Club Silence / Throat Ocean (from the archives) by Dean Terry

From the Archives: Club Silence / Throat Ocean

Jasmine wakes up in Barstow behind the Bob’s Big Boy.

Jasmine wakes up in Barstow behind the Bob’s Big Boy.

Club Silence / Throat Ocean began in March 2010 at SXSW and ran until the following Spring. It was a multi platform transmedia art & performance piece that was centered on twitter and the then growing awareness of location in mobile platforms. It was one my earliest projects that attempted to use alternative approaches to online platforms for creative projects.

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Character. The character, Jasmine Silence, was a “geonervous” sleepwalker. She ran a club called Club Silence that, on the surface, appeared real. It was a place where no sounds were made. She lived above it but generally slept on the roof. The name Jasmine comes from David Bowie’s song “Always Crashing in the Same Car” which had a tone similar to what I wanted for the project.

Sleep disorder. The character would allude to a sleep disorder that was fantastical. She would be in one place, checking in, and then a few hours later be in an entirely different place, often obscure places. I also found a way to use Google’s street view in a simple, cinematic way. There was a way to post a link to street view in Twitter so that when opened, the virtual camera view would go from street level to straight up to the sky / sun. So if she woke up in Barstow, behind the Big Boy as in the image below, it would be as if you were in her place, waking up and looking at the sky, in a first person perspective. This was a glitch (since fixed) and was difficult to replicate but is an early example of using accidents and exploits in software for a creative effect.

Locations. Club Silence had three locations. Each was a made up address in between two real addresses. Each location had a phone booth so that calls could be made to or from the location. The image below shows the address in Los Angeles, based on Google street view. These locations also had Yelp listings with fake (and a few inexplicably authentic ones).

Club Silence Los Angeles

Club Silence Los Angeles

Platforms. Twitter was the primary platform, and other posts and activities from other platforms would be cross posted there. Twitter was primarily used for micro poems, poetic/oblique statements, and interactions with others. Yelp was used for location reviews of the three imaginary clubs. Foursquare was used for checkins. Foursquare was a startup that encouraged “check-ins” in locations. For a year or two, early adopters would checkin in wherever they went, sharing their location with friends. This was the first widely used location aware social system, long since integrated into most everything now. Google maps was used to track the character and to create a visual effect when opened from a link.

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Plants (insiders). I had several people who were on the inside and were aware of the project. Otherwise it ran like a mockumentary where very few knew who was behind it. Those on the inside would make posts pretending they were at the location. Others would create faked photos.

An insider leaves a message at Club Silence Austin.

An insider leaves a message at Club Silence Austin.

Enemies list. This was the first instance of the enemies list (vs friend lists which were what the internet was doing - and unquestioningly very proud of - at the time). The enemies list mostly consisted of well known new age and pop psychology figures who had found a new home and audience on twitter. Some of them, like Deepak Chopra, I would just reverse their tweet in a mini project called #quotehack. Most of their sayings can be reversed and make the same amount of head nodding nonsense.

Collections. The character would ask for things from her followers - the kind things that were generally only possible using the platforms at the time. In a mini project called Words That Hurt, she would ask for people to tweet the last word that someone said that hurt them. She also asked for recorded screams. People would call the Club Silence phone # (a google phone number when it was a thing) and scream into it. A number of beautiful scream made in bedrooms and alleys from all over was received and collected. She also asked for the sound of the moon from wherever they were, which people would leave on the voicemail. All of these digital artifacts were part of her “collection” - these were things she (I) collected. Collecting things like screams, words, and silence were part of the project, and a kind of alternative data collection vs the kind that advertising profilers were gathering.

Poetry. My primary motivation for creating Club Silence / Throat Ocean was as a writing exercise. The trans media and platform experiments were interesting creatively but the real challenge was speaking differently using (mostly) Twitter, which was still newish at the time. By the end of the project I had a database of one or two line poems and sayings - another form of collection.

Fin. In the end the project functioned like an online fantasy. An imaginary character appeared, made slight marks in one of the infinite numbers of little corners on the internet, and disappeared. It was about countering the pedestrian, self promoting, matter of factness of twitter. At that time almost no one was questioning the platform, the way it kept data forever, the value of constant updating and interruption, and the distortions of online, text centered identity. At its her best, Jasmine would say something that would break the flow of tweets about food, talks people were giving, cats, and the rest of the forever ephemera that exemplified the halcyon days of twitter.

The project ran nearly a year and expanded from one platform to several. Several online relationships were established via the character. The tone remained consistent. And then it changed names and faded out just as it faded in. The archive is still online (though many of the embedded links have expired) at @ThroatOcean.

The Alexa Dialogues Interviews I by Dean Terry

From the GlassTire Interview with Colette Copeland
Originally published at Glasstire.com. Revised and updated by Dean Terry 2019.

Q: The upcoming Alexa Dialogues continues your investigation into how technology shapes communication and relationships. Building upon your 2016 work Acoustic Nerves, the new work centers on human conversations with Alexa, the voice-driven artificial intelligence device.  What inspired this work? (Or what aspects of A.I. inspired this work?)

I’ve been following AI for many years. It is only recently that I found a way to engage with it creatively that would work in a live context and satisfy my need for rapid iteration. With my long time creative partner in Austin, Irl Nathan, we worked out a way to create original conversations with Amazon Echo devices. We use the same method as regular “skills” - which are like voice apps - but we stretch it well beyond the intended use. That technical opening allowed me to start imagining how to develop a performance around real time interactions with AI - or more accurately in this case, voice agents. These listening devices are in kitchens and bedrooms everywhere and I started thinking about what things might look like a few years out. Our relationship with AI will be a complicated one, but most of our ideas about what AI is is dominated by cliches from TV and movies: the robots will kill us all, or have sex with us just how we like it, or allow us to live forever in indestructible shiny or perfect fleshy robot bodies. So I had to think through scenarios and end states that fell outside conventional portrayals. The general idea, as with most Therefore work, is to unsettle conventional framings of experience, in this case with emerging AI. I wanted to stretch it out and complicate it.

Q: Tell a funny/strange story about something that happened during one of the improv sketch/practice sessions.

There are many. One of the things I try and do is create a framework for the group to improvise, experiment, and generally attempt to surprise and/or get a rise out of one other. It’s a tough room. Despite the seriousness and dark tone of some of the work the improv sessions are raucous, particularly at the beginning of a project.

The frame for The Alexa Dialogues is a critical, experimental view of emerging AI. Within that are many varying, sometimes contradictory perspectives and within them spaces for improvisation. Several months ago Abel took full advantage of the context. While sitting in front of our projection screen he noticed it created a silhouette, the kind that you see on crime shows when someone is confessing anonymously. We happened to have several voice transformers connected to microphones and Abel began an improvisation about confessing his love for Alexa in a low pitched voice. He was such a jerk. Full on mansplainer. And it killed us. Men need to be calling out other men in this era, so we put it in the show, along with several others that deal with gender and technology. The conceptual framing, a ready technical framework, and Abel’s phenomenal sensitivity and improvisational ability all came together. This happens all the time, particularly in our early sessions - and by design. Therefore, properly configured, is a surprise engine.

Hilly Holsonback in The Alexa Dialogues. Photo by Alisa Eykilis

Hilly Holsonback in The Alexa Dialogues. Photo by Alisa Eykilis

Q: In the “battle of the bots”, who will win?

Power will win. Whoever or whatever controls the most powerful systems will win. I’m not in the habit of paraphrasing Putin, but he’s right that whoever controls AI will likely control the world. This is why you see recent efforts to control or influence the trajectory of AI in various ways: ethics, regulation, making AI human-like (which makes it safer how, exactly?), etc.

Our ideas and imaginings of AI are clouded by the people and industries who develop the technology, by their assumptions  - often unquestioned - about reality. If you assume the world is something like a computer, and that the brain is similar, then it is easy to imagine by extension a machine based network emulating that. That is why it is important that creative people - artists of all kinds - engage critically and imaginatively with emerging technology. We bring different assumptions, methods, and, often, a healthy tolerance for uncertainty. And there will be a lot of that in the coming decades. Some of smartest people on the planet are arguing both sides of the AI debate: will we live forever in the cloud or just until the robots kill us all, possibly by accident or in executing a bit of code? I think what happens with AI will be more complicated and unpredictable than that. Just look at the evolution of the Internet over the last 30+ years. I think we need to hear the voices (the work) of artists here, reimagining and reframing futures.

My guess is that in this century, or the latter first half of it anyway, some form of human/AI hybrid will dominate, meaning AI and biotech and related emerging technologies will augment, amplify, and shape our thinking. This will affect creative practice deeply, and there will be a range of responses, hints of which we are seeing already. In the coming decades the relationship between individual creative practice and computing / thinking systems will become more intertwined. At some point AI itself will be something like what we consider to be creative, making things in and for its own context. Some of it may overlap with human concerns and some may not. I’m not talking about AI emulating human painting, literature, or music, which is obvious and uninteresting, but constructing things for itself, largely or entirely independent of our art history, theory, and economics. Creativity and what we think of as art is not exclusive to humans.  

Q: Dada informs your practice, not only conceptually--celebrating absurdity and irrationality, but also with the experimental use of media—experimenting with sound, performance and video (film in Dada/Surrealist works). The Dadaists were responding to WWI. How does your work respond to the current political climate?

Sometimes we respond to it directly, as in The World’s Safest Art Show where we protested all the shutdowns of art events by the Dallas Fire Marshal. Our own show, along with many others, was shut down mid performance with no warning, despite the fact that it was funded by another part of the same city. Recently we performed a mostly improvised set at my artist friend and colleague John Pomara’s infamous annual holiday art party. It was basically a dadaist flavored absurdist comedy set with impersonations of Melania Trump and direct critiques of the role of some visual art in the context of the current political climate.

In The Alexa Dialogues there are many nods to Dada, including an entire back and forth interaction with Alexa composed of nonsense words and noises, which traces back to the earliest Dada performances. There’s a (pretend) machine learning generated weatherman that delivers highly mannered emotional forecasts from, we discover, the past. The entire show is structured in 28 mini performances, most with varying perspectives on the overall theme, but with no structured or linear narrative. We tend to frustrate categorization because different methods and elements  - images, sound/music, performance - dominate at different times and combine in varying ways. Often, we search for unexpected interdependencies between media elements. We might take something like a spoken sentence, for example, and break it into all its constituent parts - sound, words, the movement of the mouth, facial expression - and then reassign and recombine them. For me, it just has to be live. Except for the MIDI triggered video elements, almost nothing is prerecorded. So many our artistic constructions and our daily experience are based on presets. Liveness has to mean something.

Dada had enemies, including itself. Our enemies are decoration, common sense, and self serving, simplistic rational constructions of reality. Poking at the underbelly of that and refusing to rely heavily on conventional genre structures is a deeper critique than simple counter argument or political illustration disguised as expression in my view. Questioning latent constructions of reality is a prerequisite for meaningfully transforming experience through creativity.

White Guy Yells At TV by Dean Terry

Notes towards new visual art or Alternative Visual Facts *draft

Suburban White Woman #1

Suburban White Woman #1

 
I am a Nationalist!

I am a Nationalist!

 
White Ghost

White Ghost

My friend and colleague John Pomara and I have co-curated an exhibition with Joan Davidow at Site 131 which opens this week. We are both also artists in the exhibition. As there are descriptions and an essay about the show elsewhere, here I’ll make a few remarks about my new work, a return to gallery and 2D art after a long absence.

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to reintroduce flat, wall based, non moving visual art to my practice. Years ago, while still in graduate school and for a while after, my large digital prints were at Ace Gallery in Los Angeles, an enormous space with a controversial history. It was 1991 and no one was buying or selling printed digital art, or so I found out the hard way. I quickly abandoned gallery art for new media. Fast forward to today and digital prints are, finally, a common sight in galleries. 

To ease my transition back to visual art after many years away I employed various strategies from performance and new media. For this first series, I’m playing White Guy Yelling At His TV From The Couch. This was not new for me and I didn’t have to change a thing. The question was how to get from furiously spitting bits of Cheetos into the air towards a television to an image object on the wall. What 2D thing could White Guy Yelling at TV transform into? How could that experience be translated, restructured into flat stillness? I went from yelling at the television to yelling at software, which was also not new. 

I had two starter ideas at the beginning of the process, both of which were about context: how and were would these things be seen? The first was to make a series that was intended to be the backdrop for firing people called Paintings for Firing People. The idea is that someone would buy a painting and put it in a room where people were regularly fired. This idea came from a Therefore performance held in front of a crowd of visual artists where we asked “how many people have been fired in front of your pretty, pretty painting?” 

The second idea, pursued in part here, is that the work would be somehow Instagram proof. So much work on instagram is ostensibly not for instagram, but, sans rationalizations, it most certainly is. There’s a pretense that the platform, the scale, the hundreds of millions of viewing environments (cars, bedrooms, bathrooms) do not matter. But they do matter, the same way a Judd placed without ceremony in a parking lot matters, but in reverse.

There’s a reason for objects to be exported to the world from software. Scale is not enough. The graphite marks on the piece in the show, which only show up at certain angles, are a start at this. There are also moire patterns that appear differently at various scales and via phone screens. As the series develops there will be more experiments in frustrating digital representation (of an object that was itself originally digital).

Software struggles to absorb my anger at misplaced white anger. Digital can’t cut or poison you the way traditional tools can. The pixels want to be thrown, jumped up and down on, made unpredictable. But the predictable sequences required to use commercial software are someone else’s logic, an ordering that is enemy to gesture and improvisations. And when things enter the world from digital environments, when they are made to be frozen and under the constraints of common objects, I become nervous and uncertain. Everything becomes too fucking late.

What was the White Guy Yelling at? All the source images for this series come from pictures and video of people at Trump rallies. These are the ones right behind him, often enraptured, mouths open, all nodding in agreement and chanting the way some animals howl and swarm in unison. The source image from the work in the show is from the rally immediately following the Kavanagh hearings. It is called Suburban White Woman #1. The phrase comes from pollsters and marketers and was repeated as “suburban white women” consistently through the 2016 election and ever since. This group was, many television people are saying, largely responsible for the election of Trump. A few days after the Kavanagh hearings, there they were, mouths still agape, their lumpy leader spitting red meat in front of them. Words that hurt were soothing them in places they do not understand. The person loosely portrayed in Suburban White Woman #1 betrayed a more complex look, the certainty of white rightness a bit more transparent than just days before. Or was this just my projection and some perverted crush? You’re not really alt-right, right? There’s a path to enlightenment in your eyes! If only pixels could absorb WTF’s and wafts of coffee breath from across my converted garage, we would be one, I’m sure of it.