Weaving, the Body,
and Digital Refuse
“What would refuse look like in a
digital age […]?”
Steyerl, “Digital Debris: Spam and Scam”
Weaving in between theory and practice, coding and textiles, Data Excess seeks answers to Hito Steyerl’s question. Through a research-creation methodology revolving around digitally assisted weaving, this project interprets, visualizes, and materializes digital waste as a telling outcome of online culture. My aim has been to research the existing links between digital and material processes and practices, historical and contemporary, and to create some new ones as well. Inseparably linked, the theoretical and the technical are posed next to one another as the book jumps between gathered quotes, new written material, scans of weavings, and screenshots from different weaving software, e-mails, and YouTube videos.
With recourse to weaving theory, media studies, network theory in contemporary thought and art practices, and my own weaving experiments, I have sought connections between computing and weaving. This project emphasizes the importance of embodied engagement with online space and with physical material, especially textile. Weaving is well suited to the interpretation of the uneasy products of the digital age due to it’s own uneasy place within the art historical canon. Amongst the many forms of digital waste easily available, I have chosen to focus specifically on pornographic spam emails and low-resolution video screenshots. Steyerl and others have given insight into these two phenomena as both products and producers of online culture. Such daily annoyances, like spam and poor quality images, became a vast source of information and imagery that I could manipulate into woven form. Data Excess documents the development of two series of weavings (see low-res and litspam), and the reciprocal relationship between my textual and material research.
By no means a comprehensive study, this writing has been an experiment. I have attempted to tease out some of the many, layered connections that arose while I followed my nose through the library, the Internet, and other peoples’ fantastic bibliographies. The overarching themes that have laid the groundwork of my research are Code, Spam, Porn, Poor Quality Images, Materiality, and Online Space. This book deals with the ways in which each of these keywords relates to weaving, as my central theme, theory and practice. Through this research-creation, I hope to open up the field of weaving theory, which is still small, and often focuses on technique. Weaving is a tactile, material, and skillful craft; and this is precisely why I am drawn to it. However, I want to focus on weaving’s relation to the digital, not only as ancestor to code and software, but as a medium that links cultures and users, that reacts to the times and changes them, and causes an obsession and addiction in the meticulousness of creating something bigger out of parts. Coders and weavers alike know the frustration of repeatedly attempting to build something new, as well as the satisfaction of seeing little bits of thread or code come together – materialize – in exactly the right way.
Throughout this text, I’ve used Derrida’s analysis of the term parergon as metaphor for the insider/outsider status of weaving, spam, porn, and low-resolution files. “A parergon comes against, beside, and in addition to the ergon, the work done, the fact, the work, but it does not fall to one side, it touches and cooperates within the operation, from a certain outside.” I’m intrigued by the way my key concepts are all inside/outside of, say, Modern Art or Digital Culture. They may not be the first things you think of; they may even be embarrassing byproducts; but their existence and their permutations reveal a different side of that supposedly fixed ergon. A side I hope to show as more sensual, messy, subjective, and subversive than existing discourse accounts for.
1. Hito Steyerl, “Digital Debris: Spam and Scam” in Networks, ed. Lars Bang Larsen (London and Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT press and Whitechapel Gallery, 2014), 110.
2. Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 54.
Figure 1. Screenshot from “AT&T Archives: The UNIX Operating System,” YouTube video, 27:26, posted by “AT&T Tech Channel,” February 22, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc4ROCJYbm0. See weaving here.