How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Emergence of a Neo-Feudalist Digital Oligarchy

Hi everyone, don’t panic, this is just your run of the mill project breakdown. So put down those pitchforks, pick up that adventurous spirit, and relax, while I tell you all about why I do the things I do.

Leandra via Nostalgia 2022, Inkjet Print

November last year I was able to participate in a show at The Hue and Cry Collective. Located out in Geelong, the show was 55 artists each responding to a chapter from Italo Calvinos Invisible Cities. I was given the city Leandra, a chapter talking about tiny invisible gods arguing over the essence of a place.

Initially I had a lot of bombastic ideas, including altered reality and massive A1 lino cuts. Eventually time and good sense got the better of me and I settled on an A3 linocut. As I planned out my lino image on illustrator, I began to play around with some of the features I hadn’t before. I’ve been interested in learning 3D modelling for a while, and as I was trying to get the perspective for the building accurate I came across Illustrators 3D tool. This feature is very CPU intensive, and would send my laptop into a frenzy trying to render anything even slightly complicated. But the aesthetic it created was very reminiscent of pre rendered Super Nintendo and PS1 backgrounds, giving it an incredibly nostalgic feeling. I used inbuilt and community sourced open use textures, as well as making some of my own, adding to the kitsch feel of the work.

The process is fairly simple on the surface. Creating shapes with the line tool, and then converting them to 3D objects. It’s hard to describe the specific ways in which the process is busted as hell. Basically each shape get’s it own orientation, and then the lighting works off of that orientation? So the game becomes keeping track of what angles you used to orient objects, and using that to create consistent lighting. In a proper 3d program, the orientation and lighting are not linked like this, so yeah it would be much easier in blender or something like that.

but look at it! it’s charming? right?

My interest as of this last few years has been in the digital world, and how it ties into our life in the flesh dimension. While trying to find a conceptual framework to approach these ideas with, I came across Koskelas paper Cam Era’ — the contemporary urban Panopticon. Koskela outlines a comparison between the panopticon prison structure and urban CCTV surveillance, using Foucault’s analysis of the panopticon as a structure of power as a reference point. It didn’t seem a leap at all to apply this comparison to digital environments. Both in reference to the individuals position of anonymous power, but also in relation to an individuals existence in heavily monitored digital environment.

This friction between simultaneous experiences online was something I felt worth exploring. How we can simultaneously feel so powerful looking through the screen, but also be increasingly vulnerable as data harvesting techniques improve. I wanted to explore this by having a jovial, goofy looking image lead to an in depth analysis of the panoptic nature of the online experience. This would be reached through scanning the code located on the image, which I set up before even beginning to write.

When I began the writing process though, what felt more natural and powerful to me, was to write a story. I felt through a narrative format I could still create that jarring tension between being watched and feeling in control. If you don’t have access to a QR code scanner for some reason, you can click the button below and read the story.

I didn’t want to explain every facet of my story, instead leaving breadcrumbs for people to investigate. An attempt to weave environmental storytelling into a text based work, I trust the reader to use the internet to pull apart the messages in the story through independent research.

Both aesthetically and practically I want this work to be the entree for a story. I want to capture the sickeningly naive facade of the digital corporate, using it to present honest, heartfelt and earnest stories. There is a great sense of freedom just saying what I want to say after years of trying to convey ideas through images. I start feeling like I’m 18 again, writing sad poems on Tumblr just for my friends.

References:

  1. Koskela, H 2002, ‘‘Cam Era’ — the contemporary urban Panopticon’, Surveillance and Society, vol. 1, no. 3.
  2. Data Brokers 2022, television program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, CBS Broadcast Centre, 17 April

Diary Schmiary

I have a love hate relationship with visual art diary’s. I understand completely why they are a useful tool for teachers when trying to grade the work of an art student. It’s kind of like showing the working with a math equation, it helps the teacher understand how the student got there, and what their thinking was.

Above is a photo of my visual diary from the second year of my advanced diploma, it’s filled to the brim with work, trimmings, theory, assignments and it looks pretty impressive. Below are the total 7 pages of visual diary I’ve used this semester.

Firstly it’s easy to point to the pandemic and schooling from home as the most obvious answer for why this has happened. Without the constant walking into class with my visual diary, I don’t have that reminder to document my work, its easy to forget you’re working in a school system and being graded when you’re attending class from your bedroom. Often on my studio desk at RMIT there would be a pile of source images printed off, work scrawled on loose paper, and test works laying all around. Towards the end of a project I would collect all these scraps up and arrange and annotate them in my diary. At home this becomes a bit more difficult, I don’t want piles of documents and scribbles laying around my room, or else my partner might think I’ve finally snapped and gone full Ted Kaczynski.

Reason number two is in front of you right now, this website. I started this blog about 6 months ago, thinking it would be a convenient way to present my work from home, and far more legible than my usual scribbling in the margins. While this is a really convenient way to catalogue thought processes and work progress, it suffers from a dilemma of quality. Putting something out on the internet for everyone to see is quite different from scribbling in your mostly private diary, I find myself being very picky about what I put up on this blog. The further this website project goes on, the more protective I become of how I present myself, and the work. I’ve went from writing and presenting in a style suited more for the school, and teachers who would mark my work, to something more representative of myself. This is a constant balancing act between the writing being informative of my work from an academic perspective, but also interesting for any interested third party to read.

It’s easy to think about a visual diary as something you do for your institution instead of for yourself. Looking back at my old diaries I can pick apart what I put in because it meant something to me, and what I did to fill space or meet a rubric. I’m filled with a weird melancholy going back through them, like that feeling you get thinking about your teenage years, imagining this tiny human not really knowing who they are or what direction they’re heading.

I’m more proud of the writing I’ve done on this site than anything I’ve put in my diaries, maybe because it’s more recent and I’m more confident in what I want to say, but also this blogging gives a feeling of honesty and transparency that is really freeing. This whole process feels more like I’m taking ownership over my identity and art practice, but also less like I’m making something just for people to browse through and say “that was cute”. Ultimately I would love to continue working with visual diaries, but with more and more of my practice moving online through blogging and streaming, I don’t really see how it fits into the equation.

Wax, Twitch and Videos of Insects

I wrote most of this post before realizing I hadn’t actually explained what twitch is or how it works, and for a lot of people not into gaming or being online, it may be something new. Twitch is a live streaming platform, predominantly known for people streaming video games. More recently the site has also become a popular place for art, political content and IRL streams (which involve the streamer recording from out in the world). The easiest platform to compare twitch to is YouTube, which boasts around 2 billion users, Twitch though only has a modest 140 million average monthly users. Unlike YouTube, which has started to move into live streaming, twitch’s format is reversed, with live streaming being at the forefront, and recorded content being accessible but not the focus.

For people unfamiliar with Twitch it can be daunting to interact with, and maybe hard to see the appeal, it certainly took me a long to understand how I could enjoy the platform as a viewer, let alone a creator. My partner sometimes watches me streams and talks to me from the chat, she has never used twitch before but is super supportive, she’s likened the experience to having a nice low effort podcast on in the background, but one you can interact with in real time. This is really the selling point of twitch, and how people monetize the platform, with each streamer basically being in control of their own schedule and programing. ‘Chatters’ as the audience is commonly referred to on twitch have a direct line to the streamer, and a whole array of options to donate and support them. For some bigger streamers a donation or subscription becomes necessary to interact with the streamer and have your message stand out, though this meta is always evolving as attitudes change, along with the interface of the site itself.

Each streamers goal really is to create a community under themselves, to support their stream, and create an ecosystem of viewers who will create content and reinforce the stream. This is just a basic rundown of how twitch works though, I think to explain deeper we would have to get into the dynamics of para-social relationships, but that’s not really what this post is about. If you want to learn more about these relationships there is a great video by Shannon Strucci that gives a brief introduction to the concept.


At the start of the first lockdown, I decided to give becoming a twitch streamer a go. It was a chaotic time, and a lot of the conversation surrounding lockdown revolved around how best to use this time, and how you could maximize your output with a totally free schedule. I started streaming painting, I had a plan all laid out, I would paint on stream and turn the streams into time lapse videos, creating a pipeline of content I could use to help grow my online presence. It didn’t last long, I remember doing about 5 streams before my mental health rapidly started to deteriorate from the stress of lockdown.

Time-lapse from my 2020 stream

Something was missing in my first foray into twitch and live streaming. While I had thought a lot about how I would use the content and what I would create on stream, I hadn’t thought about how this process could be enjoyable to me. Something that has become clear to me over this last few months of streaming, is that unless the process is fun for me, there isn’t any point in doing it.

My most recent dip into the twitch ecosystem has been more relaxed, and with less pressure for it to be productive. There are a lot of nice thing’s I would like to get out of streaming, but I’m worried speaking them out loud might scare them away. At the moment with each stream I’m reacting to how the last one felt for me. An example, in my first few streams, if there was no one in the chat, I got really bored, so I put music on! But then parts of my audio kept getting muted due to copyright, so then instead I put on some interesting YouTube videos, not only for me, but for everyone watching. Now I’m getting overwhelmed by media when I stream, so things are changing again. The key point is that the streams serve my enjoyment first, the audience second, and my practice third.

Here is a VOD (video on demand) from one of my latest wax streams, I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole thing, from memory it was pretty dull, but it gives an idea of the kind of content I’ve been streaming. It’s not obvious from a cursory glace, but the whole process of creating publicly changes how I make work. This happens in two ways, the first being from the instant feedback of people in chat, usually I will make something and post it, trying to gauge how people are feeling about what I’m making. The second is that I’m constantly consuming content on stream, this wouldn’t usually affect my work, as like most millennials I surround myself with media and screens at all times, but when streaming I feel the need to interact with the media so much more for the audiences sake, and this bleeds more and more into what I’m currently making.

Currently this practice of streaming what I’m working on heavily revolves around projects done for my degree, though after this semester I’ll have to figure out what’s going and what’s staying. In keeping with the ethos I’ve laid out above, it will really come down to what is enjoyable for me to create on stream, but it would by unfair to myself not to consider how the content translate through an online platform. Something I notice when I see other creatives who present work made through traditional methods on digital platforms, is that they have trouble communicating exactly what is interesting about what they are doing. I know as someone who paints the joy of applying paint to canvas, the subtle sounds, and seeing the work emerge, but translating that experience to an audience is a difficult task. In my streams I’m trying to capture wax work, which is quite hard to do without a lot of great equipment and a versatile setup. The odds of wax work being a staple of my streaming moving foreword is low, but sculpture as a medium for stream holds a lot of potential; the immediacy of clay and other malleable mediums means a lot of room for bombastic motions and spontaneous creation.

Two wax’s made during a recent early morning stream

Looking back on this last month of streaming, I definitely see it as a valuable addition to my practice, not only for the work it’s produced but for the archiving and community aspects. For the moment my main goal with streaming is to be consistent, I think a lot of people drop out of these projects because they don’t see results fast enough. I truly believe the people that are most successful in any industry, besides the lucky few, are just the people who stick around.

Fair use? Fair Dealing? Fair Enough!

click here for an audio reading of this post!

One of the largest concerns I faced while working through this latest collage project, and really it’s a concern I’ve had whenever I’ve worked with collage. What are the moral implications of using images that I didn’t create? I didn’t make the images I cut out, and I don’t have any copyright to them, so how can I justify using them?

I’ve listened to a lot of discussion surrounding this over the years, but mostly in the context of YouTube’s fair use policy, and it’s effect on creators. Specifically there was a fairly public dispute between Matt Hosseinzadeh (Matt Hoss), and Ethan and Hila Klien [1]. The Klien’s ran a popular YouTube channel, called H3H3, which produced satirical content, poking fun at others on the YouTube platform. After a releasing a few videos on Hoss, who ran his own channel producing short films, with himself as the lead, he filed a lawsuit against the Kliens. This was a lengthy saga, and stirred up a lot of conversation on what exactly constitutes fair use, and how exactly parody and satire function.

I should mention this all happened in America, where the law governing copyright is called “fair use”, which is a different system to what we have in place in Australia.

Ultimately the Kliens won the lawsuit, but it was a long and arduous journey, which clearly took it’s tole on the two of them. They won the case after the courts applied a four step analysis, this is the process used to determine if a work that contains the work of another is appropriate. [2]

Factor 1: The conditions of use
This step identifies how the material is being presented in this new work

  • In the context of someone criticizing or commenting on the original work
  • For the purpose of reporting, researching, teaching or in the context of a scholarship

If any of these factors are satisfied, It bodes well for fair use to be found. Often courts will use the term “transformative,” which asks if the work takes on new life, instead of being merely a reproduction of the original material.

Factor 2: Nature of the work
As best I could determine, this step aims to identify the nature of the original material, in order to determine how the fair use rules apply. So typically, creative works are often given heavier weighting towards the copyright holder, as opposed to non fiction materials.

Factor 3: Amount of original material used
This factor loops back to the idea of a work being transformative. Generally speaking, the less of the original material you use, the better the case for fair use. But context is also important, such as in the Klien case, this factor ruled in the Klien’s favor, as the court found they only used enough material as to accurately criticize the original material. Time is not the only factor, but also resolution of image, or any factor regarding how recognizable it is.

Factor 4: Does the new work diminish the value of the original material
This is the most complex of the factors, as what determines value can be hard to determine. In cases where the new work is commercial in nature, this can be made simpler, as value can be deemed as income gained. But if it has a different purpose than the original material, or operates in a different market, things again become unclear.

So that’s fair use, and It was, up until writing this very post, what I thought my works would be judged against. But it turns out we operate under a different law in Australia, called Fair Dealing.

Fair Dealing works in a similar way to fair use, but is considered to be more restrictive on what is an acceptable use of copyrighted works. Even if you’re work falls under the categories defined above, there are often extra conditions that muse be satisfied. In the case of criticism, where you must site the original authors and the name of their work. While using literary texts, even for research and scholarship purposes, there are limits on how much you can use before it falls outside of fair dealing. [3]

The Australian Society of Authors actually thinks very highly of Fair Dealing, and is worried about the Australian governments apparent desire to import Fair Use. Fair dealing gives greater protection to the original copyright holders, and as the laws are more restrictive, results in lower legal fees when it comes to protecting your own works [4]. I can completely understand this perspective, and it would feel dishonest arguing against it, solely because fair use would benefit me in my practice. Though I don’t think anyone could argue, that in a modern world of YouTubes and TikToks, that a legal code written in 1968 really cuts it anymore.

So what does this all mean for me and my work?

I have no idea

the end.

Nah, but actually this system seems so complicated, it feels like some insurmountable obstacle to sort through what is appropriate and what isn’t. But as a jumping off point, from what I’ve read, my collage work is most likely to fall under the satire / parody provision of fair dealing. Though this does in it’s own way present problems. For starters, satire is not the central driving point of my work, though it is a part of it. Does this mean I have to play up the satirical element? Can I only use these images in my art if I’m making fun of or criticizing them? Can’t I make work as a love letter to the printed image?

Not to mention my complete lack of book keeping when it comes to image sourcing!

For the moment, and probably foreseeable future, I’m just going to keep expanding my practice, and following my own moral compass for what seems appropriate. I very much like to think my work is transformative! But a jury of my peers may not agree.

References

  1. Matt Hosseinzadeh v. Ethan Klein and Hila Klein
  2. “Fair Use”, Columbia University Libraries
  3. “Fair Dealing and Fair Use: How Australian Copyright Differs from the USA”, Lawpath.com.au
  4. “Fair Use”, Australian Society of Authors