Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy solstice!

Pohutukawa by Sandy Austin

I was a teenager the last time that December 21st was the longest rather than shortest day of the year. So here I am, sitting in the sun, looking out over the bay and the seasonal blooms of the pohutukawa trees. And although I very much miss the people I love, I feel at home here in "the antipodes," happier and more at peace than I can remember feeling in years.

New Zealanders' attitudes towards the holidays are familiar, but it does seem a bit weird to be wearing shorts and planning a bbq. Still, a little historical research turned up some interesting Kiwi traditions, like this popular 1960s song with lyrics that "read like a manifesto of workers’ rights":

Sticky Beak the kiwi

Now Sticky Beak the kiwi, that bird from way down under
He's caused a great commotion and it isn't any wonder
He's notified old Santa Claus to notify the deer
That he will pull the Christmas sleigh in the southern hemisphere.

Lots of toys for girls and boys load the Christmas sleigh
He will take the starlight trail along the Milky Way.
Hear the laughing children as they shout aloud with glee:
'Sticky Beak, Sticky Beak, be sure to call on me.'

Now every little kiwi, and every kangaroo, too,
The wallaby, the weka, and the platypus and emu,
Have made themselves a Christmas tree with stars and shining bright,
So Sticky Beak will see the way to guide the sleigh tonight.

Now Sticky Beak the kiwi, that Maori-land dictator,
Will not allow Rudolph's nose this side of the equator
So when you hear the sleigh bells ring you'll know that he's the boss,
And Sticky Beak will pull the sleigh beneath the Southern Cross.

Or this game recommended in the 1934 Evening Post Christmas supplement:

"What to do at indoor Christmas parties is becoming more and more of a problem. Here are some suggestions which may help to add diversion to the occasion: For instance, you can sell some of your guests. This game is called "The Slave Market." You choose five or six players, attractive-looking girls if possible to be sold as slaves, and one good compere to act as auctioneer. You give, say, twenty counters to each of the other players, whose object is to buy as many slaves as possible. If two players manage to buy the same number of slaves, the one who has most counters left wins. Skill consists in "pushing" the bids of other players and lying low for bargains. This sounds easy in cold blood, but is not so easy when the players are subjected to the blandishments of a) Uncle William as auctioneer after a good dinner and b) the slaves. It would be a shame to let Jane's saucy eyes go for a paltry two counters!"

However you celebrate, I wish everyone a very happy holiday, and especially to those of you who face the long, cold dark of winter - may your light burn warm and bright into the new year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More technosocial assemblages

A friend recently commented on how sci-fi it is that we've brought our cat to NZ. I think he meant that it's weird to think about a pet travelling 15,000 km, but it got me thinking about the essay in Two Regimes of Madness where Deleuze explains that:

"Control is not discipline. You do not confine people with a highway. But by making highways, you multiply the means of control. I am not saying this is the only aim of highways, but people can travel infinitely and 'freely' without being confined while being perfectly controlled. That is our future."

I've never understood relations between mobility and control more clearly than through this quote - even if here I'm more interested in institutionalised rather than immanent control. Because just as it's true that people can travel freely insofar as they follow established protocols, these kinds of infrastructure and control also apply to the movement of companion animals (including livestock), albeit in a compounded way.

Several years ago, at the Situated Technologies Symposium, I brought up the technosocial assemblage that constitutes me + my cat + rfid. Although my example was dismissed by the audience as too frivolous (a position related, I believe, to more wide-spread ignorance of, and/or disdain for, the affective aspects of everyday life) I think that there are some interesting things going on here that we don't yet fully understand or appreciate.

First, when Enid Coleslaw travels she effectively becomes a set of two numbers: one that is associated with her rfid microchip and another that is associated with an import/export permit in my name. In this scenario she is simultaneously less and more than "animal." In fact, we - me, her and the microchip - are a hybrid that move together. And our new dividuality doesn't just leave a data shadow or trace, it precedes us and pre-extends our range of motion. This makes me wonder how research on actor-networks and companion species can help us understand the Internet of Things - especially when "networked things" tend to escape traditional definitions (i.e. mutually exclusive categories) of human and animal, subject and object.

Put into the context of my current research, this makes me ask what "sheep" are when rfid-tagged animals generate and report data on animal welfare and environmental sustainability. I also ask what "wool" becomes when it carries information from its source and accumulates more data on labour practices, manufacturing and distribution processes. Further afield, but still related, what does it mean to be a sheep farmer or animal caretaker? What are the differences and similarities between sheep shearers, wool pressers, seamstresses and someone who wears merino underpants?

And while we're at it, what's up with Icebreaker's advertising?

(Click for larger image)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dispatch #1 from Kiwilandia: A few observations on humour

The general consensus amongst Kiwis I've talked with so far is that they have a lot in common with Canadians, and the most frequent comparison I've heard involves our sense of humour. My first thought is "most definitely" - and even though I haven't met anyone yet who knows The Kids in the Hall, we do both deal with our large (and sometimes larger-than-life) neighbours with wit and poise.

Take Rick Mercer's old Talking to Americans skit from the CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which is both notorious and notoriously funny:

Talking to Americans

Now, I've heard that Canadian humour is a bit cruel but I don't really agree. Nonetheless, Kiwi humour does seem a bit gentler. In fact, my new colleague in Sociology, Mike Lloyd, has rather convincingly argued that well-known NZ comedy export Flight of the Conchords can be distinguished precisely by its lack of ridicule and condescension. Still, it doesn't seem to stop them from taking the piss out of the "West Island":

Flight of the Conchords - Racism

Flight of the Conchords - Jemaine sleeps with an Australian girl

And, really, the satirical writing on Kiwianarama is often hilarious and quite biting - although mostly in a self-deprecating sort of way. Still, I think lots of Canadians would both see themselves in, and piss themselves laughing at, this characterisation of NZ national identity politics:

Positive Identity Reinforcement

"If travelling New Zealand, do not, under any circumstances, answer a question such as ‘Isn’t it great’, with something like ‘Actually it’s a bit quiet, out of the way, and not as sunny as Australia’. Kiwis have not yet developed either a robust sense of irony, or cast-iron self belief, and you may bring about a deep period of depression in the person asking the question, or, at the very least, a firm fist in the face."

(Although I should note that while the "Winter, what winter?" post is damn funny to read, the phenomenon discussed completely baffles Canadians. Why one wouldn't override a less than ideal climate through housing and clothing is truly beyond our comprehension and therefore not actually funny in practice.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Upcoming research and practice residencies

I first encountered Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj - a.k.a. Blast Theory - through the Banff New Media Institute and have always been impressed by their projects, so I'm really pleased to see they're accepting expressions of interest for their new residency programme. Researchers and practitioners in the areas of mobile tech, locative media, play & games stand to gain a great deal by working with these folks, and I encourage anyone interested to contact them.

20 Wellington Road Residency Programme (2009 – 2011)

About the Residency Programme

Blast Theory is renowned internationally as one of the most adventurous artists' groups using interactive media, creating groundbreaking new forms of performance and interactive art that mixes audiences across the internet, live performance and digital broadcasting.

In 2008, the company launched 20 Wellington Road, a renovated Victorian icehouse overlooking Shoreham Harbour in Brighton. The building provides offices and studios for the company as well studio spaces for emerging businesses and small companies working in creative industries, digital and media industries. Blast Theory’s goal is to create an interdisciplinary community of international significance.

The Residency Programme is a new model of residency initiated and run by artists. It aims to provide a space for residents to research and develop new work in a supportive and collaborative environment. It provides an opportunity for Blast Theory artists and residents to work alongside each other exchanging information, experience, knowledge and working methodologies in an open and dynamic dialogue.


Expressions of interest are invited from individuals working in the following fields:

• Pervasive and location based gaming and interactive media
• The use of mobile and portable devices in cultural and artistic practice
• Games design and theory
• Interdisciplinary and live art practice

Applicants should have an established background in their respective fields and should be able to demonstrate how a residency period at Blast Theory will assist the development of their research and practice.

There are 2 deadlines per year – January 31st and July 31st.

If you are considering making an application, we advise you to contact us before you submit your expression of interest. Please submit your application on the form available to download here along with support material.

And on the topic of cool residencies and workshops, the BMNI continues to deliver. Check out these upcoming opportunities:

BNMI Co-production Residency: Almost Perfect

Program dates: June 03, 2010 - July 03, 2010
Application deadline: December 18, 2009 (yup, that's next week!)

The Banff New Media Institute’s Almost Perfect Co-production Residency is an annual, concentrated experimental prototyping lab exploring the creation and context of location.

The massive scale of Banff National Park’s Rocky Mountains and the expanse of the Great Plains to the east provide a unique opportunity to un-tether from the usual coordinates of place. Geographies of time, scale, and great disruption lay exposed, lending themselves to the call and response of technology and nature. This four-week residency allows for the time and space to consider how modern pervasive technologies allow us to disconnect from our desktop cells and interact with the world in a whole new way.

Through a combination of dedicated studio time, group discourse, peer critique, design exercise and studio visits, Almost Perfect looks to explore location-based artwork and the repercussions of producing work for place, and in particular in outdoor and non-urban contexts. The residency will be led by established locative media practitioners Jeremy Hight, Fee Plumley, Laura Silver. Almost Perfect will not only support the open conceptualisation of new works, but also re-visit influential pieces from this emerging medium's history.

Practitioners from all walks of locative and mobile media practice are encouraged to apply. Project proposals that extend beyond the device out into the environment, be it landscape or datascape, are especially encouraged. For general information on on-going locative media research happening at the Banff New Media Institute please visit the BNMI’s ART Mobile Lab website.

And although not related to locative media, my friends Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Katherine Moriwaki are building on their awesome Scrapyard Challenge Workshops with this programme:

R.I.P. - Recycling Pervasive Media, Intervening in Planned Obsolescence, and Practicing Technological Sustainability

Program dates: July 26, 2010 - August 02, 2010
Registration deadline: July 19, 2010 (as space permits)

As the world’s landfills swarm with millions of tons of discarded electronics, the examination of the critical and creative use of recycled materials becomes ever more important.

R.I.P. — Recycling Pervasive Media, Intervening in Planned Obsolescence, and Practicing Technological Sustainability will tackle the issues of recycling, art making, and sustainability practices. Artists, researchers, practitioners, academics, municipal workers, community leaders, and professionals are invited to come explore new ways of working with municipal waste management facilities to reclaim “good garbage”.

Over the course of this three-part, seven-day program, participants will discuss ideas, create new work, and present projects related to sustainable practice. They will collaboratively introduce each other to methods of recycling digital materials for creative exploration and produce art projects made from found or rescued waste. R.I.P. provides an exciting opportunity to learn and develop frameworks for communities and individuals working with issues of sustainability and waste reduction.

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