Conversation with Zach Gage
Thanks to Outland for organizing and publishing this conversation with artist and game designer Zach Gage.
GAGE That’s another way in which your work is embodying the moment that is not fully surfaced. There’s an interplay in what you’re doing where it feels to me that you’ve found a place where you can be a radical while still succeeding at feeling like you’re being accommodating. You’ve managed to do it in a way where you feel comfortable because you locate these bureaucratic zones that are ready to be occupied. I wonder how that factors into the experiences and observations about the NFT space, and your work there?
KUO None of that is by design, but it came out of a certain kind of relation to a dominant culture. The interactions with collectors and NFT prospectors that have been disturbing to me are those in which I’m feeling the depth of their expectation and their own sense of the power that they think they have, or maybe do have, due to the amount of capital they’re sitting on. In the same way that this one-click collecting framework is being built around me, I feel a real threat in being expected to help engineer one-click relationships to myself and to my work.
GAGE I think that’s an important contextual component of what crypto fundamentally does. It’s a way to bring a free market to any space, which is a substantial, powerful thing to be able to do. When it’s done, everyone in the space becomes either a vendor or a customer, which comes with a whole host of expectations that are totally different from being an artist.
The magazine HOLO 3 is now available. It’s called Mirror Stage: Between Computability and Its Opposite.
Guest editor Nora N. Khan and fifteen luminaries question our problematic faith in and deference to AI. Exploring the limits of knowledge, prediction, language, and abstraction in computation, their collected essays and artworks measure the gap between machine learning hypotheticals and the mess of lived experience.
My contribution, The Truth of the Matter, is a set of wireframes and tooltips that respond to the prompt on "explainability" and the discursive opening of the black box:
But what happens when we don’t understand the explanation? And how do we better account for ambiguity in the scientific conversation of explainability, the blurry narratives and necessary trial and error involved? For many others, explainability is simply not enough; we need meaningful explanations, and a consideration of what is meaningful to AI, or in the space of computation, versus what is meaningful to humans as a whole, across contexts.
I gave a lecture at RISD for its Spring Graphic Design Speaker Series. Here’s the recording of the lecture, which covers the past several years of projects:
Thanks to RISD Graphic Design for the invitation!
2022 Knight Arts + Tech Fellowship
I’m one of the 5 recipients of the 2022 Knight Arts + Tech Fellowship. Thank you very much to the Knight Foundation and to United States Artists, which administered the award, for the support!
Darla Migan has written a wonderful essay on my practice for Shift Space, an online publication edited by Natalia Zuluaga as part of the fellowship.
Insofar as we are always being configured for identification, Kuo’s net-based art or video installations are written neither for technologists nor for art audiences per se but may be better understood as epistles to, or apologia on, self-formation happening within the loops of machine/user learning. We learn to use machines and in the process of doing so we also increase their literacy of the user, opening us up to even greater portals of access through the simulation of shared understanding.
Read (or listen to!) A Poetics of the Glaze.
Artist Profile: Nathalie Lawhead
I interviewed Nathalie Lawhead for Rhizome! Nathalie’s work is incredibly inspiring, and it was a privilege to collaborate on this article about the nonsensical internet, the demise of Flash, indie games, and digital self-preservation.
RK: I really admire how you not only state, but literally manifest, the themes of survival and self-preservation in your work. You consider digital art to be inherently ephemeral, and so your works depict graveyards and dismembered, skeletal systems that literally fall apart at the touch. Spirits and vermin inhabit these spaces, and as the creator, you are ever-present. You are both self-aware and prophetic about the eventual death of your work, which frequently reads like its own eulogy. How does your physical body relate to the digital structures you create?
NL: Oh man... That's well said. Yes, I'm constantly tormented by the inevitable doom of my work. I keep making it and now I have to maintain something like 40 games. I have to update them, make sure they are all converted from 32-bit to 64-bit, and don't get wiped out by major OS updates. The struggle to not let it just vanish into the digital void is real.
The ephemeral nature of digital art fascinates me, but it's also terrifying. As an artist, I want to be remembered for my art. I want people to enjoy it long after I'm gone. At least that's the promise of art. Art definitely becomes more meaningful when it ages, and when it's taken out of context of the zeitgeist it was made under. You can't have that with digital art. An indie game today will last about five years before becoming obsolete or just unplayable. It seems so irrational to me that you can spend more years making a game than it will be playable.
Read the profile.