RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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361 The Museum of Contemporary Commodities: creative propositions and provocations on the heritages of data-trade-place-value (2)
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Paula Crutchlow (University of Exeter, UK)
Ian Cook (University of Exeter, UK)
Sam Kinsley (University of Exeter, UK)
Chair(s) Ian Cook (University of Exeter, UK)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room RGS-IBG Education Centre
Session abstract How do we open out the messy digital geographies of trade, place and value to the world? How can we work with the digital beyond archives, spectacle and techno-dystopian imaginations. How do we do so in a ways that are performative, collaborative and provocative of the digital? This session convenes conversations that enliven geographical understandings of the governance, performance, placings and values/valuing of contemporary (digitally) mediated material culture and its heritages. Presenting propositions and provocations that stitch into or unpick the complex and sometimes knotty patchwork quilt of data-trade-place-value, we will push back against the normative authorities or discourses surrounding ‘the digital’ (however that might be conceived).

This session builds on the hosting of the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) in the RGS-IBG’s Pavilion in the days leading up to the annual conference where it will join the V&A, Science and Natural History Museums on London’s Exhibition Road. Developed as acts of valuing the things we buy today as the heritage of tomorrow, MoCC’s artworks take the form of dynamic, collaborative hacks and prototypes; socio-material processes, objects and events that aim to enroll publics in trade justice debates in light footed, life-affirming, surprising and contagious ways as part of their daily routines. www.moccguide.net
Linked Sessions The Museum of Contemporary Commodities: creative propositions and provocations on the heritages of data-trade-place-value (1): Panel Discussion
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Remaking the future: imitation as agency  
Louise Ashcroft (AltMFA, UK)
How can we undermine a power structure by parodying it? By replicating or reinventing a pervasive, global institution. 'Remaking the Internet' was an artist led, socially engaged role-play exercise which started by spreading the ridiculous idea that the entire Internet was to be redesigned in Exeter and developed into a very real and meaningful temporary community. Nobody believed it was real, but many people enjoyed entering into the fiction, and in the process began to realise that the possibilities they proposed were not as unlikely or impossible as might have initially seemed.
The project could be compared to artist reenactments like Jeremy Deller's Battle of Orgreave, in that it attempts to reiterate a non-art cultural experience. The difference is that, Deller's project was based in the local community it had taken place in originally (whereas part of the humour & activism of my project is the impossible idea of a global network being remade in such a small, relatively rural place). Another difference was that Remaking the Internet invited participants to reinvent the present and the future rather than the past, thereby providing a laboratory for ideas that could become actions. By acting out the possibility of having the power to author a cultural force as omnipotent as the Internet, the process could be seen as a dress rehearsal for revolution; complicating the relationship between producer and consumer, & giving the participant a taste of their own agency in terms of influencing digital culture and its future.
Presentation 2 Title: Footsteps in the Wind: The Touristic Noise of Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau
Emmanuel Spinelli (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
In this paper, the author will discuss Footsteps in the Wind, a soundscape composition that explores themes related to the paradoxical tension between the beneficial and nefast effects of the tourism industry and consumerism on different sites of pilgrimage, memory and trauma; as well as on local communities and tourists themselves. This paper will focus on the implications of tourist activities revolving around Auschwitz-Birkenau, the symbol of the Shoah, a unique and loaded site where people were mass-murdered during WWII. Now an open air museum, it attracts millions of visitors each year and has become a major touristic destination as well as a powerful symbol of European identity. This case study will help to address and challenge issues of site preservation, historical and social alienation, as well as the manipulation and representation of the “past” and its traces. In particular, the author will examine the notions of thanatourism and thanatophonophilia (the consumption of sounds of death and the macabre for entertainment purposes), in relation to the historical remains of post-war Europe and the Holocaust, and their effect on the perception of our shared history and our shared present. Issues that perhaps feel more pressing than ever as 2017 finds us teetering on the edge of a dangerous and yet arguably familiar international political threshold. With the rise of dark tourism as an industry, we are led to believe that “memory” is better preserved and more accessible – it is there for our eyes to see. However, an aural rather than visual investigation of these sites might reveal something different.
A critique of linguistic capitalism (and an artistic intervention)
Pip Thornton (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
In an age of ubiquitous digital technology and information exchange, the selling of words has never been more lucrative. Digitised words are capable of carrying far more than linguistic meaning, and as such are valuable commodities in the advertising marketplace. Nobody knows this better than Google, which made its fortune from the auctioning of words through Adwords; a form of ‘linguistic capitalism’ (Kaplan, 2014) in which the contextual or linguistic value of language is negated at the expense of its exchange value. But what are the residual cultural or political effects of this algorithmic exploitation of linguistic data? What is the value of language in this new economy? As the linguistic data we create and upload is tailored to court search algorithms, and keywords take on referential values unanchored to narrative context, digitised language has perhaps reached peak performativity (Lyotard, 1979); linguistic input narrowed and restricted in order to achieve maximum financial output. In this provocation piece I will be attempting to make the side-effects of linguistic capitalism visible through artistic intervention. The politics which lurks within the algorithmic hierarchies and logic of the search engine industry is often hidden by the sheer ubiquity and in some way the aesthetics of the Google empire. I will therefore also be explaining and demonstrating my own attempt to reverse this performative logic of production (Lyotard, 1979) in the form of a research/art project called {poem}.py which I hope goes some way in rescuing language from the clutches of the market; re-politicising it (Benjamin, 1936), and reclaiming it for art.
Place-faking: fermenting resistance through digital productions of space    
Andrew Dwyer (University of Oxford / Cyber Security CDT, UK)
Joe Shaw (University of Oxford, UK)
Infusing our collective dividual (Deleuze, 1992) with acts of seemingly ‘normalised’ resistance, this paper embraces the application of Lefebvre's thesis on the production of space to digital information and urban social justice (Lefebvre, 1991; Aiello, 2013; Shaw and Graham, 2017). This provocation offers a critical reflection of a small, ‘under-the-radar’ artistic intervention. In this, we propose strategies of political resistance and dwelling in the digital city (that we term place-faking), and speak to wider themes of truth, representation and power in the post-digital city.
The intervention (in collaboration with the Data Gutter Collective) actively intersects the abstract spaces of the city as participated in and through a collective reproduction of myriad social medias, technologies and their representations, that include Google Maps and TripAdvisor. This bringing-together will loosely follow the call to fabricate “hundreds of artisanal cup-cake bakeries in the South Bronx” demonstrating the fallible encounter of ‘reliable’ digital urban information with the powers of the emergent collective (Shaw and Graham 2017:12). By doing so, this paper plays with satire and participatory intervention to unpick data-trade-place-value and illustrate new ways of exercising a right to the city.
Textual Maps: The Body as Site
Alexandra Joensson (Westminster, UK)
Loes Bogers (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands)
Alexandra is a practice-based researcher looking at the critical, social and participatory ways to explore how the new boundaries of the body are-organised by big data profiteering, managerial bureaucracy and algorithmic surveillance. Loes is a design researcher working in the field of digital fabrication and feminist technologies. Together they are developing a series of textual 'body maps' to explore how digital ecologies draw new boundaries through the body as site. What are they and who do they benefit? The project explores how everyday clothing can be used as counter-technology to re-think the often invisible interactions driven by data, that occupy our bodies in particular contexts such as childbirth, antenatal and postnatal care. How can we begin to reclaim practices of 'consent' around a body, which has already been claimed the normalised 'opt-out' culture of the 'smart world'?
The Critter Compiler: Speculations on life and microbial computing
Helen Pritchard (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
In 1997 Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced the development of a living sensor, the Critters-on-a-Chip, a tiny light-sensitive computer chip coated with bioluminescent bacteria, placed on a standard integrated circuit. In the presence of targeted substances including petrochemical pollutants and explosives, the bacteria emitted a visible blue-green light. Small, inexpensive and fast, critter chips imagined an affective scene in which microbes could be used to monitor remediation and bioaccumulation at sites contaminated by petrochemicals. Today the speculative scenes of the bio-economy are enduring, take for instance the bioluminescent-bioreporter integrated circuits that monitor toulene levels or the fluorescent microbes extracting precious metals, for computers, from mine waste. Critter chips emerge from the entangled scenes of extraction, pollution, computation and labour. Scenes, I argue, in which computational execution is increasingly instantiated (in both a metaphysical and computational sense) by the extension of computation into the bodies of nonhuman organisms–what I refer to as toxic execution. What 21st-century critter chips demonstrate is that our entangled "becoming with" is taking place for an advanced capitalism that reduces organisms through affect to their informational substrate—where data accumulation and bioaccumulation are conflated. How then might we start somewhere more queer, to imagine critter chips in anti-capitalist forms – even if it is just an experiment in speculation? As part of this intervention I will explore how critter chips might operate differently, through sharing the prototype of the Critter Compiler. The Critter Compiler is an art-based research project in which microbes are grown by the heat of computer processes. Instead of computation constraining or limiting the possibilities of microbial life the project speculates how microbes might work with algorithms in generative ways. In this fabulation algae, grown by the heat of the central processing unit collaborate with neural networks to write new microbial novels.
Talking to MoCC Guide Mikayla - a responsive play between dramaturgy and protocol
Paula Crutchlow (University of Exeter, UK)
Sam Kinsley (University of Exeter, UK)
My Cayla Doll is a cybernetic device designed to be a responsive, educational 'friend' to its target market of 4-7 year old girls. Combining pre-scripted questions and responses with access to Wikipedia, the doll composes socio-material relations through a combination of audio hardware, bluetooth, networked software and the play of conversation. As a networked object used by children she has been increasingly subjected to scrutiny of the dataveillance processes she uses, and in 2015 she was 'hacked' and re-purposed as 'Mikayla' the talking doll guide for the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC). Mikayla's aim is to subvert the play of conversation from the commercial curation of our tastes and choices towards the sharing of the information that produces them. She works with her conversational partner to make visible the processes and consequences of her material and digital contexts, in order to question the way 'smart' objects inform and govern the quotidian in increasingly intimate and pervasive ways. In this provocation we will work through scripted and improvised dialogue to engage with Mikayla's dramaturgical and computational protocols; speaking to and about her as toy, digital apparatus, ventriliquist dummy, pedagogical tool and techno-social assemblage.