Supercargo: an interview with Peter Moosgaard

In the last weeks of December, I blogged about this fascinating project called "Supercargo: a parable of desire". In this tumblr collecting intriguing examples of current cargo cults, Peter Moosgaard provides us with an exhaustive display of  what he calls "Supercargo". He defines it as "ritual appropriation + subversive mimickry". I'm definitely mesmerized by these examples, which I find both curious and revealing; which is why I started chatting with Peter. This is the resulting interview:

Nicolas Nova: Can you tell us more about your supercargo tumblr? What's the logic behind it and how did you become interested in this?

Peter Moosgaard: I think it was about 2005 in south-tirol when i read about cargo cults on a trivial persuit card. i was studying digital arts at that time and got extremely bored with technology. Media arts and digital culture seemed too much about technological progress at that time. everybody was just celebrating technology itself, but technology is never just a cool tool. its pure ideology. the artistic approaches on the other hand were extremely lame. do you know ars electronica festival? it became more and more of a toy expo. i was intrigued by the cargo cults because they celebrated and mocked technology, culture, imperialsim at the same time. i thought, well maybe theres a strategy! when i was crippled by a major depression and panic attacs in 2013 i started the Supercargo Blog. i found myself completely unable to work, but could still surf tumblr, repost stuff etc .. posting became a daily ritual for me and it still is. i just try to put together sets of images with found material, maybe some day i will be able to work again.

These are LAVR-glasses (Lower Austrian Virtual Reality) I built together with local youngsters. after the image of 90ies VR promises, we buitt these for Supercargo (the movie), which is about the founding myth of the artistic cargo cult in Austria.
supercargo-img1

NN: There seems to be a growing interest in this kind of projects, this sort of logic. I'm thinking about this Futur Archaïque exhibit in Belgium I mentioned, but also other art/design projects related to it. Why do you feel this is happening now?

PM: I think something like this is in the air, and its getting bigger. why, i dont know .. maybe its an archaic revival in connection with digital media. Terence McKenna described that conclusively decades ago, and i think he is still right. as advanced these technologies are, they set us back into a mystic perception, a general attraction to archaic forms. we just have to adapt to immense data income every day, logic has to be set aside simply to cope with a hypernervous global culture. it all becomes archaic and mythological. it is just a necessary strategy. another more mundane explanation would be, that people are just getting fed up with the slick, sterile utopia apple is trying to sell us.

these are cargo phones i found on tumblr, a kind of stone age communication, or maybe rebuilt from collective memory after the pulsar-apocalypse.

NN: Do you see this relate to this "post-digital" art scene that we see popping up these days? A need to go beyond the digital?

PM: Yes the postdigital aspect was always very important in my work. i started making postinternet stuff before it even had a name. i tried to see art and technology from the viewpoint of the simple consumer. basically because i myself had no skills at all, no programming skills, no crafting skills etc .. and i find everybody can relate to that everything else is not subversive/emancipatory in my eyes. in my view we´re more and more trying to work like machines, like computers. but how would a simple human do that, not trying to imitate a machine? the postdigital has many forms, and with "supercargo" i took my simplistic position. use only poor materials, embrace capitalist mythology, make a second hand utopia. its a free party from now on!

NN: Lots of these projects are fascinating because they interrogate us about the nature/culture debate. From your perspective, as an astute observer of such projects, what do they tell us about our relationship to technology?

PM: Culture, art and technology are basically utopia factories. you can relate and research (maybe subvert) that in form of simple products. messianic devices, artwork masterpieces, they are part of a larger system. they all have their histories, rules, all these invisible forces manifest in products. the way i see it, we are living in a time governed by cybernetics alone. it was allways in the interest of cybernetics to describe organisms and technology alike. to make a supersystem for processes be it biological or cultural. that is frightening in the end. anyway, maybe through cybernetic thinking we can realise that technology isn't artificial at all. we are just a material processing species, like bees producing honeycombs. i find it interesting to look at the material world again, as we are absorbed in informational worlds. Mcluhan said that every new medium absorbs the old media as its content, therefore making it visible AGAIN. Look at todays TV Shows, they became an artform after the internet absorbed TV. Now the World itelf is upon total simulation. The physical world is becoming visible for the first time i think, and material world will be a cult- a fetish.

these are so called “Dre Beets”. i couldnt figure out who built them, but they are kind of the asian brother of the cargo cult: Shanzhai
supercargo-img2

NN: It's interesting to see Cargo Cults as the new sort of belief, beyond the Western/non-Western distinction, a sort of general perspective on things with a strange relationship to consumerism and material culture, what's your take on this?

PM: As written in the Supercargo Manifesto: Surprisingly the local performers of the Cargo Cults succeeded: By remaking western technology with bamboo, they attracted actual planes full of tourists and anthropologists. People got interested in the exotic parades using western imagery. The John Frum Movement (“John from Merica”) suddenly had an audience, soon bringing actual stuff (cargo) to the island. The cargo shaman once said: You build your plane too and wait in faith. the waiting is the hardest part. According to some shamans the planes awaited will also bring weapons to throw off colonialist oppressors. The cargo cults are strange mockups of imperialism, at the same time keeping old traditions. But is the cult for real or just performance? It does not matter, no difference, it is about the act. The Tale of the Cargo ringing true on so many levels. The cult of the cargo is our world exactly: We perform meaningless routines we call work,in hope for future cargo. With a technology that could navigate us to the moon, we write LMAO. The western world itself is a giant cult of imitating things that somehow work: dressing in suits, using buzzword-vocabulary, mimicking old forms of art. who knows why.. The longing for godlike goodies on the horizon, the usage of things we don´t understand: a big parable of desire. The waiting, the waiting is the hardest part!

NN: thanks for your answers and good luck with the project, keep us posed.

8-bit reggae book playlist

For those who asked, here's the list of the tracks I've included in the 8-bit reggae book. Definitely not exhaustive but a good list of tunes that inspired me. Of course there's not just chip music as the book started with the evolution of reggae.

Jahtari X Uprooted Sunshine: "Level Up"
Jody Bigfoot: "Nintempo riddim - Heathen dub"
Sunset Dub: "Circuit Bent Snes # 1"

Reggae
The Jolly Boys: "Touch Me Tomato"
The Skatalites: "Scandal ska"
Higgs & Wilson: "Manny Oh"
Desmond Dekker: "'007' (Shanty Town)"
The Wailers: "Simmer Down"
Prince Buster: "Judge Dread"
Folkes Brothers: "Oh! Carolina"
Toots and the Maytals "Do the Reggay"
The Paragons: "On The Beach"
Lee Perry: "People Funny Boy"
Lee Perry "Clint Eastwood"
Scientist: "meets the Space Invaders"
Prince Jammy: "Conspiracy on Neptune (Destroys the Invaders)"
The Clash: The Guns of Brixton""
Blackbeard: "Electrocharge"
Papa Levi: "Mi God Mi King"
Smiley Culture: "Cockney Translation"
Dub Syndicate: " Ravi Shankar
Scientist: "meets the Space Invaders"
Wayne Smith: "Under Me Sleng Teng"
Shabba Ranks: "Get Up Stand Up and Rock"

8-bit reggae
Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka: "Balloon Fight"
Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka: "Wrecking Crew"
Mortimer Twang: "Move Move Dub 001"
Mortimer Twang: "Move Move Dub 000"
The Secret Of Monkey Island
Henry Homesweet: "Out-House #11"
Dubmood: "Pressure Drop" (Atari-Ska L’Atakk)
Puppa Jim: "I am a robot"
Quarta 330: "Sunset Dub"
Helgeland 8-bit Squad: "Psybeam Riddim"
Jahtari X Uprooted Sunshine: "Level Up!"
The J. Arthur Keenes Band: "Expelling Bee"
Burro Banton: "Badder dan dem"
Black Chow feat. Pupajim: "Signs
Goto80: "Steel Egg"
Raquel Meyers and Goto80: "2SLEEP1 ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ 001 Echidna, moder till alla monster"
Goto80: "bababy dubub"
Extraboy: "Flintskall dub"
wellwellsound: "Super Marley World"
LEGO Sounds "Dubologist Encephalogram"
Sunset Dub: "Circuit Bent Snes # 1"
2SLEEP1 ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ 005. EXEDUB
Squincyjones: "Nintendub"
??? "Burgerville in 3D"
Snoop Lion: "Here comes the King"



"The complex relationship of sub-systems and their larger wholes."

Currently at the Media design seminar here at the Geneva School of Art and Design, we discussed this interesting way to explain the notion of modularity. Called, "the parable of the two watchmakers", It's from Herbert Simon and it nicely explains the relationship of simple and complex systems (organic and social):

"There once were two watchmakers, named Hora and Tempus, who made very fine watches. The phones in their workshops rang frequently and new customers were constantly calling them. However, Hora prospered while Tempus became poorer and poorer. In the end, Tempus lost his shop. What was the reason behind this? The watches consisted of about 1000 parts each. The watches that Tempus made were designed such that, when he had to put down a partly assembled watch, it immediately fell into pieces and had to be reassembled from the basic elements. Hora had designed his watches so that he could put together sub-assemblies of about ten components each, and each sub-assembly could be put down without falling apart. Ten of these subassemblies could be put together to make a larger sub-assembly, and ten of the larger sub-assemblies constituted the whole watch."

Why do I blog this? This looks like a good way to introduce the notion of modularity, using an analogy which is understandable (as opposed to the use of fractals by other authors).

Objects from Japan

Spent last week in Tokyo for a workshop. A good opportunity to wander around and run across objects that I found typically from there. A short list, it's definitely a selection, can't be exhaustive.

japan1

My favorite, it's pervasive and fascinating. A plastic weight with an handle used to stabilize different things here and there in the City.

umbrella

Most of the people I've seen used this model of umbrella. They sometimes leaves it in different places.

hat

Umbrellas a pervasive but hats are important too. This one's in a university office, just in case an earthquake appears.

towelwarmer

Towels need to be warmed, don't they?

ticket

I'm not entirely sure about it but it feels like it's meant to protect the brand new metro ticket you buy at the counter. Lovely design.

vendingmachine

The conspicuous vending machines and their touch/SUICA-enabled interface.

gameinterface

This category deserves a whole blogpost/book/encyclopedia. Ah, game controllers.

frogbin

The frog-like bins are intriguing too.

Why do I blog this? Material culture is fascinating to observe. The design of all these objects is interesting and highlight the way mundane activities are conducted. Such artefacts reflect needs and correspond to expectations or situations... and can act as potential stimuli in workshop/research to show alternative to how things are done/made elsewhere.

"Six approaches to empirically research algorithms"

An interesting read this morning:

Kitchin, R. (2014). Thinking Critically About and Researching Algorithms, The Programmable City Working Paper 5, Available at SSRN.

As indicated by its title, this paper address the ways to investigate algorithms and the difficulties in doing so. Based on an extensive review of the literature, it highlights the issues at stake in the field of software studies that emerged in the last ten years. It's quite pragmatic with a focus on six ways to empirically research algorithms: "examining source code (both deconstructing code and producing genealogies of production); reflexively producing code; reverse engineering; interviewing designers and conducting ethnographies of coding teams; unpacking the wider socio-technical assemblage framing and supporting algorithms; and examining how algorithms do work in the world." In a discussion of these approaches, Kitchin highlights that they should be combined in order to provide more thorough perspectives

Why do I blog this? Both because it's a resource that may be useful for my students working in this domain, and bc I'm currently writing about algorithmic cultures.