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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

All New Media is Political

An introduction to my installation "DIENST" at Wohnlabor Berlin March 20th- May 15th

All New Media is Political.

All politics is fundamentally economics. If all people were satisfied with their position in the economy in which they exist, there would be no politics as we know it today.

All new media is political, regardless of what appears on the screen or of what rings from the speaker membranes, digital media subsumes, integrates globalized prerequisites which form and inter-penetrate everything we may aesthetically perceive. These globalized prerequisites are international manufacturing standards, global raw materials transportation and refinement chains, international trade agreements; in short: the corporate world as administered through
local, national and super-national politics.

Therefore, Art made with New Media is a realm of globalized economics and thus a realm of politics, and this should surprise and disturb no-one.

The familiar figure of this realm is that of the woman or man in uniform of the military or of the police. These uniforms subordinate these citizens’ civil individuality as they become an anonymous embodiment, the physical manifestation of the Law. The language of the Law provides the structure of the society which is the context of the creative new media artist. National or super-national, there is no new media art without soldiers, just as there is no language without grammar.

My work and this talk attempt to elucidate a symbiosis of artistic freedom and of political (military/police) order in the concept of avant garde. The expression 'avant-garde', of course, emerged from military parlance, the soldiers of the front lines, often sacrificed in order to make the enemy reveal itself. The avant garde is posthumously crowned with glory for having sacrificed themselves in the service of the nation. Thus are avant garde artists in all their
desperate critical intensity, zealots in the service of the hegemonies which foster them.

One who searches for radical alternatives to contemporary industrialized culture's overweening dependence on hegemonies, the violence of the internal and external politics, had better leave the 'avant-garde' and explore an aesthetics of 'baisser la garde' (die Garde herunternehmen?/to lower the guard).

This exhibition is a materialization in the public space of an attempt to model a working microcosm of the state of contemporary symbiosis between the forces of order and those of the spontaneous creativity of the artist. It is a three dimensional, "wissenschäftliche Vergegenwärtung" (Philosophical Concretisation) of the theory stated above, using the techniques of New Media.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Theory will be Applied!

Yes. This is just a short announcement of my solo concept exhibition in Berlin at Wohnlabor in Friedrichshain. The installation integrates one screen of conventional DVD video, one screen of generative database video, generative database recombinant soundtrack, watercolours in frames, and some 'Raumgestaltung' using elastic bands, repurposed steel and some wooden objects (depends how many I get finished by Friday). Opening is Saturday, March 20th at 19hoo the show goes on until May 15th.

The work explores many of the themes dealt with here, and, I suppose, most of all, what kind of art can be made using high technology instruments which are also weapons.

more information on my website

Thursday, February 4, 2010

monitoring processual art

[this is the slightly redacted text of my presentation at a panel on processual art, moderated by Susanna Jaschko on the 4th of February 2010, at the transmediale10].

Many people speak today of a global crisis. But it is not so much a global crisis as a crisis of globalism itself. Brasil, India, Korea, many developing countries in Africa are doing quite well. What has happened is not a global crisis, but apocalypse, in it's original sense of uncovering, revealing the crisis that was, is and always will be.

The Cold War provided for us in the 'developed world', as Susanna Jaschko said today "the illusion of stability". It is well known that the Cold War was very hot in many locations where proxies of the two dominant systems of the time (called ,we remember still, communism and capitalism) battled for the exotic and scarce materials which would provide the coming technological age.

After the end of the Cold War we are going though a period of apocalypse, where the true complexity and unresolvable chaos, crisis and conflict of our common lives on this planet are no longer deniable. Processual art provides many approaches for traversing the endless volumes of data flow produced by and in our increasingly real-time consciousness of this state of endless crisis.

I will attempt to provide certain Begriffe (1) and certain systemic metaphors which may serve useful in our discussions and in our contemplation of processual art.

With the ever-present spectrality engulfing us, the ghost which remind of our own mortality, our culture's response is to tell us to visit the doctor regularly, repeatedly to monitor our health.

And if the body is perceived to be in crisis it is immediately surrounded by monitors. The monitors, now form part of the cyborg medial attention, monitoring the health of the patient.

Monitor is derived from the Latin verb monere which means originally "to admonish, warn, advise". Lev Manovich in his landmark book: Language of New Media, described the first tele-vision, the first real-time monitor which was the radar screen. Here, the connotation of warning is obvious.

On the screens and monitors are visualizations of what are considered the 'Vital Signs' of the patient. By reading these signs, even the uninitiated can imagine what is going on inside the patient.

Nowadays, as society is stripped bare of its traditional, unifying beliefs & faiths, and the citizen is particle-ized by personalized and variegated media experience-spaces, we have a growing sense of the complexity of the globalized system in which we exist, and of which we are inextricably, a part.

So here, the metaphor is that, with the monitors, we are monitoring (can one say the health of) the body of society, or even that of our civilisation, such as it can be conceived to be, for signs of various kinds.

We get warnings, but we also get information we need or want or like, but most of all, the screens tell us that the body of society is still alive and being monitored.

But more significantly, there is a stand in, an avatar for the body of society and that is the electrical and, increasingly, the communications grid, the condition of which the monitors display.

This is why computer-generative art is so appropriate for public screens, it is public notice of the health of the system. The health of the infrastructure part is verified at the refresh rate of 50 or 60 times a second (the oscillation rate of electrical current), but also and implicitly, the ongoing process of civilization's complex social and economic systems, which are always incomplete and ongoing are monitored. A comforting illusion of social constancy is also thus generated.

Failing other, earlier notions of faith, monitor screens promise us we are making technological process. What appears on the monitor screen is a kind of elaborate progress bar by which we monitor trends to fruition, the anticipation of which may be just as enjoyable as is their brief consumption.

Two examples of the implementation of processual art on public media facades.
- Korea: the progress of modernity/modernization, technologies of fairness overwhelming the creeping mustiness associated with old beliefs. Fairness = equanimity. The line between art and design and social engineering is almost non-existent
- Europe: technological progress is also monitored but also our ethical and moral progress in the traditional function of art

Processual art provides visions, visualisations of civilization as an incomplete fragmented process, going on in myriad directions at once, a glorious 4-dimensional filigree of causeways of various breadths.

But underneath, and fundamental to these real-time patterns and figures on the screens, is a kind of urgency which makes this kind of processual work so compelling and also so exhausting.

It is the diminishing wegsehbarkeit (2) of the injustice on which our civilisation, and even more, of the technology of our glorified society monitoring systems are predicated.

These are unfair relations of labour, here at home, and elsewhere, the persistence of slavery & indentured labour (the Yes Men do a nice take on this), and, especially the lack of parity in the league of nations, in living standards, and, most importantly for me, this is not just in words, it is in the materials of technology itself.

Jaromil excellently described some of the problematic deep material relations of high technology utopias in a presentation at last transmediale, in the so-called conflict minerals trade.

We must acknowledge the hardware beholdenness of all our technological art. That this hard ware is produced through hard facts: where and when the materials which become the technology must be (have been) extracted from the earth somewhere before they can be refined into these exquisite processual instruments.

This extraction from the earth of metals and minerals and other necessary ingredients for high technology must be brought out of the earth by particular individuals at particular locations at particular stages of their particular lives.

At the mine head where the Bauxite comes from for the aluminum, essential for all the finest technology in this room, there are hundreds of men with parents and families doing another day's work for peanuts right now.

They have no choice. Some even work at gunpoint. Their government, in many cases has been completely bought out by ours, because we cannot and will not do without aluminum.

Camara was a controversial leader. Usually not my favorite type of leader, a throwback to old-school African nationalists from the early 'independence' period. For the purposes of this post, he did one thing that really got the high-tech producing countries angry, he re-evaluated all of his countries mining contracts signed by the previous west-friendly governments, for which he would suffer greatly.

I have a phrase for this "Absolute corruption corrupts absolutely."

This is why we must monitor the consequences of our abstract, hardly articulate faith in the noble cause of technological progress and its incipient industry.

The men standing around the mine from which the materials are abstracted from the earth, with their personal individual histories and needs are at work right now perpetually inside these monitoring screens.

The screen, you may, know, etymologically comes from the old French escran "écran" which was originally the wire mesh which was placed before the warming fire - to block the sparks which could set the house on fire.

So we watch this processual art like a warming fire, glorious patterns of immolation from which we derive a pleasant angenehm (3) warmth.
Standing around the ancient campfire, it is a scene reminiscent of our tribal past, a previous, pre-literate time Flusser often described where human consciousness was dominated by images and the magicians who understood and channeled their power.

Flusser described two future societal modes possibly generated from technical images: a totalitarian techno-magical consciousness dominated by techno-magicians, or a new form of literacy in the constitutive codes of technical images, a textual interpretability he might call techno-historical. Flusser would concede of course that these two consciousnesses would probably co-exist antagonistically.

To conclude, I would like to recall another etymological sense of 'monitor: "to admonish". The monitor is there to keep us in line, as a society, as a civilization. To keep us on the course. The monitor on which we enjoy (angenehm) processual art, you see, has its own agenda.


(1) We don't have quite the right translation of the German word 'Begriff'. In English, we use the word 'term' which has it's roots in 'termination' i.e. 'definition'. But, Begriff is built on the word Griff which in English would be 'grip' or 'handle'. So, unlike terminating a concept in a definition, we can, in German, get a handle on the concept while it is still alive.

(2) I made up this word, which doesn't exist in English either, the closest would be 'look-away-ableness' or 'disregardability'.

(3) this is best translated as 'pleasant' but angenehm also has the connotation of acceptance 'an-nehmen', to take on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Computational Bio-politics

"It has been clear for several centuries now that, if we want to understand the world, it is not sufficient to describe it by words, it is necessary to calculate the world. "
- Vilém Flusser (from a soon-to-be-released DVD of interviews with Miklós Peternák)

Our age is lauded for the unprecedented modes of social functionality enabled by new technologies, especially by the internet. This appears to be the realization of egalitarian Enlightenment humanist aspiration, embodied in many of the so-called Universal Human Rights. This is an egalitarianism of info-beings predicated on the de-emphasis of materiality.

Material bodies are not equal, but minds, at least, can generate such generalizing agendas. We don't hear from the UNCF that "A body is a terrible thing to waste", a body is a necessary evil. Increasingly, our age is one of a spiritual human collusion of minds, released from the fleshy shells in which they gestate. The body is becoming extensible, replaceable, expendable, redundant. All technology points to a future of the prevalence of the mind over the materiality of the body.

Of course, as McLuhan observed, as one technology becomes obsolete, society generates reactionary cultural forms. The artists, as usual, are the most sensitive to this. Stelarc & Orlan began announcing the obsolescence of the conventional figure of human form decades ago, this has since become almost mainstream. For these artists, their bodies, far from being irrelevant to their social presence, become central, this is also increasingly the case for pornographic actors, vanguard subjects of body transformation. As most of us lead increasingly discorporate social lives, our body culture becomes ever more cliinical and artificial.

The social forms generated by discorporating bodies seem unprecedented, but they are not. This is evident in how political discourse has revealed its true impotence. Vilém Flusser, at the dawn of the PC-age, warned about the coming age of electro-idolatric society. "Thinking is anti-image" he warned, the rule of images will not bring about democracy, but a new form of magical terror. A society in the thrall of the magical power of images.

The only antidote to this, according to Flusser, would be politics, based in the rational, linear processes of text. Text makes historical consciousness which is directed against the image. But the problem today is that electronic text is every bit an image as is an image. Projected from data into text-like manifestations on the screen, the text is not text in a classic sense, but electromagnetic data, which could manifested as easily as a sound or an image or a movie.

this blog post as an image

This text is an image projected by computing, cycling machines. This text is 'kept alive' on the screen at the rate of your local electrical current (50 or 60 times a second, but recently, parallel processes can multiply this). All the exciting new ways we can interact and contact eachother today are so much spontaneous swirls and algorithmic fractals, projected on beguilingly luminescent material, bound in the minerals and metals of satellites and cables, the exotic alloys of the circuit-boards and chips, as much as the tables and toilets of the factories where these were assembled with such precision, the wells and rivers which washed and wet them.

And all along the material course from gravity-sodden earth to speed-of-light peta-flop circuit, is a choreography of human bodies writhing back through history, single file and cavalcade, rhythmically and momentarily themselves — this reality of technology is flesh, bone, muscle and blood of human beings with feelings and needs throughout history.

There is a common industrial history to the text on this screen and the clothes on your back and the fibers of your seat — and here we have a possible reversal: now that text is, itself, an image. Technical images, products of textual codes,  may still provide something to fulfill the political role of text.

In this sketch from Kommunikologie, Flusser attempts to systematise his theory of meaning. In the diagram, the image alienates people and engenders in them magical consciousness, text, alienates from the thrall of images and engenders historical or political consciousness, and he is not yet clear what is engendered by the techno-image. At the end of his chapter "How the codes function", where this diagram appears, he indicates two (although not mutually exclusive) possibilities.

The first, as I mentioned before, is that we will enter into a new magical era dominated by the image, what one might call a techno-magical era, in which Flusser seems to encounter Virilio in describing as mania, madness "Wahnsinn". The second possibility is that we somehow discover how to understand the codes of the techno-images.

"Eine Möglichkeit ist, in einer bedeutungslos werdenden, sich nunmehr sich selbst bedeutenden kodifizierten Welt ein sinnloses Leben zu führen. Das ist die Zukünft als Totalitarismus. Díe Alternative dazu besteht darin, die Codes des Technobilder in der Griff zu bekommen und gemeinsam eine neue Art von Bedeutung zu projizieren."
(Kommunikologie, p.110)
"One possibility is to live a meaningless life in an increasingly meaningless codified world, which, from now on, has meaning only of itself. This is the future as totalitarianism. The alternatives depend on us coming to terms with (literally gettinga handle on) the codes of the techno-images and together thereby projecting a new type of meaning." (my translation)

Flusser does not consider the techno-image an image in the classic sense, he considers it a 'project' projected from inside the technology. Thus, when he refers here to projecting new meaning, he is speaking of accomplishing this with the techno-images. The notion of meaning here is clearly Enlightenment Humanist, and the emancipation of the human spirit from the totalitatrianism of the techno-image is an imperative only possible through operations on the level of code.

"Entweder wir leben in den undurchdringlichen Wänden bedeutungsloser Bilder oder machen aus diesen Bilder Brücken zur Welt. " (ibid, p.110)
"Either we live in (sic) the impermeable walls of meaningless images, or we make, out of these images, bridges to the world" (my translation)

Here Flusser closes with the hope that the techno-image can lead us back to knowledge in the world. Paradoxically the techno-image is our greatest threat and only tool to escape this threat.

Flusser says, in a soon-to-be-released (now released!) interview with Miklós Peternak at the Osnabrück New Media Festival in 1988, "I am impressed by the fact that one of the most important dimensions of the present cultural revolution, linguistic communication, both the spoken and the written word, are no longer capable of transmitting the thoughts and concepts which we have concerning the is my firm belief, that if you want to have a clear and distinct communication of your concepts, you have to use synthetic images, no longer words."

Vilém Flusser on Synthetic Images from b gottlieb on Vimeo

We must not only use synthetic or techno-images to communicate about the world, computer-based images (and by this I also mean text, video and audio) are the only possible means we have to communicate meaningfully today about images. If fact, it is at the image level itself that we can best start our discourse, a discourse into the persistent materiality of the techno-image.

History is made today, not at the level of text, but at the level of techno-images beholden to computer codes, which are bound in, and the historical documents of, globalized industrial processes. The reality of these processes, which is the reality of the material manifestation of this text on your screen right now, such as it is, is the true political reality of this age. A reality only modellable and navigable by figures of computation.