This is the first entry to this HTML page that is hosted on my self hosted server that sits on a bookshelf in my home in Wavertree, Liverpool.
The aim of this server is to act as reflective document for the practice based projects I am undertaking as part of studying towards a MPhil/PhD in the Visual Cultures department at Goldmsiths. As my thesis concerns how self discipline operates in an arts practice that is based online, I have decided to 'refuse' the easy option of an online readymade blog or the perks of a word processor and decided, as far as possible, to build this document from the 'ground up'. This means using a Rasperry Pi 3 running a basic installation of Apache server to add this document to the internet. As my home router is assigned a dynamic ip on each startup I use dyn.cx a service that updates the dynamic IP with a static hostname, in my case it is this address http://www.dyns.cx/. I am writing this in 'TextMate' a text editor that supports various languages, as this is for publishing to web browsers it is written in HTML. I have chosen to do this for two reasons.
1. My working documents consists of a mix of sketchpads, which, on reflection amount to little more than a series of to-do lists, usernames and passwords, ip addresses and occaisional refelctions that on re-reading are difficult to place into any meaningful context, directories full of images and an artists website. This website is hosted in a data center, in Manchester, and I rent this space from 34sp, who in trun rent this space from Equinix - one of the largest providers of data services in the world. This website is something of a 'shop window' through which I present more or less resolved part sof my research, papers, exhibitions, projects etc. As my thesis develops I have come to the conclusion that some sort of middle ground document is required as evidence of practice, one that is not as chaotic as my hand written book, nor a 'resolved' as my website.
2. This website, in how it is built, written and hosted, is an opportunity to put into practice some of the ideas from my thesis around asceticism, working with less, and becoming closer, somehow, to the data that I produce and provide to others. Working in this way, installing, configuring and writing this document provides opportunity for learning in the absence of many of the usual tools for web publishing (even in this document, there is no spell checker and formatting has to be with tags)
This server has actually been running for well over a year and is not a new idea. From my notebook I can see that the username and password were first recorded on the 6th of June 2017. It was my intention to use it as a location to store research material, which it still does. There are directories of image files and a directory of incidental writing. This, however, does not feel sufficiently enough organised as documentation to potentially hand in, whereas a long HTML page, or the server itself, might serve that purpose better. I'm not sure if it is approporiate to submit a HTML page as part of a PhD thesis, but in the context of this research perhaps it is.
The main body of my PhD outlines the theoretical basis for my research, so I am keen to avoid repeating that writing here. It is worth, however, briefly describing them to help put further discussion of practice based experiments into context. The thesis explores self discipline, and how it is exercised on teh internet. To that end i have outlined how teh role self discipline has played in subjectification, initially taking a historical view, looking at asceticism and it's influence on early capitalism then how this self discipline has morphed during late capitalism into what I call 'perverse asceticism' that is engaged with perpetual cosumption and expansion. Arguably, the subject is defined through process of restless aquisition and production of a limited set of signs, resulting in a limited set of cues from which primordial narcisissm (to quote Bernard Stiegler) can construct the self, and position itself in realtion to a community. One alternative, I suggest, is to revisit asceticism and try out alternatives to the current 'perverse' asceticism that is widely practiced now. As asceticism is just that, a practice, this cannot occur on a page, and must occur in activity itself. It is from this that my interest in self hosting and making local networks emerges.
My first experiments with locally hosted local area networks happened in September 2016 after I had set up a basic website with my ususal hosting provider then, as I mention above, realised that this host was part of Equinix - a global data solution provider, and wanted to try to make something that I could actually hold in my hand. I set up a Piratebox on a battery powered raspberry pi and took it along to Bergen Assembly. Piratebox uses a custom version of Raspian, a version of linux, with the software included and configured to turn a Raspberry Pi into a local wireless network with only a little bit of knowledge required. My rebadged version of Piratebox, OPEN Form allowed anyone within a 30m radius to chat and share files. The focus of Bergen Assembly that year was infrastructure, so I thought that offering an alternative to the predictably patchy institutional wifi of the conference was appropriate. I carried the Pi around in a bag for two days and it recieved som interaction - file sharing etc. As it was the first time (!) I had tried this I did not advertise it, nor was it part of the 'official' festival. I was happy for it just to be 'there' in the ether as an alternative for those who discovered it. This dilemma around how visible to make these networks has persisted.
From a technical perspective the main challenge for a relative networking/raspberry pi novice was the requirement to work with the command line. The comand line is , to quote from https://www.codecademy.com/articles/command-line-commands, "a text interface for your computer. It's a program that takes in commands, which it passes on to the computer's operating system to run." Although I have some experience of programming, using a text based interface to interact with the OS was quite a difficult transition to make from pointing and clicking in the Graphical User Interface (GUI) of windows or OSX. It was undoubtedly, for me, more difficult, less convenient, and took more time, however, I am sure that seasoned UNIX and LINIX users could whizz around their computers with little difficulty and might prefer this to the slower GUI. Somehow it felt as if I was shifting, in perhaps a tiny step, one step closer to the computer in terms of symbolic translations required for me to communicate with it and the rest of the net, from symbols to words (as I'm sure for each click on a GUI generates and deploys a similar textual command to the OS, which, after all, is built using text based languages including variations of C and Assembler).
There are two ongoing works that I am developing - EdgeHillGardenNet - a solar powered wireless local area network in a train station in Liverpool, and the Battle Mesh - a demin Jacket that broadcasts a signal to anyone within a 30 m radius. On this page I will write about them as they
Things on my radar - a timer for the Edge Hill Garden Network. As the station is closed during the night it is a good chance to turn off the network. (It is a timely issue as I have recently seen https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/, a solar powered web server that sometimes goes off due to a lack of sunshine in Barcelona. There was some debate on twitter about the necesity for it going offline. personally I think that this is ok...) I have tried using a Real Time Clock for the Raspberry Pi called Witty Pi that starts up and shuts down the pi according to a script. It works ok, but the problem is that the nano station that boosts the signal is still on an broadcasting an SSID that doesn't link to the pi/site anymore and wastes energy. With this in mind I have bought a cheap 12v timer that both nano station and pi can run from. the Pi also needs a 12v-3v step down converter so I've ordered one of those too. Having this network come on and off is important - why should it always be on? Why does anything need to be permanenetly available/active?
Also on my radar - I'm visiting the mast on Saturday to be part of an upcycling workshop. How do you upcycle a wifi mast? Also I've just found Ingrid Burrington's article from 2014 On Local Networks and Internet Freedom (http://sfaq.us/2014/11/on-local-networks-internet-freedom/) which voices some concerns that I share, about 'reclaiming' the internet and questioning the point of making a 30m network for people to communicate, but if they are that close together then maybe they should just speak? In the case of EdgeHill Garden Network the station is used all day, so people come at different times, and it allows them to communicate across teh day, and maybe just by the fact that they access local information perhaps they get a little more sense of community? (like local newspapers and so on)
An irony of working this way - trying to present this research in an appropriate format (not a sketchpad or a word doc) is that it is fraught with technical difficulties. In trying to set up this home server again I have found so many problems, there is no single online guide that works for the layman. I can set up the server, it works, but I cannot now add thsi page to it. It just shows the default apache page until I can add a new user to the server that allows me to set up an ftp server so I can upload the files.
Hence it is FRUSTRATING to constantly hitting the ceiling of my technical knowledge. WASTING loads of time trying to get something quiet simple to just work. Without devoting VAST amounts of time to understanding the ins and outs of netwroking/linux them I'm doomed to struggle setting these things up. If fact, this has become a key feature of this practice led research - a lack of specialist knowledge on my part. I have some, but along with the other aspects of research; reading and understanding theory, writing and so on, I cannot devote enough time to really getting to grips with the technology. Maybe I should, but I slightly begrudge it. Perhaps this is part of why the realtionship between digital or media art and contemporary art is a bit wierd (I have been reading Clair Bishops 'The Digital Divide' where she talks about how contemporary art has been 'curiously unresponsive to the total upheaval in our digital labour and leisure inaugurated by the digital revolution? While many artists use digital technology, how many really confrront the question of what it means to think, see and filter affect through the digital?') . Maybe working this way, with so much technical knowledge required is something that hasn't happened yet? Can it? I feel a bit technically stunted by knowledge of 'old media' processes, printmaking and so on (it's interesting to note that while learning to print you will still get some interesting results, a few suprises where mistakes often look better than successes, but in the realm of the command line all you get is an ERROR MESSAGEafter ERROR MESSAGE and there is nothing nice about those.)
In an effort to make the Wifi mast a part of the community garden rather than an invisible grey pole hiding against a wall, for an upcycling workihop run by Metal I've made three planters for the mast from old platers. The hold pots in which climing plants can grow and use the mast. The mast adds some vertical to an otheriwise relatively flat garden. We'll see.
I've also been addressing an ongoing issue around the low light level in the garden, and the smaller solar panel, both of which add up to the panel switching off due to not enough power in the battery. It's a bit of a bodge, but the pi and the nanostation are connected to a timer that cuts the power at 10.30pm and reconnects it at 7am. I also have to use a 12v to 3v step down converter so as to not overload the pi. This is not a very gracefiul solution, as it causes a hard shutdown of the pi, not good apparently, but it is the best I do for the moment. Running the Pi 24 hours a day just isn't practical. The architecture of the station is a major problem, thick and super high walls block so much light from the pamnel and interfere with the signal significantly. I am having to spend alot of time trying to fix it and it's still not right. I think I will just have to accept it as one of the unforseen limitations of the site and project. On the upside it has taught me alot about solar power, Volts, Amps and so on.
What to actually broadcast is also an ongoing issue. One of the interns at Metal, Youna, has been making slideshows, which has been helpful. I should contact people or maybe do an open call?
During time in Owego, at Signal Culture, I was working in getting an alternative solar wifi broadcast platform going. This is from thinking about how Medieval monks turned all of their garments into symbols of their relationship to god. Given my preoccupation with the slickness of the internet, how it is so anonymously integrated into objects, phones, masts and so on, I started thining about smart clothing and how it shares these charateristics. Anthing commercially wearable has the similar aesthetic to an e-cigarette shop, all smooth and sleek. Perhaps if I'm exploring a less sleek, more idiosyncratic mode of engagement then clothing could be a way of doing this? Battle Jackets that heavy metal fans wear have a strange sense of individualism and uniformity that I talk about in my thesis. Plus there is some interesting territory to be explored using flexible solar panels to power the thing.
So, while in Owego, I started to make a Broadcasting Battle Jacket. The initial effort was a pi with a battery sewn into the front a demin jacket. I broadcast a WLAN with a discussion forum on. It was just a repurposed Piratebox, like all of the other things I have done recently. While it was ok as a prototype, it is bit big and feels a bit heavy and clunky (but isn't that the point?). The powerfilm panel was too inflexible to incorporate, although it was waterproof etc. Seeing this would be the case quite quickly I ordered an Adafruit Feather HUZZAH ESP8266 board. It's a COM, or computer on module, that can broadcast a wifi signal, act as part of a mesh network etc. I've been playing with it since, it's like starting over as it's a different type computer to a pi.
I wrote a short tutorial about getting this little computer going on my personal website. While it's tricky, the ESP8266 is also quite limited, which is useful in the context of my thesis. Webpages on it have to be basic, only 4 people can connect to it at once (!) and so on. Perhaps it presents itself as the ascetic option....
Garden Network UpdateAK:> - despite having some nice daffodils planted round it for next spring the mast is not working, it's not sunny enough and there is too much shadow from the high walls. I'm at a loss, maybe now considering returning the 100w solar panel.
On the final weekend of the Signal Culture residency, before flying home, we went to NYC and I saw Zadie Xa's costumes at PS1 - it was pretty uncanny as she has been making customised costumes, or 'Magical Garments' as she calls them Hers are 'sites for exploring contemoporary identity constuction and performance through cultural sampling' (from the PS1 interpretation info). Being born in Canada as part of the asian diaspora her work combines diverse references that identiggfy the asian body as 'other'. Thinking about using clothing as a border site where things can be worked out, or one can focus ones relationship to external factors has caused me problems. In terms of my own visual language, as a middle aged white male, aguably middle class, the visual language I have to draw on is heavily 'regimented' - brand names, bands, scouts, football clubs, the army and so on. I could just igniore this and go for it - sew & attach whatever takes my fancy, but there seems to be alot of juvenalia that I dont identify with (emoji's and unicorns, butterfly's etc). If indeed the jacket is for me? To dodge this I am working with blank patches. What this means I'm not sure. There's everuy possibility that due to my own position of privelidge I've not been required to think in terms of 'magical garments' perhaps in the same way as Xa, or that I simply lack the imagination.