[PILL] all just fresh-off-the-boat or floating thread

It took me sometime trying to reorganize how to realize my PILL project while looking for fitted directions to understand it better what protocols can be and can be for. I’m learning from the process when having to pitch and talk about this project and my participation in SoP, as my explanations could vary from introducing a personal narrative about living between places, pointing to our different sociopolitical and technological participations here and afar, to pondering on theorizing what it is to “make art with protocols.” Meanwhile, I feel like I’m still craving for more substantial and constructive conversations with people to establish an on-going research as well as to narrow down for a first draft of the PILL project. Therefore, I wanted to start this thread to share some of my lingering thoughts taken from my notes and would be really grateful hear any of your thoughts!

Here’s my original PILL RFC -

Updated notes to think further with:

This is to make a video under the, maybe an imagined one for now, protocalized reality where we’re always already all using a virtual private network as the norm, or knowingly as the protocol itself. We need to rely on such protocol to see an internet of a different reality that is paralleled to ours. Only with secured and hidden pathways, we could break through new borders that will be constantly built and rebuilt already between nodes and addresses, between existing protocols and systems, (references may be drawn from immigrants traveling through tunnels or swimming across oceans when trying to reach another border; or masked protesters on the street in order to be protected). In other words, this work is only possible under a protocol which will constantly be revived or reiterated in order to reconnect us between geopolitical borders—as well as technopolitical borders in the virtual world that was promised to be connected by the internet—that constantly set itself apart.

As naive as it may sound, since it always is described as such, I’m interested in the protocol and art that connect “worlds.” I wonder if it makes sense now to take reference again from the early net.art era (while having in mind other “telematic art” works) where “art happens here,” thinking with the Simple Net Art Diagram created by MTAA in 1997 (and the Complex Net Art Diagram by Abe Linkoln (Rick Silva) from 2003 on the same Net Art Anthology site shows a richer diagram for thinking towards a protocol one): i wonder if today we could think towards the possibility with protocols which also make art happen here, exactly in the in-between spaces for making, organizing, being together…, not only between machines but also between different systems or protocols.

I’ve always been thinking about tools, the tools we use in making the art (for me it was film/video, performance, network-related projects) that could be our materials, mediums, aesthetics, process, methods etc… The word tools can probably be gong-ju(工具) in Chinese, but maybe I’m more thinking about ji-shu(技术), techniques or tactics, or just technological tools, tech, especially because the character ji/技 is also used in the word ke-ji(科技) as technology. Anyways, I also say that my relationship with using a tool, a tech, or a machine began with my relationship with the camera…, thinking through what the camera gaze could reveal about the photographic history of its own inventions as well as the “truth” of the world it captures between the power dynamics between who’s in front and who’s behind the tool. I used to rely too much on the “master’s tools” theory by Audre Lorde, which was also over-cited, and thought I couldn’t shoot anymore as a way to revolt and find the alternatives. However, gradually I understood that it would be difficult to completely “opt out” from any tools or systems. It is not only one type of tool or machine from and for one single environment that we’re using and creating with, but growingly we need to understand broader contexts in our evolving conflicts in today’s post-globalized world.

For more examples, I could no longer simply use a Sony camera designed in Japan, produced in China, with methods of film productions (with all due respect to the professionalism and hierarchies) refined in the United States, while tipping toes through tints of other independent and alternative methods inspired from other guerrilla groups and avant-gardes… Similarly, inspired by Euro-American theories and philosophies, methods of New York media artists today working on DIY and self-serving low tech to revolt and stand in solidarity with, as well as movements of the counterculture, open source, and cryptoanarchy movements etc…, it’s hard to adopt the same methods from a different time and place to have the same power, effect, and affect in other spaces. How can we use all these inspirations to address every situated reality that is distant and remote from all those above, while constantly still having in mind of problems that are afar? I believe in the need to be attentive to physical and virtual realities, methods, and tools, especially if we’re making with technological tools today, that are same or different from ours, here and afar, to make work in a more, perhaps wholesome, way.

With all these mentioned, it also comes to my cautiousness when thinking about making art with any tools at all, especially that of medium, or media, which has its innate power for communication, broadcasting, propagandizing etc… It could be easy to only use such tool, or a language, to carry out potential ideologies when using such media. Otherwise, I’m trying to think in terms of building with these media and tools, or if today it’s with protocols, in the thinking of aesthetics (Jacques Rancière). Therefore, it also makes me very much interested in also thinking with literacy (as the important goal of PILL), if it’s necessary to examine literacy for communities in the expansion of ideologies from churches, governments, capitals etc. to encourage the public to learn with texts, images, coding (thinking with Annette Vee’s research and book, Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming Is Changing Writing), and if today, it’s with protocols. With these in mind, I’m thinking reflexively and critically with what it means to make creative work while it is also to bring forth both literacy and possibilities with protocols. (I also am curious in looking into: in terms of “protocol studies,” how can we explore and understand it with existing studies and theories looking at media and technology such as “software studies” led by Matthew Fuller and others, which I’m still slowly learning from. perhaps it is true that down the road, from the so-called media art, digital art, software art etc… we’d have some so-called protocol art…?)

Perhaps it then all comes down to the problem with the geopolitical divisions… Cracks are created not only between lands, but it is also affecting the virtual worlds built with the internet upon these geopolitical lands–our online virtual realities continue to be a separated one, for example, geo blocks perhaps are beginning to affect more. I wonder if working with protocols can be inherently transnational/cultural and cross-geopolitical-border-address-node-… I wonder how to create aesthetics while creating our own protocols, if that means not only to merely utilize a tool, nor to sit with only inventing a tool, but to also think with other elements that consist of what a protocol can be: methods, communities, rules, governance, etc., if it means to create a space where we can be suspended, float, and co-exist… if that’s a space for multiple identities, multiple worlds with possibilities to hide, to un-expose, to disguise, to be private… that could happen all at the same time.

(i actually wonder how much of these thoughts could relate to what ActivityPub is about, or cross-chain/layer protocols in blockchain… would love to hear more of your advise on this from this group here… or is it not necessary to go that far just yet…)

As I reflect on my turn-around with the impossibility to completely “opt out” nowadays, I realize maybe it is closer to what a protocolized reality is about and to create work with. Therefore, I’m paving the set-up of my video for this project one that’s “always already” living in a protocalized world with virtual private networks (to-be-defined better). (With the use of “always already,” I’m resonating with Rey Chow’s texts where she also uses this phrase when posing questions to European influences and theories as well as a postwar American academic world on fields like “area studies” and “comparative literature,” discussed in her book, The Age of the World Target: Self-referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Work. I’m thinking with these “always-alreadys” as our inevitable yet realities working with varies protocols.)

“… it [the conjunction of “Post-European Culture and the West”] designates a relation of temporality, with Europe being experienced not exactly spatially (as a chartable geographical location) but much more as a memory, a cluster of lingering ideological and emotional effects whose force takes the form of a lived historical violation, a violation that preconditions linguistic and cultural consciousness… To be precise, the post-European culture is caught between this ‘always already’ present that is Europe, on the other hand, and the histories and traditions it must now live as its pasts, on the other—pasts that nonetheless continue to erupt as so many suppressed indices of time with forgotten and/or unfinished potentialities.”


a rough outline for the video project (to-be-worked-on) -
(This research could potentially evolve into other forms that’s more fitted in the future but will start with a prototype in the video form as an initial research for observations.)

  • HOW to make it

    • track my own IP addresses hopping between servers — how far can it go, what are its limitations
    • track a proxy IP address, where else can it go? what can it see?
    • track an encrypted IP address, where else can it go? what can it see?
    • track a wallet address, its transactions and applications etc…
    • track and live multiple online identities, social accounts…
  • HOW to see it

    • the old video/cinematic protocol: screen it in the movie theater; or i give you a link to the video to play it on your browser and desktop…
    • protocol now: …
  • Lastly, how “hybrid ethnographic documentary”?

    • time: screen-time
    • space: path-routes
    • subject: those who are masked, dressed in costumes, and encrypted with switchable codes in the disguise; virtual lives who urgently choose to cross-server or cross-node for survival and necessity, who cannot choose to permanently join any communities, for those who sense an inevitable desire to parasitically latch on to familiarity and privacy as ways to build connections, and for those who hesitate to comply to one protocol yet relying on some.
    • happenings: lurking, indulging, surveilling, participating, and disengaging
    • change of status through multiple IP or wallet addresses

*more recent thoughts - from the SoP23 essays read in this week’s meeting and the discussions in our breakout room, I was only starting to realize the constant existence of protocols that can be resilient, endless, and haunting, even until and after the end/death of it. I love it that in Shuya Gong’s Exit to Protocol, she started the essay with introducing the tv series Fleabag for its 1. breaking the fourth wall, and 2. ending after only two seasons. It caught my attention that “ending the series” could be just the same device of “breaking the fourth wall” the show uses, as a way to be reflexive in its calling attention to ending the, if I could call it, protocol time of the side of the film set or plot, while starting another set of its protocol time for, as Gong writes in the footnotes, “simultaneous shock, relief, and plot enablement.” It brilliantly echos with the whale fall that she writes at the end of her essay, “where the death of a whale and its subsequent decay process after falling to the ocean floor creates an energy-rich habitat and frees up nutrients to incubate rapidly evolving new life forms that all thrive in similar but previously non-existent conditions.” I was also very fascinated and inspired by Sarah Friend’s research Good Death, from watching the Salon after the meeting… to look for these “protracted liminal state” in “death-as-a-process” to engage, to pay attention, and to transit with between worlds, the worlds that are “dead but haven’t been fully shut down”…

I’m now thinking if I were to find the “in-between” space between nodes and addresses as a protocol itself in one that’s traveling in a “virtual private network” for those who will not stay with one existing protocol, could I also embrace some of the liberating spirits from voluntarily exiting some protocols, while building and bridging possibilities for “new forms of life”, if that means a protocol for the “in-between” that’s resilient, revolting, attentive, continuous, liminal…, while keeping in mind the importance to leave space for its exit and death…


leaving my thank-yous here to my friends who are starting to chat more with me about these…

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there’s so much here that i’m excited about & connecting with stuff i’m thinking about! here are a few rough and roughly sketched thoughts:

  • the phrase “always already” keeps sticking with me and find myself really drawn to it too

    • i’m connecting it with a chapter from “against purity” by alexis shotwell that i was re-reading last week where she talks about an ethics of entanglement as a way to resist purity thinking in ethical choice (ie, there is no “outside,” so what does it look like to be deliberately committed to the entanglements of “inside”?). the chapter is a little light on what this might actually look like in practice, but the one example she shares is naoto matsumura who moves to fukushima’s exclusion zone to care for cattle that would otherwise be killed because they can’t serve their “purpose” as food.

      “And when I say that I do not think we should all move to the exclusion zone, part of what I mean is that of course there is no exclusion zone, or that we are already living in one–we already live in this world thoroughly connected with all of the suffering that individualist practices of purity attempt to manage”

    • always already in the exclusion zone, always already engaged in misdirection, always already reconnecting (to riff on and borrow a few phrases you wrote)
  • i read the vpn in the way that you’re talking about it as not being removed / outside / free from / separate from systems of surveillance, identity, and sovereign power and control. it exists because of and in response to technologies of surveillance. maybe there can be pleasure in using “dirty” tools, maybe the whole point is using “dirty” tools, and that’s an essential part of the camouflage that they might offer?

  • ip addresses as a way to use “addressable space” to be “inaddressable” or “unaddressable”?

  • the visual and embodied sense of “tunneling” and “burrowing” is an evocative and affective image for me – i’m not sure why! but i find it compelling the way you’re describing digital self / location in a language that hints at / snags on language of the body.

  • i’m also thinking about the concept of bridges in tor and lantern’s work on peer-to-peer proxies for censorship circumvention, where you can offer your connection as a bridge to someone else. (i think i saw a tiny demo of this not too long ago, where all you need to do is use/have the lantern browser, and it’ll do the proxy work in the bg.) the work of tunneling is a kind of collective act and a service of care. to build a bridge for a stranger.

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wowww thank you so so much for all these rich responses!! i love every point you left here and will need to chew on further to return with better thoughts.

but quickly -

  • this alexis shotwell quote and reference is so good! i will look more into it. making me think about what is really to be done, like what matsumura does to care for the cattle, in these “always-alreadys”… and the discussion of “entanglement” also caught my eyes–it’s interesting that i was also drawn by another text of rey chow’s (same author from whom i quoted from), from her book entanglements, or transmedial thinking about capture, which was liberating also in looking for more possibilities in the capture/entanglements whether it’s for survival or others…
  • i love the “pleasure in using ‘dirty’ tooks”! there is indeed a layer of luck/pleasure/enjoyment in these tools, maybe with a little grin? and was also talking with a friend (quoting a discussion with yisi here) on this trend of “misuse” with the vpn as they weren’t designed to be used exclusively in the way how we use it to dodge these systems, especially sovereign power and control.
  • and thank you for making the reference to “addressable space”! and it’d be interesting for me to also find out what’s the “inaddressable” and “unaddressable”
  • and to your last two bullet points: thanks for the bridging reference in tor! also important to note that “tunneling is a kind of collective act and a service of care. to build a bridge for a stranger.” !!! <3
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