Critical Approaches to Mainstream and Consumption

Crafting Complaints as Civic Duty by Daniel Wessolek, Jamie L. Ferguson/ Frankenstein2; or, the Monster of Main Stream by Annabel Frearson/ Cybism and Decoding the Letter: Countering Mass Culture’s Reductional Breakdown Through Afro-futuristic Forms of Representation and Emergent Game Platforms by Nettrice R. Gaskins/ Post cards of Identification: The Rhetoric and Form of PostSecret by Lisa M. Litterio
Wednesday, 14 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:05
Chair Person: 
Sue Gollifer
Daniel Wessolek
Jamie Ferguson
Annabel Frearson
Nettrice Gaskins
Lisa Litterio

Crafting Complaints as Civic Duty

by Daniel Wessolek, Jamie L. Ferguson

Complaining as a means of expression should encourage the individual to acknowledge the seemingly inconsequential annoyances of everyday life as opportunities for discussion and participation. By encouraging potential for engagement, awareness and conscious expression can be experienced as creativity and even denote performativity. It is our understanding that expression in this sense can also lead to self-worth, gratification, and even collective well-being. Studies show that emotions are as contagious as a virus.

Inherent to being human, to complain was once seen as a powerful source for citizen definition and direction; to speak-up, to object and to protest was understood also as a reaction for something. The Complaint Department recognizes the importance of a platform for complaining and see this as a powerful means of expression and of citizen agency.

It's not polite to bitch, grumble or wine. To protest against something, which is how the term is now usually implied, is discouraged. The 'complainer' is typically depicted as self-interested, cantankerous, over-emotional, even anti-social. One might find little understanding in a pervasive market where the 'person as consumer' becomes an aggregated commodity item with little individuality. One's efforts seem lost in as many products and services and consumers out there as there are complaints to be made. Complaints are met often not without some sympathy but without agency. The current state of making a formal complaint seems curtailed to an industry operation, an endpoint having little palpable impact. Few bother, understandably, to invest the time or energy.

Complaining is at once a strategy and mode of intervention, a means to counter-act. By encouraging the expression of one's reactions to events or situations, the act of complaining can be reappropriated. The Complaint Department regards the ability to crafting complaints as a civic imperative for the public good, to which any small contribution is valuable. Enacting a call for change, choice, or accountability, citizen democracy can promote accessibility and transparency. By leveraging the freedom to disagree, those who are dishonest or do not act in favour of the public good can be discredited.

Frankenstein2; or, the Monster of Main Stream

by Annabel Frearson

I would like to present my ongoing project, Frankenstein2; or, the Monster of Main Stream at ISEA2011.

Frankenstein2... involves rewriting Mary Shelley’s 1831 novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, using all and only the words from the original to create a new, contemporary story. The rewriting of Frankenstein has been facilitated by the creation of a bespoke piece of database software, called FrankenWriter, developed by Patrick Tresset.

By way of a loose plot, the lead protagonist of Frankenstein2… is a modern-day monster, an amoral product of mainstream influences, a banker, who, lacking the courage to kill himself, resolves to travel back in time to ensure that he is never born the first place.

Afflicted by a speech impediment which locks him into protracted cycles of repetition, the (as yet unnamed) protagonist indulges in wanton violence, pornography, chatroom banter and car chases, amid musings about his fondness for soft rock and recollections of his family: the cousin who died in the Twin Towers, his union-chief wrestling father, and his mother who lives in the mindset of a period drama.

In a topological, database-driven, reconfiguration of Shelley’s work, Frankenstein2... presents an act of over-identification, rather than mere subversion. In its consumption and regurgitation of Shelley’s original text, Frankenstein2... performs a work of auto-cannibalism and/or post-production that explores a new form of horror in the zone that vacillates between blind affective immersion and analytical cool distance. An allegory of neoliberalism, perhaps, it draws on the tension between speculation and wandering, between the power of potential and the poetics of indifference, where, as horrified ‘author’, I am caught between the story I want to tell and the language (technology) available to tell it.

Extracts of Frankenstein2... have to-date been exhibited, printed and performed in a variety of contexts and media:

  • Arnolfini, Bristol: A Theatre to Address, 2010 

  • Stephen Lawrence Gallery, London: Use & Mention, 2010 

  • Revolve Wire magazine, 2007

  • V&A, London: Prints Now: Directions & Definitions, 2006 

  • Vilma Gold, London: slimvolume, 2002 

Work in progress on Frankenstein2... can be viewed at:

Cybism and Decoding the Letter: Countering Mass Culture’s Reductional Breakdown Through Afro-futuristic Forms of Representation and Emergent Game Platforms

by Nettrice R. Gaskins

The realm of pure unadulterated street art allows viewers to experience what is now a thriving knowledge culture that merges specialized forms of representation: alphabets, drawings, paintings (graffiti), films/videos, choreographic notations based on symbolic, linguistic and scientific formulations, programming languages, hardware (robotics, handheld devices), software (game platforms) and so on.  Modern graffiti pioneers such as RammellzeeJean-Michel BasquiatFutura (formerly Futura 2000), Doze Green and others have provided artistic guideposts through their street-level, urban texts, images and performances from cyber-culture, speculative and science fiction. Cybism and Decoding the Letter, as the next level in this development, involves discourse that considers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s notion of the minor as parallel to syncretism in urban, street art which might be usefully brought into contact with art theory and cultural studies.  This paper speaks from a future place in order to draw forth from its readers a subjectivity in progress that expands into digital media. It will examine the work of local experts (artists) and cultural practitioners with user-generated, relational, virtual 3D and physical site-specific content that cross multiple disciplines and dimensions on emergent game (technology) platforms.  Can virtual forms of minor art practices and syncretism be used to describe an evolving, open form of cultural production, as applicable to Afro-futurism and hip-hop as it is to game worlds, multi-media installation and open source works on the web?  To address this question this paper will analyze the development of technologies that explore urban, metaphysical, or experimental narrative spaces and engage a trans-national network of participants through game world performance and art.  User interactions in material and online spaces, through digital media — virtual windows, mobile devices and perceptually immersive 3D simulations — create new forms of representation that simulate alternative conceptualizations of the future.  This paper will capture the spirit of this production, moving from concrete realities to visual abstractions, virtual 3D bricolage and performance in perceptually immersive 3D space. Evidence of this development will be presented as a paper for ISEA International conference attendees.

Post cards of Identification: The Rhetoric and Form of PostSecret

by Lisa M. Litterio

Frank Warren’s website, PostSecret, has experienced over 380 million visitors since its inception in 2004.  His blog began as a community art project in 2004, where he encouraged people to submit their secrets in postcard form.  He said,  “You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project.  Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire,  confession, or childhood humiliation.  Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.  Be brief.  Be legible.  Be creative” (website).  This secret could range from the mundane (“I pray all those potato chips go straight to your ass”) to the profound (“I’ll be married to him for another 20 years.  I am that afraid of being alone.”).  Since its debut, the blog has become immensely popular, with over 380 million visitors.   Each Sunday, the creator, Warren, posts 10 new post cards with secrets he has received.

At its core, PostSecret reflects Foucault’s notion of “Western man” as a “confessing animal.”  The confessions of PostSecret also complicate and extend traditional notions of rhetorical theory, such as Kenneth Burke’s concept of rhetoric as identification.   In Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives, he claims that rhetoric is not the art of persuasion as Aristotle would have us believe, but rather it is “rooted in an essential function of language itself, the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (43).  Most, if not all of the confessions of PostSecret either inflict self-blame or assert victimage.  In addition, the postcard, removed from its traditional form as a message of place, is reconfigured in a digital space and is an indicator of an individual’s identity. In Derrida’s “The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond”, he employs the postcard form to engage in philosophical questions, all addressed to his love, but observed by a third party (the reader).  His use of subverting a playful medium as a space to engage with profound questions parallels the intense confessionals of PostSecret. Instead of a postcard depicting the Duomo in Florence or the rolling hills of Ireland, the image is the medium for the “guilt” of one’s past, read by a third party, and offers a reader a digital example of Burke’s concept of the human condition.