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Red Ink Cruft

"Money is overthrown and abolished by blood."
- Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

"Let me tell you a wonderful, old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: "Let's establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false." After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: "Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink."

This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom – war on terror and so on – falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink.
- Slavoj Žižek at Occupy Wall Street protests in New York

This cruft algorithm extracts data from the Dow Jones and a still image from the live video feed of the Occupy Wall Street protest. This CRUFT provides a simultaneous view of the progress of the occupation and the markets.

CRUFT: Art from Digital Leftovers
My art practice explores the Internet as source material to be appropriated, taken apart, juxtaposed, and recycled by writing computer code that is automated and runs on a 24/7 schedule producing a form of auto-generated collage I call Cruft. The resulting digital artwork allows me to investigate broader issues of traditional concepts—such as originality, creativity, authorship and eternal value. This work examines the relentless flow of information on the Internet that quickly becomes digital leftovers to reveal a relationship in which we don't simply consume media, but are also consumed by it.

In response to the intense pace and constant change happening online, my art practice also includes a slower and thoughtful method of applying traditional media such as charcoal, paint, wax and ink, to prints of selected Cruft images. These mixed-media images are created over longer periods of time resulting in a meditative process that subverts the goals of speed, spectacle and distraction, offering an opportunity for slower looking and deeper thinking compared to the crushing overload of an endless stream of automated Cruft.

The Internet has the ability to provide freedom by connecting us at great distances, democratizing the world's knowledge, and facilitating disruption and resistance to systems of power. It can also simultaneously provide control by restricting and regulating our thoughts and actions while propagating fear, divisiveness, surveillance and repression. My artwork delves into the very nature of the Internet, pulling at it’s strengths and exposing the flaws, producing what has been coined Post-Internet art, that by definition references the "network" that we all inhabit, and ultimately, it's effects on our society and culture.

My art is a personal inquiry into fundamental questions about our values, ideas, fears and dreams. I am interested in how the humanities and technology shape our individuality and communities, and how the arts and humanities can inspire us to ask who we are and what our lives might mean.

Robert Spahr
Carbondale, IL
September 2019