E-interview #2: Peter Wildman

coverPeter Wildman is an artist based in Sydney, Australia. He has been working with computer coding languages, electronics and other materials for the past five years. During this time he has also been an enthusiastic teacher, lecturing at a number of Sydney’s Universities. He is currently completing a postgraduate practice based research degree at UNSW Art and Design. His research is concerned with deconstructing binaries that exist in the field of computation. Situating his work in the field of codeworks, he is interested in how computer coding languages as literature can be used to erase binaries embedded in the discourse around computation and language: codepomofo is a collection of his code poems (for viewing on PC). Here, in the second of this special DWIR interview series, Peter boldly explains the concepts underlying his creative work.


1. Could you give a brief history of your creative practice?
My creative practice began when I realised that a question I had asked my high school careers advisor had come to fruition without any direct planning. When I was 17 I wanted to be an interior designer, psychologist and an accountant. The advisor told me that these three careers were so different and I would need to choose one. After some years of wandering I realised that writing computer code in an arts field actually satisfied the motivation behind all of these aspirations. My creative practice became clear; through computer code I realised I could create aesthetic work using logic that explored concepts. Since this realisation I have been using computer code and electronics to explore concepts that interest me – communal music making, meditation and now computer coding language as a literary medium. As my practice has matured I have also started to work with concepts embedded in the medium itself.

2. How have digital media helped you communicate the intent/s behind your work?
I understand digital media in a very broad sense, as a defining term, as a method of sensing and actuating materials that are seemingly different from the analogue method. The digital, referring to a series of on and off states, and the analogue as a series of waveforms are different, but so is one analogue medium from another, or even one analogue medium from another use of that same analogue medium. For example a person writing in a word processor of a computer who then prints their prose is working digitally, where a person who writes onto paper with a pen is working in an analogue medium. There will be a difference between the person who writes with a pencil on a wall or the person who uses a branding iron to burn their words into their own body. Defining my work as digital does not help my work and I do not use this framework when considering how to communicate. If my work seems to use digital as a driving force, potentially it is just the dominance of the medium itself in our current times reflecting back upon my use of its elements. Or maybe it is the new church and I am not so into organised religion.

3. Is there a marked correlation between your creative practice and your personal beliefs?
 When I started out in my creative practice the personal was a very strong reason for creating. I believe this came from a need to create a stronger self or person. I have recently overcome a lot of personal traumas and now find it much easier to create as a process further separated from the self. I am hoping that over time I will be able to fully lend my critical and creative abilities to what is eminent in my culture and the mediums I am using. Yet I will always be there as a space through which this critique and creation manifests.

4. What appeals to you about collaborative practice? Do digital media lend themselves to collaboration more than traditional media?
I have done a very small amount of collaboration in my practice. I feel that collaboration brings different interests together that broaden and enrich work. Collaboration also enables different time frames to influence the production of a work. I don’t believe any medium would lend itself more to the collaborative process, rather each medium and mode of transmission would eventuate in a different work. For example Cosmic Poem by Tomomi Adachi and Akihiro Kubota, a series of poems being generated and sent from ARTSAT, a satellite deployed in outer space orbiting the earth, is dependent on the collaborative nature of radio signal retrieval and subsequent ‘reunification’ of these transmissions received on earth in fragments. Whilst Candy Chang’s work Before I Die transforms public spaces into walls where people can use chalk to complete the sentence Before I die I want to…

These works are public collaborations that are made in very different ways when viewing them from the perspective of digital and traditional mediums, yet neither one lends themselves more so than the other as artworks of collaboration.

5. How does digital media succeed as a method of reflecting different realities where traditional methods might not?
My interest in mediums are more idiosyncratic and attempt to cross and collapse divides of broader definitions. This is important to me because to keep a medium confined within a binary structure is to restrict it to a dominant conversation and restrain it from being a multiplicity of things in different contexts. For example I am currently interested in computer coding languages. But I have read these aloud on stage, written computer code on paper with a pencil, executed computer code by sewing graphics by hand. Each of these interactions with computer code are outside of the digital and able to exist in different ways because they are transient and defiant. This is why you will see a mix of mediums in my work and a range of influences. In my current work I am interested in how language systems, looking at one computer coding language in particular, execute or generate something. But through this I am interested in constraints, instructions, ordered processes and translation. And because of these interests I am inspired by Sol LeWitt and his series of instructions for wall drawings; Dada poetry; Fluxes actions; Oulipo constrained writing techniques; Multiples, edited by Adam Thirwell and contributed to by 61 authors; or Ramsey Nasser and his arabic programming language قلب.
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Snapshots from an Unfamiliar Album

‘Like haiku; [the snapshot] will ask us to complete it.’
–Douglas Nickel

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Consider these photographs. They were all collected from various locations, various countries. All were purchased—none were inherited. None of them interrelate beyond the fact that they are products of similar technology; societies of ‘consumption and disposal’ (West 81-2), and perhaps the result of the same purpose: to capture a context and meaning, too soon lost.

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Consider how many words each image is worth. It would be quite a game of ekphrasis to invent stories to pin to the background of these scenarios, these times, these people, who are no longer of this life but of an afterlife; there relegated the instant their impression settled on film.

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Consider this afterlife. This one, now, as the photographs appear on the screen before you; the processes that these snapshots have come through to reach a stage of digital display, of internment.

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Context; capture—sometimes highly orchestrated—meaning; loss.

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‘Once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of posing. I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image.’
–Roland Barthes

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Consider the layers, indiscernible when looking across, that create a depth when looking down.  Rediscovery; recollection; reformatting into an album, into an unfamiliar sequence, set in or sharing a page according to a new context, a different aesthetic. Then re-photographed, re-calibrated into pixels, then uploaded. Then, downloaded. Then again in view, but under the gaze of a gallery of strangers, a global unknown, a new reflection of the people in the snapshots (who is peering at whom?), able to be accessed and copied.

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It is obscene, this kind of invasion of nostalgia. It is a contemporary trend to re-purpose objects—but do people require re-writing? Is this transference to digital form enough of an encoding for an unwilled, unwilling exhibition?

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And yet. Consider not only what is lost in this process but also what might be gained: what new life is this afterlife. Possibly it’s one of nourishment, where we can look from the uppermost layer down and declare that we are learning, or re-learning. Where we attend to the past via this digital resurrection. Where the faces will be reconfigured and their stories, those real and invented, will fill us with wonder. Where they might even, again, be seen.

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‘If snapshots are no longer innocent or private pictures, maybe we need to question whether, in fact, they ever were.’
–Marvin Heiferman

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References

West, Nancy Martha. 2008. ‘Telling Time: Found Photographs and the Stories They Inspire’ in Now Is Then: Snapshots from the Maresca Collection, ed. Marvin Heiferman. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. 78-120.

 

#techaffect: on the Curating Affective Technologies Un-conference

At one of those temporary junctions where the lines of life start to intersect, the first week I started as DWIR was also the week I attended the Curating Affective Technologies un-conference at the Flinders in the City campus in Adelaide. Organised by Julia Erhart, Sonja Vivienne, Tully Barnett, Alice Gorman and Julian Meyrick with the Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities, the un-conference forms part of a year-long investigation of the theme ‘Technologies of Memory and Affect’.

What is an un-conference? I had no idea. How do you curate affective technologies? Also no idea, but I wanted to know more. It turns out that an un-conference is a collaborative, open structure, in which participants are encouraged to suggest and guide content, making for a warm and interactive forum. At our un-conference, participants were not passive, but asked to nominate key themes drawn from the ideas presented and discuss, in groups, the possibilities for collaborative articles.

After a day of intriguing ten-minute presentations, I am still working on a description of what ‘affective technologies’ are and how you curate them. I saw it happening; I contributed to it, but the topics spoken of and disciplines represented were so varied and the ideas connecting technology, affect and memory so many that for now I’ll slot in an explanation supplied by the Technologies of Memory and Affect blog:

Memory and affect are notoriously subjective and transitory concepts. Technology, from the printing press to the camera to the internet, affords opportunity to make these notions discernible and sometimes even material, in objects, words, images and a digital trace. However, while communication in the digital domain is searchable, persistent, replicable and scaleable, memory and affect remain ephemeral and contested.

Intersections between technology, memory and affect can be–and were–emphasised through diverse topics; pulled in multiple directions. Larissa Hjorth, RMIT Distinguished Professor and digital artist/ethnographer, guided the un-conference with her talk on ‘Visualising the Mundane: Technology/Memory/Affect’, discussing ways in which technology forms and deforms structures, reaches audiences and can, in the case of mobile phones in particular, tell stories of intimacy across cultures, become tools for mobilisation and create networks of witnessing. Alicia Carter, describing the technology of the Kodak Super 8 as a tool for familial forms of remembering; Martin Potter, pointing out that familiarity with media enhances rather than enslaves, and Ruth Vasey, declaring the Trove database a means of building multiple narratives within history, also drew on this idea of technology as witness and collator. For Carolyn Lake and Petra Mosmann, talking respectively about cultural memory as represented by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives and the feminist movement through (the symbol of) Faith Bandler’s gloves, public records became issues of affect; for Susan Bruce, who showed several of her short films, technology preserves the personal, tactile and textural. Listening to Deb Matthews speak about curating memory within the remix community CCMixter; Catherine Adamek on the performance of dance; Gillian Dooley giving renditions of gender ambiguous songs from Jane Austen’s manuscripts, and Daniela Kaleva discussing cabaret and the transmission of cultural memory, performance was also explored as a way of evoking and creating memories.

To capture moments of the un-conference as it unfolded, tablets, laptops and mobile phones were used to upload fragments to Twitter and Instagram. The event of the symposium–or the rarer occasion of an un-conference–was amplified through digital media recordings of discussion as ritual; through a simultaneous exploration and performance of curation to create, distribute and enhance memories, contributing to present and future perspectives on the fascinating and expanding field of technology and affect.

The Origins of Drinks

When I applied for this digital residency, I had to propose a project that aimed to be creative, innovative, community-minded and fulfil the brief of the people reading: I came up with Friends with Drinks. You can read an actual excerpt of my application here, or you might have read the snappy version on the Friends with Drinks tumblr before you sent your submission (haven’t done this yet? Please do here!):

Merging the everyday rituals of making friends and taking drinks with the digital zeitgeist, Friends with Drinks is a creative collaborative project that aims to share different experiences of drinking and place worldwide.

By way of online communion, Friends with Drinks signifies particular spaces through full and fragmentary texts, images and sounds that together create a map of what we drink, with whom and where—whether it’s morning coffee in Milan, midday chai in Lucknow, an afternoon beer in Prague, an evening martini in New York or a cup of hot milk before bedtime in Accra.

The possibilities for joining minds, locations, words, inspirations, snapshots, actions, sketches, music, clips and destinies are as infinite as the networks that draw us together. Please submit, share—and salud!

Although I had jotted down a vague outline of Friends with Drinks in my notebook to float at the earliest opportune moment, it wasn’t until last week, in the course of writing content and setting up websites and Facebook pages—tasks that seemed far removed from the pencil-scratched origins of the idea—that I remembered what had prompted Friends with Drinks in the first place; what had given the concept enough personal meaning in order for me to pitch it with a degree of sincerity.

This time last year, I was living through a sultry July in Bangalore, India, while working on a project; in the same month, I met a handful of mixed-media German artists who had come to Bangalore to complete residencies. Among them was Stepan, a tall drink of draughtsmanship who became, in the way of Melissa Bank, an ‘insta-friend’. A month later, Stepan left Bangalore with a bang and departed from my analogue life in a way you have to grow accustomed to when you travel, or else perish from the stranglehold of sentimentality. (One of the definite advantages of the digital age is having the opportunity to keep our friends in the frame of our lives, even at a strange, unquantifiable distance.)

One night I was muddling through some sentences, longing for distraction, when I heard a ping! It was Stepan, via Messenger. This is what he wrote:

S: I am already accosting the Old Monk [famous Indian dark rum] on this hot Berlin afternoon. It’s good!

K: Classic flavours travel well…and the bottle made it in one piece! Excellent. What are you mixing it with? Oh yeah, I’m glad you made it in once piece too.

S: Pure, already drunk. Feels good in the white Berlin heat.

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K: Lovely. Surrounded by white light, consuming golden redness…

S: Feeling a bit blue. I met so many lovely people, and still wearing your Ganesha band with pride—Ganesha himself has vanished already though.

K: I understand how you feel. Homecoming isn’t easy, especially after India. The people who found you lovely here miss you already! Ah, that Ganesha, always giving people the slip. I have a drop of Old Monk here in my flat too. Let’s drink together.

S: Haha, cheerio dear girl! to your health and welfaring! And to meeting again somewhere!

K: Old Monk on my work desk. Cheers to you, bhaiya! Speedy recovery from jet lag and remember: Bengaluru waits for you.

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S: I put all my Indian novels on the shelf and go to bed with Gaiman’s American Gods for now!

K: And I shall listen to Lana del Rey and write about Nepal. Sweet dreams.

S: And I will listen to Lana del Rey as well.

K: Ah, it’s just like we’re in the same room.

I wrote in my first post that digital media are machines for contortion—they certainly are, but perhaps they are also a means of intimacy, of a type that we don’t normally expose, which is perhaps an excellent reason why we should. Last week I met an artist/academic, Larissa Hjorth, who makes a study of digital intimacy, but more on that later. For now, I request that you go forth and engage in the ritual of drinking (anything, with anyone) without forgetting to record (and possibly submit) these moments—across neighbourhoods and cultures and countries. However you come together as friends with drinks, via digital methods or analogue, there is enough meaning in every communion to make each worth remembering.

Special thanks to Stepan for giving his OK for me to share our dialogue.