Thursday, July 25, 2013


"For All the Wild Things I Knew Died"

Paint yourself and sing to the moon
For you do not live twice
And this joke will only last as long
As you are laughing.

I am bound to my sin
The mistakes like a cloak of trash
I drag across the deck
Of my deserted barge.

And at the darkest hour
I shall go to the lonely wood
Take out my blunted blade
And share my blood with the wind.

Here I cling to the half forgotten dream
The shadow of her passing and the echo of her voice
Singing in the mad high branches of the blown oak
As the dark water gathers about our standing stone.

Watch the wall fall and the loon laugh
The birds depart for sanctuary south
While plague takes the healthy
And madness the sane.

The laws of crows are shattered
This is your ticket to freedom
Your dream of forever wishing
I woke up wrapped in laughter weeping
Forgetting what language was for.


Stockholm July 2013.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Beggar's Notes: Stockholm Summer 2013

In the Swedish capital, Stockholm there is a form of begging that is performed on the metro trains. As far as begging goes it is a very polite and mediated form of the art. A beggar gets in a carriage and quietly places a note on all the spare seats next to sitting passengers. I have been photographing some of these notes. Not as an act of morbid spectatorship, but as an exercise in reporting back on urban space. If these short notes are windows into the tragic lives of others then their meaning is more poignant as parts of the performances that deliver them. Often over-dressed men and women (heavy jumpers, thick jackets on warm summer days) shuffling through crowded train carriages. Few pay attention to these street people, but they do make some money. I often see women giving coins, perhaps moved by the suggestions of suffering children, single mothers and homeless families. The uniformity of the situations reported in these notes -  homelessness, sick children, deceased parents (generally by accidents or political upheavals - never from drink, drugs or domestic violence), suggest that there is a genre of begging notes. However, knowing something of homelessness myself (by choice not necessity and 15 years ago as I roamed the wide world looking for adventure) there are some terrible things that happen to people. I consider these notes part of the urban milieu, a globalized world that is on show in every city street and train carriage. 

The above two notes are from different people but are the same. "Hello dear friend, I help my father more than I can, not to maintain myself with the income I get in Sweden but for us in Rumania. We have no income there is my brother to help me more than I can. God to help. Thanks"

"Hello, I come from Rumania and I have 4 brothers. My mother has a problem with hepatitis. There are also floods in Rumania. We have nowhere to live. Please help me with a little money so I can survive this tragedy. Thanks so much. May God help you."

"Hello! I have a brother. He is 17 years old and is paralyzed. My parents died in a car accident 6 years ago. Please help me with a little money for food and treatment for my brother. Thank you so much and may God help you."

"I am father to two children and one of them has a deadly disease. We have no home. I beg you to help us. I and my children need a home. We thank you for all the help you can give us."

"Hello! I am a poor woman. I have one child and he is sick with leukemia. He needs help for such treatment. Please help me with a little money. Thank you for your help. May God help you. Please give this note back thanks!"

"Hello! Be nice and help me with a little money for transplantation of skin ('hud') for my daughter. It is impossible for me to do without your help. Thanks so much for your help!"

 "Hello! Be nice and help me with a little money for transplantation of skin ('hud') for my daughter. It is impossible for me to do without your help. Thanks so much for your help!"

"Hello! Ladies and gentlemen! Would you be so kind as to help me with a little money. I have 4 children. My daughter is sick and I have no money for operation or medicine. Please help my daughter! Thanks! Gigi.

 Hello! I am from Rumania. My father died in the revolution when Ceausescu fell. I have 4 brothers and we have no social assistance. Please help me and my family with a little change for food (Or if you have some work for me I would be very happy). Thanks for the help! Return the note thanks!

Hello! I am a poor man. I have two children which one is sick with leukemia. He needs help for subsequent treatment. Please help me with a little money. Thanks for the help. May God help you. The note back please!

Hello! My ladies and gentlemen. If it is ok, please help me with a little money because my child (5 months) has leukemia. He needs a transplant operation. May God help you that help my child. Thanks [Two notes, three months apart, same text, different photos].

Hello, These are my children. I am a widow, I have no money to take care of school. I have a problem with my health and no money for medicine. I do not work anywhere and have no social support. Please help me. Thanks a lot!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Semiotics of the Kitchen - Martha Rosler - 1975

From A to Z, Rosler "shows and tells" the ingredients of the housewife's day, giving us a tour that names and mimics the ordinary with movements more samurai than suburban. Rosler's slashing gesture as she forms the letters of the alphabet in the air with a knife and fork, is a rebel gesture, punching through the "system of harnessed subjectivity" from the inside out.

"I was concerned with something like the notion of 'language speaking the subject,' and with the transformation of the woman herself into a sign in a system of signs that represent a system of food production, a system of harnessed subjectivity." - Martha Rosler

“Non-material use-values are those goods produced within the housework process which have no material basis: affection, sexuality, companionship, “love,” and the like. These goods satisfy the individual’s non-material needs, which are as important for his/her reproduction as is a grilled steak or an ironed shirt….they are use-values for value.” -Leopoldina Fortunati from The Arcane of Reproduction

“To make the process of production and reproduction of labor-power function, other exchanges are also necessary. The most important of these “secondary” exchanges is that between the male worker and capital mediated by the female houseworker. This exchange and relation is required because the female houseworker’s reproduction cannot only consist of the use-values into which the wage can be transformed; it must also include the consumption of use-values which only the husband can and must produce. For although in this relation this housework is paid for by the wage, it must appear not so. Thus “love” enters the discourse, and the relation can be expressed in other non-money terms. Without love, capital would not be able to make this relation function, nor would it be able to isolate the male and female houseworker within the family.” -Leopoldina Fortunati from The Arcane of Reproduction

Monday, July 15, 2013

Origins of Paleolithic Art

Prehistoric cave paintings across the continents have similar geometric patterns not because early humans were learning to draw like Paleolithic pre-schoolers, but because they were high on drugs, and their brains—like ours—have a biological predisposition to "see" certain patterns, especially during consciousness altering states.

This thesis—that humanity’s earliest artists were not just reeling due to mind-altering activities, but deliberately sought those elevated states and gave greater meaning to those common visions—is the contention of a  new paper by an international research team. Researchers Tom Froese, Alexander Woodward and Takashi Ikegami from Tokyo recently published a comprehensive study of over 40,000 years worth of cave paintings and found some pretty telling patterns. The spiral-like and labyrinthine designs that pop up in paintings from locations that are thousands of miles away from each other didn't just pop up by coincidence. Since these patterns are consistent with those that many humans see after taking hallucinogenic drugs, the scientists think that ancient cavemen had more in common than previously thought.

Specifically known as "Turing instabilities," these hallucinations are common after ingesting a number of different plants with psychoactive properties. The patterns resemble "neural patterns" that mimic the structural makeup of the brain and are as meaningful as those that initially experienced them perceived them to be. "'When these visual patterns are seen during altered states of consciousness they are directly experienced as highly charged with significance," the researchers suggest. "In other words, the patterns are directly perceived as somehow meaningful and thereby offer themselves as salient motifs for use in rituals."

The Froese et. al. thesis intriguingly explores the “biologically embodied mind,” which they contend gave rise to similarities in Paleolithic art across the continents dating back 40,000 years, and can also be seen in the body painting patterns dating back even further, according to recent archeological discoveries.

At its core, this theory challenges the long-held notion that the earliest art and artists were merely trying to draw the external world. Instead, it sees cave art as a deliberate mix of rituals inducing altered states for participants, coupled with brain chemistry that elicits certain visual patterns for humanity’s early chroniclers.

“The prevalence of certain geometric patterns in the symbolic material culture of many prehistoric cultures, starting shortly after the emergence of our biological species and continuing in some indigenous cultures until today, is explained in terms of the characteristic contents of biologically determined hallucinatory experience,” the researchers hypothesize. 

Of course, you can’t just posit that cave painters were doing prehistoric drugs without raising a few questions, such as why they gravitated—and kept gravitating—to the same kinds of shapes? The scientists start by citing decades-old research exploring drug use in indigenous cultures that suggest some hallucinations are induced by the brain seeing “neural” patterns—literally the cellular structure of brains.

“Researchers also generally claim that the geometric hallucinations experienced by the subject are mental representations of these neural patterns,” they write. “However, while these neural models are capable of reproducing some of the geometric patterns that are found in prehistoric art and non-ordinary visual experiences, their range remains severely limited.”

So brain biology plays a role, but it’s not enough to account for ancient pop art taste and trends! The brain might be generating the same kinds of patterns, but the early artist-shamans went further. Like many consciousness-exploring humans today, apparently they not only liked what they saw and created rituals to inspire their art, but they also believed that what they saw was more special than than the grind of their daily lives. 

“We speculate that the self-sustaining dynamics may account for why these geometric hallucinations were experienced as more significant than other phenomena, and that at the same time their underlying neural dynamics may have served to mediate and facilitate a form of imaginary sense-making that is not bound to immediate surroundings,” the scientists say. 

Translated, that knotty sentence comes down to this: The cave painters had rituals that involved taking drugs (undoubtedly plants) that they consumed in a frenzy to get to this creative state. This behavior and the same results were noted by 1960s-era academics studying the effects of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus found in North America.  

“The non-ordinary visual experiences were often characterized by similar kinds of abstract geometric patterns, which he classified into four categories of form constants: (1) gratings, lattices, fretworks, filigrees, honeycombs, and checkerboards; (2) cobwebs; (3) tunnels and funnels, alleys, cones, vessels; and (4) spirals,” they write, citing peyote research. “Intriguingly, these form constants turned out to resemble many of the abstract motifs that are often associated with prehistoric art from around the world, including Paleolithic cave art in Europe."

This isn't the first time we've heard that hallucinogenic drugs may have played a role in early cave paintings—though it's the most scientifically rigorous evidence yet. A couple of years ago, a 6,000-year-old cave painting in Spain ignited a small buzz after scientist identified what appeared to be images of psychedelic mushrooms in one of the murals. This finding was consistent with earlier hypotheses drawn from similar paintings that suggested cavemen knew about the special powers some plants possessed and possibly used those plants to inspire some of the earliest works of art known to man.

But again, the scientific rigor of this latest study is what's crucial here. Not only did they connect known patterns from ancient cave paintings to modern day research on hallucinations, but they also mapped the projected hallucinations to particular regions of the brain that would've been active after taking such drugs. The study is based on the founding notions of neurophenomenology, which is the study of the relationship between brain functioning and human experience. While we can't exactly do a brain scan of what's inside these 10,000 year old heads, we can find a common link between the images that came out of those heads 10,000 years ago and images that we still see in art produced under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. Those paintings teach us a lot about humanity through the ages. They teach us not only that we've always loved art, but that we've always loved drugs, too. [Adaptive Behavior via Daily Mail]

Friday, July 12, 2013

Social Media as Academic Economy

A video of my presention at the Social Media Knowledge Exchange conference, Center for Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge 3 July 2013.

Social media, or shared user generated content that is most often found on the Internet within large communities centered on a publishing platform, represents a part of an economy, or a system with values and rewards based on exchange. By engaging with their work via social media academics participate in a knowledge economy, at the center of which is a projected or extended self. By developing expertise in the use of social media value can be created in the knowledge economy related to strength of network, profile and branding, prestige, access to knowledge, dissemination and authority or expertise.

In this presentation I attempt to:

1. Construct a rational for using social media as an academic
2. Explore some of the principles for using social media
3. Suggest approaches to research on social media as objects of study or tools.

The companion site for this presentation is Transmedial Reality: A Toolkit for Working with Social Media for Researchers at

The slides from the presentation:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Webinar - Bodies, Space and the Virtual: A Narrative of Becoming

A webinar (Audio coordinated with slides, just press play) from the keynote presentation I gave at the conference "There and Back Again: Cultural Perspectives on Time and Space" which took place at Umeå University, Sweden 22-23 May 2013, organized by the Department of Culture and Media.

Virtual space is becoming less virtual everyday because we live in it. From the online and shared spaces of massive multiplayer games, to GPS and the augmented and networked technologies of iPhones and wireless connectivity, the peoples of affluent economies realize virtual spaces everyday. What do these spaces mean for our understandings of the body? How can we imagine the body, with its associated territories of gender, sexuality and cognitive awareness, in this time of virtual space? This presentation examines these questions in conjunction with selected examples and proposes a conceptualization of the body based on the virtual as a narrative of becoming. Many of the ideas and analytical concepts expressed in this paper come from my doctoral dissertation work, which will be publicly defended 5th November 2013 at Umeå University.

What is virtual space?
Virtual space is codified space. How I elaborate on this answer in relation to bodies, expressions of identity is related to contemporary discourse. What are the Codes of Virtual Space in relation to the body?