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Misdirection as Mass Deception

Like the magician performing sleight-of-hand to deceive and misdirect the eye, those in power tell us where to look and what to think. The mass media provides the stage where the deception unfolds focusing public attention with emotion and fear. Having been in lower Manhattan on September 11th 2001, I experienced first hand the collision of terrorism and warfare into spectacle, magnified by our network connected screens. The media showed images of the planes impact and the buildings collapse in a repetitive loop. Screens became weapons of terror, the system of representation was hijacked and we were forced to relive those terrifying moments by viewing images presented as a never ending present. In 2003, as the United States invaded Iraq, I began to notice how the media presented images that contributed to fear and consensus, and as the images disappeared from view, I wondered what became of these digital leftovers.

These events and ideas were the catalyst for the Cruft series which are auto-generative works that appropriate images from web sites. The hacker term "cruft" refers to unpleasant substances, superfluous junk, and redundant or superseded code. I make Cruft by writing automated computer software that scrapes the web using algorithms that remix mainstream media images from sites such as CNN in a process that mimics the 24/7 media news cycle.

Premise Cruft

This cruft algorithm extracts images from the CNN home page once every eight hours. The headline text is parsed, and the images from this page are then manipulated, enlarged, cropped and turned into grayscale. The text is then pasted into the red fields generating the final image. Viewing the archive one can see the limited range of changing news stories, seeing clearly where CNN wants us to focus our thinking. Just like the magician's misdirection, we focus on one hand, so we are no longer thinking about what the other hand is doing.

premise cruft

Mandala (Occam's Razor) Cruft

This cruft algorithm extracts an image from the CNN home page once every eight hours. The image is then processed into a mandala, with the addition of the original source image and caption. CNN presents a constant stream of images of violence, potential terrorism, and the imminent hurricane or earthquake, as well as the daily dose of political polarization. As an artist I want to take these powerful source images and convert them into equally powerful images of peace. I hope you enjoy them, while also being reminded of the transformation from which they were created.

mandala cruft

Stub Cruft (rush limbaugh redux)

This algorithm begins by downloading and editing the daily quotes from Rush Limbaugh's talk radio show, and a selection of individual words are composed into the Stub Cruft. A computer synthesised voice gives a daily reading of the Stub Cruft recorded as an MP3 file and documented as a text file and an audio file. The resulting collaborative poem between myself and Rush Limbaugh uses repetition to emphasis the vocabulary used on his radio program, while at the same time the computer voice struggles and sometimes fails to correctly pronounce the words. The resulting poetry fragment then requires the viewer to fill in the gaps to actively complete the overall narrative.

STUB CRUFT (rush limbaugh redux)
Wednesday May 21 2014
part 1 of 3
fire governed
fire governed gay slogan resigned slogan
fire governed gay slogan resigned
fire governed
fire governed
fire governed
fire  Unveils VENEZUELA governed resigned
part 2 of 3
shortages Depending
shortages Depending Cuba medicine preexisting medicine
shortages Depending Cuba medicine preexisting
shortages Depending
shortages Depending
shortages Depending
shortages  Unveils WHY Depending preexisting
part 3 of 3

law  issues you reassembling you
law  issues you reassembling
law  not UNDERMINE  reassembling

Load (Obama) Cruft

This CRUFT is the result of my consuming and digesting the words of President Barak Obama as well as the associated images offered up by the Internet. This algorithm begins by downloading the transcript from Obama's weekly video address, and passing his individual words as search terms into Altavista Image Search. The results are processed using a genetic algorithm that allows photographs with less color to be more likely to survive, causing the the images and text to slowly break down and gradually fade to black.

Dirge Cruft

Everyday this cruft uses recent information located on the website of the Department of Homeland Security. The latest security information is downloaded and combined with the name of the current season, as well as words associated with that time of year. All of these words are arranged in a kind of poem/haiku/dirge and uploaded to this site, as well as published daily on Twitter.

Follow me on Twitter @robertspahr to receive a daily tweeted Dirge Cruft.

after Unifying
after Unifying
Unifying origLink CAVORTING lo

Great Transnational Nude Cruft

This cruft algorithm selects the name of a large corporation from a listing on Transnationale.org, and passes that name as a search term into Yahoo! Image Search. The search results of corporate imagery are then composited with a national flag downloaded from WikiMedia, as well as a recent image of a nude female from KindGirls.com to generate this cruft image.

...the point of public relations slogans like "Support Our Troops" is that they don't mean anything [...] that's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody is gonna be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. But its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something, do you support our policy? And that's the one you're not allowed to talk about.

Noam Chomsky. Interviewed by unidentified interviewer. WBAI. January 1992
great transnational nude cruft

Red Queens Race (surveillance machine)

This is a performance piece that uses computer code, that scrapes recent text from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's blog. The text is sorted, common words are removed, and each remaining word is passed to Yahoo! Image Search. The resulting images are dowloaded. An audio file plays, which is spoken word from the book "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind." My web camera is on, and my image is shown on the desktop. As the audio plays, one of the downloaded images pops up, which I then close. These images continue to appear in pop up windows. The code creates a screenshot, which I then drag to the bottom of the screen. More images are downloaded and opened onto my desktop. I continue to try to close the windows. A second and third audio file of the same spoken word begins to play. More images open. More screenshots are created. More audio files play. I attempt to close the images as they are opened, but over time, the speed increases, and eventually as more of the same audio files begin to play, my entire desktop is overtaken. The race ends when the entire 8 gigs of computer memory is full, as hundreds of images and audio files are opened until, out of memory, the screen goes black and the machine stops in one long slow meditative hum.

Placebo Cruft
(Reparation for Events Real and Imagined)

This cruft algorithm selects search terms from a compiled list of life events that most people document with photographs. The search term is passed into Yahoo! Image Search, one of the resulting images is selected and a nostalgic filter is applied. With our network connected mobile devices the time between living an event and documenting that event has collapsed. The Internet is becoming one large database of shared social experiences that this work relies upon as source material. Every time this program runs, an image is pulled from this database, processed with a filter not unlike those used by Instagram, shared on my website, and then archived. This new CRUFT builds upon the collected images uploaded to the Internet, to create an ongoing narrative speaking to reparation for events real and imagined.

Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image–junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution. Poignant longings for beauty, for an end to probing below the surface, for a redemption and celebration of the body of the world—all these elements of erotic feeling are affirmed in the pleasure we take in photographs. But other, less liberating feelings are expressed as well. It would not be wrong to speak of people having a compulsion to photograph: to turn experience itself into a way of seeing. Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in a public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form. That most logical of nineteenth-century aesthetes, Mallarmé, said that everything in the world exists in order to end in a book. Today everything exists to end in a photograph.

On Photography, Susan Sontag

placebo cruft

Reparation For Events Real and Imagined (tile #9)

For this series of paintings, I selected images from the Anesthetic, False Positive, Placebo, and Phantom Limb Cruft. These cruft are made from the collected database of our socially shared experiences found on the Internet. Photographed memories of so many others are selected by the algorithms, and then later selected once again by myself, these images are taken from this shared database and converted from bits to atoms, transforming ephemeral memories into egg tempera, one of the most traditional and permanent mediums within the history of art.

Reparation For Events Real and Imagined (tile 9)

Blue Colic Cruft

This computer program downloads an image from the web of a surveillance camera located in Southern Illinois. The camera points at a pastoral scene consisting of a row of trees next to a country road, and in the distance is a small body of water. I was struck by the simplicity and beauty of this image, contrasted with the knowledge that someone for some reason is watching. What is the purpose of surveillancing such a peaceful place? When the CRUFT computer program downloads an image from the camera, as well as a short sample of news from the National Public Radio, they are copied and repeatedly manipulated by the algorithm, creating a short video that mashes together two different kinds of streaming data in what becomes a violent stuttering cough.

Panopticon (Fragments) Cruft

Working in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, I produce this cruft by processing recent information on the government web site, transforming text into a short poem. Images from an online surveillance camera used to ensure our safety makes a record of all activity. These surveillance images are processed into a video and the poem becomes the scrolling text along the bottom to create this Panopticon Cruft.

Cliff Dwellers Cruft (Drone Study #4)

A series of images captured from a CCTV camera in New York City are processed to produce a ghost like animation. Native American cliff dwellers were at the peak of their technological development circa the 12th and 13th centuries when they appear to have left quietly... Some theories include climate change, prolonged drought, topsoil erosion, de-forestation, and hostility from new arrivals. This cruft is a study for the work-in-progress: Machine Vision: Images of Drone Landscapes.

cliffdwellers cruft

Crude (1 minute memory tondo) Cruft

We don't do body counts
   -- General Tommy Franks

This Crude Cruft is a composite of a daily image from the Department of Defense (http://www.defenselink.mil/today/), images of a waving American flag, and the events of recent Iraqi civilian deaths obtained from Iraqi Body Count (http://www.iraqbodycount.org/).

Data Loss (Corruption) Cruft

This cruft algorithm downloads a recent photo from the Whitehouse.gov website as well as a report published by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism listing U.S. covert drone war casualty estimates. The text file of casualty estimates is literally inserted into the binary code of The White House photo. The drone war information becomes hidden from view, but corrupts the image producing visual distortion often referred to as a glitch. This work uses digital leftovers, consisiting of information either usually forgotten, or in the case of the drone war information, it is usually hidden, and in the process this cruft re-generates a new image by altering the data, which then reminds us of it's origin.

data loss cruft

— Supplemental Work —

Placebo Actions

This art action was presented at the Kraine Theatre Gallery, NYC in 1993, and included a combination of smells such as spray paint, butter and Murphy's Oil Soap. With sounds from a radio, and images of a chalkboard, President Kennedy and pornography.

Combined with simple actions such as writing, the total experience contained metaphors that were greater than the sum of it's parts.

Placebo Actions Placebo Actions Placebo Actions Placebo Actions Placebo Actions Placebo Actions Placebo Actions Placebo Actions Placebo Actions
Placebo Actions, 1993,  Images; Objects; Actions
A large yellow American flag is painted on the plastic that is over the images on the walls.
The flag drawing covers several walls.
The smell of melted butter in a small cast iron skillet is mixing with the smell of the spray paint.
Two chalk boards are written upon.
"I Will Dream American Dreams"
Murphy's Oil Soap is mixed into a bucket of water.
A sponge of soapy water is used to scrub the walls.
Soapy water drips down the walls to the floor.
Soapy water drips down the walls to the floor.

Placebo Images Objects

The Placebo exhibition at the Kraine Theatre Gallery, NYC in 1993 included images, objects and actions. The images were generated using books, advertising, and newspaper imagery as it's source. I enlarged the images with an opaque projector and then xeroxed them. Stencils were created and spray paint was used to make a "color print". My source material now included other media, and the art objects no longer had an original.

Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects Placebo Images Objects
Placebo Images Objects, 1993
Placebo Choking Man - xerox of pages of an emergency handbook, enamel paint, paper
Placebo Double Kennedy - xerox, paper, chalk & chalkboard 72"x48"
Placebo Kennedy - xerox on paper 36"x24"
Placebo Radio - xerox on glass microscope slides, radio plays a news station. 24"x24"
Placebo Wall (closeup) - xerox on paper, enamel paint stenciled on paper and plastic 48"x96"
Placebo Choking Man (detail) - xerox of pages of emergencey handbook, enamel paint, paper 36"x96"
Placebo Boots - newspaper, boots, enamel paint stenciled on to paper 24"x18"x18"
Placebo Chalkboard - chalk on chalkboard 18"x24"
Placebo Butter - cast iron skillet, butter, & hot plate 12"x12"x10"
Placebo Soap - soap, paint can, gloves, sponge, water, & bucket 24"x36"x18"
Placebo Exit - enamel paint stenciled on to newspaper 18"x24"
Placebo Installation (detail) - xerox on paper, enamel paint on plastic & paper 96"x144"

Action / Documentation

This art action was presented at the Kraine Theatre Gallery, NYC in 1992 and created art objects as a residue, a form of physical documentation of the process of their creation. After reading Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", I no longer felt limited to traditional materials; xeroxed images, sounds, smells, language, and time became part of my vocabulary. My work was no longer a static object, but became variable changing over time.

Action Documentation Action Documentation Action Documentation Action Documentation Action Documentation Action Documentation Action Documentation Action Documentation Action Documentation Action Documentation Action Documentation
Action / Documentation, 1992 Performance and Art Objects

A small weather radio is turned on, constantly forecasting future events.
An entire jar of Vicks Vapor Rub is smeared on gauze bandages pinned to the wall.
Listerine mouthwash is gargled.

Mouth is washed, and liquid is spit on the image.

Listerine is poured on a glass plate with the image of the HIV/Aids virus.

Two large glass jars, one filled with earth, the other filled with salt
is poured quickly onto the glass plate in the tray.
A flashlight is turned on and placed in the tray
along with the rubber gloves used to smear the Vicks Vapor Rub.
The left hand thumb is cut with a box cutter knife, and blood drips on the image.

The xeroxed image is hung above the butchers tray and weather radio.

A small pan sits in the corner below the image next to the weather radio. The pan contains the Listerine bottle, box cutter, and empty Vicks Vapor Rub jar.
The xeroxed image hanging on the wall, wet with blood and Listerine.

Xerox Image with Blood, 48" x 72"

Action / Documentation Xerox Image