Approaches to What? 

Georges Perec

(Perec, G. (1973) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. Penguin, pp. 205-7)

Perec Visage

What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary: the front-page splash, the banner headlines. Railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist. Aeroplanes achieve existence only when they are hijacked. The one and only destiny of motor-cars is to drive into plane trees. Fifty-two weekends a year, fifty-two casualty lists: so many dead and all the better for the news media if the figures keep going up! Behind the event there is a scandal, a fissure, a danger, as if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular, as if what speaks, what is significant, is always abnormal: natural cataclysms or social upheavals, social unrest, political scandals.

In our haste to measure the historic, significant and revelatory, let’s not leave aside the essential: the truly intolerable, the truly inadmissible. What is scandalous isn’t the pit explosion, it’s working in coalmines. ‘Social problems’ aren’t ‘a matter of concern’ when there’s a strike, they are intolerable twenty-four hours out of twenty-four, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.

Tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, tower blocks that collapse, forest fires, tunnels that cave in, the Drugstore de Champs-Elysées burns down. Awful! Terrible! Monstrous! Scandalous! But where’s the scandal? The true scandal? Has the newspaper told us everything except: not to worry, as you can see life exists, with its ups and downs, things happen, as you can see.
The daily newspapers talk of everything except the daily. The papers annoy me, they teach me nothing. What they recount doesn’t concern me, doesn’t ask me questions and doesn’t answer the questions I ask or would like to ask. What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?

To question the habitual. But that’s just it, we’re habituated to it. We don’t question it, it doesn’t question us, it doesn’t seem to pose a problem, we live it without thinking, as if it carried within it neither question nor answers, as if it weren’t the bearer of any information. This is not longer even conditioning, it’s anaesthesia. We sleep through our lives in a dreamless sleep. But where is our life? Where is our body? Where is our space?

How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them a meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are. What’s needed perhaps is finally to found our own anthropology, one that will speak about us, will look in ourselves for what for so long we’ve been pillaging from others. Not the exotic anymore, but the endotic.

To question what seems so much a matter of course that we’ve forgotten its origins. To rediscover something of the astonishment that Jules Verne or his readers may have felt faced with an apparatus capable of reproducing and transporting sounds. For the astonishment existed, along with thousands of others, and it’s they which have moulded us.

What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we open doors, we go down staircases, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed in order to sleep. How? Why? Where? When? Why?
Describe your street. Describe another street. Compare.
Make an inventory of you pockets, of your bag.

Ask yourself about the provenance, the use, what will become of each of the objects you take out.
Question your tea spoons.
What is there under your wallpaper?
How many movements does it take to dial a phone number?
Why don’t you find cigarettes in grocery stores? Why not?

It matters little to me that these questions should be fragmentary, barely indicative of a method, at most of a project. It matters a lot to me that they should seem trivial and futile: that’s exactly what makes them just as essential, if not more so, as all the other questions by which we’ve tried in vain to lay hold on our truth.”

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Perec 01

From: Paul Finn on Georges Perec at www.wemadethis.co.uk/

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Making Democracy Legible: A Defiant Typeface

good_morning_ZXX Type Specimen Photograph

“We feel free because we lack the language to articulate our unfreedom.” —Slavoj Žižek

For me, Žižek’s words are even more potent in light of recent news about domestic surveillance programs. As a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), these issues hit especially close to home. During my service in the Korean military, I worked for two years as special intelligence personnel for the NSA, learning first-hand how to extract information from defense targets. Our ability to gather vital SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) information was absolutely easy. But, these skills were only applied outwards for national security and defense purposes — not for overseeing American citizens. It appears that this has changed. Now, as a designer, I am influenced by these experiences and I have become dedicated to researching ways to “articulate our unfreedom” and to continue the evolution of my own thinking about censorship, surveillance, and a free society.

“What does censorship reveal? It reveals fear.” —Julian Assange

poster_01ZXX Type Specimen Posters

Over the course of a year, I researched and created ZXX, a disruptive typeface which takes its name from the Library of Congress’ listing of three-letter codes denoting which language a book is written in. Code “ZXX” is used when there is: “No linguistic content; Not applicable.” The project started with a genuine question: How can we conceal our fundamental thoughts from artificial intelligences and those who deploy them? I decided to create a typeface that would be unreadable by text scanning software (whether used by a government agency or a lone hacker) — misdirecting information or sometimes not giving any at all. It can be applied to huge amounts of data, or to personal correspondence. I drew six different cuts (Sans, Bold, Camo, False, Noise and Xed) to generate endless permutations, each font designed to thwart machine intelligences in a different way. I offered the typeface as a free download in hopes that as many people as possible would use it.

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This short video shows how the typeface confuses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) artificial intelligence.

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ZXX Bold (readable by OCR software) & ZXX Combination (not-readable by OCR software)

zxx_processProcess sketches testing various OCR software’s readability
Screen shot 2012-04-28 at 9.42.27 PMScreenshot image of PDF OCR X software’s conversion of ZXX
design360mag_coverDesign 360° Magazine Issue No.41

ZXX is a call to action, both practically and symbolically, to raise questions about privacy. But it represents a broader urgency: How can design be used politically and socially for the codification and de-codification of people’s thoughts? What is a graphic design that is inherently secretive? How can graphic design reinforce privacy? And, really, how can the process of design engender a proactive attitude towards the future — and our present for that matter? After releasing the project in May 2012, I was pleased by the fruitful responses I got and shared with the public. I’ve seen the typeface circulate in publications, web environments, and banners, and it was prophetically featured on the cover of Chinese Design 360°Magazine — amusingly censoring Sagmeister & Walsh’s self-expressive nudity.

“I don’t have to write about the future. For most people, the present is enough like the future to be pretty scary.” —William Gibson

Our lives in cyberspace are overloaded with impalpable and extensive personal information that is gathered, intercepted, deciphered, analyzed, and stored. With this information government and corporations can easily create an informational architecture that traps us in the structures of the World Wide Web and social media. Restricting and repressing our communication tools under the name of “homeland security” is only a small step into a totalitarian society. This non-physical-yet-ideological violence is what allows us to lapse into lethargic silence. But really, we shouldn’t be afraid to question the authorities’ continual intrusions.

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National Security Agency’s headquarter in Fort Meade, Maryland

PRISM-project-slideLeaked Prism presentation slide

Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and whistleblower of NSA’s Project Prism, wasn’t the first man to reveal the vulgarity of the world’s biggest intelligence agency. William Binney, an ex-NSA employee, already disclosed the secrecy of the agency’s perpetual inspections last year. The increasing activities of whistleblowers are a significant cue to the urgency of our diminishing privacy. When surveillance becomes a quotidian exercise, our lives in the network will be completely destroyed. This growing invasion of privacy and militarization of cyberspace dehumanizes us. Government and corporations’ physical, mental, and technological intrusions must stop in order to halt the surveillance state.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”               —Benjamin Franklin

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ZXX ver.02 currently in development

Project ZXX is my humane contribution and homage to the activists, artists, and designers who have been actively fighting for our civil liberties. One such activist is Jacob Appelbaum, an independent computer security researcher and hacker, who co-developed Tor Project to keep our online activities anonymous. Tor Project’s system is structured to bounce around the distributed network of relays, which makes the accumulated metadata dysfunctional. Adam Harvey is an active New York–based artist who has a vast amount of peculiar counter-surveillance projects. Harvey’s works are vital in the way he incorporates privacy matters into provocative fashion aesthetics, such as anti-drone hoodies. Metahaven, an Amsterdam-based design and research studio, might be at the vanguard of critical and social design movements today — mapping the nexus of corporate branding, social media, and government with challenging contemporary graphic design strategies. Hito Steyerl’s How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Education. MOV File, a piece in the Venice Biennale, humorously depicts the dark side of our visual culture with silly DIY educational videos. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched awebsite to provide Netizens alternative ways to opt out of PRISM. People with creative conscience will be the ones to provoke these discussions.

What Snowden disclosed is nothing new. The stakes for our democracy have always been high. But now there needs to be robust action and discussion about the current state of affairs. Many suggest that we’ve already lost our privacy and are indifferent of the status quo. But I believe that stripping humanity of its freedoms can never be justified as a natural evolution. It’s our duty to call out crimes against democracy.

***I’ve been reading the comments and it seems everyone is concerned about my understanding of how digital text works — ASCII, binary codes, et cetera. As mentioned above, I spent 2 years as intelligence personnel and a year researching so I am fully aware of all that. This project/post is focused on raising awareness, which I should’ve articulated better. That said, it would be great if further conversations ruminated over the growing surveillance state and how we should act. I sincerely appreciate everyone’s time in reading, criticizing, and sharing these matters.

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The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things

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Cyberman with Gargoyle
Cyberman Helmet, 1985, Courtesy Chris Balcombe, Photo: Chris Balcombe
Singing Gargoyle, England, c. 1200, Courtesy of Sam Fogg, London

Curated by Mark Leckey

Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey has curated an exhibition that explores the magical world of new technology, as well as tracing its connections to the beliefs of our distant past.

Historical and contemporary works of art, videos, machines, archaeological artefacts and iconic objects, like the giant inflatable cartoon figure of Felix the Cat – the first image ever transmitted on TV – inhabit an “enchanted landscape” created in the Pavilion’s galleries, where objects seem to be communicating with each other and with us.

In Leckey’s exhibition “magic is literally in the air.” It reflects on a world where technology can bring inanimate “things” to life. Where websites predict what we want, we can ask our mobile phones for directions and smart fridges suggest recipes, count calories and even switch on the oven. By digitising objects, it can also make them “disappear” from the material world, re-emerging in any place or era.

In this timeless exhibition, “the real and the virtual co-exist”, Leckey has said. Perhaps technology has created its own form of consciousness – an animistic future. While we already live in the realms of what used to be science fiction, we seem to have simultaneously gone back to our ancestral past – a time when ancient civilisations believed spirits inhabited plants, animals, geographic features and even objects.

Leckey’s theatre of “things” is presented in specially designed environments. Works by artists such as William Blake, Louise Bourgeois, Martin Creed, Richard Hamilton, Nicola Hicks, Jim Shaw and Tøyen are displayed alongside a medieval silver hand containing the bones of a saint, an electronic prosthetic hand that connects with Bluetooth, a bisected 3D model of Snoopy showing his internal organs, and many other treasures that all share connections. Loosely divided into four themes or scenes – the Vegetable World, Animal Kingdom, Mankind and the Technological Domain, Leckey’s exhibition is a collection of not-so-dumb things that all talk, literally or metaphorically, to each other.

Mark Leckey was born in Birkenhead in 1964. He currently teaches at Goldsmiths College, University of London. In 2008 he won the Turner Prize. Recent solo exhibitions include Work & Leisure at Manchester Art Gallery (2012), and See We Assemble at the Serpentine Gallery, London (2011). The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things is the latest in a series of artist-curated Hayward Touring exhibitions.

‘The status of objects’, Leckey argues, ‘is changing, and we are once again in thrall to an enchanted world full of transformations and correspondences, a wonderful instability between things animate and inanimate, animal and human, mental and material’. Our hyper-rationalism of modern technology has paradoxically produced its opposite, an ‘irrational’ magical realm – or as Marshall McLuhan, communication theorist, described “a resonating world akin to the old tribal echo chamber where magic will live again”.

A Hayward Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre, London

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Woofer Design by Sander Mulder
© Sander Mulder

De La Warr Pavilion
Marina
Bexhill On Sea
East Sussex
TN40 1DP
Box Office and information:
01424 229 111 or boxoffice@dlwp.com

Sat 13 Jul 2013-
Sun 20 Oct 2013
Tickets: Free entry

Booking & Information:
01424 229 111

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On an Ungrounded Earth, by Ben Woodard

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On an Ungrounded Earth, by Ben Woodard. Brooklyn, New York: Punctum Books. 118 pages. $12.00, paper. PDF

In a 2011 interview conducted by Bookfriendzy, when asked about why he started his multi-disciplinary journal Collapse, Robin Mackay said (and I’m doing my best to transcribe here), “There were a number of problems that it was designed to address, one of which is the problem of where philosophy can exist outside of the academic environment—because of certain constraints of the academic environment—and the way in which the discipline of philosophy is conducted and constrained, and the conviction that philosophy happens everywhere, not just in philosophy departments.”

It might sound obvious—and a little silly—to think about it that way but the idea of philosophy being created and consumed outside of academia is a relatively recent innovation. Collapse is merely one of several increasingly visible venues publishing philosophical thought outside “philosophy departments,” many of which have hefty presences on the web. Certainly towering figures such as Nick Land, whose writings span a huge variety of subjects, and Quentin Meillassoux, whose landmark 2006 text, After Finitude, helped usher in a new era of “modern” philosophy, have had a major influence over a new generation of thinkers, writers and artists looking to construct arguments without, as Mackay put it, constraints.

As philosophy has moved away from outmoded schools and systems of thought, it’s now acceptable—if not outwardly fashionable—for writers to include examples of both “high” and “low” culture to illustrate and support their points. This leads us to Ben Woodard’s absolutely astounding On an Unground Earth, in which Woodard samples from a dizzying array of literature and media, all primarily centered around the disciplines of philosophy, science-fiction and horror. (Here’s a brief list of references: Deleuze and Guattari, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Reza Negarestani, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Dune, Tremors, Star Trek, Star Wars, The Matrix series, The Technodrome from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gears of War, Doom 3 and Dead Space—among many, many others.)

The subtitle of On an Ungrounded Earth is “Toward a New Geophilosophy.” As the back cover copy states, “In far too much continental philosophy, the Earth is a cold, dead place enlivened only by human thought—either as a thing to be exploited, or as an object of nostalgia.” One of Woodard’s contemporaries, Eugene Thacker, has written that there are three ways of interpreting the world as we know it: 1) the world-for-us, or the world in which we live; 2) the world-in-itself, or the inaccessible world which we then turn into the world-for us; and 3) the world-without-us, or the spectral and speculative world. In these terms then, Woodard’s Ungrounded Earth seeks to explore the relationship between human consciousness and the world-without-us.

Arranged in five sections—and despite its relatively brief page count—the text of On an Ungrounded Earth covers quite a bit of…well, ground. Abyssal and external “ungroundings,” giant worms, the panic of burial, the “dimensions” of hell, volcanic orifices—these are only a few of the topics explored. Because this is philosophy, and so much of the text builds off of ideas and concepts introduced in earlier passages, it’s difficult to pull any excerpts without disrupting Woodard’s meticulous terminology and contextualized language. Suffice it to say, that language is approachable and articulate. I wouldn’t exactly go so far as to call it accessible, but it’s certainly very readable. Overall, an excellent balance is struck between introducing new ideas, analyzing those ideas and explaining how everything relates back to the core idea of the book.

Part of that core is a deeply rooted fascination with the idea of philosophy itself, of “philosophically experiencing” the earth as we have come to understand it. On an Ungrounded Earth is one of an increasing number of texts that might be best described as speculative realism. Characterized by strong undercurrents of “anti-correlationism,” or, an outright rejection to Kant’s idea that we are limited to the correlation between thinking and being, speculative-realist texts are enjoying a good amount of attention in times of ecological imbalance and chaotic world trends. In 2013, a lot of us have spent the majority of our lives with the Internet. We have a constant supply of too much information—the anxiety of a shrinking world. We’ve long-ago accepted the idea of the universe expanding, seen a hundred movies depicting the destruction of our planet and helplessly witnessed the major religions of the world clash with one another again and again. Perhaps this is it. Perhaps whatever meaning there is to be found isn’t contained in the world-for-us. Perhaps, Woodard urges, the meaning we seek is right under our very feet—and has been for quite some time.

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David Peak’s most recent book, Glowing in the Dark, was released by Aqueous Books in October, 2012. He is co-founder of Blue Square Press, an imprint of Mud Luscious Press, and lives in New York City.

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artsmart

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17 June – 5 July 2013

Artsmart 2013 is a three – week long summer festival of events, activities and workshops to help students and graduates from University of the Arts London get smart and make it happen in the creative industries.

Download the full programme.

Venues:

Across the Colleges of University of the Arts London.

Free to all University of the Arts London students, graduates and staff.

Booking essential.

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Essays: Scratching the Surface pre-order price £16.50, the first 100 copies will be signed by the author

Scratching the Surface is a collection of essays and journalism by Adrian Shaughnessy, focusing mainly on graphic design. Essays include: ‘2012 Olympic logo ate my hamster’; ‘Vaughan Oliver – minotaurs in suburban England’; and ‘The myth of originality and the joy of copying’.

The essays have appeared on blogs such as Design Observer, and in publications such as Eye, Creative Review, Design Week and The Wire. Many others have appeared only in tiny circulation publications.

The book’s introduction opens with a disconcerting question: ‘Why would anyone want to read about graphic design?’ Despite assertions that ‘designers don’t read’, there has, in recent years, been a huge upsurge of interest in design writing: courses have been established to teach the subject, and many designers now combine design and writing within their practices.

In 2003, Adrian Shaughnessy gave up studio life to become an independent designer, consultant, publisher, teacher and writer. He wrote the highly successful How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing your Soul which has sold 80,000 copies worldwide.

Scratching the Surface is a book for anyone who wants to scratch the surface of the cultural zeitgeist to see what’s underneath.


Paperback
170x225mm
400 pages
ISBN 978-0-9575114-0-8
Pre-order price £16.50
Standard price £20.00


Essays: Adrian Shaughnessy
Design: Spin


Shipping end of May to early June 2013

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