Thursday, May 24, 2012

Biographical Chronicle of Industrial Production

I haven't put together a live performance work since Habeas Corpus in 2008, and the theme hasn't really changed, but the approach and scale have. On Sunday in Berlin, with up to 100 performers we will present the "Biographical Chronicle of Industrial Production", a labour model of the creation of the building we will be performing in front of.

 No lights, no speakers, no microphones, only a small mass of humanity, a few instructions 5 or 6 analogue clocks and handfulls of ballpoint pens. Come and join in (arrive around 1pm) or come just to watch (arrive at 3pm).

 Here's an introduction in German (with thanks to Ruth and Christine)
 “Biographische Entstehungschronik” von Baruch Gottlieb
 für das “Oral Syndicate”
produziert von Francesca Ciardi

Eine Performance-Veranstaltung für 100 Darsteller Die Performance beschäftigt sich mit der uns umgebenden und von uns geschaffenen Wirklichkeit. Den Ausgangspunkt bildet ein beliebiges Industrieprodukt - in diesem Falle ein Gebäude - und 100 Menschen, die durch ihren Arbeitseinsatz an dessen Entstehung beteiligt waren. Die Bühnenauftritte der einzelnen Darsteller bemessen sich proportional zu der geleisteten Arbeit ihrer darzustellenden Figur und variieren zwischen drei Sekunden und drei Minuten. Dabei wird der individuelle Arbeitseinsatz durch Gesten, Töne oder rein pantomimisch auf der Bühne dargestellt. Die übrigen Darsteller erzeugen hinter der Bühne eine kontinuierliche Geräuschkulisse indem sie einzelne Töne singen, sprechen, mit den Füssen scharren, aufstampfen oder auf der Stelle treten.

 Die Performance soll eine Erkundung der (Entstehungs)Geschichte eines industriellen Erzeugnisses sein, welches wir normalerweise nur in seiner physischen und gewöhnlichen Form wahrnehmen. Sie soll die gesamte Komplexität eines Enstehungsprozesses vermitteln, d.h. das Unermessliche, das Ungelöste, das Verstrickte: Beziehungsgeflechte verschiedener Individuen, deren Anstrengungen und gemeinsames Streben.

 Here is the English call as seen on FB:

 Baruch Gottlieb and Francesca Romana Ciardi are looking for 100 people interested in becoming a part of a unique site-specific and monumental performance, manifesting the living history of industrial architecture. Set in the unusual and suggestive setting of exRotaprint, a former printer factory in Wedding, the Biographical Chronicle of Industrial Production retraces the stories of the people who produced the world we live in today. Using a model of the construction of the ExRotaprint factory, participants will re-present the workers originally involved in the construction of the building over 60 years ago by appearing 'on stage' for a time proportional to the the historical person they are representing. This time 'on stage' will generally be quite short, on the average 5 seconds at a time...The rest of the participants, when not on stage or getting ready to go on stage, will produce background sounds 'back stage' for the performance. The sounds will consist of physical sounds like shuffling feet and vocal sounds like whispering, murmuring and humming. The performance will take place on the outdoor grounds of ExRotaprint in Wedding, on May 27th 2012 at 3pm and will finish at approximately 330pm.

Participants are requested to arrive on location two hours before the showing, at 1pm, for a run through. No previous performance experience necessary but a genuine desire to be part of a unique project that daringly traces the collective histories and memories of people and their labour. If you want to be part of Biographical Chronicle of Industrial Production please follow this link and fill out the online form on that page: 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In Istanbul and Karlsruhe

Two ancient capitals, one burning and teeming with life, the other sedate, wealthy and provincial are the sites for the installations of two projects through which I express my Gratitude for Technology: iMine and le Laboratoire de Deberlinisation.

iMine, the experimental art-app in a new Turkish version  is presented as a site-specific installation using tape, posters, video, and found objects, at ISEA2011 Istanbul in the back court yard and ground floor of the NURU_ZIYA lounge  in Tophane from September 14th until September 21st, 2011.

Le Laboratoire de Deberlinisation is presented and performed as part of the Global Art & the Musem (GAM) show opened Friday at ZKM in Karlsruhe. I made the videos, the 'speculative geography' maps of Africa, most of the other work is collaboration between myself and Mansour Ciss  It will run until February 5th, 2012.

Friday, August 12, 2011

On the Persistence of Hardware

In the paper I will give next month at ISEA, I am exploring the oft-espoused notion that technology is neutral. My book Gratitude for Technology argues that every manufactured thing is a record of the life-times of the people who made it; that an archaeology of the surfaces of modernity is in order to articulate the real human relationships which produced them. Through this archaeology we must come to comprehensively acknowledge the legacy of these relationships, fair and unfair, respectful and exploitative, recorded in the surface.

Because the surface on which this text appears is technical material, and all technical material is a record of human relations, it cannot be neutral, because relationships are not neutral. I would not argue that these relationships are so many and infinitesimal that they 'even out' into a generalizable history. I want to be 'Infinitely Demanding' with Critchley, applying some of the highest Nouvelle Histoire ambitions of the 'Annales' school, and attempt to attend to each one of these minute fragments of real relationships coherently, in a sort of poly-biography, or anthropology of technology. I hope this will support my central contention that since the technical material is a prerequisite for anything which appears on it, the values recorded therein frame, shape and colour every experience of it. Finally I will claim that such effects are fathomable.

Vilém Flusser does not explicitly discuss the materiality of the digital surface, but he analyzes what he calls the 'technical image' as a projection from the level of code. He exhorts us to learn about how this written code functions to generate images, or else become enamoured of the digital image and mere subject to its power. He warns us not to delude ourselves about how much agency we actually have when we are imagine ourselves as 'being creative' with technical images.
"the first photographers had no idea what they were doing. They had no idea that it is the apparatus that takes the images. That the photographer is not necessary, that you can make automatic cameras, that it is so to speak technology, and science itself that makes images."1

1 from an interview, made in München, the 17th of October 1991. This written text is based on the edited tape entitled The Philosopher of Photography, broadcast by the Hungarian Television in May, 1992. (45 min, FRÍZ Production, directed by Miklós Peternák, András Sólyom, Producer: Judit Kopper)

Sunday, June 5, 2011


What follows is a short introduction to the McLuminations series of video discussions officially inaugurated last weekend at the Retouching McLuhan Centennial Weekend event at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin. Future McLuminations are planned for October in Berlin and at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

photo Dmytri Kleiner

"At another level we have seen in this century the changeover from the debunking of traditional myths and legends to their reverent study. As we begin to react in depth to the social life and problems of our global village, we become reactionaries. Involvement that goes with our instant technologies transforms the most "socially conscious" people into conservatives.
When Sputnik had first gone into orbit a schoolteacher asked her second-graders to write some verse of the subject. One child wrote:

The stars are so big, The earth is so small, Stay as you are.
" M. McLuhan Understanding Media, Reversal of an Overheated Medium, Signet, New York, 1964 p. 49

Marshall McLuhan famously conjectured that the era of instantaneous electronic communication was going to bring about an experience of the world he termed a Global Village. Many interpreted this optimistically, as though, through the sense of universal togetherness engendered by electronic media, people around the world would shed their chauvinist antipathies, and engage together as equals. This condition of egalitarian global exchange, is, to some extent, observable today , however it is unlikely that this is much due to the prevalence of electronic media, rather, it can be seen as only a contemporary manifestation or mutation of an internationalist tendency among educated elites which has prevailed since time immemorial, which has always appropriated the latest technology. On the other hand, McLuhan's Global Village has also a dark, cautionary connotation. Rather than being a place of joyous togetherness, the Global Village may be a nightmare of intrusiveness and irrational violence.

McLuhan's work articulates a pivotal development in the consciousness of humanity, that of alphabetic literacy, which began with the Greeks, and exploded with the Gutenberg press. McLuhan often divides history, and peoples into the categories pre-literate and literate and extrapolates a period of post-literacy emerging with electronic communication.

McLuhan and Vilém Flusser coincide in their understanding that literacy generates in the literate causality, which bursts literate people out of a tribal, circular sense of time, into a linear historical sense of time. ”There is the stream of events, as it is perceived by historical consciousness. Everything flows, nothing ever repeats itself, every opportunity lost is lost forever, and everybody is within that stream of events. 1 Once linearity is accellerated sufficiently by industrial technology (functioning themselves based on causal rules) what McLuhan calls the era of the tribal drum is inaugurated again with satellites and television. Flusser refers to this as a recurring mythical period where we are dominated by the power of images (inaugurated with the photograph) .

McLuhan's Global Village is a retrieval of tribal structures of society, where the increased satisfaction of an intimate horizon of meaning (all phenomena have meaning within tribal consciousness) occurs under the absolute tyranny of taboo and orthodoxy, where dissent is sanctioned through social exclusion (e.g. Excommunication, exile) which, thereby deprives a dissenter of any access to the only community in which he or she has any meaning. Excommunicated into the netherworld between communities, the Global Village Exile is practically what Georgio Agamben refers to as a homo sacer2, a person without any rights, who may be killed by anyone without fear of punishment.

McLuhan died at the dawn of the internet age, so he did not experience the Massively Multi-Channel communication possible today. His vision of an all-inclusive pervasive sphere of electronic information enrobing the earth was largely that of a hegemonic effect. The public was imagined in the position of receptors and interpreters of the light-speed stimula. His praise for the experiential modes unearthed in the electronic communication was then always qualified with a cautionary barb. One example of how McLuhan bemoaned its alleged anti-intellectual , anti-literate effects is in his many critiques of how jokes had changed from more narrative jokes to the then current one-liners (which today have become even one-worders, e.g. 'meh') McLuhan exhorted the audience of his day to understand how the media worked and find a way to 'turn it off', or at least slow it down long enough that we may establish some agency within the onslaught.3

But the internet, for all its whirring back and forth, is still what McLuhan would have considered a cool, low-resolution medium, therefore one which requires much physical effort (instinctively, internally, unconsciously on the part of the sensorium) in order to interpret stimuli into meaningful messages. The users of the internet are physically exhausted by this and thus have no energy for sustained reflection.


McLuminations, the event series, emerges out of the experience of watching television, which McLuhan described as in depth. When McLuhan said that people experience television deeply, he did not mean that they methodically explored the subject matter at hand with regard to its context (the common contemporary notion of depth we have from the phrases 'deep understanding' or 'deep reading') the depth McLuhan referred to was an emotional one. The images of the war in Vietnam, he said, would not fit on TV because the audience experienced them too deeply. This emotional depth is an intuitive unreflected one, a holistic one which is not subject to rational reflection. However, slowing down the deep process of television reception, we may observe that the emotional engrossment, this in depth experience is actually propelled along by infinitesimal bursts of rational reaction, each never quite having the time to emerge into an actual thought because of the intense pace of the communication taking place. Therefore the frustrated rationality of the viewer becomes transmuted into physical, emotional energy which, accumulating, disrupts the concentration necessary to develop arguments, thus contributing to the anti-literate, tribal effects of electronic media.

The interest with McLuminations is to develop a discursive form which would provide us the consumers a little more time to allow each individual reception-reaction to have its space and time, to allow each reflection to unfold, so that we can come to better terms with our in depth experience of electronic media Global Village. By pausing the video at our leisure and need, and freely scratching the video McLuhan back and forth purely as our contemplations compel us to, we may open a space out of our time (as McLuhan proposed), where what today are slightly reactionary approaches toward rational (linear and causal) reflection on the electronic media object may be cultivated. In McLuhan's terms, McLuminations is warming up the cool media of video, in order that themes ordinarily incompatible with video may be addressed in extenso.


1 Flusser, Vilém, from On technical images, chance, consciousness and the individual, Interview in München, the 17th of October 1991 (38’) A shorter version of this interview was broadcasted by the Hungarian Television in 1992. (FRÍZ Production, producer Judit Kopper)

2 see especially chapter 6 "the Ban and the Wolf"

3 "I am resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change, but I am determined to understand what is happening because I don't choose just to sit and let the juggernaut roll over me. Now, many people seem to think that if you talk about something recent, you are in favor of it. The exact opposite is true in my case. Everything I talk about is almost certainly to be something I am resolutely against. And it seems to me the best way to oppose it is to understand it and then you know where to turn off the button." Marshall McLuhan, from a TV interview with Robert Fulford, May 8th, 1966, available here

Monday, May 16, 2011

Into the real...

Just a short update with a couple of photos from my collaboration with Mikala Dal and Francesca Ciardi at the 'Work-show' last weekend at LEAP. It was built from a coincidence of premises, emerging from the three of us: the (obsolescing) notion of human scale, information overload, digital speed and the limits of the body, relationship between text and speech, the subconscious connections of different text to each other. The resulting 3-channel work was surprisingly watchable, funny, and gripping.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

avant garde for every one?

What? an update? Where have the last 6 months gone? Well, financial exigencies had to be assuaged in the form of a media facade project for a 24-floor office building in Seoul. It is a beautiful building with an unusual curved black glass curtain facade designed by Edgar Bosman and Peter Couwenbergh.
photo by Edgar Bosman

While I was in Seoul, I also got to show iMine. It was pretty well received by the digital sophisticates out there on the peninsula, and even got some sympathetic press.

At the transmediale, there was Global Village Idiots, a prototype for McLuminations, a three-part series I will do at the Canadian Embassy here this year as part of the McLuhan Centennial celebrations going on everywhere. At PIXELACHE, thanks to Susanne Jaschko, I had a chance to present a fleshed-out concept paper for my Congo Confluence project. PIXELACHE was an inspiring experience, especially getting to know so many luminaries I had only read before, and unexpectedly having my sensibility opened through encounters with Bartaku and the people from FOam. Bio-diversity was a very prominent theme at this year's PIXELACHE, some projects, like MARIN, seemed to be preparing for the techno-necessities of a post-apocalyptic condition, whereas Bartaku's photoElectric Digestopians project with its edible explorations of micro-voltages was playful and provocative poetry.

photo by Bartaku

After PIXELACHE, I immediately went to Amsterdam to meet Bas van Abel of the Fairphone project. Bas is a designer trying to do the practically impossible, researching the problematic sourcing of mineral raw materials for electronics and trying to find "fair trade" sources in order to produce a phone using materials which are extracted under 'fair' conditions, that the people responsible for exhuming the materials get an adequate wage for their work, or even that they get a communal share in the value of the minerals they extract. Those of you who have read this blog before will know about this problem at the heart of our electronics.

I asked Bas for some tips to get funding for my Smartphone Teardown6000000 project (more about this imminently). In Holland, it seems, even the banks are concerned with conflict minerals, Bas got a lot of funding and support from Rabobank, I, on the other hand... still looking....

Next week is Operative Performances with the good people at LEAP. It is finally a chance to get back to performance-grounded work, human (and, of course other) scale, real (and, of course canned and hyper-) time, maybe even a little mimeolography. Hopefully I can be more prompt about putting up the next update.

To tide you over in the meantime here is the brilliant art historian Boris Groys with a lecture on the role of the art avant-garde in soviet Russia, with speculations on what could be considered avant-garde today. I was a bit confused by seemingly contradictory contentions in this lecture. Groys declares that the Avant Garde is always unpopular (because it assumedly makes people uncomfortable, forcing them to confront themselves in unaccustomed manners) but, at the end of the lecture, Groys speculates that people posting (art?) on Facebook might be the current avant-garde. Who doesn't like facebook "art"? The most popular works at transmediale (cutting edge? avant-garde?) the last two years have engaged with facebook: FAT lab's face book resistance and Cirio and Ludovico's Face to Facebook, I wouldn't say those works were very unpopular at all. On the contrary, they went viral, and were generally applauded. It may just be that our society has reached such a degree of militarization that the avant garde has become popular. Readers of this blog will know my position on this.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I am just back from a wonderful few days in slightly, yet sweetly dilapidated Gijón where I installed the first public demonstration of iMine, a new experimental art-app for Android and iPhone.

What is iMine? It is digital art, in the particular sense that (as readers of other articles on this site will know) explores the materiality of the digital. This app, and the associated web resources is designed as a sort of portal to vast realms of real and possible research into the real material conditions of the origin of digital media, that is, in the material of the hardware which has its genesis in the minerals of the earth. This is accomplished through a game interface, which is itself a dramatization of these conditions.

iMine ventures back to the humble and often primitive conditions where the minerals which will become this technology are originally exhumed. It is an assertion of the human facts at the mine head, the actual workers who actually laboured to bring forth the minerals which frazzle and fritz inside circuits and chips to maintain this text so seamlessly legible on the surface of your display right now.

Friday, November 12, 2010

No Ethnic Cleansing without Poetry

Back with a bang with a video of an appearance of a certain noted Slovenian thinker ruffling up the hastily cobbled together surface of our global citizen identities. I don't like his militarism, but he was actually in the military and I wasn't so maybe he knows something I don't (which makes me wonder what it would be like to be a soldier in his army), but I think we agree on at least one essential point, that the future of the left is not "liberal capitalism with a human face" but something radically different.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Nature of Calculations at the Speed of Heat

If the computer understands nature it will understand it only in a way understandable to other computers. Computers may someday become so sophisticated as to understand us, too, but they will only be able to communicate this understanding to other computers.

This is a review of 'Rheo' a media performance by Ryoichi Kurokawa on three vertically hung HD projections with 5.1 sound around 9pm on June 29th 2010, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. Since all of his images are copyright, I have not posted any here, please go to his site to get a good notion of what I am discussing below.

What I saw:

The last 15 minutes or so, to be honest, but I think I got a good sense of what was at stake.

The image quality is pristine, exquisite digital photography of natural phenomena, waves, stony crags, etc go through a computer process which eventually disintegrates them into clouds of swirling vectors. In HD every one of these vectors retains its sharpness, yet the sheer numbers of them and their erratic motion produce a noise-like blur. In all, the HD resolution is very well exploited. The visuals have a certain rhythmicity, and this is reinforced, or propagated by the soundtrack. The full range of the audible spectrum is mined with precision for strong sensory effects. There is a lot of high frequency noise and sine waves, loud bursts of noise crackling the speakers like fireworks, always in synchrony with a corresponding burst of activity or abrupt cut on the screen. Other sections are more pastoral, exquisite computer simulations of waterfalls (created of the same incredible sharp and fine vectors), accompanied by field recordings of birds and, well, fields, drawn out with Japanese Sho contributing a noble art pedigree to the event. Sometimes the photography would be used in rapid successions, flipping through a database labeled "Nature" at the speed of heat.

What I thought.

For all it's mastery, the result was flat. Sonically, graphically, however, there was nothing to reproach, the timing of the ebbs and flows the darks to lights and louds to softs was impeccable, the sounds chosen to synchronize with visual events were all finely sculpted. Yet, the work showed me something I wrote about 2 years ago is still the case. It is difficult for artists who work only with digital media to transcend the flattening that makes digital media so marvelously malleable and transmutable. I have noticed this particularly among the digital artist of Japan and Korea. Ryoji Ikeda is another good example where there is an attempt to warm up the screen by submitting it to a barrage of content, reams of image information are reflected at the viewer at ecstatic rates, the fineness of the detail allows up almost to be able to see the detailing of time itself. This is art of the nerves, it is a flat art of electronic impulses of stimuli without (need of) emotional response.

What I think I saw was the computer struggling to encapsulate the complexity of the Nature in a photograph of Nature, extracting hypothetical surfaces from something that has already once been flattened. (Nature is flattened by digital photography into an array of data, the image we see on the screen apears much more coherent that the streams of homogenous bits the computer is attempting to understand). The computer's calculator flutters over the image attempting to distinguish light masses from dark, contingent forms. The algorithms of its automated interpretation is designed in this case to be purposefully over-cautious and inefficient but it works at near light speed. These inefficient algorithms are principle artistic elements of the work, slowing down and exaggerating the computer's interpretation of the image so that we may experience it aesthetically. In this approximate understanding of the image, the computer creates medial images where the areas of more certainly begin to blur and merge.

At this juncture where the original image is imperceptible behind clouds of approximating vectors, Kurokawa will usually reverse the process. This indistinct, overanalysed nether image is morphed to an advanced vectorization of another image, and from here, the ecstatic approximations work now (imperceptibly) in reverse until a new photographic Nature-vignette inexorably comes into startling clarity and detail.

This is truly art of the state-of-the-art. As the computer struggles to make sense of the empirical data, Kurokawa struggles to make sense of the computer. The conclusion of the performance is, unfortunately, a cop out. Kurokawa attempts to understand the computer by setting before its calculating sensorium the figure of Nature. At the end of the show, the medial 'nether' image, instead of coalescing into a photograph of Nature, coalesces into one of a city. A city neither ominous nor luminous, a city pictured in the same exquisite HD sharpness as had been Nature. City as a natural encrustation produced by Homo Faber, itself a natural phenomena.

Nature is calculated into the form of the city, but is the city the end of calculation? The city is the site where calculations converge exponentially. The expectation is, following Moore's Law, that quantum computing is imminent, a form of simultaneous automated calculation capable of the complexity of human mental process, and beyond. The city will be calculated into the excity where matter is constantly reorganized on the atomic level in realtime, and human beings will be transfused with automated processes on the atomic level (atomatons?). The promise is that all disease will be curable, even death. All that matters is to keep the computers going.

The possibility that somehow an 'energy crisis' may cause the current feeding these automated processes to be interrupted, makes this a race against time with the computers indefatigably calculating the solution. Part of the solution is, of course, the improvement of computers which will be used to calculate the solution. Eventually the computers will know some solutions, and they may even know that they know some solutions and even know that they should communicate such results to us. It is likely that their solutions will only be able to be carried out by computer-designed automated processes. The only solution will be to trust the computers.

The drama of the computer attempting to preserve our species is an indifferent one.

This was made immediately palpable as I left the auditorium into a wonderful and unfamiliar sound. The public areas of Haus der Kulturen der Welt are contiguous, from the doors at the ticket booths through the immense foyer up to the auditorium, along the mezzanine, down along the cavernous coat check area all the way back to the cafe and the office areas, it is one uninterrupted space. For the Rencontres Internationales digital arts festival at which Ryoichi Kurokawa performed for the opening, the organizers were prescient enough to install a massive screen in the foyer for those who wanted to take a break from the high culture to catch some of the World Cup. What I had heard on exiting the auditorium was the sound of about a hundred football watchers reacting to a near miss in the game between Spain and Portugal. The sound had traveled around 50 meters bouncing across all manner of surfaces to reach me, in the process it had become a brief passing cloud of excited human voice.

(thank you to SA for the quick read-over and suggestions)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Processual Art Between First and Second Nature

image from NASA (hope they don't mind)

This is a response I contributed to a mailing list discussion on processual art initiated by Susanne Jaschko and Lucas Evers as an extension of their exhibition Process as Paradigm. Almost all the works I refer to here were presented in that show. The catalog for the show is freely downloadable here.

As far as I have understood it, with processual art, we are in a position of referring to the contemporary condition of our civilisation having reached a point where one might almost be able to declare that it is dependent on automated processes. I think there is a central question here.

This amazingly sophisticated "life-support system" we have created with the technical arts, layer upon layer of physical and virtual infrastructure (so many, so elaborate and so diffuse that we can no longer speak of layers), which engages and traverses our individual lives in so many ways, has truly become a "Second Nature" with its own meterologies and flows, as fascinating (at least in as far as it is made manifest) as the "First Nature" we used to wonder at, and fear.

The added plus with the "Second Nature" is that we have the sense that, since we built it, we can control it.

I think Processual art addresses this situation in a few ways.

a) producing analogies (literally analog counterparts) to "Second Nature", as a kind of homage to the "Second Nature" and, simultaneously, a kind of adieu to (obsolescent notions of ) "First Nature". This position I call "Surrender". E.g.van Abbema's bacterial work (see image below), and Kudla's leaves, Boredom Research's snails.

Symbiosis (2009) by Jelte van Abbema
paper imprinted with bacteria which grow over time.

b) producing generative models which allow our still-flesh-and-bones-and-eyes-and-ears meat-world beings to appreciate and enjoy the complexity of the "Second Nature". This is the aestheticising position of mastery and control. E.g. Sack, Rybn, Driessens & Verstappen, Schmidt and many others in the show

c) a reactionary approach which emphasises the aspects of human experience which cannot (yet) be technologized. This is somehow the position of identification with First Nature itself, integrating Humanity with all its talents and capacities as part of Nature (and more specifically terrestrial Nature)) I think of Willy Lemaitre's work here for some reason, and maybe, my own...?

d) others... (I hope these categories may be useful...)

again, if I understand it, processual art exists where we consider the interstices between First and Second Nature, between the Life Support System and good (?) old-fashioned 'Life'. Further, I would like to ask here if the process we are monitoring in processual art is that of our dehumanisation.

If we pretend to take the scientific rigour with which the machines around us are constructed so that they run so reliably and efficiently, and attempt to apply that kind of rigour to our ethics, we must contend that until there is a certifiably "fair-trade" computer there will be no legitimate critical position in technological arts.

So few people really want to go back to the old texts through which the foundations of our notion of humanity has been developed. Do we believe that our automated systems have, programmed into them, the humanism which enabled the science which created them? Are we in a position of letting automated processes determine what is better or worse for us as a species? Because we do not trust the individual position? (inherent in this is the stepping back from the claim of authorship).

This may be one of the central questions of processual art. If machines can decide better than we can, and it is only our responsibility to feed the machine enough data to process into enlightened instructions, we have invested in the mesh of automated processes, the 'life-support system, or Second Nature) all the agency we used to invest in worship. We will have become pagans in a polytheistic world of techno-magic and of mystical terror.

For our own good, and for the survival of the species, we increasingly see the convergence of, one one hand the improvement of automated processes and, on the other, the adaptation of human behaviour to be compatible with these. I am not sure if this is what Ursula Damm refers to when she describes processual art as pre-politically activist. But certainly, from a Flusserian point of view, this situation is decidedly apolitical.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

on Artistic Freedom, Friendship and Peace

"You call yourself free? Your dominating thought I want to hear, and
not that you escaped from a yoke. Are you the kind of person who had the right to escape from a yoke?
There are some who threw away their last value when they threw away their servitude.
Free from what? What does Zarathustra care! But brightly your eyes should signal to me: free for what? "

-F. Nietzsche "On the Way of the Creator" from Thus Spake Zarathustra

On the Expression of Freedom
(an artist talk for the exhibition DIENST, May 8th, 2010)

If only I were free to express myself. Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

We know there are limits. This is not what you came for. There is a breakdown in the system, in the grammar of the event, of the society itself. But don't worry, despite this being a zone of artistic freedom , you are still protected by the police. And this is no Artaudian poesis, this is the freedom of gentlemen as Jose Ortega y Gasset said we "delight ourselves in our own magnanimity and gratify ourselves by playing fair". (from History as a System, W.W.Norton, NY, 1961, p.131)

free (adj.)
O.E. freo "free, exempt from, not in bondage," also "noble, joyful," from P.Gmc. *frijaz (cf. M.H.G. vri, Ger. frei, Du. vrij, Goth. freis "free"), from PIE *prijos "dear, beloved" (cf. Skt. priyah "own, dear, beloved," priyate "loves;" O.C.S. prijati "to help," prijatelji "friend;" Welsh rhydd "free"). The adverb is from O.E. freon, freogan "to free, love." The primary sense seems to have been "beloved, friend, to love;" which in some languages (notably Gmc. and Celtic) developed also a sense of "free," perhaps from the terms "beloved" or "friend" being applied to the free members of one's clan (as opposed to slaves, cf. L. liberi, meaning both "free" and "children"). Cf. Goth. frijon "to love;" O.E. freod "affection, friendship," friga "love," friðu "peace;" O.N. friðr, Ger. Friede "peace;" O.E. freo "wife;" O.N. Frigg "wife of Odin," lit. "beloved" or "loving;" M.L.G. vrien "to take to wife, Du. vrijen, Ger. freien "to woo."

There are limits to freedom, no-one will deny this. One may wish to do many things but one is restrained from exercising this wish because of social or moral injunction.
If we look at the this etymology related to Freund, and Frieden we see there is a pact within which freedom operates... it is not freedom in a vacuum there can be no freedom without context and this context must not be free.

Freedom as a pact means I voluntarily sacrifice my instincts in order that the pact may continue, so something in this notion of freedom is the understanding, that I by curtailing my freedom am allowing you to have more freedom, built into the notion of freedom is a social pact where individual freedoms are curtailed so that all may have more choice to curtail their freedom.
And this is Peace, freedom, where everybody voluntarily, in love, curtails their own freedom.

We have here a frontier where the culture and nature may be delineated. It is not a line, because it is not visible, it is an injunction, but it is not a written one, it may not even be a spoken one, the bond, the pact of freedom requires taboos.

We can see that freedom of expression is not freedom anymore but freedom of a very small constituent of human activity, expression, which means what exactly? ex-press , aus-drucken means to press out what is inside. This can be a word or a burp or a fart or even a shit, the implication is that it is a word, however we can see even here that the notion is problematic. Freedom of expression is an oxymoron because freedom is always contingent and voluntary and some expressions are involuntary.

But we mean here meaning-ful expressions...what is meaning?

O.E. mænan "to mean, tell, say, complain," from W.Gmc. *mainijanan (cf. O.Fris. mena, Du. menen, Ger. meinen to think, suppose, be of the opinion"), from PIE *meino- "opinion, intent" (cf. O.C.S. meniti "to think, have an opinion," O.Ir. mian "wish, desire,"...

Meaning requires a counterpart in order to validate the meaning. Meanings must have a social resonance, and that is the contemporary meaning of meaning. Something which has no social effects is meaningless. And meaning is less freedom of expression and more expression of freedom.

Anstatt Meinungsfreiheit oder Äusserungsfreiheit: Äusserung der Freiheit
Instead of Freedom of opinion or freedom of expression : Expression of Freedom

Again, freedom exists within a bond, therefore freedom articulates the bond. And such is the freedom of the artist that it is the freedom to do something which may injure the social bond in the interest of preserving the bond. What is unacceptable is art which aims to destroy the bond.

With my expression of freedom, by definition, I express my love for the society, my friendship, which is also my desire for peace. I think this notion of peace as love or friendship, all residing within the word 'free', is particularly fortuitous, since we know, neither love or friendship are easy or static, we have a paradigm for peace which is not a culmination but a process.

But art has no monopoly on such expressions of freedom, indeed, in the expanded abstract society of the electronic age, almost every human interaction is an expression of freedom. Only we are no longer sure what it is we are loving with our freedom.

It is only not an expression of freedom when it distinctly aims to annihilate the social bond. But you know the old expression 'what doesn't kill me makes me stronger' it is hard to determine what expression is not freedom, and that is why it is written in the Grundrechte of the Grundgesetz that "(3) Kunst und Wissenschaft, Forschung und Lehre sind frei. (Art, and Science, Research and Education are free)
Die Freiheit der Lehre entbindet nicht von der Treue zur Verfassung" (The freedom of Education does not exempt one from constitutional obligations).
Can we have such dangerous freedom and still have social cohesion? Yes, because we know, if the disruptive effects of freedom grow too strong, a greater power will intervene. And this power is not free. This is the power of the text of the law incarnate. The police.

Judges swords and axe used in the court of Medieval Berlin

So the society is protected from the freedom of the artist by the police. And it works inversely, the police also protects the artist from the freedom of the society. The police, the physical manifestation of the technology of language in law is the least free human, while they are in uniform, they may even be less free than a prisoner in jail. They are not free because they are the physical manifestation of the law. In uniform everything they do is law itself, and not their personal will.

The freedom of the citizen cannot be conceived with reference to the, perceived lack of freedom of the prisoner, or, as it is often conjured, the that of the citizen of a foreign despotic nation. Such freedom, which defines itself in opposition to a concept of bondage, is not true freedom since it derives too much of its meaning from the bondage it rejects.

We all know the feeling, in German they call it Entlastung, but it is also 'License' as in poetic license, a freedom to disobey laws. This kind of happiness which comes when one contravenes the conditions of a bond without any adverse consequences. Yet this form of freedom requires that the laws continue to function outside of the happiness, this happy freedom comes in the voluntary temporary self-determined exemption from social sanction.

In our society, we allow for a certain amount of this "temporary self-determined exemption from social sanction". We know that the culture needs antithesis in order to renovate itself. This form of anti-thesis is not an alternative, it is not a fundamental challenge to society, it is part of the renewal of the society. This is why the artists coexist happily with the hegemony that protects the space where they can create freely.

The much-vaunted freedom of artists in Western culture is predicated on the hard un-free regimented systemic shell of the military which protects the space and the police lines of sight which traverse it.


Wars are the "temporary self-determined exception" of the state which afford the freedom of the artist. "No sacrifice is too great for our democracy, least of all the temporary sacrifice of democracy itself" (Rossiter, Clinton Lawrence,Constitutional dictatorship: crisis government in the modern democracies, Princeton University Press 1948, p. 314). We must admit that, as advanced as it may claim to be, the avant garde of art is the front lines of a cultural crusade.

We advance towards the other parading our cultural values. Avant garde, seeming to disrupt the culture is simply regenerating and reinvigorating it from within. The paradigm of respectful encounter between one culture and another is still today accomplished through offensive confrontation. Transfigured by our inability to accept the otherness of the other, we have armed ourselves beyond recognition.

Unfortunately, the bitter joke is that as we, in full avant garde regalia, with weapons blazing, see our culture engaged with the other in a confrontation of mighty armies, just as it was 1000 years ago, we are standing before the reflective membrane which is the frontier of our freedom and only threatening and frightening ourselves.

The avant-garde provides no true alternative to this militarization of art. if we are truly confident in our desire for peace, there is only the possibility to, little by little, baisser la garde!.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Holocaust by Design

Central to my inquiry into the materiality of the digital image is the discovery of the human fact of this materiality, one aspect of which is the ongoing global tragedy of the so-called 'Conflict Minerals' Trade.

Last year, a bill was introduced to the US Congress which has the intention of mitigating, and hopefully ending this tragedy. Though the provisions in the bill for auditing companies doing the secondary processing of conflict minerals, transforming them into the alloys and other refined materials used in the electronics industry could easily be abused, the bill itself, especially Section 2, is valuable in that it officially acknowledges the scope of the problem in some painful detail.

One of the consultants on the bill was Danish documentary filmmaker Frank Poulsen who managed to personally visit and even film in one of the mines and come back to tell about it.

His film project still needs funding and support. The problem, however, is deeper and more intractable than one film will be able to solve.

There is something endemic to our globalist economic system built on ever increasing debt which necessitates permanent economic growth. We are blackmailing ourselves into the future. And the the over-hurried, harried material result of this is not only bad design, which is obsolete with in a couple of years, but a design philosophy which does not take into account where the materials that must be mined to create the design on a globalized scale will come from, and what potential disruptions this new sourcing paradigm may cause on the local level.

What we see in North Kivu province of the Congo was partially caused by an 2004 EU declaration that solder used in electronics should no longer contain lead. Though this was ostensibly a good idea, the legislators far away in Brussels did not consider that the sudden jump in value of the suggested replacement material, cassiterite, was mostly to be found in a desperately poor and unstable part of the world, and that the gold rush there might have terrible consequences. According to US Congress figures over 6,000,000 people have died as result of the conflict minerals trade. When we look at the materiality of the digital image, we have a holocaust at our fingertips.

Or, rather, to be precise, because, here, out of respect for the murdered, we should be as precise as possible, the term holocaust is not accurate. 'holo' means 'all', 'caust' means 'burnt' which also means that the word holocaust is not entirely accurate to describe the nazi institutional genocide. And the murdered of the Congo were not burned, but were, at least, one would expect, buried, so perhaps a construction such as holotaph be fitting. We have a holotaph at our fingertips.

When it comes to mass-production on the global scale, good, conscientious design is a moral imperative. Bruce Sterling put a damper on the techno-giddy audience at his talk at a Vodaphone MoMo Mobile Monday event in November 2008. In his trademark sneer he cut to the core of the matter, design matters, but waste is good for business.

I have treated the issue of conflict minerals periodically previously on this blog.

On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, on the site of the former Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin, let us also remember the millions whose lives and bodies have been sacrificed for the imagineered idealisms of today's globalist social networks.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Baisser la Garde!!

Baisser la Garde!
towards a true demilitarization of art
(an artist talk for the exhibition DIENST, May 1st, 2010)

an art without violence
an art without oppression
an art without tyranny
an aesthetics of tedium?

Violence, oppression, tyranny, not in our daily lives please except in our art. We enjoy, desire being oppressed by art, controlled by art, manipulated by artists. Art is an excuse to take a vacation from civic responsibilities and to submit ourselves to a higher power.

And any excuse will do, we know, we do not enjoy true freedom. We enjoy freedom only within strict systems of rules. And even more so, we only enjoy freedom when we can be free not to be free if we choose to, to delegate responsibility, to allow others to make most of the decisions for us.

99% of the time we do not want democracy, we want democracy only the 1% of the time when we want it, otherwise we would prefer not to be bothered with the functioning of the state, informed perhaps, yes, but not compelled to act democratically.

But we must be free to exercise our democratic powers during that 1% of the time we may so desire, whenever we so desire. A society that allows us to decide when we would like to exercise our freedom is what we call democratic.

photo © 2009 Dorothee Robrecht

Yet we believe that art can be free and that art makes us free. Though all freedom is contingent on structures which are not free In this installation we have the soldiers which guard the place of free expression of art, even of the anti-social statement, which can only pretend to be antisocial in the meta-social context of a hegemonically protected space which allows for the exercise of anti-sociabilitiy as a generator of culture.

Avant Garde, the term, is from the frontlines of the battle.
Garde, to guard, to protect, and to forge ahead. The Avant Garde is by definition the colonizing juggernaut of our Humanist agenda: invading all corners of the world, disrupting and de-legitimizing traditional or alien structures, infiltrating everything with our notion of right and wrong, our values.

The avant-garde defines the freedom of the future hegemony of our culture's dominion, it is not fundamentally challenging our culture's values, it is innovating and renovating them. The avant-garde in Western art is the colonial agenda of what today we call Globalism.

The media art work displayed here is not avant-garde. This is more of a challenge than may seem since 99% of media art exists to sell more computers, screens, cables, memory, electricity, etc. the whole automated way of life of the extended mind we have come to expect in the developed world, the so called 'state of the art'. It is not that this work of digital media purports to be against new media, that would be folly, however it is a work which is specifically designed as a productive deceleration of the techno-globalist juggernaut.

Baisser la garde, lower the garde carefully, extremely slowly allowing us to experience all the tiny eruptions and chain reactions of of future undefined pleasures and potential interpersonal connection, which could be afforded by carving out for ourselves a tiny decelerated space, wherein the pleasure of the present, incoherent, may be be accessed.

Ranciere describes modernism in Politics of Aesthetics "trying to make clear-cut distinctions in the complex configuration of the aesthetic regime of the arts."(p.25) The digital age brings about not-post-post-modernism, but hyper-modernism, an intensification of modernism's categorizing agenda. The apparent cross-disciplinarity of digital media only reveals the primacy of the state of the art over ancient artistic practice. The split-second calculation and correlation of minutely categorized facets of any phenomena, results in the illustion of cross-disciplinarity, it is, in fact, hyperdisciplinarity.

The state of the art is the military avant garde applied equally to foreign adversaries and civil society alike. Baisser la Garde, by introducing the figure of the soldier, human manifestation of the hegemonic structure of the state, asserting it's centrality to the creation of art, aims to bring in to relationship the schizophrenia of the contemporary state which wages unjust wars to promote humanist values. It is an acknowledgement of the mutual dependence, organic symbiosis of military and police hegemony in the service of protecting a space for the Humanist principles of the emancipation and flourishing of the individual to be performed. It is the manifestation of the given, assumed, and almost unspeakable unfree military precondition and ingredient of any cultural activity produced within its protective shell.

Baisser la Garde is also not about conventions of arts, it is not conservative, it is not guarding conservative traditions and values, it is incrementally, not too fast, almost imperceptibly, lowering the guard, it is exposing the weakness of the discourse, it is clogging the computer processor core with too much relevant information.

Geert Lovink asked "How to Undermine the Instant Globalization of Fear? Close our Eyes and Ears? Overcome Realtime Media? Dismantle the Collective Armors?" I answered "DDoS", but instead of the insistant repetitive message of conventional DDoS, I advocate to overload CPUs of society with relevant information.

The problem with information today is that it is increasingly digital, brute force, simplistic, goal-oriented, i.e. hypermodernist). What is relevant for the computation of society must be more broadly defined (if it must be defined at all). My artistic position is to strive for a luxurious information economy of inefficiencies, of frictions, collisions and encounters.

In this installation, the extraneous essential is factored in as a necessary precursor to the art work created in Germany today. We need protection here we need the hard shell, just as we need the hard strict rules of structural mechanics to hold up the walls around this space of freedom.

The exquisiteness of art depends on strict rules and on the freedom constrained by these. But 99% of the time, one is not straining, one is resting, preparing. This work suggests to redistribute our interest and appreciation for culture a little more evenly over the story of production. That the overblown colonial renommé given to that culture which purports to wish to destroy the constraints on the citizen, be appreciated on the level of that which emerges from within it. It is an aesthetics which accommodates tedium and surrender as being as necessary as the rarefying execution of hegemonic dominion.

The landscape painting on a canvas frame was once Avant Garde, then through modernism's rarefactions and abstractions we have an Avant Garde art of market systems. In world which promises a culture of creativity, every possible marginal identity: queer and transsexuals, Islam, Favella chic is quickly made Avant Garde. The Avant Garde is all about claiming new territory to be settled - in this way, Israel is very Avant Garde, training its army with the most advanced French (liberation) philosophy.

The Avant Garde creates a world on alert. The Avant Garde says "we forge ahead until the whole world is ours" only at the point of the complete domination of the world will this notion of Avant Garde become inactive, since the Avant Garde is an externally directed cultural policy. Thus the altruism on the Avant Garde agenda: they fight in order to become unnecessary. And this altruism is so central the need to become unnecessary is so urgent that the Avant Garde cannot but be perfunctory.

It is a double bind which, at the same time casts aspersions on the stated benevolence of the campaign. If the object is to colonize the world with our superior moral system, shouldn't this be accomplished with the maximum of certainty and care, if need be, at the expense of speed?

The reason that deceleraration of technological progress is a taboo subject is primarily an economic one. We must have economic growth at all costs because our economies are leveraged on debts which always threaten us to crush us under insurmountable accumulated interest.

Perfunctory avant gardes create shocks, disruptions in the society which are enormously profitable. Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism reveals the fundemantally economic motivations for the overzealous Avant Garde: "disrumpere et impero!".

We smirk and wink and needle the troops of hipster minions, cheeks flushed with youthful exuberance at their noble calling as they head out from the art schools into the airports and tv studios. The Avant Garde clears the way for a conventional life, so why must the Avant Garde claim to be so antithetical to convention? Conventional society and the Avant Garde are two parts of the same organism, symbiotic and sympathetic.

Though I share some of the agenda of the avant garde, (and with quantum computing, perhaps the inefficient computation I advocate above will produce the most mesmerizing and stultifying media ever) I wish to engage the denial of hegemonic necessity at its core, that which pretends to have no relation with the state or culture which it serves.

Our age is still one where cultures respect each other only when they confront each other with all weapons raised. This denial of hegemonic necessity allows every state to wage war in the name of its art. We need an integral model of an advanced society where the military/police regimented and instrumental hegemony and the freedom of the artist are elaborated in symbiosis.

As the sirens ring across the city today, the punks shout 'fuck the police', though the police are just as Avant Garde as they. The police are the Avant Garde of the life they live when they eat as opposed to that which they live when they think. il faudra Baisser la Garde!! If we are looking for a world of understanding and collaboration, it is enough Garde!! Baissons peu à peu, très minutieusement la garde!

The exhibition is still on at WOHNLABOR until May 15th, there will be two more artist talks there, next Saturday, the 8th and the following Saturday, the 15th each starting at 6pm.