Picking up on Stephanie’s point below about digital labour makes me think about code performativity from the other end. In Stephanie’s examples, people are effectively performing for code. This strikes me as being the theatrical sense of performativity - trying to fit their bodies into performances that can be algorithmically recognised - one thinks of the calibration pose in early generation kinect stuff as an example.
Conversely, from the Austin/Searle -> Judith Butler , Karen Barad, Nigel Thrift etymology of the term I think there are still a bunch of related facets also to do with labour but in a less direct and more distributed way. Code performs only as part of a broader ecology of systems. It needs infrastructure to do so in terms of processing power, memory, electricity but also in a broader (or maybe vaguer) sense, it needs a milieu. Code performance is an effect not a cause. As John Law has it, Actors and Networks (which turn out to be one and the same) are effects of struggle, outcomes and temporary ones at that. A successful performance relies on code being well adapted to the particular scenario (or vice versa whichever way you have it) so that it can act. In this sense to talk about the performativity of code is really to talk about the way that it does or doesn’t take fit into a broader ecology. There’s no performativity without embeddedness in context.
Anyway, that’s my tuppence worth for the moment, I’m enjoying the thread everyone. Nice to (almost) meet you!
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On 7 Mar 2014, at 20:31, Stephanie Rothenberg <[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote:
Sorry to enter the conversation late. I've been on the road but lurking.
And thank you Victoria for the invitation to participate.
In terms of introducing myself and my thoughts on the performativity of
code, I'm going to start from where Xtine left off on pre-web examples and
delve into a bit of history.
As my work has primarily focused on digital labor, I'd like to bring up the
early time-motion studies of the body, specifically research conducted by
the Gilbreths in partnership with Taylor and Ford in developing the modern
assembly line. In thinking about code and programming the body, I have
always been fascinated by the Gilbreth's "Therbligs" (yes even efficiency
experts have a witty sense of humor). Therbligs were a set of 18 basic
human motions required for operating a machine that streamlined movement of
the body, eliminating any unnecessary "wasted" movement.
These included terms such as hold, search, grasp, etc with each being
identified by an icon. To better understand how the Gilbreth's related the
body to a machine, here's an example where Frank Gilbreth makes an analogy
Suppose a man goes into a bathroom to shave. We'll assume that his face is
all lathered and that he is ready to pick up his razor. He knows where the
razor is, but first he must locate it with his eye. That is "search", the
first Therblig. His eye finds it and comes to rest - that's "find", the
second Therblig. Third comes "select", the process of sliding the razor
prior to the fourth Therblig, "grasp." Fifth is "transport loaded,"
bringing the razor up to his face, and sixth is "position," getting the
razor set on his face. There are eleven other Therbligs - the last one is
Charlie Chaplin brilliantly articulated this through his jerky but elegant
body movements in "Modern Times."
Returning to the contemporary, I've been interested in this re-programming
of the body to serve the needs of production as reflected in digital game
culture. We see this in early arcade game narratives such as Tapper or more
recent ones such as Cooking Mama or Farmville that draw analogies between
low paid entry level or domestic labor and gaming.
I've been particularly fond of early motion tracking games such as Eyetoy,
that create a relationship of physical labor for virtual gain. Some of
their game narratives include window washing, fast food waitstaff and cooks
that require the player to actively engage with the screen to score points.
In 2008 I created an online motion detection game called "School of
Perpetual Training" that recontextualized classic arcade games to
narratives of sweatshop labor in the global computer video game industry.
In a more recent work, called "Laborers of Love (LOL)," a collaboration
with artist Jeff Crouse, your sexual fantasy is totally mediated through
the distributed and performative labor of outsourced, anonymous Mechanical
Turk workers who construct it by mining related content on the Internet
which is further processed through custom code.
I'm also very interested in the design of algorithmic code based on human
emotion to affect the performance of market indexes. Tero Karppi who is
finishing up his PhD at University of Turku, Finland has started doing
research around this relationship between algorithmic trading and social
media. I'm curious as to thoughts on this aspect of performance and code?
On Thu, Mar 6, 2014 at 11:21 PM, Paul Catanese <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
I like where you're going w/this Xtine --- its always been interesting to
me that artists get to make decisions about what value systems they want
to engage with when they work with code - because of the interdisciplinary
nature of practice in this arena, artists working with code have (perhaps
too many!) choices in this regard. One territory to navigate are models
for reception such as "viewer", "audience", "reader", "listener",
"participant", "user", etc. --- some of these are more or less familiar
within the context of the performing arts, cinema, literature, visual art,
media/electronic arts, design, etc. However, I point them out because
these models/terms are useful boundary objects.
When Kate talks about syntax errors being generously / gracefully parsed
by the dancers, there is embodiment of the strict/loose interpreter - a
performed slippage between value systems - that seems like a space for an
emergent poetics of error to me.
Also, pizza sounds good.
On 3/6/14 10:00 PM, "Xtine" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Hi all, from standing in a long line with my iPhone...
As I've been reading the list I've been thinking about the performative
role that the system (browser, for instance or whatever plays out the
code) occupies and then the interpretive role that the viewer/user
embodies. In Kate's contribution below, humans are both the "system" and
viewer/audience. It seems so much "smarter" than a machine/human
Hmm. Don't know where I was going with this, but somehow I wanted to
segue into a poetics of error--a potential for poetic moments that are
similar to the utterance.
Now...it's my turn to order pizza (dinner!).
On Mar 6, 2014, at 2:35 AM, Kate Sicchio <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
I wanted to pick up on Victoria's question around bodies and
performativity as well as comment on something Rachel mentioned. I
actually don't think the body is always the one giving the code life per
se (although in my Hacking Choreography example it is) but the human
element is what is interesting to me.
' In the handmade we see slippages all the time, arguable one of the
defining characteristics of something that is handmade and not machine
In the performance in January I made a typo, and spelt 'quality' as
'quailty'. The audience commented on this moment the most. And all but
one really enjoyed this moment. Some thought it was intentional (it was
not). Even though I had made this syntax error, the dancers did not
stop. They understood the command and had no problem reading and
executing the command. This simple moment really demonstrated the
difference between coding people and coding machines.
The next version of my pseudo-code is going to be real code - machine
readable. This means I can explore this difference more between what the
machine will read and execute and what the human will. But I am also
unsure if I actually want to make dances with the machine readable
version. I think I will miss the slippage. I think this also relates to
GH's 'huamnizing' of the data space.
On 5 Mar 2014, at 20:35, gh hovagimyan wrote:
On Mar 5, 2014, at 11:47 AM, Sarah Thompson wrote:
My question is do we need a framing structure for psychological
So that we know what is and isn't us, what is symbolic and what is
because if we suffer momentarily from Virilio's picnolepsy then it
be disturbing mentally?
Interesting reference. I had to look it up. It seems that Virilio
thinks we blank out and don't see/feel/hear/sense
what we are looking at. I kinda liken this to a monkey reaching for
the photo of a banana rather than the real fruit.
What does it mean 'to humanize the data space'? Do you mean to make
symbolic code fool us into losing our sense of self-space etc? Or to
what the symbolic data space is really made of
By Humanize I mean that we control the how and why and method to
access the data.
Department of Visual Studies, SUNY Buffalo
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