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TELEMATIC CAFE

Telematic Cafe: The Song of Memories (#TiNaDCollective) on the final day 11 July 2018 (dis)playing the visualization of images and their sound version. The Project Space – Deakin University, Geelong.

Hello! Telematic Café has news – a project has been developed by joining This is Not a Drill Collective (25 June – 11 July 2018) at The Project Space – Deakin University in Geelong, AU. This is Not a Drill Collective was a generative model of creative production on site, exploring what collaboration might be, what art-making in a space, specifically in The Project Space, could be and what this process might bring for the gallery and artists-producers. This framework was a direct inspiration for Telematic Café: The Song of Memories (#TiNaDCollective) was bound to evolve as one of the voices within This is Not a Drill Collective.

The Song of Memories (#TiNaDCollective)

Team:
Marita Batna (concept, data collection…

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A link to source: transmediale 2018 exhibition “Territories of Complicity” documentation website (Sprawling Swamps); via a still image of Sprawling Swamps (2016-ongoing) by Femke Herregraven – installation, interactive 3d environment, video, audio.

Let’s continue the discussion from the previous post, where I observed recent transmediale, in particular, its last panel ‘Confronting Social Cybernetics’ that revisited Marshall McLuhan’s legacy and catalysed transmediale’s self-criticality. As mentioned in the post, one participant from the audience suggested to look for alternatives for the discussion, and drew attention to the activity of ‘doing.’ In this respect, there are two truths. As moderator Baruch Gottlieb noted – the festival is a ‘structure’ and a ‘product’ as such, and at the same time, if we look at the website information, it is clear that the work of the whole transmediale collective is enormous research and through that – translation.  So, if ‘doing’ is interpreted as aesthetics, discussion – as translation,  how to compare aesthetics and translation?

The meaning of aesthetics is diverse. Aesthetics can characterise any thing, it can be immediately related to art, but let’s ignore this and apply a more theoretical parameter for a start – aesthetics as opposite in nature to activity of translation. The difference is that ‘translation’ is considered transparent – it draws attention to something else such as knowledge; but we call something ‘aesthetics’ when it has intrinsic value of reality within itself. Even though translation can be thought to be minor, it is obviously very demanded. Often it is important that aesthetics is translated or discussed. But if something that is expected to be ‘translation’ and subject matter is aestheticized then its reception can be mixed. For example, professor Dave Harris has devised youtube series – Deleuze for the Desperate to give resources and tips to those students who need to come to grips with the popular Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari which is considered difficult by any standard. But the language of Thousand Plateaus, as Harris confirms, is ‘deliberately rambling.’ [1] So on the one hand, aesthetics presents challenge, on the other hand, Deleuze & Guattari insist on experiencing aesthetics rather than clarity/translation. Where is the balance?

tansmediale is translation only to an extent; its quality as translation is absorbed within aesthetics of the whole event, and particular artworks. Art that occupies itself with research and translation prioritise aesthetic rights. During the panel ‘Extracting Hi(stories) of Complicity’ at transmediale 2018, Femke Herregraven was questioned in relation to her work of visual mapping and imagery that pointed to exploitation of natural resources through infrastructures of capital. The question was about where she situated herself between aesthetics and activism, and I think ‘aesthetics’ was used in the sense of beautification. The artist noted that one way of communication is through an article, but artist operates differently, and if images can attract attention then it is considered effective.

The audience comment above also evokes that activism is more closely related to what is considered translation, not aesthetics. If I remember correctly from transmediale 2018 discussions, a comment was made at some stage that aesthetics was not necessarily good, meaning that perhaps it was not necessarily effective. Even though the spirt of transmediale is that of activism I think it is wrong to disconnect aesthetics from activism. A discussion is activism, not because it is a discussion but because it presents itself as an aesthetic form of resistance. It is already the activity of ‘doing.’ In fact, translation and aesthetics are entangled.

Perhaps the distinction between what is considered activism and aesthetics is so strict because the current tendency of activism is focused on the strategies of subversion, confronting and negation as demonstrated by transmediale. The radical spirit for social change needs to be negating (violent, as McLuhan would say) but the classic avant-garde had the capacity to be affirmative in its nature. It has been interesting to follow e-flux collaboration with Boris Groys as they recover materials and previously overlooked histories of avant-garde – just this month  e-flux journal (#88) ‘Russian Cosmism’ has been published. The world-building idea of this classic avant-garde seems to be different from, for example, transmediale. I think excavation of avant-garde is very timely to glean from, and I am convinced that it is effective to apply active aesthetics as world-building.

But it can be also sensed, that there is a need for ‘building.’ As I mentioned in the previous post, during the Confronting Social Cybernetics panel Jonathan Beller deliberately appropriated the ‘negative’ voice which could be seen very much in consistency with transmediales overall tone. But he weakened negativism and perhaps in a much more McLuhanist way highlighted the idea of ‘re-organizing imaginaries’ with the awareness our distributed personhood. And it feels that re-organizing imaginaries is reliant on concept of building (innovating?) rather than destruction. A form of violence as world-building is possibly the only real form of violence. 

 

[1] Dave Harris, Deleuze for the Desperate #1 Introduction, published January 31, 2016, YouTube.

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

Alberta, Canada, 1966. Vintage photo from National Geographic Archive. Source: https://m.forocoches.com Author: JAMES L. STANFIELD. © National Geographic Creative

I would like to pick up discussion from my last post about McLuhan’s “medium.” I realize that by pointing out the twofold perspective on “media” I do not address their importance to try to verify the applicability of the famous imperative “the Medium is the Message.”  Objectivity of the physical medium and cultural media does not simultaneously stress their importance. Important for whom, when?

The 21st century, and notably, the second decade of it has really started to take the Western world out of its comfort zone. And one of the questions is about the kind of cultural practice we need. We live in time of ongoing wars and anticipation of catastrophe – whether ecological or economic, when we can visually correlate all these phenomena – wars, capitalism, environmental destruction. This time is filled with a lot of confusion but also thinking, and reconsideration of values. I will not discuss here the new wave revolving around the theme of climate change that we hear in cultural institutions on daily basis; more interesting is the question about what should now be the philosophical formula for art if it is considered as cultural work.

This formula, in my opinion is a balancing act. This means a cross-over of philosophical perspectives. If we go back to McLuhans medium as total interconnected world – even if it may not be necessarily interesting or even immediately relevant from the position of subjective experience we need the view of objective world to start understanding the relationship between the human and environment: to seriously address the stakes for sustainability. Environment which is physical and cultural as McLuhan’s media. On the other hand, contemporary art has been traditionally, in the postmodern era, getting its inspiration from phenomenology, linguistics, structuralism. I believe that the idea of “the extensions of man” in McLuhan’s sense has something in common with phenomenology / studies of perception but they seem to have different purposes or perhaps practical implications.

The balancing act seems to be needed between the subjective and objective in order to be able to extract meaning, the particular meaning which works in current conditions. I cannot resist mentioning the politics of media art and fine art that have built two different camps for art histories. One of these camps is new media art, which through the means of technology or social practice, considers and confronts environment – physical and digital. Until recently this has been perhaps too “unhuman” for the governing mindset in fine art. Of course, in fine art also the artists have played with the “absence of subject” as something that has been produced by the Anthropocene condition (see my earlier post about art in the Anthropocene). My point is that the aspect of objectivity-as-environment (although imperceptible at its extreme) is required for the subject to mirror oneself or mark a distance – impossible as it seems – necessary for reassessing the values.

If we consider the interrelation – human-environment then “subjectivity” which was the focus of Félix Guattari, indicates this dynamics and possibilities for practice. Guattari purposefully excluded the term “subject” from his theory – and dedicated his whole attention to the matter of subjectivity production. It was about mutation, shifts and imagination, which pushed human existence out of scientific reference system towards other ecological horizons [1]. And finally McKenzie Wark has been expressing a similar thought to what I mean by balancing between philosophical perspectives and inclusion of the aspect of objectivity-as-environment. In Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene he suggests that the early 21st century critical thought has desire for life in two main ways: one is a kind of “revolutionary subjectivity” – the other is a kind of “speculative absolute, a theory purified of any merely human phenomenal dimension” – in other words, radicalized subject and absolutized object; yet he further seeks the middle cut, the media which mediates between and delineates object from subject [2].

 

Image: Alberta, Canada, 1966. Vintage photo from National Geographic Archive. Source: https://m.forocoches.com Author: JAMES L. STANFIELD. © National Geographic Creative.

[1] See – Guattari, Félix. Chaosmosis: an Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, 1992 [translated by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis]. Sydney: Power Publications, 2006.

[2] McKenzie Wark. Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene, 2015. London, New York: Verso, 2016, 122.

Fragment from Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition at Centre Pompidou, December, 2013. Photo sourced from Contemporary Art Daily.

The post-human thinking at the time of Anthropocene is not only an accelerating direction in art but also an influence on art museums. Comprehending the connection between humans, objects, animals, technologies and nature is an issue that moves into the center stage of art. The key requirement for this critical thinking and practice is the position outside of predetermined conceptions of existing  knowledge and social value mechanisms. As Keith Armstrong distinguished, when it comes to the realm of “ecological art practices” – it is not about “management” , but a completely new image of the human or rather a form of self-realization as part of broader processes that will then guide our engagement with the world. [1] Ecological disasters and the concrete effects of global warming make it urgent to feel and to operate within “the real,” – and the last years have seen art production that is occupied with the material environment.

New media art cultures and public art practices take up active and problem-based positions in order to re-orient human knowledge – to make sense of the human interrelations with non-human agents on the basis of praxis and empathy. It is useful now to apply imagination derived from science-fiction and tales such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince to be able to sometimes expand and sometimes – shrink the perspectives of the human. With their project “On Becoming Earthlings: Shrinking and Expanding the Human” the Council followed this wisdom while bringing together experts and non-experts for one-to-one dialogues with the goal to create multi-dimensional and “hallucinatory knowledge space.” [2]

When we look at the classic exhibition format within art institutions, it is interesting that representational aesthetics grounded on inquiries for new knowledge enter these social institutions that have their conventional role to embody and transfer humanity’s knowledge. Nicolas Bourriaud claimed that human consciousness literally left forms of representation in the event of Mark Leckey’s The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things (2013) and Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition at Centre Pompidou (2013). [3] Bourriaud discussed these two major exhibitions with respect to the theme of art in Anthropocene. According to him, Leckey related to the objects without human mediation in order to connect with them sensually, whereas Huyghe proposed a “world without humans.” [4]

On the one hand, these practices are reminiscent of Marcel Broodthaers’ fictional project Museum of Modern Art, Eagles Department  (1968-1972) that, through its perfect system of object gathering and classification, achieved elaborate and sophisticated deconstruction of institutional knowledge systems (in the frames of the museum itself). On the other hand, Leckey’s systems of objects that may produce “weird complexities” [5] and Huyghe’s interest in constructing situations that “take place within reality” [6] resonate with contemporary cabinets of curiosities, a widely celebrated trend of self-reflection and re-interpretation following the model of MONA in Hobart (as predicted in my blog post back in 2013).

Strictly speaking, the perspective of Anthropocene eliminates the existence of museums as we know them, yet of course they will exist, and the state of Anthropocene comes with opportunities for museum interplay with antithesis.

Image: Fragment from Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition at Centre Pompidou, December, 2013. Photo sourced from Contemporary Art Daily.

[1] Keith M. Armstrong. “Grounded Media – Expanding the Scope of Ecological Art Practices Within New Media Arts Culture.” QUT Media-Space-Journal (2008). http://eprints.qut.edu.au/8802/.

[2] Council. “On Becoming Earthlings: Shrinking and Expanding the Human, 25/4/2015.” Council,  http://www.formsofcouncil.org/en/inquiries/115_on_becoming_earthlings/737_on_becoming_earthlings_737.

[3]  Nicolas Bourriaud – Art in the Anthropocene: Humans, Objects and Translations, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgBQUE-ZaY4.

[4]  Nicolas Bourriaud – Art in the Anthropocene: Humans, Objects and Translations, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgBQUE-ZaY4.

[5] Kathy Noble. “The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things, curated by Mark Leckey: in Conversation with Mark Leckey, 2013.” Goldsmiths – Research Online, https://research.gold.ac.uk/9375/.

[6] Contemporary Art Daily. “Pierre Huyghe at Centre Pompidou, December 30th, 2013.” Contemporary Art Daily: a Daily Journal of International Exhibitions, http://www.contemporaryartdaily.com/2013/12/pierre-huyghe-at-centre-pompidou/.

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.