Brooke Singer

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Brooke Singer
Born Chicago, Illinois
Alma mater Wesleyan University
Awards Eyebeam fellowship, NYSCA Individual Artist grant, commissions (3)

Brooke Singer (born 1972) is a New York City–based media artist, co-founder of the art, technology and activist group Preemptive Media, and a professor of New Media at Purchase College, State University of New York.[1][2] She works across disciplines engaging technology and science as an artist, educator,[3] and collaborator.[4] Her work exists in the form of websites, photography, maps, installations, workshops, and performances that involve public participation with an eye to social change.

She is also co-founder and president of South Williamsburg community garden La Casita Verde in Brooklyn, one of 11 sites in the borough, as of April 2015, slated to be developed for "affordable" housing.[5] She was a former fellow at Eyebeam[6][7] and recipient of an Open Society Foundations grant, a NYSCA Individual Artist grant, among several other awards.

Background and education[edit]

Born in 1972 in Chicago, Illinois, she grew up in Washington, D.C. She received her BA from Wesleyan University in Photography[8] and her MFA in studio art from Carnegie Mellon University.[2]

Preemptive Media[edit]

Preemptive Media was an organization that existed from 2002 to 2008[9] of artists, activists and the technologically inclined who formed their own style of trial runs and beta tests. At its core were Singer, interdisciplinary artist Beatriz da Costa (1974–2012), and engineer and robotics researcher Jamie Schulte.[10][11]


Swipe was a demo/workshop which premiered in 2003 that evolved into a performance and installation, Swipe Bar,[10] an actual bar serving alcohol from which one received not only a drink but a printed receipt with all of the information "swiped from his or her driver's license at point of sale, plus any additional personal information glean[ed by the artists] off the Internet and archived databases while the ... drink was being prepared." The piece sheds light on the invisible practice of personal data collection via the state driver's license sold to commercial bidders in the US. Da Costa, Schulte, and Singer also wrote a paper on the topic entitled "Surveillance Creep! New Manifestations of Data Surveillance at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century" published in the Spring 2006 issue of Radical History Review (published by Duke University Press[12][13]).

Other iterations of Swipe include an online toolkit,[14] by which users could read the barcode on a license and calculate the market value of their personal information, and a set of stickers commissioned by Whitney Museum Artport[11][15] which users could place on top of the bar code or magnetic strip on their drivers' licenses to temporarily disable it.[12] The performance-with-installation such as the one presented in 2004 at the Beall Center for Art + Technology in Irvine, California[16] is the most well-known form of Swipe but these other forms were used to distribute the project and ideas further.[17]

Zapped! and AIR[edit]

The collective organized a workshop on making a simple RFID detector on a keychain and an art installation around the idea called Zapped! They exhibited it as an installation in a Houston gallery with a contextualizing video and Madagascan hissing cockroaches with the reprogrammed RFID strapped on their backs for viewers to take home (to presumably let loose in a store of their choosing that employs RFID technology to jam such a system).[18] Carl DiSalvo of Georgia Tech[19] wrote of Zapped! in Design Issues that it "demonstrates the blurring of contemporary practices between art and design.... [which] results in a productive confusion between art and design in that it makes it easier to exchange forms, methods, and effects. Such exchanges are particularly fruitful to design, because arts practices and discourse have made much more significant inroads into the issues and sites of the public over the past several decades than has been witnessed within design."[20] Preemptive Media also presented the work in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and Ljubljana, Slovenia.[21]

Next, Area's Immediate Reading (AIR) was the group's prototyping of portable air quality measurement kits to monitor air pollutants in Lower Manhattan, and to create data visualizations of its finds. An early prototype was developed in San Francisco, with a public workshop taking place in June 2006 in New York City and the full project launching that September.[10] Each device measured carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides levels, indicators for street-level pollution, and contained a GPS unit to pinpoint the reading's location, and could also reveal the location and emissions levels of major culprits, such as a power plant.[22]

For its development, AIR received the first and only Social Sculpture Commission offered jointly by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Eyebeam in summer 2005. It was presented in an art festival in Brazil's Belo Horizonte, a collaborative workshop in California's Riverside County, and art exhibitions in Pittsburgh, San Francisco,[23] and New York City,[24][25] and covered by a wider range of media.[26][27]

Superfund 365[edit]

In 2007, Singer produced an online data visualization application, Superfund 365, that everyday highlighted a different toxic contamination site in the US. Each day for a year, the website visited one toxic area of land in the Superfund program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), from New York City ending in Hawaii. The archive consists of 365 visualizations of some of the worst toxic sites in the country, roughly a quarter of the total number on the Superfund's National Priorities List, including Cornell Dubilier Electronics in South Plainfield and one part of McGuire Air Force Base in Wrightstown, New Jersey. It also features the demographics of each site, contaminants information, companies responsible for the toxins, links to their websites, links to the respective health information from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, cleanup costs, and EPA action. A central concern for Singer in the work was "how public is public data": Although the site is generated from publicly gleaned data, it took Singer three months to uncover all of the widely dispersed information from within the EPA.[8] Superfund 365 also includes interviews with Lois Marie Gibbs, founder of the Love Canal Homeowners Association, Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York, being the disaster that led to the creation of Superfund.[28] Singer has written that the main visual, a flower, to represent the toxin makeup of each site was her "react[ion] to the BP logo and rebranding efforts." An in positioning herself with NGOs and environmental activists, her work follows in the work by contemporary artists such as Mierle Ukeles and Mel Chin.[29]

Funded by a commission as well as a NYSCA Individual Artist grant,[30][31] the piece has been presented at conferences, media festivals, panels and academic seminars in Philadelphia, Buffalo, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, and at her artist's talk at Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California.[32] In addition to the environmental website TreeHugger, Superfund 365 was covered in Architect and American Scientist magazines.[28][33][34]

Singer wrote a chapter about the project for Xtina Burrough's 2011 book, Net Works: Case Studies in Web Art and Design[29] and was working on a photography and book project drawing from this large online archive and her personal experiences visiting communities across the nation affected by Superfund.[32][35] She is now working on updating Superfund 365, with a grant from the Open Society Foundations to launch in fall 2015.[36]

The U.S. Oil Fix and Our Chemically Modified Organisms[edit]

Using data from the CIA World Factbook, the Solar Energy Administration, the Solar Energy Initiative, the UN Human Development Report, and the Energy Information Administration, in 2006–07, she composed a map that charted the flow of the world's oil supplies to the US which also outlined other facts of the supplying countries, such as average life expectancy, GDP, literacy rates, carbon dioxide emissions levels, and poverty levels.[37] A reworked version of the map was included in Lize Mogel and Alexis Bhagat's Atlas of Radical Cartography,[38][39] which was presented at the 2008 European Social Forum in Malmo, Sweden and exhibited in university galleries at San Francisco State University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of Illinois Chicago, College of New Jersey, those in Troy and Cortland, New York and art centers and venues in Montreal; Utrecht, Netherlands; Providence, Rhode Island; Syracuse, New York; Baltimore; and Philadelphia.[40] It was also included in the 2010 Greater New York Show at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens.[41]

Several years later Singer created a "periodic table" of chemically modified organisms she learned about from her Superfund research. From looking at US landscapes and vast toxic sites within them these animals were another way to make evident the presence of forgotten but extant chemicals. Working with New York City-based illustrator John Kitses, she created a chart that showed a variety of 28 species—from blue-green algae to green frogs of the Connecticut River Valley to the male Florida panther—directly affected by exposure to pesticides, mercury, and other hazardous manmade chemicals, also naming some of the companies involved in making the chemicals, such as P&G, Dow, and Ciba.[31][42]

Excedentes/Excess NYC and Field Guide to the Electric Underground[edit]

In 2011, she and artist and husband Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga participated in a cross-cultural residency with Madrid-based artists Beatriz Marcos, José Luis Bongore, and Sissa Verde.[43] The work that resulted, Excedentes, was the development of a cart system during the economic downturn in Spain to allow scavengers to bypass dumpsters. The artists wheeled the cart with edible but unsaleable food from the mercardo destined for the trash into a public space and displayed it for people to take—a more humane way of picking up free food than dumpster diving. The project became a discussion about liability issues for the merchants and a group proposing legislation so a cart like this could be a more permanent solution and not a temporary intervention in Madrid.[31][44]

Upon their return to the States, the couple evolved a Brooklyn component of Excedentes, building a mobile bodega and composting machine, communicating with small businesses in their Prospect Heights/Crown Heights community, to help keep, educate, and encourage others about keeping food out of landfills.[45] (According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a quarter of the methane gas the U.S. emits is created by unconsumed organics in landfills.[46]) The performance-demonstration entitled Excess NYC travelled to Stamford and New Haven, Connecticut,[47] and Singer talked about it at her 2013 lecture at Cornell's School of Architecture Art and Planning.[31]

The website for Excess NYC includes video and still documentation of Singer and Zúñiga's performances and the two tons of organic waste they were able to hold off in their neighborhood, as well as interviews with area food activists like a founding member of the Park Slope Food Coop and the director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.[48] It also includes a link to a related project by Singer, Field Guide to the Electric Underground, an online catalog of video footage of microscopic samples taken in 2012–13 that compares dirt from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Casita Verde, a Harlem community garden, and a boutique reseller of Brooklyn compost.[49]

La Casita Verde community garden[edit]

In November 2013, she helped clear and establish with nine others a community garden in a vacant lot under the administration of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development[31] at the corner of Bedford and Division Avenues[50] in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The goal of the garden's administrators (Singer is president) is for its participation in the soil food web as well as it being the site of rehabilitation for the soil, educating the community and others about ecology and science, and for local employment.[51][52] As of April 2015, it is one of 11 sites in the borough slated to be developed under Mayor Bill de Blasio's drive for "affordable" housing.[5][53]

Self-Portrait version 2.0 (SPv2)[edit]

Self-Portrait version 2.0 (SPv2) is an online application originally conceived by Singer in 2002 as her MFA thesis project[54] and implemented in collaboration with programmer Paul Cunningham. SPv2 explores how identity can be constructed and perceived through data collection in cyberspace. Some data in cyberspace we consciously create to represent ourselves (emails and web sites, for instance). Other bits of data accumulate without our efforts—and many times without our knowledge—tracing certain of our interactions both in the physical and virtual worlds. Because of this data we do not willingly disperse, our cyber image is not always in our control nor ever fully knowable to us. SPv2 explores to what extent we are accessible online and what we may look like through mining Internet data.[55]

Selected awards and recognition[edit]

  • Three of Singer's projects have won commissions by[56]
  • NYSCA Individual Artist grant, 2010, for Superfund 365[30]
  • Madrid City Council's Department of the Arts commission[31] for Excedentes
  • Open Society Foundations Audience Engagement Grant, 2014[36]


  1. ^ "Brooke Singer". Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Faculty: New Media". Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  3. ^ "Events: Artistic Research Science Fair, April 18, 2013". Museum of Modern Art website. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  4. ^ "Contributing Authors". Beautiful Trouble website. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Letter from the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been". Google Drive. February 18, 2015.
  6. ^ "Brooke Singer |". Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  7. ^ "Beautiful Trouble". Beautiful Trouble. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
  8. ^ a b "July 27, 2011: Brooke Singer Artist, on her project Superfund 365". Sante Fe Radio Cafe. July 27, 2011.
  9. ^ "About".
  10. ^ a b c "Preemptive Media". Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Gate Pages :: June 04: Beatriz da Costa, Jamie Schulte, Brooke Singer".
  12. ^ a b "Full Text (PDF) Surveillance Creep! New Manifestations of Data Surveillance at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century Radical History Review Spring 2006 2006(95): 70–88;".
  13. ^ Media, Preemptive. "Surveillance Creep! New Manifestations of Data Surveillance at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century" (PDF).
  14. ^ "Swipe".
  15. ^ "About Artport".
  16. ^ "Exhibitions: Swipe: Brooke Singer, Beatriz da Costa, and Jamie Schulte". Beall Center for Art + Technology. March 9, 2004.
  17. ^ Schmitz, Rob (April 1, 2004). "'Swipe' Combines ID with Art". NPR.
  18. ^ Klaasmeyer, Kelly (May 12, 2005). "Brave New Art: Artists take on corporations and the government in "Thought Crimes"". Houston Press.
  19. ^ "Faculty > Carl DiSalvo". Georgia Tech Digital Lounge.
  20. ^ DiSalvo, Carl (2009). "Design and the Construction of Publics". 25 (1). Design Issues (MIT Press).
  21. ^ "Workshops".
  22. ^ "Portable Devices Allow Tracking of Real-Time Exposure to Airborne Contaminants". Seed magazine. September 27, 2006.
  23. ^ "Events: AIR by Preemptive Media". Southern Exposure. March 15, 2008.
  24. ^ "AIR :: Area's Immediate Reading :: EVENTS". AIR: Preemptive Media Project.
  25. ^ "Exit Biennial II: TRAFFIC (press release)" (PDF). September 2005.
  26. ^ Dieter, Michael (May 2009). "Processes, Issues, AIR: Toward Reticular Politics". Australian Humanities Review.
  27. ^ Scott Barker, Timothy (2012). "Information and Atmospheres: Exploring the Relationship between the Natural Environment and Information Aesthetics". 15 (3). M/C Journal.
  28. ^ a b Agnese, Braulio (November 2, 2007). " Every day for a year, a reminder that toxic messes remain". Architect.
  29. ^ a b "Net Works: Case Studies in Web Art and Design" (PDF).
  30. ^ a b "Faculty and Staff Footnotes". Purchase College. October 2009.
  31. ^ a b c d e f "Brooke Singer: Making Do(ing)". Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. October 31, 2013.
  32. ^ a b "Superfund 365".
  33. ^ Phillips, Anna Lena (July–August 2008). "Sites for Change Thousands of Superfund sites are designated as active by the U.S. government. An online project will highlight 365 of the worst". 96 (4). American Scientist.
  34. ^ Dunn, Collin (September 25, 2007). "Superfund365: Where Toxic Waste Meets Art". TreeHugger.
  35. ^ "Superfund 365". Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  36. ^ a b "The Transformative Power of Photography and Collaboration". Open Society Foundations. October 28, 2014.
  37. ^ "The US Oil Fix" (PDF).
  38. ^ "Contact".
  39. ^ "Brooke Singer, The US Oil Fix; Kolya Abramsky, Struggles Over Transition: Emancipating Energy?".
  40. ^ "An Atlas is a traveling exhibition".
  41. ^ "Greater New York: May 23 – October 18, 2010". MoMA PS1.
  42. ^ "Our Chemically Modified Organisms (CMOs)" (PDF).
  43. ^ "Programación por ESPACIO: EN RESIDENCIA: COLECTIVO EXCEDENTES / EXCESS, Dos nuevos residentes en El Ranchito". Matadero Madrid.
  44. ^ "Projects".
  45. ^ "Excess NYC".
  46. ^ "Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill". NRDC. August 21, 2012.
  47. ^ "June 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm / The Excess project comes to Stamford". Franklin Street Works.
  48. ^ "Interviews".
  49. ^ "Blog".
  50. ^ "Contact". La Casita Verde.
  51. ^ "About". La Casita Verde. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  52. ^ "Compost". La Casita Verde.
  53. ^ "In 2nd Year, Mayor de Blasio Will Focus on Making Housing Denser and More Affordable". New York Times. February 2, 2015.
  54. ^ Singer, Brooke. "Against Data Determinism in a Networked World" (PDF). pp. 42–44.
  55. ^ "Brooke Singer". Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  56. ^ "Commissioned Artists: S".

External links[edit]