private information now? Do you think anything can happen that will make you value it differently in the future?

OM: It’s important to me to situate my art practice in public space where it can provoke discussion for all audiences. But yes, I do intentionally avoid distributing dorky pictures of my mountain bike adventures. Seriously though, I’ve been watching the news. I can say that I’m definitely alarmed by the post-911 surveillance on U.S. citizens.

PS: How do you feel about trading your personal information for online services?

OM: It depends on the service. We all have to give up something in order to use these tools. For example, without telling Google Maps that I’m interested in Mexican restaurants in Williamsburg, I might never find Taco Chulo. This continual paradox in making private information public is somewhat rendered void if the sites we use actually protect our information, but it is more likely that everything we say and do online is used to some degree to enhance and advertisements. Here’s another example, 97% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising, which should suggest that while they produce software, their ultimate goal is to appeal to advertisers.[1]

PS: What do you think the information gathered is used for?

OM: I have a background in interface design and development so I know how great it is to use web stats to see where users are clicking. If traffic is not moving in the direction that you want then you can make specific buttons more prevalent.

I can only imagine what a company like Google does with the data they gather through their analytics tools. The fact that a government could access this information is scary when you think of the actions of past fascist states. The amount of control a government could levy through a combination of deep packet searching and outrightly ignoring human rights is staggering.

PS: Have you ever been in a situation where sharing information online made you uncomfortable? If so, can you describe the situation?

OM: Definitely. Sharing financial information online always causes a little anxiety. One of my credit cards has been re-issued three times now due to “merchant databases being hacked.”

PS: What is the worst case scenario, and what impact would that have on an individual?

OM: I just moved to Berlin so I’m looking at the history of this place quite a bit. This is relevant because, during the Cold War, before Germany was reunited, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) Ministry for State Security (MfS) or ‘Stasi’ is believed to have hired, between spies and full- and part-time informants, one in every 6.5 East German citizens to report suspicious activities.[2] That’s millions of people. At this moment, the ratio of people entering data on Facebook to non-members is one in fourteen for the entire world.[3] We have probably the most effective surveillance machine in the history of mankind.

PS: Nowadays, most of the “reading” of what is written online is done by machines. Does this impact your idea of what is anonymity and privacy?

OM: Well, it’s not surprising the interview has come to this point, since I keep referrencing the multitude of methods of computer-controlled digital surveillance. It’s true that machines have replaced humans for remedial work. For example: searching text strings for suspicious statements. But the ultimate danger to my privacy is only enhanced by machines. The real problem is when companies that I trust with my data decide to share it with corporations or governments that engage in behavior control.

PS: Can a game raise issues such as online privacy? And if so, what would you like to see in such a game?

OM: I find this question to be intentionally leading. Perhaps its because I’m generally optimistic and come from farmers, so I assume anything is possible? Not being a gamer though, I can tell you honestly that yes, it is possible, but you will have some challenges if you intend to reach an audience that doesn’t already agree with you. Reaching non-gamers who don’t already feel the same will be even tougher.

Games are generally immersive; you are either playing or your not. The biggest challenge you may have is reaching non-gamers, because they don’t generally invest large amounts of time in games for enjoyment. Try to find ways to highlight complexity and prompt discussion regardless of how long users play, and make this clear from the outset.

Finally, in politically-motivated cultural production it’s important to appeal to an audience first, and let them come to the issues on their own. Who would sit through a film knowing the twist at the end? Especially a conclusion intended to spur critical thinking and action, which is of course the goal.

[1] “Google Financial Tables for Quarter ending June 30, 2009” Retrieved October 13, 2010
[2] Koehler, John O. (2000). Stasi: the untold story of the East German secret police. Westview Press. ISBN 0813337445.
[3] “Facebook Statistics” Retrieved October 14, 2010

Facebook’s recommended privacy settings should emphasize more not less

Facebook’s “Privacy Settings” always seem to be a work in progress. One thing they do consistently is default to less privacy overall, thus more sharing of your information on their site. For a website that depends on user-generated content the motivation to encourage sharing is clear enough. Still, why do they use the word “privacy” if they’re not actually embracing the idea?

For example, a recent update introduces a table with degrees of privacy from less to more (left to right). Types of data are listed in rows, while access is shown in the columns, with Everyone to Friends Only, again left to right.


Curious about what Facebook “Recommended” settings were, I clicked and am sharing the screenshot below. I am not surprised to see that they wish me to open-up all content I generate; status messages, posts, images, etc. and discourage allowing anyone I don’t know to comment on posts (probably as spam prevention).


I have been thinking about privacy quite a bit this week, developing ideas for what next to do with Give Me My Data, and providing an interview about social media for Naked on Pluto (along with the likes of Marc Garrett and Geert Lovink). Plus I went to see the “geek hero story” The Social Network at the Babylon Cinema last night.

Anyway, after all this thinking about Facebook’s past, I’m curious about its future, and how it will continue to try to hold on to the #1 social networking website position that Friendster and MySpace lost so quickly. The API, games, etc could be expected, but the Facebook Connect tools that are so prevalent now, even on Yelp, a site I figured could make it without schlepping, were a surprise.

Facebook Connect, a jquery “widget” that allows you to login to other websites using your Facebook ID, is clever and eerie at once. It allows Facebook to track you when you are not even on their site, and make sure you stay loyal. If that sounds sinister, well it is. What other purpose could there be for making available a service with the single purpose of mediating every interaction or bit of content you add to the web? It seems at first like OpenID, and it is, except that its run by a multi-billion dollar social media corporation.

Recent and ongoing projects

Howdy, it’s been awhile since I last shared news about recent and ongoing projects. Here goes.


1. You Never Close Your Eyes Anymore

You Never Close Your Eyes Anymore is an installation that projects moving US Geological Survey (USGS) satellite images using handmade kinetic projection devices.

Each device hangs from the ceiling and uses electronic components to rotate strips of satellite images on transparency in front of an LED light source. They are constructed with found materials like camera lenses and consumer by-products and mimic remote sensing devices, bomb sights, and cameras in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

The installation includes altered images from various forms of lens-based analysis on a micro and macro scale; land masses, ice sheets, and images of retinas, printed on reflective silver film.

On display now until July 31 at AC Institute 547 W. 27th St, 5th Floor
Hours: Wed., Fri. & Sat.: 1-6pm, Thurs.: 1-8pm

New video by Asa Gauen and images

2. Images and video documentation of You Never Close Your Eyes Anymore will also be included in an upcoming Routledge publication and website:

Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice
by Rebekah Modrak, Bill Anthes
ISBN: 978-0-415-77920-3
Publish Date: November 16th 2010


3. Give Me My Data launch

Give Me My Data is a Facebook application designed to give users the ability to export their data out of Facebook for any purpose they see fit. This could include making artwork, archiving and deleting your account, or circumventing the interface Facebook provides. Data can be exported in CSV, XML, and other common formats. Give Me My Data is currently in public-beta.


Facebook application


4. Give Me My Data was also covered recently by the New York Times, BBC, TechCrunch, and others:

Facebook App Brings Back Data by Riva Richmond, New York Times, May 1, 2010

Picture 6

5. launch

A major server and website upgrade to the web-hosting co-op for artists and creatives. The new site allows members of the community to create profiles and post images, tags, biography, and events. In addition to the community aspect, is still the best deal going for hosting your artist website.


More images


6. The Americans

The Americans is currently on view at the Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, FL. It features a new work with the same title.

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7. Your Art Here billboard hanger

I recently designed a new billboard hanging device and installed it in downtown Bloomington, IN with the help of my brother Reed, and wife Joelle Dietrick.

Stay tuned here for news about Your Art Here and the new billboard by Joelle Dietrick.


8. Finally, moving to Berlin for a year on a DAAD fellowship to work on some ongoing projects, including Automata.

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I’ll be giving a paper about Automata at the upcoming ISEA2010 conference in Ruhr, Germany.

Many thanks to Chris Csikszentmihályi, Director of the Center for Future Civic Media , for inviting me to the MIT Media Lab last August to discuss the project with his Computing Culture Group: