It Began With a Nominal Desire #networkwaste

http://prezi.com/jotqac0lzvu7/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Artist Statement

It began with Reassembling the Social. Inspired by the transformation of mere intermediaries into full-fledged mediators, we sought to create a representation of networks where connections would be represented with the same specificity as actors—and where the representation of either would bear the hallmarks of its material particularity. Taking additional inspiration from the role of photography in Latour’s work, we appealed to the photograph as a means of representing moments of contact, the sharing of physical space, and would-be autonomous entities both human and not. Refusing to distinguish between actors and encounters, our representations quickly took the form of an assemblage, and collected otherwise mediated detritus according to the forms of our labor and contact.

Instead of edges connecting such indices—and because those connection were themselves already represented—we wanted to signal that groups of encounters may be meaningful as a whole.  Dissatisfied with links and other discrete relations, we tried to gesture toward this accumulation through a loose logic of proximity. Here again, we took Latour as our guide, and explored tensions between the work he terms synoptic vision and that of circulating reference. From the former, we took up the imperative to display representations side-by-side, as constellations in some two-dimensional array, so that they can be easily and variously compared, subject to neither hierarchy nor atrophy. Meanwhile, the notion of circulating reference justified forming some particular subgroups for inspection: as Latour writes in the glossary from Pandora’s Hope, it is only when representations are “cleverly aligned” that they produce knowledge (307). But we also wanted to give the spectator license to explore our visual landscape and detect the short circuits, the lapses in judgment, the utopian possibilities that a fully formed representation might dismiss.

For reasons of scale and access, we decided to document ourselves. Appealing to existing technologies of networked sharing (Twitter, Instagram, Gmail/Google Docs, Prezi), we created our archive through dissemination. We attempted not to shoot ourselves in the Instagrammed foot by interrogating, through practice, the affordances and limitations those forms of connectivity at once allow and thwart. This allowed our investment in waste, excess, and utopia to play into (and play upon) the very act of representation. Our eventual product became a narrative of representations, told through our encounters with and attempts at mediation. At the same time, we were suspicious of our own capability in this endeavor—of our ability to recognize what might be important in any part of our work. This suspicion made our archive an archive of waste: our materizations merely clusters of intensities, continually signaling to what is obscured and obliterated in their production.  Here, we were consoled by Rem Koolhaas, whose notion of a “prospective archaeology” gave form to our indecision. Thus, we adopted his twin mantras: maintain the viable, modify only the untenable! In this way, the stages of our project elaborate schemes that are everywhere in contradiction with their result. But their culmination is not, for that, surprising.

Panoramas imply a degree of localization without having to map things.

Words helped us when the image did not. But we believe that what is more important is what is lost. 

Works Cited

Koolhaas, Rem and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. “Revision: Study for the Renovation of a Panopticon Prison.” S, M, L, XL. New York: Monacelli, 1998. Print. 235–53.

Latour, Bruno. Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999. Print.

— . Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.

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Network Theory Sound Collage

Artist Statement

This sound collage takes as its source text the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page “Network Theory,” and the first paragraphs of hyperlinked elements from that page. The voices reading the text grow louder and then softer as they reach and then pass the hyperlinked term.

One of the weaknesses of the traditional link-and-node map of the network is that it forces spatialization and creates relationships of distance where often those distances are irrelevant. By transferring our representation from the realm of the visual to the auditory, we attempted to escape this compulsory spatialization. This choice entailed a trade-off: we lost the ability to provide a macroscopic, capacious view of the network, and hopefully gained instead an increased sense of immediacy, and an ability to represent how a member of a network experiences its portion of the whole. Our model attempts an engineered blindness – it’s impossible to disentangle fully the overlapping voices from each other, and thus the kind of totality that our representation offers is one that has to be experienced rather than observed. For many networks, including Wikipedia, it is not possible, starting from just one of the nodes, to access the entire set of interconnections that constitutes the whole. While the network is not infinite, its boundaries are elusive. The sense of the whole that a distant representation provides is often out of reach for a user of a network, and our model offers in its place a focus on the tension between the rich and the overwhelming, between so much and too much, that we associate with the networked world.

The temporal dimension of working in sound rather than image also gave us the opportunity to create a diachronic, rather than synchronic, representation of a network, acknowledging the way a given network grows and develops and the way that a node’s relation to the network changes over time. We wanted to offer a more nuanced version of what it means for two nodes to be connected: in our network representation, rising and falling volumes reflect the changing importance of a given intersection to our central node over time. Alternative renderings might link a hyperlinked page’s volume to its conceptual importance for the home node or to its importance as a hub in the Wikipedia system, as measured by the number of pages to which it is linked.

While the dimension of time is an important part of telling a network story, we also wanted to think about how the consciousness of being part of a network interrupts some of our temporalities of interaction. Every member of a network experiences structural constraints on his, her, or its ability to engage with the network as a whole, whether these constraints result from the limitations of her tools (computer software/ hardware), a larger-level infrastructure, or her body. A human being can read a maximum of one Wikipedia page at any given moment. However, an awareness of the hyperlinks on any given page and the potential detours they represent is for most people an integral part of what it means to use this resource, and many other networks feature similar patterns of non-linear and perhaps unpredictable intersection. The awareness of possible other paths, and the corollary potential for disruption that networks entail are represented by the hum of voices reading hyperlinked paragraphs that commences from the moment the page is opened. Furthermore, our model, which allows you to hear the home node as well as those that it links to, seeks to recognize the way nodes within a network continue to influence the whole, and change it, rather than simply be contained by it, shifting agency from the observer of the network to the actors within it.

yeast_network

yeast
hydrogen peroxide
sugar

on their own: in motion, albeit unhurriedly
together, under some configuration: swiftly changing, searching for new (but temporary) equilibria
becoming-assemblage
becoming-multiplicity

affective, always
networked, always

yeast network
yeast_network

 

 

Artist Statement

1. Yeast is a living organism with an internal logic that is transformed as it moves across contexts.

yeast_network is a pair of filmed chemical experiments. The first one chronicles the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide, and the second one the fermentation of sugar. While yeast acts as a catalyst in the former case, it entirely kickstarts the latter. Yeast is a microorganism that reproduces itself asexually. In a mitotic process nicknamed “budding,” each yeast cell carries an outgrowth that detaches itself and becomes autonomous only when it reaches maturity. Yeast is always alive, even outside of the conditions required to generate a visible reaction on its part. For instance, when it is isolated from sugar or hydrogen peroxide, yeast is more or less dormant—neither dead nor inert, but slowly, slowly changing.

Considering that yeast is a living organism, that sugar is a specific configuration of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen, and that hydrogen peroxide is always already decomposing itself into water and oxygen, we claim that the main ingredients of our experiments can be regarded as networks in themselves. They constitute arrangements of interconnected logics and items which, while in movement, operate within the confines of a shared frame of reference. When combined, yeast and hydrogen peroxide or sugar disrupt each other’s equilibrium and render their networked character visible.[1] In other words, yeast communicates the nonhuman forms of agency at play in network disruption, formation, and expansion.

2. Yeast forms a network which, in its becoming-assemblage and becoming-multiplicity, is reshaped by the substances with which it comes into contact.

We thought, when we designed our project, that the networks we were going to represent would be more restrictive than Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s volatile, fluctuating concepts of assemblages and multiplicities. Neither subject nor object, a multiplicity does not have an identity; it is always becoming, changing in nature as its determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions change in size (Deleuze and Guattari 8). An assemblage, on the other hand, is a specific, albeit mutable, increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that modifies this multiplicity’s nature as it expands its connection (Deleuze and Guattari 8). Against our initial hypothesis, we found that if yeast and the substances with which it interacts do indeed form networks, then these networks are in actuality quite close to assemblages and multiplicities. A network, even when its workings abide by an identifiable logic or are mobilized for a project of referentiality, can be in excess of itself and seek new processes, forms, or channels to expand its connections.

Let us consider the following example: in a three-part essay, James A. Barnett reveals the difficulty of tracking the history of yeast (a rather anthropocentric angle, we should note). The different statuses of yeast—as a fermentor, a living organism, and an ingredient in bodily (re)actions—are intertwined and mutually dependent; moreover, scientists estimate that yeast fermentation appeared on earth around 3.5 billion years ago, when oxygen was unavailable (Nelson and Cox 528). Glycolysis, or the fermentation of sugar by yeast as it is demonstrated in our fermentation experiment, developed as a “metabolical pathway,” a strategy for organisms to exceed their envelope and seek a new stability in their environment (Nelson and Cox 528). The idea that organisms seek “metabolical pathways” or that hydrogen peroxide undergoes permanent and constant decomposition even outside of catalysis shows that the equilibrium that supports a network can be outside of the network in question—in its becoming-assemblage or becoming-multiplicity, perhaps.

3. Video, in yeast_network, highlights the temporal and sensorial potentialities and limitations of network representation.

To summarize, yeast_network employs different ingredients that can individually be conceived as networks and arranges them in a way that disrupts their equilibrium and makes their networked character palpable, obvious. Networks are near-assemblages or near-multiplicities in that they can exist under logical configurations that jeopardize the stability required for human access and cognition. This being said, focusing on one single vector in a complex network (for example, concentrating on the catalysis of hydrogen decomposition when it occurs amidst countless other phenomena) runs the risk of streamlining this network to the point of diminishing its rhizomatic potential. It is in order to insinuate the scope of the complementary and contradictory phenomena that surround catalysis and decomposition that we employed the medium of video. While it is temporally limited and fails to transmit the heat and odor produced by energy formation, for example, video contextualizes the experiments in question and, as such, increases the number and the width of the affective or sensorial channels via which the viewer can integrate the networks being displayed.


[1] The fermentation experiment we conducted is a more expansive version of a common baking technique, proofing, which consists in using a small quantity of yeast and provoking the fermentation of sugar. If left dormant for too long, yeast will not be able to react to the introduction of sugar.

References

  • Alba-Lois, Luisa, and Claudia Segal-Kischinevzky.  “Yeast Fermentation and the Making of Beer and Wine.” Nature Education 3, no. 9 (2010): n. pag. 29 October 2013.
  • Barnett, James A. “A History of Research on Yeast 1: Work by Chemists and Biologists, 1789–1850.” Yeast 14, no. 16 (1998): 1439–1451.
  • Barnett, James A. “A History of Research on Yeast 2: Louis Pasteur and his Contemporaries, 1850–1880.” Yeast 16, no. 8 (2000): 755–771.
  • Barnett, James A.,. and Frieder W. Lichtenthaler. “A History of Research on Yeast 3: Emil Fischer, Eduard Buchner and their Contemporaries, 1880–1900. Yeast 18, no. 4 (2001): 363–388.
  • Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
  • Nelson, David L., and Michael M. Cox. Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry (Fifth Edition). New York: W.H. Freeman, 2008.