Text: DeForrest Brown Jr., Nora N. Khan

Media: Lars TCF Holdhus

Data barns loom like sublime cities in the desert, each housing a hundred trillion indexed points. We circle the colossus, dwarfed, drawn in by the mirrored candescence of inexhaustible machines performing calculations at a rate beyond imagination. Stacks of data with lifetimes transient yet precisely accounted the mastery of which hint at our own latent capacities: for greater comprehension, for control.1

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[Information sits in ultrasonic frequency spectrum. Large file, allow time to load.]

Consumed as we are by the sensorial abundance of a world rendered to data, the ritual practice of taking inventory is our means of turning pattern, volume, and complexity into meaning. We recombine, sort, archive, as a means of control.2

The artist works as ingenious technician, performing in direct conversation with cybernetics.

Inventory is the paradigm by which we understand the consumption of handled material - from dock shipments to DNA samples, from street maps to digital audio files.

By extension, inventory has also become the device through which we conceive unstable media. We traffic in the intangible and plastic – personal inventory, memories, memetic ideas – and it is the inherent instability of these materials that leads to error: breaches, leaks, stolen identities, cyber-attacks.

What happens when inventory is lost? When code starts to corrupt? When the digital interface fails the senses?

Error holds deep potential. Through error, the human actor can expand beyond the limits of not only flesh and mind, but digital constructs as well. By acquiescing control, we escape from the interface as it was intended; subversion opens up creative possibility.

Some intentionally push these limitations, transposing the flux between sense and error into thrilling, ecstatic art. The artist works as ingenious technician, performing in direct conversation with cybernetics. He manipulates code, thrusts aberrant information into the system. He transfigures it, helps it take on new materiality, reworking digital detritus according to an “experimental praxis oriented entirely toward contact with the unknown.”3

Art designed specifically for the computer network surpasses the human actor, seizing the sinuous routes and functions of digital systems.4 Playing with the mechanics and structure of emergence using coded systems, the technician-artist engages with the gross and anxious manifestations of the cybernetic condition. Machine failure is the material; error is the means of aesthetic development.


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INVENTORY is the hallmark of accelerated industrialization. Without inventory, the production line’s efficiency is deeply compromised.

As multi-disciplinary electronic producer Mark Fell writes, “presented with hypothetically infinite openness, we start to construct systems with an inbuilt closedness.”5

Inventory captures much of industrialized thinking, implying product turnover, logistics, profit cycles.

Inventory captures much of industrialized thinking, implying product turnover, logistics, profit cycles. Its signal phrases are hypnotic and ubiquitous: organizational culture, operational management, systems theory, inventory control. Every time materials are accounted for, enumerated, categorized, we position ourselves with a distinct relationship to systems and networks of power.


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PROCESS is the core. Gathering, mapping, and archiving are not merely acts of indulgence. We are as we move within the data. Man is both material and mover, both code and process.

But in many ways inventory is an outmoded conceptual tool.6 Electronic information, originally conceived as a closed system, has since become a non-equilibrium network, the structure of which constantly evolves. More than ever, information technology defies organization, enclosure and restraint.

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Cybernetic culture shapes our minds, molds how we process the world: “We are doing things before they make sense.”7 As biomimetics seeps further into artificial intelligence, machines learn to reshape output as their own, discreetly asserting more and more autonomy.8

The process of mechanical production operates under the principle of self-referential flux. The monolith of machine process makes understanding the evolving frontier between the human body and technology, the radical project of shedding humanity’s skin, an epiphenomenal imperative. As Donna Haraway and others have suggested, we are all now chimeras – humans bound to machines – and moreover, this hybridization is itself a new kind of power, offering us radical ways to think, self-identify and relate one to another.9 Likewise, philosophers such as Nick Land, building on systems theory, have vividly suggested cybernetics as a “mechanism that dissolves society into the machines whilst deterritorializing the machines across the ruins of society.”10

Take their visions together, and possible end-states multiply. Between them, the potential for creative exponentiation, harnessing self-generating machines through a chimeric approach to a more complete knowledge. A fertile marriage to the blank god-face of code.


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WASTE, the rotten exhaust of critical dysfunction.

Progress is steeped in an operative disarray calling for intensive re-evaluation. When inventory is defective: vile foam catches the gears of an unclean engine and the system shuts down. The manufacturing process becomes cluttered with its own exhaust in a disastrous ouroboros chain.

In the wake of automated production, we find increasingly exotic byproducts, synthetic, hybrid objects. That refuse becomes material used to progress through a squalid media wasteland hampered by the anxiety of archaic clutter.

We can create meaning with the petabytes of trash sourced from both the personal and corporate. Waste may speak to what we valued, but valuing waste - that without use - is the truly transgressive act. The blocked machine is started again, and we regain fractional control.


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Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis, argues that it’s in the liminal spaces at the edge of social function, where the playful tinkering and aesthetic investigations leading to transformation and progress take place.11 He describes the creative as a poacher, whose gnostic aspirations mirror the impulses of priests, diviners and scribes to divine intelligence.

Artists emerge from caves as engineers and digital grifters. They play with the corrupted codes, rituals, and phantasmic symbols of commerce, sift through discarded hardware and unsalable nostalgia. They pull entries from discarded databases, record dungeon gates closing in games, spill ink over digitized text. They render hieroglyphics out of crystalline language. And their reimagination of mechanical debris loosens, destabilizes, and subverts our normative relationships with objects:

The poacher performs creative magic, a critical rebellion of the grassroots imagination against the symbolic and social frameworks of consensus reality […] Creative magicians manifest the obvious trickery of Hermes. They exploit the rich ambiguities of words, images, identities, commodities, and social practices in order to craft protean perspectives, to rupture business as usual, and to stir up new ways of seeing and being in a world striated with invisible grids of technocultural engineering.12

The artist will always find new ways of being in relation to the network. In short, we make art to define ourselves despite and because of the network’s limits. Here, experimentation converges with cybernetics.

FAULTY INVENTORY CONTROL has no determinable end, only possibility.13

Corruption is generative.

When technologies break down, they reveal unfamiliar functions and unprescribed uses. Machines deal in limits, those limitations redefining sameness and difference between man and apparatus. Futurists Giacomo Balla and Fortunato Depero called this process “The Discovery — Infinite Systematic Invention.”14

In his account of the birth of acid house, Mark Fell challenges the reading that the 303 was misused. He suggests, instead, that “the machine was not malfunctioning; the group did not misuse it. Although both Spanky and Pierre had limited technical understanding of the 303, their exploration of it, and the resultant recording, could equally constitute discovery rather than error.”15

Error continues to be mythologized in glitch theory, which encourages the reexamination, manipulation and exploitation of machines. A pristine system is warped to create personal meaning.16 The aesthetics of glitch actually demand corruption of underlying code, sound, and image. Introducing error yields a fractured output of hiccups, skips, leaks and scrapes with singularly generative subjectivities.17

From hypothetical casts, randomized patterning, the eventual work of faulty inventory control doubles onto itself, freezing its objectal contents into an orbital, ecological system. This is an intuitive mode of activity, an undefined procedural practice not driven by error, confusion, or breakdown.

Absorbed in the reimagination of technology, artists splice and reconfigure media, creating a interfused web of input/output commands. Markers of time are dissolved. Divisions, melted down in glitch18 and acid.19


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The technologistic artist accesses the cosmos through rituals of inventory, process, code, all efforts to render the sublime. Fractal maps, generated from the very codec binary that we shrug off as inorganic and simulated. Found echoes of runes once written in bone, buried in the macro patterns of our shared genetic code.

We’re caught up with strangers in strange rooms listening to inhuman sounds, skirting around the loss of control but also thrilled by the very possibility. We dive headlong into these guarded, though primitively sensuous, environments.

The alien sound glints, scrapes, toys with our buried suspicions that the sublime is much closer at hand than we allow, that there is more to us than consumption, form and flesh, more to us than the relationships we’ve formed with systems.

Data barns loom like sublime cities in the desert, each housing a hundred trillion indexed points. We circle the colossus, dwarfed, drawn in by the mirrored candescence of inexhaustible machines performing calculations at a rate beyond imagination. Stacks of data with lifetimes transient yet precisely accounted the mastery of which hint at our own latent capacities: for greater comprehension, for control.1

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[Information largely in subsonic frequency spectrum]

The sound gestures at the distinct sensation “that earthly life is already composed of stardust, and that the patterns of distant galaxies are reflected in palm fronds, tidepools, and the iris in a lover’s eye.”20 This mise en abyme arrests the mind by overexerting the body — overwhelmed by the repeated configuration of the space it moves within.

The sublime is not just found in the act of remaking digital systems, but also in our being remade through them.

Pull a system apart by hand and rewire the circuits. Turn the cooling cells to ice. Strain a thousand signals through the senses to find a sign of the self. Place one ton of pressure against the known.


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All media courtesy Lars TCF Holdus


  1. Land, Nick. “Circuitries,” Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings, 1987-2007. New York: Sequence Press, 2011, p. 293. “It is ceasing to be a matter of how we think about technics, if only because technics is increasingly thinking about itself…The high road to thinking no longer passes through deepening of human cognition, but rather through a becoming inhuman of cognition, a migration of cognition out into the emerging planetary technosentience reservoir…”

  2. Land, Nick. “Circuitries,” p.293. “Human brains are to thinking what mediaeval villages were to engineering: antechambers to experimentation, cramped and parochial places to be.

  3. Editors’ Introduction to Fanged Noumena, p. 5.

  4. Radical Computer Music, a term coined by Parl Kristian Bjørcn Vester, aka Goodiepal. A recent interview with Roc de Cisneros of EVOL is a quick suggestive piece on the state of extreme computer music: http://vagueterrain.net/content/2011/01/roc-jim%C3%A9nez-de-cisneros-interview-state-radical-computer-music

  5. Fell, Mark. “Collateral Damage.” The Wire, January 2013. Found at: http://www.thewire.co.uk/in-writing/essays/collat...

  6. McLuhan, Marshall and Fiore, Quentin. The Medium is the Massage. New York: Penguin, 1967, p. 63. “Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition. We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience co-exist in a state of active interplay.”

  7. Land, Nick. “Circuitries,” p. 297. “It is impossible to avoid cybernetics. We are already doing it, regardless of what we think. Cybernetics is the aggravation of itself happening…”

  8. Davis, Erik. Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information. New York: Random House, 1998, p. 89.

  9. Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. New York: Routledge, 1991.

  10. Land, Nick. “Circuitries,” pp. 294-295.

  11. Davis, Erik. Techgnosis, p. 16. “Crossroads create what the anthropologist Victor Turner calls ‘liminal zones,’ ambiguous but potent spaces of transformation and threat that lie at the edge of cultural maps.”

  12. Davis, Erik. Techgnosis, p. 179.

  13. Sourced from a poem-like passage in an old McBee Keysort advertisement used in a TCF installation: “For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost. For want of a part, an order was lost. Clogged production lines, delayed shipments, tied-up working capital, irate customers, red ink - this is the price you pay for faulty inventory control.” Found at: http://www.larsholdhus.com/content/92675c7ff1cd6sdf9cb96492edfsdf4c7e7a4fjsd5-6/

  14. Balla, Giacomo and Depero, Fortunato. Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe, 1915. Translation found at: http://www.unknown.nu/futurism/reconstruction.html

  15. Fell, Mark. “Collateral Damage.”

  16. Tempkin, Daniel. “Glitch & Human/Computer Interaction.” Found at: http://nooart.org/post/73353953758/temkin-glitchhumancomputerinteraction. “Glitch art mythologizes the computer error as its ultimate muse and most potent tool: the event that triggers each piece to manifest … Glitch art underscores the computer as an apparatus indifferent to the readability or quality of the resulting image. The tension in the form does not come from risk of damage or failure, but from the surrender of the image to an unpredictable system, the collaboration with the machine.”

  17. Material in this paragraph draws from Rosa Menkman’s “Glitch Studies Manifesto,” “ found at: http://rosa-menkman.blogspot.com/2010/02/glitch-studies-manifesto.html. “The perfect glitch shows how destruction can change into the creation of something original. Once the glitch is understood as an alternative way of representation or a new language, its tipping point has passed and the essence of its glitch-being is vanished. The glitch is no longer an art of rejection, but a shape of appearance that is recognized as a novel form (of art) … The beautiful creation of a glitch is uncanny and sublime: the artist tries to catch something that is the result of an uncertain balance, a shifting, un-catchable, unrealized utopia connected to randomness and idyllic disintegrations.”

  18. Ikeda, Ryoji, “data.matrix,” dataplex, Raster-Noton. MP3. 2005. Found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5hhFMSAuf4#t=285

  19. Hecker, Florian, “Acid in the Style of David Tudor,” Acid in the Style of David Tudor, Editions Mego. MP3. 2009. Found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ia9HFTstSQ8

  20. Davis, Erik. Techgnosis, p. 127.