Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga

Structural Patterns

Reflections on Art, Technology and Society

They Took All My Money in One Day

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Walking along the 86th Street and 2nd Avenue Q platform, I heard screams of agony from a young voice. Between loud crying and guttural sounds, I distinguished the phrase, “They took all my money in one day.” The words repeated over and over as inconsolable screams with pauses only to breathe while crying.

I couldn’t see who the boy was, but as I quickened my pace out of curiosity and to reach the far end of the platform before the southbound Q arrived, the cries got louder and louder. Finally, I was in eyesight of the tortured creature; a boy who looked about six wearing a blue blazer, white shirt, and khaki trousers, light brown hair neatly parted to one side. The boy was accompanied by his father, an older middle-aged man, athletic in appearance.

The father kept his left hand on the boy, rubbing his back and gently squeezing the shoulder. His right hand held a briefcase. He was speaking softly trying to console the boy, but the boy did not appear to hear a word that the man said as the crying and screaming – “They took all my money in one day…” did not stop. The boy’s chest was heaving, large tears falling down his cheeks. In the short time that I could see them, I observed the boy’s face redden. Myself a father, I was intrigued. Had the boy been bullied by schoolmates who took his money?

I put aside my goal to make it to the far end of the train and board the last car, which at the Brooklyn Church Street stop leaves me right by the stairs leading toward my home. I was now hoping the train due in two minutes would be delayed so that I could learn about this boy’s lament.

The father and boy had slowly made their way to a steel bench at the center of the platform. The father sat down to be at eye level with the boy. They had their backs to the southbound side of the platform that I had been walking along. So I walked toward them, considering taking a seat on the same bench, but really just trying to get close enough to hear the father and get a sense of what had happened to this poor boy.

It was 3:30 in the afternoon and on my way to the subway, I had walked past similarly uniformed boys of various ages. Certainly, this boy attended an Upper East Side private school – The Buckley School or Saint David’s maybe Dalton? Perhaps his money was spent by the twelve or thirteen-year-olds buying pizza on Lexington. This was a group of unruly boys in the same uniform. I had to brush against the blue-blazer’d mob as they monopolized the width of the sidewalk just outside of Famous Famiglia at 84th and Lex. I could easily imagine those older kids taking money from a six-year-old just for laughs.

I now heard the father repeating to the boy, “This is just part of the game, it’s how it works…” as he held the boy’s arm. I was now discreetly watching. I observed the boy reach into his pocket, his chest still heaving, tears still streaming down his face, but he had stopped repeating the phrase. The boy pulled out an iPhone, cupped it in his small hands, and with a couple quick thumb swipes opened a trading app. The app in dark mode presented red, negative numbers, and a plummeting sparkline. The boy stared down at his phone as the screen blurred with tears.

Written by ricardo

January 19th, 2023 at 3:11 pm

Reading: The Making of the Indebted Man (note 4)

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From The Making of the Indebted Man by Maurizio Lazzarato. The following are all quotes from the book:

The Subprime Crisis

No direct or indirect wage hikes (pensions); instead, consumer credit and the push for stock market investment (pension funds, private insurance). No right to housing; instead, real estate loans. No right to tuition; instead, university loans. No risk mutualization (unemployment, health, retirement, etc.); instead investment in private insurance.
The wage-earner and the beneficiary of public programs must earn and spend as little as possible in order to reduce labor costs and the costs of public services, whereas the consumer must spend as much as possible in order to use up production. But in modern-day capitalism, the worker, the beneficiary, and the consumer are all one and the same.
Pg. 110

Christian Marazzi argues, we have moved from public deficit spending to private deficit spending in order to prop up the global demand for goods and services.
Pg. 112

The Sovereign Debt Crisis

Banks were saved through the use of the “public” money to nationalize their losses. The State injected a money flow into society – which is, as Deleuze has shown us, a flow of power – in order to reestablish and reinforce the power relation between creditors and debtors.
Pg. 115

Society is not the space in which a certain distance or a certain autonomy is created with respect to the State; rather, it is the correlate of governmental techniques. Society is not a primary and immediate reality but part of the modern technology of government, its product.
Pg. 125

Reestablishing the “relation of man to man” spoken of by Marx, reveals itself instead as the source and height of the cynicism and hypocrisy of our “financialized” society. Continuous cynicism and hypocrisy not only in relations between bankers and costumers, but also in relations between the State and the users of social services.
Pg. 136

Debt operates not only in the manipulation of enormous quantities of money, in sophisticated financial and monetary policies; it informs and configures techniques for the control and production of users’ existence, without which the economy would not have a hold on subjectivity.
Pg. 137

Etymologically, autonomy means to make one’s own law. At the unemployment and welfare agencies, employment, competition, and the market are the law. Autonomy means being able to find one’s own bearings. At the unemployment office, everything always points to employment, the market, and competition.

Becoming “human capital” and being an entrepreneur of the self are the new standards of employability.
Pg. 145

Written by ricardo

January 17th, 2023 at 9:07 pm

Reading: The Making of the Indebted Man (note 3)

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From Chapter 3 “The Ascendency of Debt in Neoliberalism,” The Making of the Indebted Man by Maurizio Lazzarato

The increase in psychologists’, sociologists’, and other ‘self-help’ experts’ interventions, the creation of ‘coaching’ for better-off workers and obligatory individual monitoring for the poor and unemployed, the explosion of ‘care of the self’ techniques in society – these are symptoms of the new forms of individual government, which include, above all, the shaping of subjectivity.
Pg. 95

Biopolitical Power
A massive transfer of revenue to business and the wealthiest and an expansion of deficits due to fiscal policies, deficits which have in turn become a source of revenuer creditors being State debt. The ‘virtuous circle’ of the debt economy is thus complete.
Pg. 103

Unlike what happens on financial markets, the beneficiary as ‘debtor’ is not expected to reimburse in actual money but rather in conduct, attitudes, ways of behaving, plans, subjective commitments, the time devoted to finding a job, the time used for conforming oneself to the criteria dictated to finding a job, the time used for conforming oneself to the criteria dictated by the market and business, etc. Debt directly entails life discipline and a way of life that requires ‘work on the self,’ a permanent negotiation with oneself, a specific form of the subjectivity: that of the indebted man.
Pg. 104

Power relations that crystallized around May ’68 has led to the creation of a power bloc acting – often by trial and error – on different mechanisms of power at the same time (at times favoring the market, at other business or the State).
Pg. 106

Governmentally has produced a collective capitalist – as Lenin would put it – which is not concentrated in finance, but operates throughout business, administration, service industries, political parties, the media, and the university. This political subjectivation provides capitalists with the same education, the same vision of the economy and society, the same vocabulary, the same methods, in short, the same politics.
Pg. 108

Written by ricardo

January 1st, 2023 at 12:52 pm

VR: It May Be Difficult to Monetize Isolation

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In 1909, E.M. Forster wrote a short story titled “The Machine Stops” that is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth in which humanity exists underground in a network of tubes.  Each individual lives alone in a small hexagonal room and social interaction is through a screen.  The majority of the population worships the Machine that they live in and fear the outside world.  Over a 100 years later, E.M. Forster’s short story appeared incredibly prescient during the height of the pandemic, however, even before the pandemic, as people stare at their screens, the short story has reflected elements of current day life.  Throughout the very short history of advertisement, our eyes and attention have been the commodity.  Today as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) attempt to gain a foothold as major media platforms, our eyes focus upon small screens.  The films we once watched on giant movie screens with state of the art sound systems are now consumed during a commute on a handheld screen and headphones.  The smart phone and every related technology has been transformative from production to consumption.  However, when we click on a mobile digital ad, it remains largely accidental.  A quick “damn it” and click on an X closes the ad and returns us to our happy stream.  In order for VR and AR platforms to gain a foothold in society, they must be financially viable which means that the ad streams must be commercially relevant and not a mistaken pupil glance or blink.  Have we been prepared to live in the machine or do we already exist in the machine and merely need to incorporate the screens as a headset?  It may very well be that many people would opt to wear their smartphones rather than have to hold them.

Meta, the corporation once known as Facebook that owns WhatsApp, Oculus, Instagram and is the greatest promoter of the so called metaverse, lost half a trillion dollars on October 27th 2022.  Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, has declared that the metaverse is a long term endeavor and that IT IS the future.  In 2021, Apple handed over to the user whether or not one’s data is tracked for advertising and with the loss of the iOS tracking data, the value of targeted advertising has plummeted.  Over the last few quarters, Alphabet (the parent company of Google) has had a 5% decrease in advertising pricing, however, Meta’s decrease has been an 18% price loss per advertisement.  The loss of ad revenue is reflected in a drop of Alphabet and Meta’s stock value, however, again the Meta stock value has plummeted in comparison to Alphabet.  This may be a short term falter or it may reflect that these companies do not have a lasting value.

Over the last six years I have been critical of virtual reality, however as a “new media artist” I have been curious and open to new creative platforms and I have been developing projects that are exported for both the desktop and virtual reality.  Today, I remain highly skeptical of placing a device a couple inches from one’s eyes with a split screen for stereoscopic imaging to create an “immersive experience.” I feel that it is unhealthy and ridiculous.  During the week of October 20th, I participated in DIGITAL ART ZURICH, a festival featuring several virtual reality (VR) projects.  I witnessed one person come away from an interesting VR project feeling sick, unable to focus and state that if that is the future, they want no part of it.  Later that day, this same person told me that it was at least two hours before they felt clear minded and well.  I experienced the same VR project that was seated and had me dollying through a sci-fi narrative.  In this project, teleporting and physically moving about was not available.  I was fine through the experience, however, by the end I was sweating, the headset had become hot, heavy and uncomfortable and I badly wanted it off my head.  The project lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

In a different gallery, there was a standing VR project that did not dolly the user through virtual environments and the only movement was to look around.  This project was less uncomfortable.  The greater issue here is that each user is isolated in their headset and the project itself seemed disorganized or without a central and coherent point.  In the same gallery, there were desktop projects presented on large screens with keyboard and mouse interaction.   With these projects, I saw friends sitting together, playing and discussing the projects.

A few weeks ago, I brought home an Oculus Quest 2, produced by Meta.  My 14 year old son begged that I purchase an NFL VR game.  I did so and then for 20 minutes, he was isolated in the headset throwing touchdowns.  Previously, we would watch or play games together.  Meta CEO Zuckerberg states that the metaverse will be social.  Meta has launched Meta Quest Pro, a virtual and mixed reality headset.  I have tried Microsoft’s mixed reality HoloLens and view it as a far superior experience to virtual reality, because I can see and interact with the real world environment while also seeing a virtual overlay.  I do believe that mixed reality has a future if our eyes and minds can adapt to it.  I do not feel the same about virtual reality.

I am an associate professor in the Department of Film & Media Studies at Hunter College.  I teach an introductory digital production course that is split between a lecture and laboratories.  The lectures present histories and theories regarding visual communication, graphic design, photography, animation, game production and non-linear storytelling.  During the pandemic, the lectures and labs went online.  This school year, the labs have returned to in-person, however the evening lecture has remained online.  Attendance to the lecture has plummeted, perhaps it is my presentation or the fact that I record the lectures and provide my slides and notes, but I think the underlying issue is that it’s online.  I regularly receive emails about free online lectures and if the topic is of interest, I sign up.  However, of every ten lectures that I sign up for, I may attend one and many times I do not stay through to the end.  Online lectures, virtual reality, distance learning, do not carry the commitment and strength of in-person interaction and experience.  It’s difficult to blame the student.

Meta may be able to suffer ongoing financial losses.  And Meta may find a way to resuscitate Facebook or monetize WhatsApp or Instagram or turn Oculus into an advertising platform; the bottom line is that technologies for mass adoption require immense funding.  Over the last six decades, VR experiments have been promoted as the future of entertainment or gaming only to fail.  I firmly believe that a mass audience does not want to wear a headset to be isolated with a screen a couple inches from their eyes.  In my experience, even the social VR platforms through avatar interaction are isolating and dystopian.  Perhaps the mixed-reality Meta Quest Pro will be a success and this is the moment to invest in Meta as the stock has fallen to a 2015 price.  As mixed-reality headsets use eye tracking for navigation, it may very well be hard for users to not accidentally click on virtual ads an inch from their pupil and Meta’s price per ad will skyrocket.

Written by ricardo

November 26th, 2022 at 1:25 pm

Reading: The Making of the Indebted Man (note 2)

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Quotes from chapter 2 The Genealogy of Debt and the Debtor

For Nietzsche, making a memory for man being able “to have […] control over the future,” “to view the future as the present and anticipate it,” so that he is answerable for his own future.
Pg. 45

The Economy as Process of Subjectivation
It seems to me that my friends in cognitive capitalism are mistaken when they make “knowledge” the origin of valorization and exploitation. There is nothing new in the fact that science, skills, and technological and organizational innovations represent the productive forces of capital – Marx already understood as much in the mid-19th century.

What is required and cuts across the economy and modern-day society, is not knowledge but the injunction to become an economic “subject” (“human capital,” “entrepreneur of the self”), an injunction that concerns just as much the unemployed as the user of public services, the consumer, the most “modest” of workers, the poorest, or the “migrant.”
Pg. 50-51

If capitalists spend little time worrying about investing in a more than improbable – always heralded but never realized – “knowledge society,” they are, on the other hand, cruelly inflexible when forcing the governed to take on all the economic risks and damage the capitalists themselves have created.
Pg. 52

The Two Marxes
A Very Nietzschean Marx
But this abolition of estrangement, this return of man to himself and therefore to other men is only an appearance; the self-estrangement, the dehumanization, is all the more infamous and extreme because its element is no longer commodity, metal, paper, but man’s moral existence, man’s social existence, the inmost depths of his heart, and because under the appearance of man’s trust in man it is the height of distrust and complete estrangement.
Pg. 56

The trust that credit exploits has nothing to do with the belief in new possibilities in life and, thus, in some noble sentiment toward oneself, others, and the world. It is limited to a trust in solvency and makes solvency the content and measure of the ethical relationship.
Pg. 58

In its financial form, capital accumulated in banks appears as “capital in general,” a simple abstraction. But it is a powerful abstraction, since capital emerges as “autonomous value,” “independent” of its actualization in a particular sphere; it exists as an “undifferentiated” force capable of every form of actualization. It thus appears as the power to prescribe and anticipate future value, as a power of destruction/creation.
Pg. 63

  • These brings to mind Robinhood’s recent offer to “sweep in” uninvested money sitting in my account so that it can earn interest. Robinhood has partnered with banks to play with people’s money and make more money…

The concentration of capital and the growth of their turnover is radically changing the significance of the banks. Scattered capitalists are transformed into a single collective. The “coherence” and strategies are those of the M-Mlogic, which by making money from money also reveals its “irrationality.” The latter materializes in every “liberal” period and leads almost automatically to the most sever crises, each time clearing the way for authoritarian politics (which happened with the First World War and fascism.)
Pg. 65

“We live forward but think backward” – William James. To live forward means “to believe in the world and in the new possibilities of life” it encompasses, says Deleuze. Faith and trust are a force – joyous and confident – that gives one a “generous strength.”
Pg. 69

…In order to realize the power to act, we need to believe (trust) in the “moving present,” the present as possibility, that is, in the world and the new possibilities of life that it holds. The power to act is subordinate to an existential affirmation, to a “yes” that expresses a self-positioning. It presupposes hope and faith, anticipating what has not yet come to pass, making the impossible possible.
Pg. 71

For finance, the future is a mere forecast of current domination and exploitation. But if a critical threshold of uncertainty with regard to future of exploitation and domination is passed, the present, emptied of its possibilities, collapses. The crisis is then a crisis of time from which emerges a time of political and social creation, which finance can only endeavor to destroy. This is exactly our present situation. The logic of debt is stifling our possibilities for action.
Pg. 71

The pain of a debtor is interiorized, responsibility for the debt becomes a feeling of guilt. Pg. 78

From the far reaches of the empire the Vikings with their ships and the Hungarians with their horses (mobility, migratory, nomadic, and warrior flows whose power was greater than the peasants’) descended, pillaging villages, tombs and monasteries… they made economic investments through destruction… The less mobile flow (the peasants) became subordinate to the nomadic and mobile flow (the barbarian warriors). The “barbarian flows were deterritorialized as well as deterritorializing.”
Pg. 82

  • Today, young professionals who are considered ambitious move about the globe, hopping from opportunity to better opportunity. They are deterritorialize and deterritorializing by their disinterest in establishing or maintaining roots and building community. They leave small towns to the university and then the metropolis. Major cities are populated by transient citizens. Meanwhile the small cities and towns are abandoned, ghost towns populated by senior citizens.

The flow of financing that is, money is capital, is a mutant power, a creative flow, a set of “sign powers,” because it engages the future, manifests a force of prescription, and constitutes a power of destruction/creation that anticipates that which is not yet present. Financing flows are a deterritorialized and deterritorializing power, a power that does not emerge after the economic, but is imminent to it. They affect possibilities and their actualization.
The substance of money is capital is time, but less labor time than time is the possibility of choice, decision, and control, in other words, the power to destroy/create social forms of exploitation and subjection.
Pg. 85

Written by ricardo

August 12th, 2022 at 2:22 pm

Reading: The Making of the Indebted Man (note 1)

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I’ve been reading Maurizio Lazzarato’s 2011 book The Making of the Indebted Man translated to English and published by semiotext(e) in 2012. If some of the promises from the last two years – to excuse student debt, to acknowledge institutionalized racism as a national level, I feel that we have come a long way over the last 10 years and since the last financial disaster in considering how the system is rigged and how to begin to chip at it, to create a more equitable society. Perhaps this is too hopeful.

Lazzarato is clear and direct and presents a rich set of resources for anyone looking to jump into researching a history of debt and our current financial mechanisms. Many of his ideas and critiques could easily be applied to more recent altcoins and fintech tools. I’m going to copy below a few sequences that strongly stand out to me, mostly for my own notes, but perhaps others will be interested…

From the Forward

Through readings of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality and Marx’s theory of money, it will help us revive two hypotheses. The first, that the paradigm of the social lies not in exchange (economic and/or symbolic) but in credit. There is no equality (of exchange) underlying social relations, but rather as asymmetry of debt/credit, which precedes historically and theoretically, that of production and wage labor. The second hypothesis, that debt represents an economic relationship inseparable from the production of the debtor subject and their “morality.” The debt economy combines “work on the self” and labor, in its classical sense, such that “ethics” and economics function conjointly. The modern notion of “economy” covers both economic production and the production of subjectivity. Traditional categories rooted in 19th and 20th century revolutions – labor, society, and politics – are now informed and in large measure have been redefined by debt. (Pg. 11)

From Chapter 1 Understanding Debt as the Basis of Social Life

Credit bring us back to a situation characteristic of feudalism, in which a portion of labor is owed in advance, as serf labor, to the feudal lord. – Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects (pg. 13)

Debt acts as a “capture,” “predation,” and “extraction” machine on the whole of society, as an instrument for macroeconomic prescription and management, and as a mechanism for income redistribution.” (Pg. 29)

This is generally true for any financial mechanism; they are funded by and created for the rich to accumulate greater wealth. Take for example FinTech software from Robinhood to Coinbase to alt coins, the goal of many of these are not to democratize investment, but to break into the pockets of a larger population and use their money.

“We have moved from Fordist regulation, which privileged the industrial and debtor side, to financial regulation, which prioritizes the financial and creditor side.” (Pg. 30)

But debt is a universal power relation, since everyone is included within it. Even those too poor to have access to credit must pay interest to creditors through the reimbursement of public debt; even countries too poor for a Welfare State must repay their debts. (Pg. 32)

Written by ricardo

August 7th, 2022 at 4:29 pm

Chasing Bits a Web Platformer Game

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“Chasing Bits” a Web Platformer that Considers the Pitfalls of Alt Coins

“No Media” is an online exhibition featuring art work entirely made from code. This means no media files – no jpg or gif or png or mp3 or wav or mp4 or webm or any type of self-contained file type. When I was invited to participate in this exhibition, it was a tricky proposition for me as I’m primarily a visual artist who uses software and generally when I code it’s in an environment such as Visual Studio with Unity. My web projects tend to include SVGs created in Illustrator or video or audio files… But I greatly appreciated the invitation and the challenge to work differently. However, I’m not a good coder, generally, I hack things together or review endless tutorials. In grad school at Carnegie Mellon University, I was allowed to enroll in the Computer Science intro to programming undergraduate course. This is a course designed to weed out those who will not go on to become programmers; I lasted three weeks.

I regularly use javascript, the language of the web, I wanted to make something that would be fun for people to interact with and I had been researching digital currencies for the last couple of years for another project. Since I was 11 years old, I’ve loved platformers due to my initiation as Activision’s Pitfall Harry in 1982. So I decided to take Marijn Haverbeke‘s entirely code-based javascript platformer game covered in his book Eloquent Javascript and inject it with a bit of Bitcoin and alt coin content. I feel that the platformer presents the ideal game metaphor for the dreams and pitfalls of alt coins. The game titled Chasing Bits has audio, but it’s the browser’s speech synthesis that reads a hidden text (no media). And there are emojis that may appear to be image files, but are also bits of code. (It’s probably time to add the death emoji.). There is one live data feed – the current value of Bitcoin which you may update throughout the game.

Since web audio generally requires a user event, players must click a button to trigger the browsers reading of the following passage:

What happens when a utopian idea for a decentralized currency gains adoption in the midst of hypercapitalism? Speculative investors looking to get rich quick, loose. The early bird gets the worm, the rest just dig for fools gold. Or perhaps the current value of bitcoin will triple and you head straight to the Cayman Islands to sip on rum and coke as you lazily sway in a hammock between shade and sunlight.

Unfortunately it is 2022, the U.S. government slowed the printing of free money, inflation has risen, uncertainty has set in and the happy go lucky period of Bitcoin and alt coins has taken a pause. Sit tight, wait 10 years and just maybe those Ethereum coins will be worth eighty thousand each! Or perhaps, the Financial Action Task Force may just clamp down and regulate Bitcoin and digital currencies due to money laundering and other criminal use of digital currencies. No one knows what lays ahead. So meanwhile, why not chase those bits…

I can not afford real property, so I buy land in the metaverse. I like going there in the evenings when I sit alone and wonder when others will join. Perhaps I will rent out some space and make more bits. However, I don’t like it when the earth quakes.

As soon as Bitcoin peaks again, I will buy a pig to store clones of all my primary organs, this way I will double my life span and live to a 180 and by then I will own a country in the meta verse and deliver my own currency. My anti gravity suit will keep me looking young. Meanwhile I will continue chasing bits.

Try the Chasing Bits, listen to that audio, check the current value of Bitcoin, I hope you are mildly entertained!

Review of “The Linguistic Errantry”

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The Linguistic Errantry by Tansy Xiao

Imagine an immersive Boschian landscape rich with metaphoric allusions of surveillance and control, such is artist Tansy Xiao’s latest creation. The desktop application “The Linguistic Errantry” puts the user/player in a surreal yellow hued environment populated by singing giraffes, floating goldfish, levitating eggs, flying surveillance cameras and a giant broken egg with octopus tentacles dancing about. In a desert-like setting, enclosed by rock cliffs, Marxist monuments stand erect but their heads are 19th century copper and brass diving helmets. A buddha on lotus monument is surrounded by surveillance monitors that show the world itself as captured by the roving surveillance cameras. This world reflects upon “the totalitarian lockdown in Shanghai.”

“The Linguistic Errantry” is a first person roaming world. Walk past any of the 14 giraffes and you will hear it singing brief notes.

Each giraffe is set to sing a measure constituting 2-4 notes and nonlinguistic lyrics deconstructed from L’Internationale. When two giraffes collide, they adopt each other’s measure to add to their own array. Giraffe 0 as the only exception, is set to speak “Control / Your / Soul’s / Desire / For / Freedom” by default, instead of singing—a propaganda phrase from a government official during the totalitarian lockdown in Shanghai, when the whole country entered an Agambenian “state of exception.” Each word occupies one slot in its array and will be gradually replaced by fragments from L’Internationale as giraffe 0 encounters the others of its kind.


As game engines have become more accessible and adopted by artists to create immersive worlds layered with meaning and cultural critique, it is exciting to see Xiao adopt the game platform to create a powerful metaphoric world that easily stirs investigation and reflection in the viewer. As Xiao further describes “The Linguistic Errantry reimagines the Tower of Babel in a way that manifests the arbitrary nature of history: the consolidation and disintegration of sovereigns, an anticipated revolution to be generated by mere chance, or a parallel universe where nothing ever happens and only entropy reigns supreme.”

5D Futures Online Video Art

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5D Futures

5D Futures, group exhibition, video art portal and pavilion for The Wrong Biennale nº5 Curated by COLLAGISM, Tottenham, London, United Kingdom.

5D FUTURES is a video art portal and pavilion for The Wrong Biennale nº5 curated by Collagism. It is a journey through the Elevation of Consciousness, bringing together a selection of poignant video works from highly celebrated video artists around the world. The works navigate through the world of performance art into the digital realm of glitched hybrid realities, documentary film and How to guides.

Written by ricardo

November 10th, 2021 at 9:11 am

Posted in Contemporary Art

Notes on Viejo San Juan and Vieques

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Direct flight from JFK to San Juan, Puerto Rico

I spent July 10th through the 16th 2021 in Puerto Rico with my partner Erica – a Saturday through Friday trip. Three nights in Viejo San Juan – Saturday through Tuesday afternoon and three nights in Vieques – Tuesday evening through Friday morning. I’m writing this to record a few observations.

Upon arriving to San Juan, we were unable to connect to the free airport wifi and our cellular was not working. Although technically we were in the United States, we had no cell service and I wish I had set up international roaming ahead of travel. So Uber was out and we took the first taxi offer to the hotel, a $30 ride trip to El Viejo San Juan.

Exterior and Interior of El Hotel El Convento, nice but Airbnb would have been half the price…

In Viejo San Juan, we stayed at Hotel El Convento, a beautiful block size convent transformed into a hotel, right in the center of Viejo San Juan. The entrance is on Caleta de las Monjas and across the street on Calle del Cristo is la Catedral Basilica Menor de San Juan Bautista where one can find the remains of Saint Pius.

Next to the remains of St. Pius at La Catedral Basilica Menor de San Juan Bautista

As one would expect from a Spanish colonial building, the rooms are largely accessed from long interior corridors that look down upon a central courtyard that offers a bar and lounging. Our hotel room was comfortable with balcony doors that open to a cute view of a walking street called Escalinata de Las Monjas. However, the grand total for the three nights was over $1,100. Not worth the price! When we first booked the trip, I looked at a few Airbnbs and I regret not reserving one. It would have been half the cost. Part of the reason for the hotel were the rooftop jacuzzi and pool, but they were both very small – only enough space for a private party to enjoy. I did take advantage of the exercise room one morning, so that was a small advantage. The lesson learned, no need for a nice hotel while Airbnb is available.

Enjoying a mofongo and shrimp brunch at Hecho En Casa

Also as one may imagine, Viejo San Juan is full of tourists and the primary streets such as Calle de la Fortaleza or Calle de Tetuan or Calle de San Francisco are composed of tourist gift shops, restaurants and bars. I felt a bit as if I was in Disneyland. The food was excellent; we did not have one bad meal. Our favorite mofongo was at Hecho en Casa at the corner of Calle de San Francisco and Calle de San Justo. Our first evening out, we walked past Hecho en Casa and I thought it was just a cool looking bar, but it turned out to be an excellent restaurant. I think it was on Sunday morning that we both ordered the mofongo with shrimp, served in a small cast iron pan lined with plantain and the shrimp in its sauce in the center was delicious. At night, it seemed that Calle de San Sebastian became the party street with it partly closed off from cars. The bars were packed and no one was wearing masks, so we elected to not enter any of the crowded bars. Erica was disappointed to learn that there were no salsa clubs. We did see a few people here and there dancing salsa at some of the crowded bars, but most people stood around drinking.

Castillo de San Cristobal, Viejo San Juan

The real party is not in Viejo San Juan; it is at la Placita de Santurce which is a 20 minute drive from the center of el Viejo San Juan or as we discovered over an hour long walk. We took the scenic 90 minute route along the water. As we walked the coast, we passed La Perla, Castillo de San Cristobal, el Capitolio de Puerto Rico where a Christian group gathered to listen to a woman preach about the merits of dedication. She put forth her 30 year marriage as an example of happiness due to commitment and perseverance. I questioned the Christian admiration of longevity or in general the societal veneration of longevity whether it’s a 50 year marriage or 35 years at the same job… I considered the long marriages of my parents and aunts and uncles and they nearly all include long periods of pain as well as periods of disdain or dislike or ambivalence. It seems that in old age, they return to a deep appreciation as they have one another. But are all the years of pain or anger or hatred or ambivalence really worth it? And regarding staying at a job for decades, the people whom I know with the highest salaries moved through various institutions – each movement presenting a greater salary and more freedom. So should we really put longevity on a pedestal?

We continued along, leaving behind the Christian groups adoration at this woman’s celebration of her marriage to Balneario El Escambron, touring that small park and then crossing Highway 1 to Miramar. We walked past el Condado to La Placita. A market by day, La Placita de Santurce becomes a street party by night. We went on a Sunday night and yet the streets were full. Unlike el Viejo San Juan, it is not filled by tourists, but rather Puerto Ricans of all ages dancing, singing and drinking. Before enjoying the street festivities, we had an excellent dinner at Asere Cubano Kitchen and Bar where we enjoyed dishes of ropa vieja. Following dinner we toured La Placita and as we noticed other clubs away from the plaza, we continued down a small street. The best dancing we encountered was at a club called Delavida where couples were showing off their best New York style salsa dancing to a live group. After the live music ended, we headed back to La Placita. I think the most fun was had at the outdoor karaoke bar Santurce’s Cafe where the singing was amazing. It was a shame that La Placita was not closed off to cars as the crowds had to regularly give way to vehicles. However, as taxis circled around, it was easy to catch a taxi back to El Viejo San Juan.

The following day – Monday, June 12th, we had a half day hike in El Yunque National Forest, apparently the only rain forest in the “United States.” The hike was muddy and taxing; it offered lots of sliding and climbing. And again too many tourists. Our group alone was about 26 people, far too many people to hear details from the guides regarding vegetation and the rainforest environment. And there were other groups of hikers that we encountered and had to step aside for. The goal of this particular hike was to reach the top of a waterfall and ride it down in two parts. Adjacent to the small waterfalls were slides formed of rock, so one climbs up, jumps into the water and slides down the waterfall – a quick 20 foot or so slide. Then swim and walk to the next little slide, perhaps 10-15 feet, slide down; then climb up a rock to take a 20 foot dive into a swimming hole. And then climb and slide your way back to the parking area. It would be great to do it again, but without the tourist group and just spend the day enjoying the falls and swimming holes. The half day trip is too short considering the long drive from El Viejo San Juan into el Yunque. Our guides were great, particularly the head guide Jaime who is very charismatic. Through him I learned that one should never ask a Puerto Rican if they’ve tasted their beloved miniature frog el coquí. Particularly do not bring up the idea of fried coquí!

The next morning we packed and enjoyed a final walk around El Viejo San Juan. The previous evening, we had dinner at El Asador on Calle de San Francisco and Erica did not finish her grilled chicken. So the next morning we headed to Supermax at Plaza de Armas for a loaf of bread to tear apart and tear open to fill with grilled chicken for delicious grilled chicken sandwiches, or at least I did – half a loaf sandwich for breakfast and the second half a couple hours later. After the breakfast sandwich, I picked up a cafe con leche at Puchy’s Cafe in Plaza de Armas and it was delicious.

The hotel staff had told us that we should arrive three to two hours early to our local flight from San Juan to Vieques, because those flights have a reputation for leaving early and also taking stand by people. We arrived two and half hours early and it was entirely unnecessary! Security was quick, we headed to our gate and waited over two hours. We arrived in time for an early flight to Vieques, but they didn’t have space for us. Best to arrive an hour ahead of your local flight, an hour and twenty minutes if you really want to play it safe.

The 11-seat Traveller from San Juan to Vieques

Our Cape Air flight was a small ten person propeller plain for which each person’s weight and weight of luggage is carefully recorded. Based on our weight, we were instructed where to sit in the plane. On the flight to Vieques was a large older man who anchored the plane at the back as he excitedly talked about working for Delta many years and having flown this particular plane decades back. The planes do indeed appear 40 years old and one feels every bit of turbulence. On the flight back from Vieques one young woman, perhaps a teenager with purple hair nearly threw up.

We arrived at Vieques, but there was not a taxi in sight. We tried to pick up wifi or cellular, but no luck. I walked up the stairs to a tiny outdoor bar where a group of Americans sat drinking beer and asked the barkeep, a fat older white man the number to get a taxi. He was immediately annoyed by me, I had to ask him for the number a second time and then ask if there was wifi – the answer was a quick “no.” So I headed back to the airport entrance where Erica was waiting. She asked the airport employees for help and after trying several taxi numbers they got us ride! Apparently, we arrived when the ferry arrives, and the taxis head to the ferry as there are more customers. In fact, in the taxi van we rode with a couple who had just come off the ferry. So, if I were to travel to Vieques in the future, I would reserve a car and try to set up a pick up well ahead of arrival.

Enjoying the pool at Hacienda Tamarindo

We stayed at Hacienda Tamarindo, about a 20 minute walk from the main drag of Esperanza. The first night we dined at the only restaurant that had a table available – El Quenepo where we both ordered the local tuna. It was a pan-seared tuna at $31 that was delicious, but not as great as Duffy’s pan-seared tuna at $19 that also included fried plantains, and rice and beans (Quenepo’s tuna plate merely had a few greens). The first night Duffy’s had a long wait and after having dined there on our last evening, I understood why – fun atmosphere and great food.

Since we didn’t have a car or cell service to call a taxi, we only visited the near by beaches. We spent the first afternoon at Playa Negra, named after it’s black sand and all day Thursday at Playa Sun Bay, two excellent beach days. We didn’t spend much time in the water as Erica doesn’t swim and at Playa Sun Bay she felt a fish playing around her legs that sent her in a panic. I felt it as well and followed her out.

Wednesday evening we did the bioluminescent kayak tour at Mosquito Bay. The kayak was transparent so that we could see the glow fo the microbes that populate the bay. Our guide who lovingly gushed about the natural beauty of the bay and Vieques in general told us in detail about the bay – it’s name, it’s microbes, the stars above and the many creatures he has seen in the bay, including sharks.

“Mosquito Bay is named after “El Mosquito,” a small ship owned by Roberto Cofresí, a pirate who was a Robin Hood-type character. Cofresí often hid El Mosquito in the bioluminescent bay, which was connected to the ocean by a small, easily defensible inlet.” The large ships that Cofresí robbed could not follow him into the bay. Eventually Roberto Cofresí was captured and executed.

Following the history and bioscience lesson, our guide pulled out a laser pointer, made a couple Star Wars jokes and pointed out a few of the constellations as well as Jupiter and the Milky Way. The view of the stars from the bay is brilliant. Apparently the people indigenous to the area thought that the bay was magical because it reflected the stars or perhaps they thought the stars were born from the bay, I don’t recall the tale that the guide shared. We both loved the bioluminescent tour and only wish he had more time kayaking in the bay.

I couldn’t help but observe that our hotel and seemingly all the restaurants of Esperanza are owned by white U.S. citizens who have settled in Vieques from states like Vermont, Maine, North Carolina… The only business that appeared owned by locals were a taco cart and a small bar. A beautiful element about the island are all the roaming wild horses. Families of horses just wander about the streets and fields.

An evening stroll along Paseo de la Princessa

The trip was great, one must only be prepared to join many many U.S. tourists when staying in Old San Juan or visiting Vieques.

Written by ricardo

July 22nd, 2021 at 9:05 am