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Leila Johnston: Hacking Rambert – a review

Leila Johnston was Rambert Dance company’s first ‘digital creative in residence’ from October 2015 – February 2016, having successfully applied to their residency programme, Sprint. The programme aims to enable Rambert to engage more deeply with the digital world, and is framed as experimental and light touch, with no expectations or goals in mind. One of the outputs of Leila’s residency – and the subject of this review – was a report ‘Hacking Rambert’, an incisive account of Leila’s time on Sprint, as well as a reflection on the nature of the creative residencies, dance and technology cultures.   

Leila describes herself as an outspoken critic of current technology culture, resistant to its tendency for ‘digital evangelism’. The report belies her frustrations with technology culture – and indeed is a call to arms for rethinking what that culture needs to become. Her approach to the residency reflects this, emphasizing that its value came from bringing her critical perspectives about tech culture to bear, as much as from introducing dancers to ‘tools’ (though this played an important role too). She stresses how opportunities for growth and learning arose ‘through people (and sometimes tech)’ (my italics), and places human interaction and collaboration at the forefront, alongside, if not over and above, hardware and software. Dance is, she says, ‘about extraordinary relationships on every level – with yourself and then the little halo of space around you at all times, and then with greater and greater halos until it’s with everyone you meet.’ People are at the centre of her thinking and writing, and her residency was underpinned by questions such as ‘Is there a way to use technology to do justice to the human lifetimes that go into dance? Is there a way to dignify individuals, to invite confrontations with real people, to respect something other than the movement and acknowledge the part that individual experience plays in the construction of dance?’

Rambert Dancers looking at LED mirror effects

Reflections on the cultures of the dance and technology worlds are also central to the report. Leila was struck by the relative openness and accountability of the dance world, which she saw as ‘a home that opens its doors to anyone that knocks’, in contrast to self-aggrandizing, solution-focused, often misogynistic digital world that is so well equipped to sell itself and its benefits. One of the observations that fascinated me most was about the different approaches to labour in the dance and digital worlds. For the former, hard work is a celebrated and central driver – dancers are ‘efficient’ because no work is seen as wasted. By contrast, the digital world wants to recover ‘free time’ by getting the hard stuff out of the way. While tech wants to make things easier – dance wants to make them harder – so that difficulties and limitation can be mastered and overcome.

The dominant tech world rhetoric that technology – coding especially – is ‘for everyone’ is thrown into relief by its absence in the dance world, where no one would expect ‘everyone’ to be a brilliant dancer, since this is something that requires a lifetime of grit and dedication as well as the right body and innate talent. Leila shows us that we can learn from the dancers’ dedication and commitment that ‘not everyone can do anything, and that there are pursuits that arise from the nuanced world of individual lifetimes and personal, emotional, motivation, the results of which don’t resolve into a formula’. 

Although her emphasis was on criticality and personal relations, she drew on an impressive range of kit. She experimented with a thermal camera attached to her iPhone, which enabled her to explore a ‘dance of heat’. She observed that ‘the idea that dancers can be expressed as their invisible heat is strange, but absolutely real’.

Leila Johnston thermal camera image

The Point Cloud demo on the Kinect was of great interest to the dancers, for whom it allowed a new kind of 360-degree vision, useful since they are ‘always looking for their own back’. Leila experimented with a Raspberry Pi, using it for a range of experiments including connecting LED panels where she could display words and video. Again though, as well as the tool itself, the Pi gave rise to critical reflection: ‘Why aren’t we teaching dancers and choreographers creative technology skills for their work, rather than reinforcing a hierarchy of expertise by ‘advising’ them on creative direction?’ Emphasizing how accessible and readily available Pis, LED panels and other technologies now are, Leila makes the point that maker culture can be embedded in the dance world at little cost, but this won’t happen organically unless more awareness of each other’s culture is fostered.


Drawing from the residency blog
hackingrambert.tumblr.com, Leila reflects on time, truth, and difficulty. She is resolute that time, patience and commitment are needed to make meaningful artistic contributions, and that artists undertaking short term residencies need to be realistic about what can be achieved. Rather than gunning for a finished product, ‘short projects should be about making – what it means to be a creative, and what we learned about the best way to do things in the context of the artificially short creation time.’ Unlike the tech world, quick fix and solutionism will not fare well on a creative residency.

Leila’s reflections on the notion of truth are intriguing; she feels that there is ‘nowhere to hide’ in dance, and draws a parallel between dancers’ bodies and the ‘technical authenticity’ of circuit boards and wires. These forms of hardware offer respite from the slick interfaces that are so characteristic of digital technologies. She notes: ‘I’m interested in the relationship between truth and performance; the unique way in which (dance) performances are honest, how our bodies give away the truth, how things represent what they are very transparently’. These explorations of truth provoke rich questions about authenticity, identity, ‘fidelity’ and representation. The notion of the stripped back body is a striking one, and when one observes a dancer in motion, with their muscles, sinews, bones, sweat, and humanity on display, there can be a powerful connection between the dancer and the audience. However, there is artifice at work in dance too – creating illusions with the body, emphasizing certain lines, creating the appearance of fluidity and ease when the body is being pushed to its physical limits. Can we draw an analogy here to the performance of identity online, where the blood, sweat, tears and humanity are often glossed over with ‘choreographed’ images that appear spontaneous and perfect? Or is the truth of dance and bodies precisely an antidote to this phenomenon? My caution here would be that dancers have identities as well as bodies, and are not immune to the pressures placed on them about their appearance and representation.

Rambert dancer in studio
Leila argues that the creative tech community needs to work harder to understand dance, but that dance too ‘has much to gain by creatively educating itself in the available tech options’. Introducing dancers and the dance world to creative technologies can be fruitful, but should not be understood in solutionist terms. Technologists must take responsibility for the enormous power they have in society – it is up to them to ‘educate and differentiate’ between the potentially homogenous mass that is ‘technology. Finally, she makes a case for ‘contemporary creative technology’. The notion of the contemporary connotes the historical nature of a given art form and the contingencies of its evolution – conceptually, technically, physically, socio-politically. The relative nascence of technology, she suggests, leaves it unanchored, and subject to the intentions of ‘commercial forces’. She states ‘A contemporary creative technology could lay down the microphone of narrative and exist in the depths of the present. We could stop writing our own story in the cultural canon – indeed stop telling stories about what we’re doing at all – and focus on being demonstrable and accountable.’

There are moments when Leila seems to idealize the dance world as relatively problem-free, without acknowledging its potential problems – not least the subjection of bodies to punishing regimes and the mental and physical problems this can give rise to, and issues of social inequality, accessibility and exclusivity that come with all creative industries. However, there is clearly a lot the technology world can learn from the culture of dance. Perhaps the tech sector should start having dancers in residence… 

To read the full account of Leila’s residency, you can download the Hacking Rambert report, and visit hackingrambert.tumblr.com. The project website is available at: http://hackingrambert.com/


Universal Basic Income Is a Neoliberal Plot To Make You Poorer

Basic Income is often promoted as an idea that will solve inequality and make people less dependent on capitalist employment. However, it will instead aggravate inequality and reduce social programs that benefit the majority of people.

At its Winnipeg 2016 Biennial Convention, the Canadian Liberal Party passed a resolution in support of “Basic Income.” The resolution, called “Poverty Reduction: Minimum Income,” contains the following rationale: “The ever growing gap between the wealthy and the poor in Canada will lead to social unrest, increased crime rates and violence… Savings in health, justice, education and social welfare as well as the building of self-reliant, taxpaying citizens more than offset the investment.”

The reason many people on the left are excited about proposals such as universal basic income is that they acknowledges economic inequality and its social consequences. However, a closer look at how UBI is expected to work reveals that it is intended  to provide political cover for the elimination of social programs and the privatization of social services. The Liberal Party’s resolution is no exception. Calling for “Savings in health, justice, education and social welfare as well as the building of self-reliant, taxpaying citizen,” clearly means social cuts and privatization.

UBI has been endorsed by neoliberal economists for a long time. One of its early champions was the patron saint of neoliberalism, Milton Friedman. In his book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman argues for a “negative income tax” as a means to deliver a basic income. After arguing that private charity is the best way to alleviate poverty, and praising the “private … organizations and institutions” that delivered charity for the poor in the capitalist heyday of the nineteenth century, Friedman blames social programs for the disappearance of private charities: “One of the major costs of the extension of governmental welfare activities has been the corresponding decline in private charitable activities.”

To Friedman and his many powerful followers, the cause of poverty is not enough capitalism. Thus, their solution is to provide a “basic income” as a means to eliminate social programs and replace them with private organizations. Friedman specifically argues that “if enacted as a substitute for the present rag bag of measures directed at the same end, the total administrative burden would surely be reduced.”

Friedman goes on to list some the “rag bag” of measures he would hope to eliminate: direct welfare payments and programs of all kinds, old age assistance, social security, aid to dependent children, public housing, veterans’ benefits, minimum-wage laws, and public health programs, hospitals and mental institutions.

Friedman also spends a few paragraphs worrying whether people who depend on “Basic Income” should have the right to vote, since  politically enfranchised dependents could vote for more money and services at the expense of those who do not depend on these. Using the example of pension recipients in the United Kingdom, he concludes that they “have not destroyed, at least as yet, Britain’s liberties or its predominantly capitalistic system.”

Charles Murray, another prominent libertarian promoter of UBI, shares Friedman’s views. In an interview with PBS, he said: “America’s always been very good at providing help to people in need. It hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve been very good at it. Those relationships have been undercut in recent years by a welfare state that has, in my view, denuded the civic culture.” Like Friedman, Murray blames the welfare state for the loss of apparently effective private charity.

Murray adds: “The first rule is that the basic guaranteed income has to replace everything else — it’s not an add-on. So there’s no more food stamps; there’s no more Medicaid; you just go down the whole list. None of that’s left. The government gives money; other human needs are dealt with by other human beings in the neighborhood, in the community, in the organizations. I think that’s great.”

To the Cato Institute, the elimination of social programs is a part of the meaning of Universal Income. In an article about the Finish pilot project, the Institute defines UBI as “scrapping the existing welfare system and distributing the same cash benefit to every adult citizen without additional strings or eligibility criteria”. And in fact, the options being considered by Finland are constrained to limiting the amount of the basic income to the savings from the programs it would replace.

Weltrekord fürs Grundeinkommen

Photo courtesy of Julien Gregorio:https://flic.kr/p/H95TrQ

“Basic Income” Won’t Alleviate Poverty

From a social welfare point of view, the substitution of social programs with market-based and charitable provision of everything from health to housing, from child support to old-age assistance, clearly creates a multi-tier system in which the poorest may be able to afford some housing and health care, but clearly much less than the rich — most importantly, with no guarantee that the income will be sufficient for their actual need for health care, child care, education, housing, and other needs, which would be available only by way of for-profit markets and private charities.

Looking specifically at the question of whether Friedman’s proposal would actually improve the conditions of the poor, Hyman A. Minsky, himself a renowned and highly regarded economist, wrote the “The Macroeconomics of a Negative Income Tax.” Minsky looks at the outcome of a “social dividend,” which “transfers to every person alive, rich or poor, working or unemployed, young or old, a designated money income by right.” Minsky conclusively shows that such a program would “be inflationary even if budgets are balanced” and that the “rise in prices will erode the real value of benefits to the poor … and may impose unintended real costs upon families with modest incomes.”  This means that any improved spending power afforded to citizens through an instrument such as UBI will be completely absorbed by higher prices for necessities.

Rather than alleviating poverty, UBI will most likely exacerbate it. The core reasoning is quite simple: the prices that people pay for housing and other necessities are derived from how much they can afford to pay in the first place. If you imagine they way housing is distributed in a modern capitalist society, the poorest get the worst housing, and the richest get the best. Giving everyone in the community, rich and poor alike, more money, would not allow the poorest to get better housing, it would just raise the price of housing.

If UBI came at the expense of other social programs, such as health care or child care, as Friedman intended, then the rising cost of housing would draw money away from other previously socially provisioned services, forcing families with modest incomes to improve their substandard housing by accepting worse or less childcare or healthcare, or vice versa. A disabled person whose mobility needs requires additional expenditure on accessible housing may not have enough of the basic income left for any additional health care they also require. Yet replacing means testing and special programs that address specific needs is the big idea of UBI.

The notion that we can solve inequality within capitalism by indiscriminately giving people money and leaving the provisioning of all social needs to corporations is extremely dubious. While this view is to be expected among those, like Murray and Friedman, who promote capitalism, it is not compatible with anticapitalism. UBI will end up in the hands of capitalists. We will be dependent on these same capitalists for everything we need. But to truly alleviate poverty, productive capacity must be directed toward creating real value for society and not toward “maximizing shareholder value” of profit-seeking investors.

Weltrekord fürs Grundeinkommen
Photo courtesy of Jan Hangelstein:https://flic.kr/p/H5KYvi

There Is No Possibility of Another Kind of “Basic Income”

Many people don’t dispute the fact that establishment promoters of UBI are only doing it in order to eliminate social programs, but they imagine that another kind of basic income is possible. They call for a basic income that disregards the “deal” that Charles Murray advocates, but want UBI in addition to other social program, including means-tested benefits, protections for housing, guarantees of education and child care, and so on.This view ignores the political dimension of the question. Proposing UBI in addition to existing program mistakes, a general consensus for replacing social programs with a guaranteed income for a broad base of support for increasing social programs. But, no such broad base exists.

Writing in 1943, with the wartime policies of “full employment” enjoying wide support, Michal Kalecki wrote a remarkable essay entitled “The Political Aspects of Full Employment.” Kalecki opens by writing, “a solid majority of economists is now of the opinion that, even in a capitalist system, full employment may be secured by a government spending programme.” Though he is talking about full employment, which means an “adequate plan to employ all existing labour power,” the same is true of UBI. The majority of economists would agree that a plan to guarantee an income for all is possible.

However, Kelecki ultimately argues that full employment policies will be abandoned: “The maintenance of full employment would cause social and political changes which would give a new impetus to the opposition of the business leaders. Indeed, under a regime of permanent full employment, ‘the sack’ would cease to play its role as a disciplinary measure. The social position of the boss would be undermined, and the self-assurance and class-consciousness of the working class would grow.”

The conflict between the worker and the capitalist, or between the rich and the poor, can not be sidestepped simply by giving people money, if capitalists are allowed to continue to monopolize the supply of goods. Such a notion ignores the political struggle between the workers to maintain (or extend) the “basic income” and the capitalists to lower or eliminate it in order to strengthen their social position over the worker and to protect the power of “the sack.”

Business leaders fight tooth and nail against any increase of social benefits for workers. Under their dominion, only one kind of UBI is possible: the one supported by Friedman and Murray, the Canadian Liberal Party, and all others who want to subject workers to bosses. The UBI will be under constant attack, and unlike established social programs with planned outcomes that are socially entrenched and difficult to eliminate, UBI is just a number, one that can be reduced, eliminated, or simply allowed to fall behind inflation.

UBI does not alleviate poverty and turns social necessities into products for profit. To truly address inequality we need adequate social provisioning. If we want to reduce means testing and dependency on capitalist employment, we can do so with capacity planning. Our political demands should mandate sufficient housing, healthcare, education, childcare and all basic human necessities for all. Rather than a basic income, we need to demand and fight for a basic outcome — for the right to life and justice, not just the right to spend.


Revisiting the future with Laboria Cuboniks | A conversation

Techno-feminisms are, once again, on the ascent. The Xenofeminist Manifesto, published in 2015 by the collective Laboria Cuboniks, is a provocative and elaborate example for the renewed exhortation for gendered bodies to merge with technology, rationality and the sciences in order to defeat white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. Cornelia Sollfrank, a practising technofeminist artist with a long history and rich experience in building and contributing to cyber-feminist-net-art platforms and organisations, and Rachel Baker, a former ‘net artist’ currently involved in collaborative feminist performance and writing practices, are curious: What drives the resurrected hype around techno-feminisms? What is new about the future 30 years after Cyberfeminism? Will the current techno-feminist virus take hold? Or has recent history resulted in an aesthetic immunity to the strategy of “seductive semiotic parasites?”

CS: Who is Laboria Cuboniks? How did you meet and why did you decide to work together?

LC: We are currently six women spread across three continents, all coming from different disciplinary backgrounds which gives us access to cover a broader territory of thought than working alone, and also provides us an intensive context for sharing our discrete approaches. We met in 2014 at a summer school in Berlin (Emancipation as Navigation) – which was equally a transdisciplinary affair focusing on developments in neo-rationalism. We decided to work together to address the rather quick, dismissive reactions that were circulating at the time surrounding neo-rationalism and accelerationism, as being de facto (and permanently so) cis-white masculine pursuits. While the historicity of some of these ideas most certainly does fall into that category, the consequences of brushing off things like reason, science, technology, and scalability as being enduringly locked into patriarchal regimes, seemed to us a serious limitation when trying to think an emancipatory politics and its necessary feminisms, fit for an age of planetary complexity.

Chapter of the Xenofeminist Manifesto, screenshot

CS: It hardly needs mentioning that there has been a feminist history of reclaiming reason, science and technology. In your Xenofeminist manifesto (XF) [i] you are alluding  to both earlier technofeminist concepts, including cyberfeminism, but also to accelerationist ideas. What is your challenge, if any, adding a feminist agenda to a philosophical project that has largely been based on ignoring gender issues? Would XF have ever come into existence without accelerationism?

LC: Certainly the original Accelerationist Manifesto (MAP) did nothing to address gender politics, in a way mirroring its Marxian tones insofar as Marx himself also ignored gender and the types of labour (specifically care and reproductive labour) associated with a binary gender structure to which females have historically been subject to. MAP was a manifesto, which, by form alone is forthright; cannot address everything and is scant on nuance. Our own manifesto is no different in that regard. What we read from it, rather, was a demand for a scalar approach to leftist politics that can affirmatively face up to our situation systematically – the scope of which necessitates massive collective and collaborative mobilisation (which further entails the de-demonizing of the word ‘power’ as it is often portrayed in purely horizontalist approaches). XF responded to some of the general diagnoses mapped out in the MAP, but in its own terms, and opened up other territories for thought neglected by MAP. It’s instructive here to use this as a fruitful example against the type of puritanism that seems to be plaguing much of leftist efforts of late. When we don’t agree with every point, when we are offended at others, when we put all interpretive emphasis on authors’ biographies, we can end up dismissing entire thought-projects in one shot – rather than working out conceptual / pragmatic weaknesses and directing them, augmenting them otherwise. To be clear this isn’t about being conciliatory and taking every position on board – that would be pure triviality – but it is to say that we on the left desire some general transformations. How can we move beyond the game of ‘being right/superior’, of being locked into certain theoretical dogmatisms, of pissing perimeters around intellectual territories for our personal success in the name of a leftist-fashionability, towards the construction of useful concepts that can honestly respond to our complex reality? None of these concepts will ever be possible by a single ‘heroic’ actor/thinker.

First OBN Logo (1997)

CS: I can understand the desire to leave theoretical dogmatisms behind. This is also what we have tried with the Old Boys Network: to open up the term cyberfeminism and offer a platform where diverse and even contradictory concepts could meet. This entails, however, the problem of creating a common ground which is needed for collective agency… Some of the basic claims of accelerationism – that you are sharing – affirm an emphasis on rationality, universalism and self-mastery as well as the dismissal of traditional leftist political beliefs in micropolitics, direct action, inclusiveness, autonomous zones, politics of localism and horizontalism. Therefore, I’m wondering what agency could mean in a xenofeminist context.

LC: These ‘traditional’ leftist forms are only one side of the coin – the ones you mentioned seem more recent historically speaking, but there is also a long history of counter-hegemonically proportioned leftist activity. The danger in binding a leftist politics strictly and solely to a politics of immediacy (presentness, localisation, horizontalism, etc.) is that it seems ineffective at tackling globally-scaled systemic injustices (both structurally and ideologically), often existing in affective or symbolic form alone. The said, all politics occur in a local form – and that’s why a total dismissal of ‘localism’ does a great disservice to the ultimate task at hand (what we might envision as a postcapitalist turn) – but of course it cannot operate in isolation (as many of those with an investment in localist politics themselves acknowledge). The point is to articulate a politics that has the capacity to move between these scales that are commensurate with global reality, constructing vectors of connectivity that transverse these localisations (not only with regards to humans, but to things and disciplines of knowledge as well). Transiting between such scales (between the concrete here and now, and the untouchable, yet thinkable abstract) is a requirement for 21st century emancipatory politics, involving an expanded conception of ‘specificity’, ‘particularity’ and ‘situatedness’. These have been (and continue to be) crucial, contra-modern concepts developed in-large by feminist, post-colonial, queer and sub-altern discourses, but, like every theoretical proposition, have perspectival limits and require bootstrapping within larger ‘field’ conditions. Every difference or particularity exists in relation to something else, it’s embedded so it cannot be extracted and analysed in isolation. The more complex political question to us seem not only identifying/describing (or locating) a site, particularity or identitarian difference, but looking towards the field context as a kind of glue; that is, to approach the field context in which those situated differences experience structural discrimination or unjust advantages and to contemplate how that field context can be manipulated otherwise.

CS: I see your point, and I think it is exactly the complexity of the global situation which makes it impossible to come up with the one universal theory – which is what you are demanding?

LC: The demand would certainly never be for ‘one’ universal theory, but rather for a new theory of what a universalism on the left could mean today. The concept itself needs to be reformulated if it is to signify a non-totalitarian totality. This is where the metaphor of seeing the universal not as a top-down schematic, but as a type of artificial ‘glue’ that needs to be constructed is useful. The universal needs to be seen more as a kind of hosting condition; it is not ‘there’ to be unveiled; it is not a diagram to plug-into; it is an abstraction we urgently need to create in order for maximal human and non-human solidarities to be forged.

Chapter of the Xenofeminist Manifesto, screenshot

CS: Obviously, these ideas of universalism, totality, abstraction and scaleability are adopted from accelerationism that, nevertheless, remains somehow unaccomplished without gender politics? Is this the reason that you have set out to renew technofeminist thinking?

LC: One of the most pernicious critical reflexes against accelerationism (and we need to be clear we are talking about left-accelerationism) was that it was a Futurism 2.0, based on techno-utopianism and brute, masculine virility. While no one is trying to ‘enlist’ people for the accelerationist cause (some amongst us find the term itself quite misrepresentational to the project it espouses), we felt it was necessary to mine the field in two directions: to see what could be usefully applied to contemporary gender politics, and heighten the techno-feminist lineages of several claims made in the MAP. There are a myriad of points in which accelerationist politics intersect with (and are indebted to) feminist thinkers – as for instance with Judy Wajcman’s insistence that technology will neither save us, nor enslave us; but it requires refined analysis in the context of how it is used. Such a position echoes claims made in the MAP that advocate for an examination of the affordances of particular technologies rather than outright celebration or dismissal. Other thinkers associated with the neo-rationalist strand of left-accelerationism, like Ray Brassier, also tend to reverberate certain historically feminist positions, like the Promethean feminism of Shulamith Firestone when addressing the project of refashioning the human; or his emphasis on the use of abstraction for human cognition which also draws upon someone like Donna Haraway as a response to theoretical limitations ushered in via postmodernist positions.

CS: I guess tracking the feminist lineages of accelerationism could be an adventurous project in itself. For reasons of practicality, let’s stay with one example here. Building on Donna Haraway’s anti-naturalist Cyborg Manifesto (1983)[ii], cyberfeminists claimed to rebuild and repurpose technology in order to apply it for emancipatory purposes. At its core, the Cyborg Manifesto is about deconstructing traditionally Western antagonistic dualisms such as human-animal/machine and physical/non-physical. Haraway shows the taxonomic function of such categorisation and how it has been used to identify and construct “the other” in order to establish unjust power relations. She also emphasizes the importance of new technologies as playing an essential role in addressing, challenging and overcoming these dualisms. How does XF exceed this theoretical framework?

LC: We are quite theoretically aligned to the complexities inherent in Haraway’s work – cyborgian concerns – which examine human/machinic coupling adapted to an age where that coupling isn’t necessarily restricted to silicon chips and hardware, but it equally refers to the very ability to hack one’s biological/endocrine operating system. What we glean from such an understanding, is that we can’t simply ‘invest’ in the virtuality of online being as an emancipatory category unto itself, and we need to focus on how virtuality can be better interfaced with material existence. Furthermore, the sprawl-like functioning of online life has since been consolidated by a movement of deep centralization (mainly one search engine, one shop, one social media platform, etc.), so our collective efforts require systemic consideration. We need to conceive of larger structures of governance/justice that are commensurable with these new couplings; we need to focus on the construction of a milieu where the real and virtual, abstract and concrete couplings are politicized towards an emancipatory horizon.


OBN Readers (1998, 1999, 2001). Available online at www.obn.org

CS: Your manifesto stands in the tradition of a whole series of feminist manifestos like the Manifesto of Futurist Woman (1912), the SCUM Manifesto (1969), the Black women’s Manifesto (1970), the BITCH Manifesto (1972), the Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century (1991), any many more [iii]. The cyberfeminist alliance Old Boys Network, however, agreed in 1997, at the end of the first Cyberfeminist International, to undermine the character of a proclamation by publishing an anti-manifesto… Why did you return to the traditional form of a manifesto – including its limitations – while at the same time claiming that what is needed is a refined analysis of technology in the context of how it is used?

LC: The manifesto, above all, gave us a highly compressed form through which to achieve a maximal libidinal engagement with ideas. There’s a reason why this form seems to be proliferating of late across movements; it’s quick to read online and can be readily shareable in snippet form. Those stylistic and factors of dissemination played a crucial role in deciding to write in an aphoristic way. As Sarah Kember puts it in her recent work on “iMedia”, the writing strategies common to manifestos ‘serve as hinge points between description and reinvention, art and activism, critique and creativity, writing about and writing out’. As such, there is still a great deal that the manifesto can do.

CS & RB: This takes us to the question of strategy. You are describing your strategy as the creation of “seductive semiotic parasites,” and we are wondering, if you understand your manifesto as a fictional scenario, or rather as political theory. We noticed, for instance, that you refer to ‘hyperstition’, a term originally employed in the mid-90’s to describe auto-loading ad windows during the delay incurred when the browser loads the main content – i.e what happens in the gaps created by the central activity. More latterly, it was used as an allusion to the practices of computer-based networked literatures (cf Simon Biggs, ‘The Hyperstitial Poetics of Media’) of which there is a notable precedence (Doll Yoko, Mez Breeze, Mark Amerika… etc). What can these linguistic forms and fictions achieve in terms of a politics? What can fiction writing and the creation of myths as literary forms achieve in terms of politics?

LC: We reference ‘hyperstition’ directly only one time in the text. It’s a disputed concept within the group; disputed not in the sense that it doesn’t ‘exist’, but disputed in terms of its operability or the ways in which hyperstition could be guided. The signification you mentioned is a bit foreign to us – we’ll have to check that out! But as far as we used it, it was to indicate the process whereby fictional entities become real. We can see many instances of this phenomenon at work, especially in finance where the sheer (collective) belief in a future occurrence can instantiate that very event, as in speculation. It is one thing to identify existence of hyperstitional operators, but it is another to understand and possibly leverage this type of novel causation they seem to exhibit. So, it’s not a phenomenon one can simply ‘celebrate’ as such. Some of the people – like Nick Land – who coined the term rather happily prognosticated dystopian visions as a result of its deterritorialising force. If XF or any other emancipatory project is to strategize hyperstitionally, it seems that it would be most effective, when conceptualized through the lens of contemporary power operations. Why are some fictions able to permeate reality (and by whom) and why do others simply fade out? One of the main qualities of hyperstition, or these fictional operators is that you can’t quite pinpoint this causation as if it’s of a purely mechanical order with clear input and outputs. So, it’s never something that can be fully determined. The fact, though, that we can see these processes at work, cracks open the given for what it is – contingent and subject to change. That this ‘given’ is volatile to fictional operations, is a clear indication of the relationship between ideality and reality and of a need for future interventions to find ways to mobilise that dialectic without falling into the pitfalls of an either / or dualism.

 Woman 1993, Cornelia Sollfrank

RB: Ok, maybe to concretise this question a little – what are ‘hyperstitional operators’? Are they ‘memes’? And in what terrains would their ‘future interventions’ most significantly occur for XF?  Upon what terrains, exactly, is the fictive, the semiotic, the hyperstitional, actually acting for XF? Does it ever meet a ‘realpolitik’?

LC: Hyperstitional operators could be a variety of things – but at least according to CCRU definitions they are ideas that enter and transform the flow of cultural reality – a kind of hype mutated into actuality. We don’t spend much time on hyperstition because there doesn’t seem to be an adequate understanding of how this engine works exactly, but perhaps a more useful way to illustrate the power of fiction upon reality, is to look at it through the lens of modelling practices. The study on the Black-Scholes model of options pricing (arguably one of the most important models ushering in financialisation) from the sociologist Donald Mackenzie is a really interesting case wherein the model – at first – had little correlation to pricing activities on the trading floor; but as the model gained traction, won a Nobel Prize and became a tool of the trade, reality started to conform to the predictions of the model. This is a simplification of a book-length study, but the point being that the uptake, or ‘performativity’ of the model produced a reality in its likeness, provoking Mackenzie to even close his book with the question “What sort of reality do we want to see performed?” Clearly, we are not advocating for more profit-imperative modelling innovations, but we can leverage this incredible potency differently since we know how effective it can be. Models don’t represent or merely ‘reduce’ reality; they are tools as the philosopher Margaret Morrison argues, to intervene in reality.

RB: There is a sense that accelerationism and XF is invested in the organisational techno-architectures of social programmes, in platform-building and scaling networks. If so, how can one avoid the bureaucratic traps of techno-social administration  – like the coercion and (self) surveillance through data management – that are encouraged under the guise of ‘creative tech innovation’? In addition, how can one escape the internal race, gender and class hierarchies that are often so constitutive to open techno-collaborative platforms?

LC: The materialisation of the conceptual framework raised in XF is certainly the largest, most difficult task at hand, one that will require substantial collaboration outside of our group. The hope with XF is that it manages to conceptually infect others to experiment on this tangible level. We know that the development of technology is also a reflection of our own biases, limitations, needs, desires and perceptions of the world, so contaminating this perceptual or cognitive level, although not enough, is still an important step. Your question really points to the delicacy and riskiness of our current world where so many potentially beneficial innovations are twisted to serve the few, be it either through sheer profit gains or through the cultural capital of becoming an antagonistic hero. The gross demographic misrepresentation within the building of techno-architecture (not to mention access to it) is the most obvious, direct hurdle to leap in order to mould and retrain these structures to serve the many. There are no user-manuals as to how to avoid the hazards you mentioned, all of which are bound to ideological imperatives of our time (for profit and self-branding), so any radical overhauling of the purposes that technology may serve, is wholly dependent on the restructuring of our given ideological ‘myths’ or frameworks.


The Nicolas Bourbaki collective

RB: Is Laboria Cuboniks intended as collective pseudonym for others to inhabit, in a similar way, for example, to Luther Blisset where a specific political tactic was applied through its availability as an open alias, or is it a more limited identification, akin to art group Bernadette Corporation which was always a specific core group of authors? How important is anonymity? Are there other groups you know of assuming the tenets of Xenofeminism as a discourse/practice? Do you envisage more Xenofeminist ‘chapters’ as a scaling strategy?

LC: Our name is an anagram of Nicolas Bourbaki, another collective pseudonym for group of largely French mathematicians from the 20th century advocating for abstraction and genericity in their field, so we playfully identify with them. As of now, the group is just the six of us, and, for the better or for the worse, anonymity was never achieved from the outset having launched the manifesto in person (without costumes and robot voices). In hindsight, the performative ‘appearance’ of Laboria could have been much more elaborately conceived and enacted – but as it is now, the importance must be placed on the labour of XF in general (open to anyone who wants to tinker, intervene, augment, refute and expand on these initial claims), and not on ‘Laboria’, the author. We’ve seen several groups and individuals respond to the manifesto – either through translation, dissemination, zine creation, talk-radio, inclusion in course readings, artistic practices and so on – and this is crucial to any ambitions of scaling up beyond our own finite capacities. Perhaps it would make sense to speak of ‘nodes and forks’ rather than ‘chapters’; ‘chapters’ seem to indicate a certain linear sequence that fulfils a narrative, whereas ‘nodes and forks’ affords a plurality of actants and events, piece by piece, deviation by deviation.

very Cyberfeminist International, Hamburg, 2001

CS+ RB: Many thanks for clarifying some of our questions related to xenofeminism. The issues you address are urgent and we hope your manifesto will inspire technofeminist experiments on all scales and levels and contribute to the materialisation of more feminist concepts, particularly within the development of technology.

_________________________________________________________

[i] Laboria Cuboniks (2015): http://www.laboriacuboniks.net/
[ii] Donna Harway, http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Haraway-CyborgManifesto-1.pdf
[iii] The Internation Feminist Art Journal n.paradoxa published a comprehensive collection of feminist manifestos in 2011: https://www.ktpress.co.uk/feminist-art-manifestos.asp

The Xenofeminist Manifesto is available at http://www.laboriacuboniks.net

More by Cornelia Sollfrank on Furtherfiled:

Giving What You Don’t Have: Cornelia Sollfrank, Joss Hands & Rachel Baker
https://furtherfield.org/programmes/event/giving-what-you-dont-have

Reading Club – Furtherfield – London 21-22 oct 13
http://writingmachines.org/2013/10/21/reading-club-furtherfield-london-21-22-oct-13/


Eva and Franco Mattes: Abuse Standards Violations | Exhibition Review

For more than two decades, Italian artist duo Eva and Franco Mattes have sought to subvert and expose the systems which produce power. Their current exhibition, Abuse Standards Violations at Carroll/Fletcher gallery, looks at who and what is made visible and invisible in the process of producing culture for online consumption.

The artists, who did not receive a formal arts education, describe themselves as “a couple of restless con-artists who use non-conventional communication tactics to obtain the largest visibility with the minimal effort.” They repeatedly worry the edges of technical structures – legal, religious, software – observe the resultant content and feed it back into new structures. It’s a process which acknowledges and seeks to communicate erasure, loss and chaos as well as their inverses. In Abuse Standards Violations, the artists acknowledge that chaos, and slippiness of boundaries in the arrangement of work that collides fragments of different disciplines and practices together. 

The central work in the exhibition is Dark Content. When their project No Fun (2010), presented unchallenged in a gallery, was removed from YouTube on the grounds of being ‘shocking and disgusting content’, the Mattes’ began investigating content moderation. The video, image and text content we encounter on platforms like Youtube is there because it has been permitted to be there. To gain permission, content once produced must be approved. The approval process involves a number of decision-making structures. The rules determining which content passes or fails (is good or bad, safe or unsafe) are built by, and entangled with, the organisational framework of the platform. To deploy this framework and enforce its rules, algorithms organise data and trace patterns, and people – working as ‘content moderators’ – are paid to decide which criteria a piece of content belongs to, and act accordingly.

Eva and Franco spoke to a number of content moderators about their work. These interviews give insight into a role which is simultaneously powerful and socially stigmatised (one moderator does not tell their partner what they do); which, despite actively forming culture, is in many ways concealed. Following the neoliberal pattern, process is skipped over to reach the content; moderators are scarcely mentioned by the culture in whose production they are thoroughly implicated. This is unsurprising given that the moderators are people like you and me, as well as being points through whom the governing structures of social media can be accessed.

The Mattes’ interviews with content moderators are presented in the exhibition as stock avatars, preserving the anonymity of the speakers; away from the exhibition, the interviews can be seen only on the Darknet. The avatars in Dark Content are displayed on screens within booths constructed from office furniture; structures designed for typing and filing are flipped around like tetris blocks to become a new kind of structure. The furniture is simultaneously recognisable, and out-of-place – particularly, no doubt to the freelance, self-employed person who often works from the sofa or cafe.

 Image search result for “invisible” printed on objects by online services

Eva and Franco Mattes, Image search result for “invisible” printed on objects by online services. Courtesy of the artists and Carroll/Fletcher

As well as creating hybrid structures, the presentation of the works in the exhibition addresses questions of agency in relation to the production of content. Among these questions are some about the agency of the artists. Presenting an artistic project involves numerous choices which tangle the agencies and the work of different people and systems. These choices cover, among other things, who gets paid, how to choose which materials to use, and what particular configuration of concepts and materials should be the one eventually presented publicly. The Mattes’ often choose to use readymade or found components in the exhibition. For example, one work in the Image Search Result series displays objects printed by online services featuring the result of a search for the word ‘invisible’. By outsourcing the production of the objects, the artists make visible their reliance on remote work. The neoliberalist trade in values relies heavily on the expenditure of energy of distant bodies, actively concealed; the Mattes’ choice to make their outsourcing explicit is a challenge to empty abstract value, whether in the gallery or elsewhere.

BEFNOED (Be Everyone For No One Every Day), deploys unusual positioning of screens in the gallery space. Visitors are required to lie on their backs, crouch down or otherwise contort themselves in order to watch videos of other people carrying out banal tasks such as putting a bucket on their head. The latter group of people has been paid for their work, the tasks having been advertised on crowdsourcing websites. Both groups have spent energy and time on their endeavours, and now both come together in a space. The intimacy is an interface which suggests the connectedness of gallery visitor and global networks and their mutual implication in the way culture is produced.

Installation view of the series By Everyone For No One Every Day (BEFNOED)

Eva and Franco Mattes, Installation view of the series By Everyone For No One Every Day (BEFNOED). Courtesy of the artists and Carroll/Fletcher

The works in Abuse Standards Violations relate and separate different lives, different cultures and different kinds of labour. They muddle contexts and objects, creating spaces and structures that are – clearly and disconcertingly – no less strange than those already available in contemporary society. These spaces and structures complicate the difference between reality and simulation. They also make the distribution of power painfully clear. For a powerful structure to appear trustworthy it is useful to appear impartial, logical, scientific; to appear trustworthy it is useful to destabilise or dismantle other structures by choosing what is made visible and what is not, what to make public and what to keep private. Those who are unfamiliar with the regulatory structures become implicated unknowingly. One of the moderators interviewed for Dark Content did not consider their work censorship since they worked for the government. Another comment ran along the lines of ‘I am only enforcing the rules; I don’t make them’.

In making clearer the arrangements of power behind YouTube, the arrangements of power in the art world – one of the routes to cultural production – are necessarily also challenged. The aesthetic choices the artists have made have clear social and political implications which create uncomfortable questions about concepts such as privacy. The complicated act of content moderation makes some information unavailable in order to communicate other information. This process is by no means limited to the world of content moderation – it applies wherever there is a message to pass on.

Invisible labour and visible outputs are separated by social stigma, sophisticated regulatory systems and other factors, local and global, which create a powerful invisibility. The works in Abuse Standards Violations combine objects, images, texts and concepts in surprising ways which give some substance to this invisibility. The job of the content moderator is part of culture, as is the expenditure of energy by bodies, as are rotas, as are company regulations, as are artists and galleries and gallery visitors. Thinking about how such things relate leads to challenging and powerful questions.

Abuse Standards Violations is at Carroll/Fletcher gallery in Soho until 27 August alongside Planetary-scale Computation by Joshua Citarella.
http://www.carrollfletcher.com/exhibitions/55/overview/


The Home Within: YAMA and Ngurra Kurlu

In this special feature Steve Jampijimpa Patrick writes about YAMA, the name given to the installation currently on display as part of the exhibition Networking the Unseen at Furtherfield Gallery.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

I want to tell you about YAMA. This is the Warlpiri word for a shadow, or reflection. It’s also a word that we use to describe a meeting or a meeting-place; we gather under a tree that casts a shadow (a reflection of its shape) onto the ground, and we talk in a group – both men and women together, equally – to make decisions and to reflect on ourselves and our lives. But it’s deeper, too. In yapa (Aboriginal) culture, if someone says “you don’t have a shadow”, it means you don’t exist. All the birds, all the small animals, trees – these things all have a shadow; all of your country and everything in it; this is your universe. How can you reflect your universe? And what about you, reader? Does your homeland reflect you?


YAMA, Networking the Unseen artist talk (photo by Pau Ros)

I’ve been all over the world, searching for ngurra kurlu (the home within). Each country’s, each people’s ngurra kurlu is different. If you don’t speak your language, if you don’t know your culture, the songlines  of the animals in your country, how can you express yourself or where you’re from? This reflection happens through language, through dance, art, even food – that’s ngurra kurlu. There is a universe and we are its shadow.

We yapa say “don’t become Australian, become Australia”.

That’s ngurra kurlu.

 YAMA (detail), multimedia installation at Furtherfield Gallery, Warnayaka Art Centre, Neil Jupurrurla Cooke, and Gretta Louw, photo by Michael Erglis.

I am writing this from Germany, we (Neil Jupurrurla Cooke and I) were in England for a week working on YAMA, a multimedia installation with Napanangka (Gretta Louw) for the Networking the Unseen exhibition at Furtherfield. Every day we walked through Finsbury Park and the people we saw were really alive there, playing, walking, school children running through, watching the birds and the squirrels. But when we go into town, we feel closed up again. We went to the Horse Guard. Where I come from, the horses roam free – they are really alive. We don’t know their skin name , we don’t have a song for them because they’re feral animals, brought into our country by kardiyah (white people) – but they’re free. When we see the horses there in London trained to stand still like that, like they’re stone, we feel sad for them.

Then we look around and see those buildings round there (in Westminster). We’ve seen those buildings before. Even though we’d never been to London. They’re like underwater, you know, that coral when it dies – when it’s bleached – that’s what those buildings are like. Every thing, both living and created by the living, is a reflection of our universe. Imagine you are a little ant and you are walking through tombstones – this is how it feels for us to be in that place. I guess the people that made those towers are trying to express power, they want to have power over other people. They build those bleached towers and statues tall on columns to make the other people feel small. That’s a crazy world, when I’m coming at it from my culture.

Your home is going to reflect you and you’re going to reflect your home. So, think about your home and what it says about you.

Emu in the Sky, Milky Way (photo credit: Barnaby Norris http://kamilaroianationsidentity.weebly.com/the-dreaming.html )

For us, the things we look up at are the stars. We’ve always known them and learned from them. They are part of our ngurra kurlu. What about that North star that you have here in the northern hemisphere – they say it doesn’t move. Maybe that’s why you have one leader, one queen, who doesn’t change. Down in Australia, we have five emus (the southern cross) – we live by that law. We call ourselves an emu country. You bear countries  reflect your stars, too. I like to think that the queen is the ultimate kurlungu (guardian) for the country, but a kurlungu needs to really look after all their people and their country. Is that what’s happening in your country?

I wonder what would happen if you brought an emu up here and just let it walk around. I’ve never seen it but I think it might start heading south. We have a word for ocean, mangku-rla, even though we’re a desert mob. This shows how ancient our songlines are – they existed before us; they created us. We were supposed to be noble savages, from the settlers’ point of view we weren’t supposed to know about the ocean or what was on the other side, but our Emu Dreaming tells the story of the emu swimming across the ocean. He was a nervous emu because he was being chased into the water by dogs. I think that was when the emu went between the continents to make relations with the ostrich and the rhea bird and the moa. There were big, flightless birds like the emu on each of the continents. In the Jardiwanpa story, the emu comes out of the water and shakes himself like a dog. This is reflected in the stars as well; our emu stars (the English name is the Milky Way) come up after the wet season.

In yapa culture, we know that we didn’t create the body: our universe, our country created us. That’s why I am a black man from Australia – my country made me like this. This is what you call evolution. You can have bears in the north, and we have emus in the south. Our countries created those beings. Yapa have always known that this is how things are created.

Yumurrpa, wall painting at Furtherfield Gallery by Neil Jupurrurla Cooke as part of YAMA multimedia installation, photo by Michael Erglis.

You live in the bear countries; even without people knowing it, they are reflecting what the bear is trying to teach them. We live by the emu. I can’t tell you what the bear is teaching you, I’d need to live here a lot longer, but you can learn to hunt the knowledge that the bear is trying to show you.

There are food sources for your stomach and there are some for your mind. Both are equally important. If you are hunting for goanna you bring it home and share it with your family and your community. If you are sitting, talking, learning that’s also hunting – you are hunting knowledge and you bring it home and share it with your people. The mind and the physical reflect each other – that’s yama.

The Australian coat of arms is meaningful to us, even though we weren’t asked to choose it. The emu is our teacher, wise and kind, and the kangaroo is like a warrior or a judge, strong and powerful. The nature of our land, our country, is reflected in this coat of arms. When I look at the English coat of arms, I see a lion and a unicorn. Do these animals come from your country? What does this coat of arms represent and what does it reflect about your country?


Australian coat of arms (Wikipedia Commons)

British Coat of Arms (Wikipedia Commons)

When I ask you to help me hunt the unicorn, will you understand what I mean?

Hunting the unicorn is a way to understand its ngurra kurlu, to try to understand the country and therefore to understand the people. After all, if you’re hunting something, you have to learn to think like the animal that you’re hunting. It’s a way to fit into the country and to feed on that country; that country nourishes you. That’s the most important skill you can have. It’s a skill to understand the prey, and to think like the prey. It’s something I never understood before. But now I do.


If you know how to reflect yourself, you can then reflect other people. Don’t try to do it back to front.

 

References:

1 YAMA is also the name of the collaborative, multimedia installation by Warnayaka Art Centre (artists including Neil Jupurrurla Cooke, Isaiah Jungarrayi Lewis, Rebecca Napanangka Farrell, and Sharon Nampijinpa Anderson) and Gretta Louw (Napanangka).

2 See, for example, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/songline

3 The “skin name” is part of Warlpiri (and other First Nations peoples’) kinship system. For a helpful breakdown of this system as it relates to people, see
http://australianstogether.org.au/stories/detail/kinship-and-skin-names

Non-human species also have a skin name, which aligns them with the people born into that skin group.


Notes on some images by Joseph Cartwright

Michael Szpakowski

In the second of three articles about the Web 2.0 photosharing service Flickr (the first is here), I continue to make a case for the quiet but profound innovations created by the sheer scale and ease of use, of these services – something which enables self defining artist, outsider artist, hobbyist & people who would run a mile from being called an artist to share and be mutually influenced by each others work.  Here I offer some notes on the beautiful, funny and humane photography of London art teacher Joseph Cartwright, who operates under the Flickr name Noitsawasp.

Very few humans directly in these images but everywhere traces, evidence of human activity. Not cold. Full of humour.

Patterns of human activity, some accidental but capable of being invested with new meaning. Some straightforwardly meaningful, interpretable. Evidence of events and activities.

Always formally engaging.

photo 2650                         Image credit: noitsawasp/Joseph Cartwright https://flic.kr/p/JAJC1L

A map of a world. A map of our world. A map of the world of work, of most of us, of the 99%.

Impossible to imagine these images made on streets of a town where less than 50 languages were spoken.

What we see when we look at these is what we see when we look at art.

An invitation to narrative.

Patterns on the one hand // traces of the wake that humans leave behind them in the world.

One of those humans is Joseph C––sometimes the images are records of his interventions in the world of images––those image fold-overs or blends. Sometimes the photos are a record of him as performer, actor, in the world ( but after he has left the stage). Sometimes they seem to place us directly behind his eyes.

photo 2620Image credit: noitsawasp/Joseph Cartwright https://flic.kr/p/Jpf9ut

I think he looks quizzically at the world. Do you know him––does he look quizzically at the world?

You imagine his eyes darting around––down, to the side, up occasionally, lighting on something, some congruence of objects, pausing to decide whether to make an image…(brows knotted, a sense of pressure, the need to seize the moment…)

look at this; see through this; look into that; make that out

grids; grids; patches of light; a dictionary of cowboy terms

People nail nails, people mend things, people bend things, people break things, people clean, people wash clothes, people read, people admonish, people alert, people have funny feelings––goose bumps, shivers or feelings it’s hard to explain somehow.

photo 2610 Image credit: noitsawasp/Joseph Cartwright https://flic.kr/p/JfhLxb

I saw a pattern! It was a message to me! It was a message to you. It made me feel…oh…I can’t say what…

This empty table here; those empty chairs there

The café/condiment photos––a series––eating––so basic––and we always remember that but we also think––‘we know this kind of café too’, ‘we go here on these occasions’––and we wonder what kind of a person this serial café goer is, is this an important routine in his life, does it define him amongst others, his friends, colleagues, what does he eat, are the condiments incidental or fundamental to his café visits, does he keep his distance from the condiments, use them with discretion, does he go to the café now only or mainly for his mission to image the condiments or do his meals and his art dovetail nicely, conveniently, pleasantly here. Do his companions laugh when he takes today’s photo? Or does he eat alone?

photo 2646Image credit: noitsawasp/Joseph Cartwright https://flic.kr/p/JzsaJ4

Cables, pipes, tangles––runes, ciphers, hieroglyphs.

photo 2588Image credit: noitsawasp/Joseph Cartwright https://flic.kr/p/HZndvA

The morning was sunny. It rained. The afternoon was still warm but muggy. There was a rainbow. The sky was blue. The fence was a different blue.

Shadows, folds, stripes, other repetitive patterns. Some there, pre-intended, functional. Some found, loaned, in the process of making the photo.

Objects that are (or have been) useful or functional removed from or seen out of their usual context. (Sometimes by human agency––dumped, temporarily abandoned, or simply cropped)

photo 2605
Image credit: noitsawasp/Joseph Cartwright https://flic.kr/p/HP6vEG

Estrangement––making us see the world anew // making us remember our world anew.

Found patterns, found juxtapositions.

A lively eye and a lively mind.

Joy in colour. Grace in handling, in apportioning that colour. It’s like he finds the best tidbits and, smiling, hands them to us.

It isn’t abstracting from the world // the function is often still evident so it’s like layer upon layer of meaning and affect and confusion // the original function or action…the strange pattern it makes… its removal from its usual context.

These images lend us Joseph C’s eyes. These images lend us another human’s mind and sensibility.

When you are a child and you’re walking along by the side of a grown-up and they have important things to do or say and so you are free to look around and feel and think and wonder and also you are half their height or less so you have both the utter freedom to look where you will and you lack preconceptions about what it is you see signifies or how it ought to make you feel and on top of that you see it from an angle that will never again be natural to you without a degree of contortion. And you are become magically a kind of still, observing, feeling centre of the world.

Joseph C gives us back some of that.

photo 2572
Image credit: noitsawasp/Joseph Cartwright https://flic.kr/p/HGJfHs


Whistleblowers & Vigilantes | Exhibition Review

It has been a long time since an exhibition shocked and confused me. In fact, I cannot even remember when it last happened. Yet the exhibition Whistleblowers & Vigilanters has managed to do just that. Curators Inke Arns and Jens Kabisch of the Dortmund art institution Hartware Medienkunst Verein (HMKV) have put up a show in which complete nut cases are presented side by side with political activists, artists and whistleblowers a la Edward Snowden. This makes the exhibition ask for quite some flexibility from the audience. Visitors have to work hard in order to understand the connection made here between, for example, racist conspiracy theories expressed through YouTube videos and the ordeal of a whistleblower like Chelsea Manning.


Lutz Dammbeck, Letter to Me (Unabomber manifesto, handcorrected) 2003 and Go to Trial (video about Unabomber) 2016

The very short introduction text to the exhibition guide is part of the puzzle we are presented with. The basic premises of the exhibition are explained in what I think is not the best possible manner, because it leaves out any mentioning or analysis of the huge political differences among the people and works presented. At the same time the use of words like higher law and self-legitimization easily creates a feeling of unease about each practitioner or type of activism in the show:

“The exhibition asks what links hacktivists, whistleblowers and (Internet) vigilantes. What is the legal understanding of these different actors? Do they share certain conceptions? Who speaks and acts for whom and in the capacity of which (higher) law? Among other issues the exhibition will examine the differing legal conceptions and strategies of self-legitimisation put forth by activists, whistleblowers, hackers, online activists and artists to justify their actions.”

By placing the revelations of Edward Snowden next to the complete print out of the manifesto of the Unabomber or (more harmless but still of a different level of impact) the battle over a hostile domain name takeover in Toywar the first impression is a levelling of the practices and people involved. To make some sort of distinction between the various represented rebellious or activist positions in the exhibition guide the whole is divided into sections. The sections however do not indicate socio-political position or relevance, but rather imply the ways people legitimize their actions (1).

Inke Arns giving a tour of the exhibition. Anonymous (left), Metahaven (far left), Wikileaks’ Collateral Murder (middle),  Lulz (right)

The spatial design and mapping of the exhibition seem to give some indication of political direction, but it is accidental. To the far right of the entry we find all installations labeled ‘Vigilantes’: a website collecting images of online fraudsters (419eater.com), two videos about Anders Breivik and Dominic Gagnon’s collection of mostly right-wing extremist YouTube videos. Slightly controversial is how the Vigilantes section puts together these quite obvious nut cases and criminals with Anonymous and what the curators call ‘Lulz’, the near troll-like jokesters who ridicule anything they don’t like with razor sharp memes. I am not sure whether these two products of the online forum 4chan deserve this simple pairing to YouTube hate preachers. A finer distinction between the various Internet underbelly representatives might have been better here. That this could have been done is shown by Lutz Dammbeck’s archive on the Unabomber’s placement in the Vigilante section, which has two labels. It is the sole representative of the Critique of Technology section as well. Another strange pairing happens in the Antinomism section, where an installation around a video with Julian Assange and a rightwing terrorist bomb disguised as soda machine are the only examples.

Ubermorgen’s Vote Auction installation (center). Crypto-anarchist content & John Perry Barlow talking about the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (background) Wikileaks’ Collateral Murder (far right).

The middle ground of the exhibition shows a mix of artist activism and hacker culture. Mediengruppe Bitnik are here with a video of their Delivery for Mr. Assange. Black Transparency by Metahaven is represented through one utopian architecture model and printed wall cloths. The Peng! Collective’s Intelexit: Call-A-Spy has a telephone stand in the exhibition. The provocative sale of US votes in Vote-Auction by Ubermorgen is here as docu-installation. Etoy’s legendary Toywar is represented as well, with -in my opinion- too small a stand. Traces of many other art works and activist projects are presented in display cases, which give some more background or context to the theme. These were one of my favorite parts of the exhibition, next to the amazingly diligent and meticulous hand-drawn documentation of the Manning trial by Clark Stoeckley.

Display cases showing Luther Blissett and Anonymous (front), and  Netzpolitik (back).

The display cases are dedicated to freedom of speech, tools of online resistance, the Netzpolitik case, anonymity and collective identities and cypherpunk and crypto-anarchism. They provide an important insight into the context within which the other practices in the exhibition exist.
Here we find Luther Blissett, the Italian born collective online identity, with a name borrowed from a former football player. The Blissett identity is related to pre-Internet art practices, in particular Neoism, and has been used for various art pranks and activist projects, particularly in Southern Europe.
Other art projects include the influential book Electronic Civil Disobedience by Critical Art Ensemble, the German hacker art collective Foebud’s battle for free speech and privacy (presented with one of Addie Wagenknecht’s anonymity glasses), and the Electronic Disturbance Theater’s Floodnet. The latter is a DDoS attack software that was used in actions for the Mexican freedom fighters the Zapatistas, by the Yes Men and for Etoy’s Toywar project.

There is also a print out of the Cypherpunk mailinglist. The cypherpunk crypto-anarchist community is responsible for some of the most influential elements of the free Internet. They produced the PGP encryption technology, cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, TOR, the idea of WIKI and torrent platforms and marketplaces like the Silk Road. Julian Assange was one of its members.

Last but not least the presentation of the Netzpolitik.org case, which covers a German censorship scandal from last year, had to be part of this exhibition. Journalists from the online magazine Netzpolitik were arrested for treason after they had published about classified Internet surveillance plans of the German secret service. A copy of the accusation letter from the state prosecutor is oddly signed with ‘Mit freundlichen Grüßen’ (‘With kind regards’).

Display case showing crypto anarchy, cypherpunk mailinglist, early PGP software on floppy discs and bitcoin/cryptocurrency.

All in all the display cases made me happy to see some of the events and works that have been so hugely influential to the development of the Internet (and thus to the development of our current culture and politics) represented in a physical cultural space. They show a side of Internet culture that is heavily underrepresented in the general discourse around new media technologies in both mainstream media and art. During a private tour of Whistleblowers & Vigilantes for visitors of the simultaneously running Hito Steyerl exhibition Inke Arns explained how for her this exhibition is long overdue as well. According to Arns the threat to our freedom through abuse of new technologies should receive as much attention in art as the anthropocene. HMKV sees it as its responsibility to do something about it.

Hito Steyerl’s Factory of the Sun. On the screen the old NSA listening post in former West-Berlin. The video is presented in a faux holodeck.

Whistleblowers & Vigilantes however does not make a straightforward statement. Its structure, both physically and content-wise, is too complex for that. This does not mean it is a bad exhibition. The bringing together of the ‘Lulz’, Anonymous, the Unabomber, net art, hacktivism, hackers and Manning, Snowden, Assange and even Breivik in one space definitely creates a lively exhibition, which cannot leave a visitor unaffected. This strange assembly then needs to be unraveled and this is where the curators take quite some risk. The addition of Hito Steyerl’s installation Factory of the Sun, an exhibition that runs simultaneously on a different floor, could help to bring the serious, crazy and light elements of the show together for that part of the audience that loses its way. In her smart playful manner Steyerl blends science fiction, humor and critique of the surveillance society in a faux holodeck cinema experience. The exhibition also includes a few live events that steer the whole into safe waters. Netzpolitik journalist Markus Beckedahl has given a presentation and so has Jens Kabisch. Kabisch wrote a text about whistleblowers that is available on the website, but this text is unfortunately only available in German. My advice to the non-German audience is to download the press kit in order to get more background information.

            Clark Stoeckley, The United States vs Pvt. Chelsea Manning © State of the Arts NJ

Whistleblowers & Vigilantes is a challenge to the audience. It asks for more reflection and time to take in than most exhibitions. After getting some more grip on it the complexity and scope of the exhibition, however, is impressive. It not only brings together many important, interesting and sometimes scary examples of contemporary forms of resistance and rebellion. What is also represented is the space of resistance and play that escapes attempts at systematic control, even in a full-on surveillance state. Once recovered from my initial shock this is what stayed with me the most. The wide-ranging documents, objects and installations reveal the system’s shadow spaces and vulnerabilities. Whistleblowers & Vigilanters differs from the flood of other art exhibitions themed around surveillance and control by reflecting on the legitimacy of online autonomous political action in general. Indirectly this means it also reflects upon the space of life that exists beyond all control. Rather than create another horror show around the future of privacy and freedom, with Whistleblower & Vigilanten we are presented with the persistence of fringe cultures and of free thinkers. For me this makes this an exhibition of hope.

Endnote
(1). The six sections are called Natural Law, Contractualism, Antinomism, Transparency, Critique of Technology and Vigilantism. Roughly these point to people who believe in a ‘higher’ (‘natural’) law which each juridical law can be compared to, people who step around an elected (contracted) authority when it breaks an agreement, those who do not believe in the validity of any law (antinomism), those who think practically rather than ideologically that transparency is simply a matter of optimizing societal processes, Luddites who want to destroy technology and last but not least the vigilantes who believe their subjective views are simply a legitimate base for rebellion and radical action.

 

Exhibition Info:
Whistleblowers & Vigilantes. Figures of Digital Resistance
HMKV, Dortmund
9/4/16-14/8/16
https://www.hmkv.de/_en/programm/programmpunkte/2016/Ausstellungen/2016_VIGI_Vigilanten.php

Download exhibition catalogue:
https://www.hmkv.de/_pdf/Ausstellungsfuehrer/2016_VIGI_Kurzfuehrer_Web.pdf

 


As Rights Go By | Exhibition Review

There is a common sense in place about the fact that civil rights are undermined by a various amount of ‘exceptions’; exceptions which are based on a system, in which governmental decision-making processes are increasingly determined by the rule of money, or else the market. The idea of a constant ‘crisis’ leads to a ‘state of exception’. Regardless of established legal standards – in the name of financial, economical or security measurements – civil rights are constantly taken away. As a result, the social and legal relations between the different members of society and between nation states are increasingly out of balance. This creates an endless pool of watering down legal standards in postdemocratic societies and produces harmful sociopolitical asymmetries. The exhibition “As rights Go By” which took place in freiraum Q21 this spring 14th April – 12th of June 2016 aimed to exactly pinpoint these asymmetries and to unfold the irregularities of a ‘regular legal system’.

The 15 works in the exhibition, curated by Sabine Winkler, focused directly on the complex dynamics between the sources and consequences of disappearing civil rights under the global neoliberal umbrella. The show, which was very well set, had strong internal and external references and what really could struck somebody was the content. The exhibition could be experienced as a single piece, inviting the visitors to discover more more than just the visible tips of the il/legal iceberg and to bring these issues of discussion to schools, universities, festivals, shopping malls and the mainstream media. Of course this doesn’t mean not to exhibit – but it means not to stop there.

As Rights Go By was an exhibition which stays in mind ; the visitors could produce their own individual collages, making sense of the gravity of the problematics involved.

The works presented were the following:

Silvia Becks, who worked with the privileges in the art world, presented an installation which discussed how the special rights in place, like the information accessibilities, the funding resources and the leveling up of the societal status, are at the same time leading to a certain loss of legal rights.

“Complicity Report” by Silvia Beck, Multimedia Installation, 2016

James Bridle, with his video animation “Seamless Transitions”, tried to visualize the physical spaces of the unknown arrest, the legal decision making processes and the juridical judgments involved, offering a virtual insight into the secret spaces of il/legality. His work  questioned not only the surveillance strategies of physical space but also the secrecy about trading agreements and legal treaties.

"Seamsless Transitions" by James Bridles, Video 2015 “Seamsless Transitions” by James Bridle, Video 2015 

George Drivas’ film‚ “Sequence Error” referred to a typical business setting where a sudden crisis has lead to a collapse. A fictional situation with a more than real deal: The crisis serves as the exception for legal rights to be erased. 

"Sequence Error" by George Drivas, Video, 2011 “Sequence Error” by George Drivas, Video, 2011 

Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt, overlaid the portraits of the hundred wealthiest people of the world fading into one collage of one single passport image projected to the wall. A symbol for lost identities and unidentifiable legal entities.

“The Portrait” by Özlem Günyol. Mustafa Kunt, Print, 2015

Adelita Husni-Bey video documentation gave a very detailed insight into an urban planning process in Cairo (“Land”) including gentrification processes, which go not only against Egyptian law but actually threaten a huge amount of informal dwellings. The notion ‘participations’, in particular, delivered a learning lesson about  contemporary urban development strategies and their methods.

Nikita Kadan used a “Popular Medical Dictionary” of the Soviet era in his work “Procedure Room”. Painting torture methods on ceramic plates, he showed how physical and psychological violence can be justified for a ‘higher’ political order.

The Collective Migrafona reported via Comic strips about the Austrian migration politics. Imaginary Heroes are delivering identities in order fight for political rights.

Vladimir Miladinovic’s research focused on multinational companies and their strong connections to pre- and post-war power structures. His work discussed the power relations, which are in place during setting up regulations between states and their legal standards.

In his film “1014” Yuri Pattison mixed fictional Hollywood scenes with documentary footage from the hotel room where Edward Snowden gave his first interview. The work offered an insight into the conscious loss of legal rights when fiction becomes reality and vice versa.

Lorenzo Pezzani and Charles Heller raised the question about acting against human rights while being aware of the refugee tragedies based on surveillance technology. Their forensic reconstruction of a boat disaster offered a clear insight into the thin borderline between socio political responsibilities and legal settings.

Julien Prévieux work “What Shall We Do Next? 2006-2011“ showed how close technology, law and our bodies are connected; the fact that international corporations obtain patents for specific movements  such as scrolling moves on a tablet shows how unaware we are about our daily il/legal routines.

Andrea Ressi related the notion of loss onto her work; loss of living space, loss of rights, loss of freedom, loss of security and represented these losses in her pictograms with modules of exception.

Judith Siegmund’s text based installations produced discomfort. Newspaper quotations about violence against refugees were set up opposite to philosophical text fragments, triggering associations about the relation between violence and competitiveness assuming that people take advantages from others who find themselves in a lawlessness situation.

Lina Theodorou’s project was one of the most intriguing works in the show. Her board game club offered a playful insight into the crisis in Greece and the social and legal consequences of austerity measurements up leading to losing well established rights. The setting would be funny if it wouldn’t be real.

 "Pawnshop" by Lina Theodorou“Pawnshop” by Lina Theodorou, Installation, 2014

Carey Youngs’ work “Obsidian Contract” transformed the visitor into an affiliate. The public space and the legal space were imagined and lost rights were reconstructed fictionally while watching the contract text through a mirror.

The exhibition did not refer directly to any political action, artivism, hacktivism or any other form of resistance but it implied the embedded hegemonic power structures pointing where  it all begins.The exhibition was not a subversive act but it showed how subversion as an act of societal struggle became something illegal. Up to around 15 years ago the notion of ‘subversion’ was relatively easy to connect to counter-cultural productions. But a subversive act wasn’t nesessarily illegal – it was done in a grey shadow light between established settings in order to  shake up presumably fixed sociopolitical surroundings. An unclear task under clear conditions.

In the era of global capitalist hegemony, shadows turned straight into black or white areas; no grey is involved anymore. Subversion dissolved into two  parts: the legal one, which consists of what is now understood as innovation – or ‘creativity’ as the motor for an ‘idea based economy’- and the illegal one, what now labels all the ‘unwanted’ realities: terror, refugees, homeless; etc. Therefore subversive thinking and acting is no longer part of a cultural discourse but is simply illegal. Why?

The unlimited governmental practices which are today in place show that decisions are made as it happens in the financial markets; everything becomes a derivate, something to speculate with. The future has consequences on the present  before anything happens. In times where potentials are seen as threats, the subversive process is turned upside down: subversions themselves become clearly defined and legal settings are turned into grey areas. A clear task under unclear conditions.

The exhibition encouraged, motivated and gave an insight into the power of rights including  the absence of it. Focusing on how rights are either set or (il/legally) undermined by their exceptions and on how well these tendencies are sold as (inter)national necessities, it underlined the urge for a collective awareness of these i/legal practices and their consequences.

‘As Rights Go By’ was a very important exhibition; as mentioned above – what was visible was just the tip of the iceberg. As in many shows which include a huge amount of artistic research, a retrospective view in the future will show that this is just the beginning of a different kind of political engagement which most of all is a call for action.

Rights go by and are not falling from the sky.

 


Digital Pop | Review of the 12th Athens Digital Arts Festival

Athens Digital Arts Festival (ADAF) returned this year on the 19th to the 22nd of May with its 12th edition to bring Digital Pop under the microscope. Do machines like each other? Does the Queen dream of LSD infused dreams and can a meme be withdrawn from the collective memory?

Katerina Gkoutziouli, an independent curator and this year’s program director together with a team of curators proposed a radical rethinking of digital POP, placing the main focus on the actors of cultural production. From artists to users and then to machines themselves, trends and attitudes shift at high speed and the landscape of pop culture is constantly changing. What we consider POP in 2015 might be outdated in 2016, as the Festival’s program outlines, and that is true. But even so, in the land of memes, GIFs, likes, shares and followers what are the parameters that remain? ADAF’s curatorial line took it a step further and addressed not just the ephemerality of digital POP. It tackled issues related to governance and digital colonialism, but in a subtle and definitively more neon way.

 450 artists presented their work in a Festival that included interactive and audiovisual installations, video art, web art, creative workshops and artist talks. Far from engaging in the narrative of crisis as a popular trend itself though, ADAF 2016 was drawn to highlighting the practices that reflect the current cultural condition. And the curated works were dead-on at showcasing those.

You like my like of your like of my status by Ben Grosser ©Fenia kotsopoulou & Daz Disley

How are we “feeding” today’s digital markets then? Ben Grosser’s sound and video installation work “You like my like of your like of my status” screened a progressive generative text pattern of increasingly “liking” each others “likes”. Using the historic “like” activity on his own Facebook account, he created an immersive syntax that could as well be the mantra of Athens Digital Arts Festival 2016.

Days before the opening of the exhibition, Ben Grosser was asked by to choose the image that defines pop the most. No wonder, he replied with the Facebook “like” button. What Ben Grosser portrayed in his work is the poetics of the economy of corporate data collectors such as Facebook with its algorithmic representation of the “Like” button as the king pawn of its toolkit, that transform human intellect as manifested through the declaration of our personal taste and network into networking value.

Queen of The Dream by Przemysław Sanecki (PL) ©Spyridon Maltezos

Speaking of taste, what about the aesthetics? From Instagram and Snapchat filters to ever updated galleries of emoticons available upon request, digital aesthetics are infused with social significance. In the Queen of The Dream by Przemysław Sanecki (PL) the British politics and the Royal tradition were aestheticized by the DeepDream algorithm of Google. In an attempt to relate old political regimes and established technocracies, the artist places together hand in hand the political power with the algorithmical one, pointing out that technologies are essential for ruling classes in their struggle to maintain the current power balance. The representation of the latter was placed there as a reminder that it’s dynamic is to obscure this relation, rather than illuminate it.

However, could there be some space for some creative civil disobedience? Browserbased took us for a stroll in the streets of Athens, or better to say in the public phone booths of Athens. There, the city scribbles every day its own saying, phone numbers for a quick wank, political slogans, graffiti, tags and rhymes. With 69.numbers.suck Browserbased mapped the re-appearance and cross-references of those writings, read this chaotic network of self-manifestation and reproduced it digitally in the form of nodes. Out there in the open a private network emerged, nonsensical or codified, drawn and re-drawn by everyday use, acceptance and decline.

Can virality kill a meme? Yes, there is a chance that the grumpy cat would get grumpier once realized that its image would be broadcasted, connoted and most possibly appropriated by thousands. But how far would it go? The Story of Technoviking by Matthias Fritsch (DE) was showcased at the special screenings session of the Festival. It is a documentary that follows an early successful Internet meme over 15 years from an experimental art video to a viral phenomenon that ends up in court. Once the original footage was uploaded, it remained somehow unnoticed until some years later that it was sourced, shared, mimified, render into art installation, even merchandised by users. As a cultural phenomenon with high visibility it fails to be deleted both from servers around the world and from the collective memory even though that this was a court’s decision. In his work Matthias Fritsch mashes up opinions of artists, lawyers, academics, fans and online reactions marking the conflict between the right of the protection of our personality to the fundamental right of free speech and the direction towards which society and culture will follow in the future in regard to the intellectual property.

memememe by Radamés Ajna (BR) and Thiago Hersan (BR) ©Foteini Toumboulidou

It’s the machines alright! Back in the days of Phillip K. Dick’s novels the debate was set over distinctions between human and machine. Since then the plot has thickened and in memememe by Radamés Ajna (BR) and Thiago Hersan (BR) things were taken a step further. This installation, situated in one of the first rooms of the exhibition, of two smartphones seemingly engaged in a conversation between them through and incomprehensible language built on camera shots and screen swipes is based on the suspicion that phones are having more fun communicating than we are. Every message is a tickle, every swipe a little rub. In memememe the fetichized device was not just a mechanic prosthesis on the human body, it was an agent of cultural production. The implication that the human might not cause or end of every process run by machines was promoted to a declaration. Ajna and Hersan have built an app that allows as a glimpse into the semiotics of the machine, a language that we can see but we can’t understand.

How many GIFs fit in one hand? If one were to trace all subcultures related to pop culture, then he or she would have to stretch time. Since they are multiplying, expiring and subcategorized not by theorists but by the users themselves and with their ephemerality condemning most of which into a short lived glory. Lorna Mills (CA) explores the different streams in subcultures through animated GIFs and focuses on found material of users who perform online in front of video cameras. In her installation work Colour Fields she is obsessed on GIF culture, its brevity, compression, technical constraints and its continued existence on the Internet.

ALL EYES ON US by Manja Ebert (DE) ©Spyridon Maltezos

Global pop stars, a blueprint on audience development. Manja Ebert (DE) in her interactive video installation ALL EYES ON US, one of the biggest installations of the Festival, embarked on an artistic analysis of the global pop star and media phenomenon Britney Spears. Based on music videos of the entertainer that typecast Spears into different archetypical female characters, Ebert represented each and every figure by a faceless performer. All nine figures were played by a keyboard, thus allowing the users to recompose these empty cells decomposing Spears as a product into its communicational elements.

Going through the festival, more related narratives emerged. Privacy and control, the representation of the self and the body were equally addressed. People stopped in front of the Emotional Mirror by random quark (UK/GR), to let the face recognition algorithm analyze their facial expression and display their emotion in the form of tweets while they were photographing and uploading in one or more platforms the result at the same time.

Τhe Festival presented its program of audiovisual performances at six d.o.g.s. starting on May 19 with the exclusive event focus raster-noton, featuring KYOKA and Grischa Lichtenberger.

ADAF 2016 brought a lot to the table. Its biggest contribution though lies in offering a great deal of stimuli regarding the digital critical agenda to the local digital community. ADAF managed to surpass the falsely drawn conception of identifying the POP digital culture just as a fashionable mainstream. On the contrary it highlights it as a strong counterpoint.

http://2016.adaf.gr/



Julian Rosefeldt`s Manifesto

Entering the darkened gallery space in the side wing of Berlin`s Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, the visitor first encounters a projection showing the close-up of a fuse cord burning in the dark. Shot out of focus its sparks are flying in slow motion, a firm clear female voice comes in beginning a monologue which includes familiar lines and passages: “I am against action; for continuous contradiction, for affirmation too, I am neither for nor against and I do not explain because I hate common sense. […] All that is solid melts into air. […] I am writing a manifesto because I have nothing to say.”. The fuse cord gradually exstinguishes without leading to an explosion.

Quoting parts of the manifesto of the Communist Party, Tristan Tzara`s Dada Manifesto as well as pieces of Philippe Soupault`s “Literature and the Rest”, the 4-minute video in its function as “Prologue” sets the tone of Julian Rosefeldt`s exhibition “Manifesto”. The opulent 13-channel installation is a homage to the textual form of the artist manifesto – in Rosefeldt´s words “a manifesto of manifestos”. Inspired by the research for his previous work “Deep Gold”, Rosefeldt began looking further into the genre and its poetics. From about sixty popular art manifestos – the earliest from 1848, the latest from 2004 – he collaged twelve new powerful and entertaining manifestos. Said manifestos serve as the source for each of the thirteen videos (a prologue and 12 scenarios) delivered and performed as monologues by Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett.

In every film, an extremely versatile Blanchett morphs into another role: From homeless man to broker, newsreader to punk, puppeteer or scientist. Obviously these roles do not represent the manifesto`s authors, they rather show contemporary types chosen by the artist to counterpoint or stress the ideas and attitudes of the text passages they are reciting. As a CEO at a private party, Blanchett is orating in front of an affluent audience, praising “the great art vortex”. Continuing her celebratory speech, she changes the tone to amuse her crowd quoting more passages of the Vorticist manifesto: “The past and future are the prostitutes nature has provided.”. Polite laughter, glasses are clinging. Another scene shows a bourgeois American family sitting at the dining table about to say grace. Blanchett in the role of the conservative mother is leaning her head, folding her hands but instead of the usual blessing, she begins to fervently recite Claes Oldenburg`s Pop Art Manifesto which consists of a series of propositions starting with “I am for an art …” and includes such gems as: “I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.” or “I am for the white art of refrigerators and their muscular openings and closings.”.

Julian Rosefeldt Manifesto, 2014/2015  ©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016    Cate Blanchett as newsreader enacting Conceptual Art ©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016

All 10-minutes-long videos in the exhibition work according to the same principle: the art manifesto collages are delivered as monologues by Blanchett at first in voice-over introducing the scene, then in filmed action and at its climax as speech to camera. Shown in parallel and installed without spatial division, the monologues interfere with one another, and the visitor is always confronted with more than one narration. While watching Blanchett in the role of a primary school teacher softly correcting her pupils quoting Jim Jarmusch: “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”, one can at the same time hear her in the role of an eccentric choreographer slamming the rehearsal of a dance ensemble with the words of Yvonne Rainer, “No to style. No to camp. No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.” From somewhere else the sound of a brass band appears, introducing the funeral scene in which Blanchett is holding a eulogy consisting of a collage of several Dada manifestos. Sounds and voices overlap and compete for attention until a point in each video when all characters in sync turn towards the camera falling into a chorus-like liturgical chant, filling the dark gallery space with a polyphony – or cacophony – of interfering monologues. It is an impressive experience, but simultaneously the installing method makes it very hard to concentrate on words and ideas expressed in the manifestos.

In general, the exhibition and each of the videos are aesthetically pleasing and entertaining to watch, which is  equally due to the scenography with its amusing artifices, the strong selection of text passages as well as its  its star power. Rosefeldt´s opulent, multi-layered and choreographed installation blurs the lines between narrative film and visual art. Commissioned by a unique group of partners that include the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Hamburger Bahnhof and Hanover `s Sprengel Museum, “Manifesto” is in no way inferior to most cinematic productions made in Hollywood. But here´s the problem: Although Rosefeldt claims in his intro text and again in the video interview accompanying the exhibition online, that he wanted to emphasize and celebrate the literary beauty and poetry of artist manifestos, the texts are outshined by the cinematic staging of actress, setting and  choreography of space. The attention of the viewer is drawn to speaker and theatrical performance, instead of focusing on the poetics and messages contained in each one of the thirteen art manifesto texts.

Another stylistic element that Rosefeldt uses attempting to highlight the manifesto texts is creating  tension between text and image. Most of the settings and characters in “Manifesto” deliberately break with the performed text, which can for example be witnessed in the scene of the conservative mother reciting Oldenburg. Both were conceived by Rosefeldt to intensify the contrast between the rebellious rhetoric, idealism and radical notions of the manifesto form and the realities of today´s world. This does not work out at all times, sometimes the performances seem so exaggerated that they tip over and border on the ridiculous, the staging turns into travesty. It reinforces the impression that the exhibition is not in the first place about the texts, their content and reflective presentation, but rather aimed at the maximum achievable effect. But Rosefeldt succeeds in his intention to show how surprisingly current the demands of some of the manifestos presented are, most of them written in the 20th century. A century which was defined by historian Eric Hobsbawm as the short century and “The Age of Extremes” which saw the disastrous failures of state communism, capitalism, and nationalism. The world has more or less continued to be one of violent politics and violent political changes, and as Hobsbawm writes most certainly will continue like that.

Julian Rosefeldt Manifesto, 2014/2015  ©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016    Cate Blanchett as homeless man in Julian Rosefeldt`s “Manifesto”  ©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016

So it is no wonder that the manifesto, also serving as a signal of crisis, is experiencing a revival. With the internet as an easy means of dissemination, the manifesto form has been revisited by a great number of single artists and artist activist groups, it spread out in every niches of the art world, and was adapted by academia and beyond. So when Rosefeldt in his statements nostalgically praises texts from the “Age of Manifestos” and states that he misses this thoughts focus in today´s discourses, one cannot but wonder if he missed the current debates sparked by texts like the “#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics”, “The Coming Insurrection” by the anonymous Invisible Committee, “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation” authored by Laboria Cuboniks collective or texts by individual artists like Hito Steyerl which became important points of reference.

Rosefeldt´s selection of manifesto texts seems random and inconsistent with his expressed intentions: Why was the manifesto of the Communist party included in an assortment of art manifestos? Or why were Jim Jarmusch`s “Golden Rules of Filmmaking” from 2002 and Sturtevant`s ”Man is Double Man is Copy Man is Clone” from 2004 chosen in a selection concentrating on 20st century texts? Instead of concentrating on canonic art movements and a few single artists, it would been more convincing to reflect how the art field since then has been trying to re-position itself within the shifting boundaries of activism, technology and aesthetics. With a subjective selection of simply “the most fascinating, and also the most recitable” texts, “Manifesto” is caught up in an acritical nostalgia to the disadvantage of coherence and focuses rather on text as performance as on persuasive messages and reflection.

As Mary Ann Caws in her anthology “Manifesto: A Century of Isms” states, the manifesto is “a document of an ideology, crafted to convince and convert”. Naturally, there also is some discomfort with or even suspicion of the manifesto form. The obvious example being the Futurists, who in their manifesto glorified speed, machinery and war. Their text largely influenced the ideology of fascism which they supported in the run up to World War II. In the exhibition, the macho-male tone of the Futurist manifestos fittingly and amusingly is performed by Cate Blanchett in the role of a female stockbroker. Rosenfeldt met Marinetti`s dream of an engineered society showing us the violent creator and destroyer financial capitalism.

 

Exhibition Info:
Julian Rosefeldt. Manifesto
Curated by Anna-Catharina Gebbers & Udo Kittelmann
10.02.2016 to 10.07.2016
Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin
http://www.smb.museum/en/museums-institutions/hamburger-bahnhof/exhibitions/detail/julian-rosefeldt-manifesto.html


The Critical Atlas of the Internet – An interview with Louise Drulhe

The Critical Atlas of the Internet, Louise Drulhe’s latest project, is a virtual and physical exploration of the Internet space. The implications of our physical actions in ‘real-time’ are not only timeless in ‘cyberspace’, but also constitute for the making of an obscure Internet architecture every time we browse the web. The Atlas itself, functions as an enveloping notebook of Drulhe’s discerning methodology in desiring to represent the geography and architecture of the ‘unseen’ Internet territory. Initially a graphic designer, Drulhe’s practice has meticulously evolved into including cyber-spatial analysis. She yearns to understand the sociological, political and economical issues that appear online, or are exasperated by an online presence – ‘a territory we spend time in without knowing its shape’. The Critical Atlas of the Internet, by being parted between fifteen different hypotheses, sheds light on matters such as the monopolisation of non-physical spaces, the possibility of encumbered networks and the potential forms of the Internet.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Drulhe, where she clarified certain distinctive matters that arise from reading or looking at the virtual form of the Atlas, online.

CS: In 2014, Google measured 200TB of data that they claim to be just an estimated 0.004% of the total vastness of the Internet. Initially, the Atlas perceives the Internet through a number of geometric shapes such as cones and spheres. Is this your approach to establishing that the Internet is an infinite space of shared connections and motion? If this is the case, do you therefore believe it is immeasurable?

LD: I will probably get back to you with a better answer to this question in a few months… I am starting an art residency in Paris at La Paillasse and I am going to study the question: “can we measure Internet?”. I am curious to see what the best way to represent Internet is: to count the data or to measure the borders. I haven’t started this research yet, but I will look for the best unit of measure to calculate the dimensions of Internet territory: meters? litres? percentages? data traffic? I wonder how to define the “size” of a website. If we look at Google.com, it’s only one webpage, so does this mean that Google is smaller than a regular shopping website that might have thousands of pages?

With the fourth hypothesis of the Atlas, “The Geographic Relief of the Internet”, I tried to represent the «size» of Internet platforms and their size is actually based on the concentration of the activities they host. The giants of the Internet try to saturate and incorporate as much territory as possible. Google (now called Alphabet) possesses Chrome, Gmail, Android, Google +, YouTube, Blogger, Google Map / Earth / Street view, Cloud, Nest, Google X… to cite but a few. Internet’s giants are almost raging an online war to monopolize most of the Internet territory. I think that the next virgin land to conquer is the Internet of Things. The map of this 4th hypothesis is based on a ranking by Alexa Top 500 Global Sites. What I would like to do next, is to measure this representation.

CS: Extrapolating from your claim that the Internet is a single point at the centre of the globe, what would the repercussions if that space were to be encumbered? Can a network not be encumbered?

LD: It’s true, a reticular space cannot be encumbered, I guess. Facebook.com, for instance, is getting more and more popular but the site works perfectly; you don’t feel any crowded situations on Facebook. If Facebook were a physical public square and 1 billion people met there one day, the situation would be really problematic. On Facebook you never see the crowd.

In the Atlas, I quote Boris Beaude on this idea “The growth of reticular networks, unlike that of cities, increases their interaction potential without boosting their internal distances. Regardless of the network size, the distance between its respective parts is potentially non-existent. Facebook can host 800 million people without affecting its interaction capacity.”[1] This is what he calls “reticular coalescence”.

[1] Boris Beaude, Internet : “Changer l’espace, changer la société“. 2012.

CS: You build your thesis on the hypothesis that Internet space does not require distance; that each component is of equal distance to each other, otherwise, one-click away. Whilst this grants no special status to any single person’s ‘search’ to being more important or unimportant, aren’t these ‘search results’ always altered depending on the search engine? For example, untracked browsers such as Tor or extensions on Chrome such as ‘Hola’ have the capability to displace a user from their current location and thus materialising a different order by which results appear to us.

LD: I wrote that the search engines “control Internet architecture” and “distribute the space” and because almost everyone uses Google, then we can assume that Google is the one that controls Internet space. So if you use another search engine, like “DuckDuckGo” for instance, you will access the web through a different architecture. But “Tor” and “Hola” are not search engines. “Tor” is a network that enables anonymous communication and “Hola” is a VPN.

By using a VPN, you can bypass censorship. The VPN, by changing your localisation, will give you access to another web. There are as many Internets as there are legislations. This idea is represented in the hypothesis, “A Global Object Projected at the Local Level”. Internet is global but we use a national projection of the global network. If you are in China, with a VPN you will be able to browse the Romanian web for instance and you will have access to websites censored by the Chinese government. VPNs also enable anonymity but that’s another aspect of it.


CS: Another one of your hypothesis places us (the users) at the centre of the Internet, therefore constructing the space around us as we move through it. Indeed, the Internet meets our individual needs, would you therefore account it more as a product – the world’s only flawless consumer good?

LD: Here, I would like to draw your attention to another aspect of my research. If we look at Internet as a consumer good, then it’s probably the first that actually turned consumers themselves into products! Jason Fitzpatrick, in rephrasing one of Mike Edgan statements, says “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”. The personal data that are generated through users’ browsing are the new “petrol” of the oncoming economy. And in this particular economy, we won’t be the consumer anymore!

CS: In early forms of the Internet, ‘cyberspaces’ were decentralised. Now, as the Atlas conveys, data is concentrated within the hands of a few ‘heavy players’, illustrated as ‘network nodes’ of various weights burying themselves within the Internet’s surface. Seeing as most of the ‘network nodes’ come from the west, would you consider the Internet to possess a particular Westphalian sovereignty?

LD: The centre of gravity of the Internet is clearly the west, but not, in my opinion, the west as a whole. The US has a dominant position for multiple reasons that I detailed in the Atlas. The Internet’s centre of gravity is defined as “the weight, concentrated solely at one focal point, instead of being distributed over several different points”, a focal point which is undeniably Silicon Valley.

CS: I’d like to ask you about the visual representation of your online Atlas. In particular, about the rigid protrusions of space you used to convey the ‘splinternet’ and the humorous intrusions of Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders among other seemingly unplanned objects such as fried eggs. Could you comment?

LD: We often imagine the Internet as a single Cloud and a unified territory, but this is wrong. There are multiple limits or frontiers that exist online. Some of them are really clear, like the Great Firewall of China: the wall of censorship that divides the Chinese Internet from the rest of the Internet. Another obvious frontier is the limit between the deep web and the surface web. But the frontiers that interested me most were the ones that nobody seems to pay attention to. The limits defined by private networks, such as Facebook. People who have a Facebook profile never see the frontier because there are always logged in. But when you do not have the password, then Facebook is closed, even if some pages are left open to attract you. Their goal is to make you join the private network.

CS: And the unsystematic quirks?

LD: Each time the website loads, the images are automatically taken from the emblematic forum “Reddit” which is defined as being « the front page of the Internet ». Those images work as timestamps in the Atlas; you can find them at the 4 corners of the website but also on the books. The Internet is a perpetually changing space, constantly evolving. It was important for me to bring a timestamp to my Atlas. In addition, these images are symbols of the Internet culture; the Internet meme: viral images spreading through the web and overflowing onto my Atlas.

CS: I’d like to address your citing of Introduction: Rhizome by Guattari and Deleuze. They claim that ‘a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be’ and therefore does not follow the same arborescent structure of a book, or tree. However, as mentioned before, there are arborescent nodes within the Internet itself – the ‘heavy players’. Do you believe this may distract multiplicity or enhance the creation of territories within the Internet? Would you also support that in the case of a rupture, where a rhizome breaks or one of the arborescent nodes fall apart, another node responds to replace as if it was always as such?

LD: Yes, that’s a good comparison. I believe that the heavy players saturate and erode Internet space. This idea is supported by the fact that each company creates a personalized arborescence that is really difficult to connect to, by developing its own patterns or ecosystems; like the arborescence of a tree. In this idea they are breaking with the original shape of the network and its interoperability.

About the rupture, actually, I am not sure. I think if a node disappears on the network it will not necessarily be replaced by another node. If a web page goes offline and at the same time a Facebook page has just been created, the new node (from Facebook) does not take its place. The new node is actually created within the Facebook network. And to refer to my hypothesis about the geographic relief of the Internet, the node opens on the slope of a dominant gap.

CS: As a final point, there’s a particular passage from Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation which I find can be quite relative when considering the structure of the Internet:

“Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map.”

How would you interpret this if we took into consideration Internet territories?

LD: Most people do not consider Internet as a territory. This idea of cyberspace is a bit old fashioned. But, I think it is still pertinent today to study Internet as a real space.

The way we access representations of the Earth today is really magical. Google provides easy access to an extremely precise representation of the Earth through satellite images and maps… But for the territory of Internet, it’s the opposite. Even if there are a few maps of the Internet, there are no basic tools to map the web. The territory still precedes the map. I would love to see what a Google street view of the Internet looks like!

internet-atlas.net


Gerald Raunig. Dividuum. Book Review

Gerald Raunig’s book on the concept and the genealogy of “dividuum” is a learned tour de force about what is supposed to be replacing the individual, if the latter is going to “break down” – as Raunig suggests. The dividuum is presented as a concept with roots in Epicurean and Platonic philosophy that has been most controversially disputed in medieval philosophy and achieves new relevance in our days, i.e. the era of machinic capitalism.

The word dividuum appears for the first time in a comedy by Plautus from the year 211 BC . “Dividuom facere” is Ancient Latin for making something divisible that has not been able to be divided before. This is at the core of dividuality that is presented here as a counter-concept to individuality.

Raunig introduces the notion of dividuality by presenting a section of the comedy “Rudens” by Plautus. The free citizen Daemones is faced with a problem: His slave Gripus pulls a treasure from the sea that belongs to the slave-holder Labrax and demands his share. Technically the treasure belongs to the slave-holder, and not to the slave. Yet, in terms of pragmatic reasoning there would have been no treasure if the slave hadn’t pulled it from the sea and declared it as found to his master. Daemones comes up with a solution that he calls “dividuom facere”. He assigns half of the money to Labrax, who is technically the owner, if he sets free Ampelisca, a female slave whom Gripus loves.  The other half of the treasure is assigned to Gripus for buying himself out of slavery. This will allow Gripus to marry Ampelisca and it will also benefit the patriarch’s wealth. Raunig points out that Daemones transfers formerly indivisible rights and statuses – that of the finder and that of the owner – into a multiple assignment of findership and ownership.

We will later in the book see how Raunig sees this magic trick being reproduced in contemporary society, when we turn or are turned into producer/consumers, photographers/photographed, players/instruments, surveyors/surveyed under the guiding imperative of “free/ voluntary obedience [freiwilliger Gehorsam]”.

The reader need not be scared by text sections in Ancient Greek, Ancient Latin, Modern Latin or Middle High German, as Raunig provides with translations. The translator Aileen Derieg must be praised for having undertaken this difficult task once more for the English language version of the book. It can however be questioned whether issues of proper or improper translation of Greek terms into Latin in Cicero’s writings in the first century BC should be discussed in the context of this book. This seems to be a matter for an old philology publication, rather than for a Semiotext(e) issue.

It is, however, interesting to see how Raunig’s genealogy of the dividuum portraits scholastic quarrels as philosophic background for the development of the dividuum. With the trinity of God, Son of God and the Holy Spirit the Christian dogma faced a problem of explaining how a trinity and a simultaneous unity of God could be implemented in a plausible and consistent fashion. Attempts to speak of the three personae (masks) of God or to propose that father, son and spirit were just three modes (modalism) of the one god led to accusations of heresy. Gilbert de Poitiers’ “rationes” were methodological constructions that claimed at least two different approaches to reasoning: One in the realm of the godly and the other in the creaturely realm. Unity and plurality could in this way be detected in the former and the latter realm respectively without contradicting each other. Gilbert arrives at a point where he concludes that “diversity and conformity are not to be seen as mutually exclusive, but rather as mutually conditional.” Dissimilarity is a property of the individual that forms a whole in space and time. The dividual, however, is characterized by similarity, or in Gilbert de Poitiers’ words: co-formity. “Co-formity means that parts that share their form with others assemblage along the dividual line. Dividuality emerges as assemblage of co-formity to form-multiplicity. The dividual type of singularity runs through various single things according to their similar properties. … This co-formity, multi-formity constitutes the dividual parts as unum dividuum.”

In contemporary society the one that can be divided, unum dividuum, can be found in “samples, data, markets, or ‘banks’”. Developing his argument in the footsteps of Gilles Deleuze, Gerald Raunig critically analyses Quantified Self, Life-Logging, purchases from Amazon, film recommendations from Netflix, Big Data and Facebook. “Facebook needs the self-division of individual users just as intelligence agencies continue to retain individual identities. Big Data on the other hand, is less interested in individuals and just as little interested in a totalization of data, but all the more so in data sets that are freely floating and as detailed as possible, which it can individually traverse.” In the beginning “Google & Co. tailor search results individually (geographical position, language, individual search history, personal profile, etc.” The qualitative leap from individual data to dividual data happens when the ”massive transition to machinic recommendation [happens], which save the customer the trouble of engaging in a relatively undetermined search process.” With this new form of searching the target of my search request is generated by my search history and by an opaque layer of preformatted selection criteria. The formerly individual subject of the search process turns into a dividuum that is asking for data and providing data, that is replying to the subject’s own questions and becomes interrogator and responder in one. This is where Gilbert de Poitiers’ unum dividuum reappers in the disguise of contemporary techno-rationality.

Raunig succeeds in creating a bridge from ancient and medieval texts to contemporary technologies and application areas. He discusses Arjun Appadurai’s theory of the “predatory dividualism”, speculates about Lev Sergeyevich Termen’s dividual machine from the 1920s that created a player that is played by technology, and theorizes on “dividual law” as observed in Hugo Chávez’ presidency or the Ecuadorian “Constituyente” from 2007. The reviewer mentions these few selected fields of Raunig’s research to show that his book is not far from an attempt to explain the whole world seamlessly from 210 BC to now, and one can’t help feeling overwhelmed by the text.

For some readers Raunig’s manneristic style of writing might be over the top, when he calls the paragraphs of his book “ritornelli”, when he introduces a chapter in the middle of his arguments that just lists people whom he wants to thank, or when he poetically goes beyond comprehensiveness and engages with grammatical extravaganzas in sentences like this one: “[: Crossing right through space, through time, through becoming and past. Eternal queer return. An eighty-thousand or roughly 368-old being traversing multiple individuals.”

It is obvious that Gerald Raunig owes the authors of the Anti-Œdipe stylistic inspirations, theoretical background and a terminological basis, when he talks of the molecular revolutions, desiring machines, the dividuum, deterritorialization, machinic subservience and lines of flight. He manages to contextualise a concept that has historic weight and current relevance within a wide field of cultural phenomena, philosophical positions, technological innovation and political problems. A great book.

Dividuum
Machinic Capitalism and Molecular Revolution
By Gerald Raunig
Translated by Aileen Derieg
Semiotext(e) / MIT Press
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/dividuum