Behind White Shadows

The jpeg image compression technology is one of the most archaic, but at the same time most contemporary artifacts from the realm of image processing. The algorithm still - since its release in 1992 - absolutely dominates the field of image compression, while its basis - the DCT algorithm - is also used in other compression technologies.

Besides the DCT algorithm, the JPEG technology also gave light to a color test card called “Lenna”. It’s this image and its history that I focus on in the essay “Shirley, Lenna, Jennifer and the Angel of History” - in which Lenna is just one caucasian lady in the history of color test cards - others such as Shirley and Jennifer - have similar stories.

Lenna, a naked model originally featured as Playboy centerfold in 1972 now serves as a test image to tune and test all kinds of image technologies - often without permission or accreditation. This history of multiplication, objectification, the loss of face and name and finally the becoming of a vehicle for the implementation of racially biased image processing algorithms is a story that needs to be told. A story that - even though we should know better - still seems exemplary for contemporary image processing technologies.

I came across the story of Lenna when I was invited to tell my own story of losing my face to the internet - losing an image produced in 2010, but which, through its many copies and appropriations no longer seemed to belong to me. In this way I experienced how strange it can be when your face becomes “just pixels”.

Last June I was asked to lend the image to Vogue (the magazine). I took this as an opportunity to reclaim the image in the only way I could imagine possible - by renaming the portrait formally known as “Blinx (from a Vernacular or File Formats)” to “A Testcard for De-calibration”. With this small, probably to most invisible action, I wish to call out the discourse of color test cards and promote the consideration and creation of alternatives.

We are at war with image processing technologies - a war that takes place on many levels; the way in which images are produced, the biased ideologies they internalize, the levels of (fake) reality they offer us but also all the parts of reality they do not capture and the economies they sustain. 

And every war needs a patch,
So we can show what side we are on!


Slides of the course "Beyond Resolution" now online!

Beyond Resolution / Studying Occult Affordances
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Last semester I had the great luck to work as deputy professor in Kassel, so I spend a lot of time on developing the course and its slides.

I took it as an opportunity to think through my own practice and inspirations and to describe the field in which I work. I think the slides highly reflect this, so I am sure its biased and I welcome any critique and additions. I think I finally kind of finished putting all the slides online now, so here they are:

Resolution Dispute 0000 : Habit 
Resolution Dispute 0001 : Materiality 
Resolution Dispute 0010 : Genealogy vs. /his/tory I, II, III 
Resolution Dispute 0011: Institutional Tactics I, II, III 
Resolution Dispute 0100 : Scaling as Violence

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Beyond Resolution / Studying Occult Affordances

Beyond Resolution / Studying Occult Affordances
After years of being on a never ending tour, I finally found a place to take a rest and come home to. 

Now I am finding the time to pull all my work and research of the last years together and develop it in the way I intended. Unfortunately, the format of a blog feels not right for this. This is why I am leaving Sunshine in My Throat for now and moving on to Beyond Resolution. 


▋▅█▉▝▊ || TRANSMEDIALE 2017 :: 3 papers and DCT:SYPHONING. The 1000000th (64th) interval.

DCT:SYPHONING. 64th Interval
 ▋▅█▉▝▊ ||Hey Berlin && Transmediale family! 
I am really pleased to invite you to the performance of DCT:SYPHONING during – transmediale 2017 ever elusive –! The DCTs will start Syphoning straight after Morehshin and Daniel's German #ADDITIVISM Cookbook launch, which will take place on Saturday, February 4th, 6pm and features the recipe to read and write in DCT!
Besides the performance I will part take in two smaller events: The release of the Transmediale Reader on Post-digital Practices, Concepts, and Institutions, which will have launch event on Friday the 3th of February and straight after it the Machine Research publication.
This little collection of works released during Transmediale is rather special; its not just 3 printed papers and one artwork. All of them work in connection and together they form some of the little pieces of this little universe I have been working on for a while now; an ecology of compression complexities...
thats all very exciting for me and too abstract and complex for a facebook post, but how exciting to think that even the PAL and the Angel of History get to have a cameo! And then there are blocks and wavelets and vectors connecting the dots...
I have to say I am always a bit confused and slightly worried about what it means to 'perform' VR, so lets see how this experiment progresses. But whatever happens, it will be exciting to finally see this work in its final version, after being a work in progress for about 2 years.

Thanks to Stimuleringsfonds for making this possible!

 ▋▅█▉▝▊ || DCT:SYPHONING. The 1000000th (64th) interval.
Conceived by Rosa Menkman

About the work
A modern translation of the 1884 Edwin Abbott Abbott roman "Flatland", explains some of the algorithms at work in digital image compression. 
Inspired by Syphon, an open source software by Tom Butterworth and Anton Marini, in DCT:SYPHONING, an anthropomorphised DCT (Senior) narrates its first SYPHON (data transfer) together with DCT Junior, and their interactions as they translate data from one image compression to a next (aka the “realms of complexity”).
As Senior introduces Junior to the different levels of image plane complexity, they move from the macroblocks (the realm in which they normally resonate), to dither, lines and the more complex realms of wavelets and vectors. Junior does not only react to old compressions technologies, but also the newer, more complex ones which ‘scare' Junior, because of their 'illegibility'.  

Every image plane environment is made in a 3D Unity Level, and per level, artefacts from another realm of compression form the textural basis of the chapter.

Background of the work (DCT, 2015): 
In 2015 Menkman developed DCT for the exhibition "Design my Privacycommissioned by MOTI museum, Breda, Netherlands, which won a shared first price in the 2015 Crypto Design Challenge. The work DCT (2015) formed the basis for "DCT:SYPHONING. The 1000000th (64th) interval" (2015-2016).

 ▋▅█▉▝▊ || The basic premise of “DCT” (2015):
The legibility of an encrypted message does not just depend on the complexity of the encryption algorithm, but also on the placement of the data of the message. 
Discreet Cosine Transform (DCT) is a mathematical technique, that has been used since 1973, but only became widely implemented in 1992, when the JPEG image compression technology started using it as a core component. In the case of the JPEG compression, a DCT is used to describe a finite set of patterns, called macroblocks, that could be described as the 64 character making up the JPEG image, adding lumo and chroma values (light and color) as ‘intonation’. If an image is compressed correctly, its macroblocks become ‘invisible’, while any incidental trace of the macroblocks is generally ignored as artifact or error. 
Keeping this in mind, Menkman developed DCT, a font that can be used on any TTF supporting device. DCT appropriates the algorithmic aesthetics of JPEG macroblocks to mask its 'secret' message as error. The encrypted message, hidden on the surface of the image is only legible by the ones in the know.

 ▋▅█▉▝▊ || Production history of DCT:SYPHONING
DCT:SYPHONING was first commissioned by the Photographers Gallery in London, for the show Power Point Polemics. 
This version was on display as a powerpoint presentation .ppt (Jan - Apr 2016). 

A 3 channel video installation was conceived for the 2016 Transfer Gallery's show "Transfer Download", first installed at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco (July - September, 2016)
The final form of DCT:SYPHONING will be in VR, as part of DiMoDA’s Morphe Presence on show right now at RISD, NYC. (jan 6-may14 2017)

DCT:SYPHONING. The 1000000th (64th) interval is dedicated to Nasir Ahmed and Lena JPEG Soderberg.
A Spomenik for Resolutions (that would never be)
A warm thank you go out to Transfer Gallery (Kelani Nichole) and DiMoDA (William Robertson and Alfredo Salazar-Caro)