Brittany Kaiser: The Medium is the Message?


In response to class conversation about Dana Schutz’s Emmett Till painting:

I think Sai brought up a good point in class that the larger issue at play is the choices of Whitney curators. This is not the first time, and probably won’t be the last, that the Biennial has drawn criticism for how it addresses issues of race and racism – or failed to do so. This year’s show represented the most diverse group of artists in terms of skin color and gender (source:, and many works dealt explicitly with political or social issues. A review in the Times positioned the 2017 biennial as a “bookend” to the 1993 show, which was more overtly political than those in between (source: But, walking through the show, I personally didn’t sense any real commitment to socially conscious curating. For one thing, as I mentioned in class, there was one room that seemed like it had been designated as the black subject room – there were paintings and photographs that didn’t really relate to each other except in that their subject matter was primarily black people. (The artists in this room were Henry Taylor and Deana Lawson… I should note I have read more than one review praising the curating choice, one calling it “canny juxtaposition,” so maybe it’s just me?) In other cases it felt like the curators were paying lip service to topical issues (e.g. censorship, income inequality, student loan debt, violence) but not necessarily engaging with them responsibly or on a deep level. One example is the virtual reality installation that immersed viewers as bystanders to a physical attack… It felt really gratuitous and unconstructive. (This is a tangent, but I really like this quote about that piece: “But no work hit my optical WTF nerve as much as Jordan Wolfson’s virtual reality video Real Violence (2017), which consists of him bludgeoning, with baseball and foot, a man to a soundtrack of Jewish prayer. Anything but a fan of this piece, I mention it due to its stark, potential harbinger-like quality. It is sociopathic art for what, to all intents and purposes, is precipitously shaping up to be a sociopathic era” Chris Sharp, source:

I also think it’s important to consider that it’s not in curators’ best interests to avoid controversy. Ultimately, they are trying to sell tickets, and I would assume tickets sales went up after all the press about Schutz’s painting came out. So, what do we expect? I wish there were more museums that specifically incorporated social justice concerns into their acquisitions/curating processes. But these museums exist in a capitalist system, and they will (probably) only factor social justice into their decision-making if we as consumers force them to. I think curators are beginning to feel forced in that direction, evidenced by the demographics of the biennial, but so far it’s still more lucrative to show a problematic painting by a white artist than a topical but uncontroversial painting by a person of color. They feel the pressure to get the numbers right, but not to actually be cognizant in their choices. Here’s a quote from one of the curators, Mia Locks: “When people keep talking about racism, when people keep talking about inequity, when people keep talking about debt — when conversations come around without you bringing it up — you realize: These are the ideas!” (Source: …That doesn’t read to me like someone deeply committed to social justice. But both curators are people of color so, again, we’re ticking off boxes.

In terms of the artist’s choice to paint the image in the first place, I get that it’s not her place to re-create that image and make a name/money for herself out of it. But I don’t get the argument that it didn’t need to be a painting… I don’t see how any other art form would make it better. Below is a painting by Henry Taylor called “THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH!” which recreates the shooting of Philando Castille. Why is it more appropriate for Castille’s death to be made into a painting than for Till’s? The major differences are that Taylor black, and that he hasn’t manipulated Castille’s face the way Schutz did to Till’s face. I’m not saying the medium Schutz used is irrelevant; I just don’t agree that it’s the reason the artwork was considered offensive.




Brittany: Parafiction articles and videos


Responses to parafiction videos and articles:


I do not understand most of these videos. Especially Pipilloti Rist and Dana Birnbaum. This is not to say I don’t like them… just that I feel I am missing something. I know that is partly intentional, but it makes it hard to write a blog post about them!


The Omer Fast video left feeling uncomfortable, which I think is a feeling we often don’t engage with enough, especially with respect to war and international conflict. I also appreciated his exploration of the military as a deity-like entity, e.g. when he mentions the “light of god.”


In the Hito Steyerl video, I was interested in how the first version of the resolution target (decommissioned “as analog photography lost its importance”) becomes esoteric, painted (literally) as tribal symbol, eroded from its original form.
I also liked Hito Steyerl’s incorporation of humor while making valuable sociopolitical arguments. (I’m talking about her pairing of real observations on societal invisibility e.g. being undocumented or poor with fanciful methods for willful disappearance e.g. being a superhero. The subtitle of the video “A Fucking Didactic Educational .mov File” is funny too.) The way I read this video, it’s exploring the dangers and possibilities of technology. Do we want to be seen? Do we want our information to be public?

There is a spliced frame at 11:10. What is this about?!? It seems really unlikely that it’s accidental.

The ending sequence of this video is meaningless to me, but in a way that’s still enjoyable and enriching to watch. (Which is unsurprising when it is viewed as surrealism, I guess.) But I still would love to know whether Steyerl had a specific message/concept/reading in mind, for instance when she says “rogue pixels hide in the cracks of old standards of revolution. They throw off the cloak of representation.” What does this mean??? If it means nothing or is intended to be open to interpretation, that’s cool, I’m just worried I’m missing something.


I get why surrealism in this new form is resonating right now. We are constantly bombarded with visuals, but they are usually being used to teach/persuade or sell us something. Decontextualized and shuffled, these signals become meaningless or humorous, maybe cause us to question the way we read new media? Dan posted this video: which seems like a similar example. It’s an 11 hour video that responds to the meme of remixed videos of the movie “bee movie.” This meme is, the way I see it, like an updated version of instruction-based art (a la Sol Lewitt). This meme has inspired videos usually called “The Bee Movie but…” followed by some rule by which the remix is made. The video Dan posted, by Slavoj Beežek, uses the same device, and the rule it follows is: “The Bee Movie But Every Time They Say Bee We Explain The Deal With Bee Movie.” And by “explain the bee movie” they mean they analyze the existence and manifestation of the meme at a suuuuuper high level. To way over-simplify, the author’s analysis is that this form of video exists as a response to the new media aesthetic, which he also translates as “because internet.” Shouldn’t there be a name for this kind of asthetic? Is it synonymous with parafiction? Is “The Bee Movie But Every Time They Say Bee We Explain The Deal With Bee Movie” an example of parafiction?


What’s scary about this trend of surrealism, of course, is that it is reflected in politics as well. “Truthiness” leaves it to the viewer/consumer to figure out what’s real and what’s not. Which can be useful in art, but not so much in news…. Internet trolls like Milo whatshisname could be viewed as performance artists to some degree. But I don’t know where that leaves us.


I think the abortion artist from the Beatty text was really ahead of her time. It’s an apt site for this type of truth-blurring because of all the real blurring and obscuring of science that happens in the conversation(s) surrounding women’s reproductive rights. Beatty says: “Sometimes the revelation of the parafiction is key to the operation. This is when they come closest to simple hoax—but also, to effective activism. Sometimes such a revelation is either withheld or impossible to provide, and this is probably when they come closest to what is conventionally considered art.” I don’t usually like this authoritative delineations of “this is art, this is not art,” and I do think the boundaries between the categories are much less concrete than this quote suggests, but do I see the use of the distinction.


Another Beatty quote: “Parafictioneers produce and manage plausibility. But plausibility (as opposed to accuracy) is not an attribute of a story or image, but of its encounter

with viewers, whose various configurations of knowledge and “horizons of expectation” determine whether something is plausible to them. While something similar is true of any artwork—that its meaning is produced in the encounter with the spectator—a parafiction creates a specific multiplicity” (p.72)


With regard to Raad’s performance: “Caroline Jones has argued that epistemologically complicated recent work such as Raad’s performs a crucial service, inculcating a habit of critical doubt in order to counter the atavistic fearmongering that has characterized the “war on terror.”7 I like the idea that it’s important (especially right now) to “inculcate a habit of critical doubt,” but do we want to emphasize doubt of Arab victims of war crimes??? (I probably need to do more research to better understand the complexities of this piece.)


Sorry if this was disjointed, there’s a lot to cover in this topic.

Brittany: Kevin Kelly response


I am not generally an apocalyptic thinker, and I’m definitely a skeptic. For these reasons, I’ve never put much energy into worrying about technology taking over the world, or robots developing agency and forming an army. That said, it seems like one of those ideas that is universally terrifying, right?


I’m not entirely convinced from Kevin Kelly’s writing that there’s any self-organizing happening in/of the technium. He describes the technium “whispering to itself” (p.14) but what he’s referring to sounds, to me, like random misfiring of electrical signals, which I don’t think can be construed as communication.


I was interested in the contrast Kelly set up between his almost-Amish past and his immersion in (if not full adoption of) technology thereafter. I am closer to the Luddite end of the spectrum, which I realize places me slightly outside of the mainstream at this point, and will likely be more and more of a mismatch with society as the Technium develops and becomes even more pervasive in everyday life. It’s not that technology scares me, or that I don’t see its potential – I do think the possibilities made available by technology have been and are being harnessed to make exciting things happen. It just feels foreign to me… and a little boring. Kelly asks: “Should we allow human cloning? Is constant texting making our kids dumb? Do we want automobiles to park themselves?” These are big questions, and I can’t claim to be indifferent about them, but I don’t have answers and that doesn’t bother me. To some extent I think I assume and hope that people who are more interested and knowledgeable regarding technology will sort these things out, over time, one way or another. When I write that out it sounds naïve and lazy, but I still can’t force myself to care.


I understand that Kevin Kelly’s concept of the Technium makes my claim (that technology doesn’t interest me) meaningless, because, as he points out, technology encompasses everything from oil pastels to law. But to me, that model broadens the idea of technology to the point of meaninglessness. What is not part of the Technium? If everything is part of the Technium, then the Technium is not a useful concept.

Brittany: “Scammed” Academies


I chose to respond to advertisements for Success Academy Charter Schools because every time I see those ads on websites or in subway stations, I wish they told more of the story. It’s not that the ads are based on lies; it’s true that “scholars” at Success in every grade have science class every day, it’s true that Success puts a lot of emphasis on parent/family engagement, and it’s true that the average kid at Success does much better on standardized tests than the average kid in a (non-selective) NYC public school. All of those things make it more likely for those kids to “succeed,” especially if your idea of success includes admission into a liberal arts college.

It’s also true that Success is funded in part by private donors like the Koch brothers and the family that owns Wal-Mart, because conservatives and big corporations have a vested interest in chipping away at public education. The high test scores are real, and they matter, but are they worth the pressure Success puts on its employees and its students? During testing season, the Success Network ships each school extra pairs of pants to keep on hand, because inevitably several third graders will be so scared to sacrifice test time for a bathroom trip, they’ll have an accident. There are countless tiny examples that illustrate this extreme environment, a few of which I chose for this assignment.

Families don’t pay for a Success Academy education. When I use the word scammed, I am not just talking about money, and I am not just talking about those who send their kids to Success. I’m talking about the whole country, because all of us are being scammed by Charter advocates like Betsy DeVos and Success CEO Eva Moskowitz. Neither Moskowitz nor DeVos has any actual experience in education, yet they’ve each made a wealthy career for themselves out of advocating for so-called school choice reform. The changes they seek put public schools at a disadvantage, as they are forced to fight with charters for space, funding, and high-engagement/high-resource families. Meanwhile, not all charters perform like Success. Some are much better, with more emphasis on social-emotional learning and less emphasis on strict behavioral expectations. Others, like those DeVos lobbied for in Detroit, have test scores similar to or worse than nearby public schools, with the same downsides of Success – no unions, poor treatment of special education students, and high suspension rates, to name a few.

Ultimately, my goal is for people to see a more complex picture of Success Academy. Education reform is a complex issue, especially when a person has their own kids in mind. But we need to talk about charters for what they are: a scheme to gradually privatize education to further benefit the ruling class. I hope that if and when a person sees my “ads” in conjunction with the original Success ads, it will give them a better picture of the motivations, complications, and realities of Success Academy schools.

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Brittany Kaiser: Hito Steyerl at Dreamlands


After hearing rave reviews about the Dreamlands show at the Whitney, I was a little disappointed to find myself struggling to connect with much of the work included. I feel some aversion to the anime aesthetic employed by so many of the artists, and even when I tried to look past that, the work felt flat to me. A notable exception was one of the larger elements of the show, Factory of the Sun, 2015, by Hito Steyerl. Visually, Factory of the Sun was total eye candy: So much shiny gold! So many dynamic, showy effects! For me, that was a welcome diversion from the rest of the work present, which tended to be darker and slower.

Steyerl’s installation was rich conceptually as well as visually. According to the wall text, the environs were made in imitation of a motion-capture studio, and the projected video revolved around a loose narrative of humans forced to labor at such a studio by dancing endlessly, while their movements generated energy, i.e. sunlight. This premise is communicated through a disorienting melange of simulated news reports, vlog-style narratives, and imitation video game play. The Astra Taylor reading this past week articulated some of the ideas Steyerl’s piece touched on. The seemingly limitless possibilities of the internet, coupled with advances in the rest of the technium and their affect on the social dynamics of everyday life, can make me feel like we’re on the precipice of (the good kind of) revolution and apocalypse, sometimes both at once… Meanwhile, all the shiny, exciting ephemera distracts us when we get really concerned about how power and technology are being used. My experience of Factory of the Sun was similar: it was disturbing, but still enjoyable, partly because it was easy to lose focus of the serious themes of the piece and just enjoy the cool dancing and spinning sparkly things.