Plugin Beachball Success

Plugin BeachBall Success is a Prepared Desktop performance that I developed for transmediale 2k+12. I was honored that Kristoffer Gansing asked me to develop an interrupt to the 25th anniversary edition of transmediale, a transdisciplinary media art and digital culture festival in Berlin. An interrupt was a perfect. I love having  the opportunity to invoke/provoke/design an unstable moment for folks to consider the systems at play; that is, after all, the essence of a glitch.

“The new Artistic Director Kristoffer Gansing will introduce the 2012 festival in/compatible, accompanied by Hortensia Völckers (KSB) and Bernd Scherer (HKW). Somewhere in between, the glitch-artist jon.satrom is featured, with one of his signature performances Prepared Desktop.” -transmediale

gaising & satrom

The interruption happened during the festival introduction, when Gansing was about to do a slideshow of images. My laptop screen locked on him and so did the presentation. I jumped up to resolve the situation, which evolved/devolved into the performance. I designed the beginning of the performance as a troubleshooting phase to reflect what really happens when one is presented with a problem like this. Throughout the performance, I downloaded assets, packages, and programs for the performance and proceeded to install them, execute them, and improvise with them.

After the program was over, I had a few folks say that they were suspended in a space where they didn’t know if it was a performance or a series of unfortunate events for the first 5 minutes, or so; that’s 1/4 of the performance!

“The in/compatible concern of year’s transmediale was also at the center of a highly impressive performance of jon.satrom on the opening night in the large auditorium: Starting with a login problem on the laptop Kristoffer Gansing was using, the Chicago artist had to install a plugin, resulting in a rhythmically choreographed download window.

The system requests, rejections, and installation file locations grew into a comprehensive audio-visual performance. A performance that began with the most commonplace everyday compatibility issues, suddenly the aesthetic exceeded mere clicks, opening and closing converted the entire area of the desktop in a syncopated rhythm game of processes and terrifying transformations.”

jon.satrom succeeded in capturing an audience of thousands of people through the projection of a desktop–some were carried away by shouting cheers. A real surprise.
– Texte Zur Kunst (translated from German to English)

Seeing this year’s festival identity, created by Manuel BürgerTimm Häneke und Till Wiedeck brought to my mind the new face of error: null. As the user experience continues to be refined, errors are softened, glitches are glossed over or greyed out, and incompatibilities are ignored.

An illustration of this is the  Adobe Flash vs. iOS battle in 2010 – 2011.

“We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features.”

Thoughts on Flash – Steve Jobs April 2010

Though it might be a practical argument, what interests me is how the visual communication of this bold decision to iOS users was handled. In earlier versions of the OS, sites with Flash content would appear with a blue Lego block  indicating that the site was incompatible. There were no links, just an ambiguous icon. Ironically, an icon of an object used to build things…

Just as I began collecting a series of iPhone screenshots of incompatible sites for a potential project, an update was pushed through–I think it was iOS 4.2–and it removed the Lego. This obfuscated fault from Apple’s decision to restrict their platform. By silencing the error, the problem became ambiguous. Users were left with a blank screen and had no reference for considering the problem (Apple’s stance on Flash.) It simply, and quietly, didn’t work. A subsequent update offered an icon that says: “Get Adobe Flash Player,” resulting in a redirect to an Adobe page that says: “We’re Sorry, This content requires Adobe Flash Player, which is not supported by your device…”

I’m over illustrating the above blame-game as an example of the hidden agendas and considerations at play in the tools and systems many of us use. It’s not an Apple vs. Adobe thing, it’s inherent to convergence culture. As transmediale highlighted, these disconnections within a utopic interconnected model highlights that Everything Is [Not] Connected.

The increasingly unclear tension-states between open and closed, freedom and control, idealistic and commercial are giving rise to a new kind of “techno-cultural uneasy”. The in/compatible in this context is a singular moment of transversal reflection. – transmediale

Sparked by an interrupt, Plugin Beachball Success uses in/compatibility as a compositional and conceptual framework for a realtime troubleshooting and trouble-creating… Plugin BeachBall Success parallels the process of installing speculative software within an in/compatible system. What begins as a missing plugin for Open Office devolves into a playful psychedelic mess.

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