Festival Overview from Producer and Co-curator Molly Mac

Still from Leena Joshi Prophet TV.

Still from Leena Joshi Prophet TV.

Introducing Black Box 3.0

Festival Overview from Producer and Co-curator Molly Mac

It has been a pleasure to produce Black Box 3.0 and to curate for a number of the festival exhibition programs this year. While production and curation often go hand-in-hand in organizing any exhibition or any festival, at Black Box 3.0 these roles are especially intertwined. Festival Founder Julia Fryett and I set out to organize a festival that highlights strong creative practices, explores rigorous conceptual topics and addresses the urgent social issues inherent to a contemporary conversation about art and technology. At the same time we realized that with our tight budget and short timeline, the form of the festival experience would be largely determined by the hows, wheres and whos of the festival production process.

While my experience as an Alice Gallery curator, critical media educator, arts organizer and video installation artist informs my role as Black Box 3.0 festival producer, it has been the outpouring of support, encouragement and feedback from friends, artists, educators and organizers living and working in Seattle that make this year's festival truly special.  

Black Box 3.0 links artists, cultural producers and creative technologies to critical conversations about place, identity and social change in Seattle and beyond. The 2016 festival highlights experimentation, listening and organizing in art, technology and public life.

I have produced and co-curated four of the six distinct festival programs: Impossible Documents, Fwd:<no-reply>@TheAlice, LISTEN: it’s a sound show, and ROT: Compost vs. Surgery. These festival programs engage with existing institutional platforms and utilize funding available for the festival to highlight resistance to dominant power structures within art, cinema, online worlds, tech and public life.

Critiques of power resonate at every level of the festival, from artworks to exhibition designs to partnerships. Black Box 3.0 explores themes of nostalgia, corporate malaise, migrations, inequity, digital bodies and generational divides and much more. As the festival begins, I have my first true chance to take a step back from the closeup details of hows and wheres and whens of production to walk through Black Box 3.0 as a whole, and I am excited now to take a first walk-through of this festival program plan with the Black Box 3.0 community.

Still from Sarada Rauch Pointing.

Still from Sarada Rauch Pointing.

Black Box 3.0 opens with an exhibition and party celebrating the outcomes of Art Hack Day: Erasure, a joint program with Seattle Design Festival. For this special event, Julia Fryett and Yasaman Sheri will co-curate a final presentation of works produced during Art Hack Day. This exhibition sets the tone for a provocative conversation about new directions in art and technology particularly timely for a Seattle audience, asking: What stays? What goes? Who decides? Is anything ever truly erased?

Crosscut Arts Salon’s conversation, Tech and The Democratization of Art kicks off the first week of the festival. A strong selection of partner programs at INCA, ZGF Architects, I Want You Studio. Topics range from the use of social networks to protect the lives of trans women of color, to virtual reality for architectural renderings, to GIFs for social change. Robot’s Building Robots exhibition at The Hedreen features a range of artworks addressing labor, artificial intelligence and algorithmic consciousness in the digital era.

Annie Grosshans Strategies for Hindsight

Annie Grosshans Strategies for Hindsight


On Saturday, Sept 24, Impossible Documents gathers artists and cultural producers to celebrate the dimensions of creative practice that are impossible to document for grant applications, academic presentations, or even art gallery exhibitions. Artists, activists and the Black Box 3.0 community speak to and celebrate the “impossible” dimensions of their practices. Topics will include virtual geographies, the use of social documentary in legal practice, proof of "public benefit," feminist avatars, direct action organizing, immigration and white privilege.

On Sunday, Sept 25th, The Consult presents a video installation and exhibition in a Belltown hair salon. In this unique program, the impersonal standardization of the Yelp interface and the hyperpersonal, idealization of Bitmoji avatars collide. The Consult is an Black Box exhibition prototype where technology mediates a conversation between a local Seattle artist and a local Seattle business that is not directly linked to the technology industry.

Katherine Behar

Katherine Behar


Black Box 3.0 Week 2 continues with opening receptions for Allison Kudla’s algorithmic living wall, Tenacity and Fwd:<no-reply>@TheAlice, a multimedia exhibition of video games, screen-capture performances and video installations that interrogate the power dynamics of social isolation in online and digital worlds. On Friday 9/30, the world premiere screening of 13 Chambers takes place at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, where 13 filmmakers explore the uncanny, the supernatural and the sublime.

Saturday 10/1 introduces a wide range of festival activities. First, the festival highlights an exciting partner program, Tracie Morris’s performance at UW Bothell Convergence on Poetics. Then, we invite our audiences to the Georgetown neighborhood for public programs at Interstitial, Mount Analogue and The Alice.  The capstone of the Georgetown outpost of Black Box 3.0 is LISTEN, it’s a sound show at Equinox Studios. LISTEN is a one-night, large scale auditory exhibition that features sound art, narrative artwork, music, oral history and spoken word. LISTEN Co-curator Emily Pothast and I have designed an urgent, non-hierarchal experience where performers, immersive installations, videos, sound-making sculptures and the viewing audience negotiate a shared sound space that politicizes different types of listening.

Kerry Downey

Kerry Downey

Black Box 3.0 festival development is improvisational and interdisciplinary. It plants seeds for ongoing thought, action, and creation. The festival both ends and looks ahead with ROT: Compost vs. Surgery. Throughout the festival design process, strong exhibition concepts grew out of seemingly unlikely opportunities and invitations to engage Black Box programs. When festival director Julia Fryett asked if we were interested in curating a video screening related  to Seattle Art Museum’s Big Picture: Art After 1945, this challenged me to explore my own tendency to understand video art in relation to traditions of painting, performance and cultural resistance, beyond the tradition of cinema. In ROT, Alice Gallery cohort S. Surface and I continue an ongoing curatorial dialogue about bodies, aging identity, health and community expressed through strong physical and morphological presence in creative practice.  Surface and I particularly appreciate moments when Art talks to other Art about topics that are NOT Art. I am excited to be able to engage this idea in ROT and throughout Black Box’s programs.


Black Box 3.0 Festival Program


How do you delete a tree?


Black Box relishes remaining in permanent beta. I founded the festival in 2014 with the vision of it becoming a nomadic pulse for the region’s evolving arts and technology landscape. It’s not surprising then that each edition of the festival has a timely, ephemeral, and vanishing quality.

It’s also not surprising that Black Box was cancelled and revived no less than three times this year.

As many of you know, I recently joined the ace team of a tech startup (Pixvana) that is building software tools for artists, filmmakers, and creators to expand cinema into virtual realities. I'm loving it. The only hitch in my giddyup was that I knew it was not humanly possible to work at a startup and also run an ambitious arts festival.

What to do? With not enough grant funding to hire a proper staff, I accepted the seemingly virtual reality that perhaps the festival was not meant to last. How could Black Box endure?

This is how.

S. Surface introduced me to Molly Mac. And in three weeks, we had a program. The festival conceptual framework and architecture were already in place, old and new partnerships were being solidified, and Molly dove right in as festival curator and producer. I stayed on as an interim director and curator. Molly immediately understood Black Box - the chaos, the ambiguity, and the beauty of opportunity. This weekend, we’ll officially welcome Molly on board with a Q&A on the blog and post her curatorial statement.

We worked quickly with a community of extraordinary collaborators to pull together a festival in one month that includes over 125 artists participating in 7 festival programs and 8 partner programs.

Black Box 3.0 opens with a public exhibition of artworks created in just 48 hours in the old Value Village building on Capitol Hill during Art Hack Day: Erasure. Two weeks later, Black Box ends with a listening show (Shhhh....) and a screening at Seattle Art Museum about surgery and compost. The festival closes with a literal black out.

Will the lights come on again next year?

Julia Fryett
September 2016

Out of Sight


home/page is the film, video and new media art program curated by Julia Fryett for Out of Sight - an annual survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest, organized in partnership with the Seattle Art Fair.

Out of Sight
King Street Station, Seattle

August 4 - 28, 2016

Out of Sight inhabits 21,000 sq ft in King Street Station.

Out of Sight inhabits 21,000 sq ft in King Street Station.


Curatorial Statement

This is a program for the artists not in this program. 

It's a template for possibility.

Knee-waist-neck deep in curatorial research for Out of Sight, I found myself enveloped in a profound and invisible history of Pacific Northwest Art: hundreds of video and new media artists working beneath the surface. With limited exhibition opportunities, institutional, and patron support, they face the distinct possibility of vanishing.

Yet, these artists bypass tendencies toward isolationism by domesticating technology. 

Devices, platforms, and networks become homes.

Ideas mystically mutate into live broadcasts and live streams.

A digital deer makes autonomous decisions and navigates the landscape of Grand Theft Auto, free art schools pop up in garages, and conceptual karaoke music videos consider whether the Beach Boys and Francis Bacon have anything in common.

home/page is a document of hidden places - basements, static, websites, electric fields, oceans, hoodies, microbes, streets... places that ask us how to erase, rewire, and hack our way beyond Art.

Julia Fryett
August 2016


Mel Carter
home school (Manuel Arturo Abreu, Victoria Anne Reis)
Leena Joshi
Allison Kudla & Kevin Scott
D.K. Pan & Abigail J. Swanson
Poetic Operations Collaborative (Micha Cárdenas, Patrisse Cullors, Chris Held, Edxie Betts, Kate Sohn, Josefina Garcia Turner, Emma Waverly, Ben Klunker)
Portland Immersive Media Group
Norie Sato
Hanita Schwartz
Chun Shao
Rick Silva
Brent Watanabe
Weird Allan Kaprow (Erin Charpentier, Travis Neel, Sharita Towne, Zachary Gough)


eros is a creature against whom no technology avails, 2016
Multi-channel video installation
Dimensions variable

Hairs, 2012
Single-channel video with amplified audio,
1 minute 48 seconds

A selection of archived home school streams, 2015–16
Video program, 10 hours 7 minutes

Contemporaneity: building a better white supremacy, Class #2
April 10, 2015,
56 minutes 36 seconds

Artist Talk by Demian DinéYazhi
May 29, 2016
128 minutes, 20 seconds

Marble: a talk by Jasmine Nyende,
June 26, 2016
68 minutes 30 seconds

The Griot, The Parrhesiac, The Cannibal, The Oversharer, The Artist, The Realest: a triad by Devin Kenny
July 10, 2016,
76 minutes 1 second

Project Space Industrial Complex, Class #1 by Carmen Denison, Eleanor Ford, Chloe Thompson, and Devin Ruiz
July24, 2016
176 minutes 26 seconds

A Talk by damali ayo
July 31, 2016
101 minutes 5 seconds

go in (plant life), 2016
Single-channel video
3 minutes 53 seconds

The Hacker, 2016
Lightbox with photograph and audio
62 x 42 x 5 in.

Gift of Unseen Stigmatics, 2016
Book, single-channel video,
5 minutes

Unstoppable Kevlar Dress, 2016
Fabric, kevlar
Dimensions variable

Local Autonomy Networks Hoodie, 2013
Fabric, electronics Dimensions variable

VR Spa, 2016
Mixed media, immersive media, Unity 3D

Video Horizon, 1976/2016
CRT monitors, string, mirror, sand
Dimensions variable

Water Sign, 2015
Single-channel video
3 minutes 3 seconds

Cleaning Francois Halard video suite: The Douchess of Devonshire, Cy Twombly, Casa Malaparte, David Hockney, Hotel Lambert, 2016
Single-channel video,
1 minute 24 seconds

Karaoking the Museum, 2014
Single-channel video program

Continents, 4 minutes 38 seconds Greenberg, 2 minutes 51 seconds Imagine, 3 minutes 7 seconds
I Wanna Make Art with Somebody, 4 minutes 22 seconds
Let’s Light a Candle, 3 minutes 38 seconds
The Cobbler, 3 minutes 59 seconds Friends with Low Faces,3 minutes 26 seconds
KOKOMO, 3 minutes 58 seconds
Piece of My Art, 4 minutes 15 seconds Oregonian Museums, 3 minutes
They Want It Back, 3 minutes 31 seconds

San Andreas Deer Cam, 2015–present
Twitch livestream installation

Special Event


VR for Artists

Live Q&A with Portland Immersive Media Group
Saturday, August 6
4 - 5PM

A session discussing grant writing for VR, "externalizing" virtual reality for galleries and exhibition space, pipeline, group dynamics, and process, as well as Unity 3D as an keystone app of digital content creation.

Out of Sight

Out of Sight returns to the third floor of the historic King Street Station for its annual survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. With a new curatorial and production team, we are poised to mount a landmark exhibition reflecting the diversity and breadth of creativity that activates this region.

Running concurrent and adjacent to the Seattle Art Fair, we will populate over 21,000 square feet with new directions, bold visions, and emerging talents.

2016 Curatorial Team

Greg Lundgren: Exhibition Producer & Curator
Sierra Stinson: Exhibition Producer & Curator
Minh Nguyen: Curator
Julia Fryett: Film, Video & New Media Art Curator
Beth Sellars: Installation Curator
Molly Sides: Dance & Performance Curator
Scott Lawrimore: Exhibition Caretaker
Justen Waterhouse: Exhibition Manager

Black Box, Amplified


Dear Friends, Collaborators, Supporters & Colleagues,

I’m thrilled to announce an amplified commitment to the vision of Black Box in 2016! 

This year, the festival will incorporate a broader conceptual framework, energetic partner program format, and expanded online project site.

Aligned closely with Aktionsart’s mission, Black Box is designed to remain in permanent beta mode. The festival is responsive and adaptive to the transitory nature of emerging technologies and the shifting landscape of contemporary art. Each year, the festival format evolves through the continuous development of institutional, curatorial and corporate partnerships.

The core changes outlined below are a direct result of audience and participant feedback from past festivals, collectively illustrating an urgent community demand for substantial arts and technology programming.


You asked us to move the dates and we listened! The new festival is shorter, tighter, and will take place in the fall. 

Black Box 3.0: September 21 - October 2, 2016

Conceptual Framework

Black Box explores how digital media and emerging technologies are transforming the arts, culture, and public life. Since 2014, the festival has been situated within the Seattle International Film Festival and focused on contemporary artists who expand the language of cinema.

Due to thriving community demand for arts and technology programming, the festival is expanding beyond the previous emphasis on film and cinema. This context has proved to be an unnecessary restraint.

Black Box is now simply an international arts and technology festival.

This new framework presents extraordinary opportunities to support projects that move across a myriad of disciplines. The festival will continue to present film and video work, but will incorporate a more diverse slate of programs that seamlessly integrate visual art, media, music, sound, performance, architecture, design, fashion, and more.

There is no overarching festival theme beyond the umbrella of “arts and technology”, which is intentionally open. Key concepts will emerge from the open call and unfold through festival and partner programs, exhibitions, screenings, projects, discussions, workshops, installations, performances, and hybrid formats. Attention will be closely paid to intellectually rigorous and socially urgent ideas, emerging technologies, and experimental projects that present new modes of creating and thinking. Black Box is a place for creative and critical ideas.

Technology disrupts the arts, but how do the arts disrupt technology? What is the role of artist and creator in an increasingly mechanized world? How can artists leverage new tools to produce, distribute, create access, and build audiences for their work? How does technological innovation and disnovation shape public life?

Partner Program

Black Box will continue to closely collaborate with a selective partner network of Seattle’s most adventurous businesses, organizations, and institutions.

For the first time, Black Box is initiating an open call for artists, projects, venues, and partner programs. There is abundant creative energy brewing below the surface of Seattle, and I expect that this open call will release untapped talent, resources, and opportunity.

Online Project Site

Last year, the Black Box online program - Fullscreen - presented new video and digital art, streaming content, mobile, and interactive projects. The site received over 25,000 visits in just a four week period. This program will continue to develop in 2016, transporting the festival to audiences around the world.

I founded Black Box with the intention of building an international platform for new work and ideas from the most creative, talented and innovative artists, designers, engineers, curators, technologists, hackers, and makers in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Already an indispensable element of Seattle’s ecosystem, Black Box continues to be a vital barometer for our burgeoning arts and tech environment. 

The rippling effects of Aktionsart and Black Box throughout the community are markedly visible. Thanks to our invaluable partners, volunteers and advocates for your support over the past two years! I greatly look forward to seeing what transpires at Black Box 3.0.

The open call for artists, venues, and partner program proposals is now live. Review the opportunities and guidelines to determine which application is most appropriate for your participation, then be sure to submit it by 5PM PST on May 31, 2016:


Julia Fryett
Founder, Aktionsart

General Intellect

Installation shots of General Intellect at Morningside Academy, October 2015


James Coupe, Julia Fryett, Sean O'Connor & Susan Surface

Motion Study is a blog series about people, things, and ideas in the arts, design, and technology.

General Intellect was a multi-platform exhibition that I curated in October 2015 during Aktionsart's temporary residence at the former Morningside Academy school in South Lake Union. A major project, General Intellect was exhibited on monitors throughout the school and online in the Aktionsart Amazon Art Gallery. This was the first new media artwork on Amazon Art.

Excerpt from the exhibition press release:

This new work from Seattle-based artist James Coupe questions the value of digital and cultural labor, the shifting conditions of exploitation and the new forms of social alienation that we face today. Featuring a generative database of 3,000 videos produced by workers hired through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (mTurk) service, the exhibition displayed single and multi-channel video installations throughout an entire decaying school building in South Lake Union.

Coupe made the individuals behind mTurk visible by instructing workers to record a one minute video each hour from 9AM and 5PM, thus creating an archive of their regular daily routine.

Mechanical Turk is an online labor market that was inspired by the vision of humans helping machines to perform tasks. Comprised of over 500,000 workers around the world, mTurk distributes human intelligence tasks (HITs) which computers are not yet capable of completing, such as image recognition and filling out surveys. The tasks typically contain little information about who generated them or how they will be used. This marketplace is named after an 18th century life-sized, mechanical figure - “The Turk” - who travelled the world playing and winning chess matches against notables such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. It was later revealed that the machine was an illusion and The Turk was controlled by a human chess master hidden inside a concealed box.

Coupe: “In a society where machines have largely replaced human workers, there are few skills or forms of knowledge that remain exclusively human. Marx anticipated this situation when he coined the term “general intellect” to describe the collective, social intelligence that arises from abstract human knowledge. In a data-driven society, our individuated responses to particular lived situations and contexts have in themselves become a form of capital. With the rise of social media, the conflict between human knowledge and algorithmic knowledge has been drawn into sharp relief. Every time we post our thoughts, ideas, preferences, and comments online, we contribute to a mechanized version of Marx’s general intellect.”

General Intellect is presented as a series of single and multi-channel videos, each automatically generated from a set of unique queries to the database of videos uploaded by mTurk workers. Designed by the artist, queries are based upon demographic information and other metadata provided by the workers. Each query is available for purchase and is accompanied with an annual subscription that funds the cost of workers to complete further HITs based on the properties of that query. As the workers produce more content, the results from the queries change and the videos continually update. The database expands and generates new content through the act of collecting, positioning the collector within a specific socioeconomic relationship with the workers that their query employs.

I chose to initiate a partnership with Seattle Design Festival to include General Intellect in their 2015 festival program, Design for Equity, as I saw many timely connections. During the exhibition, Susan Surface (Program Director, Seattle Design Festival) posted the following comment on her Facebook wall:

Definitely, definitely check out this exhibition curated by Julia Fryett while you can. This meaningful exploration of labor and digital economy is part of‪#‎sdf2015‬ ‪#‎designforequity‬.

What I wish I knew more about in this project is consent. I have reservations about the the workers not knowing they are on display. And toward an artist and college professor (who appears to be white and at least middle class in this role) earning media accolades and probable future social and economic capital by exhibiting work for which the displayed people (who generally appear to be working class and many of whom are brown and Black) were paid $3. I was surprised to learn they were not told of the purpose, or given the chance to consent or decline. (This goes entirely against the way I operate as artist, designer, curator. I'd love to know more about what conversations have happened around this topic.)

Would the video artists (they ARE video artists, just as much as the artist who convened the work's infrastructure is) be intrigued, worried, angry, glad? Would they have been so open with their lives if they had known? Possibly no - or possibly yes - and possibly even more open. And of course this is total self-representation, people showing exactly what they want in their videos, with no other direction than "one minute long video, once an hour, during the workday." I wonder what they thought the purpose was for - market research, product testing/comparison, art, a fetish thing, something else?

Mechanical Turk workers are already organizing themselves; they do not need an art exhibit to humanize their labor. Though this exhibition does exactly that. It is perfectly located in its doomed site in SLU; I hope the Amazons stop by.

It's so complicated. So it's worth checking out. This is one of the most thought provoking works I have seen in a long time. Go.

This prompted me to invite Susan, James Coupe (artist, General Intellect), and Sean O’Connor (Boeing International Professor, University of Washington School of Law) to join me in a casual email conversation discussing some of the theoretical components of the work which were not addressed in the various press coverage

While we certainly did not touch on all the complex issues raised, the conversation that follows provides some additional frameworks for thinking about General Intellect.



Now that the exhibition of General Intellect in the school has closed, the work is living online in Aktionsart’s Amazon Art gallery. When I first learned that General Intellect was created on one Amazon marketplace, mTurk, I was immediately interested in distributing it via a second Amazon marketplace - Amazon Art. This would allow the action of selling the work to reflect the act of producing the work, drawing attention to the transition of a work of labor into a work of fine art.

Aktionsart’s Amazon Art gallery is not meant to be ironic, as some of the press coverage suggested:

Jen Graves: "Does Amazon register the irony? Are they playing along? "Yeah," Fryett said.

"Yeah"? Not really. I have never described, or implied, that this gallery is ironic. It exists as a serious venue that extends the reach of our exhibition program. I'm encouraging artists to use this virtual platform as a site-specific venue for interventions and for testing entrepreneurial ideas that connect art with new audiences.

A key influence for me was Claes Oldenburg’s The Store. He opened it in 1961 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, selling sculptural objects of commonplace objects such as ice cream, hats, shoes and cigarettes. The idea of employing the aesthetics of a storefront display remains intriguing, particularly wit the rapid expansion of art e-commerce platforms.

General Intellect hires workers to film short clips of their daily life, then sells these videos to art collectors along with a subscription package that then hires workers to create new videos each week. The project therefore creates a third marketplace - a specific micro economy that allows collectors to become employers. This third marketplace did not exist during the initial iteration of General Intellect in Bath, before it was made available for purchase by art collectors.

How does the act of selling the work change the work? How is it possible to re-sell labor, from a legal perspective? Some insight into the legal framework and contractual obligation of Mechanical Turk would be useful to go over, in order to illuminate some of the decisions James made when designing the system of General Intellect.


Just one very quick thought before I run out the door. 

“Aktionsart’s Amazon Art gallery is not meant to be ironic.”

It hadn’t occurred to me before that anyone could think the decision was ironic. While “irony” is not a word I’d use to describe this choice, it did strike me as hypercompliance – or an aggressive and intentional compliance with the market forces addressed in the work. What else could possibly be done with this material? It does feel right.  

This also, interestingly, puts Julia, as curator, in the position of creating the artwork in a fairly atypical way - as the retail and distribution mechanism becomes a component of the work.  


Some thoughts here following from the comments below and in Jen Graves’ piece.

1. Are there parallels to psychological research projects in which it is important that the subjects NOT know what is actually going on?

2. If so, what about the IRB (institutional review board) process that would normally occur today with regard to research involving human subjects? Would IRB review have approved General Intellect as is, or would it have rejected entirely, or required changes? Perhaps the project itself would be approved, but not the public release of the videos and/or the subsequent sale of the videos?

3. At the same time, the subjects had already opted in to the mTurk commercial construct. But two questions: have the mTurk workers actually read whatever ToS Amazon requires them to click through to participate in mTurk (or is mTurk participation already covered by general Amazon ToS?); and if not, do they have some rough sense of what they think the “deal” is for participating in mTurk?

4. What ToS applies to mTurk employers such as James in this project?


Imagining Amazon as a store is being very generous to them - maybe like Oldenburg, they are borrowing the tropes and conventions of a store in order to condition our thinking about commerce. In reality, Amazon's reach is vast - mTurk, cloud storage, databases, video, AI, etc. One of the rationales about having General Intellect end where it began - in Amazon's marketplace - is to challenge our thinking about such entities as purely front-end stores. Amazon is in the same category as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. It's a machine that is attempting to monopolize fundamental aspects of our everyday lives. I don't intend that interpretation as an anti-Amazon critique - I use Amazon too, and it uses my data. Amazon is a platform that tells us a lot about who we are today and it's important to explore it as a site for artistic inquiry. I think Jen Graves' second article about General Intellect missed this - putting the work back into Amazon's storefront was conceptually necessary in order to fully articulate the work's ideas and understand its scope. The work is not an object, and neither are the videos - it's a system that is fully intertwined with the Amazon machine and relies upon it to sustain its critical position.

I don't really see the work's presence for sale on Amazon as being about selling it. I see it as a necessary site for the work - and in light of the status of Oldenburg's The Store as one of the early examples of Pop Art, I think there is some common ground there. Oldenburg could occupy a unique conceptual position with his work by bringing it out of the (high culture) gallery/museum and into the (low/popular culture) "store". Being in that marketplace is what counts conceptually, i.e. being available for sale, not selling it. I think if someone bought one of the General Intellect queries they would only do so with an awareness that the transaction was an engagement with the conceptual underpinnings of the project. There aren't too many artworks that operate that way - i.e. that consider the commercial distribution of the work as a core, ongoing, generative part of it. Most works, regardless of their subject matter, can be bought, sold and collected by the very people who they claim to critique. A Trevor Paglen photograph of a classified military location, for example, has no mechanism within its distribution methodology that holds accountable the person whose wall it ends up hanging on. If the General Intellect videos were to be sold on DVDs through a regular gallery, they would become objects that could not sustain the critical position that they do by being for sale on Amazon with the proceeds being used to hire more mTurk workers to generate more videos.

I agree with Susan that consent is at the heart of the work. It's one of the things that make it a complex experience - we don't know where to position ourselves in relation to the workers. We occupy a privileged position simply by viewing the work - i.e. we can see the full picture and they cannot. I think this is a difficult critical position for the work to adopt, but I think artists have a responsibility to take these on. Much of the work's power is derived from its ambiguous relationship with consent and the discomfort of our own position in respect of that. It is a situation that forces us to ask ourselves important questions about our own roles within platforms that rely upon dynamics of privilege, exploitation and automation. We benefit from the convenience, but at what/who's cost? We derive value from the videos, but feel voyeuristic and culpable at the same time. Here the differences from Oldenburg's store become pretty clear. The ethics and implications of a 'shared', data-driven, individuated marketplace open up a different set of problems to those of a bricks-and-mortar store.

Deciding how much information to give the workers about the purpose of the HIT was an important decision I had to make with the work. For the record, workers were told in the HIT that the videos would be displayed publicly, alongside those made by other workers. Yet MTurk is an extremely compliant environment - people want to get paid, and the system is set up in such a way that workers often don't get paid if they don't do the HIT to the satisfaction of the requester (and allegedly in some cases, even when they do). And so I felt it was important not to provide information that was going to direct workers to respond in the way that they would think I wanted them to. I wanted them to feel unrestricted as to what they did with those eight minutes of video. And you saw a large range of responses, all of which were valid. And indeed if you look on the mTurk forums and the emails that some workers sent to me, this HIT was popular because it provided an opportunity for workers to do something they found interesting, and because it paid what it promised.

I hope this makes some kind of sense. I'm still struggling to reconcile my relationship with this project, it's complex to unpack. But I take that as a good sign.


Hasn't Amazon simply become the new archetype for "store"? They changed the game. To exist, a store must now also be a big data company. I remember reading Werner Vogels, Amazon's CTO, say that they are a tech company who "just happens to do retail".

This is why I find the relationship with Oldenburg so compelling in considering what "storefront" and "store" mean today. If we think of tech companies as stores (indeed, doesn't selling data position every tech company squarely in the commerce business?), then perhaps the "storefront" represents a public facing, virtual front end and the "store" is everything we don't see. The storefront is an interface with the invisible.

How then can new media artists work with these facades to create and present work? Frequently we see artists use a particular platform solely for distribution/exhibition, without considering the platform as a site-specific environment. But General Intellect does precisely this. As James suggests, to bring the work outside of the system it creates would be a failure.

I'd like to see more artists moving away from creating safe distances/thrones from which to critique, and more into these complex spaces of hypercompliance (love that term, Susan).


Amazon is a "store" not only in the retail and commercial sense, but in every way that word is used. Store in the sense of stockpile or repository, a bank of things that can be summoned or retrieved at will - the big data. Except that as much as the data is data, the items are also data; they're merely interchangeable cargo. And the whole operation is an always changing, buzzing, active thing - to store, the verb.

It's rather startling that the HIT can earn the affection of workers simply by doing what it is supposed to do, and paying what it promised - if you aren't rejecting any of the videos on the basis of their content and quality.

Did you display the actual HIT with the work? Knowing all of the components of the work, including the form and content of the task itself, seems to be just as integral as the format in which is presented and displayed.

Is the digital Amazon gallery / storefront more of an ideal site or home for this work's display and existence, in addition to being integral to the work's total form, versus the life it takes on when it is displayed in gallery spaces like the one where it was shown in South Lake Union?


The HIT wasn't displayed at the exhibition of General Intellect in the school, however James and I did speak about it early on. I'll leave that up to him whether or not he wants to publish the screenshot.

From a curatorial perspective, both of the venues (the school and Amazon Art) were equally integral to the presentation of this project. The site-specificity of the decaying school building led to a powerful experience of the work. Each monitor was alone, in a room, which certainly heightened the sense of alienation that perhaps some of these worker's felt. The location of the school in South Lake Union next to Amazon's headquarters was vital, as it is one of the only remaining original structures on Westlake Avenue. The school previously was a print shop, built in 1918, and will soon be demolished - an impending sense of destruction which also reflects the eventual farming off of the mTurk tasks to AI. None of this experience is conveyed on the Amazon Art gallery. Rather, here we have quite a dry presentation of the work in an entirely different, commercial "storefront" setting. Clips of the videos are shown, so the viewer receives a minimal glimpse into the depth of the project. This digital environment brings the ethical and economic concerns behind the work to the foreground in a way that is much more provocative than the school installation. When placed squarely back within the Amazon system, General Intellect suddenly became uncomfortable. Why is this? Does offering the work for sale cross a line and, if so, what does that line represent?

Back to Susan's point about hypercompliance - Turkers operate within a system that is contractually designed to remove agency. By opting in, they opt out. Perhaps knowingly, perhaps not. General Intellect likewise operates within the system of mTurk. It's a closed loop.


I totally agree about the hypercompliance framework, which makes me think of discussions around post-internet art. I think General Intellect makes sense in the context of the internet, digital media, etc. no longer being required qualifiers for anything, where the economic, labor, social, aesthetic properties of our lives can't be separated from the internet any longer. Last year I saw Florian Cramer talk about post-internet art, and he made a distinction between work that used the internet's existing structures, distribution methods, spaces, etc. from work that had to invent those kind of systems (thus distinguishing post-internet art from the majority of "new media" art produced over the last few decades, which has often required artists to invent new systems entirely). I find this refreshing - a better integration of concept and material/technology and a means to thoroughly investigate what these sites mean - spaces like Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, gifs, mTurk, etc. And in order to explore and irritate those places one strategy is to commit to their logic, and follow it through - i.e. be hypercompliant. You can see this in Amalia Ulman's use of Instagram, and it's interesting how each of these spaces suggest different distribution methods because they have different purposes and different logics. So talking about selling things - how are post-internet artists distributing their work... and if they do, does it fit within the conceptual framework/distribution model of something like Instagram, or is it a concession back to the art market by creating physical objects that can be owned in ways a fake Instagram profile cannot?

I don’t consider the videos in General Intellect as objects to be analyzed individually, they are parts of a system and their patterns and properties reveal larger issues, regardless of their individual content or quality. This is one reason I organized them via database queries - I see watching them as a way to discover the rules of the system that they are a part of. We see the HIT by seeing the patterns across multiple videos. I saw it as too didactic to exhibit the HIT alongside the videos. Although I am comfortable with the choices I made, from an ethical point of view, in terms of how I interacted with, compensated and assigned tasks to the workers, there is an ambiguity and questioning of the role of the requester there that is in keeping with the logic of mTurk, and I wanted to explore that. Ordinarily the only people who get to see HITs are the requesters and the workers, not the people who benefit from the results, and so I felt it would dilute the work to not comply with this pattern, and it would compromise its critical position. My relationship to this as both the artist and the requester is, as Susan observed earlier, problematic. There isn't a 'correct' position for me in relation to mTurk, and in fact there isn't for anyone - workers, audience, critics, curators, etc. But by performing that role, and using mTurk as a platform/medium to make art, things open up, the issues become visible and real, and it exposes and implicates all of us.

The question of an ideal site for the work is an interesting one. From one point of view, maybe I'm not doing a lot - producing an instruction and then benefiting from all of the emotional power that the workers' videos bring with them. However, the development of General Intellect involved a lot of experimentation with finding the tipping point at which I was not being so directive that I was telling workers exactly what to do, but not being so loose that the videos would have been too random. On their own, the videos are one thing, but once they are put back into the system they were designed for, they reveal a pattern and generate something new. And so the works need to be seen together in order to get that. I don't think the Amazon store is a good place for that - it's not really a place to view things, to see the works. It's format (excerpts, browser, small videos) is not how the work wants to be viewed. The work's site is not the Amazon store; that focuses the project on its 'product' too much. I see the store as a conceptually appropriate distribution method for the work, which draws out important aspects of the work, but it is not where the work could solely exist. And like Julia mentions about the schoolhouse as site, there was definitely an accentuation of the project by being there, in such juxtaposition and proximity to Amazon's campus.

Picking up on Julia's comment about artists putting their work on thrones rather than directly in the mix - I think we need to decide what art is for. Do we want art to be capable of operating directly within real-world systems, or do we want it to just paint pictures of them. It’s a bit like the difference between a landscape painting and Land Art. It is one thing to make something visible (from a distance), it is another to make the work comply with that thing's logic in order to reveal things that are not readily apparent. The kinds of issues that I think art needs to tackle are really complex, and there shouldn't be safe distance for anyone - artists, curators, artwork, audiences, critics, collectors. I think the work needs to implicate all of us, and frankly traditional media and a lot of the critical vocabularies that accompany it aren't well positioned to do that. For me, Jen Graves' discomfort with the project being put back into the Amazon marketplace exposes some of those conventional expectations of what art is for and where it should be sited and sold. Julia asked what line gets crossed when General Intellect gets made available for sale on Amazon. I think that line is our relationship with the internet and the uncomfortable reality of all the things that that brings with it.

Spring 2016


Neither One Thing or Another


The Jerwood/FVU Awards are major awards for moving-image artists in the first five years of their practice. 

The fourth edition of the awards is called Neither One Thing or Another is open to applicants from 12 January – 11 March 2016. Two artists will be selected to receive a £20,000 commission each which will show at Jerwood Space, London in 2017. The selection panel includes Steven Bode, Director, FVU; Duncan Campbell, artist and Turner Prize 2014 winner; Cliff Lauson, Curator, Hayward Gallery; Amy Sherlock, Reviews Editor, Frieze and Sarah Williams, Head of Programme, Jerwood Visual Arts.

To date the Jerwood/FVU Awards have endowed funds of £152,000 to support ten of the most exciting new talents to emerge on the contemporary art scene: Ed Atkins, Lucy Clout, Kate Cooper, Anne Haaning, Emma Hart, Karen Kramer, Naheed Raza, Marianna Simnett, Corin Sworn and Alice May Williams.

The Theme

We live in a time of transition: where some of the certainties that used to shape the world around us are starting to blur, or split apart. It can sometimes feel as if we are between one phase or place and another, without fully belonging to either one. As an expression of our uncertain contemporary standpoint, to be ‘neither one thing or another’ can imply a sense of falling between two stools.  But it can also be interpreted much more positively: unaffiliated and unattached; resistant to being superficially bracketed, while itching to define oneself differently. Either way, the various meanings of the phrase speak to a prevailing contemporary impulse while hinting at an underlying ambiguity and insecurity that is equally symptomatic of today.

Recent Press: Seattle Magazine and City Arts

Thanks to Seattle Magazine for their January issue feature on Aktionsart and to City Arts for honoring Julia Fryett (Founder & Director, Aktionsart) on their 2016 Future List as one of twelve innovators who will define the coming year!

Photo by Hayley Young

The Top 20 Most Talented People in Seattle
Featuring Julia Fryett
February 2016 Seattle Magazine

Aktionsart Unifies Art and Tech
January 2016 Seattle Magazine
Jim Demetre

The Bridge-Builder: Julia Fryett
CityArts 2016 Future List
Amanda Manitach

Aktionsart Artists at Sundance 2016

Congratulations to Lucy Walker, Jonathan Monaghan and Kalup Linzy on their inclusion in the Sundance 2016 New Frontier program! Aktionsart had the enormous pleasure of working with these off-the-chart talents for Black Box 2.0 (Monaghan, Linzy) and Amfest Moscow (Walker).

If you haven't yet seen THE LION'S MOUTH OPENS (Walker), we can't recommend enough that you catch it on HBO. Walker's first foray into virtual reality, A HISTORY OF CUBAN DANCE, premieres this week at Sundance.

Presented at Black Box 2.0, ESCAPE POD (Monaghan), is also showing at Sundance and was highlighted by The Telegraph as their favorite installation in New Frontier

Linzy, who premiered three new works at Black Box 2.0, brings his multi-platform melodrama QUEEN ROSE FAMILY (DA STORIES) to Sundance.

Lucy Walker

A History of Cuban Dance

Still from A HISTORY OF CUBAN DANCE (2016).

Organic, spontaneous, sexy dances progress chronologically through Afro-Cuban Santería rumba, mambo, cha-cha-chá, salsa, breakdancing, and reggaeton, with optional audio tracks reflecting the broader story of Cuban history as revealed in the moves. Palpable and transporting, this live-action virtual reality documentary was filmed on location in Cuba and features Ballet de la Televisión Cubana.

More Info

Kalup Linzy

Queen Rose Family (Da Stories)


Kalup Linzy (Sweet, Sampled, and Left Ova, 2010 Sundance Film Festival) returns to the Festival, bringing this outrageously campy, multi-platform world where tragedy strikes the Queen Rose family. Conversations Wit De Churen X: One Life To Heal and Conversations Wit De Churen IX XI XII: Dayz of Our Egochronicle the story of Taiwan Braswell’s disappearance. Amidst the musings and melodrama saturating all reaches of his family tree, Taiwan performs his signature tune "Asshole" from beyond the human dimension (manifested via the Pepper’s ghost installation). This mash-up of fine art, music video, and trashy daytime soap opera features an ensemble cast including Tunde Adebimpe and Michael Stipe.

More Info

Jonathan Monaghan

Escape Pod

Still from ESCAPE POD.

This seamlessly looped 20-minute computer-animated film invites you to join a golden deer as it traverses glossy, surreal environments of wealth, power, and authority. Composed of one continuous tracking shot, this visually fantastic journey imagines a new reality devoid of human bodies, left only with material desires and ambitions of power.

More Info

City of Seattle Public Art Plan

City Center Public Art Plan

UPDATED CALL: The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, (ARTS) in partnership with Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will commission one artist, or artist team of no more than two, to work with SDOT and ARTS staff to research, develop, and create a Public Art Plan for downtown Seattle based on current capital projects in Seattle's downtown core. SDOT's Center City projects include, but are not limited to: the Center City Connector (1st Avenue streetcar), Third Avenue Transit Corridor Improvements, and Pike/Pine Improvements Project. The selected artist will guide and influence the development of a public art plan that creates a robust, cohesive, and long-range vision for SDOT's 1% for Art programming in Seattle's downtown core.


This call is open to all professional artists residing in the United States and British Columbia and who are eligible to work in the U.S.


The new budget for this project is $45,000. The artist will receive $22,500.00 for phase I, the initial six months of the residency. $22,500.00 will be available for the art master plan development and delivery. All project fees are all inclusive of travel expenses, taxes and other project costs. Current Washington state sales/use tax rates apply to all artist contracts issued during the project, regardless of where the artist resides. This project is funded by Seattle Department of Transportation 1% for Art funds.


February 9, 2016


Phase I – Research/Residency
The selected artist will be commissioned to guide and influence the development of a public art plan that creates a robust, cohesive, and long-range vision for SDOT’s 1% for Art programming in Seattle’s downtown core. The artist will work for approximately six months, beginning April 2016 and running through September 2016. During Phase 1 of the project, the artist will work with SDOT staff, project design team consultants such as SvR Design Company, and project stakeholders and community members, in addition to other city partners, such as the Department of Planning and Development, Department of Neighborhoods, Lake2Bay, and Downtown Seattle Association/Municipal Improvement District to examine Seattle’s capital projects in the downtown core. A work space is available in SDOT, if helpful to the position, but some work may be conducted remotely. SDOT liaisons will help the artist understand the work of the department, arrange meetings and site visits, facilitate meet-the-artist activities, staff meetings, and one-on-one meetings with SDOT and partner staff.  The artist may also interview community members, business stakeholders, or government departments participating in downtown developments.
The artist's study and research activities will inform a public art master plan that willbring cohesion to the various capital projects slated for downtown Seattle. At mid-point of the first six-months of the research period, the artist will present a progress report to SDOT and ARTS staff indicating possible directions for the art master plan. Upon completion of the six-month research, the artist will prepare and deliver a final report including an outline for the art master plan. The artist’s proposal will be reviewed by SDOT and the Office of Arts & Culture.

Phase II – Public Art Master Plan
Using the information gathered during the research phase, the artist will develop a Public Art Master Plan that outlines potential for public art projects to be incorporated into SDOT’s capital projects in downtown Seattle. The artist will be encouraged to develop a plan that provides the following:

  • Cohesive Vision: outlines a conceptually cohesive, multi-disciplinary approach to art projects and programming that connects individuals and communities to SDOT’s efforts to enhance the experience of all users; pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, and drivers.
  • Budgets: works with Office of Arts & Culture to coordinate SDOT 1% for Art allocations and develop appropriately scaled and budgeted artwork projects while allowing future commissioned artists to develop their own conceptual approaches.
  • Equity and Cultural Space: creates a plan that is inclusive of and addresses the broad diversity of Seattle’s communities
  • Artistic Elements: creates a typology for public art by examining what artistic elements are appropriate and where; including, but not limited to, lighting, sound art, sculptural objects, wayfinding, temporary projects, and more. The artist can show successful precedents and may have the opportunity to propose future projects for their own work.
  • Impactful Sites: identifies highly visible, easily accessible, and symbolic sites shared by many user groups while providing history and context of downtown as a whole.
  • Programmatic Directions: identifies project types, precedents, partners, and resources; with a special focus on opportunities for temporary projects, community engagement, broader city priorities, and diverse disciplines.
  • Public Art and Private Development: acknowledges and provides guidelines and tools for private artwork, linking developers’ public art investments to broader urban design and aesthetic goals.


Tuesday, February 9,  2016, 11 p.m. PST – deadline for application
Tuesday, February 23, 2016 – selection panel convenes to review applications
Tuesday, March 22, 2016 – finalists interviewed by selection panel
April 2016 – artist contracted