Wednesday, May 02, 2007

META/DATA: A Digital Poetics

I just got copies of my new book, META/DATA: A Digital Poetics, and it's a beaut.

An easy link to buy the book is here.

Here's the blurb:

META/DATA: A Digital Poetics
by Mark Amerika
Published by The MIT Press (2007)
A Leonardo Book

This rich collection of writings by pioneering digital artist Mark Amerika mixes (and remixes) personal memoir, net art theory, fictional narrative, satirical reportage, scholarly history, and network-infused language art. META/DATA is a playful, improvisatory, multitrack "digital sampling" of Amerika's writing from 1993 to 2005 that tells the early history of a net art world "gone wild" while simultaneously constructing a parallel poetics of net art that complements Amerika's own artistic practice.

Unlike other new media artists who may create art to justify their theories, Amerika documents the emergence of new media art forms while he creates them. Presenting a multifaceted view of the digital art scene on subjects ranging from interactive storytelling to net art, live VJing, online curating, and Web publishing, Amerika gives us "Spontaneous Theories," "Distributed Fictions" (including his groundbreaking GRAMMATRON, the helpful "Insider's Guide to Avant-Garde Capitalism," and others), the more scholarly "Academic Remixes," "Net Dialogues" (peer-to-peer theoretical explorations with other artists and writers), and the digital salvos of "Amerika Online" (among them, "Surf-Sample-Manipulate: Playgiarism on the Net," "The Private Life of a Network Publisher," and satirical thoughts on "Writing as Hactivism"). META/DATA also features a section of full-color images, including some of Amerika's most well-known and influential works.

Provocative, digressive, nomadic, and fun to read, Amerika's texts call to mind the cadences of Gertrude Stein, the Beats, cyberpunk fiction, and even The Daily Show more than they do the usual new media theorizing. META/DATA maps the world of net culture with Amerika as guide and resident artist.

"META/DATA perfectly captures the essence and style of pioneering net artist and online fiction writer Mark Amerika. Featuring a mix of scholarly theory, personal narrative, and conversations with peers, the book provides both meta data on the artist's multifaceted body of work and insightful commentary on digital poetics and culture. The personae Amerika has created for himself--from 'digital thoughtographer' to VJ as artist-researcher--are reflected as different viewpoints in the book's stories, theoretical essays, and dialogues, and make it a multilinear read that mirrors the diversity of digital culture."
--Christiane Paul, Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts, Whitney Museum of American Art

"Mark Amerika is at the cutting edge of developments in both art and technology. META/DATA is an indispensable guide to the promises and potentials of new media--and also to the hype, irony, and disappointment that all too often surround them."
--Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University

"Mark Amerika is a hacker. He hacks language, image, sound, identities, cultures. He plays space, time, and tech like a saxophone. He plays out, way out sometimes, but he will always beckon you to join him. His writings are like invitations to a happening party you don't know you are already at. It's dense, it's hard, but it flows, and it's fun. What more could you want?"
--McKenzie Wark, author of Gamer Theory

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

How New York Turned Me Into A Risk Manager

Back in the early-mid Eighties, when I had my own freelance bicycle courier business in New York, I rode on the heavily trafficked, mean city streets with a fixed-gear bicycle. Others were tearing up the pavement with me, including Nelson Vails (aka "The Cheetah"), who later went on to become the Silver medalist in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and even got a bit role in the bicycle messnger movie Quicksilver (coincidentally, although I never followed up with "The Cheetah," apparently he has been recently living in Boulder too).

Today's NYTimes features an article called "Unstoppable" that focuses on this unusual fixed-gear cycling style:
When is a bicycle not like other bicycles? To begin with, when it has no brakes, or at least no visible brakes, or possibly just a front brake. That means you can’t ride this bike very well on your first try, and certainly not very gracefully, easily or safely.

The rear cog is bolted directly to the hub, so that whenever the vehicle is in motion, the pedals go around, making coasting impossible. This bike doesn’t have a shift lever or extra sprockets, and the chain is shorter and wider than on traditional bikes.

There are no fenders, and the rear wheels are probably bolted onto the frame to deter theft. You slow down by reversing the pedals, or skidding, or doing a skip stop. And that’s just the beginning of the differences between your run-of-the-mill 10-speed and a track bike, or fixed-gear bike — fixie for short — as it is also known.
Well, we never called it a fixie. That's a litttle too cute for my tastes. But performing skip stops at 25 miles per hour as a way to avoid an idiot cab driver cutting me off just for kicks, that I remember well. I (fondly) remember the fixed-gear set-up as something like "the wheel of death" and there were times when it almost lived up to its name (and yes, I have the scars to prove it).

But riding through the city on a fixed-gear bike, while definitely assisting me in putting my life on the line, also helped me speed through my gigs so fast I was raking in the cash like never before and ironically living large in what we then referred to as Reagan's Yuppie America. Except in my case, the Yuppie was nowhere to be found, rather, I referred to myself as a "freelance courier artist" who was self-reflexively turning his bike messenger gig into a parallel research methodology that would help me invent what felt like a new, psychogeographical writing style (which years later, thanks to hypertext and then net art, created an opportunity for me to further develop the inherent properties of this multilinear routing system while simultaneously discovering and assembling a fully visualized codework that makes this glorious life possible).

In my new book META/DATA -- just blurbed at Leonardo where it now sits as the latest book released in that prestigious book series -- I relate some thoughts on this "frelance courier artist" gig and how it may have had a resonant effect on my avant-pop VJ practice some twenty years later (2005):
My approach to capturing source material in diverse locations all around the world stems from the fact that I have always lusted – you might call it wanderlusted – after the experiential highs that I know a risk-oriented lifestyle can produce. For example, as a bicycle courier in New York City in the mid-Eighties, I was forever challenged by the street itself to see how fast I could go, and how many traffic rules I could break, without killing myself. The adrenalin rush of speeding through the streets of New York City in all weather conditions, conditioned both my body and my mind so that I was soon calling myself a "freelance courier artist" and, given the "deconstructive" trends of the day (cf. Derrida's Envois, which I read at the New York Public Library in between various courier deliveries and, as has become a precondition for my all of my creative work, simultaneously fusing what I was reading into a strategy for living - for cultural survival in a rapidly ramped up technocapitalist system), I was all too willing to see my newfound occupation as one whose calling was to role-play a kind of postmodern Hermes whose messages were to be found in the medium – in this case, the artist as medium – and that it didn't really matter if the messages were delivered "on time" or if they were even "received" by the Other who was supposed to get them. As John Cage might have said, the rule is to have no rule. To me, the important thing was to annihilate the important thing. This meant losing my creative self in white hot flashes of chemical decomposition which was easy to do when you were cycling at 25-30 miles per hour tailgating a rude taxi driver who wanted nothing more than to see you crash and burn so that he didn't have to worry about you slowing down his own Big Mo.
The NYTimes writer who wrote today's article seems to think that fixie culture is on the verge of popping into something huge:
Many fixed-gear adherents contend that their bikes are the ultimate and all others are pretenders. And these fixed-gear zealots are a growing presence on the streets of New York. Perceived by some as nuisances, or as troublesome, anarchist Dumpster-diving punks who happen to ride bikes, they are occasionally reviled, but they are also the subject of curiosity and interest. Just as die-hard skateboarders 15 years ago stood on the cusp of providing a new lifestyle, so the fixed-gear bike culture could be the tip of something that nobody can accurately predict but something that is huge.
Some might say that such talk from the NYTimes is a sure sign that you may as well put a fork in it, it's already done.

But these kinds of underground or alterna-friendly life-cycles (that's a pun) have a way of looping and creating new meaning with each iteration. At least that's what we here at Professor VJ, dealing in contemporary remixology, would contend.

The truth is, twenty-plus years ago it was all we could do to stay alive as we imagined what it might mean to overplay our hand, take the ultimate risks, and hedge our bets against a life that would eventually turn into Rocky Mountain bliss. At least that's what we imagined being a struggling artist-athlete in the City was all about.

As I point out in my last post, today's emerging artist-athletes living in New York find different struggles they have to contend with.

(Meanwhile, as I write this, I keep looping Matmos's Action At A Distance, where I hear the sonic version of paper flapping in the background...)

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