I’m Done With Facebook

Living abroad in the late 90’s off-and-on through 2004, I fell in love with early social media like Friendster and even early Facebook. It was a way to wave to my posse, to remind myself that my fellow diasporists of shared misspent youths still remembered me, and vice versa. And when feeling a little lonely, sometimes something like a digital wave was just enough.

But now at the end of 2016, I just can’t do Facebook anymore.

I don’t like the way I carry it with me throughout the day. It’s not the political arguing, it’s just the sense of suffocating encapsulation, the overwhelming banality of so much of it, and the disproportionate headspace it takes up. I also feel more greedy about how much of myself I want to give (without even a tax write-off) to Zucky.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a LOT I’ll miss. So many dear friends, family, and deadly smart people inhabit my feed, but I’ll have to find other ways to find you. And that’s probably better.

I plan to spend my 2017 doing work with focus and clarity sans Facebook: running a fantastic organization, writing, thinking, and loving my beloved friends and family. Maybe I’ll make a clean start on Facebook at some point in the future, but in the meantime, or post December 31, you can find me on Twitter (for now): @rddy. Or hey, just send me an email or give me a call, voice is a nice way to communicate btwn. humans. See ya on the flipside!

nuuklang@gmail. com, +1 347 836 1818

We Need Artists To Help Us Navigate This New World

Tuesday night last week, sometime past 9PM, the absurdly skeuomorphically designed dials on the New York Times election page started shaking, vibrating, and nearly spinning. As the probability of a Trump victory skipped and jumped into the high 80’s, it was an indication that we were moving from what felt like a frightening simulation into an even more frightening reality. Without any understandable sense of the connection of what was driving those stuttering dials, seemingly designed to resemble the tacky dashboard on an 80’s Cadillac, we were tugged along into this frightening present. This event heralded the ascendancy of those who want to “see the progress in the world slow down a bit just so they can catch up”, as described by the aptly named Robert Lee in a day after op-ed in the Guardian.

Much of the story of how we got here can be found in the realm of how we as a culture have digested emerging technologies, from AI to social networks, and the closing off of education as to how these machines guide our lives. As Siri drives people literally into the lake, we’ve not come up with a means of functionally relating to our machines, instead letting them create silos of a commonality of convenience. We’re all riding in a post-factual clown car of contrived differences: how could Trump not be in the driver’s seat?

The usage of art as a means of navigating technology, and thus the world, is at the core of Eyebeam. We support works that use the act of artistic creation to directly challenge the inherent ideology in many forms of technology. We launch projects that point to things that were once at the fringe, now central to civic conversation, showing how artists are the ones to “see around corners” and help identify topics we will be exploring for years down the road.

How My Organization Is Democratically Reinventing Itself

“At least I don’t have the weight of a 19-year old institution on my shoulders.” A gallerist friend and I had been gabbing about the challenges non-profits and small businesses share. That was when an electric spark went off in my head: I realized that an organization like Eyebeam is nothing but the people who come through it.

It’s a lot of people.

I became director of Eyebeam nine months ago, where I strive for a world in which our tools serve us, rather than the other way round. It’s been a joy mapping out possible plans that could ripple and tumble into the future with abandon. I love attempting to craft a little utopia here in our Brooklyn HQ. Where else do you get to pay people — generously, in cash and through tools, facilities and expertise — with no purpose but to create and inspire?

We’ve drawn up plans to invite back all those who know Eyebeam best — all three hundred plus of them — to our Brooklyn headquarters to redesign the core residency program. Our alums bring in collective wisdom in everything from successful art careers to billion dollar businesses They’re exactly the people we need to listen to, and we’ll be taking a lot of notes.

We’re asking them one simple but powerful question. We provide tools to our residents that they use in turn to create tools that the public can use to change the world. As creative practice has transformed in the last decades, how should our platform of total support change?

Since the organization was founded by John Johnson in 1997, Eyebeam has maintained a fundamental belief in radical collaboration — not just because it’s right, but because it’s fruitful. Rather than bureaucratic posturing, we get true creativity in the studio.

To create the future, we need to celebrate the past. In Eyebeam’s case, that past is a storied 19 year history of creative chaos, conversations, innovation, parties, and radical ideas that have gone on to shift the rhythms of the world. Like its alums, Eyebeam itself is not afraid of taking risks. Our open-sourcing the DNA of our core program, for alums to play with, only makes us stronger.

Eyebeam is just like the future. After all, as that quote from the Hasidim puts it, the future will be just like the present — only a little different.

The (Digital) Values of a Simpler Time

It’s about 4:30pm on January 1, 2000, and I’m in my under-insulated chilly northern Tokyo apartment, slowly waking up after having shuffled home at sunrise from a night out dancing in Shibuya. I slowly roll over onto the tatami mat, press power on my Powerbook 3400c (briefly the fastest laptop in the world) only to find the 8-bit floppy disk question mark icon blinking groggily back at me.

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My first thought: “Wow, did the Y2K bug hit me too?”. We were all so paranoid about the possibility of it locking up the networks of the world back then; looking back 16 years later, that anxiety seems silly.

In the end it was simply a hard drive failure and I lost everything on my Powerbook, including years of music I had been working on as well as all of the electronic correspondence I had collected since I first went online in 1994. But at 22 years old, it seemed to be one more omen reminding me that I needed a fresh start. After all, it was a new millennium and I wanted to be a new person. Why not just let it go and start again?

Fast forward to today, as we’re barreling towards the close of another year. In contrast, two things stand out to me now in comparison to those early days: 1) in 2000, I was confident my electronic past could be forgotten 2) the machines we used were so stupidly unreliable. It seems clear that devices we all use now function far better but we have also regressed in having even the lightest ownership of our electronic information.

I have dropped, spilled water on, and abused my poor iPhone in a hundred other ways but it doesn’t stop. And the same with my lean MacBook Air. Compared to the soft/hard-ware of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, these things now are built like tanks. Finally we can actually use them as they were meant to be: as tools for cognitive augmentation and seamless communication. And for that, they are almost magical. And every day at Eyebeam, I see them pushed even further into areas of wholly new invention at a level I cannot remember at any time previously. Our residents are developing everything from new bacterial printing techniques to creation of online platforms which make exponentially more probable the abolishment of solitary confinement in the United States. The potential scale and impact is far beyond what an individual artist could dream up in 2000.

But as a dark parallel, there is no clear line of demarcation between my personal correspondence and a host of government agencies, none of which have inspired trust in their discretion. This impacts the way we all communicate now, both personally and publicly. The other day, my partner was at JFK and I wanted to send him a text message about BOMB magazine. But I ended up not sending it because the last thing I wanted was for geo-locative monitoring systems to pick up the word “bomb” on his iPhone and give him another headache as he worked his way through the holiday security procedures. Any sort of trust in the system as being private is completely gone and I think we have yet to understand the contours of what that is doing to the way we talk and interact with one another.

As the newly minted director of Eyebeam, I am able to beat the drum for development of alternatives to this reality. After all, the organization was born in the late 90’s and while a lot of the utopianism of that time was unfounded, I still do believe in many of the fundamental building blocks held true then. For example, I think that the construction of HTML links are more directly modeled on the way humans think, not like the eternal scroll which implies we’re all missing out. I still hold faith in the value of openness in digital creation, a notion which to this day allows a system of checks and balances in the foundational code of the internet. And the unshakable curiosity of that time in finding out what tools might be able to do, not just what we’re told they should do, still allows for invention at the local level. And I think that by supporting artists alongside engineers who are building tools to pull us out of this surveillance dark age, real progress can be made. Artists like James Bridle who is agressively re-examining metaphors we use for emerging technologies. And collectives like Deep Lab, born of Eyebeam alums, which provide a feminist perspective on hackng in 2015.

The values of the early internet are not as concretely powerful as they once were, but certainly some of the naiveté of that time is what made the current world possible. After all, cynicism will collectively get us nowhere. There is a real possibility that some of those early ideas, grounded in a more wizened perspective, can find a foothold for resurgence and make more human-centered technological development possible. People, across generations, are becoming more aware of the hidden impact of their digital tools and the more this is made visible, through engaged art, the greater the chance for real change.

Aesthetics of Exposure

Works by Zach Gage (left) and Brian House (right)

Zach Gage (left) and Brian House (right)

Eyebeam In Objects, on view at Upfor Gallery, Portland, OR, grew out of my interest in challenging a group of Eyebeam technologists and artists, whose work primarily lies in immaterial forms, to render their work into objects for gallery presentation. The resultant pieces interrogate notions of materiality and its porous relationship to data and concepts.

Contemporary technologies are often pervasive yet deeply unknowable, even through first-hand experience. One is pleasantly unaware of encounters with algorithms while perusing social media sites, being bio-sensed throughout major metropolitan areas, or scanned by facial recognition surveillance while walking through airports. The unrecognized quality of these encounters is due to intentional obfuscation by its designers as well as code’s tendency to self-present as immaterial. This has led to our current cultural landscape wherein technology seems to keep creeping up on us and jumping out from the shadows before we have the language to understand or the skills to navigate, nevermind resist. For instance, 3D printing technology has led to a legal wild west in which copyright law becomes nearly quaint in the face of infinite material replication.

Much of the contemporary art world, with some exceptions, appears to be flat-footed in the face of such radical and unpredictable change. This is not a complete surprise given its often cautious approach to support works engaging with technology. Some recent east coast shows have professed critical engagement with emerging digital practitioners that only amounts to ramping up the artifice and mythology of technology as black-box magic, or mere surface—outside practical comprehension or even accurate metaphorization. These shows have focused on using digital work as means to create “experiences” (in nearly the retail usage of the word) which feel alien and extraterrestrial using dated visual language of what at times has the feeling of mid-twentieth century “rocketship aesthetics”.

Despite the skewed state of public presentation and support, there is a large community of emerging digital artists whose work is uninterested in putting people under the spell of technology. The artists included in this show are deeply invested in challenging relationships to technology in an engaged and sustained manner. Their work is more interested in pulling the curtain back and trusting viewers’ curiosity rather than creating a sheen of celebration.

Through a restraint of artifice, they gesture towards an aesthetics of exposure: the guts of the work hang out and illustrate the inherent materiality of digital-ness. After all, binary needs to be counted on physical hardware. The Cloud is not a cloud; in fact, it is a collection of giant warehouses throughout the world, made of plastic, concrete, metal, and glass, consuming fossil fuels at an alarming rate.

They are creating work that digs into issues of environmentalism, politics, information ownership, and the assumed inscrutability of technology itself. In essence, they might be closer to an activist folk tradition, by digital means. Actively exposing the material of our emerging technological relationships as an aesthetic can be a wedge to open broader and deeper understanding and ultimately collective and individual agency.


Featuring work by Chloë Bass, Zach Blas, James Bridle, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Zach Gage, Brian House and Addie Wagenknecht.

my 2014

2014 was a big bold year, full of extremes and some real pops and sizzle. I haven’t tried to put a year down in words in a long time, but now seems as good as any to try to modestly organize the chaos of the last 365 days. Or at least to plot a few (good) points of my year. Obviously the year was pretty rotten in the truly important ways, like war, politics, culture wars, etc. However…
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The year started out with the final group show of Eyebeam artists in our Chelsea space, the 2014 Annual Showcase. It was huge, featuring 22 artists. It felt like a perfect closing residency event for our time in Chelsea, and the artists got fantastic coverage in the press. The one-on-one conversations that I organized turned out well, that time-tested BOMB magazine style of duo artist conversation is tough to beat. Ingrid Burrington and James Bridle, together, were a particular highlight.

I was really happy that I could pull in a composer I very much admire, and who was one of my teachers back at Mills College, to do a show in our space. Pauline Oliveros and her group realized a fantastic improvisatory set in March that re-ignited my love for that specific type of AI electro-acoustic sound performance.

In July, Joon and I did a “micro-residency” at ACE Hotel as part of their artists in residence program. Any flak they’ve gotten from the Ryder Ripps fiasco (remember?) is mostly undeserved, they do try to make the residency initiative meaningful for participating artists. And, they are a hotel after all, not an artists support organization. Ryder was an awkward choice, though I’m sure the resulting buzz didn’t hurt either party. And it was kind of amusing to see everyone get so up in arms about it. 

I spent a lot of the rest of summer 2014 preparing for a show I put together, called Slipped Gears. I have actually done a lot of curating over the last dozen years, but somehow the act of calling myself a curator has eluded me, for reasons I’ll save for another time. But at some point, it became clear that the word can be a functional interface with the world, and it allows me to present artists that I believe in. The show opened at Bennington College in October. I’ve never been so happy with a project, it was a pleasure to put together and it looked great.

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But the best part of 2014 is that I got to continue to work with amazing artists and brilliantly creative people on a daily basis through my job at Eyebeam. And I got to meet some lovely new people: 

–> It’s been such a pleasure getting to know the work of Matias Viegener throughout last year.

–> I’m so happy I was able to put McKenzie Wark into an event, his writing is on fire these days.

–> I am beyond excited to have begun a project with Theo Downes-LeGuin (Upfor Gallery, Portland).

–> It was great to work with Robert Ransick in putting together Slipped Gears, he is a ninja when it comes to making an exhibition happen.

–> I don’t know how it took so long to finally do something with Rosa Menkman.

–> Nancy Nowacek and Torkwase Dyson are rocking my world at Eyebeam every day.

–> Arjun Srivatsa was the first (and so far best!) “best boy” at our office.

–> And it was great to learn more about the work Robert Crouch and Terry LeMoncheck do at Pasadena Arts Council.

And of course, any year I get to spend with my partner Joon is a good one.

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Ok… coordinates set for 2015, see you there!!!

The Internet In Our Bones

I wrote this essay for Slipped Gears, an exhibition at Usdan Gallery, Bennington College, VT.
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While airplanes of today have never been able to fly more perfectly directly, from takeoff to touchdown, runways have become damaged due to wheels landing repeatedly at exactly the same spot. Micro-precision is thought to lead to a better tomorrow. Countless activities are monitored at hyper-granular levels in order to squeeze out the most potent data, which is in turn used to make machines less brutalist and more balletic and predictive. We have apps that measure every step and heartbeat; stock market trades are recorded in milliseconds. But, at the end of the day, the euphemistically labeled cloud, storing so much of this information, is formed from acres of gigantic metal, glass, and plastic warehouses, absorbing megatons of environmentally unsound energy to keep machines cool. The intensity of the race for immediate precision in all things is leaving scratches and scars IRL. The seemingly seamless perfection of data-driven everything sometimes has unseen liabilities — the worn-down spots on runways are allegories for the scars being created in our collective digital psyche.

In this current transitional period when technology begins to commonly reside in and around us, systems and frameworks of machinic perfection are overlaid onto the messy and dense tangles of people, feelings and objects that make up life. The notion of leaving bodies behind, transferring consciousness to a cybernetically-enhanced “matrix” as naively imagined a decade ago, never came true. Rather, the inverse has occurred, we can nearly feel the internet in our bones.

There is a preponderance of the usage of the word “disruption” as a potential means to recalibrate systems through technologically-enhanced radical efficiency, both in the marketplace and in governance. This notion carries with it an ahistoricism and unawareness of very real, large, and entrenched power structures — it seems to have the political and ideological dimensions sucked out of it. Late 20th century notions of “intervention” and its historical belief in high-level structural understanding are being replaced by ground-up micro-actions, working under the guise of disruption, that are assumed to collectively result in change. This move to a disruptive practice, as opposed to large-scale intervention, is still underway and in the end may be a more effective means for quantifiable change but the tally of what is being lost in this approach has not been tabulated; a net gain in efficient action doesn’t equate to an increase in happiness.

What new definitions of machinic pleasure are being created and how many are being forgotten? How many terabytes of data are contained in a single smile? The imposition of algorithmic corrections distort what were once uniquely human domains; an internet-of-everything mentality acts as a kind of anti-endorphine. Experiences are tempered to a point where individual eccentricity is smoothed to a statistical anomaly. I sometimes imagine airline pilots being bored, as they fly the most sophisticated technology ever conceived across expansive oceans and through the most uninhabitable conditions, nearly a mile above the earth, engines functioning nearly perfectly day after day. And yet, as the glowing “heads up” monitor display ticks off every micro-detail of change in the plane’s operating system, bouncing digital hand-shakes through interstellar satellite systems back to Boeing’s headquarters in Seattle, the pilot flying yawns and maybe even nods off for a few minutes. Essentially we are witnessing the laying to rest one of humanity’s most instinctual excitements, that of rocketing through the clouds, through systems of predictive mechanics and on-board algorithmic environmental taming.

Anxieties around these issues are not new but the visceral feeling of loss, that certain ways of being simply can no longer exist, is palpable. Knowing that things may be effectively better doesn’t mitigate a certain nostalgia. I doubt there is a geo-locative device sophisticated enough to tell us what the collective offset is for our hearts.