Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Beyond the Beyond: Strange Culture

The story of Steve Kurtz is one that I have been following for a few years now. He was accused by U.S. federal prosecutors in an incredibly long and drawn out witch hunt of being a bio-terrorist, a suspected murderer, and eventually a pernicious mail fraud mastermind, beginning when paramedics found suspicious lab materials in his house. He had called them because his wife had just died of a heart attack. The lab materials were from an art project the professor was making about genetically modified food.

Someone has produced a documentary about the ordeal and I would very much like to see it.

Link to film blurb

"Art becomes the next suspect in America's 9/11 paranoia"
from the Guardian in 2004 when the story first came out.

Trackback to my confused muttering in 2005 and link to a case summary as it went to trial.

Guardian update from last week regarding the dismissal of the case.
`As Nature magazine put it: "It seems that government lawyers are singling Kurtz out as a warning to the broader artistic community".'

Beyond the Beyond: Dead Media

Microsoft has decided to pull the plug on their "Digital Rights Management" entrenched music service, rendering any media that you legally bought through the comercially lagging MSN portal effectively unusable. I have noticed this is one of those "I told you so moments" by technology bloggers around cyberspace.

The legal precedent involved here I find troubling and increasingly widespread. Content distributors are creating a scenario where regardless of you purchasing software and media from them, they still technically own that intellectual property and legally control its use. This is somewhat like a hardware store sueing you because your twelve year old daughter cooked POP TARTS in your toaster instead of the toast bread it was intended for, thus potentially damaging the toaster brand and the future of toaster distribution as we know it.

As an artist, the concept that media conglomerates, software makers, and distributing networks can buy up copyrights in bulk, put seemingly innocuous digital locks on content, and then sue your pants off for trying to use that content for your own ends outside of the intended manner, is an incredibly threatening prospect.
People`s eyes tend to glaze over and look dreamily off into the distance when I talk about this stuff, because who really cares . . . iPods(TM) are so cool.

Friday, April 25, 2008

SPORE will SUCK. That is all.


...the most useful website I've ever been to.

A few good questions...

"1) General, five years ago the Commander in Chief said that combat operations in Iraq had ended. Since this isn’t true, the Commander in Chief was either lying, delusional, or simply a fool. Which do you believe to be the case?

2) You have said on various occasions that Iran is meddling in Iraq, that it is supplying weapons, fighters, and training to the warring factions. Others have charged that the United States is meddling in Iraq, that it is supplying weapons, troops, and training in Iraq. Which of these assertions do you believe to be the more accurate? Have you seen any evidence of American involvement?

3) You have expressed a commendable admiration for our soldiers, saying that they are the finest young men of our nation. Would you let your daughter date a black Pfc. with a GED? A kid named Gonzalez with tattoos?

4) Permit me a personal question, General. Have you ever said anything but “yes” to anyone who could affect your chances of promotion? Can you give us examples?

I have received a letter from a squad leader in Baghdad who suggests that always saying “yes” qualifies you as a streetwalker but not as a soldier. I am sure this isn’t true. That is, I am sure you could be a soldier as well. Will you explain to us why the sergeant is wrong? Can you give the Congress a reason to believe that anything other than your career matters to you?"

Murder Cult, USA

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"The Past Inside the Present..."

"In the 1980s, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez and his son first hypothesized that the impact of comets or asteroids caused the mass extinctions of the past. Most scientists slowly came to accept this theory of extinction, and since then a great scar in the Earth--an impact crater--has been discovered off the coast of Mexico that dates to around the time the dinosaurs went extinct. An asteroid probably did kill off the dinosaurs, but the causes of the other four mass extinctions are still obscured beneath the accumulated weight of hundreds of millions of years, and no one has found any other credible evidence of impact craters.

But now, together with Mark Roth of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, I believe we have found a possible biochemical scar, present within living animals, that links Earth's greatest mass extinction to a single substance: hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Hydrogen sulfide is a relatively simple molecule that gives rotten eggs their distinctive foul odor and is quite toxic--in high concentrations a single breath can kill. And it looks like that is what happened: Hundreds of millions of years ago, hydrogen sulfide probably saturated our oceans and atmosphere, poisoning nearly every creature on Earth.

Yet some creatures, like our very distant ancestors, must have somehow survived this toxic environment. What Roth has discovered is that H2S, incredibly, also has the ability to preserve and save lives. In small doses the chemical puts many animals into a state of "suspended animation," a useful adaptation that would have allowed creatures to, in essence, hibernate through the catastrophe of mass extinction. If this idea is correct, our understanding of the deep past could lead to a dramatic medical revolution very soon."

Monday, April 14, 2008

*This* apparently started out as System Shock 3...

...that is, until EA's marketing department intervened because two game franchises with similar names from the same publisher could confuse consumers and lead to a loss in sales, instead of, I don't know, one of those franchises turning into the de facto national sport of South Korea and the other turning into a machine that prints money.

Hey, where can I get my marketing degree?!


"A couple of years ago I had an argument with a friend, one of those differences of opinion that leaves you fuming and coming up with witty ripostes for days afterwards. I was saying that a good game doesn’t have to be fun. She was saying that was ridiculous.

My argument, though I botched my explanation at the time, is that games have incredible untapped potential in the field of negative emotions. Just as the lowest common denominator of any art form appeals to ‘positive’ emotions, whether it’s humour, arousal or excitement, so it is that our young games industry is obsessed with the idea of ‘fun’.

I think this is one of the core reasons that the games industry hasn’t had its Casablanca or Citizen Kane- we’re still in the era of musicals and slapstick comedy. No games developer’s going to try and make its audience feel sad, or lonely, or pathetic, at least not for long stretches. You might get games that dip their toes into that water from time to time, but by and large developers are keen to keep you smiling.

But that debate is just a big, ugly thorn bush that I’ve run through too many times already with nothing to show for it. The point is that Pathologic fearlessly wields desperation, brutality, hopelessness, exhaustion, cruelty, even ignorance and pain, and, if you can stomach it, the result is phenomenal."

...from a three part overview of the Russian FPS/RPG Pathologic by a man clearly obsessed with said game.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Future Pixar Movies about Astral Projection

It is confirmed that Pixar is going to do a trilogy of movies based on Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars books. This is marvelous news, as the weirdness in those books will almost certainly make for visually delightful environments and creatures a la Fantastic Planet. Here's hoping that the strangeness, excitement and campyness don't get sanitized out.

Librivox has recorded: A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars.
Link to a post about how the books almost became serial cartoons in the 1930s, via boingboing. Link to another article about the same thing.
Link reporting Pixar's preproduction. (the release date is 2012, ugh)

The World Brain

Link to a city-to-city map of the Internet, via Flowing Data
Link to H.G. Wells' 1937 essay "World Brain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia". The crux of which is that world peace can be brought about by universal access to knowledge.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


I am having my first individual exhibition in Berlin. The opening and run of the show will coincide with the Berlin Biennial.

takt kunstprojektraum cordially invites you to our next opening, Hypochondria showing new work by Jason Merrill Benedict.

Hypochondria opens Saturday April 5th, at 8 pm
With music by DJ´s Dexta, Bentastic, and Scale

Exhibition: 6th of April - 17th of May, 2008

takt kunstprojektraum
W├╝hlischstr. 56
10245 Berlin

An exhibition of artwork that explores pathology as a type of alchemical experiment or pseudo-science. The images of bacteria, viruses, and parasites evoke the obsessions of a hypochondriac. Microbes that are responsible for the most dangerous diseases in the modern world and are often touted as a threat of global plague, become brightly colored patterns that fill the gallery. The goal is to investigate the paralyzing power that anxiety has over our lives and to engage a dialogue about the rationalized system of fear that seemingly dominates all forms of public debate, whether scientific, political, or social.

Jason Benedict

(There was an issue with the picture displaying. -ed.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

NYC : March 29th

I left before dawn Saturday morning to get up to Manhattan for art fair weekend.
I was very excited to see the feature exhibition at MoMA, "Design and the Elastic Mind", and was not in the least bit disappointed. It was kind of all-over the place, but was ostensibly about how design mediates between the end-user and all of these disparate scales that we operate in during our day-to-day interactions. It was a grab bag of code art, DNA sculpture, computational origami, 3d printing, information visualization, robots for life support, sensory deprivation enhanced telepresence, visionary architecture, fungible computing, sex toys and body modification. There was a tendency among roughly half of the objects to be presented as part of a science fictional scenario. All of the objects were imaginative and held tremendous visual interest; but with the non-functional artifacts from the future, I got the sense that I was looking at fresh kind of science fictional art.
Link to the exhibition's website. (Flash required.)
Below are some of my pictures of a smart board that drew on the silhouettes of the visitors. (2004, Philip Worthington, Shadow Monsters)
A comparison between the other two places I went, the Whitney Biennial and the Armory Art Fair, is telling. I haven't been to either before, so I really didn't know what to expect.
I may not have been put-off by the pieces that comprised the Whitney Biennial if I was presented with them individually. Together though, the pieces seemed joyless and cynical; many of the pieces were art povera reborn as art school affectation. What was presented as beautiful, seemed pandering and trite. There were three John Baldessari works, though, that were genuinely beautiful and witty; so I guess I was rewarded for going there. Maybe my negativity towards the show can be chalked up to being a curmudgeon.
Waiting in line for the Armory Show, I expected to be disgusted with the huckster-ism and art-by-the-yard attitude inside. After I was inside, I found that I was not; granted that I didn't actually have to actually interact with anyone. The work was of a much greater variety than the Biennial, and I engaged with the work much more.
Below is a drawing I liked very much. The artist was extrapolating from the edges of snapshots; which is a great idea for starting drawings that I will try. (2002, Amelie von Wolfen, Skylobby 2)
Next time I do this, I'll skip the museums and go to the other art fairs.
Links (1 & 2) to the Fallon+Rosof Artblog coverage of the art fairs.
Link to coverage on Artnet.
Link to a chatty video bit on the NYT website.

Critical Hit!

After the exhibition at Revolution, I always critically hit . . .