Dead Name - Sammie Veeler

I forget.

Anyway, we met and exchanged bodies.

Or he slipped out as I entered.

I’m not sure.

We were together there for a long moment before it got quiet again.

I promised I would remember.

We wrote what we called a question in the form of a book. It was more like a rat’s nest of dramatic assertions in the form of a hypertext.

People have seen it, read it, and contributed to it.

But I removed it from the internet.

It’s horrible. And unfortunately the desperate thrashing thing is a codex that inscribes my fate.

We evacuated the pages over three manic days.

Only breaking the loop through a ritual removal of my 18 month old rat tail. Thus severing the tether which bridged the rupture of our meeting.

My connection to this alternate reality eroded over the years, like a dream’s traces washing off the conscious mind as it returns to waking life.

I refer to it in moments of desperation.

I have worn through the fabric of that memory. It stretches far beyond its container.

I didn’t realize what I was doing until it was already done.

Then he was gone, just as quickly as he arrived.

And I was alone with a full suite of memories which are allegedly my own.

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment.

It feels more like a gradual handover.

A body given and received with gratitude.

I think about the inscriptions we leave.

After we are flushed back out of ourselves.

And I think of our book that I cannot decode without him, which nonetheless animates the very fabric of my work here on earth.

I departed everything everywhere to become someone somewhere.

I feel my body in time.

I am walking an unruly dog.

When we cross the threshold together, home is always our destination.

Am I pilot or passenger?

led by this companion animal
stopping and starting
doubling back
charging forward

Each time she stops, I take it as an invitation
to listen to a world unpierced by my footsteps.

I place my awareness two inches in front of my forehead, crossfading cacophony and absolute stillness.

the places she pauses
distant echoes of the waste
accumulating in our cyclical wake

Dead Name is a speculative archive in which I play the female archivist of the dead male artist: my late husband, Tvordis Veeler. As the title may indicate, this death is not a traditional death. With this fiction revealed, the significance of his computer’s name should also come into focus.

Tvordis called his computer Theseus. Shortly after he passed, Theseus died too. Stewardship of the machine-memory was thrust onto me. I was terrified. His mother had an old computer from the same year, which she volunteered as a surrogate for Theseus’s guts. I transferred the working parts and modifications from Theseus to his mom’s computer, continuing the cycle of dispersal and reincorporation.

That hard drive works by holding electrons in place, which aren’t freed until the files are deleted. The hard drive is already past its recommended usage period and will inevitably fail. In order to preserve the data, I need to clone the startup disk and replace it with a new drive, thus releasing his traces from the machine.
What’s the difference between accessing a copy and an original?

It’s fiction, but it’s not an act.

I encountered the term “prosthetic memory” in the early research for this book. It was coined in 2004 by Allison Landsberg in her book of the same name. Landsberg argues that “modernity makes possible and necessary a new form of public cultural memory.” Prosthetic memory “emerges at the interface between a person and a historical narrative about the past.” The subject “does not simply apprehend a historical narrative but takes on a more personal, deeply felt memory of a past event through which he or she did not live.” She views this as a phenomenon of significant political force, which has the power to shape collective conceptions of history and mythmaking.

She contends that these technologies of memory blur the boundaries between individual and collective experience, allowing individuals to “suture” themselves into larger histories, to identify with memories which are not their own. In her construction, it seems there is no memory but public memory. Mass media renders us infinitely porous to exogenous experience, yet our private memories remain so.

This is quite relevant to the predicament I find myself in.

Sutured into a body that came with a complete set of memories.

A plural experience mediated through an individual container.

Three years later, Jose Van Dijck published Mediated Memories in the Digital Age, in which she argues that media and memory are mutually constituted. Mediated memory objects are sites where individual minds and collective cultures meet.

Tvordis and I access the files in his computer from opposite sides of a temporal mirror. We are consubstantiated through Theseus.

Each time it freezes, I begin again.

Over and over.

I fall through the street.

Jagged polygons shoot out of my body mesh.

Completing the training mission as the game collapses around me.

Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto, doesn’t matter.

I’m having the bardo dream again.

Today I am James. Standing at the mirror in a filthy public restroom.

I go to the car. I find the map. I descend the stairs. I walk into the foggy forest. I reach the gate.

I am at the mirror again.

I deviate from the program. I walk up the road until I tell myself, yet once more, that this is the road I came in on, and that there is no use going back.

“In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill…” Mary repeats in sotto voce.

Always looking for a girl.

He was looking for me.

And then for an instant I clipped through him.

Or was it him through me?

I forget.

I’m going to zoom way out, then I’m going to zoom way in. 

When I hear the word innovation,

I feel grief. 

I dream of computing that feels like

augmented presence 

cultivated through generations of loving care

A networked unfolding in the fullness of time

A dilating interconnection 

on our long stroll back to totality

programs like recipes

code like carrots

And hardware like wood

Wet

Messy

Alive



That was the last section of the 9th iteration of my ongoing performance project called Dead Name. I’ve been doing this for over a year now. Each performance is site specific and I write a new essay each time I perform. I like to bring this to places where “artist talks” or “lectures” are expected, places like conferences are great because the expectation and the reality differ so dramatically. Each time I’m kind of performing a corridor of Sammie, some more fictional than others. So today I’m kind of “doing Dead Name” as an artist talk, but I’m also kind of performing. 



Dead Name is a spatial archive of each performance in the series. I’m obsessed with archives as ways to both bridge time and produce history. Every performance is recorded, and then I install each section in the places where I stopped to speak, so when I perform, time folds back on itself in some weird ways that I like to observe and document. With these voiceovers, I’m accompanied by a rising chorus of dead Sammies, who automate the labor of my performance of expertise. 

The site of a lot of my work is an ongoing grief ritual over my late husband, Tvordis. This practice unites my individual experience of grief mediated by technology with broader grief over technology itself. His death formed an immutable rupture between before and after, and our life together is the well of inspiration that drives me today. 

The unit of analysis of this practice is the word. Tvordis once told me that “words are rocks.” I have to keep reflecting on what this means to me, and whether that meaning has shifted. I think the gist is that people make meaning. Words are inert until translated in the mind and heart of a living subject. 

We fell in love through text messages and when we finally got in bed together I whispered “I left my phone for you.” He was word before he was flesh. Now he is word again. 

We met while studying political theory at the University of Chicago. We were both obsessed with historical revolutions and transitional justice. Political theory is what you study when you have no idea what you want to be, but these concerns ended up being really relevant to my practice today. He ended up working in tech but neither of us had any sincere passion for computers. We loved meeting people online and trying on virtual identities like clothes. Going to the last remaining “Mos Eisley Cantinas of the Internet” as he called them. 

My obsession with technology and the history of computing came after he died. When he left, the only remnants I had were his clothes and his laptop. We devised a ritual of remembrance with that computer which I still practice on and off screen. Through the act of remembrance, I try to speak to the ways we as a collective produce memory. 

I love broken technology. 

I trust friction. The more seamless the onboarding process, the more I feel I’m being tricked. 

I want to see the edges of the algorithm. 

I want to see where it breaks down. 

One of the best moments I’ve had with virtual reality was recently, when I tried to connect my headset to my PC over a bad wifi connection. The viewport started to glitch and the screen was overtaken by triangles of gray and white terminating at a point in the center of my field of vision. The edges of the triangles became more jagged and a tiny red line one pixel wide ran through the middle. 

For 20 minutes or so I just sat and watched this phenomenon because I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to reproduce the bug. 

Totally present. 

So embodied. 

And then my battery died. 





So fundamentally my work as an artist is a type of political rhetoric that connects my production of my individual history with our collective construction of reality online. I aim to draw junctions between local and global phenomena of networked life. Two specific junctions of interest are poetry with revolution, and history with technology. These all relate to the ways we construct our individual and collective realities. 

What do words have to do with revolutions? 

Both are consensus mechanisms which are a cause and result of collective understanding. Which do not exist absent human intervention.

The word revolution also interests me because so often it’s used to market consumer technology. 

Repeat after me, no consumer product can ever be revolutionary. 

I dream of a future that we make, not one that we buy. Definitely not one that is built for us. One more VR story. A close friend of mine, eminent digital anthropologist Wade Wallerstein called up VRChat during the height of the pandemic and said, rightly, that they should hire him because they have no anthropologists on staff and he is one of the leading experts on their virtual worlds. VRChat said “sorry, we’re basically only hiring engineers right now.” We can’t think about why we’re building it, we have to build it!!

We are experiencing a generational shift in human culture from the material to the metaphysical. We have been doing technology the way we did mechanized industry, and the two are not compatible.

Herbie Hancock summarizes this shift in his song, Wisdom, on the album Future 2 Future.

The speaker says: 

“Knowledge corresponds to the past. It is technology. Wisdom is the future. It is philosophy. It is people’s hearts that move the age. While knowledge may provide a useful point of reference, it cannot become a force to guide the future. By contrast, wisdom captivates people’s hearts and has the power to open a new age. Wisdom is the key to understanding the age, creating the time.” 

Poetry doesn’t happen on the page and no revolution can be captured on camera. Poetry and revolutions happen in the mind. I view both as signifiers overswelling their containers. Where the poem is instant and ephemeral, the revolution unfolds on a generational timescale. 

Technology is often viewed as something that happens to us, not something we make. The same goes for history. There’s an illusion that these two things take an objective shape. 

A David Graeber quote that always sticks with me is, 'The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.” 



This is where the connection between my studio practice and my work as an organizer at New Art City starts to emerge. I found myself working in virtual reality somewhat by accident. I avoid the term VR, because it tends to refer more to features than feelings. The sticky thing about virtual reality for me is the reality part. 

Are reality and realism the same thing? 

Will more pixels make the world in my headset more real? 

Is reality what we see, or what we believe? 

One of my biggest problems with the so called metaverse was the idea that somehow making a 3D simulation would produce different social relations online, but that’s never how social relations form, with a bunch of consultants in a room saying you will buy Gucci sneakers for your avatar. I think this also draws focus away from the nature of the simulation we already live in. 

Language itself is a simulated reality. Technologies like the printing press, the radio and of course the internet extend the scope of the simulation media, but it was as real in 1700 as it is today.

Over time, however, the simulation world has extended to such a degree that the boundaries are a lot harder to see.

It’s easier to log on than it is to log off– our default state is connected. The simulation is synchronous and interactive, but the rules are different than they are in the physical world. So my conceptual concern has more to do with examining the simulation we already live in, and the human bonds of solidarity that truly bind us.

So that was a speedrun of my manifold confusion, now I can talk about how some of these things are put into practice at New Art City. 

New Art City is an artist run virtual space founded in March of 2020 which allows artists to build 3D multiplayer websites without code. Artists can upload images, audio, video, and 3D shapes to a simple drag and drop editor, and host openings where everyone is experiencing the art together. We’ve hosted nearly 200 shows featuring around 6000 artists, and we’ve had something like half a million visitors. 

We’re made of essentially the same things as a startup: an LLC, some code, some people, but we just chose not to operate that way. If we rebranded to a “metaverse platform” in 2021, we could have probably gotten some money from a venture capital fund, but it didn’t accord with our values. We instead tried to act more like a born digital arts institution. A DIY warehouse with infinite studios. 

Access is at the center of our mission and accessibility is intersectional. It is not a problem to be solved, it is an active and political orientation. Geography, digital device, technical literacy, race, and disability all contribute to excluding folks from showing and experiencing art. 50% of internet users on earth primarily access the internet through a mobile device. 2% own a headset. We chose to build for the 50%, not the 2%. We want to make virtual exhibitions easy to author and we want to make them available to the widest audience possible. 

Access is more than accessibility. It’s not about who you allow to enter, it’s about who you invite. This means that we actively encourage participation and collaboration with under-represented artists, and those artists help us determine our priorities as an institution. 

We’ve been a crossroads of a ton of different types of artists: students, educators, museums, and artists who show in them, and we remain the only space that came up in that era which is solely dedicated to artists. So we are really close to our core “users” because they’re more than users, they’re colleagues, collaborators, and friends. 

The reason the metaverse failed was A) the consultants got bored and moved on to AI and B) they tried to market a product as a compendium of features. It is a solution to an imaginary problem. We operate New Art City in exactly the opposite way. We build slowly because almost everything we build is a result of communication and collaboration with the artists we serve. 




Here are a few examples:

Alt Text

We are the first virtual gallery to include alt text as a metadata field, which is good and important for our friends who use screen readers, but alt text isn’t accessibility, it’s just a tool. Infrastructure is tool + culture. The tool is only as useful as how you use it and who you invite to use it. Early on we convened an accessibility panel of artists working in different accessibility fields, who held us accountable to our access goals, helped us write a public access statement, and collected accessibility resources which are available on our website. 

We didn’t make this alt text field for a theoretical blind person, we made it for real people, so we tested the feature with a bunch of blind folks. Their feedback was essentially, “this is a well built accessible webpage, but there’s a big difference between going to an art show and reading an exhibition catalog.” So this inspired us to invite artists to give recorded tours of their exhibitions, with a docent (me) providing visual descriptions while the artists spoke to the work. 

This archive of exhibitions with accessible tours and metadata was essentially the prototype of the nonprofit arm we founded this year, which we’re calling Virtual Access Lab. I can talk more about that later.

Captioning

One of those panel members is Andy Slater, a brilliant blind artist from Chicago who was commissioned to create the first ever non visual virtual experience on New Art City. We built a time coded captioning system for our tool to make Andy’s piece, but that is now a built-in feature for all users. 

VR

We also recently built our first VR implementation for Nat Decker, who was commissioned to create a piece for HTC’s Vive headset. They didn’t really want to build something to crip wash HTC’s metaverse platform, so they built it in New Art City instead. Viverse is built to be navigated with joystick controllers, which are impossible for a lot of people to use for multiple reasons. Nat instead recommended that we develop gaze-based navigation with waypoints and auditory feedback. That also opened the door to waypoints as a platform-wide tool which we’ll eventually use to automate guided tours within the gallery. 

Virtual Access Lab

VAL arises out of a synthesis of these experiences. The idea to form an institution was a long process, but the two things we ended up organizing around are access and preservation, which I believe are intertwined. 

New Art City allows artists to export their worlds and self-host them in the event that our servers go offline, or they just want possession of the real files. Data sovereignty is important, but we also want to set a higher standard of stewardship for the art that happens here. Storage is one thing, but preservation encompasses more care and artist intent. 

The process of inducting artists into the New Art City archive centers around accessibility through metadata, documentation, and hosting. These are cultural infrastructures more than technical infrastructures. The end goal is to empower artists to give the care of access and preservation to one another, and build a digital civic architecture that supports this aim. 




So we’ve come down to earth and touched some grass, but I’d like to leave you back in the clouds.

The art we make today is a gift to an unknown future. It is a promise to exist, and a frontier on which to be held. 

Art works are like mushrooms: fruiting bodies of a collective unconscious only incidentally authored by an individual. 

We are mycelium.

Objective reality does not exist.

But don’t worry. Your subjectivity is a gift.

You are not bereft of information.

You do not need to have all of the words.

facts are tools for winning arguments

solidarity is a tool for winning liberation

You are being asked to stand up for what you believe. 

 

 

All human activity is political.

The choice to remain apolitical is itself a political act.

 

 

Three concurrent genocides are in progress today in Armenia, Ukraine Palestine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I asked myself as I came here to perform,

“Why the fuck am I making art right now?”

 

 

All struggles for liberation are inextricably linked. 

 

 

I have no legal status in this country.

 

 

Solidarity keeps me alive.

 

 

a year ago I wrote A Time Capsule Or A Grave:

the polemic wrapped in a eulogy

 

 

that would become this performance in progress

yet once more I wrote an essay when a poem was demanded

 

 

it feels fitting to begin the second series of this project

about the excesses of the Silicon Valley ideology

here in San Francisco

Which I completed on the same day as

Marc Andreessen published his “Techno-Optimist Manifesto”

 

 

That for which Marc is optimistic makes my heart sink.

I am not a pessimist, indeed quite the opposite.

But  technology is not the source of my optimism.

 

 

the train has left the station

nobody is coming to save us

and so we sing ourselves to sleep

 

 

But we’ll never be alone.

Even when the needle rises from the cosmic record

And time stops entirely.

 

 

are we living in the end of history?

is art just entertainment for rich people?

am I a commodity contemplating itself?

is representation praxis?

who decided that there would be a second web?

who decided that there would be a first one?

will this consumer product contain the seeds of my liberation?

do I have to read the Benjamin to make myself understood?

 

 

what is the shape of capital?

what sound does it make when it accumulates?

are aesthetics politics?

are politics aesthetics?

 

 

and then I read the Benjamin in a fit of desperation and feel understood myself.

 

 

let me tell you about my late husband, Tvordis Veeler

This poem is a temporal duet— his words interposed with mine.

 

 

born sam cortese in hollywood california in 1993

to parents greg and jocelyn

a child who spoke to adults hoping beyond hope

they wouldn’t notice that he was five.

an infectious optimism

a personal reality distortion field

 

 

tvordis became tvordis two decades later, on a lark that would ultimately prove fatal.

 

 

he left the body in San Francisco in August 2020, a year after we moved here together.

 

 

In my first hour of knowing him, Tvordis taught me that not even death is death.

 

 

He didn’t die, he lived.

 

 

And he showed me what happens when you turn off the lights.

 

 

He had the courage to end his world as he knew it.

And at that moment, my world began.

 

 

he told me about the gradual unfolding awareness

that we came from another place and found each other in this one.

 

it’s not that we didn’t choose to be born,

we just don’t remember choosing.

 

 

he always spoke for a future past.

there was a lapidary quality to his speech

 

 

In our last year, we were inseparable.

We shared everything.

and with equal measures of joy and desperation,

we tried to document as much as we could before he had to go.

 

what we made together filled a book and 11 cassette tapes

when he left, he gave me his personal computer

and challenged me to “examine this archive of a mask in its incompleteness.”

 

 

To lift these files out of their graves

and put them places they would never expect to find themselves.

 

 

believing that the things he left behind would be retrieved.

the dead only exist to the extent that we remember them.

 

he’s been gone for three years now

and I still feel like an emissary of his vision.

it’s an interesting shape to carry.

the female archivist of the dead male artist.

one of the best ways for a man to increase the market value of his art is to die

 

 

Tvordis was in on the joke.

 

 

 

 

so, why am I talking about my dead husband at an arts and technology festival?

 

 

I would rather talk about death than VR.

 

 

I encode the act of remembrance, because I want you to remember this.

 

 

my greatest challenge as a new media artist is the ‘whoa’ factor

 

 

it is not difficult to produce a ‘whoa!’

 

 

what concerns me is what comes after.

 

 

all media is time based.

time is the frontier along which experience proliferates.

 

 

as soon as information became widely transmissible,

we entered the age of simulation.

 

 

as the simulation dilates,

the window of sensation narrows

 

 

I want you to think about me tomorrow.

 

 

I perform for the paucity of words and the density of presence

I said once that information is not memory

Not even memory is memory.

The two must exist together.

 

 

information can never be presence

the presence is the listening.

an active and embodied process.

 

 

networks transmit presence

but solidarity is not encoded

in the networks that carry it

 

 

society demands the unceasing production of documented miracles

we faithfully oblige

 

 

ok, so let’s talk about vr.

 

 

questions about technology are really questions about being.

computing begins and ends with human bodies

 

 

Not only do we already live in a unified and synchronous simulation, no living person has experienced a reality in which this simulation is not present and active. The resolution of a simulation does not increase its resonance, it only blurs the edges. The metaverse already exists.

 

 

This vector display was modeled after the Digital Equipment Corporation’s PDP-1 mainframe computer. You can see my avatar in ASCII on the screen. The PDP-1 was famously used in 1962 by researchers at MIT to create the first video game: Space War. The first time-sharing system for mainframe computers was designed so students at the university could play the  game, thus originating the social construction of the individuated user.

 

 

The PDP-1 was developed by Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson in 1957, after working under famed systems theorist Jay Forrester to develop the SAGE air defense system.

 

 

The first computer based simulation?

 

 

War.

 

 

And the interface for that SAGE computer?

 

 

A gun. 

 

 

The reality is virtual, but the consequences are material.

 

 

The substrate of our simulation is not software, it’s culture.

 

 

Hey, I know who decided there would be a second web, his name is Tim!

 

 

Some guy made up this name to describe the companies that survived the dot com boom, so he could get people to come to his conferences and learn how to be like Google. 

 

 

So is it a new web?

 

 

or a new market opportunity?

 

 

This Macintosh is a recurring figure in my work— I call them His and Hers computers, a visual metaphor for digital files as tethers between past and present. Because all experience is durational and time is a type of space, the cascading moments of retrieval form congruent ripples in time.

 

 

The device itself, the Macintosh, remains an object of technological grief for me. 

 

 

Steve spoke the language of San Francisco counterculture

 

 

And performed a miracle

 

 

He turned the language of revolutions onto the practice of branding.

 

 

Technology is not inherently liberatory.

 

 

So when McKinsey tells me that the value of virtual real estate will be 400 quadrillion dollars in 2040, that doesn’t sound like a revolution, it sounds like a coup.

 

 

Don’t forget Steve flew a pirate flag over Cupertino.

 

 

He changed the world.

 

 

Why did he want to?

 

 

He wanted to make a world

that he controlled.

 

 

When I hear the word innovation,

 

 

I feel grief.

 

 

I dream of computing that feels like

augmented presence

cultivated through generations of loving care

 

 

A networked unfolding in the fullness of time

A dilating interconnection

on our long stroll back to totality

 

 

programs like recipes

code like carrots

And hardware like wood

 

 

Wet

Messy

Alive

 

I really didn’t expect to make it here. Living as a woman, living as an artist, living at all. When I moved back to Los Angeles three years ago, I knew I needed to be an artist, but I had no idea how to begin. The community I encountered here was supportive beyond my wildest expectations. It is a privilege to be a part of this constellation, contributing a piece which so many of my fellow contributors helped guide into existence. The art we make today is a gift to an unknown future. It is a promise to exist, and a frontier on which to be held. Art works are like mushrooms: fruiting bodies of a collective unconscious only incidentally authored by an individual. We are mycelium.

It is a gift to be in community, and the tools we use as digital artists encode our interconnections. We make tools and share them with one another, inscribing ourselves on the instrument, the output, and one another in the process. The pre-internet age valued a concept of solo genius, pinning movements to people and objects. In an age of constantly transforming technology, we are constant beginners. Domain expertise is no longer possible in the same way. Every piece feels in some way like an experiment, a tension between “will it work?” and “will it resonate?” The technology we use is as important as how we use it, and this is a collective process of discovery.

I make art about being trans, but it’s really about grief and digital memory. The inciting incident of my practice occurred in the year between my two lives, as the old self ceded agency to the new one. I use the metaphor of a ‘dead husband’ to describe the man I used to live as. He made up the name Tvordis Veeler and I kept his surname after I transitioned. In my name, Sammie Veeler, I encode the act of remembrance. There is a common pressure to memory hole the pre-transition self, but I chose to view it as collaboration. I am in solidarity with this past self, and in many ways an emissary of his vision. The mushroom metaphor was his. These iterations of myself both before and after transition are ancestors who led me here.

When he wrote those words, it felt like he was surrounded by a chorus of angels calling him to step through to the other side. In the moment of inscription, he encoded an infinity of future retrievals. In this eternal present we are like switchboard operators, patching connections between past and future. By writing those words, he picked up the phone, and I answer on the other end over and over.

It was like I woke up one morning with this man’s memories and his personal computer, and had to make sense of what I found there. My embodied memory was already foggy– it is hard to inscribe memory in the derealized state of dysphoria. I relied on the mediated memories he left on his computer to reconstruct the narrative that led me to this catalyzing point. I knew that it would be my last year experiencing reality tinted by my endogenous testosterone, and that in re-accessing the memories of my last life, I would rewrite them. This was the last time I would see my life through that lens. I dove headfirst into his archive of images and the art he made in private, graphomaniacally documenting my associations with them. Indeed once I began taking estrogen, I returned again to all of those old sensations, tapping the resonances, observing the result, and reinscribing those memories once more. Three years later, the last life feels like a dream.

In A Time Capsule or a Grave, the ongoing performative lecture series which I contributed to Mirror, I expose this digital grief ritual which incited my practice as an artist. I document my processes of remembrance and memory production, along with the technologies that shaped them. I perform a verbal address with a persistent virtual world projected behind me. When I prepare remarks in advance, I publish them as essays. The world itself is an archive of art Tvordis made, and I play the fictional character of the female archivist of a dead male artist. I record the audio of each performance and install it in the virtual at each space where I speak. Each iteration is then performed alongside a rising chorus of dead Sammies.

The performances aim to expose ignorance in the process of learning as I cultivate a voice in real time. My formal education in political theory trained me to research facts to support claims. The tone of the early essays is stiff, dogmatic, somber. I realized lately that I turn to books and artists in search of solidarity, not facts. A name for a sensation. I want to be willowy, warm, intimate.

We use the same tools to inscribe memory as we do to make art. The instantaneity of networked reality dilates the present, writing signs over one another and rewriting our memories in the process. In the hyperpresent, conceptions of past and future recede into the background. The profusion of digital archives adds instant recall to our process of historical production, reassimilating the past into the long present. Our work is often more accurately expressed in flows, processes, and interconnections encoded in networks, but beginning and ending with human bodies.

The documentation we leave behind is interdependent with our embodied memory. These mediated memories can exist in objects and people. We carry the network of memory. To archive is to encode a future retrieval, to give a gift to a future person you don’t know, who may be seeking solidarity in the traces you leave here.

 

my husband, Tvordis Veeler, made the music we’re listening to right now.

I love to perform these temporal duets with him.

This is my first time performing one without a computer

or a virtual world behind me.

You can see what I do with computers in Catalyst.

Today I’d like to be in my body.

For the longest time I felt like this presence

hovering over the scene of his life.

A silent witness to an unfolding play

that I would one day have a part in.

some days I feel like an emissary of his vision.

it’s an interesting shape to carry.

the female archivist of the dead male artist.

one of the best ways for a man to increase the market value of his art is to die

Tvordis was in on the joke.

he released the tape in June.

in August, he was dead.

11 days from now makes three years since he left the body.

for the past 9 months I’ve been performing his eulogy as a lecture. 

in places where lectures are expected.

for 9 months I’ve gestated this swimming memory

 

 

I’m shopping for a voice

and it might be my own.

I look back at my words from last year, the first time I performed the eulogy.

stiff. dogmatic.

syllabic. didactic. 

written to be read, not spoken.

if I could just argue forcefully enough, maybe I could be heard.

I cried in that church in Arles

for 60 confused and sympathetic media artists

thinking about the echoing empty church in Belgium

where we whispered our vows.

his parents weren’t happy about it

but there was nothing they could do.

they came around eventually.

 

 

how do you eulogize a man who loved to eulogize himself?

I’ve heard the song many times, so I know how it goes.

I’m happy to keep singing it.

His self-eulogy was rarely solemn.

He liked making himself silly compared against eternity and oblivion.

I’ve never met somebody so obsessed with ego death.

On our first date he spent 20 minutes talking about acid trips.

And somehow I could have listened to him talk for hours.

He said so matter of factly that, unfortunately,

he had lived before, and he would live again.

he told me about the initial terror of this insight.

he wanted the stillness. to go back to the source.

he told me about the gradual unfolding awareness

that we came from another world and found each other in this one.

it’s not that we didn’t choose to be born,

we just don’t remember choosing.

he spoke for a future past.

somehow knowing that the things he left behind would be retrieved.

the dead only exist to the extent that we remember them.

 

 

 

 

he was so obsessed with these tapes

and he told me all about how he made them

I listened intently and there was a time when, good student that I am,

I could describe his process verbatim.

I loved to see the way his eyes would light up when he spoke.

But really, I could care less how he made them.

I’m always more interested in the why.

I said, honey, I’m going to forget all this, and so are you.

please write this down.

Good boy, he listened.

if my work is about memory, his was about forgetting.

buried in these sound maps are these precious traces of his voice.

performing for the air.

for an audience he understood he would likely never know.

he makes me work to find the traces.

He called it an unstaged film. And I am the faithful archivist, editing a million glittering fragments, weaving past into present.

As I was preparing for this performance, I found some writing of his that I thought was lost. This happens all the time. The man documented feverishly, but he had no sense of organization.

 

 

I cried when I accidentally recorded half of The Source. Thank god I still have the original. I knew the song by heart anyway.

 

 

Today I performed Pauline Oliveros's sonic meditation "Learn To Fly" as I prepared a handheld dictophone to hold my precious source. I've heard the song so many times before, you know?

 

 

Still I cried, and I recorded it! If I had only hit record. And so, I sighed yawn sighs down and down and down, probing my breath, practicing my miracles for the camera. And as soon as I probed my natural register (above my smooth tenor) I felt the totality yet to behold. The clumsiness with which I attempted arcing gestures upward brought me to tears as soon as I hit the vein. And laughter followed. The funniest joke of all, 1 second of the ordeal was recorded, and this mistake was an intention un-hidden.

 

 

Before it was art, it was a joke.

His life was aesthetic and it was intentional.

He knew it and he wrote about it and it was funny.

He wrote unhinged poems and posted them on Facebook.

Our friends roared with laughter.

Ornate, clinical descriptions of cooking without eating.

Each ending with the refrain, “to begin again.”

When I read them now, they make me cry.

 

 

I’ll never forget when he told me about the greatest compliment he ever received.

Somebody told him, “in order to understand Tvordis Veeler, you have to accept that it isn’t an act.”

He was passing.

Still, it struck me funny.

A bit too perfect when he picked me up in his little red convertible

turned on the Velvet Underground cassette and Pale Blue Eyes was cued up.

I remember him graduating college, earnestly pursuing a career in business because he felt he was obligated to use his privilege to infiltrate Silicon Valley.

He took it so seriously, even as he came to understand how unserious it was.

His dad told him that he should be an artist, but Tvordis brushed him off.

He made art for the joy of making it.

Not in this lifetime, he said.

 

 

he never got to see me as a woman

but he carried me right up until the moment he had to go.

sometimes I felt like the teen drama queen

in his serious boy Lifetime movie

like I was programmed for his dream

 

 

I don’t really know where I came from

I don’t have a legal status in this country.

solidarity keeps me alive.

I don’t have a family of my own

and his parents, Greg and Jocelyn… they’ve loved me like their own daughter

I moved here to be near them. They still come to my art shows and invite me to dinner.

Greg gave me Tvordis’s little red convertible, which had belonged to Greg since the 80s.

They even came to France to see me perform the first eulogy.

 

 

I feel such deep kinship with this man whose clothes I still sometimes wear

Whose car I drive

And whose computer I dig through at least once a week

looking for more surfaces I never got to touch.

 

In my first hour of knowing him,

Tvordis taught me that not even death is death.

He didn’t die, he lived.

And he showed me what happens when you turn off the lights.

He had the courage to end his world as he knew it.

And at that moment, my world began.

 

 

so sorry to interrupt because this is

very interesting okay yeah so I mean not

many artists get to sort of curate their

own work from the jump and so now I've

been doing this for long enough that I

have

probably 30 or so worlds or like 3D

spaces that I've made on New Art City and

they're basically a throughline across

all of the visual art I've ever made

um and this is kind of one of the

central parts of my practice and this

was this was the case before I started

working in in Virtual space even that

like

um

I'm really interested in personal

archives and so

like one of the like processes that I go

through is I return to a file that I

made a long time ago the more cringe the

better and it always without fail kind

of shows me

what I was feeling in a way that I

couldn't tell when I was inscribing it

and it sort of becomes this like Pathway 

to involuntary memory and so I now kind

of do this process intentionally where

whenever I drop an artifact in my hard

drive that I've made I know that it's

inscribing my sight and my blindness

simultaneously

um

and this is kind of a spiritual practice

right because

if you have a file stored in a a solid

state hard drive

these little bits are stored in what are

called electron charge traps when you

put a file in there those same electrons

will stay right where they are until yo

delete it and so it's not trivial to say

that current me and past me are both

touching the same substance when we

interact with it the other Quirk of

digital files right and this is the this

is true of my previous Virtual Worlds

cassette tapes

they're always accessed in

Translation they

um they always kind of point to an

invisible original and they only perform

their objecthood when they're accessed

so this becomes a really potent metaphor

for time I think that the fourth

dimension is a type of space and I

believe that all time has already

happened and we're only accessing it

linearly just like the playhead on a

cassette player

um and so my latest kind of series of

work has been a lot about

take like creating this conversation

between my like versions of myself over

time and so as we think about kind of

ghosting the binary body

in

um in uh glitch feminism right

uh she's talking about gender yes and

that's important but I think ghosting

the idea of a single stable self across

time is equally important that that the

the self is not binary it's it's not 10

100 it's like the identity is an

uncountable quantity it's it's an

infinite thing

um

and so I guess I could even

take you through this world that I uh

that's been kind of the site of my

latest series of performances called a

time capsule or a grave

if you'll permit me to screen share I

believe I am permitted yes

okay

so there's an there's an essay that I

wrote here I mean I might as well just

read it yes so what is going on here

I didn't know what I was doing until it

was already already done

a time capsule or a grave is my first

serious attempt to involve performance

in my practice the work exists in a

hybrid format I activate a persistent

virtual space on new art city with IRL

performances the audio of which are

recorded and installed spatially in the

virtual after each iteration this essay

itself is a momentary capsule of

subjectivity

a week before I went to perform the

piece for the first time at Octobre

Numerique Faire Monde in Arles, France

um Lauren Lee McCarthy introduced me to

her idea of a performance in progress

I'd already planned to record the audio

from the performance and install clips

in this space at each place that I spoke

but Lauren sparked the idea that I could

perform that piece multiple times

my late husband Tvordis Veeler was

obsessed with Finnegans Wake one of the

ideas that forms the book's internal

logic comes from the new science of Giambattista

 Vico according to Vico the

cyclical structure of History Loops

through Three Ages Divine heroic and

human Joyce modifies the schema to

include a ricorso between Cycles which I

view something like eddying out on

the River of time as I write this A Time

Capsule or A Grave has been performed

four times and the ricorso came second

through a collaboration with Emji St Spero 

the production of each age and the first 

cycle of performances formed a 

tightening temporal Loop so A Time

Capsule or a Grave, the original one,

it took about three months to write the

essay and build the world

um What Will You Be Like Before What

Were You Like After which is the ricorso 

was a product of basically a one hour 

Pomodoro writing exercise which we then

immediately recorded

um About My Avatar took about three

weeks and His and Hers was the the

latest performance and this was I didn't

prepare any remarks so it took me about

three hours to kind of get my head

together for it so did I designed them

this way with the Viconian cycle in mind

no

it is a comfortable frame from my

former literary obsession with which to

name the phenomena that I've observed in

this process

wait you said your husband was the Joycean

yes Tvordis was my previous Avatar

an identity to which I'm wedded but

which is no longer alive

this fiction

was not revealed as fiction until the

third iteration of the performance

increments of time and space have the 

same statistical character as the whole

in the same way I hope this essay will

mirror the constellation of objects and

processes that make up this work

this first cycle of exploration has

revealed that the process of observing

and naming the particularities in this

world must be Central to the work going

uh going forward indeed it has defined

all of the efforts leading here as well

words spiral out of the rupture of an

encounter with the past self as other

and the future self itself the best way

to show My Future Self what I can't see

today is is to get out of my own way and

try to name the sensations

even though I made these worlds and

everything in them the internal logic

here remains unclear I still get lost

the process of this piece is becoming a

pataphysical study of phenomena taking

place here

toward

Sammie

like I haven't read that essay in a

little while so it's kind of it's kind

of interesting

it's fun I really enjoyed as a piece of

writing

most of my pieces are also essays

so we're gonna let dead Sammies talk for

a while my name is Sammie Veeler and this

piece is called A Time Capsule or a

Grave

on the internet nobody knows you're a

dog

nobody knows you're a singular person

indeed nobody knows you're still alive

the networked age has shifted the

production of history from a one to many

to a many-to-many process not only does

everybody produce history they become

historians as well

Art's role in historical production has

shifted along the same lines

information is abundant and making

meaning from it now is a collective

responsibility

we must not confuse information for

memory

memory the information exists in the

machine memory is constituted in the

body

I address you in my capacity as the

title executor of the estate of devorus

villa my late husband and as a curator

whose work concerns the digital

preservation of cultural memory

I'm a steward of my husband's most

intimate digital device his personal

computer which he called Theseus

the world will Traverse here are moments

outside time between two local machines

his and hers

these worlds were created in

constellation with peers who guided and

inspired my work

from the body to some sort of

disembodied state

you know if you think about a metaphor

of living and dying

we're each embodied in this sort of

container and extruded through time like

a playhead on a cassette player

all time has already happened and we're

only experiencing it linearly

and so

if you think about what makes a world

it took me a long time to figure that

out even though I run this virtual Art

Space right

and sort of trying to uncover the

internal Logics of what it means to

exist in Virtual space

has been really important to me not just

as an artist but also as running a

virtual space which was founded before

the you know the use of the metaverse

saw this Resurgence and so I'm

constantly asking myself what is virtual

embodiment what is trust what is a

sovereign identity online

and so as we think about these transits

between physical and virtual

this image attempts to

perhaps

visualize the metaphor that I'm trying

to talk about here so on the left you

see an old Macintosh and the stickers on

it are actually the same stickers on the

laptop I'm using

and on the right is my late husband

tortoise you can see the man himself

here on the screen and that is his

personal computer which he calls Theseus

um and I've taken on this role of

archivist of this artifact

um and sort of

my contact with the artifacts there the

things that he was too afraid to call

Art

um I now get to be the curator of this

archive and it's not just

you know touching an artifact it's a

portal through time between me and this

other person

and so the internet

transmits something which is not

encodable

and so as we move towards embodiment

this is how I view myself in Virtual

space this is a poor resolution image

but we are after all always copies in

motion

I think as a trans person

do I really want another body do I want

one body

have I not learned already through my

own experience that identity is mutable

and that's part of the fun

so let's zoom out a little bit more

kind of what my work looks like

so

it's well known that art appreciates in

value after the death of the artist

but what death are we considering

the soul departing the body or

The Voice departing its origin

in the Twilight of my husband's life he

promised me his computer and challenged

me to examine this Archive of a mask in

its incompleteness

to lift these files out of their grave

and put them in places they would never

expect to find themselves

through this gift of his uncurated

digital self he ensured I would never be

alone in my dream

I built this world but most of the

artifacts you see installed here were

actually made by him from his [ __ ] posts

to his self-portraits to his sound

collages that's what's here

thank you

I always get in yeah

[Music]

I'm often summoned to perform expertise

regarding our purported transition into

the metaverse

it's my belief that competing Computing

already envelops us in a way that

renders it invisible

in the metaverse heaven is a data center

and we're there together now

we've lived there for over a decade

already

logging onto the internet is a way to

leave the body

logging on is no longer an intentional

process but a natural state of existence

it's easier to log on than it is to log

off

easier to store a file than it is to

delete it

our default state is disembodied

and our default identity is plural

in the data center our virtual souls are

mixed together as anonymized digital

residue

up there we are one body

so what does it mean

when a society collectively and

involuntarily astral projects casting

data shadows as we travel

we are always in the presence of our own

ghosts

ancestors may be more apt

we constantly depart and reinhabit this

new network World our consciousnesses

exist stride embodiment and

disembodiment

to leave the body can be both

dehumanizing and liberating

[Music]

summons

warm expertise

I'm so confused and the key seems like

it's stuck down

let me hit a refresh

I love the the idea though of you

getting like lost in your own world or

like not being able to perfectly

navigate

I do it happens

um

especially in the older ones I yeah I

even I I've

that was recorded in one of the other

performances I did okay okay

so right I think a lot about the cloud

um the way that Computing is kind of

made consciously invisible that like

the web 2 era is really designed to

reduce friction at any time you have

like a low friction experience online

dollars to Donuts you're [ __ ] getting

exploded in one way or another

because if you think about it for a

little bit too long you're going to

realize what the what the gag is and so

self-hosting your own little web server

and stuff

it's more difficult it's also

significantly more autonomous so what

what it it lacks in low friction and

makes up for in dogshit user experience

you know so it's like

that's that's what they're trying to

take from us I guess is like the yeah

the ability to like

compute in a way that makes sense to us

rather than sort of inform our

experience of computing to somebody

else's YouTube

foreign

[Music]

was Stern and urgent

I played a character of the female

archivist preserving the legacy of a

dead male artist

polemic was for them and the eulogy is

for you

the metaphor of death

which I didn't reveal as a metaphor to

the festival audience it was one of

those negotiations trans people used to

trick cis people into seeing us

I think it's it's safe to assume that

the audience of An All Trans performance

program does not need the same coddling

so let me drop the metaphor and speak

frankly

I think many of us are familiar with the

oversimplifications we use to make

ourselves legible to cis people

some are more pernicious than others

it's like I'm I was a woman trapped in a

man's body presupposes a self-divided

into discreet and opposing entities when

in reality we're not one to ten or ten

thousand

identity is an uncountable quantity

or as weapons right so here's one of the

phenomena that happens when I I automate

myself which is I'm like this is great

you know let her do the talking couldn't

have said it better myself

um but sometimes when I speak off the

cuff in the interstitial zones I repeat

repeat phases with Beta And so this is

literally an echo across time

please

[Music]

with fabrication

a mask which he assumed one night while

he was studying in Paris during third

year at University and which he never

removed

he made this act real by changing his

name on Facebook

masks reflect few intentions back on the

mirror on the wearer like a negative

mirror

I'm awed by the Great Lengths he went to

trying to find comfort in the

masculinity he felt obligated to perform

hated being a man

he had the respect according to him by

other men

the subtle shift in framing he began to

view his life as a performance and this

was the difference between drowning and

Diving

what will you be like before

big

graceful

at a table

drenched in white stage light

you imagine yourself into your own

archive

against which before before just

shifting

horizontal movement

what after

where do you go when you leave the body

Heaven is a data center

the data center is a place on Earth

yeah I didn't really know what was going

to be around this corner

but this this is what what is called

who's bad boy art

um

the previous performance is really

garbled and I just like to think that

you know that line between now and then

is somehow like a shark's chewing on the

undersea table or something

[Music]

the first video art I ever made years

and years ago

yeah I mean maybe this this kind of

connects to the way I feel about

curation that like if it was decided in

the 20th century that everybody must be

an artist and that everything is hard I

think uh in in this century

curation kind of has to undergo that

same transformation that they're simply

too many fucking images you cannot sort

of have the interrelation of them be an

art in itself and you know curation was

billed to me as something that you need

uh

a very very pernicious illusion

um

I guess as a side note New Art City has

facilitated the like countless

curatorial debuts and that's like not

really warms my heart because I think

it's really an operative for people that

matters a lot to me moreover

I'm sure all of you follow meme Pages

um

these people are doing that labor right

there are way too many fucking tik

toks and like why do you follow a meme

page yes they have good tik toks but

they also have a perspective that is

evident in the assemblages that they

make and I think this is a non-trivial

form of curation that doesn't get nearly

enough attention

many of the artifacts toward us left

behind were stereophonic field

recordings and sound collages that he

created from those recordings

these two are virtual spaces and he

viewed them that way

he captured field recordings to

construct incongruous sound spaces with

them

his sound worlds are embodied time

experienced durationally

they only perform their objecthood when

they're accessed

these worlds like all media files are

only ever accessed in Translation they

always point back to an invisible

original

in his recordings he also took care to

make himself invisible but he's present

with us as a fellow listener

in five years of his field recordings

I've found not a single trace of his

voice

his absence however is a form of

presence which is drawn out through his

mistakes

I feel him when he jostles the recorder

and Jingles his keys

it clicks his tongue to test the shape

of a room

I argue that a virtual space can be

defined as a third space between two or

more physical spaces these can be

localized in both space and time

is only alone in his field recordings

when I'm not there to listen with him

when I join him in these spaces he left

for me our virtual selves are equally

unburdened by time and the body

the boundary between our Consciousness

is blurs

on the other side of time

there is a hand reaching back to you

however you must choose to grasp it

can you be sure which hand is yours

it's like listening to a song that I

know the lyrics to

yeah

um I mean I'm glad that we're doing this

because when I visit these worlds it

kind of

it becomes this like involuntary memory

I I recently had a studio visit

um where I took somebody back to

um a performance piece that I made a

very long time ago that I viewed as a

performance but mostly forgot about it

must have been about two years ago and

once we reached the climax of the piece

that I had completely forgotten that I

had made we both cried together and so

this person kind of like witnessed the

operative phenomena of my work in action

um and I find that I meant to record

that but this is kind of like the ghost

in the machine that like the last time I

had tried to record and document a

phenomena like this reading Finnegan's

wake and also bursting into tears at the

climax of this of this uh like random

passage that I read

the first time I did it

I didn't record it and it was you know

this is for the air is what I always say

when that happens and it was very

interesting that I did this studio visit

after this cycle of performances and

that one was for the air

um actually I wonder do you want to maybe

um

talk a little bit about the like

chandelier shape and how it connects to

the text that you're thinking about just

because I I don't know how

familiar with Joyce anyone in this Zoom

oh the chandelier has nothing to do with

Joyce oh it's not the the Joyce one huh

no that is actually my avatar and I that

was what the second performance of Time

Capsule was about so there is an essay

that I wrote specifically about the way

I view the queer Avatar

um because that's kind of one of the my

bug bears with these conceptions of the

metaverse that people are kind of

externally trying to Market to us that

like you know the patronizing thing that

says people will tell me is like oh you

can have an avatar in Virtual space and

it can be whatever you want it's like I

did this with my physical body

um like I I'm I'm familiar with the

concept of a [ __ ] mutable identity

right

um yeah like so I'm not I don't

I don't really want to have a bipedal

body in Virtual space I don't really

want to be represented in this kind of

skew more of a physical body and so most

of the ways that I really experience

virtual embodiment is through text and

this has happened in a lot of really

resonant ways throughout my life where

it's like you know before I transition

falling in love over text was quite

liberatory because I wasn't burdened by

the sort of baggage of the male body and

Persona that I was embodying in physical

space and so the Avatar Miss Sammy is

born when I begin running the Discord

for new art study and managing this

community virtually right

um that like regardless of how much shit

Sammie Veeler talks Miss Sammie is meant

to sort of radiate positive energy to

say magic is possible and it's easier

than you think and so that's that's the

way that I flit about in Virtual space

in text and in zoom and whatever

um but this visual Manifest this Avatar

is meant to be a visual manifestation of

that type of embodiment

um but I've never actually like imported

it to a game engine and piloted it but

it's like it was in it because it's like

my first video art piece was kind of

like a self-portrait like

how fucking innovative but I think

creating my own avatar was something

that I put off because I kind of

resented the responsibility to do it

yeah absolutely yeah that makes

a lot of sense I think yeah I think I

was reading it as a chandelier

like

that shape not just because

um

of the Joyce reference but like also

because I've been obsessively thinking

about the Phantom of the Opera lately

and so maybe that's why I was projecting

well that's that's like I'm so here for

subjectivity because it's I mean

accessibility is a huge part of my work

and visual description and so

I've written a lot of iterations of the

visual description of this object and I

have a sense that my current one is a

little bit too dry

um but I really appreciate when people

visually describe my work

yeah and I'd love to grab my water

bottle sorry oh yeah

um yeah but yeah thinking about like how

in Virtual spaces there's this like

assumption that like

if you are creating a representation of

yourself that it like

that you want to make something that is

like

human and that is like a direct kind of

representational image of

your like physical body

um I mean second life is is quite

counter to this or like one thing that's

interesting about second life is

70 percent

of the users are male and 70 percent of the

avatars are female

um but you can also like one thing about

that Community is that I mean there are

tons of furries of course there are like

lots of people who are embodied as like

weird stuff like that's not new and

that's like that is a really cool thing

about Second Life

um

I guess

I had another another corollary to this

um right so there's another thing about

like

embodying as say a squirrel right like

that's cool but no it's like nobody is

going to believe that a squirrel is

piloting that squirrel right right

so this is kind of maybe how I think

about because like one of my my like

provocations in the first essay which

was much more like formal and researched

um was

was that like the metaverse already

exists and it's just the fucking

internet and so like the reason why

things like Instagram have been quite

successful is that like you're still

making a representation of yourself out

of images it just so happens that the

images you can use are of your actual

self and they're not sort of temporarily

Bound in the way that a synchronous

Avatar is right and so instead of saying

an avatar must be synchronous we really

should be saying that like

time functions differently in virtual

space so like for example text tends to

be persistent which means that you know

a spoken word can only be heard once but

uh uh this is not the case in in Virtual

space right and so your default identity

is plural that it exists across a lot of

channels and it exists across time and

this is

uh people I think partially do this

because it can convince convincingly

resemble your actual self and yet it can

remain a fiction

um and so that kind of weaves back to

the idea that like

the concept of a stable self or like a

like stable identity is itself a fiction

right

um I'm liking the questions uh this is

another kind of because it's like the

performances themselves are quite

vulnerable right and then but they're

they're usually billed as something more

of a lecture right and this is kind of

the subvert the form of like performance

of expertise which I resent doing which

is why I have my little statement about

being an alleged Pioneer of the Metaverse

people fucking asked me to talk about it

and I don't like it's like I think this

whole fucking thing is stupid

I'm often summoned to

to form expertise regarding our reported

transition into the metaverse

it's my belief that Computing already

envelops us in a way that renders it

invisible I don't know if I need to go

to any of the worlds right now

cool yeah that kind of tied it up great

judgment

um to see what kind of questions people

might have or responses

like I know I could talk for a million

years but I want to give other people

the opportunity to to jump in with a

question

if if you have any

you can also put something in the chat

if you don't want to use your out loud

voice

oh that's a good question

um

I'm I'm curious

in terms of the process of

making these virtual spaces and like

because the

um

and then this actually maybe ties into

the question that is in the chat now um

so when you're because the relationship

to time in this work is so kind of

multi-faceted and there's lots of

iterations and layerings and moving kind

of like in a loop between IRL and

um I mean I think Legacy Russell calls

it calls it like the IRL to AFK Loop

um

and

so maybe like where do you start like in

terms of

are you building

performance material are you thinking

about virtual space are you thinking

about physical space are you thinking

about like just uh like writing

and like how

do you know when

it's done

yes

um

right so

Finnegan's Wake is a book that begins

mid-sentence

um and so it it forms a loop in time

right and that that idea was enormously

compelling to me it was one of the

reasons why I read the book

um but and so the the world that

preceded A Time Capsule or a Grave is

called well and well is uncapitalized

followed by a comma which is sort of

defined as like a mid-sentence opened

but never shut and so this was a way for

me to release all of these worlds that

I've been making in private that I

really at the time because I was kind of

new was like I don't really want to call

this a piece I don't want it to be done

but I haven't really moved it in a while

and rather than just let it sit in

private I'm going to expose it and you

can visit it and I can visit it it's

like it's designed to be incomplete and

so I really kind of resist the idea of

completeness like you know I've minted

some NFTs in my life but I'm not really

it's like the art world that I Envision

or that I that I desire doesn't require

artists to sell single artifact for

money

um and this is because

I think we've kind of moved Beyond

single identity as human beings and I

think art no longer really requires a

single site or a single author

um

and so

all I view all of my works as processes

and A Time Capsule Or A Grave is one of them

and I didn't really know

what it was going to be until I started

doing it

but I've kind of now started to

understand it as a as a way to kind of

I call it like autoekphrasis to sort of

describe the phenomena within the work

as it's happening and to kind of weave

it through with all of these different

threads so like writing is really

important and arguably the sort of

individual Works themselves are are like

less important

um but it's it's just yeah it's a

negotiation

uh I like series two like I do make

images

um and like I it's like I have an image

making practice and you know they follow

themes and I document them and I store

them in in like a way that I can return

to later and often these get weaved back

in in other places like I've been making

that render of the his and hers computer

for some time before I kind of knew what

I needed to do with it like I knew what

it was about but I didn't know where I

needed to go so it's almost like you

have all of these game assets for this

like augmented reality game or I can't

remember alternate reality game and then

like you get to sort of install them in

the World As It Seems appropriate

so I'm basically a dungeon master

dming your own life yeah

yeah I think it makes sense to me that

like

um

and related to what Sarah's saying in

the chat right that like virtual spaces

kind of as

a mode

of housing work or like as a as a medium

itself like kind of allows for

like simultaneous Multiplicity

ooh love that and like I think even in a

way that like IRL

installation

is still

um

like when you move through an IRL

installation like there are multiple

things happening but the mode of

navigation is like embodied right so

like it enforces of scale

mm-hmm right you can't like zoom in and

out in the way

you can in a virtual space because like

even if the work itself is not like

singular and fixed the physical body

you're moving through the space in is

singular and fixed in that moment in

time in terms of how you're moving

through a room

and like the built environment like

reflects a lot of these kind of

invisible patterns back on you like so

when when virtual space no longer has

any physical constraints right like it

exists to Anchor the mind and it's I I'm

always I'm always kind of doing this

process where it's like okay you

identify a phenomenon in Virtual space

and then you say like oh of course

physical architecture must also exist to

Anchor the mind it's just like the

anchors are more fixed like the cultural

package of like I am seeing art in an

art gallery like has its own weight

right and so

there's a way a strategy that artists

like Anne Imhoff for example use to

um like counter this in physical Spaces

by making installation art

um so like she filled up Spruth

Magers Gallery in LA with these huge

like water tanks to obscure all of the

walls and the The Works are kind of like

hidden and like installed above lockers

that force you to look at it at a

certain perspective or from a certain

direction

um and the thing of like this technique

is interesting and it works and it's

also extraordinarily resource intensive

right and it's still a solo artist who's

doing this and so you really think I

think a lot about kind of what is the

ratio of energy consumption to

conceptual like expression right and one

of my great Inspirations and Friends

Alice Yuan-Zhang has really taken to

writing over the years because it's kind

of the narrowest amount of energy that

can express the most right

[Music]

um and she also does AR and things like

this but like I mean I have a whole

other rant about the energy consumption

of computing and AI and LED screens but

I'll skip that for now

right it's maybe but maybe let's all of

us kind of put a pin in that thought

because I I will want her revisit it

later in the semester I think

um

yeah and I think like whether

um

it

this is making me think about like

um

how writing can function as a virtual

space

um oh I actually wanted to talk about

preservation though right because one of

the other things about a physical show

is you might not get to go even if it's

like abroad or whatever and then once

it's down it's down it might be

documented with some photos if maybe

you'll get a matterport scan which is

fine

um but the a virtual space can be kind

of a ready-made archive right but the

more you go out into real-time

simulation and things like Unity or

unreal those are horrifically

unpreservable extreme like their shelf

life can be like two years unless you're

really really intentional about it

um whereas New Art City is it's much

more constrained but it's built with

JavaScript and JavaScript is Backward

Compatible with itself the file sizes

are quite low and we can export all of

the code and you can host it on your own

web server but we've made the choice to

preserve all of these at least for now

for this sort of like first several

years of existence as like a ready-made

archive and there's more to preservation

than storage this practice of going

through a space and talking about it and

Visually describing it serves a purpose

for making it more accessible to

visually impaired users but also this

like this is one of them like

documentation is one of the four pillars

of media art present preservation it's

like equally important to Simply storing

the object right and making it workable

for the long term so we're like having

artists come contribute like oral

history interviews and exhibition tours

to this end as as a mode of

completing this picture of preservation

yeah and I think a thing

about like kind of Digital Arts role in

the larger like Fine Art world is that I

I've often felt that like

you know the the so broad is to maybe be

meaningless but like new media art

um often

runs into the same some of the same

problems with preservation as like

performance art does in that like the

kind of traditional Gallery system and

traditional Museum system like doesn't

know what to fucking do with it like

what do what is this is like a thing

that happened

and how do we collect it how and how do

we preserve it when it's this like

experiential time-based thing

um or this like

um kind of like

conditional set of experiences or

something right that

um and the the question of how do you

present that how do you document that

um and like how many works I feel like

are only exist as like here's like a

photograph or here's like a shitty

screenshot

um

or like a broken link right and that's

what's what remains of of the work yeah

I wrote this in the chat so it's

documented but I really recommend the

writing of Annette Decker on this

subject

um she's she's done like a lot of really

really cool stuff about digital

preservation John Ippolito is also like

a North star of that field

yeah and I think like it's really

valuable and really important that

you're

that like thinking about it

on the design level like

as opposed to

like as an afterthought right like that

um that kind of like documentation and

preservation and like what are the ways

that this work kind of continues to

exist through time is is like a

structural question

and not like a

a scramble that happens after the thing

exists and it's it's completely

intertwined with accessibility as well

that like if you think about

accessibility from a ground-up

perspective rather than tacking on alt

text at the end it it opens up a lot of

ways to support not just the consumer

but the creator right

[Music]

yeah and like something yeah and I was

like briefly talking earlier this

morning about like

how much like the Primacy of the visual

is bound up in like the way that we use

technology most of the time

um especially the metaverse it's it's

unbelievably retinal

and that like

obviously that's like

a huge issue of accessibility but it's

like also

I feel like it's like also like

illustrative of

the the kind of like hierarchy that is

often

um

presented in terms of like sensory

information

um yeah I mean the reason why we're

recording these exhibition tours is we

tested our accessible catalog view with

blind visitors and we asked like what's

your preferred mode say going to a

museum or going to an art show and the

consensus was that sure having visual

descriptions is great but having the

artist there to speak on the work is

more resonant and that kind of stands to

reason right that like

a person who doesn't use their eyes is

maybe not going to have a visual

experience of or it's like not going to

sort of that's not the way their

imagination works right so like hearing

the artist describe the interrelations

and the subjectivity is like it's like a

more resonant way to do it but I found

that like

some of my friends over 40 will be like

I've never played video games before

it's like accessing a 3D space is

confusing and like have also like

completely appreciated just being able

to hear the artist right mm-hmm

right I mean I think it's like an

illustration that like

being accessible in one set of ways is

like often also useful to

like in broader applications

yeah

well I guess we’re reaching time and y'all

have been in class for three hours so I

would be tired if I was you yeah yeah

does anyone have any like last

um thoughts or questions before we

disappear into the day

an experimental art practice I want to

know more about like a direction that

you're maybe wanting

I have my little Post-it note of ideas

um yeah I mean I may I may make a sort

of two channel film with like a live

performance component

um I'm interested in audio like making

upon like releasing art as a podcast

um as like sort of a sound collage essay

those are those are like some some fun

ideas I'm thinking about but there's a

point where people just keep asking you

to do shit so I just like I keep having

to do shit and I I can't I can't like go

make new work

but I'm excited about this this possibly

this new era where we both just start

making two channel films yeah yeah

um and y'all if you if you ever have any

questions for me you can email me

 it's free to sign up for new art city

but if you need more space to accomplish

a project just let me know we have a ton

of documentation if you're new to things

like blender or web accessibility

um and our Discord is a helpful place to

ask questions

amazing well thank you so much this was

so interesting and so fun and

yeah I'm so stoked

um thank you yeah I'm really really glad

I came yay amazing

be well everyone

bye and everyone I will see you IRL and

send me that recording I will send you

the recording amazing okay bye

 

“I didn’t know what I was doing until it was already done.”

A Time Capsule Or A Grave is a hybrid performance project initially commissioned by the Tezos Foundation for Octobre Numérique Faire Monde in Arles, France in October 2022. The piece takes no definite form. It is my first serious attempt to involve performance in my practice. What began as a fictionalized performance of expertise becomes an earnest performance of ignorance. The work exists in a hybrid format. I activate a persistent virtual space on New Art City with IRL performances, the audio of which are recorded and installed spatially in the virtual after each iteration. This essay is itself a momentary capsule of subjectivity.

A week before I went to perform the piece for the first time at Octobre Numerique Faire Monde, Lauren Lee McCarthy introduced me to her idea of a “performance in progress.” I had already planned to record the audio from the first performance and install clips in this space at each place I spoke, but Lauren sparked the idea that I could perform the piece multiple times.

My late husband, Tvordis Veeler, was obsessed with Finnegans Wake. One idea that forms the book’s internal logic comes from The New Science of Giambattista Vico. According to Vico, the cyclical structure of history loops through three ages: divine, heroic, and human. Joyce modifies the schema to include a ricorso between cycles which I view something like eddying out on the river of time. As I write this, A Time Capsule or A Grave has been performed four times. The ricorso came second through a collaboration with Emji St. Spero.

Production of each age in this first cycle of performances formed a tightening temporal lo

1: Divine Ag A Time Capsule Or A Grave (3 months)

* Performed for a new media conference

* Academic in tone and rigor

* Edited by Mai Ishikawa Sutton, Charlotte Strange, and Stitch

* Tightly composed, rigidly performed

* Fictional, stylized

2: Ricorso: What Will You Be Like Before, What Were You Like After (20 minutes)

* Part of a program of 12 10 minute duet performance

* Non-tech oriented audience

* 20 minute paired automatic writing exercise on the titular prompt

* Immediately performed and recorded on video

* Re-performed IRL alongside video recording

* Not connected to virtual world

3: Heroic Age: About My Avatar (3 weeks)

* Performed as part of an all trans performance program

* Pre-prepared remarks written in about five sittings, no external editing

* De-fictionalized

4: Human Age: His And Hers (3 hours)

* Loosely prepared remarks delivered improvisationally

* Conversation with previous recordings

* Who is speaking?

 

So did I design them this way? With the Viconian cycle in mind?

 

No. It is a comfortable frame from my former literary obsession with which to name the phenomena I’ve observed in this process.

 

Wait. You said your husband was the Joycean.

 

Yes.

 

Tvordis is my previous avatar– an identity to which I am wedded but which is no longer alive. This fiction was not revealed as fiction until the third iteration of the performance.

Increments of time and space have the same statistical character as the whole. In the same way, I hope this essay will mirror the constellation of objects and processes that make up this work.

This first cycle of exploration has revealed that the process of observing and naming particularities in this world must be central to the work going forward. Indeed it has defined all of the efforts leading here as well.

Words spiral out of the rupture of an encounter with a past self as other and the future self as self. The best way to show my future self what I can’t see today is to get out of my own way and try to name the sensations. Even though I made these worlds and everything in them, the internal logic here remains unclear. I still get lost. The process of this piece is becoming a pataphysical study of the phenomena taking place here.

toward,

Sammie

February 26, 2023

 

 

Hello. Um, I'm Sammie Veeler. I'm so overjoyed to see so many familiar faces here who I've gotten to know over the last year or two. Um, if you don't know me, yes, my name is Sammie. Uh, I'm an artist and I also run a virtual art space called New Art City, which we founded in March of 2020. Um, and so my art practice and my curatorial practice through this virtual space.

And my life as a woman have all coincided in the last three years. And so I guess my remarks tonight will kind of weave through how those threads are in common. Um, and I'm so grateful to be sort of showing this culmination of You know, several years of development that was, I mean, it really develops thanks to so many people who are here right now.

Peter, Nancy, Jesse, Alice, Huntress, Meike, oh my goodness. It's just like, it's really, I'm so grateful because, I don't know, I was learning what type of artist I wanted to be, surrounded by so many people who I so respected and admired. And I'm really grateful to call so many of you friends. Um, so I guess I'll sit back down at my computer and we'll talk about this image here.

I think a lot about the transits between physical space and virtual space as similar to transits from the body to some sort of disembodied state. You know, if you think about a metaphor of living and dying, we're each embodied in this sort of container. and extruded through time like a playhead on a cassette player.

All time has already happened, and we're only experiencing it linearly. And so, if you think about what makes a world, it took me a long time to figure that out, even though I run this virtual art space, right? And, sort of, trying to uncover the internal logics of what it means to exist in virtual space has been really important to me, not just as an artist, but also as running a virtual space, which was founded before the, you know, the use of the metaverse saw this resurgence. And so I'm constantly asking myself, what is virtual embodiment? What is trust? What is a sovereign identity online? And so, as we think about these transits between physical and virtual, this image attempts to perhaps visualize the metaphor that I'm trying to talk about here

So on the left, you see an old Macintosh, and the stickers on it are actually the same stickers on the laptop I'm using. And on the right, is my late husband Tvordis. You can see the man himself here on the screen. And that is his personal computer, which he calls Theseus. Um, and I've taken on this role of archivist of this artifact

Um, and sort of my contact with the artifacts there, the things that he was too afraid to call art. And, I now get to be the curator of this archive. And it's not just, you know, touching an artifact. It's a portal through time between me and this other person. And so, the internet transmits something which is not encodable.

As we move towards embodiment, this is how I view myself in virtual space. This is a poor resolution image, but we are, after all, always copies in motion. I think as a trans person, do I really want another body? Do I want one body? Have I not learned already through my own experience that identity is mutable and that's part of the fun?

So let's zoom out a little bit more. This is kind of what my work looks like. Um, right, this is an NFT. I've always been somewhat suspicious of, not suspicious, but I dream of a utopia in which exchange of artifact for money is not what determines the sort of value or sustenance of an artistic practice.

And so I really view, and I view my work as like, sort of, a process rather than a static artifact. But, um, yes, like, what is immutable and what is sort of, like, how can we sort of embrace mutability?

My previous NFT was actually curated by... Jesse.

And so we see this same image again, and now it's in a photoreal replica of the living room that man lived in and made that art he didn't call art. And so I think about this atemporality, the telephone line between the past self and the current self, and the work we can do in this eternal present to open those channels.

In some sense I feel like a telephone operator, which is one of those female computers that existed before mechanical computers.

Let's switch spaces.

So I think about time kind of like a fractal. And each of these artifacts I make somehow are a blueprint of what comes after. This was kind of my previous attempt to do what I'm doing tonight. And this is a fascinating thing about living in the virtual is my visual practice began when I joined this virtual space.

And I guess to zoom out on what New Art City does is you can make a 3D multiplayer website without code. You can upload images, video, audio, 3D shapes, and text, which is horrifically illegible because I made the sky black for some reason. And this is another way to explore atemporality, uh, in text. And so now you can kind of see it in an abstract form that there are paragraphs, but there's no real linear progression in which to read them.

And this is a map of all the visual art I've ever made.

I began kind of with a series of seven of these low resolution worlds in progress that have these sort of specific interactions that are. Governing how they work.

They look like shit, to be honest. Or like, I'm much better at modeling now. But it's so strange to be here in this world I privately inhabited and see all of these beautiful mistakes. And I think that's what has kind of moved me about this archival process is these are capsules of subjectivity. My thoughts don't need to be lapidary.

It's really like to be in contact with all of the things that I can't see in the present as a future self. So I'm in this world encoding a future past.

Talk about amnesia.

So I made a piece about this essay. Which I wrote for a collection of sound art that, uh, I made in my previous life. So we'll zoom out on this metaphor. Who's this husband character? Who the fuck is Tvordis Veeler? I share his name, right?

It's a metaphor. I woke up one day with this guy's memories, and his clothes, and his synthesizers.

And I have to sort of, sort out, which of these things belong to me? And so, as we talk in Web 3 about a sovereign identity online, what about my own identity is sovereign?

And I'm lost. In a world that I myself made.

Where is that sound coming from?

Ah. Sorry about that. Okay.

Alright, alright, alright. Shh, shh, shh, shh, shh, shh, shh, shh. So, this performance was initially conceived, mm, something like a polemic wrapped in a eulogy.

I wanted to talk about, mm, the ways I view the, the sort of popular conception of the metaverse as, mm, maybe deficient, or maybe to try to explore the phenomenology of living online in the first place, rather than inventing a new game mechanic for doing so, right?

But I was also trying to talk about what it feels like to be trans and try to embody this metaphor of the dead husband because what I found was when I would bring this up, people would follow up, whether it was a metaphor or to sort of seriously inquire about my status as a widow. And this is something I'm trying to overcome when you make art with computers.

It's quite easy to make something that looks cool. And what I'm so concerned with is what comes after that

Oh, there we are again.

So part of the process here with this performance is each time I perform it, I record it. And so, thank God, I don't have to do as much of the talking. I really don't love to opine, and I usually don't prepare remarks. So part of what I'm trying to do tonight is... Embody that, because in the previous two performances I like actually sat down and wrote an essay and it's not really like me.

So it feels kind of vulnerable to not prepare remarks, but in some sense I'm trying to put myself in an embodied state in relation to this virtual world. And we can see that the documentation that's installed there is different from the word itself. In physical space, a spoken word can only be heard once.

But text online is persistent. And so my body and this dead man's body are more or less made of the same stuff up there. And so what is, what does it mean, like, what parameters are different when a world sort of permits persistence in speech?

That's me! I see the avatar more like clothes than a body. Mmm. You're only one part visual, and avatars can kind of contain as much fiction as you like. It's part of the fun.

Shut up.

The documentation of the previous performance is really garbled, and I just like to think that, you know, that line between now and then Is somehow like a shark's chewing on the undersea cable or something.

I tied it up again last time, but honestly, I feel like, uh, this is as much time as I need to spend here. Um, I'm happy to open it up to questions if anything's unclear. Um, this one is definitely more jumbled because I didn't write anything down before.

Yeah, um, it's kind of, yeah, the sound work is interesting, because it was like, I was allegedly a sound artist before I was making this kind of worlding stuff, and I see a lot of parallels between the work I was making then and sort of the worlds that I make now. Um, I work a lot with tape, um, and I made an archive of about twelve tapes, you know, using synthesizers and field recordings and whatever.

And then I would record them again onto additional cassettes and give them away as gifts. And I was thinking about sort of archiving a single state of this piece of variable media and like what the documentation captures and what is sort of unencodable in that documentation. So I'm speaking conceptually.

I use some synthesizers. I use some computers. You know, the boy liked the tools. I, I don't know. I'm interested in the processes.

Yes, that's the fun part about this. It's like, you get to share physical space with a living Sammie, but these are all online, and so the process will continue to evolve them. So if you want to explore this on your own, and hear things that I didn't walk up to, I didn't walk up to everything here, you can visit it on newart.city/world/well

Um, or if you search A Time Capsule or a Grave on Google, it will come up. Um, And, yeah, the sort of persistence of that world and the ephemerality of this physical world, I think, is, I'm trying to draw that connection between, um, what can be embodied physically and what is preserved virtually.

So this exists in the exchange, and the NFT that's minted today is kind of like a single state of that, the, the existence. And I guess another thing to mention is that it has an unlockable, which includes an image file, a GLTF 3D file, and the Blender file that created it. And so, like, we recognize that the image is kind of only one part of this piece, and I want to think about, sort of, the difference between storage and preservation.

So, these files are remanded to your custody. What do you do with them? And, like, I think mutation is a really good strategy for preserving things, and you're more than welcome to do so. But I, yeah, I invite you to think about, sort of, what preservation means to you, and what, sort of, spending time with a media file means to you.

There's a way in which... Time that has already passed by you is inert and unchangeable, right? And in the same way, when you, when you capture a file, it's kind of like a single, a single snapshot in time of a moving process. Um, and so I think that's, that's kind of a way that I think about time, that like, speaking has to be experienced in a linear fashion.

You can't speak two sentences at once. You can't really like talk backwards. But, you know, everything that you put online is now kind of like, it's no longer burdened by time in that way, and like, this is a really potent metaphor for me to think about, you know, contacting previous versions of myself.

And I think, I don't know, the easiest word to describe this process is magic. It's like, you, you're connected by this wire and it's transmitting data, but the things that the data, the wire can't capture are like, You know, the ineffable quality of being, right?

Yeah, I mean, it's been interesting to do this, this is the fourth time I've done a performance since, I guess the third time in L. A. since the performance that I initially delivered at the festival in France. And like, what I'm doing here is kind of a gift to my future self in the same way that all of these capsules of subjectivity are gifts to me now.

Um, that like, these are the first four performances I've ever given. And I have this documentation of these ways in which a year from now I'm probably gonna look back at myself and say, Wow, what a fucking idiot. And like, if I do that, I've fucking grown. Um. And I, I mean, I think that's, that's the reason why I do this process.

Um, and so, you know, it's always hard to know when something is done, but I, yeah, this, the metaphor of a well is kind of, part of how the previous piece, Well, was a, a blueprint of what came beyond that, like, I'm exploding the word. It begins mid sentence, and it's uncapitalized, and there's a comma after it.

It's a fucking nightmare to write about, but, um, the concept is... It begins mid sentence and never ends. The word well refers to a place to draw water from, which is both sort of inspiration or, or sustenance, right? But the word colloquially well can basically go in every single direction. It can begin a sentence, it can pause a sentence, it can invite somebody else to speak, it can end a sentence.

And so this is maybe a way I'm trying to sort of... Get out of the linear conception of words that we experience in the real world and so in the same way I think the uniting metaphors of this piece are like drawing a lot of things out of me And I'm learning a lot of my things about myself as I do it and I'm trying to document it in I don't know an interesting way or whatever. So I'll probably keep doing it and then when I feel like it's done, it'll be done.

Oh yeah, yeah, New Art City. Um, I'll pull up the edition and then I'll talk about my job.

Right, so, New Art City, um, is a virtual art space, right? We've been around for a while. I mean, and, I feel like we... We've shown like 4, 000 plus artists since March of 2020 across about 160 shows. And, um, we've, we don't have any like blockchain stuff encoded in it. We really try to focus on the presentation layer to make something that's really expressive and unusual to get out of the kind of like skeuomorph of like having a body or whatever.

And so as a result, like every single space is completely fucking different. Um, and, um, Yeah, it's all public online and you can go visit them. And this is the edition.

Okay, everyone. That's going to wrap it up for the performance tonight. Thank you for being here. Hopefully we see you next week.

 

[0] A Time Capsule Or A Grave is a lecture I initially developed for an art and technology festival in France called Octobre Numerique Faire Monde. I am allegedly a pioneer of the so called metaverse and I am often summoned to perform expertise on the matter. It is not characteristic of me to prepare remarks. I typically dress like I am dressed here and chain smoke through each address as an anti-professional statement. This persona, Miss Sammie, is my current avatar. I describe the original lecture as a polemic wrapped in a eulogy. 

I have found myself writing this same eulogy over and over since I transitioned. Forgetting is the left hand of memory. Art becomes a portal through time, a potent channel activated only after you’ve forgotten making the artifact. Silly me, before I even called it art, the blueprint was written. We can come back to now, it will always be here.

Let’s see what I knew before I knew what I was talking about. In those days,  I made worlds with sound which I now realize were the prototypes of the world projected behind me. Interposed in my remarks tonight are two essays written in Fall of 2020 to accompany two releases in a four-part sound art collection, which I created or compiled in the interstitial zone between my past self and my current self. For this brief moment we passed each other on a sandbar circumgirded by deep ocean.

Provincial Skinflint - December 11, 2015

[0’ → 1?] Six Tape Works and One Exploded Composition are the left and right hands. Provincial Skinflint is the feet. I reencountered Audacity, a free Digital Audio Workstation, through a French dictation assignment and saw that it was possible to cut and splice strips of audio much like one does with analog tape. I was immediately enthralled. I said at the time that it felt more like compulsion than creation. The same can be said for most of my music. 

I was abroad without any of my guitar toys as crutches. I was experiencing the early joys of dysphoria and the early dividends of trauma. I needed to make music. Thank goodness I found a way to do so. I admit these are intentionally rough around the edges, but they form the foundation of my field collaging practice.

I later learned this is called musique concrete. Reading Eliane Radigue's 'Intermediary Spaces,' I felt immense kinship with her work and her airplanes. She only got to hear six per day when she lived in Nice with no tape recorder. She wrote a timetable so she wouldn't miss them. I couldn't keep airplanes out of my field recordings if I tried. Neither of us could keep whatever that sound was out of our minds. The listening was the site of her work and mine, the artifact itself is secondary.

The Tvordis Veeler mask was constructed at this time too, a mechanism I now realize was defense. This is Tvordis's first work of art, and I, Sammie, remain a faithful archivist of his oeuvre after his passing. Some say I was his muse, but I wouldn't be so self important. Like Eliane, I didn't see the significance of what I was doing and feeling until much later. Before this was art, it was a game.

Audacity has been more important to my work than any guitar, pedal, plugin, or synthesizer. And it's free. It's obvious that I didn't make this music to get famous, or even to make people happy. I made this because I needed to.

With this triptych of hands and feet finally resolved, perhaps my next work will come nearer to my body.


Back To Now

[2→3] I see the avatar more like clothes than a body. Avatars can contain as much fiction as you like. That is part of the fun. You are only one part visual- an expansive domain to experiment in, but far from the only one. This recurring shape in my work is a visual manifestation of Miss Sammie. I don’t always have a body online and I enjoy the internet’s ability to facilitate disembodied experience. But when I have to have just one, this is what I look like.

It took me two months to write an essay about being trans while also polemicizing the metaverse for a predominantly cis, straight audience at the intersection of art and technology. It was one of the more difficult works of art I have ever made.  My tone was stern and urgent. I played a character of the female archivist preserving the legacy of the dead male artist. The polemic was for them. The eulogy is for you.

The metaphor of death, which I did not reveal as a metaphor to the festival audience, was one of those negotiations trans people use to trick the cis into seeing us. I think it is safe to assume the audience of an all trans performance program does not need the same coddling. So let me drop the metaphor and speak frankly.

I think many of us are familiar with the oversimplifications we use to make ourselves legible to cis people. Some are more pernicious than others. “It’s like I was a woman trapped in a man’s body” presupposes a self divided in two discrete and opposing entities when in reality we are not one, two, ten, or ten thousand. Identity is an uncountable quantity. Or, as weapon, “you killed my son, daughter, husband, and so on.”

Let’s follow the fiction further into its logic and re-imagine the relationship between the dead and living versions of the self not as violence, but as collaboration. I have long used the metaphor of a “dead husband” to describe the man I used to live as. He made up the name Tvordis Veeler, the surname of which I retained after transition. We were married after all. I often use the dead husband terminology in conversation without explaining it. Almost every time I do, a while later the person I was speaking to would follow up either asking if it was a metaphor, or inquiring seriously about my status as a widow. Either way, the thought sat with them.

Field Collage - September 2020

[3→4] I made Provincial Skinflint from my immediately accessible environment of sounds while I was abroad using the internet, my iPhone, and sounds generated by the Audacity software.

I made these sound collages in 2016/17. This was the first use of the name 'field collage' to describe this process of washing and sorting sounds from my world. I always saw these like foley for a movie that never happened, or a movie witnessed only by me, but which implicates many others in various crimes against art. These are virtual spaces.

In 2015 I started using Audacity to generate confrontational and confusing sounds as Provincial Skinflint. Incongruity because I liked the grate of it. I suppose I had some things to confront.

The old mask hurt. This was a way to scream without anyone hearing me. I came home as Tvordis. He was a very good mask. I was home from my first time abroad alone with a new me to be. I should have known that the solution to feeling masked is not to make a better mask, but I don't regret the effort.

I wanted to make these sound collages as gifts for my friends. I wanted to be a person who makes gifts for her friends. I genuinely don't know what pronoun is appropriate here. I was a girl who didn't know she was a girl, but I was cultivating a masculinity. What grew was a peculiar shape indeed. It was a performance which I realize now was too deliberate to be convincing. Nonetheless it delighted most participants in the work.

fc2 is a self portrait of the little rock I wanted to be when I started my 22 year old life again again. 40 seconds, just some nice water I found.

I listened to this album often and made sounds like this for myself regularly that I discarded when I was finished playing. It was the music I wanted to listen to. The trains in Paris, the rain everywhere, my friends in Chicago, myself the tiniest bit, speaking rarely but fumbling the recorder constantly. I am here, you don't need me to tell you.

When I field collage I usually wait until I've forgotten some of what was recorded where. It sparks my mental images much better than a typical picture. This is a project of memory and forgetting.

Returning to the Avatar

[5] Tvordis was my previous avatar. A peculiar type of fiction. He is a virtual representation of my previous fictional identity as a man. My deadname is actually Sam Cortese. I created Tvordis as a survival strategy and he stayed with me for my last six years in the egg. He was a caricature of masculinity, a woman dressing up a doll while she waits to be born. A composite of Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, he favored Hawaiian shirts, Canadian tuxedos, and Marlboro reds. He was always famous, but nobody could quite figure out for what.  

The persistent virtual residue of his being remains. In the wired, he and I are made of the same substance. I speak of him as if he is an external entity but of course, he was not piloting that mechanical man, I was. Tvordis didn’t die, he lived. I inherited his clothes, his body, his memories, and his personal data. My task in transition is to sort through these artifacts and decide which belong to me.

[6] He first manifested online through a composite of curated images and text. He made his transformation real by changing his name on Facebook. In the physical world, speech is not persistent. A spoken word can only be heard once. A world whose internal logic permits persistence in speech allows words to become part of your body. In the virtual, words flow around you like hair. Organic but not technically alive. Tethered temporarily to a living being and extant after slipping the bond.

We are aware that work by male artists is more valuable when they sign it and even more valuable when they die. They are remanded to the custody of archivists: the handmaids of history, who are indeed predominantly women. The machinery of a history from which we are often absent. In this fiction, Tvordis is in on the joke. While he failed to sign his work, he performed the labor of dying, dutifully entrusting me with his archive so I could begin the work of preserving his legacy.

The first lecture ended with the punchline you already heard: “Today I perform for you in the flesh. Tomorrow, the audio recording of this lecture will be installed in the virtual space, and online visitors will share space with a dead version of me.”

I will add the voices from each subsequent performance to form an ever-expanding chorus of dead Sammies.

SV: what were you like after


ESS: I didn't tell you to do this but also they didn't tell you not to do this

what were you like after


SV: back into the body as a poem and a Dusty shelf of books

what are you going to be like before


ESS: will be without pre-text and without hesitating you will certainly be giving less fucks

what were you like after


SV: how did he die, your husband?

he died so I could live.

what were you like after

 

ESS: your eye slips from you I mean slipped from you in the aftermath of choosing what will you be like before

 

SV: big,

graceful

Sitting at a table drenched in white stage light

what are you going to be like before

 

ESS: you imagine yourself into your own archive against which before before shifting horizontal moment

what were you like after

 

SV: what after where do you go when you leave the body Heaven is a data center and Heaven is a place on Earth

what are you going to be like after

 

ESS: you'll be beyond recognition beyond comprehension your context set in a climate in which this does not matter

as she said we will become our own ancestors or we already have

what will you be like before

 

SV: it is easier to Archive than it is to delete in the warm embrace of encompassing computing

what are you going to be like before

 

ESS: you were anon and then you were a girl to others you are a boy to son when you needed to be you're back up against the backdrop of a clinic

what were you like after

 

SV: who's playing that horn John Coltrane he said oh I've heard of him what were you like after

 

ESS: Shea as if the afters were safer you thought this then

what will you be like before

 

SV: which before the soul departing the body or the voice departing its origin

what are you going to be like before

 

ESS: all your art is posthumous it imagines itself as posthumous as you create it it I it I what will have been the difference

what were you like after

 

SV: lovingly surveilling his most intimate digital device a time capsule or a grave memory is mutation it is constituted in the body

information is a rock memory breathes and dies

what are you going to be like before

 

ESS: in this architecture you say drugs bath houses tits and no tits you will be without language for your becoming UMass and architecture of pills and injections

what were you like after

 

SV: can I have a cigarette

 

ESS: they're in my bag

 

[both laugh]

 

SV: I'm experimenting with heterosexuality

 

ESS: Same.

let's keep going

 

SV: what were you like after

 

ESS: after you found language for it

honey I was a cool boy of course I know who Pavement is

what are you going to be like before

 

ESS: I had a girlfriend and a family who supported me I've been a man since I was a boy I will say what I needed to

what will you be like before

 

SV: as soon as he started to see me he was almost gone

ready to depart at a moment's notice

what were you like after

 

ESS: at this point it's unclear and becoming unclearer. pick a different point of departure

what were you like after

 

SV: it could be a suitcase or it could be a body or it could be a castle

every piece

every space is a confined infinity. tap each resonance again and decide whether it belongs to you

what are you going to be like before

 

ESS: I will be The Afters we don't mention because they are ours and we guard our secrets against easy narratives against recuperation we will not be taken from us

what will you be like before

 

SV: listening for my voice and staying perfectly silent

what were you like after

 

ESS: I realize I'm speaking here of somebody else

what were you like after

 

SV: I'm picking up the phone again at long last!

 

ESS: Finally.

 

SV: what are you going to be like before

 

ESS: I will be beyond recognition beyond comprehension

as you wrote shifting into subtext and this still feels relevant somehow

what will you be like before

 

SV: I will go to the world and bring you home to my hard drive I left my phone for you

what will you be like before

 

ESS: in what order in reverse

what would you be like before

 

SV: a dilated pupil

an open telephone line

what were you like after

 

ESS: I'm trying to remember a future here from the perspective of another future sliced up as you imagined you could have been a newer a newer point of departure

Titless and dolled up and passing for a past you never were truly part of

what were you like after

 

SV: I'm experimenting with heterosexuality.

Actually,

can you do me a favor and take a mouthful of water and spit it into my mouth? [laughs] damn it, right.

 

ESS: you could spit it in my mouth

 

SV: true yeah okay let's reverse it

 

Acknowledgements: Edited by Mai Ishikawa Sutton, Charlotte Strange, Stitch. Indebted to Annet Dekker, Domenico Quaranta, Josephine Bosma, and Joanne McNiel

On the internet, nobody knows you are a dog. Nobody knows you are a singular person. Indeed, nobody knows you are still alive. The networked age has shifted the production of history from a one-to-many to a many-to-many process. Not only does everyone produce history, they become historians as well.

Art’s role in historical production has shifted along the same lines. Information is abundant and making meaning from it is now a collective responsibility. We must not confuse information for memory. Information exists in the machine. Memory is constituted in the body.

I address you in my capacity as the title executor of the estate of Tvordis Veeler, my late husband, and as a curator whose work concerns digital preservation of cultural memory. I am the steward of my husband’s most intimate digital device: his personal computer which he called Theseus. The worlds we will traverse are moments outside time between two local machines: his and hers.

These worlds were created in constellation with peers who guided and inspired my work. Exhibited alongside me in this festival, Heesoo Kwon, Henrique Fagundes, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Kiki Wu, and the Daad Futurist collective use spiritual worlding practice to process generational history, develop speculative futures, and project their souls outward into cyberspace.

________________

It is well known that art appreciates in value after the death of the artist. 

What death are we considering?

The soul departing the body? Or the voice departing its origin?

In the twilight of his life, he promised me his computer and challenged me to “examine this archive of a mask in its incompleteness.” To lift these files out of their grave and put them in places they would never expect to find themselves. Through this gift of his un-curated digital self, he ensured I would never be alone in my grief.

Theseus is so named because Tvordis replaced every part of it multiple times over. The only part which remains from when Tvordis was alive is the solid state hard drive. When you replace every part of a computer, is it still the same computer?

Solid state drives store data by trapping electrons in structures called charge traps. It holds the same electrons in those charge traps until the files are deleted. Tvordis has left the physical body, yet he is visible through his gathered artifacts. The moments he captured documented his presence. By handling those files, we touch the same physical substance.

I view Theseus as living documentation of this performance astride two worlds. Much of the performances themselves were ephemeral and undocumentable. Tvordis evaded the fixity of the exhibition wall label by refusing to distinguish what of his output was art and what wasn’t.

The aura of these electrons is not the end of the story. The hard drive in his computer is already past its recommended usage period and will inevitably fail. Jon Ippolito famously tells us that “fixity equals death… new media art can survive only by multiplying and mutating.”

It will be a lifelong grief ritual to preserve this archive by transforming it and making meaning from it. Each obelisk in this world leads out to others. What I do with my husband’s artifacts I also do with my own.

________________

I am often summoned to perform expertise regarding our purported transition to the metaverse. Computing already envelops us at all times in a way that renders it invisible. In the metaverse, heaven is a data center. We are there together now. We have lived there for over a decade already.

Logging onto the internet is a way to leave the body. Logging on is no longer an intentional process but a natural state of existence. It is easier to log on than it is to log off, easier to store a file than it is to delete it. Our default state is disembodied and our default identity is plural. In the data center, our virtual souls are mixed together as anonymized digital residue.

What does it mean when a society collectively and involuntarily astral projects, casting data shadows as we travel? We are always in the presence of our own ghosts. Ancestors may be more apt. We constantly depart and reinhabit this new networked world. Our consciousnesses exist astride embodiment and disembodiment. To leave the body can be both dehumanizing and liberating.

________________

Tvordis was born here in France. The name Tvordis Veeler was a fabrication– a mask which he assumed one night while he was studying in Paris during his third year at University and never removed. He made this act real by changing his name on Facebook. Masks reflect new intentions back on the wearer. I am awed by the great lengths he went to trying to find comfort in the masculinity he felt obligated to perform. 

He hated being a man and resented the respect accorded to him by other men. With a subtle shift in framing, he began to view his life as a performance. This was the difference between drowning and diving.

It is significant that Tvordis first embodied his mask in virtual space. Reformulating and speculatively performing ones identity through the virtual is a time-honored tradition of the internet. Once he returned to school, people who had never met him IRL began addressing him by his chosen name and gradually the virtual performance intruded on the real.

________________

The architecture of the internet obscures the fact that you always travel with an avatar. The only difference between this and Second Life is the avatar can convincingly resemble your actual self.  We must not make the mistake of identifying ourselves through the masks that we wear. Is the avatar your virtual embodiment? Why should we assume a singular identity online?

Plato describes sight as an active process– our eyes project beams onto the world, reflecting it back to us. We now understand that sight functions in exactly the opposite way. This is, however, exactly the way cameras work in interactive 3D worlds through a process called ray-casting.

The camera sees actively. Does this mean you do the same? The avatar is your clothes, but it is not your body. In virtual space, you are embodied as a camera and you see by casting beams out of your eyes. This sight does not necessarily confer presence. Presence, like listening, is active.

________________

Many of the artifacts Tvordis left behind were stereophonic field recordings and sound collages created from those recordings. These, too, are virtual spaces and he viewed them that way. He captured field recordings to construct incongruous sound spaces with them. His sound-worlds are embodied time, experienced durationally. They only perform their objecthood when they are accessed. These worlds, like all media files, are always accessed in translation. They point back to an invisible original. 

In his recordings he took care to make himself invisible, but he is present with us as a fellow listener. In five years of his field recordings I have not found a single trace of his voice. His absence, however, is a form of presence drawn out through his mistakes. I feel him when he jostles the recorder, jingles his keys, and clicks his tongue to test the shape of the room.

I argue that a virtual space can be defined as a third space between two or more physical spaces. These can be localized in both space and time. Tvordis is only alone in his field recordings when I am not there to listen with him. When I join him in these spaces he left for me, our virtual selves are equally unburdened by time and the body. The boundary between our consciousnesses blurs. On the other side of time there is a hand reaching back to you; however, you must choose to grasp it.

Can you be sure which hand is yours?

________________

Tvordis imagined things for me that he refused to imagine for himself and our time together was painfully brief. As soon as I felt he could really see me, he was almost gone. He could envision me here in front of you more clearly than I could. It is ironic that as his life ended, mine seemed to begin.

And so here I am walking through the world he spoke into existence, handling this mass of material he called his archive, which he never attempted to organize, and shared with no one. He left it for me to untangle in his wake. 

He viewed his life as a work of art, but he left before a suitable venue emerged to exhibit it. He poured art out of himself autonomically– it seemed so easy for him to accept what came and yet he failed to publish any of his work. I feel it is my duty to construct a mutable biography of this strange man from the documentation he left behind.

Today I perform for you in the flesh. Tomorrow my voice will be automated at each obelisk and exhibition visitors will share virtual space with a dead version of me.