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Marshall McLuhan Speaks, image by cea+. Sourced from Flickr, Creative Commons licensed.

Sunday night, on the 4th of February 2018, I could stay awake: at 5am in the morning (Melbourne time) I was still happily watching the streaming transmediale in Berlin. I was drawn to the last panel ‘Confronting Social Cybernetics’ due to its cultural angle and determination to revisit Marshall McLuhan. After a video fragment from McLuhan’s famous debate with public in the 70s Katerina Krtilova in the panel suggested: the same Luhan’s statement ‘the medium is the message’ is to be reformulated for today with the focus on ‘message’ rather than the medium. The shift is clearly expressed by words in the title of the panel (Confronting Social Cybernetics). But armed with this very claim for confrontation under the overarching trope/ McLuhan’s legacy – ‘technology is not neutral,’ the session turned into a self-critical transmediale.

Ewa Majewska put forward ‘counterpublics’ and passionately talked about the criteria – counterpublics is embedded and contextualised in the production. Jonathan Beller deliberately took a ‘negative’ world-view that resonated with the title of his newest book The Message is Murder: Substrates of Computational Capital (Pluto Press, 2017). Yet the provocation that was leading to forum and self-criticality came from the moderator: Baruch Gottlieb in his flexible and rather light style (with inspiration from McLuhan?) picked a mirror image by pointing to talks of ‘cocktail parties’ and scholarly circles who were ‘well-fed’ by the conference, and at the same time, he enquired into failures to ‘accomplish social change.’

Soon a voice from transmediale’s audience reflected upon alienation by the language and gathering of the agents of language who seemed to congratulate each other.  One participant wanted to do ‘stuff’ with people in the room and proposed to look for alternatives to the ‘aboutness’ of the discussion format. Another suggested being ‘present’ because the criticisms at transmediale, such as ‘one cannot see art’ stressed that we were too hung up on the form of something. Yet another participant insisted to forget about McLuhan and cited a couple of German news reports about transmediale that were predominantly interested in form:  not about medium-as-message, but the form in the festival – good-looking audience and hipsters. Then, another member of the audience appreciated that transmediale had put the chilling issues like current rise of fascism on the table so they can be addressed.

The commentary resembled the genius question to McLuhan included in the historic video that was played at the start of the session. In 1977, McLuhan debated live on Australian TV before a large audience; the lady featured in the video phrased her question this way: ‘If the medium is the message and it doesn’t matter what we say on TV, why are we all here tonight and why am I asking this question?’ (see Marshal McLuhan ‘The Medium is the Message’ Part I, Monday Conference on ABC TV, 27 June 1977  07:06).

This self-reflective point from public enquires into the value and meaning of social activity and agency when the social environment is shaped by media complexes. Even more so, the question started echoing the very theme of transmediale 2018 ‘face value.’ The notion ‘face value’ indicates the problem of misleading value perceptions, according to what is printed or what appears to be, and points to the invisible side of media systems from Wall street finance to extreme right-wing ‘counter-cultures.’ Is it also a question about what transmediale itself appears to be and is? And how it accomplishes the ‘message’ of confronting?

But there is more to say about the video, if you continue watching the compelling documentations of The McLuhan Project on abc site. McLuhan talked about the concept of violence. Violence as encounters and self-expressing quest for identity, and media as a massive way of identity making: ‘Today when you trigger these vast media that we use you are manipulating entire population’ (see Marshal McLuhan ‘The Medium is the Message’ Part I, Monday Conference on ABC TV, 27 June 1977  08:30).

Thus, violence is the principle of media activism and ‘counter’ movements for social change. Dealing with violence amounts to enforcements of (new) identity and shaping of ‘the message.’ Violence also characterises criticism. All instances of journalistic – including art – criticism and reviewing tend towards violence, and that is – expression of their identity through their particular perspective. I do not believe that Art Review (artworld’s flagship magazine) would be more empathetic in its approach to transmediale than German mainstream newspapers. When asked, McLuhan replied that the alternative to ‘violence’ is ‘dialogue’ [1]. If the logic of dialogue is replaced by media activism (confronting) and is rather hard for criticism, it should be the defining logic of social activity, and what the transmediale participant identified as the need for ‘being present.’

Image: Marshall McLuhan Speaks, image by cea+. Sourced from Flickr, Creative Commons licensed.

[1] Marshal McLuhan ‘The Medium is the Message’ Part I, Monday Conference on ABC TV, 27 June 1977

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Telematic Cafe discussions during VACANTGeelong Open Studio day, 24 May 2017, North Geelong industrial precinct.

My current project as part of a larger Telematic Cafe mobile & online curatorial concept is focused on generating discourse around “labour.” Part I of this edition has taken place and I am offering in this blogspace highlights from these conversations along with ambient recordings. These discussions were held at an old industrial space in North Geelong, Australia during an Open Studio event looking at memories emplaced in vacant industrial sites.

TELEMATIC CAFE

Enjoy highlights and listen to ambient recordings from Part I of Telematic Cafe labour-themed discussions! As announced before – this Telematic Cafe event was inspired by VACANTGeelong Project.

Telematic Cafe is thankful to the VACANTGeelong Project organisers, especially, Mirjana Lozanovska and Cameron Bishop of Deakin University for collaboration with Telematic Cafe during Open Studio Day, 24 May 2017. Telematic Cafe would like to extend special thanks to Ian Priddle from Codeacious for responsiveness and time!

The “Labour of Making” discussion focused on the significance of manual, constructive and creative production. Discussion partners: VACANTGeelong project artist Robert Mihajlovski (RM) and architect & Senior Lecturer of the School of Architecture and Built Environment at Deakin University Dr David Beynon (DB). Moderator: Telematic Cafe curator Marita Batna.

DB: There are similarities between drawing by hand and drawing with a mouse or trackpad. But there is also a difference. There is some kind of…

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Joseph Kosuth. One and Three Chairs. 1965. Image sourced from MoMA’s website.

Last night I read – with keen interest – transmediale’s article called Turtles All the Way Down- Or, Escape from Infrastructure by Fiona Shipwright. This piece has been written after the author had followed the usage of word “infrastructure” during transmediale 2017. We assume we’re talking about the same things—but are we? Everyone knows that if you repeat a term often enough, it starts to sound absurd”, is said in the introduction, and – by the end of reading – I experienced a moment when I had lost the usual meaning of “infrastructure” installed in my head. Perhaps that was the purpose of the article but I was also curious about the link between infrastructure and tunnels touched in this article through an art project example. Because of “infra-” (meaning “below”) the tunnel is such infra-structure. “Tunnels” have been in my thoughts in relation to my freshly started 3-year postgraduate research project by (exhibition) practice as a concrete place (military heritage island South Channel Fort – that I see as a metaphorical reference to “human structures”) and as an image – allegory. I feel the tunnel as something that leads through different modes of existence, towards the void. The image of the tunnel resembles the image used for the narrative of the article – showing turtles stacked on each other with the smallest on top.

As I progress with my research project I have to annotate a range of relevant sources of literature. There are certain models of “good practice” as to how approach this task. This is based on the principles of critical assessment and relevance to particular research. Yet it may not be unreasonable to take a historic text of interest and interpret the terms by placing into a selected logic – new (present) context, if you like. Such practices are not strange in relation to writing. When we say “writing” the usual assumption is that it means writing down ideas clearly, for others to understand, in the electronic document or on paper. But writing can also mean that you hit the keyboard deliciously to exercise the very act of writing. This kind of writing will be in most cases legitimate experimentation in the frames of training for writing.  The academic research field – Media Aesthetics – in Norway is – as I understand – engaged with such analysis – the aesthetics of something. A shape on white background evokes one understanding, but if the background is black – this renders a different understanding of that same shape.

What comes in mind as an example of perceptual perspectives is Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, 1965 (see the image), the famous instance of Conceptual Art. The three chairs are: a real thing, a photographic image and a dictionary definition of  “a chair.”  Recently, I was in audience for a presentation which was a detailed analysis of this work. All the way it seemed that the speaker maintained a viewer’s perspective based on seeing this work in gallery setting. But why not consider, as part of the analysis, that the audience is looking at a photo image of this piece; perhaps also the fact that this work can be seen in numerous photo versions online upon typing “one and three chairs” in Google search? By using analogy, Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs is like a room with a group of researchers interacting – all use the same words but speak different languages. With different research projects (regardless of whether they are “interdisciplinary”) – are we dealing with different universes, or one? Clearly, both phenomena are happening at the same time.

This pure materialist strategy of looking at “things” by stepping back and further back, and playing with intermedia transitions or view positions seems to produce nothing else but the immateriality. The tunnel reality. Why not look at notions/things with contextual awareness, and the understanding that we are heavily coded on daily basis yet these codes do not necessarily match?

What about “art”? Whenever we use this word it is rather difficult not to imply, in conversational situation, an art object of some kind  which is then a widely understood quality of art – the way it appears. This is taken for granted. However, unlike the time when I was a first-time university student, I now almost always view painting works by approaching what I see in terms of a painting (therefore, I always observe frames with curiosity since they seem to be placed in that gray zone between different perceptual modes – is it a part of “art” or not?). Another example to problematize the situation around “art”. From time to time, I get into discussion about “contemporary art” with a lovely friend of mine – a retired man for whom art-making, in particular, creating of sculptures, drawings and paintings is one of his hobbies. Regardless of how much I would try to “broaden the horizons” on the subject of “contemporary art”, he would assert that a pile of some sort of crap (or something similar) would always be a pile of crap – nothing else – not “art”.  It seems that my friend would not change his mind even upon suggesting (and referring to Boris Groys) that what makes something “art” is the museum. When I was based in Latvia in 2000s, a new contemporary art organization was set up with the focus on question – what is art? It took the abbreviation for this question in Latvian  – KIM? (Kas Ir Māksla?) as its name. My friend’s opinion necessitates to read this fundamental question the second time. And so, to start answering “what is art?” it is relevant to ponder the status and meanings of “is” in this enquiry. We always seem to be dealing with some human “structural” coding in our minds – the case of me and my friend make it obvious.

Art also seems to be an entrapment. It was already decades ago when Jack Burnham wrote about the paradigm change: the transition from the object to the system. [1] Giving a multitude of examples of art works, he drew attention to how art manifests as a system; it usually only seems to be an object. It appears that Burnham thought of art as systems that magnify systems (actual environment and context). For example, he talked about “art system” noting that it did not need the art object as it was sustained by information. Systems are characterized by data/information flow. The statement about the dematerialization of the art object  in the late 1960s and early 70s is certainly in line with the direction manifested by Jack Burnham. But, strictly speaking, from a different angle (and the usual way of treatment), we still deal with art objects. If systems were really systems and not objects – can art be identified? How to position the issue of artistic representation?

 

 

[1]  See Jack Burnham Systems Esthetics (1968), https://monoskop.org/images/0/03/Burnham_Jack_1968_Systems_Esthetics_Artforum.pdf and Real Time Systems (1969), https://monoskop.org/File:Burnham_Jack_1969_Real_Time_Systems.pdf.