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The blockchain is widely heralded as the new internet – another dimension in an ever-faster, ever-more powerful interlocking of ideas, actions and values. Principally the blockchain is a ledger distributed across a large array of machines that enables digital ownership and exchange without a central administering body. Within the arts it has profound implications as both a means of organising and distributing material, and as a new subject and medium for artistic exploration.
This landmark publication brings together a diverse array of artists and researchers engaged with the blockchain, unpacking, critiquing and marking the arrival of it on the cultural landscape for a broad readership across the arts and humanities.
Contributors: César Escudero Andaluz, Jaya Klara Brekke, Theodoros Chiotis, Ami Clarke, Simon Denny, The Design Informatics Research Centre (Edinburgh), Max Dovey, Mat Dryhurst, Primavera De Filippi, Peter Gomes, Elias Haase, Juhee Hahm, Max Hampshire, Kimberley ter Heerdt, Holly Herndon, Helen Kaplinsky, Paul Kolling, Elli Kuru , Nikki Loef, Bjørn Magnhildøen, Rob Myers, Martín Nadal, Rachel O Dwyer, Edward Picot, Paul Seidler, Hito Steyerl, Surfatial, Lina Theodorou, Pablo Velasco, Ben Vickers, Mark Waugh, Cecilia Wee, and Martin Zeilinger.
The productive alliance between instruments of computing techne and artistic endeavour is certainly not new. This turbulent relationship is generally charted across an accelerating process outwards, gathering traction from a sparse emergence in the 1960s. Along the way, the union of art and technology has absorbed a variety of nomenclatures and classifiers: the observer encounters a peppering of computer art, new media, Net.art, uttered by voices careening between disparagement, foretelling bleak dystopian dreams, or overflowing with whimsical idealism. Once reserved for specialist applications in engineering and scientific fields, computing hardware has infiltrated the personal domain.Today’s technology can no longer be fully addressed through purely permutational or systematic artworks, exemplified in 60’s era Conceptualism. The ubiquity of devices in daily life is now both representative and instrumental to our changing cultural interface. Technologies of computing, networks and virtuality provide extension to our faculties of sense, allowing us phenomenal agency in communication and representation. As such, their widespread use demands new artistic perspectives more relentlessly than ever.
I, and no doubt many other academic observers, watched the Pokemon Go augmented reality (AR) game erupt into a veritable social phenomenon this year. The rapid global uptake and infiltration of AR in gaming stands in contrast to new media arts, still subject to a dragging refractory period of acceptance and canonization. Perhaps this is emblematic of a conservative art world that persistently recalls an ebullient history of computer art practices. In this lineage, many a nascent techno-artistic breach has been accused of deliberate obfuscation, of cloaked agendas under foreign (‘non-art’) orchestrations. The seductive perceptual forms elicited through augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and immersive reality (IR) devices can be construed as mere spectacle, vulnerable to this type of critique. “Google Daydream” and “HoloLens” chime with a poetic futurism; cynics might instead see ready-to-wear seraphs veiling the juggernauts of Silicon Valley. However, the current groundswell in altered reality discourse may signal a divergence from such skepticism. One recent exemplar is Weird Reality, an altered reality conference that aimed “…to showcase independent and emerging voices, creative approaches, diverse and oftentimes marginalized perspectives, and imaginative and critical positions…. that depart from typical tech fantasies and other normative, corporate media.” This is representative of the expanding, international trend towards artistic absorption of new media and technologies. It is a turn that emphasizes the potential for cultural impact, experimental daring, and even conjures the spectre of the avant-garde: radical transformation.
One of my PhD supervisors wisely admitted “…to stand out, the human artist must be more creative, diversified and willing to take aesthetic and intellectual risks. They can and must know the field they are creating in practically and philosophically, and confidence in their position and contribution to it is essential.” Through this earnest lens, artistic production can serve as a conduit for ideas ranging from the speculative to the revelatory. In these divinations, we might trace a path through the sprawl of new media discourses, and find ourselves somewhere unexpectedly revitalizing. I hope to mark out some of this territory from a position of mediation. I want to invite art and art theory into an arena of uninhibited collusion, using critical writing to facilitate the exchange between digital media theorists and artistic practitioners in the most open sense. Furtherfield.org offers an allied platform for the aims of the Theory, Meet Artist  project, articulated here in an interview dialogue.
Originally published in The Fibreculture Journal, Edwina Bartlem’s 2005 article Reshaping Spectatorship: Immersive and Distributed Aesthetics proposes that immersive artwork practices have transformative potential. Across a range of modalities, these works can influence perceptions of ourselves and our extended digital presence in a variety of scenarios and configurations. Whilst participating in such practices, we are prompted to consider IR encounters as form of mediation around our human embodiment, subjective identities and cultural interactions. Bartlem touches on ideas of prosthesis and sensorial augmentation within these immersive experiences. Creation of a synthetic environment is posited as an opportunity for deepened self-reflexivity and awareness. In parallel, a spectrum of narratives around the technologically adapted ‘post-human’ emerge. Their tone and reception hinges upon the artist’s individual performance in roles such as programmer, director, composer or overseer to such works.
Rachel Feery is an Australian artist interested in the intersection of visual art, soundscapes, video projection, experiential installations and technology. Her artistic practice explores alternate realms, the meditative headspace, ethereal imagery and immersive environments. For this interview, Bartlem’s paper is positioned alongside and in dialogue with Feery’s work, Clearing the Cloud.
Clearing the Cloud is described by the artist as “… a multi-sensory work inviting pairs to cloak-up, complete a circuit, and experience simultaneous mapped projections visible through a hooded veil. The artwork aesthetic draws from esoteric sciences and holistic health practices. The environment is intimate, quiet much like a room where one would go to receive therapeutic treatment.
Two participants at a time are invited to cloak up, remove their shoes, and step onto sensors on the ground to generate a circuit of light and sound. Starting with a ‘personalised scan’ followed by a projection of light and sound, all visible and audible within the suit itself, the individuals can either interact with each other or be still and silent. The robe, constructed of a semi-translucent, lightweight fabric with a soft skin-like texture acts as a supplementary skin. One’s field of vision is slightly inhibited by a lightweight mesh that both creates a screen-vision as well as the ability to see through it.”
Jess Williams: I first came into contact with your practice during your talk for Media Lab Melbourne in September this year. You chronicled your process, influences, past works and brought us to Clearing the Cloud. I was struck by the experiential intimacy of the project, and the immersive qualities that you deployed though staging it. In her paper, Bartlem suggests that participants in immersive practices cannot be immersed without being affected by the environment on perceptual, sensory, psychological and emotional levels. What kind of sensorium did you want to create for Clearing the Cloud, and did you contemplate the possibility of this type of affective influence on your participants?
Rachel Feery: In one sense, the project came about while I was thinking about art as therapy, and thinking about technology that has the potential to create a meditative space. The site of the exhibition, Neon Parlour, was previously a centre for healing and meditation. I wanted to create an intimate room that would reflect the building’s history. Speaking of the sensorium, I was drawing from esoteric sciences, looking at auras, and Reiki practices whereby chakras are ‘cleared’. This is all reflected in the visual and environmental elements of the work, but ritual aspect is key. It’s important for participants to enter the artwork through the process of putting the garment on. The ritual is something you have to experience with someone else, and there’s a synchronicity between the people who participate. If either person takes their feet off the sensors, the ‘therapy’ is reset. It becomes apparent that there’s a level of commitment to it, that there’s a trust involved. If one person backs out, the interaction stops and resets.Clearing the Cloud ultimately asks participants to commit and experience the work together. Some participants responded that they felt lighter, and that time had passed out of sync with the seven minutes that had passed in reality. I thought this was an interesting reaction when nowadays, our attention spans are said to be dwindling. I feel there’s something significant in a lot of those esoteric sciences.
JW: Bartlem maintains that immersive art offers more than pure escapism into a constructed simulacra. These types of artworks can also elicit a type of self-awareness or meditation on perception and one’s own agency in the prescribed environment. I’ve noticed a strong tendency to consider transcendence, or the superhuman, in many futurist discourses around technologies that interface with the human body. This spans augmented reality, virtual environments and may well capture less conspicuous (yet ubiquitous) examples, such as fitness metrics or geolocation of the self through GPS. How do you position narratives of extending or ‘hacking’ embodiment within your own work?
RF: There’s an aspect of being both physically present and also outside of yourself whilst engaged in Clearing the Cloud. As a participant, you find yourself looking through a meshed veil that’s being projected on, and if you adjust your focus, you can see coloured projections on the other participant. This dual, simultaneous vision got me thinking about the ways that newer technologies such as AR and VR can affect what we see and the way that we see. Essentially, those applications allow you to see an environment with a filter over it. You have the sense during the ‘clearing therapy’ of an outer body experience, which is something that certain types of meditation aspire to. Escapism can imply you’re ignoring what’s happening in the outside world and going inside yourself, or elsewhere. But technology is blurring these boundaries, becoming increasingly intertwined in everyday activities, both personal and shared. You’re not really escaping if there’s an application present to assist with something, provide new information, or an augmented experience. In that sense, I would agree that it’s not pure escapism. You’re in two places at once. I would say that the word escapism has darker implications, such as detachment and avoidance of reality over a virtual space. Meditation, however, is affiliated with deeper understanding of oneself, and acceptance and appreciation of both worlds. As technology gets more advanced, I think it will have the ability to do both.
I like the idea that two people willingly participate in this scan and projection without question. I feel it relates to this influx of new technology applications that are free and that everyone’s willing to try. On the darker side, I wonder about the consequences of giving away information- effectively, parts of yourself- to participate in the unknown. I also like the idea that Clearing the Cloud is presented as a holistic therapy, a gesture of removing the build-up of accumulated information, or as protection from the data mining we’re exposed to through technological interfacing. We’re made vulnerable to hacking, but in a sense it’s not really hacking anymore, it’s just collecting what we’ve been giving. There’s such a rush to use new applications and technologies but everything is untested. Essentially people become trial subjects through their willing self-disclosure.
JW: You mentioned David Cronenberg’s 1999 film eXistenZ as a formative influence in your creative development. Underpinning the science fiction and horror themes, a specific abject revulsion is reserved in this film for prosthetic extension and modification to the human body. Could the veils (with their accompanying perceptual experiences) used in Clearing the Cloud be viewed as a form of sensory prosthesis?
RF: I would say I was more interested in the idea of accessorising tech, rather than prosthetics. I am drawn to the way that Cronenberg’s characters leave their physical body and enter another state, but again, this is quite geared towards escapism. Using the veils arose through researching a mix of religious and medical robes, futuristic fashion and science-fiction inspired fashion. They all seemed to be white. There’s also a relationship with the cloak to other forms of wearable technology. I’m interested in this – in Google Glass, VR headsets, and related items – as both a current fashion trend and also as a subtle way that technology encroaches on our day to day lives, present as we move through and see our worlds. While I perceive the cloak itself is not so much of a prosthesis, there are certain physical qualities of the material that feel both organic and synthetic. They’re made of a foggy, PVC translucent plastic: when worn, this fabric feels like a skin. The backwards-oriented hood also functions as a way to obscure the face, and presents a form of anonymity that is ultimately within the concept of ‘being cleared’ and ‘regaining yourself.’ There are other associations too: of a uniform, of being part of a community that has been cleared, or erased.
JW: Typically, when audiences are presented with new media or computer mediated artworks, they have limited access to the operational interior of the encounter. Whilst it can be argued that more traditional media or installation works also don’t completely disclose their construction or authorship, new media practices seem subject to increased scrutiny and distrust around how- and to what end- they operate. In her paper, Bartlem proposes that instead of masking the presence of technology and interface, immersive artworks tend to overtly emphasize the synthetic artifice of the experience. In regards to revealing the hierarchies of control implicit in executing works like Clearing the Cloud, how much do you wish the audience to have a certain ‘privilege of access’? For example, do you consider it necessary to directly reference programming script, hardware circuitry, or technologies of surveillance?
RF: The actual technology used in the exhibition was not necessarily about aesthetics. Hardware and devices, such as projectors and Raspberry Pis, were not elements that I wanted audience attention drawn to. Moreover, I think if you give spectators interior access, it can take away the simplicity of the art experience. The most that I would give away would be the materials visible or listed in the artwork. I actually tried my best to mask the technology, hiding cords and mounting the projectors up high to make it feel innocuous and to minimise its physical presence. Once people can identify familiar tech, there is an immediate undermining of mystical impact. For this artwork, I worked with artist and technologist Pierre Proske to write a code that triggers the projection once the sensor pads are activated. The hardware elements are present, but they’re definitely not the focus. Rather, it’s the experience itself, the meditative space created that participants are made most aware of. I think that’s why auras, and energy healing, are so fascinating: they rely on people’s ability to embrace and believe in the healing process, which in turn requires any distractions or doubts to be removed- or at least obscured. Obsfucation was deliberately built into the back-to-front hoods used in Clearing the Cloud. Restriction of the visual frame of reference was intended to encourage immersion in the experience.
JW: As we’ve discussed, the eponymous gesture of “clearing the cloud” reads as recuperative, meditative, and somewhat subversive towards strategic or commercial use of new technologies. This is a position that Bartlem suspects is endemic within artistic instrumentalisation of these types of media. Do you feel a sense of alignment with a more radical manifesto in new media practice?
RF: A lot of my ideas draw from or relate to concepts that have been proposed in science-fiction films… science-fiction is radical. Sci-fi extrapolates the current social, political or technological trends, or explores alternate models. Clearing the Cloud also proposes a need for something that hasn’t quite been quantified, a therapy to restore and protect from encounters with technology. Clouds traditionally connote lightness, and formlessness, but today they weigh heavily on us in a digital data context. We carry more and more information, and give more and more of ourselves. We’re now clouded by our metadata trails, and it’s radical to think that a therapy can address this, and return us to a state of clarity, in a literal and metaphysical sense.
JW: After your talk, I asked you a question around whether Clearing the Cloud‘s artistic narrative could function beyond a ‘closed-circuit’ proposition. Whilst Bartlem scopes immersive and telepresent practices in her paper, she doesn’t directly address works that hybridise the two concepts. She frames telepresent artworks as those that link participants from distant locations, precipitating notions of networks and a multi-user participation within art. How would a multiplicity of network relations impact on a scenario like that you have staged in Clearing the Cloud?
RF: An excellent question, and very relevant to the nature of the work. The participant’s experience centres on a propositional ‘defrag’ of their personal hard-drives, regaining clarity, allowing independent thought free from the prison of past browsing histories and metadata maps. Those in a networked community also benefit from this speculative process: the more persons ‘cleared’, the stronger the authentic connections would be. If you were to be ‘cleared’, and your online history erased, the persons closest to you would also need to be erased in order to completely eliminate any trace of you. It’s like a chain reaction. Although only two people might be scanned at a time, for a complete ‘clearing’ you would need the eventual interfacing of everyone you’ve ever come into contact with. Ideas around utopias were intrinsic to the development of Clearing the Cloud. In one view of the work, those people who have been ‘cleared’ became part of a separate, even sanctified community. This meditation was idealistic, borne of the desire to find a way to protect our identities and those of our networks when they are potentially threatened or compromised by interactions with technology.
Clearing the Cloud was originally exhibited in 2016 as part of This Place, That Place, No Place curated by Irina Asriian (Chukcha in Exile) at Neon Parlour, Melbourne, Australia.
J. R. Carpenter reviews A Geology of Media, the third, final part of the media ecology-trilogy. It started with Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (2007) and continued with Insect Media (2010). It focuses beyond machines and technologies onto the chemistry and geological materials of media, from metals to dust.
Humans are a doubly young species — we haven’t been around for long, and we don’t live for long either. We retain a fleeting, animal sense of time. We think in terms of generations – a few before us, a few after. Beyond that… we can postulate, we can speculate, we can carbon date, but our intellectual understanding of the great age of the earth remains at odds with our sensory perception of the passage of days, seasons, and lifetimes.
The phrase ‘deep time’ was popularised by the American author John McPhee in the early 1980s. McPhee posits that we as a species may not yet have had time to evolve a conception of the abyssal eons before us: “Primordial inhibition may stand in the way. On the geologic time scale, a human lifetime is reduced to a brevity that is too inhibiting to think about. The mind blocks the information”1. Enter the creationists and climate change deniers, stage right. On 28 May 2015 the Washington Post reported that a self-professed creationist from Calgary found a 60,000-million-year-old fossil, which did nothing to dissuade him of his religious beliefs: “There’s no dates stamped on these things,” he told the local paper.2
In the late 15th-century, Leonardo Da Vinci observed fossils of shells and bones of fish embedded high in the Alps and privately mused in his notebooks that the theologians may have got their maths wrong. The notion that the earth was not mere thousands but rather many millions of years old was first put forward publicly by the Scottish physician turned natural scientist James Hutton in Theory of the Earth, a presentation made to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1785 and published ten years later in two massive volumes3. It is critical to note that among Hutton’s closest confidants during the formulation of this work were Joseph Black, the chemist widely regarded as the discoverer of carbon dioxide, and the engineer James Watt, whose improvements to the steam engine hastened the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. Geology emerged as a discipline on the eve of a period of such massive social, scientific, economic, political, and environmental change that it precipitated what many modern geologists, ecologists, and prominent media theorists are now categorising as a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. As Nathan Jones recently wrote for Furtherfield: “The Anthropocene… refers to a catastrophic situation resulting from the actions of a patriarchal Western society, and the effects of masculine dominance and aggression on a global scale.”4
In his latest book, A Geology of Media (2015)5, Finnish media theorist Jussi Parikka turns to geology as a heuristic and highly interdisciplinary mode of thinking and doing through which to address the complex continuum between biology and technology presented by the Anthropocene. Or the Anthrobscene, as Parikka blithely quips. In putting forward geology as a methodology, a conceptual trajectory, a creative intervention, and an interrogation of the non-human, Parikka argues for a more literal understanding of ‘deep time’ in geological, mineralogical, chemical, and ecological terms. Whilst acknowledging the usefulness of the concepts of anarachaeology and varientology put forward by Siefried Zielinski in Deep Time of the Media (2008)6, Parikka calls for an even deeper time of the media — deeper in time and in deeper into the earth.
In Theory of the Earth, Hutton referred to the earth as a machine. He argued: “To acquire a general or comprehensive view of this mechanism of the globe… it is necessary to distinguish three different bodies which compose the whole. These are, a solid body of earth, an aqueous body of sea, and an elastic fluid of air.”13 Of the machine-focused German media theorists, Parikka demands – what is being left out? “What other modes of materiality deserve our attention?”7 Parikka proposes the term ‘medianatures’ — a variation on Donna Haraway’s ‘naturecultures’8 — as a term through which to address the entangled spheres and sets of practices which constitute both media and nature. Further, Parikka reintroduces aspects of Marxist materialism to Friedrich Kittler’s media materialist agenda, relentlessly re-framing the production, consumption, and disposal of hardware in environmental, political, and economic contexts, and raising critical social questions of energy consumption, labour exploitation, pollution, illness, and waste.
Drawing upon Deleuze and Guattari’s formulation of a ‘geology of morals’9, Parikka writes: “Media history conflates with earth history; the geological materials of metals and chemicals get deterritorialized from their strata and reterritorialized in machines that define our technical media culture”10. Within this geologically inflected materialism, a history of media is also a history of the social and environmental impact of the mining, selling, and consuming of coal, oil, copper, and aluminium. A history of media is also a history of research, design, fabrication, and the discovery of chemical processes and properties such as the use of gutta-percha latex for use the insulation of transatlantic submarine cables, and the extraction of silicon for use in semiconductor devices. A history of the telephone is entwined with that of the copper mine. How can we possibly think of the iPhone as more sophisticated than the land line when we that know that beneath its sleek surface – polished by aluminium dust – the iPhone runs on rare earth minerals extracted by human bodies labouring in deplorable conditions in open-pit mines?
Jussi Parikka is a professor in technological culture and aesthetics and Winchester School of Art. Although his his definition of media remains rooted in the disciplinary discourses of media studies, media theory, media history, and media art, he advocates for and indeed actively engages in an interdisciplinary approach to media theory. He cites a number of excellent examples from contemporary media art, not as illustrations of his arguments but rather as guides to his thinking. He also draws upon a wide range of other references from visual art, science, literature, psychogeography, philosophy, and politics. This overtly interdisciplinary approach to media theory provides a number of intriguing openings for readers, scholars, and practitioners in adjacent fields to consider. For example, Parikka’s evocation of Robert Smithson’s formulation of ‘abstract geology’11 in relation to land art invites further explication of the connection between land art, sculpture, and the geology of sculptural media. For thousands of years sculptors have practised a geology of media, making and shaping clay, quarrying and carving stone, and smelting, melting, and casting metal. Further, Parikka’s discussion of the pictorial content of a number of paintings in the context of this book invites the consideration of the geology of paint as a medium, entwined with the elemental materiality of cadmium, titanium, cobalt, ochre, turpentine, graphite, and lead.
Media is a concept in crisis. As it travels across scientific, artistic, and humanistic disciplines it confuses and confounds boundaries between what media is and what media does in a wide range of contexts. This confusion signposts the need for new vocabularies. If geology has taught us anything, it’s that this too will take time. In endeavouring to explain how it happens that flames sometimes shoot out through the throat of Mount Etna, the Epicurian poet Lucretius (c. 100 – c. 55 BC) wrote: “You must remember that the universe is fathomless… If you look squarely at this fact and keep it clearly before your eyes, many things will cease to strike you as miraculous.”12 So too, Parikka prods us to think big, to get past our primordial inhibitions, to look beyond mass media consumerism to what I shall call a ‘massive media’ – a conception of media operating on a global and geological scale. A Geology of Media is a green book, overtly ecological. In his call for a further materialisation of media theory through a consideration of the media of earth, sea, and air Parikka has put forward an assemblage of material practices indispensable to any discussion of the mediatic relations of the Anthropocene.
These days, drones are everywhere: conducting military strikes across Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan; as the underpinning technology for public health infrastructure; for sale to delighted kids in Hamleys toyshop; or as D.I.Y kits and readymades from the Internet. Amazon has proposed to sell fleets of drones, offering super-fast deliveries to its customers. In Haiti, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, drones have helped rescue natural disaster victims – and transport medical samples and supplies and the Aerial Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London is developing networks of drones to deliver blood supplies to rural health clinics in Africa. The new ubiquity of drones in these contexts means that we need to think carefully about the personal and political impacts of the emerging drone culture?
Drones: Eyes From A Distance will be the first gathering in Berlin- April 17-18 2015 – of the Disruption Network Lab. This two day symposium presents keynote presentations, panels, round tables, and a film screening held in cooperation with Kunstraum Kreuzberg /Bethanien, with the support of the Free Chelsea Manning Initiative. The event is being held at the Sudio 1 of Kunstquartier Bethanien. And this conference would not be happening if it wasn’t for the tireless dedication of Tatiana Bazzichelli, founder of the Disruption Lab.
As part of Furtherfield’s partnership with the Disruption Network Lab I will chair a panel with Tonje Hessen Schei (filmmaker, NO), Jack Serle (investigative journalist, UK), Dave Young (artist, musician and researcher, IE).This interview with Dave Young is the first of three, in the lead up to the Berlin event.
Dave Young is an artist and researcher based in Edinburgh. His practice follows critical research into digital culture, manifested through workshops, website development, and talks on subjects varying from cybernetics and the Cold War history of network technologies, to issues around copyright and open source/free culture. He is founder of Localhost, a forum for discussing, dismantling and disrupting network technologies. Past events have focused on Google’s entry into media art curation, and the role of analogue radio as a potential commons in the digital age.
Marc Garrett: Hello Dave, I first met you in London when you hosted the Movable Borders: The Reposition Matrix Workshop’s at Furtherfield Gallery in 2013 as part of a larger exhibition called Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones! I remember it well, because the exhibition and your workshops were very well attended and a cross section of the local community came along and got involved. Could you tell us what your workshops consisted of and why you did them?
Dave Young: The workshop series came out of my own research into the history of cybernetics and networked military technologies while I was studying at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam. The US Military’s use of drones in the War on Terror had been officially acknowledged by the Obama administration by this time, and I was becoming increasingly curious about the apparent division of labour and accountability involved in the so-called ‘kill chain’ – that is, the structure and protocols that lead from identification of a potential target to a ‘kinetic strike’. As the use of drones was still largely a covert effort, there was much speculation in the media about where and how they were being used, so the idea of exploring these issues in a workshop format seemed to be a good way to create a public space for considered discussion and debate.
The workshops had quite an open format, with outcomes largely dependent on the interests and knowledge of the participants. The central task of each workshop was to collectively research a particular aspect of the military use of drones, and through the process of charting this research on a world map, we could then begin to discuss various geopolitical patterns and trends as they emerged. Rooting the workshop in this act of collaborative mapping provided an interface for discussing drones in specific terms, and helped situate their use within the reality of an incredibly complex historical and geopolitical narrative. To me, this provided a useful alternative to the mainstream media reporting styles that seemed to often rely on the same metaphors and controversies in the absence of real information coming through official sources.
MG: What are the specific concerns you have regarding the development of drones and how do you think these conditions can be changed for the better?
DY: This is a question I was more sure of before I started the workshop series – I feel the more I’ve gained an understanding of the way they’re used, the less sure I am of what needs to change. I see the drone as a symbol for the way conflict is understood post 9-11. It is part of the language, aesthetics, and transnational politics of the War on Terror. What is most concerning to me is the idea that the drone allows a state to fight a war while apparently sidestepping the otherwise necessary apparatuses of legality and oversight. As a covert weapon, it can be implemented in exceptional, extra-judicial ways that have not been legislated for as yet. The “targeted strike” and “signature strike”, while distinct from each other in protocol and circumstance, are particularly problematic – the former amounts to what many journalists describe as an assassination, although this word is rejected by the US government.
The CIA Torture Report released at the end of last year was an important acknowledgement of institutional subversions of legal and moral codes. I’d expect that a similar report into the use and effects of military drones would create space for an informed public debate about how they might be used in the future.
MG: Regarding you own relation and interests around drone and military culture, what are your plans in the near future?
DY: The outcomes of The Reposition Matrix have led me to approach this issue in a different way, looking for alternative ways of instigating conversations around this difficult subject. I’m still quite occupied with issues around the collection and presentation of data – during the workshops we covered a lot of diverse subjects, but always situating research outcomes on the surface of a world map. The question for me right now is what information is important to work with, and how can it be usefully represented? I’m looking at alternative methods of “mapping”, perhaps based in mapping technologies/software but using them in more disruptive non-geographic ways. I’ve been quite inspired by Metahaven’s ‘Sunshine Unfinished’ and the recently published book ‘Cartographies of the Absolute’ – both works have brought me back to some possibilities that went unexplored in the initial run of workshops back in 2013.
MG: What other projects are you involved in?
DY: Aside from this research, I’m currently collaborating on a project titled “Cursor” with Jake Watts and Kirsty Hendry as part of New Media Scotland’s Alt-W fund. We’re investigating current trends in fitness tracking technologies, and attempting to uncover and critique the way such intimate personal data is produced, distributed, and commodified. You can follow our research as it evolves on http://cursorware.me
I’m also running a space here in Edinburgh called Localhost, with the aim of stimulating discussions around the political aspects of digital art/culture. I run regular workshops and more occasionally special events, but I’m also very happy to provide a platform for others who wish to share their thoughts & skills on related subjects. Check http://l-o-c-a-l-h-o-s-t.com/ for more information and how to get involved.
Thank you very much 🙂
Featured image: Image from Joel Bakan: The Panopticon Power of the new media. Adbusters Jan 2012.
Marc Garrett and Ruth Catlow interview McKenzie Wark ahead of his keynote speach for Transmediale 2015 in Berlin this year.
It’s ten years since McKenzie Wark published his influential book, A Hacker Manifesto. Divided into 17 chapters, each offers a series of short, numbered paragraphs that mimic the epigrammatic style of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. Wark then published, amongst others, a series of critically engaging books such as Gamer Theory and the Spectacle of Disintegration. Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett from Furtherfield ask Wark how things have changed since these publications, focusing on the way our everyday lives have been infiltrated by competitive game-like mechanisms that he described more than a decade ago.
Furtherfield: You published the experimental writing project Gamer Theory first as a book in 2006 and then in 2007 with a specially revised 2.0 version online.
Mckenzie Wark: Yes, although I think the network book version is mostly broken now. Good thing there’s a dead-tree format back-up!
F: In it you argue that we’re living in a world that is increasingly game-like and competitive. Also that computer games develop a utopian version of the world that realizes the principles of the level playing field and reward based on merit; whereas in the world, this is promised, but rarely realized.
MW: Yes, I think one way of thinking about certain games is that they are a fully realized neo-liberal utopia, which actually gives them some critical leverage of everyday life, which is a sort of less-real, only partially realized version of this, where the playing field is not level, where the 1% get to ‘cheat’ and get away with it.
F: You also talk of the “enclosure of the world” within the “gamespace” where the logics of the game are applied as the general patterns of organization in the world. And this happens as we adapt to the allegorical forms of contemporary games media.
How do you think this situation has changed since you wrote Gamer Theory?
MW: Well, to me it looks like the tendency analyzed in Gamer Theory became even more the case. GamerGate looks among other things like a reactive movement among people who really want the neoliberal utopia in all its actual neofascist and misogynist glory to not be exposed as different to everyday life. When women gamers or game journalists stick their hands up and say, “hey, wait a minute”1, they just want to mow them down with their pixelated weapons. So the paradox is that as gamespace becomes more and more ubiquitous, the tension between promise and execution becomes ever more obvious.
F: Do you see the term Gamification that many theorists use currently as an elaboration of the ideas you developed in Gamer Theory? Or are there significant new ideas being explored?
MW: Ha! Well no, gamification was about celebrating the becoming game-like of everyday life. So I always saw that as a kind of regression from thinking about the phenomena to sort of cheerleading for it.
F: The software developer and software freedom activist Richard Stallman, when visiting Korea in June 2000 illustrated the meaning of the word ‘Hacker’ in a fun way. During a lunch with GNU fans a waitress placed 6 chopsticks in front of him. Of course he knew they were meant for three people but he found it amusing to find another way to use them. Stallman managed to use three in his right hand and then successfully pick up a piece of food placing it into in his mouth. Stallman’s story is a playful illustration of “hack value,” about changing the purpose of something and making it do something different to what it was originally designed to do, or changing the default.2
Stallman was highlighting fun and the mischievous imagination as part of the spirit of what he sees as hack value.
Where do you see lies the hack value in games culture? What has happened to the fun in games? Who’s having it and where is it happening?
MW: Stallman is one of the greats. Sometimes, people have this experience of scientific or technical culture as one of free collaboration, where there’s a real play of rivalry and recognition but based on producing and sharing knowledge as a kind of gift. JD Bernal had that experience in physics in the 30s and Stallman had, I think, a similar experience in computing. I think it’s important for those of us from the arts or humanities to honor that utopian and activist impulse coming out of more technical fields.
There’s a lively, critical and even avant-garde movement in games right now. That’s part of why it has provoked such a fierce reaction from a certain conservative corner. The culture wars are being fought out via games, which is as it should be, as it’s one of the dominant media forms of our times. So there’s certainly some sophisticated fun to be had alongside the more visceral pleasure of clearing levels.
F: “Our species’ whole recorded history has taken place in the geological period called the Holocene – the brief interval stretching back 10,000 years. But our collective actions have brought us into uncharted territory. A growing number of scientists think we’ve entered a new geological epoch.”3 And, this new geological epoch has been proposed as – the Anthropocene.
In your essay ‘Critical Theory After the Anthropocene’4 you say “At a minimum, the Anthropocene calls on critical theory to entirely rethink its received ideas, its habituated traditions, its claims to authority. It needs to look back in its own archive for more useful critical tools.”
What are these ‘useful critical tools’ and how might theorists, new media artists, game designers and society at large put these to work?
MW: The ‘cene’ part of Anthropocene (from the Greek kainos) means a qualitative break in time. If time is in a sense always different, then kainos is the differently-different – a new kind of time. Those like Paul Crutzen who have advocated the use of the term Anthropocene to designate a new geological time have issued a major challenge as to how to interpret such a possibility. I leave it to the scientists to figure out if such a claim is scientifically valid. As someone trained in the humanities, I think the generous, comradely, cooperative thing to do is to try to interpret what our friends and colleagues in the sciences are telling us about the times. So in Molecular Red that was what I set out to do. Let’s take seriously the claim that these times are not ‘like’ other times. That I think calls for a rethinking of what from the cultural past might be useful now. I think we need new ancestors. Which is why, in Molecular Red, I went looking for them, based on the question: to which past comrades would the Anthropocene come as no surprise? I think Alexander Bogdanov, who understood a bit about the biosphere and the carbon cycle, would not be surprised. I think Andrey Platonov, who wrote about the attempts and failures to build a new kind of infrastructure for the Soviet experiment in a new mode of production would not be surprised. There are others, but those I thought were particularly helpful, not least because their Marxism remained in dialog with the sciences and technical arts. I don’t think the more romantic anti-science side of Western Marxism and continental thought is all that helpful at the moment, not least because it rules out of court exactly the kinds of scientific knowledges through which we know about the Anthropocene in the first place. The anti-science critique has been captured by the right, so we need new tactics.
F: Who’d be empowered by an encounter with your ideas and where do you see the potential for agency in the current economic and environmental contexts?
MW: Not for me to say really. Writers are usually the last people to have any clues as to what their writing says. There’s a sort of idiot quality to banging away on a keyboard. We’re word processors. Its always surprising to me the range of people who find something in what I write.
My hunch is that the future is in the hands of an alliance between those who make the forms and those who make the content: a hacker and worker alliance. It is clear that this civilization has already become unreal. Everyone knows it. We have to experiment now with what new forms might be.
F: And, where in the world do you see examples of individuals, groups and organizations, and or companies – who are putting into action some of the critical questions that you’re exploring in your writing?
MW: Besides Furtherfield? I never like to give examples. Everyone should be their own example. To détourn an old slogan of the 60s: be impossible, do the realistic!
F: In your later essay ‘The Drone of Minerva’5 you continue to write about the Anthropocene. But, you also bring to the table the subject of the Proletkult.6 The Proletkult aspired to radically modify existing artistic forms of revolutionary working class aesthetic which drew its inspiration from the construction of modern industrial society in Russia. At its peak in 1920, Proletkult had 84,000 members actively enrolled in about 300 local studios, clubs, and factory groups, with an additional 500,000 members participating in its activities on a more casual basis.
You are writing about the Proletkult in your latest book. Could you tell us a little something about this and how it will connect to contemporary lives?
MW: Proletkult was influential in Britain too, during the syndicalist phase of the British labor movement, up until the defeat of the 1926 general strike. After that the dominant forms were, on the one hand, the ethical-socialism and parliamentary path of the Labour Party, or the revolutionary Leninist party. Well, those paths have been defeated now too. I think we have to look at all of the past successes and failures all over again and cobble together new organizational and cultural forms, including a 21st century Proletkult.7 What that might mean is trying to self-organize in a comradely way to try and gain some collective charge of our everyday lives. It does not mean just celebrating actually existing working class cultures. Rather it’s more about starting there and developing culture and organization not as something reactive and marginalized but as something with organizational consistency and breadth. Since the ruling class clearly doesn’t give a fuck about us, let’s take charge of our own lives – together.
Thank you McKenzie Wark – Ruth Catlow & Marc Garrett 😉
Ruth Catlow will be at Transmediale 2015 CAPTURE ALL, moderating the keynote Capture All_Play with McKenzie Wark, on Sat, 31 Jan at 18:00.
Ruth is also participating in two other events, Play as a Commons: Practical Utopias & P2P Futures and The Post-Digital Review: Cultural Commons – http://www.transmediale.de/content/ruth-catlow
Featured image: Stern, Body Language
Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body As Performance by Nathaniel Stern. ISBN 978-1-78024-009-1 (printed publication), Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK, 2013. 291 pp., 41 Colour Stills.
Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to sit in on a talk given by Simon Penny on May 6th 2014 at the University of Exeter. Penny, not unlike Nathaniel Stern, is best known for his praxis, writing and teaching on interactive (and robotic) installations focusing on issues of embodiment, relationality and materiality. So as unorthodox as its inclusion is to start off a review, Penny’s reflections are pertinent here (in this case, Penny’s famous installations Fugitive (1997) and Traces (1999) .
The purpose of Fugitive and Traces (if you can say they had one) sought to ‘embody’ virtual reality through multi-camera infra-red sensors, visual models and real-time movements. At that time, Penny’s unique theoretical take was to distance human-computer interaction away from “a system of abstracted and conventionalised signals” to where the user would “communicate kinesthetically”: instead of investigating the non-human or “inhuman” formal qualities of its medium, or some vague VR future that leaves the body behind, the system itself would “come closer to the native sensibilities of the human.” (Penny) 
In his Exeter talk, Penny momentarily reflected on a weird and altogether disturbing seventeen year feedback loop. The loop in question relates to how, in 2014, Penny’s early avant-garde ideas and theoretical ambitions have largely been desecrated by their replication in big business. With regard to Traces, Penny cited Microsoft’s Kinect as being the most salient example of this desecration: Kinect’s technology – marketed for the Xbox console brand – carries within its insidious techniques the ability to also “communicate kine[c]thetically”, but do so within pre-packaged, patented, IP-driven, focus-grouped-out-of-existence, commercial vacuities of gamer experience.
As an early practitioner and developer of these technologies, Penny was somewhat visibly infuriated with this, and understandably so. For him, it unintentionally reduced his aesthetic experimentation, philosophical insight, technological futurity and theoretical complexity into consumer speculation for the technology market, commandeering the tech but without the value. It transposed the artistic technological avant-garde necessity of Traces into a flaccid ‘tech-demo’ demonstration of novelty limb flailing and high-end visuals devoid of anything. It was, Penny lamented, “a very weird situation” to be in. Part of that weirdness has to do with the fact that Penny hadn’t done anything especially wrong, because there wasn’t any tangible aesthetic qualities that separated his pioneering work from Microsoft’s effort. Neither had Penny’s work brought financial success with its value intact (because its value wasn’t patentable). Instead technological development had overwritten the aesthetic value of Traces, trading technological obsolescence with aesthetic obsolescence.
Penny’s retroactive predicament is not unique in the history of digital art: for all the visionary seeds of potential in Roy Ascott’s legendary networking project, Terminal Art (1980) we now recognise how those salient characteristics have somehow ended up as Skype or Google Hangouts. Still in the 80s, one might evoke Eduardo Kac’s early videotext works (1985-1986) where visual animated poems were broadcast on the online service exchange platform Minitel (“Médium interactif par numérisation d’information téléphonique” or “Interactive medium by digitalizing telephone information” in its French iteration): a proprietary precursor to the World Wide Web . The retroactive weirdness accompanying these developments is something I’ll come back to: suffice to say that what counts is the direction (and sometimes hostile return) of infrastructure, not just as the background collection of assemblages artists rely on to experiment with at any historical moment, but the shifting ecological foundations to which technology emerges, affords, and now overwrites such practices. No-one likes to play devil’s advocate and yet one must ask the question specific to Stern’s text: what, or maybe where, is the tangible point at which ‘art’ becomes historically valued in these works, if that latent aesthetic potential becomes just another market for a series of Silicon Valley, or startup conglomerates?
Nathaniel Stern’s Interactive Art and Embodiment establishes two first events: not only Stern’s debut publication but also the first of a new series from Gylphi entitled “Arts Future Book” edited by Charlotte Frost, which began in 2013. All quotations are from this text unless otherwise stated.
Stern’s vision in brief: in order to rescue what is philosophically significant about interactive art, he justifies its worth through the primary acknowledgement of embodiment, relational situation, performance and sensation. In return, the usual dominant definitions of interactive art which focus on technological objects, or immaterial cultural representations thereof are secondary to the materiality of bodily movement. Comprehending digital interactive art purely as ‘art + technology’ is a secondary move and a “flawed priority” (6), which is instead underscored by a much deeper engagement, or framing, for how one becomes embodied in the work, as work. “I pose that we forget technology and remember the body” (6) Stern retorts, which is a “situational framework for the experience and practice of being and becoming.” (7). The concepts that are needed to disclose these insights are also identified as emergent.
“Sensible concepts are not only emerging, but emerging emergences: continuously constructed and constituted, re-constructed and re-constituted, through relationships with each other, the body, materiality, and more.” (205)
Interactive Art and Embodiment then, is the critical framework that engages, enriches and captivates the viewer with Stern’s vision, delineating the importance of digital interactive art together with its constitutive philosophy.
One might summarise Stern’s effort with his repeated demand to reclaim the definition of “interactive”. The term itself was a blatantly over-used badge designed to vaguely discern what made ‘new media’ that much newer, or freer than previous modes of consumption. This was quickly hunted out of discursive chatter when everyone realised the novel qualities it offered meant very little and were politically moribund. For Stern however, interactivity is central to the entire position put forward, but only insofar as it engages how a body acts within such a work. This reinvigorated definition of “interactive” reinforces deeper, differing qualities of sensual embodiment that take place in one’s relational engagement. This is to say, how one literally “inter-acts” through moving-feeling-thinking as a material bodily process, and not a technological informational entity which defines, determines or formalises its actions. A digital work might only be insipidly interactive, offering narrow computational potentials, but this importance is found wanting so long as the technology is foregrounded over ones experience of it. Instead ones relationship with technological construction should melt away through the implicit duration of a body that literally “inter-acts” with it. In Stern’s words:
“…most visually-, technically-, and linguistically-based writing on interactive art explains that a given piece is interactive, and how it is interactive, but not how we inter-act” (91)
Chapter 1 details how aesthetic ‘vision’ is understood through this framework, heavily criticising the pervasive disembodiment Stern laments in technical discussions of digital art and the VR playgrounds from the yesteryear of the 90s. Digital Interactive Art has continually suppressed a latent embodied performance that widens the disembodied aesthetic experience towards – following Ridgway and Thrift – a “non-representational experience.” Such experiences take the body as an open corporal process within a situation, which includes, whilst also encompassing, the corporal materiality of non-human computational processes. This is, clearly, designed to oppose any discourse that treats computation and digital culture as some sort of liberating, inane, immaterial phenomenon: to which Stern is absolutely right. Moreover, all of these material processes move in motion with embodied possibilities, to “create spaces in which we experience and practice this body, its agency, and how they might become.” (40) To add some political heft, Stern contrasts how the abuse of interactivity is often peddled towards consumerist choice, determining possibilities, put against artistic navigation that relinquishes control, allowing limitless possibilities. Quoting Erin Manning, Stern values interactive art’s success when it doesn’t just move in relation to human experience, but when humans move *the* relation in experience (Manning, 2009: 64; Stern, 46).
Stern’s second chapter moves straight into a philosophical discussion denoting what he means by an anti-Cartesian, non-representational, or implicit body. Heavily contexualised by a host of process, emergent materialist thinkers (Massumi, Hayles, Barad), Stern concentrates on the trait of performance as the site of body which encapsulates its relationally, emergence and potential. The body is not merely formed in stasis, (what Stern dubs “pre-formed” (62) but is regularly and always gushingly “per-formed” (61) in its movement. Following Kelli Fuery, the kind of interactivity Stern wants to foreground is always there, not a stop-start prop literate to computer interaction, but an effervescent ensemble of “becoming interactive” (Fuery, 2009: 44; Stern, 65). Interactive art is not born from an effect bestowed by a particular medium of art making, but of “making literal the kinds of assemblages we are always a part of.” (65)
Chapter three sets out Stern’s account for the implicit body framework: detailing out four areas: “artistic inquiry and process; artwork description; inter-activity and relationally.” (91) Chapters four, five and six flesh out this framework with actual practices. Four considers close readings of the aforementioned work of Penny together with Camille Utterback merging the insights gained from the previous chapters. What both artists encapsulate for Stern is that their interventions focus on the embodied activities of material signification: or “the activities of writing with the body” (114) Utterback’s 1999 installation “Textrain” is exemplary to Stern’s argument: notably the act of collecting falling text characters on a screen merges dynamic body movements with poetic disclosure. The productions of these images are always emergent and inscribed within our embodied practices and becomings: that we think with our environment. Five re-contextualises this with insights into works by Scott Scribbes and Mathieu Briand’s interventions in societal norms and environments. Six takes on the role of the body as a dynamic, topological space: most notably as practiced in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Chapter seven I’ll discuss near the conclusion: the last chapter shortly.
Firstly, the good stuff. Interactive Art and Embodiment is probably one of the most sincerest reads I’ve encountered in the field for some time. Partly this is because the book cultivates Stern’s sincerity for his own artistic practice, together with his own philosophical accounts that supplement that vision. His deep understanding of process philosophy is clearly matched by his enthusiastic reassessment of what interactive art purports to achieve and how other artists might have achieved it too. And it’s hard to disagree with Stern’s own position when he cites examples (of his work and others) that clearly delegate the philosophical insights to which he is committed. One highlight is Stern’s take on Scribbes’ Boundary Foundations (1998) and the Screen Series (2002-03) which intervenes and questions the physical and metaphorical boundaries surrounding ourselves and others, by performing its questioning as work. This is a refreshingly earnest text, proving that theory works best not when praxis matches the esoteric fashions of philosophical thinking, but when art provides its own stakes and its own types of thinking-experience which theory sets out to faithfully account and describe. Stern’s theoretical legitimacy is never earned from just digesting, synthesising and applying copious amounts of philosophy, but from the centrality of describing in detail what he thinks the bodily outcomes of interactive art are and what such accounts have to say: even if they significantly question existing philosophical accounts.
Stern leaves the most earnest part of his book towards the end in his final semi-auto-biographical companion chapter called “In Production (A Narrative Inquiry on Interactive Art)”. This is a snippet of a much larger story, available online and subject to collaboration . Here, Stern recounts or modifies the anxiety inducing experience of being a PhD student and artist, rubbing up alongside the trials of academic rigour, dissertation writing and expected standards. Quite simply, Stern is applying his insights of performative processual experience into the everyday, ordinary experiences faced by most PhD students in this field, and using it to justify a certain writing style and a sense of practice. It’s an enjoyable affair – in large part because it outclasses the dry scholarly tone usually associated with writing ‘academically’, elevating imaginative, illuminating redescriptions for how the experiences of interactive art broadly hang together rather than relying on relentless cynical critique. And most of that is down to Stern’s strong literary metaphorical technique for grounding his vision, perhaps even more effectively than the previous chapters.
Yet earnest experiences aside, there are two problems with Stern’s vision which, in my eyes, leave it flawed. That isn’t a bad thing: all visions are flawed of course. That’s why the similarities between art and philosophy feed our heuristic, academic compulsion to come up with them and debate: well, that and sometimes the most flawed can end up being the most influential. Such flaws only arise in relation to what Stern thinks is valuable in interactive art, and to the extent that the intervention posed may require readdressing. The flaws in question are composed from two different angles, but stem from one objection. The first is philosophical, or at least a problem pre-packaged with relying almost entirely on relational ideas of embodied emergence. The second is more tied to infrastructure and technical expropriation as outlined in Penny’s predicament given from the outset.
In his introduction, Stern makes clear that this is an “art philosophical book” (4), not a philosophy of art as such: only one that “understands art and philosophy as potential practices of one another” (4). Following Brian Massumi, philosophy “tells us the stakes”, whilst “art brings those states to the table” (5), such that the type of art he values and constructs, (digital interactive art) is precisely that which melts away in its interactive encounter when constructed as work. Later on we discover that interactive art “interrupts relationality” (66), making present an “intervention that brings a situated moving-thinking-feeling to a higher power.” (66) Further on, interactive art does something else, when it “intensifies features of […] the ongoing transformation of the ‘living’ body”, and “gifts us with a state to practice being and becoming.” (73) Reflecting on the infamous Bourriaud/Bishop relational aesthetic ruckus a decade ago, Stern outlines how they focus on the explicit body (82) (how we understand ourselves or challenge explicit social/economic positions in the world), whereas artworks which privilege the implicit body have us “encounter how we move, transform, and are (continuous)” (82) in the world. The former takes on the materiality of social relations, the latter (endorsed by Stern) takes on the whole materiality of “embodied relations” (83). And again to reiterate, art operates as “the practice of contemporary philosophies, where we investigate, and further research on, embodiment and relationally together.” (83).
Now, one should admire how Stern blends philosophy and art praxis together precisely by not shoehorning authoritative philosophical accounts into art praxis where they aren’t needed. This works, precisely as the ontology expressed here actively resists such authoritative accounts as well as being cemented with the sort of sincerity with which Stern has such a keen literary grasp. More importantly, Stern cites works which seem to fit the stakes of his ontological conviction perfectly.
However the reliance of process-based philosophy dampens exactly how these works intervene to bring about the values he so desires. The simplest objection comes from asking how Stern might value anything at all, if our entire relational embodiment with the world is constantly in process – or that “[b]odies and matter are change” (220) – and must be always affirmed as such: why should every process and every bodily interaction be affirmed? Moreover why is it art’s place to give primacy to the ontological events of bodily material change?
This is one of the key infrastructural problems that surface, once a theory of art totally subscribes to a process-based ontology, let alone one focusing on embodiment: why should an artist like Stern feel compelled to present an intervention in the first place? If the dominant ontological movement of interactions is a becoming-event, by what standard or eruption should interactive art be said to work on? If, as Stern believes, “the interactive process in interactive work is the ‘work’” (159), it becomes unclear what value interactive artworks are purported to convey, if that process is all there is. To say that embodied processual events make the work “work”, because they underscore our situational intelligibility (or make it effective – so to speak) speaks nothing of what differential criteria should apply to make that aesthetic intervention intelligible. To hazard a guess, the problem is one of articulating how convention exists in a process ontology: because if everything is always emerging as an interactive event of change, the act of rupturing or intervening in convention becomes a real problem. The criteria for valuing these important works is only affirmed it seems, because every process is already affirmed: and if that’s the case you don’t need artists to make an intervention – there is no intervention required, other than the events that already exist, as change in themselves. To put it another way: why should (and how can) a work effectively gift us heightened states of being and becoming, if our entire situational relationship with the world is already situationally related in being and becoming?
I am reminded of Adrian Johnston’s 2001 review of the newly republished English translation of Dominique Laporte’s History of Shit (first published in 1978). Whereas most Foucaultians and Althusserians were disconcertingly vague in pointing out the concrete material conditions for subjectivity and economical production, Laporte boldly contended that the genealogical hypothesis to all modern civilisations was tied to one concrete material condition: the infrastructure of bodily waste management, or, the desire to control and sublimate our need to defecate. In his usual Žižekian repartee, Johnston suggested that Laporte’s bizarre history of modernity implicitly accepted the anti-Cartesian embodiment thesis (that cognition cannot be separated from the actions of the body), but pushed its logic to the end. That for all the affirmative, encompassing, sensual, emergent, potential images embodiment philosophy prefers to agree and discuss, it completely ignores one of our central and basic bodily requirements: to excrete our bodily waste or fecal matter, and remove it from sight and smell (and we don’t need to remind the reader of art’s fascination with this area).
Whilst Johnston’s tongue was firmly planted in his cheek, he did happen to put a psychoanalytical finger on the central problem with process based embodiment. That often enough, sincere accounts of embodiment designed to affirmatively depict and encompass implicit environment material engagements leave behind an unacknowledged stain: one which says more about these accounts than their proponents actually do. And it is precisely because Stern focuses on the most aesthetically agreeable areas of bodily engagement in interactive art, that something as habitual and ritualistic as the excretion of digested matter, or the infrastructure of sewage networks exposes that image.
In terms of materiality this is doubly important. Laporte’s intervention brings into conflict two competing performative materialisms which disclose our own bodily relationships with non-human processes (in this case, computational and networked material): the first is Stern’s own account of the material body as some sort of ‘nebulous material’ which is always emergent, lived, relational and thinking with its own engagement in the world of humans and non-humans. The second is Laporte’s material body seen as ‘brutal material’ – an explicit input-output, complex, evolutionary processing machine, strictly determinate and bounded in its biological function. Despite Stern arguing earnestly for the nebulous form, it doesn’t appear to me that he can hold off the brutal form, or at least prevent the latter from antagonising the former. And often enough, this happens because Stern’s accounts of embodiment, and the philosopher’s accounts he relies on, are already meant to be nebulous in themselves.
This logic unravels by chapter seven, when Stern expands the implicit body framework to analyse other examples of new media art which aren’t preoccupied with bodily participation to work, as work. He terms this “potentialized art” (206) where “audience members do not *make* the work directly through their interactions (207) but are subject to visual performances of potential movement and relation mediated by generative computation and networks. In citing Gordan Savičić and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger – amongst others – Stern argues that these ongoing performances harness generative information participating in embodiment relations, and invite metaphorical sensory change and bodily movement (in the case of Savičić’s performances, quite literally inflicting pain and suffering onto his own body using network data and social media).
However when Stern cites John F. Simon. Jr’s infamous work Every Icon (1997), (227 – 230) (a cellular automation piece which takes approximately several hundred trillion years to complete) it becomes clear to me that the aesthetically agreeable areas of embodiment start to break down. It might be that my own reading of the piece is fairly unorthodox  (I don’t consider the work to be primarily conceptual for a start), but Every Icon eschews what Stern writes as giving “both the corporeal and incorporeal a present and future presence as time and sign” (230) or something that generates attention to our “sensual and conceptual experience of temporality” (230).
Yet, isn’t it the case that Every Icon is probably one of the least potentialised artworks ever made? It doesn’t actually generate anything, (in the strict sense of unpredictable outcomes from simple rules) it simply enumerates configurations of pixels one by one. Neither can we be said to “feel the potency of several hundred trillion years” (230) than we feel the cold, indifferent execution of a real java applet function to which we are forever limited in experiencing directly. If anything, Every Icon is deliberately constructed to forgo a relation with us.
To conclude: this is perhaps why Penny’s predicament with the Kinect is so stark. To demand, as Stern does, that we treat digital interactive art as setting a stage for examining how we “per-form” with our bodies within media, material, conceptual frames and selves, is no longer enough of a stage to give voice to the technological ecologies we find ourselves in: nor of the art that satisfies intervening in it. Credit must be given to Stern for writing over interactive art’s emancipatory myth of disembodied immateriality, but his endorsement of embodiment only serves to realise that the problem isn’t forgetting to focus on material engagement, but forgetting the cold, hard and brutal materiality of procedural performance of infrastructure, that often moves faster than we do. When Microsoft’s Kinect co-opts all the same values of Traces, it does so not because embodiment is totally flawed, but that bodily movement has now become ecologically implicated in deceptive infrastructure.
Just as Penny’s Traces may once have evoked a renewed attention to moving-thinking-feeling, such engagements are now suitably tracked and are in service of non-transparent infrastructures of geo-social activity, which propagate themselves beyond our sensory engagement, yet paradoxically they also indirectly sustain that ordinary engagement. For example, this is now a world where Google funds a 60tbps undersea cable connecting the West Coast to Japan, in order to propagate the reach of their services. The technological engagement of our bodies cannot be restricted to how we move-think-feel, but now weaves itself within layers upon layers of platforms and pervasive surveillance structures. And I don’t disagree with Stern that the implicit body is, perhaps, deeper than the account I give here. But maybe that’s because the body is also another type of performative infrastructure, tightly bound into other formations that are just as deep, complex and engaged. We now live in a time where digital interactive art has to intervene in the performances of geo-social infrastructure: where our bodies have curiously taken on their self-directing performances, rather than our own.
Just think about the ordinary, and by that I mean not an ordinary life, event, custom, or thing (at least not yet), but the ordinary as such.
We can never fully exhaust the ordinary – how could we? For as sure as we try to get close, the ordinary becomes something else. Elusive – in the same way that words, peoples, names and symbols become strange if we concentrate on them too long. Neither does anyone grasp the ordinary in sheer ignorance, because its ordinariness just evaporates in retrospect. The ordinary claims little attention only because it is ordinary and is implicitly taken on that account. The extraordinariness of the ordinary has to be rejected if its implicitness becomes something we unavoidably accept. Yet, its givenness appears unproblematic insofar as it remains unacknowledged. The ordinary is what happens when we’re concentrating on something else: it is what constitutes the ontological furniture of the world.
Nevertheless, the ordinary remains drastically important, as it always was: and yet its implicitness already remains curiously forgotten, waiting to be exposed or made present. As Charles Bernstein writes in The Art and Practice of the Ordinary, “any attempt to fix the ordinary pulls it out of the everydayness in which it is situated, from which it seems to derive its power.” Representations and objectifications of the ordinary claim transparency to its own cost.
“Science” wishes to naturalise the ordinary into a neat little piecemeal encroachments of textbook knowledge and then move towards the next eliminative paradigm. Technology commandeers the ordinary seeking to render it more efficient and effective for the benefits of, well, hardly anyone but futurists. Traditionalists seek to undermine the ordinary in favour of some primordial ordinary which benefits some reactionary stupor. Global neo-liberalism commandeers the ordinary even further, waging that no-one will change anything in it for lack of time or for opposing the marketplace. Everyone has access to the ordinary, even though the ordinary remains unaccessible.
Yet it seems that whatever we do, whatever new particle is discovered, whatever new economic theory found, or new conceptual scheme offered – the coordinates of “normality” and “convention” might change, for some at least, but soon after the ordinary returns, with a hidden shrug and an hour to kill. Faster computation and digital transmission may have egged a generational shift of Western production, knowledge, communication, control, community, yet the ordinary still prevails only by re-shifting and re-configuring itself: different uses, words, things, together with different uses of words and things. The concrete acknowledgement of banal yet entirely extra-ordinary things constitute the bizarre ecology of the ordinary, which operates regardless: detached memes, first-world jokes, boredom, mediocre top 10s, compassion, political intrigue, scoops, as well as emotional heartache.
Different cultures, tribes, gangs, and communities have their ordinaries: everyday customs and uses, most different, some utterly indifferent to one other. Some ordinary customs hold the relevancy of others to account. Yet the ordinary is clearly there, unshakeable and implicit, yet also unmistakable and haunting, without any essence of natural custom to which it can be easily assigned. It has just a background assumption of ‘bleh’, or ‘meh’ with no distinctive features to explicitly signal its silent functioning.
Why am I waxing lyrical abut such matters? I do so in the effort of introducing an underdeveloped but convergent alternative. Not one that has any justification nor merit of its own, but one that exists, for the most part, as an epistemological alternative to what has hitherto been called accelerationism: and how the tensions and similarities of both positions impact art, literature, science and especially systems.
The doctrine of accelerationism is accelerating, as it should be (Twitter hashtags and all) making giant leaps in art and cultural theory circles. By no means does it signal anything concrete, (at least not yet) than it provokes the insistent beginnings of a modern political doctrine: one that joins up similar threads of interest across disparate thinkers and topics. Of late, it has enjoyed multiple discussions online, a recent symposium in Berlin, the sole topic for an e-flux journal on aesthetics, a forum held last year, and an expectant anthology from Urbanomic.
Coined by Benjamin Noys in The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory, the acceletrationist doctrine takes many forms, but by and large, its aim is to accelerate, conceive, invert and uproot capitalist infrastructures and abstractions using the abstract epistemic resources of capitalism itself. For Marx and Engels this required the dialectical development of capitalist contraction towards its ‘inevitable’ destruction. Deleuze and Guattari famously mused that the process of capital was to be accelerated, and in its darker, more heightened levels (most famously, the macabre futurist machinic practice of Nick Land), it meant pushing the social deterritorialising force of capitalism into its inevitable post-capitalist future.
In its early stages, accelerationism established a darker, more virulently techno-nihilistic strain of theoretical terror. Land was spellbound by the 90s demonic growth of neoliberalism: for it possessed, not just some freaky quality of being utterly impervious to any resistance of leftist critique, but the singular quality of accelerating unparalleled technological progress. Land’s future was a rumbling techno-capital singularity smuggling itself within collapsing human civilisations until the latter would eventually be creamed off. These views eventually drove Land out of academia but remained a curious alternative to other political responses: a darker alternative to fields of protest, against disruption, antonomist intervention, situationist détournement, hackitivism or a resuscitated dialectical antagonism.
Filtering out the hysteric reactionary stupor of Land’s thought, contemporary thinkers have begun to rethink accelerationism beyond the squalid drive of accelerating capitalist contradiction. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, who co-authored the widely circulated Accelerationist Manifesto, have clearly articulated this view, rejecting Land’s singularity but endorsing the use of capitalist quantification techniques, engineering, infrastructure, persuasive models, and advanced computational affordances to accelerate the modern left. Whereas leftist thought has sought to question, undermine or even reverse modernity, Srnicek and Williams suggest that radical thought must accelerate the mediums of capitalist production into a post capitalist future. They proudly assert that “if the political left is to have a future it must be one in which it maximally embraces this suppressed accelerationist tendency.”
Against what Srnicek and Williams term “folk politics” (the title for their forthcoming publication) – defined as “localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism” – an accelerationist politics preserves neoliberal infrastructure, but intends to push its affordances faster than neoliberalism would allow: in particular a basic universal income and the reduction of work (through automation). For them, folk politics has no big picture, nor any infrastructural plan beyond a ‘the party’ or a ‘horizontal network’: no method of effectivity or material advancement. In a separate article they condemn the conservative left for reducing themselves into “trafficking in the politics of fear, rather than the politics of freedom and the project for a more just society”.
Technology is to be used as method of “furthering leftist goals”, that is, building a material platform for a genuine post-capitalist societal framework. The emphasis is on accelerating modernity and progress, not accelerating contradictory speed (the latter evident in, say, high frequency trading), investing an understanding of post-capitalist infrastructure through new economic models and repurposed machinery. There is no wiggle-room here for Srnicek and Williams: either build a post-capitalist future or don’t. Either establish or experiment towards a broad ideological vision for accelerating the future or repeatedly fail. Failure, in their eyes, is not a thing of beauty, but a path towards an alternative future. Instead of leftist faith, Srnicek and Williams advocate alternative means of building an infrastructure of the future.
And there’s a lot here to agree for the most part. The left has instigated a lot of its own irrelevancy by ignoring or rejecting the often affective affordances of technology – rather than changing its use, or learning how to build a more just society. Yet, accelerationism’s major problem concerns itself with peddling a systematic theory to explain the practice of doing all the stuff the left failed to realise. What happens to the ordinary?
Within the accelerationist doctrine lies an old epistemological assumption that the problem with political thought is the rejection of progress, and the mastering of knowledge: that folk politics has suppressed knowledge and progress to its cost, whilst capitalism marched onwards and upwards, mostly upwards. All of this is partly accurate. Yet philosophically, accelerationism is more than these insightful remarks, and justifiable political demands. For Srnicek and Williams:
“The movement towards a surpassing of our current constraints must include more than simply a struggle for a more rational global society. We believe it must also include recovering the dreams which transfixed many from the middle of the Nineteenth Century until the dawn of the neoliberal era, of the quest of Homo Sapiens towards expansion beyond the limitations of the earth and our immediate bodily forms. These visions are today viewed as relics of a more innocent moment. Yet they both diagnose the staggering lack of imagination in our own time, and offer the promise of a future that is affectively invigorating, as well as intellectually energising.”
Accelerationism then, is not just a new doctrine for the left whom have failed to reignite the dream for a better future, endlessly squabbling over moralistic games of trumpery, but a renewed praxis (and only that) of enlightened self-knowledge. Accelerationism is a renewed humanism that seeks to re-master the world. As a “Right-Accelerationist” this is as much as Land wants, accelerating reactionary aristocracy past democratic values (Land’s so-called Dark Enlightenment). As “Left-Accelerationists, Srnicek and Williams declare that only a radical “maximal mastery” of renewed Enlightenment values will secure victory over capital, in an age where modern infrastructure is constituted by complexity and systemic automation.
“This mastery must be distinguished from that beloved of thinkers of the original Enlightenment. […] But this is not to align ourselves with the tired residue of postmodernity, decrying mastery as proto-fascistic or authority as innately illegitimate. Instead we propose that the problems besetting our planet and our species oblige us to refurbish mastery in a newly complex guise; whilst we cannot predict the precise result of our actions, we can determine probabilistically likely ranges of outcomes. What must be coupled to such complex systems analysis is a new form of action: improvisatory and capable of executing a design through a practice which works with the contingencies it discovers only in the course of its acting, in a politics of geosocial artistry and cunning rationality. A form of abductive experimentation that seeks the best means to act in a complex world.”
In this guise (as well as Land’s), accelerationism resumes the Enlightenment’s dictum of ‘dare to know’ – to pursue moral knowledge under the name of rational universalism, to which the ‘daring’ or ‘cunning’ part isn’t limited to empirically tracking or modelling post-capital infrastructures, nor of resuscitating the modern ethos (quite why Enlightenment thinkers are assumed to be beloved isn’t addressed, but hey ho). Instead, their task consists in expanding human rationality beyond its current epistemic state and limit, to test the critical faculties of human knowledge, and extend them without apologising, without any dint of skepticism. That it really could demonstrate the “best means” of acting in a post-industrial society. It aims to accelerate the human mastery of the concepts as well as the technical infrastructures to which it cohabits. The human ‘we’ must be self-constructed, such that – in their words – we “collectively come to grasp our world such that we might change it.”
Such a grasping or understanding wants to, at the bottom of everything, reduce or eliminate the ordinary. Thus capitalist infrastructure isn’t just an infrastructure but also a manifest limit of what it means to be familiar in a community: within that it must be universally unified into a rational community of self-knowledge. It is our concepts and rational freedom, our everyday experience which is to be extended, sustained, accelerated, even beyond the pale vagaries of our solar system. The ordinary is inherently set to be eliminated in accelerationism: and this becomes a problem.
By all means, accelerationism’s recent trajectory and increasing prominence (especially in Berlin) is a moving target, and so not all the arrows fired at it intend to halt that movement, nor what it might spawn. Our provocation towards, what I call ‘ordinaryism’ is less of a tactical move, not a hostile polemic, certainly not a threat, than it is a sympathetic twin operating alongside accelerationism’s endorsement of universal self-mastery. The philosophical fate of the human creature, tends to re-assert self-mastery from time to time, until it runs out of steam, or submits to itself that the best “science” undercuts its own majestic foundations, leading to critical revisions. Ordinaryism is not intended to trump accelerationism, than it is presented as an alternative to think about the ignorance of limitations within human finitude and of human creatures, which constitute the very presence of the ordinary. Ordinaryism doesn’t advocate a traditional ‘ordinary’, natural, ‘way of life’ against future mastery – nothing of the sort – rather, it seeks to expose the hidden wound of human mastery which becomes unavoidable.
Ordinaryism is presented as what might be left over once accelerationism has finished in avenging the limits of rational concepts (and the violence in doing so), such that the ordinary always returns, inherently unwelcome, but always ambiguous. That accelerationism will be beset by the mark of tragedy, finitude and disappointment: but in ordinaryism’s eyes, this is to be accepted and resettled. Of course accelerationism, by its own definition, cannot abide disappointment: manifestos are not the best means of articulating disappointments.
It is only after a state of affairs has been accelerated, that ordinaryism begins and works with the reconstruction or resettlement of the everyday, of what we already took for granted. Whilst accelerationism reimagines the future by eliminating the everyday, ordinaryism reimagines the entanglement of the everyday which weaves in and out of our collective grasp endlessly. We might indeed change the world, but in most cases, it feels like the ordinary changes us. Ordinaryism resembles and works through the difficult unsolvable left-overs of accelerationism, where it must be collectively reconstructed, rather than collectively mastered.
To prise open this debate further, we have to set up a philosophical/historical split that encompasses both world-views – namely, a set of philosophical attributes which partly make up accelerationism and ordinaryism’s similarities and tensions. All philosophical topics are quite good at this from time to time: historical figures count as manifest gaps, whom might inherit one particular zeitgeist, but whose differences from it continue to play out in subsequent world-views. The transcendent forms of Plato, vs. the individual forms of Aristotle: the determinate computational rationality of Leibniz vs. the determinate horizontal immanence of Spinoza: The scepticism of Kant’s concepts to never know the ‘thing in itself’ vs. Hegel’s absolute motions of the concept that can: Heidegger’s horizon of withdrawn Being vs. Wittgenstein’s later ‘forms of life.’
Without preaching to anachronism, the split between accelerationism and ordinaryism follows these gaps in various ways. The split discussed may be established within the predominant influence of two American analytic philosophers, who have had little recognition in continental philosophy and scarcely their political vicissitudes. They are Wilfrid Sellars and Stanley Cavell, and both of their contemporary philosophical systems are cited here for a number of reasons: both philosophers are prolific contemporaries, who from the 1950s, worked tirelessly after the rejection of logical positivism (Sellars in founding a materialist, nominalist inferentialism – Cavell as a second-generation ordinary language philosopher, writing after Wittgenstein and J. L Austin). Both are completely influenced by the foundations of Kant and the teachings of Wittgenstein, albeit different stages. Both jointly understand the human condition to be a product of the rules and standards of language, holistically used in a social community and both have dedicated their careers to moral and ethical questions that are produced from such insights. That’s about where the similarities end, important as they are.
More controversially, both thinkers have in some method or other, been cited as attempting to represent a bridge between analytic and continental philosophy, despite such a incessant institutional divide remaining. Clearly, to establish any such divide is prone to error, insofar as the term ‘continental’ – established by analytics – only pithily defined other thinkers who ‘don’t do what they do’. What’s interesting here, is the sense of the world-view to which such bridge-building is actioned.
The ‘continental’ use of Sellars is fairly recent, and has taken place conterminously with the rational analytic wing of (what is usually referred to as) speculative realism, most notably Ray Brassier’s recent work (despite him rejecting the movement entirely). Brassier himself, has sought to make Sellarsian epistemology central to the materialist future of continental philosophy, appealing to thinkers who seek to break away from an affirmation-vitalist induced metaphysics (Deleuze & Guattari), deconstructionist accounts (Derrida, Butler), or a post-Hegelian dialectical materialism (Žižek/Badiou).
What is pivotal for Brassier is that a Sellarsian legacy points towards a recoding of continental post-Hegelian framework set within an analytic project of scientific realism. This is where accelerationism finds its enlightened humanist teeth, even if it isn’t explicitly Sellarsian: an analytic-continental framework, which accurately establishes a set of arguments enlightening human conception (that we can scientifically speculate on what human rationality is) and to go to work putting these tools into pragmatic action, with the hope of extending our reign of knowledge. That in its scientific efficacy, both Sellars and the return to Hegel reflects one basic insight: that the special human affordance of ‘knowing’ must be identical with what it knows.
In his recent article The Labor of the InHuman: (parts  and ) Reza Negarestani has promoted similar accelerationist principles within a similar universalising project of humanism. Quoting Negarestani, Inhumanism establishes the same accelerationist dictum: which “stands in concrete opposition to any paradigm that seeks to degrade humanity either in the face of its finitude or against the backdrop of the great outdoors.” In any case, Sellarsian tropes are all over Negarestani’s and the accelerationist enterprise: such as how one justifies what one says in the “space of reasons”. How reasoning exists as a universal, meta-linguistic evolutionary natural function, which once grasped, eliminates the ambiguities of using it. Even Sellar’s students (notably Robert Brandom) have begun to reengage with the systematic potentials of Hegelian philosophy. All equally share an implicit rejection of romantic thought.
A Sellarsian future is unquestionably wrapped up in an accelerationism one, insofar as a) both distinguish what functions are essential to human rationality (inferential sapience), from biological functions (animal sentience), and then b) use such epistemic assurances to take account of discursive practices and establish moral actions. The Hegelian end-game, as it were, is to not only establish (with certainty) the laws of thought, but to show how the possibilities of the world’s laws (Being) and rational laws (appearance) are one and the same: that is, rationally accessible through enlightened reason. What is important to such insights are that the conditions of finitude cannot be attached to such accounts: i.e. Sellars’ account of what concepts are in a community (that is inferential semantics) have no bearing on what can or can’t be known by an individual. All intuitive ambiguity must be rooted out: such that ‘what I can deduce is what I know’ and that such ‘ought to dos’ are necessary yet speculative features of grasping the best moral actions.
Stanley Cavell however is immeasurably harder to pin down: not least because whilst recognised as a major analytic American philosopher, he has never been discussed with much, if any, resounding depth in continental circles, and remains substantially unknown to various audiences who would stand to benefit from his work. Cavell’s thought is thoroughly respected, maybe referred to, yes, but was historically disregarded once the analytic mission ‘to know everything’ through cognitive science resumed itself and sidelined ordinary language philosophy. Secondary literature on Cavell continues to grow however, particularly on studies of literature, film (literary studies in general), American studies, Shakespeare, animal studies, political philosophy and even pedagogy.
Yet, if there is one thinker who attempted to unite both analytic and continental world views since the 50s it is Cavell, only he tried it in reverse. Usually, the analytic way of treating continental texts is to de-romanticise them, by eking out or condemning what is purported to be rational arguments. Cavell went the other way, and sought to romanticise the analytic tradition by showing that it never had any absolute rational arguments in the first place. Thus, Cavell was emphasising ambiguity and the instability of language, independent of Saussure, Lacan, Habermas, even Derrida, and way before structuralist and poststructuralist texts arrived on our Anglophone shores in the 60s. Before Continental philosophy ever thought Žižek (or perhaps Baudry before him) was radical in combining philosophical insight into American cinema, Cavell caused disconcerting ripples in analytic circles when he starting doing it in the late 60s, and arguably did it better.
More significantly Cavell’s style of writing, like his thought and world-view, screams prose which is most un-analytic: ambiguity. His work does not fit into any noticeable philosophical idiom. Largely auto-biographical, entirely playful, but never simple – his insights are analytically complex, but written with an attitude much akin to the continental tradition: which is to say, staggeringly allusive yet direct. This, of course, matches Cavell’s heroes, whose prose preys upon and exudes ambiguity: namely the giants of Emerson and Wittgenstein. No wonder Cavell often expresses little interest in meaning anything bar “the accuracy of wording an intuition”. (In Quest of the Ordinary: 53). From here on in, unless otherwise stated, all citations are from In Quest of the Ordinary.
If Sellars is compelling for accelerationists because of his rigorous, technical accounts of what abstract concepts are in a scientific realism, Cavell is compelling because he presents an alternative difficulty: one that proceeds from not knowing: or a willingness to forgo it. There is no technically demanding jargon in Cavell: and barely a consistent systematic technique. He constructs arguments through atmosphere and intuitive lines of enquiry. Sentences which hold moments of stillness, generating an idea and then ending abruptly, but following on through wispy moments of insight, much like a musical score (Cavell began his career as a musical prodigy). His general register freely embraces philosophical insights with auto-biographical notes (philosophy just is autobiographical for Cavell), abstract deductions with concrete experiments, literary ideas with film experiences, Shakespearian tragedy with jazz overtones.
But Sellars and Cavell’s differences are exemplified not just by style, but also by the content and reception of their philosophical outlook. Reception wise: Sellars technical prose, which borders on being life-threateningly dull, provides the kind of challenge which the muscular philosophers among us feel the need to measure up to and surpass, like a scientific research grant or an unsolved mathematical problem. Ineffably technical to the end, Sellars excels in the matter of deductively writing in a certain way, to get out the theorems one is looking for. That reason, and reason only, is the true method of grasping things. To read Sellars then, is to know what one wants (to resolve the gap between oneself and one’s world) and to expect a result at the end of it: an account that answers the thorny issue of explaining, accounting or defining the ordinary within the “scientific image” and proceeding from there.
Cavell, unsurprisingly, establishes the complete opposite: the reader has no quick response, no general method of opposition to his ideas. There isn’t meant to be one. This is a philosopher, who takes pride in admitting that he tried to make Thoreau’s Walden more difficult, not on the adoption of jargon, but on the basis of how it educates problems in philosophy. Philosophy for Cavell, never makes any genuine progress, so neither should his writings. Philosophy will never be able to model itself successfully on the sciences, as it never thrives on deductive answers. Philosophy does not command a privileged relationship to reality, as it thinks science does or science thinks of itself: only the knowledge of science would purport the demolition of the ordinary, to which it’s own practice depends on. Accelerationism, likes other disciplines renders matters as supreme to themselves, such that the ordinary, monotonous means of how they got there are lost: their complexity squandered into an easy simple vision (its no surprise that Cavell was a close friend of Thomas Kuhn at UC Berkeley, and amongst other influential affinities, introduced him to Wittgenstein).
The Cavellian method actively incites disturbances and tensions in the reader, but ones that cannot be assimilated into one easy position or framework, where an effective solution is baldly asserted. Reading Cavell is akin to finding one’s own voice, in the midst of accompanying Cavell’s own. This is an important quality. And so, both Sellars and Cavell differ immeasurably in their accounts of what can be rationally asserted as real, and how the possibilities for how human language can be used. In fact, its not so much a differing account, but a diametric opposition.
Cavell’s relationship to what I’m calling ordinaryism, matches Sellars relationship to accelerationism in one formal sense: a collection of world-view tools set to work on two separate problems occurring in post-Kantian philosophy. For Sellars, the aim of philosophy from Kant onwards is to blatantly ‘solve’ Kant’s transcendentalism, insofar as philosophising operates as a “stereoscopic fusion” accounting for one privileged insight of knowing how one’s concepts work and how one functions. As Cavell puts it, “the aim of reason [is] to know, objectively, without stint; to penetrate reality itself.” [The Claim of Reason, 431]
In this regard, Cavell’s approach to language and humanity, is presented as a legitimate alternative to the latter: namely that the ordinary is a worthwhile avenue for philosophy and political change, not to eliminated out of existence: to be looked for and lived in, but not to be known. What does it mean to abide with reality? Is that even enough? This is the question of the ordinary.
To that effect, the entire epistemological role of the human creature changes (Cavell prefers ‘human creature’ to subject or rational agents): for Sellars and the accelerationist world-view, the human creature’s basis in the world must self-master its own conceptual possibilities for freedom, like a cognitive open-source self. For Cavell and the ordinaryist world-view, the ordinary human creature’s basis in the world, takes interest in its skeptical limits. In Cavell’s words, “the human creature’s basis in the world as a whole, its relation to the world as such, is not that of knowing, anyway not what we think of as knowing.” (The Claim of Reason: 241) That the skeptical limitations of knowledge are not failures of it, but an attempt to bargain with the things-in-themselves.
I emphasise this contrast between Sellars and Cavell, mainly to bring about an old Cavellian insight as to why accelerationism originates in the form that it does, and why it does.
This issue is present in Cavell’s understanding of modern skepticism: the deceptive fraudulence of what one experiences, the feeling of distrust to that which becomes given. Cavell’s innovative treatment of scepticism is never given its dues: perhaps as the broader interpretation of recent theory in the midst of ecological catastrophe, technological infrastructure and global networks, has done away with concentrating on such banal philosophical problems. When the environment is disintegrating and a just world seems more unlikely, old problems of wondering whether ‘we’re dreaming’ or not, seem less and less justifiable.
Fair enough: but this is not Cavell’s insight into skepticism. Skepticism for Cavell is less a rigorous method or intellectual exercise than it is a relation to the world that establishes itself within living in the everyday. “My idea”, as Cavell writes in In Quest of the Ordinary, “is that what in philosophy is known as skepticism is a relation to the world, and to others, and to myself, and to language, that is known to what you might call literature.” (155) Skepticism, following Wittgenstein and Heidegger, is not about whether one refutes knowing anything outright, but a mark or basic feature of finitude that constitutes human existence. It is not the case that skepticism is true, (i.e. relativism) but of re-emphasising the irrefutability of truth within skepticism. In his words, written elsewhere, the problem of skepticism does “not consist in denying the conclusion of skepticism but in reconceiving its truth” [The Senses of Walden, 133].
The legitimacy of scepticism reminds us of the contingency of criteria that a society possesses of itself. We can never be absolutely certain of ourselves and our relation to the world, nor of our words, nor of securing what they mean. To understand what we mean by a moral utterance, or command is to already bring the ambiguity of the world to such utterances, and any attempt to narrow such definitions, of making them explicit, or grounded in certainty, is utterly doomed. Language does not await precise explicit, functional use, but is unintentionally bubbling through us within contingent slips, mistakes and failures. What we mean, must forever stay implicit if we are to communicate at all.
Cavell’s target of course were the logical positivists, who did aspire to such certainty. Cavell reinterpreted their philosophy thus: instead of actually knowing a truth, or claiming some cast-iron logical proposition which brings human knowledge closer to reality, the logical positivists distanced themselves from the ambiguity of the ordinary even further. The logical positivists evacuated the ordinary, attempting to fill it with an artificial, scientific theoretical language of functional certainty, whereupon deductive answers, much like scientific theories would emerge, hard won and settled as fact. Cavell allied himself as an American interpreter of Oxford’s ordinary language philosophy (particularly J. L. Austin’ work), a new technique of undermining logical semantic certainty by emphasising how a certain word or game is used within a society, as established in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.
Yet Cavell went further and deeper than other ordinary language philosophers by aligning their insights towards a renewed focus on post-Kantian scepticism (in the same historical manner Sellars achieved with his own philosophy) – on how one lives, or how a society functions despite these irrevocable conditions of finitude. No doubt of course that fundamental to the human condition is to know: to make the world more present, to solve skepticism. This is what Kant ultimately achieved: to bargain with skepticism and establish a conceptual stability founded on epistemological mastery, which Sellars thinks he has extended and accelerationism follows in equal measure.
But such stability comes at a price. The bargaining of building Kant’s transcendental a priori synthetic knowledge, assures us that the thing-in-itself exists, yet we are forced to give up true knowledge of it. At the cost of preventing human thought from lapsing into crippling doubt, Kant prevents us from gaining knowledge about the world we know exists beyond us. In short, Cavell argues that Kant gave up intimacy with the things in themselves in order to establish conceptual certainty. “You don’t – do you?” Cavell laments, “have to be a romantic to feel sometimes about that settlement: Thanks for nothing.” (31)
Cavell’s interpretation of logical positivism followed this line of diagnosis: the human creature performs a certain kind of violent satisfaction in response to the discovery of its limitations, where our relation to the world is contested. And its this sense of anti-romantic satisfaction which accelerationism excels at: not stopping at self-mastery, but of suspending illusions, and building a platform for Promethean expansion. Its own form of bargaining with human mastery and planning for a more ‘just’ world, may appear effective, but still carries with it all the same Kantian bargaining tools of a settlement which it has little hope of fully mastering. That’s the trouble with bargaining with the noumenon: the other party (the things in themselves) might deceive and hoodwink the terms of agreement.
Caught in the bind of disappointment with the world, and of being a disappointed species because of it: we are a set of creatures who are continually ordinary. Accelerationism appears less a system of bargaining, than a wish fulfilment. One that accelerates Kant’s bargain into some unknown techno-future, on a foolhardy whim that rationality is somehow more significant than everything else, or rather, such mastering will always get on the best side of the agreement. A revenge against the romantic that dared to suggest something else.
Ordinaryism offers no such remedies, and any appeals to such expansions are fragile, fraught with tragedy or crafting goals out of the banal facets of the ordinary. Bargaining with skepticism, is in Cavell’s eyes, simply a redirection of its difficulty. In his preface to Must We Mean What We Say? he presses his finger on this salient point:
“The idea that there is no absolute escape from (the threat of) illusions and the desires constructed from them says there is no therapy for this, in the sense of a cure for it … [that] was evidently something that captured my fascination halfway through Must We Mean What We Say? with Samuel Beckett’s Endgame––in effect a study of the circumstances that, “You’re on Earth, there is no cure for that.” [Must We Mean What We Say, 129]
Au contraire, demands accelerationism, we have the moral cure! But to know it, you’re going to have to sacrifice the ordinary, and why not? As Cavell notes, the enlightenment’s conscience is likely to herald Kant’s achievement intact: the Sellarsian response may feel, yes Kant, “thanks for everything.” (53) However, in The Claim of Reason, Cavell utterly dismantled philosophy’s quest for the foundations of moral obligation, by showing that it too had bargained with Kant’s foundations for knowledge: that somehow, the dream, as is accelerationism’s dream, to fully render some natural method of grasping a common world to which everyone ‘reasons’ in a space. That reason: inferential reason, is supposedly enough of a confrontation to be, quoting Cavell, “sufficiently powerful [that] it must work on people at random, like a ray.” [The Claim of Reason, 326]
But the ordinary doesn’t exist as an implicit fallacy to be eliminated away by the confrontations of ‘science’. Instead it operates as a romantic supplement to monitor the stability of accelerationism’s settlement: both of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. There is then, a new profound sense of ‘thanks for nothing’ in accelerationism: one that is a measure of dissatisfaction with Romantic attitudes and of their current instability, under attack from speculative realism (of what Meillassoux terms correlationism), amongst other positions. Ordinaryism will argue that this measure of satisfaction with Kant’s settlement is a measure of its stability, one that has persisted to this day: and speculative realism is nothing if not a movement that has become entirely dissatisfied with it. In other words, acceptance of this settlement heralds the conflict of a different version, upgrade, or application of skepticism. A different bargaining.
Romanticism’s answer was to fully justify the existence of the world outside thought, and that the act of enlightenment’s self-mastery had itself lost nature, or even tried to kill it off. For the Romantics (Cavell being one) the task set before them, proceeds in how we can recover, or cure the world from the violence of this Kantian settlement. But this, as Cavell fully admits is also another bargaining, set up from scepticism itself. The first generation’s response to this Kantian settlement was romantic animism, another ‘thanks for nothing’ type of bargaining: that the world lives and dies, as if it were another being (55-56).
Cavell’s own response is to return to the ordinary, as per his interpretation of Wittgenstein. The return to the everyday and ordinary things, which must now bargain with scepticism, and not successfully. That is, “the drift toward skepticism as the discovery of the everyday, a discovery of exactly what it is that skepticism would deny … the impulse to take thought about our lives inherently seeks to deny” (170-71) The way that ordinary language is expressed, or, pushing Cavell further, how ordinary things are used is the challenge of acceptance – with the emphasis placed on challenge rather than acceptance. The issue becomes one of paring knowledge as one fragment of the ordinary, together with Cavell’s suggestion that:
“the existence of the world . . . is not a matter to be known, but one to be acknowledged. And now what emerges is that what is to be acknowledged is this existence as separate from me, as if gone from me. . . . the world must be regained every day, in repetition, regained as gone.” 
But to take this further, ordinaryism – and its romantic slant – now has to orient towards a different bargaining strategy, as accelerationism chooses to do. Accelerationism takes Sellarsian tropes and moves them further than Sellars ever realistically envisaged. Its form of bargaining enlists that which is most contemporary: science, computation and quantifiable knowledge. Accelerationism brings forth its ray-like vision, onto the realm of automated systems, extended science and machines. It is the site where rational progress becomes constitutive of a deterministic machine, following rules to an-already decided, method of reason, unanswerable to anything other than more reasons of settlement.
For ordinaryism, language is out of date and out of time. Ordinaryism must keep up with such developments, but not under the banner of progress or knowledge. Instead ordinaryism understands the ordinary within the entangled ecologies of media and machine: of that which we took, and still take for granted. Of what became radically altered once the ordinary mysteriously entered the realms of automation.
Cavell notes that the ordinary changed significantly after the abstraction of logical positivism: ordinary language looked uncanny after it, as if analytic philosophers were discovering for the first time how language, through little reason of its own, operates within the lost meadows of un-graspedness. Just as accelerationism enlists technology for its own sceptical bargaining, ordinaryism enlists the affordances of technology too – how we live in an ecology where such everyday automatedness is continually un-grasped. We must realign, as Cavell does, overlapping regions, “not in [the] deflections of skepticism but in … respect for it, as for a worthy other; I think of it as [a] recognition not of the uncertainty of failure of our knowledge but of our disappointment with its success.” [Emerson’s Transcendental Etudes: 118].
To this end, ordinaryism’s uncanniness must be taken up in automated systems and computational networks, but these appear not as extensions of knowledge, but as separate, wider fields of acknowledgment, to which knowledge is one fragment: not the defining mechanism. That complex systems produced from us within the ordinary, solidify dissappointments with reason’s success: of its extension and operation. And the opportunity to regain the ordinary still stands, but in the time of machines, and systems executing beyond ones finite knowledge: an ecological pluralism of finitude awaits those who wish to bargain anew: of our finitude and theirs.
Ordinaryism’s new dissatisfaction with scepticism specifies nothing more than to inject a romantic slant back into the heart of the machine.
With sincere thanks to Paul Ennis who read through an earlier draft.
Tatiana Bazzichelli is a researcher, networker and curator, working in the field of hacktivism and net culture. She is part of the transmediale festival team in Berlin, where she develops the reSource for transmedial culture, an ongoing distributed project of networking and research within the transmediale festival. She received a Ph.D. in Information and Media Studies from Aarhus University (DK), conducting research on disruptive art practices in the business of social media (title: Networked Disruption: Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking). Bazzichelli is also a Postdoc Researcher at the Centre for Digital Cultures /Leuphana University of Lüneburg (DE).
In light of absolute domination by market forces over all of our lives, and with the top-down orientated power systems’ bias towards business and the implementation of a consumer class. New ways of thinking around the problem is called for. There has been a dramatic shift of unethical companies such as BP funding art’s and technology projects, and mainstream museums and galleries in the UK.  Alongside this, those hoping to receive arts funding are told to be innovative and more entrepreneurial than they already are. What they really mean by ‘innovative and entrepreneurial’ is, get in line with the values of a corporate mentality, and not be contextual or critical in one’s art practice. This wholesale move towards business as it further dominates the content, ideas, societal context, and missions by artists and art collectives – is of deep concern for all who wish to explore freedoms of expression on their own terms and not inline with the state’s or a corporation’s set of diverting agendas.
Art activism in media art and transdiscilpnary arts culture has engaged with political and societal issues while under the gaze of neoliberalism quite successfully. However, what changes have occured that we can draw upon to say we have built real alternative values for others to work with? There are plenty of people from the dark side calling us to join them, like that eirie voice from the original Evil Dead movie.
I’m reminded of Thomas Frank’s insightful words in his article TED talks are lying to you, that those who urge us to “think different” almost never do so themselves.  And this is the nub, what will become us if we step over into their world and adapt our minds to their visions?
“To expect or even wish those who rule and those serving them to change, and challenge their own behaviours and seriously critique their own actions is as likely as winning the National Lottery, perhaps even less.”  (Garrett 2013)
So, this brings us Tatiana Bazzichelli who has been thinking about this stuff a lot. Her Proposition is that we need climb out of these oppositional loops in order to find different ways of being, and refocus on potential art strategies in relation to a broken economy. In her publication Networked Disruption: Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking, Bazzichelli puts forward the notion of disruptive business and it “becomes a means for describing immanent practices of hackers, artists, networkers and entrepreneurs”, and sheds “light on two different but related critical scenes: that of Californian tech culture and that of European net culture – with a specific focus on their multiple approaches towards business and political antagonism.”
Marc Garrett: In your book you examine a breadth of disruptive practices of networked art and hacking culture in California and Europe. You propose your main objective is to rethink the meaning of critical practices in art, hacktivism and social networking, analyzing them through business instead of being in opposition to it.
Could you explain how this would change situations and what it would bring to artists exploring disruption as part of their practice, networked art culture and the wider community, and what this may look like?
Tatiana Bazzichelli: I will begin answering your question by adding another one: Why do we need to rethink artistic and hacktivist oppositions in the context of social media and after the emergence of Web 2.0? This question is at the core of my book, and also the main link that connects together my previous book, Networking: The Net as Artwork (2006), and the following ones centered on the concept of networked disruption and disrupting business.
The idea of conscious participation in media practices is central to analyse the evolution and transformation of the concept of “networking” in the age of social media. My reflections are the consequence of a process of direct involvement within the activist (or rather “artivist”) scene in Italy since the mid-90s, and furthermore, they are based on the analysis of a more international fieldwork of practices between the Europen tradition of netculture, and the development of cyberculture in California. Practically all my books are to be thought of as subjective, and as consequences of a personal experience which aims to create connections between very diverse fields of action, applying the idea of networking both in theory and practice, and as a methodology of writing.
Between the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s, many actions of media criticism were often very dialectical, and rooted on the idea of antagonism as radical opposition. I am for example thinking about what was (erroneously) called “the anti-globalization movement”, the protests in Seattle, Prague, Goteborg, Genoa, etc.: somehow it was easier to identify an “enemy”, for everyone to unite against the same power. Unfortunately this also meant that it was easier to identify the members of the movement(s) themselves, and many protests faced violent chains of repression by the authorities. In particular in Genoa, the Italian movement and its global counterparts were hit hard. My personal opinion is that the frontal opposition, the idea of assaulting the “red zone” during the protests, did not work at all: we basically played the game of the police. Without dismissing this experience, which was very important in itself and for the start of new activist projects, after Genoa 2001 I started searching for a new way of activism that was not black and white, and which would be harder to appropriate. This was also the reason why I started entering in contact with many projects in the queer, pink, and independent porn culture, which were combining ludic strategies and playful disruption beyond oppositional confrontation. I was trying to connect those to the concept of hacking – mixing the codes to create disturbance, to generate subliminal interventions, to give rise to paradoxes, fakes and pranks, as previous projects based on multiple identities, from Luther Blissett to Neoism and Monty Cantsin, had done before.
“In 1994, hundreds of European artists, activists and pranksters adopted and shared the same identity. They all called themselves Luther Blissett and set to raising hell in the cultural industry. It was a five year plan. They worked together to tell the world a great story, create a legend, give birth to a new kind of folk hero.” Luther Blissett.
But after 2004, which is also the time of the emergence of Web 2.0, the critical framework of art and hacktivism shifted: networking, a concept which had informed the Avant-garde since the 1960s, became a tool for a wider audience, and a pervasive business strategy. The ideas of openness, do it yourself, sharing, the “mottos” of the hacker culture in the 1990s, became the main rhetoric of the Web 2.0 companies based on the appropriation of “free culture”. This meant to me that also artistic and hacker practices needed to be recontextualised, since the concept of social networking became something completely different from its roots, and the business companies themselves were applying the concept of disruption as main business logic. Is it possible to oppose disruption with disruption?
In the era of immaterial economy and increasing flexibility, the act of responding with radical opposition no longer looks like an effective practice, since the risk is to simply feed the same machine replicating the capitalistic logic of competitiveness and power conflicts. In my opinion, and here I speak through my “artivist” experience, even the concept of the multitude as a model of resistance against the capitalist system – which runs at a theoretical level – is difficult to apply on a pragmatic level without having to recreate the traditional dynamics of the “power-contra power” conflict. The point is to try to figure out how to imagine new forms of participation that go beyond dualistic conflict – and that go beyond the creation of a hegemonic and holistic entity, although presented as a plural (the multitude, indeed). As a result, it is definitely necessary to reformulate the language, which enters the sphere of production and the political, as Paolo Virno states, but most of all, activists practices and critical strategies need to be rethought.
What my book Networked Disruption suggests is the act of performing within the capitalist framework, not against it, keeping the dialectic open through coexisting oppositions. The notion of disruptive business is useful for reflecting on different modalities of generating criticism, shedding light on contradictions and ambiguities both in capitalistic logics and in artistic and hacktivist strategies, while rethinking oppositional practices in the context of social networking. In this book the concept of the Art of Disrupting Business must be interpreted beyond categorical definitions, and as a new input for imagination. “Disruption” implies a multi-angled perspective and it is a two-way process, where business and the antagonism of business intertwine. Adopting a hacker’s strategy, hacktivists and artists take up the challenge of understanding how capitalism works, transforming it into a context for intervention and trying to alter business logics. Rethinking strategies and modalities of opposition implies that new forms of interventions and political awareness should be proposed without antagonising them, but rather by playing with them and disrupting them from the inside of the machine. The vision of a distributed network of practices, participations and relationships can only be fragmented, and based on multiple layers of imagination.
Today there are artists and activists who are inspired by a certain tradition of “disruption”, creating interventions from within, critically appropriating the business logics, stretching its limits, or proposing alternative models to it. Many of them are the case studies of my book, where I propose a constellation of social networking projects that challenge the notion of power and hegemony, and where social networking is not only technologically determined. Projects and experiences such as mail art, Neoism, The Church of the SubGenius, Luther Blissett, Anonymous, Anna Adamolo, Les Liens Invisibles, the Telekommunisten collective, The San Francisco Suicide Club, The Cacophony Society, the early Burning Man Festival, the NoiseBridge hackerspace, and many others. Of course there are many more of these. Holes in the system are everywhere, ready to be performed and disrupted.
MG: There is a quote in the book that it says, “Innovation is rooted in Desire, not need. Desire is the motivation for behaviour. Desire leads to goals, and goals lead to motivation, the internal condition that gives rise to what we want to do, based on our goals, what can we do – based on the norms of behaviour – and what we will do – the actions that we voluntarily decide to undertake. Motivation is the ethos of goal-oriented behaviour, and a company’s ability to understand motivation directly contributes to the success of their products and services in the marketplace” (Manu, 2010, p. 3).
I’m wondering, coming from an activist background myself where do you think free culture fits into this dialogue, especially in respect as a critique of products and services in the marketplace, as well as social forms of emancipation?
TB: The quote you are referring to comes from a book entitled Disrupting Business: Desire, Innovation and the Re-design of Business (Alexander Manu, 2010). As we can read in the business literature, the concept of disruptive business is rooted in the idea of disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation, a term coined in 1997 by Clayton Christensen, Professor at the Harvard Business School, is used in business contexts to describe innovations that introduces a product or service in ways that the market does not expect. In the business culture, disruption not only means rupture, but links to the idea of innovation and re-design of behavioural tendencies. Therefore performing disruption shows a process that interferes with business, whilst at the same time generating new forms of business. This mutual feedback loop is at the core of my analysis.
However in my book business is neither analysed through classical business school methodologies, nor seen as positive or negative, but it is a means for working consciously on political practices – and for raising questions on art and media criticism. In 2009 I was a visiting scholar at Stanford University where I was researching the reasons of the progressive commercialisation of networking contexts after the emergence of Web 2.0, through the development of hacker culture in the Silicon Valley. From the interviews that I conducted, and also via the close reading of the book From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner, it was evident that since the development of the early cyberculture hackers and members of the so-called “counterculture” have been trying to disrupt business via their practices, and in parallel, business corporations have been trying to do the same through technological innovation. Since the 1960´s, hackers and artists in California have been active agents in business innovation while at the same time also undermining business. This is also very evident today in the business context of Web 2.0 where many hackers are working at the core of business, while disrupting it – the Anonymous entity is one of the most successful examples of this.
In my book I compare what the concept of business disruption meant in the European context and in the US, especially in Silicon Valley. When I was interviewing computer engineer Lee Felsenstein he told me that in California hackers would refuse hegemony but not business. This is also why many of them have no problem in working for Google, which is actually employing the best hackers of the area. In Italy we always claimed that hacking is politics, and politics is an “attitude”, which informs your everyday life and lifestyle. What I discovered in the Silicon Valley is that libertarian practices are often linked with the refusal of the political, and this is the position of many members of the hacker culture in California. Therefore, what for me was the initial “problem”, the contamination of business and free culture, was not considered as such among the hackers that I met between San Francisco and Palo Alto.
This consideration leads me to create a model of analysis named the “disruptive feedback loop”, based on the idea of layering instead of cooptation – such an idea of “layering” rather than cooptation, was proposed by Fred Turner in the lecture “The Bohemian Factory: Burning Man, Google and the Countercultural Ethos of New Media Manufacturing” (2009), while discussing the social phenomenon of Burning Man. The idea of the “mutual feedback loop” between business and hacker culture is instead the result of a conversation in 2009 with Jacob Appelbaum, who at the time was an active member of NoiseBridge in San Francisco, when we were reflecting on the development of hacker spaces in California. In my disruptive loop model, artists and hackers use disruptive techniques of networking in the framework of social media and web-based services to generate new modalities for using technology, which, in some cases, are unpredictable and critical; business enterprises apply disruption as a form of innovation to create new markets and network values, which are also often unpredictable. Networked disruption is a place where the oppositions coexist, and it is a reconfiguration of practices into a structure of mutual feedback instead of opposition.
Here I propose disrupting business as an art practice: artists and hackers adopt viral and flexible strategies, as does contemporary networking business, and by provoking contradictions, paradoxes and incongruities, business logic is détourned. This model can be applied both in the analysis of business contexts of social networking and of critical practices generated by hackers and artists. For example, projects such as Anna Adamolo and Seppukoo reflect on the tensions between the open and closed nature of social media, stressing the limits of Facebook’s platform, and working on unpredictable consequences generated by a disruptive use of it. Paradoxically, to be critical of business we should learn from it.
The Telekommunisten collective explains this well, and it is not a coincidence that Dmytri Kleiner comes from a Neoist background: the experiences of Luther Blissett and Neoism made it hard to see any “truth”, they forced us to question and examine our identities. If you claim to have the truth, you will fail – someone else will proclaim the truth, and perhaps with much more strength and power than you. The Miscommunication Technologies by the Telekommunisten show that the enemy can eat you up and that the capitalist system has endlessly more resources to force its “truth” on you. We have to learn from business, understand how to be pervasive. My point is that we should stop looking for the enemy, because who is the enemy today when disruption and its opposition are feeding the same machine? The challenge is to unite where the system can’t get you, and you’re not playing into its hands, exposing contradictions, generating disturbance, to disrupt and perform the feedback loop at once. The challenge facing the art of disruptive business is to dissipate oppositions through a network of multiple, distributed, playful and disruptive practices.
MG: It was licensed under a peer Production License (http://p2pfoundation.net/Copyfarleft), similar to a Copyfarleft License (http://p2pfoundation.net/Peer_Production_License). Very different than a Creative Commons Licence, and drawn up by one of the artists you write about in the book Dmytri Kleiner. It feels relevant to be on the P2P Foundation wiki, however it would be useful know how it relates to the context of your publication?
TB: As it is stated on the P2P Foundation website, based on the text published in The Telekommunist Manifesto, “the Peer Production License is an example of the Copyfarleft type of license, in which only other commoners, cooperatives and nonprofits can share and re-use the material, but not commercial entities intent on making profit through the commons without explicit reciprocity”. The Peer Production License is a hack of the Creative Commons licenses. Where the Creative Commons is mostly used for sharing works non-commercially, the Peer Production License wants to contribute in expanding a non-capitalist economy, generating earnings that are shared equally. Commercial use is therefore encouraged for independent and collective/common-based users only, proposing a business logic that does not lead to a private appropriation of community-created value.
This logic is also at the core of the “Venture Communism” concept coined by Dmytri Kleiner in 2001, which proposes to allocate equally the collectively owned material wealth, and to create a peer-to-peer social commons as an alternative to venture capitalism.
I decided to release the Networked Disruption book under this license because I consider it a coherent intellectual gesture, and also a “business experiment”. From what Dmytri told me this is the first book released under this license after the Telekommunist Manifesto, and hopefully the use of such license, if increased, will be part of poking a small hole in the capitalist economy, generating value which is not going into few owners’ pockets, but is shared equally among the workers and producers. This is also the reason why all my publications exist both online and on paper and are freely downloadable from the web, because it would be contradictory to write about certain topics and then release my toughts under proprietary licenses. In this case, since the book is about disrupting business, I decided to apply a disrupting business license, and to my point of view this is what the Peer Production License is.
Bazzichelli’s investigation is a timely and necessary critique on how to free up networked forms of freedom of expression and its varied practice. At first, I was suspicious. Indeed, in a later publication on the subject co-edited by Tatiana Bazzichelli & Geoff Cox, called Disrupting Business: Art and Activism in Times of Financial Crisis; “Bifo” Berardi, in his article EMPTINESS says “Business is, in my opinion, the most despicable word in the vocabulary. Well, I will try to express it better: the meaning and implications of the word ‘business’ in contemporary culture and daily life, and the positive emphasis placed on this term, are the most telling symptoms of the abysmal alienation of our time.” On this I agree.
We are all emersed in the sea of neoliberalism and we are struggling to keep our heads above the water at various levels. Some are aware of it and are not dealing with it, most are unconscious of it and are drowning in it, and then there are those actively awake and exploring different and innovative ways to survive and hack ‘around, in between and through’ this deep totalising ocean.
Whether we like it or not, business unfortunately is the dominating regime controlling our interactions, and this includes our cultural, digital interfaces and social contexts. Bazzichelli asks us to stare into the monster’s face – what Bifo sees as a deep emptiness. She pulls out of the slimey depths a glimmer of hope and an advancement for playful and critically aware forms of artistic disruption. It is an academic and cultural hack and reminds me of Donna Haraway’s proposition in the mid 90s for Situated Knowledges. Haraway realised with other collaborators that it was a fantasy to think that the patriarch was going to somehow willingly hand over control and be enlightened to the idea that women scientists should be accepted as equal in history and academia.
“We seek not the knowledges ruled by phallogocentrism (nostalgia for the presence of the one true world) and disembodied vision. We seek those ruled by partial sight and limited voice – not partiality for its own sake but, rather, for the sake of the connections and the unexpected openings situated knowledges make possible. Situated knowledges are about communities, not isolated individuals.”  (Haraway 1996)
Her proposition is not suggesting that critical, ethical artists and pranksters give up and put down their tools and become business men and women instead. Using terms such as ‘disrupting business’ is not conforming or giving up the fight. It is a shift in strategy. She has successfully illustrated that there is a continual rise in imaginative experimentation where artistic hacking with the protocols, interfaces, code, data and surveillance is alive and well. It is about infiltration of these ideological defaults and the power systems that rely on them. Resistance is not futile, it is just changing direction from reliance for absolute desire (which lets face it is rarely fullfilled) from momentary tactics and momentary hacks, into informed hacking with socially aware and engaged strategies. She is asking for an intelligent response, a less macho way in dealing with the problem. This means building deeper relations with others through affinities and sharing critical knowledges while disrupting the business of neoliberalism. And most of all, carry on playing…
Featured image: XRay by Claude Chuzel
“One of the most consequential outcomes of this ubiquitous mode of organization of social life is that we have become so accustomed to relating to space in “either/or” and “here/there” terms that we have become mentally trapped inside this binary border-based model, making it difficult to imagine alternative ways of territorial organization.” Popescu [1a]
Maps inform us where things are situated. The borders depicted in each map propose a different view on the social conditions, attitudes, and interactions with others in the world. The AntiAtlas of borders project shows us different approaches for understanding “the mutations of control systems along land, sea, air and virtual states” and their borders. It has done this through the combined contributions of social and ‘hard’ science researchers and artists, all engaged in creative practices including Internet art, tactical geography, filmmakers, performers and hackers. The project also includes other relevant actors such as people working as professionals for customs agencies, surveillance industries and the military.
This is the first of two interviews with Isabelle Arvers who has collaborated with the IMERA team (the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Research of Aix-Marseille University), to curate this expansive and dynamic project. The first interview discusses the operational side of the project and the next interview examines selected writings, artworks, projects and ideas featured as part of the project.
Marc Garrett: Before we begin the interview it would great if you could tell us when and where the exhibitions, events, publications and other parts of the project begin?
Isabelle Arvers: The AntiAtlas programme will run from 30 September 2013 to 1 March 2014 and will be composed of five initiatives: an inaugural international symposium, two exhibitions, a website and the publication of a book. The International Conference will be held from 30 September – 2 October 2013 at the New Conservatory of Aix en Provence. The main aim of this conference is to present the results of the interdisciplinary workshops that took place in the last two years at IMéRA et at the Higher School of Art of Aix-en-Provence.
The AntiAtlas of borders will present two interlinked exhibitions. The first will take place in Aix-en-Provence at the Musée des Tapisseries from 1 October to 3 November 2013. The second will take place in Marseille at La Compagnie creative arts centre from 13 December 2013 to 1 March 2014. The two exhibitions will present works developed in collaboration with social scientists, researchers in the hard sciences and artists. They will offer several levels of reading and forms of participation. Visitors will discover new works, engage with transmedia documentation and participate in experiments. They will interact directly with robots, drones, video games, walls and systems. The aim is to encourage everyone to reflect on how we are directly and personally affected by the transformations of borders in the 21st century.
The final version of the website www.antiatlas.net/eng is an online extension of the exhibitions. Most importantly, the website provides access to works of net.art and artistic interventions in the form of an online gallery of works. This website and its documentation will extend the progress and reach achieved by the project. It will act as an archive and documentation site for the general public, artists, researchers and institutions.
In 2014, an AntiAtlas of border publication will be produced, gathering publications of researchers and artists on different and selected themes of the international conference and the two exhibitions.
MG: What has been your involvement with AntiAtlas?
IA: When I met the IMERA team (the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Research of Aix-Marseille University), they were looking for a curator in order to disseminate the outcomes of the past three years of seminars they conducted on borders. I saw this project as a great opportunity as there was a political dimension within it that attracted me. Also, I am deeply interested in tactical media and tactical geography and by new forms of visualisation and new aesthetics related to systems of control like drones, robots, satellites or surveillance cameras.
I wanted to create a participatory event that would allow people to follow our work online and offline. I also wanted to mix different kinds of works from research in the hard and social sciences to artistic installations, websites, games and videos. To do so, we decided to create a website www.antiatlas.net that would gather artworks, research articles and interviews, an online gallery and also all the presentations given during the different seminars conducted by IMERA on borders during the last three years. Thanks to the website, we were able to launch a call for proposals as I wanted to get the testimonies and the voice of migrants about their vision on borders.
Very quickly we understood that we needed to get more funding and partners, so I offered to seek media, private and institutional partnerships as well as to manage the communication of the entire event. This fundraising was needed to promote a global vision of the antiAtlas of borders and to link all the parts of the event: from the website, to the call for proposal, till the international seminar and the two exhibitions. Because of my multiple engagements in the project, I became one of the 5 co-producers of the programme.
MG: This is a complex project. It is noticeable that there is a diverse and dynamic, cross section of different practices being bridged to make it all happen. Has it been difficult to combine all of these practices so they can relate to each other coherently?
IS: Combining all these different practices was a wonderful and exciting adventure. During one year and a half, we worked very closely with the scientific and artistic committee and tried to exchange as much as possible between different visions and ways of working. I learned a lot from researchers and was amazed by the deep understanding and knowledge they have on the subject of borders. Thanks to their research and to their approaches to this issue, I was able to get a very diverse understanding of this complex subject. From me, they discovered the online communication and the power of the web and social networks to diffuse and share the information. They also got a better understanding of the tactical media field and we learned so much from each other that this experience is already a beautiful success in sharing and learning from passionate human beings. I come from media art world and I tried to respond to a scenario that the committee conceived with artists’ works, which is a very different way for me to work. This time I had a script to follow; the way I did it was to try to find some ludic interactive installations, as well as documentary projects or games, in order to allow the experimentation of the subject by the audience. They trusted me even if it wasn’t a field they knew well.
MG: Do you feel that it has de-compartmentalised these varied fields of knowledge successfully?
IS: What was particularly positive in the last seminars on borders we organised was that they allowed plenty of time to discuss and facilitate the exchange between the different perspectives. A specific example is a game project resulting from the collaboration between an anthropologist – Cédric Parizot – and a interactive laboratory from the Superior art School of Aix-en-Provence, which is led by the artist and game designer Douglas Edric Stanley. The idea is to create a “crossing industry game” drawing on the data collected by Cédric Parizot on trafficking. The collaboration addressed the visualisation, contextualisation and re-appropriation of a field of knowledge through game mechanics. I think that this experience really enriched all the team. The anthropologist was able to analyse his data in a different way, while the interactive students got closer to the reality of trafficking as they were experiencing through a game.
There are many other cross-disciplinary projects made in the framework of the AntiAtlas. I would say that what we want is to multiply different experiences and forms of knowledge on borders across and between the separate but intersecting fields of art and science. The exhibition is conceived to mix everything: research through the documentation space, researchers’ interviews, counter cartographies, interactive installations on biometrics and surveillance technologies, applications to divert control systems and documentaries providing a wider point of view on multiple dimensions of borders and their representations. Artists and researchers meet three times per year, some of them collaborate on trans-disciplinary projects, so that the conditions to meet and de-compartmentalise these fields are created. This is only the beginning. The process still needs to be pushed and facilitated as the antiAtlas is an attempt to create a new kind of cross-disciplinary encounter, let’s see how it will evolve!
This first interview with Arvers attended to organisational and operational aspects of the inter-disciplinary border-crossing within AntiAtlas project. The complex task of collating, sharing and collaborating to make it all happen at all could use its own map. The processes and engagements that evolved as the project took shape involved a collaboration of many different fields and practices, individuals, groups, organisations and cross cultural relations. This transdisciplinary approach helps us to unpack the deep levels of the meanings and value of crossing borders, in an organisational sense. Their dedication to transcend the seemingly ‘scripted’ blockages and restraints echoes a strong feeling that we need to re-assess the maps given to us, and what this means.
“What is needed to escape the modern mental “territorial trap” are ways of seeing and drawing that reveal what the geographical abstraction of the borderline obscures. It is only in this way, then, that we will acquire the necessary tools to think through a technologically enabled world of border flows and portals” Popescu.[1b]
Isabelle Arvers is an independent author, critic and exhibition curator. She specializes in the immaterial, bringing together art, video games, Internet and new forms of images by using networks and digital imagery. She has organized a large number of exhibitions in France and overseas (Australia, Canada, Brazil, Norway, Italy, Germany) and collaborates regularly with the Centre Pompidou and French and international festivals. http://www.isabellearvers.com/
Old Words Made New.
Ethical knowledge, sacred spaces, forgotten histories and challenging predispositions.
Furtherfield is pleased to present the excellent cross cultural project DISCLOSURE: Old Words Made New. We have collaborated with Medieval Studies Graduate Students from King’s College London, and artist Erica Scourti to reversion a contemporary representation on the subject of medieval social lives, based on the theme of ‘ethical knowledge’ through Old English. With a combination of works in the Finsbury Park surroundings, sound installations, collaborative writing, and performance.
The project is part of Colm Cille’s Spiral project, a collaboration between Difference Exchange, King’s College London and Furtherfield, and takes place alongside a commission by artist Erica Scourti. It relates to a series of contemporary art and literature commissions and dialogues rethinking the legacy of 6th Century Irish monk Colm Cille, or St Columba, that unfolds across Ireland and the UK, starting and ending in Derry-Londonderry for City of Culture 2013.
Come and add an Old English phrase to the Wordhoard painted onto the walls of Furtherfield Gallery!
Help us create a visual hoard of words, received from scholars all over the world, which will show the extent of the current study of Old English. Explore the memories of our site-specific work at Bradwell-on-Sea, a church built in 654 by St Cedd, by watching our recording of the event. Walk through Finsbury Park listening to the sounds of Old English poetry and meditating on trees that bleed.
For the event, Erica Scourti will present another iteration of her video postcard project, currently existing as a series of empty, annotated videos on her Instagram profile. As a one-off, the full set of over 100 videos emailed out to friends, family and online contacts over the summer period will be screened, the only time they will be shown publicly. Also, the metadata the recipients provided for each video will form the basis of a sound piece that will play throughout the afternoon.
The project has explored new ways to understand and interpret the language and social contexts of a time where Christianity was at its early phase of using its people through networks around the UK, whilst pagan culture was still thriving.
The question posed to the King’s College students was “If we existed in a contemporary society where the Internet could no longer be trusted because of systems of networked surveillance, what would be the different ways in which we could communicate?”
In July 2013 they showcased their findings at a live public event at the historic Bradwell-on-Sea Church, which is now being held at Furtherfield.
A warm thanks to Kings College lecturers Professor Clare Lees, Dr Joshua Davies, Dr James Paz for collaborating.
Other Colm Cille’s Spiral projects have taken place across the UK and Ireland as part of Derry-Londonderry City of Culture and can be explored at www.colmcillespiral.net
McKenzie Pavilion, Finsbury Park
London N4 2NQ
T: +44 (0)20 8802 2827
Furtherfield Gallery is supported by Haringey Council and Arts Council England.