[NetBehaviour] First review of Frankenstein Reanimated :-)

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Wed Sep 28 17:44:18 CET 2022

Hi Marc,

I just got my copy of the book last week and have started reading it.  Great to see so many on the list represented!

For now I've just read the intro and conclusion, and skimmed the images and chapters, because of the different "eye" and vocabulary I'm using for current work in progress.  One impression I got reading the book is how technology gets into your head pretty firmly just by asking the question "what is it?"  Not why do I want it, how will it help, not where does it fit into my own situation and the big picture too, etc., but simply what is the function?  What is this weird thing that does something though I can't see or know what that is yet?  Everything but the presumably new and powerful object is blanked out, in a real sense our "us" is even blanked out temporarily, so we're always at a disadvantage while that enigma is in play.  Every tech commercial says "check out this new feature/product/function," often quite ridiculously but always like an earnest yet hip parent or teacher.  We think we need to know, or are being innocuously informed, but even merely visualizing and verbalizing the mechanism is the hook.  (Plus anxiety of influence.  🙂)

The book is also very dense, concentrated, perhaps like a pill?  Like the cover image the text is full of myriad detail and highly charged particles.  Of course this is all part of the theme and the reality too so it certainly works.  Indeed, how could assembling so many people and works on such a topic not be somewhat terrifying and monstrous?  Apropos of which I like the little after-words of warning and the final image -- Friend?  Foe?  Some of each?

The literary references are much more peaceable and home-spun for me.  My current project does not reference The Modern Prometheus but does include Ovid, Milton, some Percy Shelley, a bit of Aeschylus, and so on.  The projects blending in some "literature" or writing from a somewhat-distant person or time appealed to me on cursory overview, perhaps a bit like the cover art's early modern connections.  I generally recoil, and let myself do so, from images, concepts, or maps which allow no part of the stories and words I seem to need.

Also interesting from my particular, somewhat odd current view are the collection's weaving and cloth elements.  These are not the earliest technology, following some time after clubs and hand-axes, but differ interestingly (perhaps because they are machine-like yet imitate human form?).  Textiles span a very long time period, thus signifying much especially when expanded to include computers as the book does in a few places.  Your interview mentions plague DNA being added to a fabric in one featured artwork, and there are also images added to cloth in at least one case in the book.  And really, aside from the highwaters, green skin, and neck-bolts what is more to the point than the stiches keeping our protagonist's flat skull-top and very hands attached?

One aversion I have (especially during work in progress) is theory-speak, and the book shows admirable hesitance therein without going overboard in the other extreme.  The doing and the making as emphasis I like, the being really, and the non-doctrinaire skepticism, since theory may itself be another instrument which has "gone monstrous" over the last say 25 (or 50 or 150) years.  Or has it been ebbing too?  Yes there is critique in the book but rather than prescriptive explanation by new or specialized terminology avalanching after it the assemblage, chapters and intro, seems to say "wait."  I do think this is important and the reference to Thich Nhat Hahn is one refreshing example.  Theory as specialist language designed to dissect and dominate natural phenomena, thereby establishing compartmented professions ad infinitum and institutionalizing many dysfunctions, is still a problem for our modern world.

Currently being focused on a certain early modern portrait the theme and metaphor of human faces also resonate for me.  I'm doing some portraiture myself just for ballast and not doing it very well I've had to learn to see what's good or useful in mostly imperfect images.  This I have noticed involves a certain mirroring or even dialogue on my own part, such as smiling or frowning slightly at an image, or looking at one section or area more than others while unfocused parts blur, shrink, or disappear.  Words of course are also happening, sometimes amorphously, while this seeing process goes on and so my own "face" gets involuted with the one I'm looking at or trying to imagine.  The book seems to know this terrain well and closely grapple with how to navigate it.

A quote that resonates strongly for me with all this is the following about monsters from my present topic of study in the Italian Renaissance.  I started off thinking of this period as "the brand new start of everything" but now I realize how much an age of collapse, despair, and desolation it was (or is).  There's something of this in Bosch's Delights, say, painted the same year as the Mona Lisa or close to it, but in many more places too.  I'd even hazard to say the Renaissance saw dystopian modernity much as we do, though from the "before" side perhaps, their direct vision of past poverty and brutality providing antithesis to the optimist clangor much like our apprehension of the future's does now.  There's an arc so to say worth contemplating, maybe, and Shelley's novel is a very apt guide or evocative stranger somewhere along its middle promenade I do agree.

"Animals will be seen on the earth who will always be fighting against each other with the greatest loss and frequent deaths on each side. And there will be no end to their malignity; by their strong limbs we shall see a great portion of the trees of the vast forests laid low throughout the universe; and, when they are filled with food the satisfaction of their desires will be to deal death and grief and labour and wars and fury to every living thing; and from their immoderate pride they will desire to rise towards heaven, but the too great weight of their limbs will keep them down. Nothing will remain on earth, or under the earth or in the waters which will not be persecuted, disturbed and spoiled, and those of one country removed into another. And their bodies will become the sepulture and means of transit of all they have killed.
O Earth! why dost thou not open and engulf them in the fissures of thy vast abyss and caverns, and no longer display in the sight of heaven such a cruel and horrible monster."

"Of the Cruelty of Man"

How to respond, what to try to do when the technology has gotten into the animal and monstrosity prevails, was the question then too, as now, but what was their answer?  Something also like ours, and the book's: no magic word, no instant antidote, but a mix of survival, improvisation, metamorphoses, and attempted transits from worse to better.  Many panaceas being presented to us now were in early stages then, and already understood to be false by some with clear imagination, so they don't have anything like an easy fix (these counterparts, I mean).  The images I see in use back then do include occasional metaphors, discreetly mingled into the mix among others, of garments and bridges.  One such is Giorgione's The Tempest, like the Garden and Joconde dated c. 1505 and perhaps the first landscape painting of all, almost universally considered indecipherable (though this could change) and reportedly Byron's favorite painting.  Another is that artist's The Sunset with its strange creatures crawling out of the river.

Your sentence in a previous post and the interview is also right on target:  "It is a web of confusing and complex experiences and emerging pieces of knowledge that always requires constant attention."  Experience, one network feature not convincingly attributed to machines yet (and maybe ever as the book helpfully asserts in re Lanier and Kurzweil), was another major heuristic for early moderns.  It meant both cognition and experiment in Latin, and carried forward those meanings with remarkable continuity for artist-scientists from the ancients through medievals like Ockham and Roger Bacon, thence to Dante and Leonardo, even reaching more-moderns like Blake and Calvino.  It is far from irrelevant today, and I look forward to hearing more and finishing the book soon.

All best regards and thanks for the timely and ambitious work!


From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of marc.garrett via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Monday, September 26, 2022 5:26 AM
To: M F <mnfinkel at gmail.com>
Cc: marc.garrett <marc.garrett at protonmail.com>; NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] First review of Frankenstein Reanimated :-)

Hi Meredith,

>What a thoughtful and thorough review I look forward to reading the book...

My thoughts exactly, it's lovely that someone has spent time to seriously and respectfully think about the content and themes being examined in the book, and genuinely express their own reasonings in words about it all from their own perspective.

It has an extra resonance for me because he's not directly involved in media art culture, as he mentions. What also matters is that, it's not a macho review, no competitive snarling like on Nettime, which I sadly seems full of angry men having a go at each other - I don't want to be like that, it's all to built around combative and not building alternatives because people are caught in institutional silos shouting out of them at each other in frustration. This however, feels very real and emancipatory because it's outside of that construct.

Wishing you well



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/>

Sent with Proton Mail<https://proton.me/> secure email.

------- Original Message -------
On Saturday, September 3rd, 2022 at 15:14, M F <mnfinkel at gmail.com> wrote:

What a thoughtful and thorough review -
I look forward to reading the book

On Sat, Sep 3, 2022 at 7:08 AM marc.garrett via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>> wrote:
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

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



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/>

Sent with Proton Mail<https://proton.me/> secure email.
NetBehaviour mailing list
NetBehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:NetBehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/attachments/20220928/aa4a7f3a/attachment.htm>

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list