Research Critique: Tracking Transcience

Hasan Elahi’s work Tracking Transcience is a webcam project. He developed a GPS tracker and a network device that allows details of his current location to be made available online. Here’s a description of the work:

an embrace of surveillance for its subject’s own protection; Elahi has protected himself from unwanted scrutiny by making his entire life and whereabouts publicly accessible.

— from Creative Capital

Which gives this project the subtitle: The Orwell Project — more than just putting this information out there, Hasan is also critiquing contemporary investigative and surveillance techniques.

Think of Tracking Transcience as a self-updating blog/Instagram. The website refreshes periodically with new sets of images. The homepage image displays Hasan’s current location.



Here’s a generic webcam capture from the website. I found this capture to perfectly embody the description of the webcam as stated in the reading:

Its low resolution, grainy pixelation lends it an antiquated, pre-television quality, while its stubborn stasis echoes the stern discipline of the surveillance camera. These qualities imbue the webcam with both a sense of documentary authenticity and of liveness that is central to its appeal and status: people log in to webcams to see what someone is actually doing now (or what is actually happening in the space now)

The situation in this photo is as perfectly real as reality: the mess on the table is reflective of an individual with a desk-bound job. The chair turned away from the table suggests the individual getting up from the desk and moving quickly away; as if we just caught this moment just as he left the table. It’s this kind of authenticity that gives the webcam its sense of appeal and also the eeriness of surveillance.



Some other images from the website include the meals he had, which are less creepy.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 8.49.23 pm

Here’s a grid display of webcam snaps, which is kind of like a montage of what he is up to at various points during the day/week. What I find fascinating about this in particular is that it even captures a urinal, which reveals that this network device goes with him almost everywhere.

Another interesting point raised about the webcam in the reading is the behaviour/subject that is being placed in front of the camera. The images generated by a camera of any kind suggests the user’s attitude towards the camera, as pointed out in the reading: flirting with the camera, impressing the camera, and ignoring the camera. In the case of Tracking Transcience, Hasan Elahi is likely to be ignoring the camera. He does make an effort to place the camera in such a way that we get a clear view of what he is doing/looking at, but the footage are nothing very controversial or extremely fascinating, perhaps just rather accurate depictions of his reality.

Research Critique 5: Shredder and Riot


shredder02shredder01 shredder03 shredder04

Shredder, 1998


shredder05 riot01 riot02

Riot, 1999

Mark Napier’s Shredder and Riot were alternative web browsers made in the 1990s. The main aim of these browsers was to deconstruct the webpage as it is conventionally viewed, by manipulating the underlying source code and re-presenting the data in their own elements. It is like taking apart a Lego sculpture and rearranging the bricks around.

In Rosa Menkman’s essay, she examines the beginnings of glitch art in sound culture:

The notion of glitch art was just crossing over from sound culture, and leaking into visual art culture only sporadically. Glitch more fully entered my vocabulary for visuals and networks when I began an artistic collaboration with the musician Goto80 (Anders Carlsson) in 2007. He explained to me how he exploited the Commordore64 sound chip for the creation of music. The bugs Goto80 used gave a very specific texture to the sound (the result of noise artifacts) and I began to develop and recognize visual equivalents to this process.

I feel that there is a textural element to both Shredder and Riot. The deconstructed website produces interesting outcomes.


Take this screenshot from the Shredder browser, for example. The blue part is made up of the source code: the line height of these coding text have been tweaked drastically. The extreme condensing of these lines produces a solid area of blue, and some of the background elements peek through the spaces in between, creating an interesting, textural effect. The blurry, pixelated images look like marbled texture too. The outcome of these glitched elements look like a collage made by a machine.

In the Glitch Studies Manifesto, here’s a description of glitch art as a progressive art form:

4. Employ bends and breaks as metaphors for différance. Use the glitch as an exoskeleton for progress.

Find catharsis in disintegration, ruptures and cracks; manipulate, bend and break any medium towards the point where it becomes something new; create glitch art.

Most of the works we discussed in recent weeks were artworks that were made with a piece of technology that is relatively new; artists who are keen to experiment with the purpose that these kind of technology have been designed for. Like Douglas Davis’s work The World’s Longest Sentence, Mark Napier’s Shredder and Riot were made in the late 1990s, when the Internet phenomenon was still rather young. It explores what can be done with the Internet browser than using it purely to surf the internet or to obtain information. Taking apart the surface of a website, “manipulating the medium”, was the creation of something new in the realm of something that is still new.

The machine no longer behaves in the way the technology was supposed to. Its glitching interface, strange sounds and broken behavioral patterns introduce tension into user intentions; an astonishing image (or sound) must be some how negotiated amidst a normally much more boring masquerade of human computer relations.

I also found this point very relevant to what the Shredder and Riot was designed to be like, particularly for Riot. The Riot browser really created this chaotic effect: elements of a webpage strewn all over, and the web page look really wild and crazy. If a user were to navigate a website using the Riot browser, it must have been quite an interesting experience, particular in that time, when websites looked simple and it was not diffucult to get around. A Riot-ed website probably would have made navigation way more interactive, with the user having to forage through this chaos to search for the links and to demystify text and images that have been layered over each other.


Research Critique 4: The Big Kiss


And from this ubiquitous state of shared presence we have come to inhabit an entirely new way of seeing via a fracturing of perception. The window through which we view the world is multi-layered, composited, and non-linearily re-arranged.

The Third Space, Randall Packer

Annie Abraham’s The Big Kiss demonstrates a sense of intimacy between two people from their remote locations, showing the audience the possibility and impossibility of intimacy via a network. It is fascinating to watch them trying to “kiss” each other by trying to align their lips on the big screen. It also highlights the awkward difficulty of trying to evoke that sense of physical touch via a network.

The Big Kiss can also be viewed as a collaborative work. Despite the intimate nature of the ‘kiss’, what is formed on the big screen is an effort of both kissers, a display of utmost concentration. I refer to the quote above from the reading. The screen becomes this shared space, composited, and it breaks down the barriers of locations and perceptions. It is seamless.


Research Critique 3: Good Morning Mr Orwell

The NetArtizens Project is described as an initiative to investigate the role of live broadcasted media as a medium for artists in the context of the networked arts. The term live broadcasted media had expanded broadly ever since it was used to describe the television: what used to be the primary form of visual broadcast media. Similarly, ‘networked arts’ no longer brings to mind technology like satellite. I would think that live broadcasting as a medium in the age of the Internet have grown to become more seamless. There are a few different types of live broadcasting on the virtual realm, apart from video streaming, Internet TV, there’s also live radio podcast, video chats. The beauty of such live broadcasting does not only lie in the immediate outreach of the content towards audience, but that it allows for functions of social media to be incorporated allowing the work to be participatory, not only inviting audience to view it but also engage in it.

In the essay, the NetArtizens Project is described as follows:

… a forum that that challenges the limitations and obstacles of cultural differences, social inequalities, political insecurities, and geographical distances, bringing access to voices often excluded from the conversation in the field of the new media arts.

This is similar to the concept in the work Good Morning Mr Orwell. The satellite installation links up channels from a few different cities in different countries, and making use of this satellite technology to pull live data into one single channel, viewed by audiences from all over the world, thus breaking down boundaries. Nam June Paik is known to manipulate the use of the television, and making use of its existing functions and capabilities to create something new. Good Morning Mr Orwell operates like a single, seamless tv show with different segments for the various artists/musicians who participated in it. What makes this work more endearing at the time of its creation was that it allows people all over the world to see satellite broadcast as more than just a tool to disseminate live/important news, but also as a mediator for collaborative artwork to take place.

Research Critique: The World’s Largest Collaborative Sentence

“The Sentence has no end. Sometimes I think it had no beginning. Now I salute its authors, which means all of us. You have made a wild, precious, awful, delicious, lovable, tragic, vulgar, fearsome, divine thing.”
—Douglas Davis, 2000

I really enjoy Douglas Davis’ The World’s Largest Collaborative Sentence. It really exemplifies what we can do on the Internet, as part of a collective whole, from our own computer, from each corner of the world.

These are some of my favourite parts of the work:

collabsentenc20 collabsentence03 collabsentence04“I’ve lost my stylesheet? Perhaps I never had style to begin with.” (That’s very funny, I will quote that in one of my works later on…)

The work is made by Douglas Davis in 1994, which makes it one of the very early forms of Internet art, and collaborative performance art via a network. Nearly twenty years on, the work is still ongoing and being improved. Imagine the amount of people who have contributed to the content of this massive virtual work.

That is what I enjoy about the work as well — the nature of the work and being able to keep it alive makes me think about what Deyan Sudjic has to say about the Internet:

“Our email and text trails will last as long as the server farms that have already conferred a kind of immortality”

An Internet artwork lives on a server, which allows it many possibilities for expansion, collaboration as well as preservation. This ‘immortality’ of the work gives it opportunity for it to carry on for many generations of people, so it will continue being the longest collaborative sentence. I think this is particularly interesting because the work could also give viewers a glimpse of Internet trends: bits from early Internet art at the time of the creation of the work, as well as things that are influenced by the Tumblr generation.

I enjoy this work a lot, and personally find that it will be useful as a reference work in my final year project too.



Research Critique 1: The Way of OSS and the OSS Artist

Nam June Paik — Electronic Superhighway (1974)

How might the Open Source system of sharing & collective narrative be a creative inspiration and approach for artists?

We can think of open source as a tool/medium for new ways of expressing ourselves as creatives in this postmodern time. Open Source’s encouragement and endorsement of sharing, and its collaborative methods of exchanging information and ideas is a kind of gateway for new genres of art-making. The essay “The Open Source Artist” draws example from the works of Nam June Paik, and his manipulation of the video and television set in his artworks. This is similar with the OSS’s artist approach in the sense that it is currently a significant concept in the age of information technology. Using and appropriating the use of OSS in our art making in our time is similar to Nam June Paik’s use of TV and moving images as it was the popular/prevalent form of technology at the time.

Another point in the essay that resonated with me is that the Web provides the artists immediate and accessible platform for showcasing creative work. The Web’s open concept provides anybody with a chance to be try to be an Internet celebrity, for example. The accessibility of these concepts give people a chance to push themselves creatively. People are also able to easily own a piece of virtual turf, by buying a web-host. cPanel could even be perceived as a new form of artist studio. One is able to reach out for many open sourced materials out here to make virtual artworks of their own: such as scripts, source codes. Even video tutorials that teaches you these things are made easily available and often at no charge. This is one of the benefits of working creatively in an OSS environment.

In the essay, “The Way of OSS”, the Internet is referred to as an Open Source repository. As an avid user of Dropbox, I can really relate to this concept. The “cloud” concept is similar to open source, as it encourages and aids creatives in collaborative working. It is also mentioned that the OSS community is marginalised, but the products of some OSS projects have definitely serve to improve millions of people in all areas of their lives, whether they are creatives or not.

On being a Netartizen (Google)

Photo 14-8-15 8 11 29 amI think as part of a generation of active social media users, we are surely Net Citizens. But as creatives, how can we take a step further and use social media as a form of art? The Internet can be considered an artistic medium. Whether the outcome of the work is interactive or static, there are really endless things one can do with the Internet and to make artwork with it. I took this photo of a tshirt I saw a lady wearing on the bus a few days ago. It reminds me of how sometimes my friends and I joke that we don’t need boyfriends because Google knows everything. Looking at this tshirt design, I actually started thinking about how Google is a really powerful tool that has a lot of potential to be an artwork by itself.


Here’s a screenshot I took when I key in the words “why am I” into the search bar. The predictions are very funny. It makes me think about how Google could be everybody’s confession box. These predictions are possible because of the popularity of these questions being asked, which if you think about it, is quite the result of a kind of networked practice by the whole world. (Clearly, everybody worries about being alone forever.)

Google’s products and services are becoming more interactive than before. They provide many opportunities for people to turn its uses into artistic mediums. Google Drive is a good example of collaborative practice. And there are already people out there who make artworks of of its services, like these postcards from Google Earth.

Millions of people use Google everyday, every hour, and unknowingly, they become an art collective of sorts as well as part of a post-modern commentary on our society and our way of life.