For two years I have been working on an art project.

I’m not sure whether the concept predated when I first heard James Allard’s lecture on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but the lecture is a great demonstration of how labeling does interpretive work when it comes to art.

Presented with a digital file, we may struggle to decide what it is in both a technical and artistic sense.

Perhaps it’s an HTML file with embedded image files being displayed in a web browser, or the raw data from the sensor of a digital camera. In either case, it’s also an object within a software and operating system-defined architecture and also bits physically written to some data storage medium.

From an artistic perspective, it may be a line from a play quoted in a piece of art which has been photographed and posted online (or a screenshot of a cell phone app displaying a tweet of a digital photo posted online of a print of a photograph taken illicitly in an art gallery, on display in that art gallery).

The multiple presentations of the same data are the idea of interest: like all the exposure and white balance modifications that can be applied to a raw file from a digital camera, meaning that every photograph arising from that process is an interpretation.

These experiments are also intriguing insofar as they concern cybernetic relationships between individuals, organizations that archive data (like search engines), algorithms nobody fully understands, and governments. The location of a data file on the internet does everything to establish its visibility and significance.

The idea of the project is that every distinct work within it is presented to the viewer with multiple possible modes of interpretation, whether they are based on data architecture, metadata, or the cultural and political content of the human-readable image.



Prior to Thursday, I can’t say for sure whether I had heard of Sojourner Truth, an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist born into slavery in New York around 1797 and perhaps best known for her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech.

It’s interesting as a primary source historical document in part because the speech was delivered extemporaneously and the most widely-discussed account, by Frances Dana Barker Gage, seems likely to have been substantially modified.

I am reading Carleton Mabee’s 1993 book Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend.

It will perhaps be a useful corrective to the history of feminism I have been taught in various political science and political theory classes, which in my experience tend to begin with Mary Wollstonecraft‘s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman or with the suffragette movement in Britain or America.

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2014: Clara

2013: The scale of our energy challenge, Lauren

2011: The Hound of the Baskervilles

2010: Ottawa solar power workshops, Six Easy Pieces

2009: Anthropogenic climate change: evidence from isotopic ratios, The IPCC, climate, and consensus

2008: Oil tanker captured off Somalia, Climate change and forest management

2007: IPCC 4AR SPM, The Bottom Billion, ‘Nuclear weapons sharing’ in Europe

2006: A market for kidneys?

2005: Not particularly notable day (and dietary justifications)




Along with The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Phillip Pullman’s essay “Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms” must be one of his most radical pieces of writing. It corresponds to his general concern about lack of oversight over powerful institutions and speaks out powerfully against the authoritarianism that can arise in parallel with public fear:

And the new laws whisper:

We do not want to hear you talking about truth

Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours

We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on

We do not want to hear you talking about innocence

Innocent means guilty of things not yet done

We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence

You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt

We do not want to hear you talking about justice

Justice is whatever we want to do to you

And nothing else

One early passage in his new novel La Belle Sauvage evokes a similar theme:

She tried to keep a steady pace. She had nothing to fear from the police, or from any other agency, except like every other citizen she had everything to fear. They could lock her up with no warrant and keep her there with no charge; the old act of habeus corpus had been set aside, with little protest from those in Parliament who were supposed to look after English liberty, and now one heard tales of secret arrests and imprisonment without trial, and there was no way of finding out whether the rumors were true. (p. 153–4)

Authors like Pullman and Margaret Atwood play a valuable societal role in drawing attention to such dangers: that fear will drive us to hand over control to unaccountable entities and that a drift toward dystopia is possible. Among all the dangers we face, we mustn’t forget the nightmares the state is capable of imposing.