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.