Tag Archives: provocative objects

on Bataille

 { and other near-future writing project works }


a week ago Carol, Maceo and i were out on Moody Street in Waltham, catching up on some amazing work out at The National Poster Retrospecticus at Lincoln Arts Project — just phenomenal visual design work in the tradition of the handmade rock poster, i highly recommend it

we sort of naturally wandered into the next store space which just so happened to be this cool, independent bookstore called Back Pages — a nice display on Steampunk artwork up at the front of the store, nice jazzy music in the backdrop — it was nice to find a real bookstore again, no nooks, no toys, just shelves and shelves of books with no promise of there being ‘everything under the sun’ in their inventory

anyhow, i picked up 2 books of interest — Slavov Žižek‘s ‘iraq: the borrowed kettle’ and the book ‘Georges Bataille’ by Michael Richardson

at first i thought, ‘huh, super hard to believe that Cosmo Kramer wrote a scholarly tome on this edgy, semi-Surrealist philosopher and fiction writer, really interesting’ but then i realized the author wasn’t Michael Richards, its Michael Richardson

anyhow, i think i want to write something about Georges Bataille eventually — this will be the preliminary research, this little book from Back Pages { thank you }, that and reading ‘Story of the Eye’ by Lord Auch about 5 times in the course of my lifetime — reading the introductory chapters to the Richardson examination of Bataille’s life, work and thought rings a lot of bells with similar thinking i’ve had over the last decade and a theme of ‘interdependence’ might be nice to elaborate on

according to Richardson, Bataille believed that ‘being can never be dissociated from social circumstance’ — in not so many words, that we all need to recognize and live within the greater cosmos, to realize our effect on the universe and likewise the effect of the universe on the individual

individual and the system — the system in this case being the universe, or the more social integration of the individual into the technohumanic ecosystem of other people and the environment, both the natural environment and the one we create for ourselves through development of: new tools; new thoughts and concepts; new self-reinventions of the individual and this cyberSurreal ‘system’ that keeps evovling

at this point in time i think we’ve lost all control — the ideas seem to invent themselves at times, right? or rather, once a new tool is created and released into the mediastream layer of existence the evolution of that tool is either implied or almost automagically invented and released

another topic that comes to mind, and perhaps this is an extension from my DMI thesis ‘confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy,’ would be to simply expound upon the concept merely implied by this rather confounding subtitle — i want to talk about using performance art, humor, user experience design and usbaility research practice as a form of activism, as, i guess, a means of social force to test and redesign a more optimal ‘experience’ of the world for real people — i never got to that point in my thesis book, at least i never got to clearly express this concept behind using persona play acting in an active way in real world settings as a way to discover areas of unintended usage in the found systems of the world — or if i clearly articulated on this concept, i don’t think i got to zoom in and focus on just this concept for all that long in the writing and project work

flying back from Valley Forge yesterday i bumped across this passage in ‘Storyteling for User Experience’ by Whitney Queensbury and Kevin Brooks:

‘Anthropologists talk about contextual observation as a way of making the familiar strange and the strange familiar’ 

i see a lot of these flip paradigms subconsciously surfacing in my work, and specifically in my more performative play investigations and in my curatorial endeavors — for instance, for ‘Provocative Objects: the extradition,’ the original call for work, as lifted directly from the website, says:

We are looking for pieces that instigate the viewer-participant-gallerygoer or blur the line and leave the audience wondering. Physical traditional art objects — dynamic prototypes — video, performative and conceptual work — we’re looking to collect an eclectic body of work to provoke viewer-participant exploration, thought, discussion and interaction. There will be a vaguely-defined ‘stageSpace’ for certain event-related ‘performances’ throughout the evening as well as numerous ‘objects’ or installations.

we made it seem like we were simply looking for ‘provocative work’ for the show, or at least that was the almost overt implication — but, i think my theory behind the show was to put together an amazing gallery exhibit that inclusively involved any and every mediatype — all the works you might find along the continuum of creative human expression — and to set up an eclectic body of work in a traditional ‘white box’ gallery space, mix the social factions together, these wonderful little cliques of musicians, artists, poets, performance artists and others, and sociologically see ‘what happens’

the exhibit-event was actually more about the artists and gallerygoers being the quote-unquote ‘provocative objects’

it is my belief that we are the most provocative and unpredicatable creative medium — flesh and blood and feeling — this is why, time and time again, i return to performance art as my primary form of personal expression — and this is why almost everything i do, as i have come to realize, comes from this fundamental core practice of using my own body, my own mind, my own movement and momentary experiential thought as the primary focus of my life’s work — this is how i empathically design through contextual consideration, through imagination, through performance or through imagining my own performance { as myself or as someone else } of a set of activities, tasks, goals, etcetera — it is how i participate and contribute to the world i live in and ultimately to the greater good of a collective conscious life in the world — life, our ultimate time-based medium

curatorial reflections: exhibition-event as sociopsychological laboratory

an excerpt from Provocative Objects: debriefed

And with the passage of time we can re-open the mind like a delicate oystershell and mine the lobular cortexes for the remaining little pearls of wit and wisdom.

Its been a while now. November 12, 2010 seems like a distant, milky dream to me now.

My co-curatorial partner in cyberSurreal investigations David Tamés asks in his earlier passages to this exhibition catalog — and its a bit of a meta-conversation between us now — about the success of Provocative Objects: the extradition as an art exhibition. Anyone that really got to know me through our time and collaborations together at Dynamic Media Institute knows that I pretty much laugh at the very concept of ‘success’. Of course, at this point I’ve been known to laugh at / for just about any reason. But I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss ‘success’ and define for the world:

  1. what it was we set out to do with Provocative Objects
  2. what we accomplished by using Doran Gallery as our sociological art laboratory for a subconscious streaming cycle of art shows

By looking back, using these simple criteria, we can certainly transpire well above the coinflip follies of failure and success and really get down to some storytelling artifactual proof that helps the reader better understand the invaluable psychological underpinnings behind the makings of this kind of show.


To best understand Provocative Objects — to really know what it was all about — we need to take a quick trip back to my first attempt to put on gallery exhibition. In late Autumn of 2009 I scrambled to email out an invitation to the graduate students here at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. This call for work aimed to get DMI and SIM together, collaborating on a themed show in Doran Gallery — and the show theme I stitched together from my critical research in humor and new media loosely hung on the title concept ‘American Cheese: an introspection’ and a quote from the famous stand-up comedian, playwright, author and moviestar Steve Martin:

You know, a lot of people come to me and they say, “Steve, how can you be so fucking funny?” There’s a secret to it, it’s no big deal. Before I go out, I put a slice of bologna in each of my shoes. So when I’m on stage, I feel funny.

But seriously, folks — I thought an email alone could be the catalyst, or at least the inspirational nudge, to put on a really amazing show. And more importantly, I think I trusted that this email along with my vague wish to bring SIM and DMI together in the same exhibition space would help build new and amazing social connections between these 2 like-minded but politically dispersed academic schools on campus.

I ran around like a circus rodeo jackass for a bit, trying to get all the procedures, policies, rules and regulations down and did all the administrative busywork needed to get the show set up, but with the fast passage of time and very few submissions to the show, my original social purposes fell a bit to the wayside. American Cheese, while successful on many levels regarding general gallery attendance, quality of exhibited work and DMI colleague participation, fell short on my personal goal of creating new social ties to SIM.


In the Summer of 2010 I put out a new call for work. This time, instead of a quaint email to DMI and SIM, I actually made the request for submissions very public, reaching out beyond the MassArt Graduate community pool by placing my first copy-paste post out to Rhizome. I think this better set the stage in many ways.

Firstly, Rhizome would help provide a far broader context and larger vision for what this next show could become. The organization, based in New York City, garners the attention of artists, designers, performers and technologists from around the world. The Rhizome online community started in 1996 and continues to grow and evolve. As stated on their web site mission page:

Rhizome is dedicated to the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology.

and this mission seemed perfectly aligned with the kind of future-forward design thinking we see in the project work and research done through Dynamic Media Institute.

Then, inspired by the ingenious marketing suggestions of Don Lapre ( http://www.hollywoodmemoir.com/don-lapre ), I took my post to Rhizome as a ‘tiny classified ad’ and copy-pasted it into several other local ( and not so local ) online community sites. I emailed directly to artists I know out at Mobius. Similar personal emails went out to anyone and everyone that I thought might be interested participating. This time around, I was determined to put on a show that started with the core group of my colleagues at DMI but branched out to include other work, providing a greater context for all the work at the exhibition. This was going to go beyond the SIM to DMI collaborative concept originally set forth with American Cheese. Forget SIM. With that initial failed attempt under my belt, I wanted to bust out and not even begin to consider MassArt as my little box of crayons. I no longer needed to color inside the lines. And I needed to reach out, outside the box, not with my thinking ( as we’re all so aptly encouraged to do as creative people, through the most sickening set of corporate clichés and hillbilly mantras ) but with my actions. I also wanted to expand the notion of what a new media exhibit can be by including artwork created in any mediatype, not just onscreen or electronics-based project work. Video, music, performance art, new media and traditional art and design works: why not show it all in the same place? Under one roof? At the same show? Crazytalk, right?

The original call for work to our ‘cyberSurreal, interdisciplinary and immersive exhibit-event & experience’ included the following paragraph:

We are looking for pieces that instigate the viewer-participant-gallerygoer or blur the line and leave the audience wondering. Physical traditional art objects — dynamic prototypes — video, performative and conceptual work — we’re looking to collect an eclectic body of work to provoke viewer-participant exploration, thought, discussion and interaction. There will be a vaguely-defined ‘stageSpace’ for certain event-related ‘performances’ throughout the evening as well as numerous ‘objects’ or installations.

Here we have the beginning collection of measurable criteria for us to properly assess the outcome of the show. Qualitative though they may be, we can see that there were some definite, clear goals in mind. The ulterior motives of building out our creative context and creating new social extensions for DMI were all cleverly hidden in the messaging mix, but the surface setup for Provocative Objects began to elicit proposals almost immediately.

I remember talking to David early on, I think it was with the very first batch of email proposals I received. I was baffled by the fact that, unlike American Cheese ( with submissions from colleagues at DMI and me ), this show was beginning to feel a lot more international. Literally.

My first submission came in from Albert Negredo in Barcelona. My second submission came in via mobile phonecall while I was out at The Apple Store — this time from Anthony Murray in Brooklyn, New York. I got emails from Tokyo, Rome, San Francisco and Argentina. This show and these submissions really fascinated me and I need to talk to someone about how crazy it was getting. And David, of course, understood the general consequences of my actions and why I might be getting these international submissions, ‘Lou, you put the call for work out on Rhizome,’ he explained with some comedic emphasis, implying that that detail alone stretched my cry for work out to the more global level.

I can’t remember the location of this conversation at this late date, but I am assuming we were in the cozy confines of Penguin Pizza up on Mission Hill. David and I joined forces at that point, making The Penguin our first official ‘office’ and meeting place for the eventual and very fictional Bureau of cyberSurreal investigation. David graciously offered to collaborate on this rapidly expanding exhibit-event, and I humbly accepted this opportunity to work together and build out the show using our mutually-aligned talents and resources.


I scheduled the show to take place in November. Luckily this time I had built in adequate time for David and I to really dig in and put on a larger, more inclusive show. With 3+ months we could properly square away all the granular detail and logistics need for Provocative Objects. This was turning out to be a far more complicated gallery event. We were lucky to enlist the assistance of many of our colleagues at MassArt to help make the night smooth and fun for all the artists involved.


But could it work? Underneath the surface of this exhibit-event — a little below the notion of traditional artwork, performance, music and new media all peaceably living together in sin — was the playful, provocative notion of bringing together the people behind these amazing pieces, all in one space at the same time. Provocative Objects was a social mixing experiment and Doran Gallery became our laboratory.

The answer, for me, although not truly measurable by any qualitative or quantitative stretch of the imagination, is a resounding yes. It can work, this idea of putting on a cross-disciplinary and inclusive show to end all shows. Provocative Objects now serves the Bureau as a happy and distinct model to follow for future-such show-building activities. And the idea of using the show, this ‘exhibit-event’ as we called it, as an interesting excuse to pull together so many disparate but spiritually like-minded creative people and cliques together on one night under one roof, well, that idea proved, to me, to be extremely fruitful and rewarding.

We enjoyed a full house of gallerygoers at Doran Gallery on November 10, 2011, ebbing and flowing throughout our time-based evening of interdisciplinary arts, for sure, but nonetheless rather packed with wonderful artists, musicians, performers and participants. The work on display covered the full spectrum of art, the entire continuum of creative expression. And the conversation, the participation, the wandering and exploration of the space, pieces, people and performances, all attest, via personal memories and stories, to the truly provocative night we had out at the show.

Somewhere buried deep inside the thematic grumblings of the show I had this notion about the title and ideas behind Provocative Objects. I had inadvertently stolen the title from Sherry Turkle’s book Evocative Objects — I guess I sort of repurposed the title of her book as a way to brand a series of my own object-based micro-electronic prototypic experiments at DMI. These objects, my Provocative Objects, were ‘machines gone wild‘ — an expression of this truly cartoonish Freudian fear of our technology — whereby I dreamt up and created devices that would aggressively attack the user. I think that we’re only slowly beginning to understand some of the undercurrent negative social ( or unsocial ) side-effects our technologies introduce into  our technohumanic ecosystem. Anyhow, this was the original concept behind the name of my project series. The concept and name evolved to become the theme of the show.

Somewhere along my thoughtstreams I began to ask myself ‘Which medium is the most dynamic medium?’ A bit of an asinine question to ask, I’m sure, but I really started to wonder about dynamic media and performance art, and to then wonder about this term ‘dynamic’. Can machines be more dynamic than people? Which of the 2 performs in a more dynamic way: people or machines?

Anyhow, I’m going to totally skip over the definition of the word dynamic, not a lot of time here in this essay to redesign the wheel or the brand of an academic program. Its just not my thing. But, I do want to let you in on a little secret, dear reader. The idea of collecting together all of this amazing international artwork for display at Doran Gallery was more about luring the people to the room than about putting on an incredible artshow. The ‘objects’ in the title Provocative Objects are the people, not the art ( vision of Solient Green come to mind, the final scenes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, To Serve Man, its a cook book, that sort of science fiction flip of the brain on a skillet ). David and I, as the fictional Bureau of cyberSurreal investigation, put on a wildly successful, highly attended artists’ reception and performance spectacle, indeed — but we also got to see so many different social circles wonderfully coming together in the fascinating ripples created by our clever little box. Our first person, eye witness report on Provocative Objects proves the indelible value of putting on this kind of show. And the value resides not in the objects on the wall, the sculpture and performance art and installations. These are the subtly-planted cool excuse to get people together, the beautiful seeds planted around room to provoke interesting conversations. The most dynamic medium, I would argue, resides on the side of the human element. People perform in far less predictable ways than machines. And people, for me, are the Provocative Objects. We create our art and our technology as a way to better understand ourselves as individuals, as a society and as a culture. We are the Provocative Objects.

objects of desire

the semester is over, you may go in peace

summers here + the time is right to go drinking in the street

analysis of the internationally still infamous Surrealist film ‘Un Chien Andalou’ … with a bit of simple subcutaneous research into concepts behind the storytelling … reveal some interesting insights into the fetish objects ofttimes automatically rendered through the lucid daydream creativities of the mad genius revolution started in the early 1930s

those familiar with the principle character, the ‘Chien’ himself, + the delightfully strange cinematic sequences of the film as they unravel + peel away, will recognize this satirical modernization of the classic Dalinian swarm of ants within the palm of the hand


i call my cyberSurreal iPhone automatic app suggestion ‘formis Andalou’ in homage to the original … Dalí affords the presence of ants special symbollic meaning … ‘ants point to death, decay, and immense sexual desire’ … from my previous research the inference is multivariate + deep + actually suggests a sort of societal decay

watching the passage from ‘Un Chien Andalou’ … the man + woman standing + staring into the palm of his hand … mysteriously mesmerized by the vision of these ants as they run in + out of a stigmata-like opening in the center of his palm … as a living, breathing witness of incessant + neverending myriad similar watchers, similarly hypnotized fiends visually engaged with all that dances in the palm of their hands … well, i cannot help but ask about the data that plays within these, our daily apps … ants, data, information … the device itself, perhaps this is the hole … our own informatic stigmata allowing this newfound, willingly self-afflicted weapon of our own societal decay … Dalinian ants reborn again as the very data that makes us dance around like ants in our own unstoppable puppetshow afterlife … we follow the data … we watch + check + cannot help but come back + gently stroke our shiny, beloved touch-interface objects of desire { thank you to Toby Bottorf for this brilliant description, the way we touch our device }

i am certain Buñuel + Dalí were not attempting to peer into the future … no, no … their purpose, as was the primary goal of much of the original Surrealist movement, was to explore the subconscious … to create a dreamlike expression of the Freudian worlds within us all … and perhaps, in doing so, unintentionally reveal some of the Jungian collective unconscious pertaining to our timeless existence

interviews with Buñuel helped decipher the metaphor of the diagonally-striped box … a box first carried by the bicyclist … a disembodied hand is placed into the box … later, the fashion remains of the deceased bicyclist are taken from the box … and from the fashion remains the female heroine of ‘Un Chien Andalou’ is able to bring our anti-hero back to life … she literally reanimates the man, the fiend

Buñuel calls the striped box an ‘object of desire’ … + many of the poetic objects imagined + realized by the Surrealists played with sexual tension + in some respects our inescapable human condition … our new ‘objects of desire’ are the machines … not the machines glorified by the original Futurists … not the automobile or steam engine … not at all … instead, our modernday equivalent to the striped box, to the ants in our hand … our machines, our ‘objects of desire’ are the computer, the laptop, the mobile device, the electronic reader … the ants go in + out … ‘death, decay, and immense sexual desire’

i wouldn’t say that the desire is directly sexual … but it can truly be addicitive … our need to phsyically interact with data becomes very obsessive-compulsive … i see it everyday … the most crowded room filled with the most amazing, intelligent + engaging people can become an instant information graveyard of stonefaced data-retrieval meatware … a ring, a buzz, all screens come out + suddenly the socialSpace we all exist in is swept away, everyone whisked into email, text, tweet + feed … the data rules supreme … + the desire itself, this is opportunity … the promise of a quick, witty message … maybe messages that will lead to an interesting conversation a few hours down the road … as most of us earn our living off from the new information economy, its difficult to not think of every ant as some new opportunity, some new chance … chance though that is far different from the joy of random, automatic expression through parlor games + madcap theatricality … chance that is totally unrelated to Duchamp + his chance procedure, a sort of zenlike appreciation for what destiny might bring your way … how unCagian is this new chance, this new chance is far less playful, utterly unSurreal …

i hope i am wrong … that my train of thought stops soon at the very next station up ahead

i truly hope that the word i am about to change, that our ‘objects of desire’ … that this chance, as i was about to say … well, it feels a bit desperate … our interaction with the data, with our technologies … its all flipped now at this point, hasn’t it?

the information, the data, the tools, the technologies … well, we originally created it to use … for the betterment of our human condition, right? to improve our standard of living … to help make the world light + playful + free … this was the original intention … the 1950s vision of what our technology could bring to humanity

but this addictive behavior … our relationship to our technologies … and our changing relationship with each other … there is something of desperation in it all from what i can sense + see

i need to sleep on this for now … get away from the monitor myself for a bit, right? after all, i might be writing more about myself, observations about myself, my own inner psychology + my own conflicts than about the universal change that might be going on in the world … maybe i’m imagining it all … maybe i’m putting more into what i think i see in my daily life { but i honestly don’t think so … which completely scares me } … yes, yes, for now i will go to sleep … but these are the thoughts i am left with after another year of research into cyberSurrealism … after a year of discovering what my personal motivations might be in wanting to explore the cybernetic + the Surreal … as Toby also pointed out, in a very Carlinesque sort of way actually, the material is all already there … i just need to point it out to people … to report on the state of things per se … to nurture a better awareness + live somewhere between … to mistrust things just enough + report on my experience

this is my story

these are my dreams