[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

<eyebeam><blast> responses

I'd like to respond to a number of topics all at once: Jordan Crandall's
evocation of control technologies, the question of class raised by Alan
Sondheim, the notion of modernity put forth by Lev Manovich, Olu
Oguibe's discussion of artistic practice on the web, and Brett
Stalbaum's question about aesthetic criteria for interesting internet

It is not that difficult, first of all, to get to the political
consequences of computer-based control technologies like the ATM
identity-checking device by Sensar. (Jordan, if you'll permit me some
well-meaning critique, you often finish very interesting descriptions of
contemporary reality with an attempt to make complex things impossibly
complicated, as if you didn't really want to make a step toward
clarity.) The former military-industrial complex has clearly branched
out from its mainstay in intelligence and weapons systems to find new
clients in global finance and industrial strategy. But what is
developing is less some Big-Brother type of state control over
individual freedom, than a redefinition of class boundaries. Access to
money and to every kind of social power is determined by the degree of
the individual's functional adaptation to aggressively profit-oriented
business activity, carried out within a tightly organized juridical
structure. The 'identity' that is now checked at all kinds of social
borders and thresholds, both public and private, is precisely this
degree of adaptability to profit imperatives. The kinds of people,
specific discourses, cultural practices and personality traits that
don't fit those particular imperatives are filtered out. Indeed, the
filtering is generally done by the individual concerned, in his or her
desire to meet the criteria for access to money and social power. Those
who acquire the proper discipline over themselves become part of the
global managerial class.

In theory this should not matter to the rest of us. The police in the
Western societies are largely indifferent to one's political positions,
even more so to one's tastes. Yet because the mass distribution of
cultural products (not to mention the working conditions of most people)
is managed by the relatively small number of those who pass the ID
checks, the aesthetic and symbolic environment in which we are all
immersed ends up being effectively shaped by the dominant strata of the
hierarchy. The affective tone of cultural productions, their
value-orientation and the types of social relations they encourage are
geared to promote the rapid consumption that is needed to maintain
industrial production. At the 'higher' professional levels, more
sophisticated types of cultural activity help develop the quick
intelligence and flexibility required for competitive management.

The progressive elimination of the state sectors devoted to national
cultural traditions (with their admittedly debatable merits) has allowed
this dual, often schizophrenic 'postmodern' culture to develop at high
speed over the past two decades. To the extent that globe-girdling
information technologies, including the Internet, are used to exert
hierarchical control over the relatively small managerial class, we will
see as a result (and have been seeing for some time now) the increasing
homogenization of a world culture oriented by the double imperative of

Nonetheless - and with all due respects to Lev Manovich - the notion
that this homogeneity is the inevitable modern condition is absurd. Over
the past three centuries a tremendous amount of cultural energy has been
expended on the achievement of autonomy from fatalistic representations
of existence. Etymologically, autonomy means giving oneself (autos)
one's own law (nomos). The modern ideal of autonomy is about
self-invention, not acquiescence to dominant models. However, to invent
oneself in a vacuum is impossible, if only because the materials of
self-reflection (particularly language, but also images, etc.) always
come from outside, from some preexisting environment. So the practice of
autonomy generally means exploring, with others, some threads of
cultural history, some specific groups of words, images, gestures, and
so on, that can be reworked and transformed into something usable in the
present. And the threads that one chooses are important. The idea that
an extremely limited and homogeneous stock of mass-distributed cultural
products is enough to make possible everyone's free self-invention is an
attempt to put blinders on people. Everyone, even those like myself who
were born in hyper-standardized California suburbs, has access to a
tremendously rich human history, and of that history, infinite
modernities can be made. You just have to put out the effort, and above
all, form associations with people over time. Of course one can also
consciously choose to be 'the agent' of the global homogenization
process 'for the rest of a society'...

Our societies will probably continue to be dominated by people who make
that last choice for others. The global arena has become a very pushy
place, culturally speaking. But there are a lot of alternatives too. And
there the Internet could be very interesting. Work on the Internet
really could 'explode the very borders of artistic practice', as Olu
Oguibe put it. I think it could do so (and already does, to a certain
degree) by making specific communities of self-invention visible to
people all over the world. The most interesting sites that I see are
those where groups of people (not individuals) have furthered their own
cultural project by articulating it in a way that makes it open to
others. A project that is richly articulated yet retains a feeling of
openness can help people imagine the kind of personal investment it
takes to build culturally rewarding practices. It doesn't have to be
hyper-specialized, 'cutting-edge' art, geared to compete among the
circles of people who are professionally interested in the definition of
art. That's one of the boundaries to explode!  A little real autonomy is
the key. To find the aesthetic criteria that Brett Stalbaum was looking
for, I think one could begin with the notion of 'subjectivization' - in
other words, one could look for practices that provide examples of
'becoming other', not in the schizophrenic, fragmented way that now
plays perfectly into the requirements of the dominant cultural model,
but rather through experiences developed over time and in sustained
relationships with groups of people.

And for those who might think my discussion too mild, not political
enough - we can talk about political strategies later, and believe me,
I'm interested. For now I'd just like to make the point that the public
presence and visibility of alternative cultural projects is one of the
great encouragements for political activity, one of the prime reasons to
keep on wanting to change the world - 'changer la vie,' as they used to
say in France not so long ago.

Brian Holmes

a critical forum for artistic practice in the network
texts are the property of individual authors
to unsubscribe, send email to eyebeam@list.thing.net
with the following single line in the message body:
unsubscribe eyebeam-list
information and archive at http://www.eyebeam.org
Eyebeam Atelier/X Art Foundation http://www.blast.org