Category Archives: tactical

creative appropriations and transformations of the notions of looking in sci-viz

media ecologies

in Guattari’s Chaosmosis, media ecologies do not act with the goal of preserving the species that inhabit them, but function by encouraging the

creation and development of unprecedented formations of subjectivity that have never been seen (Guattari, 1995, p.91).

His notion of ecology is not incompatible to the one proposed by Stengers. However,  Guattari’s vision appears to suggest a dynamism that aspires at transcending, more than just constructing a variety of practices through what Stengers had defined a “reciprocal capture.” In other words, Guattari seems to suggest that media ecologies are not just facilitating and enabling symbiotic and parasitic (thus necessarily interconnected) relations but radical transformations and unexpected formations.

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ecological practices

In Cosmopolitics, Isabelle Stengers defines ecologic practice as a political practice in the broad sense:

Ecologic practice is related to the production of values, to the proposal of new modes of evaluation, new meanings. but those values, modes of evaluation and meanings do not transcend the situation in question, they do not constitute its intelligible truth. they are about the production of new relations that are added to a situation already produced by a multiplicity of relations (p. 33)

this ecological perspective does not correspond to a consensus situation, where

the population of our practices finds itself subjected to criteria that transcend their diversity in the name of a shared intent, a superior good, for an ideal peace.” (p. 35)

In fact, ecology doesn’t understand consensus, but symbiosis in which every protagonist is interested in the success of the other “for its own reason”. the process created then can be defined as the one of a “reciprocal capture.”

Caitlin Berrigam

built as a multipart project and a MA thesis at MIT, Caitlin Berrigam’s  “Life Cycle of a common weed” explores the encounters between plants and humans through the interface of blood. In this case, blood, we soon realize, carries the hepatitis C virus, an element that immediately becomes an inadvertent protagonist in this project.

The presence of the virus is felt throughout the project  through its appearance as  a chocolate truffle faithfully reproduced “from a magnified 3D cryoelectron micrograph” found in the Protein Data Bank, to test the spectator’s “desire to eat the enticing chocolates mixed with a repulsion for the infectious virus”; it is found printed on “letters to a virus”; it’s molecular shape is used to build domes wherein to engage in constructive conversations etc… there is enough material to challenge  popular assumptions of contagion and virus-human coexistence .

Caitlin Birrigam, Viral Confections, 2007

Caitlin Birrigam, Letter to a Virus, 2007

The accuracy of the appearances and the material used, chocolate, unavoidably triggers anxiety regarding Hepatitis C and its means of transmission. The edible form of this particular representation exposes the uncanny familiarity and ubiquity of this virus, with which many people often silently and secretly, sometimes unknowingly, coexist.

visualizing malware

Pretty and dangerous…when computer viruses become aesthetics, or, computer viruses as Pharmakon

Malwarez is a series of visualization of worms, viruses, trojans and spyware code. For each piece of disassembled code, API calls, memory addresses and subroutines are tracked and analyzed. Their frequency, density and grouping are mapped to the inputs of an algorithm that grows a virtual 3D entity. Therefore the patterns and rhythms found in the data drive the configuration of the artificial organism.

There is so much to be said about this project: while we all know that computer viruses are no biological entities, this attempt at visualizing the dynamic data generated by one seems to suggest the opposite.

Technically speaking, computer and biological viruses are affiliated to two unbridgeable and well-separated spheres, one prevalently pertaining to the domain of information and the other to the one of carbon-based life. Their material formation contributes to such divergence: while computer viruses are normally fabricated by and partially depending on human agency, biological viruses are mostly understood as naturally occurring. Worms, Trojan horses and computer malware are often described as if they were digital version of the natural ecosystem. However, a real intertwining and merging with such system is still confined to the domain of science fiction. The two realms do not speak to each other. But despite the factual and easily discernible discrepancies between computer and biological viruses, the first are affiliated with the latter, to the extent that, in most cases, their existences appear intimately entangled. One element seems to confirm this kinship: their invisibility.

mydoom, a malware visualization by Alex Draculescu

With their submicroscopic size, biological viruses constitute some of the smallest biological agents known. This makes them inscrutable to the human eye. Strolling the Internet and hiding in the most recondite folds of our computers, computer viruses are mainly made of code. The user needs a considerable amount of technical skills to detect them. Once disassembled, they provide nothing to the user’s sight.

Draculescu’s work shows not only the reliance on the visual imaginary of the biological as necessary operation to ensure the deciphering of this image (that is, the almost instinctive association of this image with the biological antecedent of malware) , but also the tendency to make this visual product appealing and terrifying at the same time. Ultimately, this image shows how the biological and the informational are, indeed inseparable. the layers of software applications  needed to reach this result function for us as filters that transform the “object” of study and turn the objects themselves into keens and converging entities 

glass microscopy

Luke Jerram, Swine Flu, Glass microscopy, 2010

in a series of glass sculptures reproducing the molecular structure of well-known viruses, from HIV to SARS, glass-blowing artist Luke Jerram eliminated coloring, and with it, a number of assumptions that normally come when fluorescent colors are applied to represent microscopic organisms. Jerram’s colorless glass sculptures triggered a series of reflections regarding the role of colors in the molecular visualization of viruses. In fact, if the choice of colors to portray a microscopic substance can influence the way in which we see and interpret the image, then, eliminating one of these elements has the potential to underline the extent to which such practice reflects and, in turn, “adversely distort the opinion of the viewer” (Boustead, Seed Magazine, October 15, 2009)