[NetBehaviour] First review of Frankenstein Reanimated :-)

marc.garrett marc.garrett at protonmail.com
Sat Sep 3 13:03:58 CEST 2022


Hi all,

Just saw a review of Frankenstein Reanimated and because some of you on the list are in the book I thought you'd be interested in reading it.

Mytho recommends (Phil Smith):

Frankenstein Reanimated: Creation & Technology in the 21st Century (Eds. Marc Garrett & Yiannis Colakides) Torque Editions, 2022
https://www.facebook.com/mythogeography/posts/5907704932592518

This has been a very strange read for me. I have no attraction to or understanding of the technical side of programming. I read Erik Davis’s ‘TechGnosis’ back in 1998 when it first came out and, already anti-gnostic and anti-transcendentalist, my suspicions about an information-based society were heightened. I have pretty much remained that way ever since; extending my wariness to information technology-based arts. Perhaps, I just haven’t seen that wonderful piece to change my mind, though even one of the artists interviewed in ‘Frankenstein Reanimated’ worries at the “VR Headsets that provide clothes for hackneyed metaphors”.

What brought me to read the book is my engagement with Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus’, co-writing a stage adaptation (which also drew on the Universal movies) back in 2005, which has continued to tour intermittently ever since and was last year turned into a musical at the Deutsches Theater in Munich. The early parts of ‘Frankenstein Re-Animated’ address the abiding significance of the novel in some detail, and then the interviews with various ‘media artists’ take over – a monster taking control of its own life – and the book moves further away from Mary Shelley and her engagement with stitching flesh and sparking philosophy in dead brain matter.
In his preface, Yiannis Colakides describes “a widening knowledge-gap in the use and understanding of technologies” between hackers who operate as a “vectoralist class.... [who] control.... information flows; and the majority who are all too often taken for a ride by their technologies”. It is this problematic relationship that seems to haunt – as Mary Shelley’s monster plagues its creator, asking difficult questions and exacting revenge – the artworks that ‘Frankenstein Reanimated’ describes and discusses. In the vast majority of the examples – drawn from exhibitions in Gíjon, London and Limassol – the technologies are deployed to critique and even undo themselves; many draw on what Marc Garrett describes as the effects of the new technologies to “have profoundly displaced and decentred how we understand humans and humanity’s agency and corporality” in order to explore those displacements and decentrings in what Gregory Sholette and Olga Kopenkina call the “capitalist-realist... un-present”.

Artworks explore the “potential harm of recognition technology”, how technology carries racial assumptions as ‘universals’; gallery visitors are drawn into making and choosing assumptions for image filtration. But when an artist says “What is amazing to me.... is that people really get into labelling each other” you want to shout back – ‘but that is what your artwork asks them to do!’ Rather like the options in Luke Rhinehart’s (George Cockcroft’s) ‘The Dice Man’ (1971) or Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0 (1974) – why are the options of sexual assault, a bullet and a gun, even in there? There is an inbuilt manipulation that looks like choice or agency; an implication and incorporation that is within the very structures and techniques of the works that both address their themes in critique and enact them simultaneously. It is jaw-dropping to read an artist who first explains their work as “inspired.... by reading... about the autonomous weapons systems... which... ‘conflate the act of seeing and killing’” and then, on being asked to explain why the “visual universe” of their piece is “so cold and clean”, replies that it is “just a pragmatic choice.... everything that I am not trying to point to is at default value”.

But wasn’t Mary Shelley starting with a default value, with a dismembered body/bodies, bringing the default of the graveyard to life and not only asking questions of it, but having it ask questions of everything. Pushing the new technologies beyond their functional limits often has intriguing and attention-grabbing effects, distorting figures and landscapes in ways reminiscent of historical and contemporary human artists, but then the suspicion is all the time that these effects are the remnants of the art history education of the programmers rather than any novel interruption of productions of the obvious. It is disheartening to read an artist bemoan “the pre-existing bias of my initial dataset... The results may have been further distorted by technical bias due to technical constraints of the algorithm”. As artist Mary Flanagan says, almost in despair: “I keep wondering why we are on this quest to make artificial systems emotive.... why we invent things just to invent them, thinking that somehow anything new improves our lives”. And yet the artworks keep on coming as each new wave of artists ‘discovers’ the possibilities of (and funding for) arts and new technologies.

If I came away with a slightly refined animosity, I would not want to discourage anyone from reading this book; it is endlessly fascinating. It never flinches from the difficulty of this work and the mind-bending tangles that contort the artists working with it, often in interfaces with terrifying state and fiscal systems. Paul Vanousse’s article (he was investigated by the FBI who attempted to enter his studio and home, two of his previous collaborators were prosecuted) is a welcome reminder of just how dangerous some of these themes/threats can be.

‘Frankenstein Reanimated’ is perhaps most powerful and engaging when it addresses the technology not as a “tool” or an expansion of the artists’ themes, but as an agency in itself: “a growing chorus of techno-objects that insistently asks us to drill the Arctic, build pipelines, burn coal” (Eugenio Tisselli). The “monster” does not feed us, it wants us to feed it, otherwise, it threatens, it will takes its revenge; those who serve and obey it can participate in its feeding frenzy “where the secret sauce of memetic media meets the magic sauce of right-wing billionaires, underwriting political campaigns to facilitate a wholesale move to the hard right” (Ami Clarke). But as Mary Flanagan says: “why are we on this quest?”

Anyone interested in a copy go here - https://torquetorque.net/publications/frankenstein-reanimated/

Wishing you well

Marc

=============>

DR Marc Garrett -https://marcgarrett.org/
Furtherfield -[http://www.furtherfield.org](http://www.furtherfield.org/)
DECAL -http://decal.is/
Bio -https://marcgarrett.org/bio/CV -https://marcgarrett.org/cv/http://decal.is/
http://decal.is/

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