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

<eyebeam><blast> CLOSING SUMMARY 9

<eyebeam><blast> artistic practice in the network 


I my own introductory post in the forum, I wanted to suggest, among
other things, how processes of identification intersect with procedures
of ID-ing within new regimes of vision (and economies of security). A
confrontation is staged between two conditions of seeing, within two
modes of coming-into-being through identification. (With that post I
also hoped to prompt us to think about the network in broader terms than
just the Internet -- otherwise we fail to account for the full extent of
communications networks, and the full diversity of emerging network

Simon Biggs replied that what he finds interesting here is the metaphor
"of vision as a replicable system which can itself become an artifact.
By this I do not mean that a machine (or an image) can see (I doubt this
is yet the case, if one assumes that to see is to perceive and to
comprehend) but rather that the 'idea' of a seeing artifact has profound
implications regarding questions of our own ontology and relation to the

I asked Margaret Morse about her conception of an "oral logic," which
for her replaces, or augments, "identification" as the primary basis of
identity construction in network culture. This entails a transformation
in identity-construction from its (prior) basis in reflection and
reliance upon distance (as distance as such is evacuated). The oral
logic Margaret suggests -- based in injection and immersion, in the act
of swallowing up or being swallowed -- bypasses separations across
distance and instead seem to engage continuous interfoldings. 

Margaret replied that "Identity seems to be fundamentally caught in the
mirror/observing eye, appearance/reality model and in a visually based
identification process that forgets other senses and other modes of
appropriating and transforming self and world." She mentions that the
visual realm of appearance and mirroring is only one contributing factor
to selfhood. "Oral logic as a way of creating identity or constructing a
self through 'introjection' or putting something inside or around
oneself is pervasive and not at all restricted to cyberculture--though
it remains a largely unacknowledged part of psychic life.  Nonetheless,
oral logic seems to predominate in a cyberculture that loathes, denies,
disavows and repudiates the mortal body in many ways." She connects
fantasies of the body eating or being eaten by the computer to "smart
drugs, downloading consciousness, immersion in virtual reality" and
other phenomena.  She also mentions the "basic topological logic of the
graphic interface to oral logic, since it is based on 'eating,' 'being
eaten by' icons."  She intends to suggest a counter-strategy to the
subjection of the mortal body to the computer and the subordination of
human needs and desires to corporate logic. 

Much later in the forum, Steven Kurtz, representing Critical Art
Ensemble, wrote that two technological revolutions are currently taking
place: the revolution in information and communications technologies
(ICT) and the revolution in biotechnology. "While the former seems to be
rapidly enveloping the lives of more and more people, the latter appears
to be progressing at a lower velocity in a specialized area outside of
peoples' everyday lives." In one sense, Steve suggests, this general
perception is true -- ICT is more developed and more pervasive --
however he would like to suggest that "the developments in biotech are
gaining velocity at a higher rate than those in ICT, and that
biotechnology is having far greater impact on everyday life than it

If ICT is representative of spectacular product deployment, Steve
continues, biotechnology has been much more secretive about its progress
and deployment. "Its spectacle is limited to sporadic news reports on
breakthroughs in some of the flagship projects, such as the unexpected
rapidity of progress in the Human Genome Project, with the birth of
Dolly the cloned sheep" and so on. Each of these events is
contextualized within the legitimizing mantles of science and medicine
to keep the public calm. Consequently, Steve writes, the biotech
revolution is a silent revolution, its activities remaining outside
popular discourse and perception. As an example, he gives transgenic
food, which most people have eaten without most likely knowing it.
"Unfortunately, this very sort of research and development is
progressing without contestation," and, Steve emphasizes, "to make
matters more surprising, there are strong links between developments in
bio-tech and ICT."

Steve writes that ICT has pushed the velocity of market vectors to such
an extreme that humans immersed in technoculture can no longer sustain
organic equilibrium. "Given the pathological conditions of the
electronic workspace, the body often fails to meet the demands of its
technological interface or the ideological imperatives of socio-economic
space. Feelings of stress, tension, and alienation can compel the
organic platform to act out nonrational behavior patterns that are
perceived by power vectors to be useless, counterproductive, and even
dangerous to the technological superstructure." In addition, the body
can only interact with ICT for a limited period of time before
exhaustion, and work is constantly disrupted by libidinal impulses.
"Many strategies have been used by pancapitalist institutions in an
attempt to keep the body producing and consuming at maximum intensity,
but most fail. One strategy of control is the use of legitimized drugs.
Sedatives, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers are used to bring the
body back to a normalized state of being and to prevent disruption of
collective activity."

Steve believes that in order to bring the body up to code and prepare it
for the high speed social conditions of technoculture, "a pancapitalist
institutional subapparatus with knowledge specializations in genetics,
cell biology, neurology, biochemistry, pharmacology, embryology, and so
on have begun an aggressive body invasion. Their intention is to map and
rationalize the body in a manner that will allow the extension of
authoritarian policies of fiscal and social control into organic space."
The mandate is eventually "to design and engineer organic constellations
with predispositions toward certain task-oriented activities, and to
create bodies better suited to extreme technological interaction."

Joy Garnett replied that the biotech industry has hyped itself to the
public more than Steve realizes.  She mentions that the Human Genome
Project must be the most hyped project ever concocted. Joy writes that
the AIDS epidemic has engendered the only true "revolution" she can
think of, "in terms of how pressure from the social sector can actually
change the direction of technology and its uses. Public perception,
gained through radical programs devised by groups such as Visual AIDS,
Gran Fury, and Act Up, forced the issue on the medical establishment and
has had unexpectedly positive results." Sonya Rapoport disagreed,
replying that while social pressure has provided emotional and physical
care, it "has had little influence on the direction of the research
effort to provide an effective drug or treatment." She writes that
"pharmaceutical companies were investing their own money and resources,
motivated by profit, for protease inhibitors before activist pressure.
The private sector is responsible for the creation, discovery and
development of effective treatment."

I replied to Steve that the "gap" between ICT and biotech is also being
closed by making ICT wearable, attached directly to the body or inserted
into the skin.  So at the same time that biotech seeks to close the gap
by building from the cellular level upward, ICT advances from exterior
computational systems to bodily attachments and insertions, which
augment sensorial and perceptual processes (among others).  Each attempt
to bring the body "up to code," and it seems that as they intertwine
(join forces?), it becomes increasingly difficult to isolate them.  On
the one hand we have the biological metaphors of the net and curious
alignments with sociobiology, and on the other hand, the computational
metaphors of biotech (body as decipherable code, etc.) most of which
rely on ICT.  And with odd traversal-fields like nanotechnology, where
the computational is inserted into the cellular level, but relying on
the cellular already figured as an information processor.      

I asked Steve what the role is, in this landscape, for critical artistic
practice. He replied, "this is a moment in which artists can do what
artists do best--mediate information in a manner that it yields new
perceptions and narratives." The narratives he means are those that
engage the real and the practical, and have resonance in everyday life.
"Critical artists can bring the knowledge out of the labs, and into the
lives of nonspecialists. Then we can offer fluid possibilities for
interpretation of this knowledge (both applied and theoretical)." The
problem as Steve sees it is that "the nonspecialist public does not have
a clue what is happening in the labs and clinics. The only regular
intersection between the general public discourse and specialized
scientific discourse is in the realm of ethics (the most impoverished
and reactionary of language systems)." Steve writes that artists can
play a significant role in developing awareness about biotech, and
languages with which to speak about it critically. 

Joy Garnett responded, asking how critical artists can "bring the
knowledge out of the labs." "In specialized fields--science being
one--artists may indeed find themselves to be nonspecialists. Even
"critical artists." "So what you have are nonspecialists who, in their
zeal to dig out and interpret things for which they lack the specialized
language and tools to begin to understand, end up misinterpreting
incomplete data and projecting a lot of inaccurate 'fluid
possibilities.' What you have is the blind leading the blind." Joy asks
how Steve, as a critical artist, thinks he can, "without years of
dedication, without learning the language, begin to understand particle
physics, or the habits of retro viruses enough to present them to the
nonspecialist public?" Joy points out the only valid way for us, as
artists, to play that significant role is through collaboration with the
scientists and other specialists outside our field. 

Steve replied that he is very glad that information concerning the AIDS
crisis at all levels was taken from the "experts," remade, and
redistributed. "I found the information provided by ACT UP and GMHC to
be much more helpful than what was coming from science. I think the same
can be said of the feminist movement's treatment of abortion and in
other women's medical issues." He points out that in art proper, "a work
like Group Material's AIDS Timeline was a brilliant and substantial
social history of the relationship of the political, scientific, and
medical discourse surrounding AIDS." As with AIDS and abortion, he
writes, it's time for artists and activists to make similar inquiries
into other issues of biology and biotechnology. 

He writes that Joy's "blind leading the blind" position marks one of the
primary ideologies that confounds the development of interdisciplinarity
and collaboration that she speaks so highly of. 

Oladele Ajiboye Bamgboye agreed, writing that there has to be more talk
about about "the westernisation of the culture of science." While the
boundaries of science and art need to be brought together, it is vital
to ask what we aim to achieve by this process -- a new "truth"?  Oladele
applauds Steve and Critical Art Ensemble's motives in somehow
"redressing" the balance between the lab and the outside, but asks why
artists should be the ethical doctors of this ailment? "I am worried
about the utopian and emancipatory possibility that is projected on the
work of Critical Art Ensemble as a result. Can any one tell me when in
the history of western art it had been possible to change societal aims
through the emancipatory aspects of art?  Russian realism didn't achieve
this and neither did, arguably, any rigidly centred politics of identity
strategy." Is this not a case, Oladele asks, of borrowing from the
language of the institution to show how clever we artists are?  He
thinks that this will be extending our institutional privileges too far.

Oladele continues. "To be more hardcore, may artists dive into
technology as a 'tool' without, as Coco Fusco hinted at, appreciating
the more political and cultural aspects of the medium, in their attempt
to satisfy the ego?" He believes however that the inevitable need for
artists to embrace certain elements of technology is paramount, and "may
need a complete rethinking of our strategies of practice." 

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