Category Archives: Abstracting craft


November 21, 2012 Abstracting craft, LGRU

Contribution to ‘Perspective: Artist – The position of individual artists in the performing arts in Flanders’ (VTi Institute for the Performing Arts, Brussels)

“None of the work that we discuss here is actually hidden, but its dullness and technicality make it prone to blend into the background and it’s only with some effort it can be rendered tangible. We think it is essential to pay attention to data practices in order to understand the value and validity of data, especially when we focus on what it can tell us about the roles of individuals in the field.

We would like you to read this contribution as a collection of annotated snapshots, a glimpse of how the VTi-database (like many databases) is the product of long term institutional work but also of micro decisions informed by intuition, technical artifacts and common sense.”

All sources can be found at:


11 sessions @ ERG, Brussels.

La plupart des auteurs contemporains (artistes, designers, cinéastes, écrivains), créent leur œuvre à l’aide d’ordinateurs. Ils utilisent les logiciels par défaut, les mêmes outils que tout le monde utilise. Imaginez que ces logiciels n’étaient pas seulement faits pour faire le travail, mais seraient des outils à penser, des instruments à développer l’imagination, qui produisent des nouvelles idées?

Toolbending creuse des voies différentes dans le monde du logiciel, afin d’explorer les possibilités de réorientation d’applications habituelles. De façon collective nous développerons des méthodes pratiques et intellectuelles qui permettent de réfléchir de manière critique sur ce type de technologie compliquée mais omniprésente. Au cours de dix semaines, nous prendrons le temps de nous pencher sur la culture des logiciels, et nous trouverons les moyens d’y contribuer activement. Quelles sont les normes produites par les outils numériques? Comment sont-ils faits, et par qui? Qu’est-ce qu’ils rendent possible et quelles sont leurs limites? Pourquoi sont-ils faciles à utiliser dans certains cas, et pourquoi résistent-ils dans d’autres? Comment pourraient-ils fonctionner différemment et générer des résultats inattendus?

En mélangeant l’exploration, l’interrogation et le développement pratique, avec des contributions d’invités proches et lointains, nous nous déplacerons au-delà l’horizon du logiciel conventionnel, et apprendrons à imaginer nos outils autrement que par leur application pré-déterminée.

Comme nous interrogerons activement les outils numériques, afin de les comprendre mieux, et leur faire faire des choses surprenantes, nous travaillerons principalement avec des Logiciels Libres. Ce type de logiciel est licencié de sorte que vous êtes invités à apporter des modifications et à les partager avec d’autres. Toolbending offre un voyage pour les esprits curieux qui ne nécessite pas de compétences techniques particulières autres que du courage et un peu d’humour.

Tools for a Read-Write World I

While working on a call for projects in the context of LGRU (codename: Tools for a Read-Write World) I drift off into reading an interview with Ward Cunningham. Cunningham developed concepts and codes for collaborative tools such as the Wiki, and also inspired programming methods like Extreme Programming.

Bill Venners: Everyone would likely agree that predicting the future is difficult, but is it always a bad idea?

Ward Cunningham: (…) When we start talking about what will be desired in the future, we might have some instincts and they might be right, but they won’t always be right. And we have to attend to the times when they aren’t right. (…)

Somebody might say, “Why don’t we look forward, look at all the work we have to do? Why don’t we design a system that makes all work easy from the beginning?” And if you can pull that off, that’s great. It’s just that, over and over, people try to design systems that make tomorrow’s work easy. But when tomorrow comes it turns out they didn’t quite understand tomorrow’s work, and they actually made it harder.

Bill Venners: To tackle the cost of change curve, you found a way to make it practical to make changes all the way through the lifetime of a project. And that made it less important to plan for the future, because you could make changes when they were actually needed as the future unfolded. Does an overall architecture simply emerge through the process of focusing only on each small step?

Ward Cunningham: I like the notion of working the program, like an artist works a lump of clay. An artist wants to make a sculpture, but before she makes the sculpture, she just massages the clay. She starts towards making the sculpture, and sees what the clay wants to do. And the more she handles the clay, the more the clay tends to do what she wants. It becomes compliant to her will.
A development team works on a piece of code over several months. Initially, they make a piece of code, and it’s a little stiff. It’s small, but it’s still stiff. Then they move the code, and it gets a little easier to move.

Working the Program: A Conversation with Ward Cunningham, Part III. Bill Venners, 2004

forget that you are

click for video!
i P a d (Michael Murtaugh’s melted version for Prototyping Futures)

I am enjoying Household Words, an associative analysis of ‘common-sensical’ words such as Sucker, Bloomers, and Bombshell. In her last chapter, Cyber, Stephanie A. Smith refers to On the road to intimacy, a 1992 whitepaper calling for the development of ‘personal digital assistants’. The authors David Dunham and Scott Shwarts predict that we would one day all carry “a helpful friend in our pocket”. Intimate devices for them, should be like telephones:

The telephone is an intimate device. You don’t have to think about using it, and probably don’t consider yourself to be using high technology when you do. When you talk on the phone, you frequently forget that you are. An intimate computer should be equally transparent. Ideally, you shouldn’t know you’re using a computer until it does something wonderful.

Smith asks herself:

Now really, who can forget they’re on the telephone? More interesting is the syntax of the statement “When you talk on the phone, you frequently forget that you are.” What might it mean that you forget that you are?


It is barely visible through the glare of its plexiglass container but I am struck by a paint-splattered box-camera included in the exhibition George Hendrik Breitner: Pioneer of Street Photography at De Kunsthal, Rotterdam. As a reminder of this crude object tainted by extensive use, I take a picture.

At home, I realise that I have left my phone (with the picture on it) in a train. I start looking on-line for Breitner’s camera thinking that it should be easy to find. To my surprise nothing turns up.

I remember that the object was on loan from an academic collection in Leiden. The Leiden University Library has indeed a ‘Special collection’ on early Dutch photography, and a website ‘Special Digital Collections’ at:
In a sub-collection ‘Photographica’ I finally locate a detailed record for the camera that was on display in Rotterdam.

Shelfmark: PK-F-GHB.098
Title: Guy’s Edison-Camera
Date of creation: [Tussen 1898 en 1902]
Object: 1 camera : boxcamera
Remarks: Camera gebruikt door George Hendrik Breitner
Location: Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden – Prentenkabinet – Kluis -1 kast 22219 plank 2
Rights: For information on rights and reproductions, please contact the Special Collections Reading Room.

The software to manage this digital collection is called Ex-libris DigiTool, tool for resource discovery. The Leiden Special collections are prominently featured on their website as a successful case of how Ex-Libris helps ‘Orchestrate Institutional Repositories‘.

Wedged between Close, Print, Help, Send and a shoppingcart (which adds the record to my ‘e-shelf’ but no clue how to access this space) is the option Save. It is unclear what it will save and the file-extension .sav does not disclose much either.

.sav is a generic extension, used for saving progress in video games but also for predictive analytics created by the proprietary Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). As for opening this file, I find the following advise: “Various programs use this extension; too many to list individually. Take clues from the location of the file as a possible pointer to exactly which program is producing the file. The file’s date and time can also help if you know which programs you were running when the file was written.” Right.

I suspect from the microscopic size of the file that this is probably meta-data saved in a convoluted way, but I install GNUPSPP to be sure. It is nauseating to imagine the budget, work, hours spent on digitizing this iconic object only for it to end up in a digital dungeon.

LGM 2012

This year I could only make it for a few days to LGM, but I am glad I came. First of all to meet friends and colleagues, to find out how they and their projects have been. I enjoyed getting hold of a fresh issue of Libre Graphics Magazine for example; The Physical, the Digital and the Designer is once again an excellent collection of articles, images and reviews so make sure you get your hands on it too!

SK1 reloaded: 'Printdesign', a new tool for office printing

I arrived just in time in Vienna to witness the birth of a Scribus GUI-team, something that has been in the making for a while now. Although the discussion at the meeting GUI of Scribus and effectiveness of work showed that developers and designers involved still are getting to grips with what this will mean for the project and it’s team-dynamics, it is a start.

Tom Lechner's demo of a future align+distribute tool

Unfortunately I did arrive too late for Tom Lechners’ talk Weird Layout. Using Inkscape-like align and distribute functionalities, his fresh approach to putting elements in relation to each other actually doesn’t seem that weird at all. If only it would deal with text as elegantly as it handles images?

The Auditorium. Photo: Nicu B., 2012 CC-BY-SA

This year’s venue for LGM was the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien (a brand new auditorium, cantine and several classrooms at our disposal) and ran parallel to the Linuxwochen. It made for some lively inserts but also put the lean organising team and minimalist style of hosting under pressure even more. But participants happily found their way to other places like Metalab, a hackerspace not far from the glossy MuseumsQuartier. Metalab offered us comfortable spaces for working and discussing, and a broken power plug was successfully re-soldered and taped too.

Beautiful cusps with Powerstroke

New to LGM were exciting projects such as Powerstroke, the result of Johan Engelen’s work on multiple width strokes in Inkscape. The construction of smooth ‘calligraphic’ strokes (always in quotation marks!) clearly benefitted from his background in mathematics. Ricardo Lafuente compiled Inkscape with it and looked *very* happy.

HarfBuzz: A fast-moving target

The text-shaping engine HarfBuzz takes care of lay-out at an atomic level. Behdad Esfahbod explained in accessible terms how HarfBuzz tries to simplify and make legible the process of shaping even the most complex of text-lay-outs.

Keeping a promise: Joao delivers Brazilian chocolate for transport to Belgium

It was also interesting to see Máirín Duffy from the Fedora Designteam at work; with her colleague Emily Dirsh she toured us through several collaboration tools for interactive design that they were thinking about and developing. Their slides on Sparkleshare, Magic Mockup and Design Hub:

And, classified as #tehweird at lgm: SoundFumble; an audio player that takes GIMP image data as input. Without taking anything away from the GIMP-experience, your favourite digital image editor can be a soundmachine too.

I enjoyed introducing Marcos Garcia to LGM and vice versa. We did not present much of the LGRU-work in the end because we wanted to make sure that the Libre Graphics community felt as excited as we were ourselves about LGM in Madrid next year. So we used most of our time to tell some inspiring Medialab Prado stories and I think that was convincing.

Stefanie at Mz Balthazar's Laboratory

That evening I met with Stefanie from Mz Baltazars’ laboratory, a lab or hackerspace for women and trans. We discussed the various methods we were both using to create ‘fearless, accessible plattforms’. It was a nice and useful strategy-swap before I joined the party at Metalab.

Over lunch on Saturday, a discussion with Kate Price, Peter Sikking, Joao Bueno and Chris Lilley about being stuck with the page-metaphor and what that means for graphics traversing from web to print and vice versa. Kate agreed that relational placement made more sense: “Measure at the point where the relationship is“. Which prompted Chris: “The problem with intelligent tools is that you end up argueing with them“. Kate also made interesting connections to CAD-software and Peter referred to Theo Van Doesberg and his idea of designing from the smallest element outwards. Hopefully to be continued.

An invitation to Madrid at the closing session. Photo: Nicu B., 2012 CC-BY-SA

At the closing talk, our invitation to host LGM 2013 in Madrid was accepted with enthusiasm. It felt a bit strange that we were deciding on a second European meeting while being in Europe, but still I am glad to have an opportunity to connect LGM to LGRU and the Spanish-speaking free software community. Apparently the same team of people that invited LGM to Vietnam in 2011 is working on LGM-Asia in 2014 … wouldn’t that be great?

Objects and their biographies

Q: I found these scissors here. Did you make them?
A: No, I did not make them.
Q: But who did?
A: I do not know.
Q: I found these scissors. Did you do this?
A: No, they are not mine.
Q: They are not yours? I was told that you did make them.
A: No, they are not mine. You found them perhaps in the garage?
Q: I talked to the welder. He said that you made them.
A: Hehe, no.
[A man approaches and says: He did it. He is just afraid. I ask: Is he shy? He answers: Yes, he is shy]
Q: And when, when did you do this, Samat?
A: A long time ago.
Q: How long ago? A year ago, or two?
A: A year ago.
Q: And why?
A: They broke, something should be cut, but then no one could go home [to get new ones]. We have to work, we need to cut.
Q: And those scissors, you use them both in the garage and at home?
A: The handle was made of plastic and it got broken. They break sometimes.

These scissors and their biography are included in, a collection of self-made and re-made objects curated by Vladimir Arkhipov. Automatic translation interpretation by FS.

Word, Work

A group from Chicago visited Constant Variable last week. One student explains his mother is a publisher and that she compiled an on-line glossary of terms used in her mixed practice of printing, publishing and writing. It is stunning.
For example, under W:

word spacing:
The amount of space between each word in typeset text.

An informal means of promoting a product from one person to another.

work and tumble:
To print one side of a sheet of paper, then turn the sheet over from gripper edge to back using the same side guide and plate to print the second side.

work and turn:
To print one side of a sheet of paper, then turn the sheet over from left to right using the same gripper and plate to print the second side.

work for hire:
A type of agreement in which the writer or designer sells the complete rights to a work to a publisher.

What you can learn from digging a hole

In an intense discussion about ‘the interface of the future’, John Lilly (then CEO Mozilla Corporation, now working for another company); Aza Raskin (then Head of User Experience at Mozilla Labs, now running his own company) and Dan Mills (then Lead Developer of Weave, now leading the Account Manager project at Mozilla Labs) debate what happens between intent and result. If the interface goes away, how do you learn what to look for?

00:01,671 --> 02:15,276
AR: Let’s jump a little bit forward because I think when you know where we are going, it is easier to figure out how we chart our course there. So really simple example, starting with the shovel. A shovel has two bits. It has the thing that does the work, that is the blade. And it has the interface or the handle.
What we often see is that most projects is that people work on that blade, making it titanium, making it diamant encrusted. Spending all their time making an incredible backend technology but forgetting about the handle so you and up with a beautiful blade with a tiny short handle and you can’t really use it.
Let’s go a step further. What would the ultimate interface be, for a shovel. The very best one.
Some people might say you want an automatic digging machine, where you might get to ride it like a tractor trailor, other people might call that bloatware.
But what is the ultimate expression of a shovel? It’s a hole, it is having a hole already dug.
Instead of needing the tool, you would just have the result. So I think if we go way way into the future, the place we cannot get now, when we think of interfaces, what you really want, is just the result already done.
I think that is mighty spaceship thinking, what we can pull from that is the closer we get from no interface, the closer we get to not having to think about the interface between us and the machine and us and the artifact to having just the result that we want, the better.
For instance instead of going to our browser and typing in a search query, to get a search result, we should just be able to think or say and interact … “I wonder whether the [?] won this season?” or “Won the last season”, and you get the answer immediately.
To most people, that is not going to feel like an interface. And that is the sort of interface we want. Because as soon as you need to stop and realise and think about an interface, you’ve already lost.

02:15,276 --> 03:09,056
JL: I think that in digging the hole, you learn much about what you are trying to do. I think you are presupposing an intentionality that is not always there.
So I think when you look for knowledge, when you construct knowledge, when you construct a future space station, you don’t always know the goal from the outset, where you are trying to get.
The process of getting there often creates new knowledge. So I argue at c-base the point is not actually (I’ve known you for thirty minutes, so I don’ know if this is actually right) but the point is not to get to the space station, but it is all the things and all the aha’s and all the insights you have along the way.
And you can only get those insights, by struggling. By working through it. So I think that if you presuppose that you understand what you want always and that you are very intentional about everything you that you do, and that you understand precisely the results that you want, than I agree with you. But I think that human beings most of the times are not like that.

03:18,484 --> 03:25,633
AR: So if I understand what you are saying, than you are saying that imperfect tools are better?

03:25,633 --> 03:48,717
JL: No that is not what I said. I said, that you construct knowledge, through the use of tools. You are articulating one type of interface that is getting to the result without use of tools. And I am saying you miss a type of knowledge creation by thinking that way.

03:48,717 --> 04:03,437
AR: Rather what I think I am saying that if your goal is to dig a trench to add a landline, some place, that there are a whole bunch of problems there that go way beyond the physical act of digging of the hole.

04:03,437 --> 04:12,262
JL: I agree with you. If you know exactly the result you are trying to get to, and you don’t believe that you need to create knowledge along the way, than you are good with no interface.

04:12,262 --> 04:21,456
AR: Really what I am saying that any time you spend fiddling with your tool, instead of doing the job or the task that you set out to do, is wasted time that we should be trying to minimize.

04:21,456 --> 04:23,593
JL: And I think that is an over-broad generalization.

04:23,593 --> 04:26,797
DM: What if you don’t know what the task you are setting to do is?

04:26,797 --> 04:34,877
JL: Or what if what you think you know what you are doing but you are wrong? I think that in many cases you are correct, but I think it is an over-broad statement though.

04:34,877 --> 04:40,728
AR: Well, in that case you are going to use a tool that isn’t particularly apropos; discover that it is wrong and make a new tool.

04:40,728 --> 04:46,254
DM: But in your case, there is no tool. There is only intent and result.

04:46,254 --> 04:56,425
JL: That is right. Intent and result. And there is a process between intent and result. And sometimes the process changes both intent and result.

04:56,425 --> 05:05,295
AR: I think I’d argue rather that if your intent is wrong the result will be wrong, and that is the iterative loop you want.

05:05,482 --> 05:19,507
JL: I don’t think that is obvious either. I don’t think the result is wrong if the intent is wrong either. you often think you are headed in one direction, and you end up in a different place entirely. It is an ok result.

05:19,507 --> 05:25,358
AR: I won’t disagree with you there, I just think it is not our tools that should be…

05:25,358 --> 06:24,057
JL: I can be specific. I think right now on the web, we are heading to this non-serendipitous web. What people really want, they want the news they want, just the news. They just want what they are interested in, what their filter is, what their lens is.
But I will tell you that it misses serendipity. When you read through a paper, that you did not expect, but that you wanted to learn and needed to learn. When you walk through Berlin, you notice up a whole bunch of things that you did not think you needed to know, but now you do.
I think that serendipity and the process of knowledge construction… I think that we are talking about different types of activities, but I think that … I’ll tell you that I have learned a lot about myself when I’ve been digging in my yard with a shovel.
It is not that I say we should look for imperfect tools, but I think that connecting intent and result too tightly will not always be the right thing.

This discussion took place in C-base, Berlin in October 2008

The Dilettante Expert

‘Dilettante expertise’ as a way to make practice meet theory:

Expertise is the classical foundation of all geekdom, whether it is encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare, of the Star Trek universe or the registers of an 8-bit controller. Dilettantism is the unavoidable condition of drawing the bigger picture. It can end up badly like with the pseudo-mathematics and pseudoscience in the books of Lacan, Kristeva, Baudrillard and Deleuze debunked by Sokal and Bricmont, especially to the extent that some of their discourse – Lacan’s in particular – lacked doubt and humbleness.

Sokal and Bricmont published “Intellectual Imposters” in 1997. Retrospectively, it seems to have marked an end of speculative cultural studies and media theory, except for shrinking niches in the contemporary arts and in political activism. And deservedly so, I would say, because you could see the grand media theorists shutting up very quickly when the new media technologies became a reality and you could no longer get away with theorizing about “virtual reality” while not being able to operate your own laptop.1

  1. Florian Cramer: The Medium is not the message, On The Future of Media Studies

Tying the story to data

In the summer of 2010, Constant commissioned artist and researcher Evan Roth to develop a work of his choice, and to make the development process available in some way. He decided to use a part of his fee as prize-money for The GML-Recorder Challenge, inviting makers to propose an open source device ‘that can unobtrusively record graffiti motion data during a graffiti writer’s normal practice in the city’.

In three interviews that took place in Brussels and Paris within a period of one and a half years, we spoke about the collaborative powers of the GML-standard, about contact points between hacker and graffiti-cultures and the granularity of gesture.

The text is based on conversations between Evan Roth (ER) and Femke Snelting (FS), Peter Westenberg (PW), Michele Walther (MW), Stéphanie Villayphiou (SV), John Haltiwanger (JH) and momo3010.

Download PDF: Tying the story to data

unfold, uncut

Designer Dick Elffers made many Versneden affiches by cutting and binding posters into small booklets:

Dick Elffers: Affiche Holland Festival 1962

Dick Elffers: Versneden Holland Festival Affiche, 1962

He enjoyed the surprising compositions that resulted from arbitrarily combining pieces of his work, ‘Le meilleur des mondes possibles’. But when I bring them up during the Co-positioning worksession (we are discussing ‘designing with imposition’, more about that later), GDH says: “Are you sure they are serendipitous lay-outs? What if Elffers designed these lay-outs as well?” Good question!

The trouble is, that I never saw these booklets in real life. De Stichting Nederlands Archief Grafisch Ontwerpers (NAGO) has apparently more than 20 Versneden affiches in it’s collection, but sadly published only two cardboard covers on-line:

NAGO inv. DE00347: Versneden weekagenda Boymans van Beuningen Rotterdam

Nago inv. DE00093: Boekjes versneden

I know about Versneden affiches from a reproduction in one of the first books on design I ever bought as a student1. I scan the reproductions to see if I can reconstruct Elffers’ method:

When I finish the last image, I realise Elffers could never have simply folded and stapled his posters. First of all, the NAGO-archive describes the booklets as ‘glued’, so there’s a hint. Also, if he had folded the pages and than cut them, at least on some pages the lettering would have been upside down. And unless the reproduction in my book was not complete, 2 pages are missing. I scanned 22 pages, and not 16 or 24 (can both be divided by 4). He must have cut page-sized rectangles out of his posters and than carefully arranged them.

Last test: Did Elffers leave any parts out?

Yes, he did. Some of the cut-outs were turned upside down, but none of those contained text. And he combined fragments from two differently sized posters into one booklet.

  1. Max Bruinsma, Lies Ros, Rob Schroder. Dick Elffers: Een leest heeft drie voeten, Uitgeverij De Balie, 1989


Go into the kitchen and open the first drawer you come to and the odds are you’ll find the wooden spoon that is used to stir soups and sauces. If this spoon is of a certain age you will see it no longer has its original shape. It has changed, as if a piece had been cut obliquely off the end. Part of it is missing.
We have (though not all at once, of course) eaten the missing part mixed up in our soup. It is continual use that has given the spoon its new shape. This is the shape the saucepan has made by constantly rubbing away at the spoon until it eventually shows us what shape a spoon for stirring soup should be1

The edible spoon figures in most of our presentation of the Libre Graphics Research Unit. Slides: LGRU.pdf

  1. Bruno Munari. Design as art, Penguin, 2009

Table practice

A late report from I Don’t Know! — an artistic conference on knowledge production [18/09/2011]

Arriving for the second day of the conference, I am welcomed by EVC with a cheerful: “We are very curious what you’ll do. When we received your proposal we really did not know what to expect!“. At that point I had just read the descriptions of the other parallel ‘table practices’, and was panicking about choosing such a pragmatic approach. Oh well.

Before the seven sessions begin, the organisers ask us ‘to make our notes public’, meaning to write them on vertically placed cardboard surfaces scattered around the room. Additionally, we are invited to formulate ‘matters of concern’ on pink post-it notes (yellow ones are for possible responses, solutions). It is probably post-it fatigue but the question rubs me the wrong way, as does the term ‘mise en abyme’ that is used to explain the purposeful recursion of the discourse. Another coffee, and it is time to start.

The two discussions starting from The GML-Field Recorder Challenge are each useful and interesting in their own way thanks to many smart and generous people around the table. First we ‘simply’ discuss The Challenge in relation to the questions posed by the conference. Participants point out the difference between ‘writing about’ (or data from?) movement and the act of moving itself; the interplay between standard and practice (referring to choreographer Steve Paxton who resented the standardization of ‘his’ method Contact improvisation, feeling it would risk transforming a practice between people into a technique) and reminding me that the relation between markup and text is architectural.

The second session is a bit more complicated. It takes a while to get started, and in the end The Field Recorder Challenge is used as a ‘case’ in an attempt to compare artistic research to case law, or in short, to a ‘file’. Surprisingly, the situation gets almost out of hand when we discuss one of the stipulations of The Challenge: “The winning design will have some protection in the event that the device falls into the wrong hands“. Apparently one of the blockages for approaching artistic research as a ‘file’ is that it would imply an act of sharing without control. What if your work would be used for a bad cause? How then to take responsibility for your work?

The entertaining Discourse Machine is another kind of ‘table practice’, developed by EVC and PR. It is a conversation-game in the genre of Talkaoke1, though more intellectual in style. In proper Don’t Know!-fashion, it at the same time provokes discourse AND a reflection upon the discourse itself (or on the provocation?). The game is played in rapid succession by seven participants who take up the role of presenter, audience member, interviewer, critical facilitator, feedback-person, interviewee or communications manager. PR confirms that this Discourse API could work with altogether different questions too.

Throughout the conference, the vocabulary of Isabelle Stengers and Bruno Latour is omnipresent. The confidence by which participants refer to them in conversation makes me wonder about my own usage of their work. A week later, inspired by AL, SV, PH, and LL working courageously through Stengers’ essay Ecology of Practice, it is good to read:

To challenge is something rather easy, you can always challenge somebody. But challenge as related to the eventuality of a cosmopolitical achievement must include the very special fact that in front of a challenging situation, nobody can speak in the name of this situation. Indeed borders are involved and there is no neutral, extra-territorial, way of defining what matters in the situation. It implies, for each involved party, different risk and a different challenge.”2

When it is my turn to speak in the gigantic plenum that concludes the day3, I am too impatient to say anything properly nuanced. As usual, KVDB is to the point: “Be careful not to fetishise your Don’t know!“.

  1. “The most fun I ever had with my clothes on”
  2. Ecology of practices and technology of belonging
  3. 50+ exhausted participants placed in a large circle. One by one we respond to yet another quest for ‘matters of concern’. In the middle some conference debris, a recorder slid into the void space, two microphones and a spaghetti of black cables.

A frog and a rooster

“A story, doubtless true in the life of such a man, tells us how Hokusai tried to paint without the use of his hands. It is said that one day, having unrolled his scroll of paper on the floor before the Shogu, he poured over it a pot of blue paint; then, dipping the claws of a rooster in a pot of red paint, he made the bird run across the scroll and leave its tracks on it.

Everyone present recognized in them the waters of the stream called Tatsouta carrying along maple leaves reddened by the autumn. A charming piece of sorcery, in which nature seems to work unaccompanied to reproduce nature. The spreading blue color flows into divided streams like a real wave, and the bird’s claw, with it’s separated and united elements, is like the structure of a leaf. Its nearly weightless trace makes accents unequaled in force and purity; its path respects, but with the nuances of life, the intervals setting apart the delicate flotsam that the rapid water sweeps along.

Can any hand translate the regular and the irregular, the accidental and the logical in this procession of things almost without body, but not without form, on the surface of a mountain stream? Very much so: the hand of Hokusai. For the memory of long experiment with his hands on the different ways of evoking life brought him, magician as he was, to attempt even this. The hands are present without showing themselves, and, though touching nothing, they order everything.”

Story: Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art. Zone Books, 1992
Image: Current OSP logo; it’s abstraction results from IRC-operated Scribus manipulations. See also: and

Python week, day 1

This morning: Review of lists, dictionaries, arrays, functions, loops.
Afternoon: Remembering how to speak to the Scribus-API (results possibly less abstract tomorrow). For now:

instructions = ['Don't read', {'Take': ['paper', 'rods', 'blocks']}, ['set them out', 'color', 'build']]


Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Proposal for a ‘table practice’ at the conference Don’t Know!, this Saturday 17 September:

The Graffiti Markup Language1 is a standard for describing graffiti practice. By making graffiti motion data freely available, GML allows anyone to transfer, compare and interrogate the work of individual writers. The standard is developed by artist Evan Roth2 with the help of a community of graffiti artists, animators, jugglers and coders. But how to capture a writers' movement outside the controlled environment of the studio or laboratory? For this reason, Evan challenged the GML-community to develop a 'Field Recorder' that "unobtrusively records graffiti motion data during a graffiti writer's normal practice in the city".

In a session inspired by the tradition of the BoF3 I propose to start from a collective close reading of the challenge itself4. From there, I would like to think through ways a body practice can be captured, it's data stored, analysed, communicated and eventually re-played.

Duration: 2.5 hours

Pornographic drawings

Dominique Somers (in cooperation with Dirk Belmans): Pornographic Drawings, 2010. Drawings made by tracking the eye movements of a person while he is watching a porn movie

White Glove Tracking

Evan Roth: White Glove Tracking, 2007 (on going)

Pierre Bismuth: Following the right hand of …, 2010 (ongoing)

  3. BoFs are informal and adhoc table practices current in computing conferences. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) uses the term to describe initial meetings of members interested in a particular issue to be worked into a future standard.

Que pensez-vous de la recherche esthétique faite avec un ordinateur?

August 12, 2011 Abstracting craft, LGRU

“In 1970 Pierre Gaudibert, director of Animation-Recherche-Confrontation (ARC) at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, visited the computer center of the Meteorology Institute in Paris, Avenue Rapp, where Manfred Mohr conducted his research in computer graphics. Gaudibert was so impressed by what he saw that he subsequently invited Mohr to prepare a […]