- Jeremy Benjamin
Faculty at New School University
its first show of the new millennium the Swiss Institute/New York,
a contemporary arts space, presented TenaCity, an exhibition exploring the influence
that information, communication, and biotechnology are having
in emerging notions of subjectivity, agency and politics (Volkart).
A brief description of the exhibition is in order.
aside a black curtain to enter the gallery, the visitor finds
in a small, darkened space with no apparent
exit. The visitor is face
to face with a translucent screen wall electrified by rapidly
moving images of faces, landscapes, numbers, and digital noise. An ambient, hallucinatory soundscape envelops
the visitor, offering auditory sensation without pulse, direction,
or referent. The screen
is a composite of strips; the seams lightly overlapping allowing
the image to remain continuous.
The room is too small, and the glow of other ambient light
radiating from what must be televisions or monitors behind the
screen suggests a depth compelling the visitor to penetrate the
initial scrim, to break through the screen, to employ its body,
to instigate a rift, and simultaneously, a bridge. Embodying this compulsion, the visitor emerges into a larger zone
sealed by the same sort of electrified walls which no longer exist
as walls but only as suggested borders.
In the zone is a spherical seat surrounded by computer
terminals, touchscreen monitors, video monitors.
Other visitors are sitting on the sphere, sharing a seat
but with only their backs facing one another.
At one periphery, a Petrie dish with a piece of human skin
genetically grown in a laboratory sits beside a text describing
the tissue and the method of the experiment/art object. Above the dish in large text is the word--or
is it the thought? --"touch".
Traversing the zones the visitor emerges into this display
as it emigrates through the screens; in each zone another sphere
surrounded by video and data projections and more terminals; the
soundscape is ever present. The content of the terminals vary but always
engage how this virtual environment inhabited in the year 2000,
suggests an ordering distinctly different from those previous
of this paper is not to argue for the correctness or originality
of the themes explored in TenaCity,
nor to argue for its aesthetics.
Rather, it is to interrogate its intelligibility; to ask, how can the claims such an exhibition demands
of understanding, in its aesthetic and political dimensions, be
understood, and what do they presuppose?
Following the project Jonathon Crary began in his Techniques of the Observer, namely the exploration into the construction
of radically distinct historical subjects, this paper seeks to
explore the types of subjectivities
that precondition TenaCity and which are its subject. Implicated
in this are the worldviews and the new conceptions of the body
that TenaCity both embodies and seeks to explore. The exhibition will thus be apprehended as
an assemblage, a place of convergence.
In Crary's words, such sites mark "points of intersection
where philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic discourses overlap
with mechanical techniques, institutional requirements, and socioeconomic
forces" (Crary 8). This
particular assemblage, at the intersection of critical inquiry,
media, and information theory, sci-fi pulp, post-Marxist and feminist
critique, studies in biotechnology, cloning, and superconductivity
takes place in a increasingly networked environment of ATM's,
cell phones, and laptop computers all linked to the Internet,
allowing, furthering, and mirroring globalization, and the expansion
of late capitalism. This
assemblage can be called the postmodern.
the physical apparatus most obviously associated with TenaCity's
project, like Crary's camera obscura and stereoscope is "understandable
not simply as the material object in question, or as part of a
history of technology, but for the way it is embedded in a much
larger assemblage" (Crary 8). It must then be asked, what is it about the computer that signals the massive rupture with the
past? This is not
to suggest that it is the computer per se that causes this rupture, but to suggest that its presence among the discourses
and practices emerging in the new millennium in New York City
in particular, but also via the multiplicity of nodes in which
New York City is embedded and to which it is networked, indicates
a significant punctuation, a new development in a non-linear history.
Thus the view is that which Deleuze and Guattari endorse
in A Thousand Plateaus,
think the material or machinic aspect of an assemblage relates
not to the production of goods but rather to a precise state of
intermingling of bodies in a society, including all the attractions
and repulsions, sympathies and antipathies, alterations, amalgamations,
penetrations, and expansions that affect bodies of all kinds in
their relations to one another (Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand
of this paper is to understand the functioning of this machinic
assemblage, of which the computer is only a part--the computer
is given primacy only as a symbol of a vast technological assemblage
of communication networks and biotechnologies in which it is embedded---,
as it is portrayed and as it functions within the rhizomatic structure
of TenaCity, which is itself an assemblage
of aesthetic, cultural, political, and institutional discourses,
practices, and demands. Further, TenaCity, with its emphasis on the tactile and the auditory, and its
reevaluation of spatiality and temporality is meant to be experienced--a
term suggesting engagement, interaction, perhaps entrapment--rather
than to be interrogated from a safe, uncomplicated critical distance. Therefore, in addition to revealing the discourses
the subjective experience of the exhibition itself, and its assumed
understandings of space and time must be interrogated.
This interrogation should proceed towards an involved understanding
of the relationship of the sensory conditions and demands TenaCity poses in its reorientation of the subject. Whereas Crary positions his project within
the visual regime so as to explode the presumed consistency, linearity
and dominance of a single mode of increasingly perfected vision, TenaCity suggests the presence of multiple
sensory modes preconditioning the emergence of the postmodern
subject. Thus, one question
must concern the inadequacy of "observer", the term
used by Crary, as a characterization of this new subject, and
relocate the subject and its orientation within a broader sensorium.
But, critically engaging the sensory experience should
not reduce experience to an underlying symbolic structure. To avoid the static nature of this abstraction, questioning must
be directed towards the active experience.
As the visitor experiences TenaCity,
what does it (the visitor and the exhibition environment) become
and how does it operate?
Deleuze and Guattari's experience of the book works equally
well with that of the exhibition. They write,
will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier, we will not look
for anything to understand in it. We
will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does
or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are
inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs its own converge
(Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 4).
subjective experience, the sensation of the exhibition, is one
of becoming, of making and inhabiting connections, of territorialization
and deterritorialization. But,
as will be illustrated, in this process, the body disintegrates
as the ground of the subject, and the subject melds with what
was previously its objective world; neither remains pure or distinct. How can this experience
of simultaneous disintegration and extension, disembodiment and
embodiment be felt, and understood?
In John Rajchman's assessment, the shift that has occurred
is formulated in the question of experience itself.
He notes, "The great question of modernism was: what
is art? Now it is replaced by the postmodern question:
who are we in all of this?" (Rajchman 112). The question,
the same one embodied in TenaCity,
is left open. It hints at loss and disorientation, but also at
possibilities. What are the conditions of this disorientation
and what are its consequences?
TenaCity is, above all, about our contemporary state of being and
acting which, to me, consists in connecting and being connected
- connected to people and bodies, to computers and data streams,
to content, screens, sounds, and visuals. It is about motion.
The translucent screens, which divide the exhibition space, are
skins and temporary borders through which one passes, they carry
images into which you have to penetrate to become part of the
spatial fluidity and movement. You enter distinct but similar
zones - constellations of different entities. TenaCity wants to create a model of the virtual and give you the opportunity
to play the role of being embedded in it. It wants to investigate
in forms of “re-fleshing the network” and “embodying communication
space” (Ricardo Dominguez and Diane Ludin). TenaCity is about
temporary re-embodiments of contents and posthuman agents within
the flickering and dislocated data streams (Volkhart).
…It is a transgressive act to rupture the screen.
The physical touch of the sheen plastic, the squeezing through
a broken image still streaming, sweeps the body and its relation to its
new environment, a virtual network of transference, to the foreground
of conscious awareness. Involvement obliterates the spectator stance.
The visitor, no longer an observer, is repositioned as a participant.
Psychic distance erodes.
The suggestion is that the body exists in this
new habitat, but it is transformed, deterritorialized, disembodied of
its physicality, yet present as motion, as rupture; refleshed or reterritorialized
as desire. The visitor spreads throughout the network symbiotically interacting
with the nodes within the mesh. Coming
to Francesca da Rimini and Michael Grimm's piece
the visitor is engaged in the fantasies, kisses, and
caress of the heroin, a murdered female body, a ghost.
Turning now to reflesh the
the visitor is again forced into physical contact,
this time with a touchscreen monitor.
The touch of flesh transforms the data stream, but the effect is
reciprocal. All around images
flicker rapidly. The soundscape
now appears as a collage of the soundtracks of the individual pieces amongst
a wash of electronic ambience.--Who are we in all of this?
Jameson's evaluation of the role of pastiche and schizophrenia in postmodernity
is an attempt to characterize the postmodern period and to determine the nature
of its notions of subjectivity and the world views of which it is composed,
and through which it operates (Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”).
Yet any categorization of the period is essentially problematic given
the diverse modes of expression falling under its heading and the impossibility
of historical distance. This very
diversity is what leads Craig Owens to see "a crisis of cultural authority"(Owens
57). According to Owens, this crisis
results from the challenge pluralism has raised to modernity's meta-narratives.
For him "pluralism reduces us to being an other among others…What
is at stake is not only the hegemony of Western culture, but also (our sense
of) our identity as a culture"(Owens 58). If in addition to the pluralism
of the internal demographics of which Owen's speaks, the plurality of sensorial
inputs and energy flows
immanent to TenaCity
is added, the "crisis of authority" deepens. It is exactly this addition which TenaCity demands. McLuhan writes, "previous technologies
were partial and fragmentary, the electric is total and inclusive"(McLuhan, Understanding Media 57). Whereas vision has been widely cited as the
predominant sense by which Western man has navigated his world, the rupture
postmodernism brings now impresses the entire sensorium in its immanence and
interrelatedness upon man/woman/(etc.?) alike.
television commercials--amongst the most revealing artifacts of
contemporary American culture--often flip the traditional relation
between visual information and soundtrack such that priority is
placed on the score, which has previously functioned only as a
subconscious backdrop for the visual narration.
Now the visual follows the aural.
And perhaps the same may be said of everyday existence
where, for instance, the studies of traffic accidents related
to cell phone use indicates a reorientation of which sense is
prioritized in the reception of crucial information. Visual attentiveness no longer dominates aural. The input from the cell phone is habitually
ingrained as more crucial than that coming from the eyes. McLuhan notes this reorientation, saying, "At
the high speeds of electric communication, purely visual means
of apprehending the world are no longer possible; they are just
too slow to be relevant or effective" (McLuhan, Medium,
But the visual
is not subordinated, so much as put on equal footing.
At times it is still the premier sense; an unlikely instance
is found in "travel". Previously a motor activity demanding emphasis
on physicality (touch), Paul Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky) writes,
"Movement, flow, flux: the nomad takes on the sedentary qualities
of the urban dweller. Movement
on the screen becomes an omnipresent quality…The eyes move.
The body stays still.
Could it be that the erasure of time from the definition
of distance explains the pastiche aesthetic of postmodernism?
The nearness of any two items, styles, or concepts initiated
by the technical apparatus of the postmodern world, refuses inconsistency
through time or space as an obstacle.
Pastiche, the appropriation and side-by-side presentation
of what was previously separated, matches the understanding and
experience of a hyperlinked world. Postmodern pastiche is not an attempt to reconcile
opposites, to harmonize antagonistic drives. It is rather, to not understand opposition
or repulsion. But the
visitor is repulsed at the sight of the skin in the dish before
it, and the command that the accompanying text begs, “touch”.
And what of touch, a sense strangely highlighted in the
disembodied experience of TenaCity?
scholars have exerted enormous energy towards connecting modernism's
notion of progress to strategies of male dominance. In postmodernism's deconstruction of modernism's
meta-narrative with its connection to rationalism, vision, as
its prioritized sense, is linked to the masculine gaze and to
modernist logic; its primacy held suspect with the interrogation
of patriarchal order. Owens, relating this concern to the arts asks,
"What can be said about the visual arts in a patriarchal
order that privileges vision over the other senses?
Can we not expect them to be a domain of masculine privilege--as
their histories indeed prove them to be--a means, perhaps, of
mastering through representation the 'threat' posed by the female?"
(Owens 71). While touch, in this same context of feminist
scholarship, has been inextricably linked to the female, its presence
in TenaCity should not
be reduced to a symptom of the fact that the exhibition is both
curated by a woman and host to several female artists.
It is not that through touch the female is reinserted,
but rather, that through touch the senses are explicitly de-neutralized.
Touch is essentially forceful, essentially political. It is through employing this sense that navigation,
representation, and interaction appear consciously as what they
have always been, strategies of power, strategies of desire.
visitor moves closer to Natalie Jeremijenko's skin piece
. The skin, synthesized from an original culture
taken off the foreskin of a human baby now fills the entire dish. On it is a tattoo of a bird. TenaCity curator, Yvonne Volkart's, exhibition checklist says of the piece,
"In Touch synthesized human skin is employed
as portraits of the idiomatic categories used in medical research
tests such as, Non-Smoking,
post-menopausal, female. The material is synthetically biological and
human, yet stripped of its body it is drawn into cultural, social,
and political discussions of identity and representation." The biological (human skin) is a material for
the cultural-- a "canvas" for artwork, a place for expression
(tattoo)-- and for the social--categorization (Tattooed, human, male) of the biological is a construction or (aesthetic?) production itself, as evidenced
by the presence of the skin in the gallery setting-- and is thereby
visitor touches the skin. Contact is made between human skin and
human skin, one as subject one as object. But how this distinction?
ironic dichotomy that Jeremijenko's piece makes explicit between
two physically and biologically comparable things is reinforced
in academic discourse. Jameson
any number of distinct perspectives, the social theorists, the psychoanalysts,
even the linguists, not to speak of those of us who work in the area of cultural
and formal change, are all exploring the notion that the old individual or
individualist subject is 'dead'; and that one might even describe the concept
of the unique individual and the theoretical basis of individualism as ideological
(Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” 115).
The discourses emerging from
these explorations reorient the mythic individual identity to the
flux of structures from which it emerges. For example, in his social
critique of taste, Pierre Bourdieu sees class as an intersection
of a complex web of capital types (economic, educational, cultural,
etc.) and notes the lifestyle or "habitus" resulting from
any particular instance of this intersection yields a distinct world
view and a distinct embodied experience of the world. He contends,
habitus is not only a structuring structure, which organizes practices and
perception of practices, but also a structured structure…Each class condition
is defined simultaneously, by its intrinsic properties and by its relational
properties which it derives from its position in the system of class conditions,
which is also a system of differences, different positions, i.e., by everything
which distinguishes it from what it is not and especially from everything
which it is opposed to; social identity is defined and asserted through difference
Here, identity, experience,
and understanding (taste) are all a condition of a certain relational
stance dependent on capital accumulation and composition. Individualism
as such is exchangeable within any habitus.
Yet Bourdieu's analysis feels cold and over-determined to the
visitor who curiously reaches for the skin, moving slowly, betraying
repulsion and uncertainty.The compulsion to touch the skin infuses
the visitor with emotions and anxieties experienced irreducible
to class lines. The potency of the piece emerges from its critique
of the understanding and experience of life and human being as
such. How threatened this understanding and experience becomes
by their partial appearance in a small dish full of pink liquid
is the question.
In Joan Scott's work on the experience of identification, or,
the discovery of the "natural" self through the representation
of social categories, she too notes that "the social and
the personal are imbricated in one another and both are historically
variable. The meanings
of the categories of identity change and with them possibilities
for thinking the self" (Scott 35).
Though the analysis primarily focuses on the experience
of identification within categories of gender and sexuality, it
is adaptable to any social category.
Scott's project, like Bourdieu's maintains that all experience
is mitigated by underlying social/historical constructions, infiltrating
and deconstructing the naturalness of any mode of being.
But whereas Bourdieu is content to maintain an exact relation
between the subject and class (albeit a complex notion of this
latter term), Scott demands a more severe questioning; one that
asks, "How have categories of representation and analysis--such
as class, race, gender, relations of production, biology, identity,
subjectivity, even culture--achieved their foundational status?"(Scott
36). Scott thus denies
Bourdieu's claims of an existing underlying structure with "intrinsic
qualities" and demands an approach that questions the construction
of all social and structural categories on which the existence
of the subject is built.
It is at this level that Jeremijenko’s piece operates.
Attempting to push the identity debate to its extreme, “Touch” fuses an unlikely mixture of art and science, and
presents one with a complexly singular manifestation of aesthetic
biotechnology. The tiny
piece of skin submerged in the dish pulls the visitor into a web
of non-distinct categorizations that inevitably fail to seize
a firm conviction. Art/Science
appears as the least threatening of the contradictory moments
that the skin itself is. Human/Inhuman? Organic to be sure, but… The
dilemmas that emerge rebound endlessly, and it is no longer the
art object that is primarily the focus of critique. How one becomes human, becomes categorized, labeled, branded, identified
(smoking, postmenopausal, female) is beyond the nature/nurture
debate, becoming an impossible fusion of the two with a remainder. We create the human, and the inhuman, both
in our judgment, symbolized by the spectator stance, the visitor
postures as it approaches “Touch”,
but also, and moreover, in how the visitor experiences and what
it becomes through its interaction with the piece.
After explaining the human quality of the skin, its origin,
its susceptibility to bacteria and disease, the text reads, “This
sample should be safe to touch.”
through one of the electrified screens, the visitor confronts
Kristin Lucas' mammoth face, distorted by static charges and discoloration.
The image is a live stream broadcast over the
Internet, projected monstrously large in front of the visitor.
Lucas narrates a confession, a memoir of her existence as a girl
infused with an enormous electromagnetic pulse, which she constantly
discharges. She is an amalgamation of woman and machine
composed of each and exerting creative (human) output (machine)
through this fusion.
Cyborg Manifesto adopts
a similar understanding to Scott's, extending it to even more
radical groupings. Going
well beyond Bourdieu's structuralism Harraway claims "the
dichotomies between mind and body, animal and human, organism
and machine, public and private, nature and culture, men and women,
primitive and civilized are all in question ideologically",
and demands that the subject understand itself as cyborg, "a
condensed image of both imagination and material reality…a creature
in a post-gender world"(Harraway 163, 150).
is not so much a new decision to consciously collaborate with
what has previously been distinguished as tools, but an understanding
of the already thoroughly imbued relationship between these elements--each,
itself a construction--which together function as identity.
There is no way to think of the human without technology.
Indicating the particular intensity--now to the point of
conscious awareness and purposeful manipulation--at which this
symbiosis currently exists, Harraway's feminist theory is mirrored
throughout postmodern life. In pop music, Kraftwerk's The Man Machine and Computerworld albums helped spawn an image in which "the future"
appears as this same melding of the human with the technological
constructions and communication network of the postmodern world. Coming from this lineage, Matmos creates music
using samples of sounds made during surgery. The sounds include those from both the invasive technological tools
used and the body. Surgery,
where the human is opened to, and by, technological tools and
knowledge, becomes a metaphor for the condition of the postmodern
essay on desiring-machines, Deleuze and Guattari try to re-envision
the relationship of man and tool.
relationship with machines is not a a relationship of invention
or of imitation; we are not the cerebral fathers or the disciplined
sons of the machine. It is a relationship of peopling: we populate the social technical machines with desiring-machines,
and we have no alternative. We
are obliged to say at the same time:
social technical machines are only conglomerates of desiring-machines
under molar conditions that are historically determined:
desiring-machines are social and technical machines restored
to their determinant molar conditions (Deleuze/Guattari, “Desiring-Machines”
subject nor technical apparatus appaear as hierarchically related
or intrinsically distinct, but become material through the intrusion
and expulsion of admixtures of what previously have ben wrongly
conceived as separate fields.
The molar conditions, the historical situation of postmodernism,
finds its singularity not in the fact of human/tool fusion—this
has always been the case—but in the specific switch that allows
this hybridization today, as compared with that which Marrinetti
and the Futurists hailed. This
switch, of course, is that the tool aspect is no longer mechanic
this movement from the mechanical to the digital may seem reducible
to simple developments within technology itself, there is no way
to underestimate its import in the creation of new subjectivities. In Crary's words, the positing of such a developmental
scheme "often ignores the conceptual and historical singularities of each…What is important are
the conditions and circumstances that allowed [the notion of persistence
or development] to operate and the historical subject/observer
that it presupposed"(Crary 110).
of psychic distance already alluded to marks one of the major
consequences of the digital shift (in so far as it converges with
the postmodern assemblage). McLuhan's
characterization of the digital (electric) rupture expands on
this notion of modernity's (mechanical) disengagement being replaced
by postmodernity's (electric)fully embodied immanence.
Of the mechanical techno-culture typified by typography,
he writes, "Perhaps the most significant of the gifts of
typography to man, is that of detachment and non-involvement--the
power to act without reacting"(McLuhan, Understanding
Media 173). This disengaged
stance, which entails an isolated, unencumbered individual suffers
a radical alteration with the arrival of digitization.
Of this experience, McLuhan continues, "The immediate
prospect for literate, fragmented Western man encountering the
electric implosion within his own culture is his steady and rapid
transformation into a complex depth-structured person emotionally
aware of his total interdependence with the rest of human society"(
McLuhan, Understanding Media 50). As before with Owens, if it is added to McLuhan
that this emotional awareness extends to that of sensorial inputs
and energy flows in this depth-structure, the stance of modernity's
individual crumbles as comensality is embodied with the postmodern
subject's "passion for depth involvement in every aspect
of experience"( McLuhan, Understanding Media 328).
Virilio also sees a more engaged subject formed, and informed,
through digitization. Restructuring
the notion of distance in the postmodern reorganization of space,
Virilio changes focus from distance's relation to space (as relative
farness), to what he's sees as a more important relation, that
of time (speed). For him,
this realignment manifests in the transition from dialectic
logic (mechanical) to
paradoxical logic (digital).
In postmodern paradoxical logic, "what gets decisively resolved is the reality of the object's real-time presence. In the
previous age of dialectical logic, it was only the delayed-time
presence, the presence of the past…The paradoxical image thus
acquires a status something like that of surprise, or more precisely,
of an 'accidental transfer'"(Virilio 138). "Accidental transfer" means that there
is continuos inadvertent exchange or interaction continuously
converging and circulating between presences.
Thus, as with McLuhan's depth involvement, Virilio's real-time
transfer implicates the postmodern subject's immanency with the
whole of its environment.
with the transition undergone in the nineteenth century observer,
as related by Crary, a similar reorientation occurs in the postmodern
subject with, though not because
, of digitization.
This is not to say that the visitor in TenaCity in no way understands itself as an individual able to evaluate
the pieces in front of it. It
is to say however, that simultaneously the visitor experiences
the exhibition and itself in ways unreconcilable with those by
which prior subjects understood their subjectivity and world.
Thus the rupture of the postmodern does not appear as one
in which the past is extinguished and through which the present
and future will be singularly experienced. The situation is like that given by Manuel De Landa in his account
of the history of human societies.
In it, he refers to what has here been termed ruptures,
as "bifurcations," occurring at certain intensities
(phase transitions) that result in various stable states.
This view leads to the conclusion that, "if the 'different
stages' of human history were indeed brought about
by phase transitions, then they are not 'stages' at all--that
is, progressive developmental steps, each better than the previous
one, and indeed leaving the previous one behind" (DeLanda
this discussion seems based too much in critical theory to relate
to the intimate experience of Lucas' piece, and to the visitor's
evaluation of how compelling the suggestion that we are already
cyborgs truly is, one needs only to look to the ever increasing
cult of gadget lovers throughout society.
The obvious examples of the cell phone, beeper, palm pilot,
and laptop allowing the individual to be mobile yet connected
to the "pulse" of life are actually at the periphery
of the hybridization. Closer are hearing aids, pacemakers, preservatives left in the bloodstream.
An endless expansion of this list is possible with the
import laying not so much in the realization that the body comingles
with technology (as though the two fields are entwined but separable),
but in the acknowledgement that it is the conjunction itself that
vitally establishes (though misconstrues) each. The cell phone
is not a tool. It is part
of an assemblage through which the interconnections that define
and expand all the elements with which it converges are shaped.
Deleuze and Guattari wirte,
is through the intermediary of assemblages that the phylum selects, qualifies, and even invents the technical elements. Thus one cannot speak of weapons or tools before defining the constituent
assemblages they presuppose and enter into…Weapons and tools are
not merely distinguished from one another in an extrinsic manner,
and yet they have no intrinsic characteristics.
They have internal (and not intrinsic) characteristics
relating to the respective assemblages with which they are associated
(Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 398).
the flux of transference that shapes the individual elements within
a network of exchange. To
separate the elements, to divide the user from the tool, is to
reassert the primacy of the individual subject, to create false
illusions of its intrinsic qualities, distancing it from the assemblage
in which it is constructed.
piece brings up other questions as well. The image is a live stream. Lucas is actually narrating the script as it
unfolds. The software
responsible for the static charges occurs simultaneously with
the narration of its script.
Interdependently, the actual and virtual create
the cyborg with whom the visitor interfaces. In place of the physical fusion of human and machine of which Harraway
speaks, what Lucas' piece suggests is not simply a spatial accumulation
but also a temporal hybridization. The real time manipulation and sedimentation of the image and the
object--which in this case is a live, speaking, subject--problematizes
prior modes of representation.
In painting, but also in photography and film, the object
captured, even if a living subject, was separated temporally.
This gap of representational imaging preserved the dignity of
both elements.--The film star can sit in the theatre watching
as her character throws herself to her death.--But with the advent
of real time transmission this gap collapses.
Is the projection Lucas or her image?
Paul Virilio writes,
the face of such representational slather, the philosophical questions of
plausibility and implausibility override those concerning the true and the
false. The shift of interest from the thing to its
image, and especially from space to time, to the instant, leads to a shift
in polarities from the old black-and-white real-figurative dichotomy to the
more relative actual-virtual…
what we are seeing is the emergence of a mix, a fusion-confusion
of the two terms, the paradoxical occurrence of a unisex reality,
beyond good and evil, applying itself this time to the now crucial
categories of space and time and their relative dimensions, as
a number of discoveries in the areas of quantum indivisibility
and superconductivity would already suggest (Virilio 145).
is the effect of this temporal "fusion-confusion", the
collapse of the subject/object and its image, and how does one
the visitor notices above its head, a monitor angling down from
its column mount.
The monitor's display is split into four quadrants,
each one a live stream view from a webcam. The quadrants change every so often, randomly selecting new surveillance
sites. The views come
from webcams placed in offices, along highways, outside shopping
centers, in homes. All
of these continuously run in real time across the Internet.
normally a spectator, is repositioned as it confronts the McCoys'
surveillance piece. It is no longer the watcher but the watched.
That the real time images are from web cams occupying places
outside of the immediate space (the gallery) but still well within
the visitor's own habitat (i.e. the office) extends the gallery
itself to the outside world, as tentacles, as lines of flight.
Simultaneously, the persons being captured
by these web cams become part of the gallery’s exhibition, part
of the collection, and the visitor inside the gallery remains
outside the collection only so long as it remains in the gallery.
As it reconstructs space through the extension of the gallery,
the piece deconstructs the institutionality of the spectator stance,
repositioning it within a new spatial understanding.
A system of control infects (through surveillance) any
possible private sphere. Living in the world appears as life through
images, images always immediately present to others who are themselves
equally reduced. Virilio's haunting claim concerning the "imaginary
multiplication of inmates" resonates, "From now on,
inmates can monitor actuality,
can observe televised events--unless we turn this around and point
out that, as soon as viewers switch on their sets, it is they,
prisoners or otherwise, who are in the field, a field in which
they are obviously powerless to intervene…" (Virilio 140,
spectacle and Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame, to Baudrillard's
simulacrum and prime time's "reality television", the
postmodern condition appears as one of immanent involvement, yet
one in which actions and identity evolve not from actors but from
emergent qualities within the flux itself. Frederick Jameson writes,
latest mutation in space--postmodern hyperspace--has finally succeeded
in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to
locate itself…this alarming disjunction point between the body
and its built environment…can itself stand as the symbol and analogue
of that even sharper dilemma which is the incapacity of our minds,
at least at present, to map the great global multinational and
decentered communication network in which we find ourselves caught
as individual subjects (Jameson, Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
the swirl of abstracted relations exemplified in late capitalism
by everything from NASDAQ trading to the “aura of the brand”,
individuals have ceased to be such other than through their production
and consumption of individualistic identities via mass produced
goods and services (Carducci).
Thus, individualistic activity is itself alienating and
furthers the disorientation suffered through a collapse of any
notion of a world solidly constructed and an understanding of
a place within that world. Debord's
writing from 1967 states, "There can be no freedom apart
from activity, and within the spectacle all activity is banned--a
corollary of the fact that all real activity has been forcibly channeled into the global construction
of the spectacle" (Debord 21-22). The McCoys' 2000 piece shows activity in the
world is part of a production in which actors unwittingly perform,
not as individuals but as object in roles --as employees, motorists,
pedestrians, shoppers--within a massive sphere of control with
no apparent master. The webcams’ scenes are randomly selected,
not chosen. The visitor inside the gallery remains outside the
collection only so long as it remains inside the gallery.
spectacle here fully realized? Is life now completely subordinated to the
movement and production of images?
Is the postmodern subject, its body, will, and desire fully
disintegrated? What is this thing dislocated in virtual space?
monitor flashing news clips shifts from shots of an anchorman
to images of lawyers in suits behind desks, to footage of a bedroom
in which a woman is visible through the tangle of wires spewing
from a pc.
The visitor places the headphones linked to
the video on its head, completing the circuit.
The narration tells of the battle over the use of a domain
name between e-toy, a Zurich based artist group, and etoys, a
toy corporation. The artist group, using the domain name "etoy"
prior to the company's use of the domain name "etoys"
was taken to court based on the company's accusation that the
conflict between similar web adresses was affecting its business. Not waiting for judicial action, âTMark (pronounced
art mark), and Electronic Disturbance Theatre unleashed a campaign
of tactical media intervention through which a virtual sit-in
launched from an army of volunteers' computers clogged e-toys
site during the Christmas season.
E-toys response was to drop its suit against e-toy.
now to another monitor displaying a man in a black ski mask, camoflauge
fatigues, and a rifle on his back, followed by a recombinant collage
of video clips insinuating a massive global upheaval linked to
technological intervention, the visitor is introduced to Ricardo
Dominguez's conception of the post-human agent.
Zapatista sub-commander Marcos' strategy of
as a means of reshaping global politics is
set in the context of a world constructed and driven by information
and communication technologies, technologies now widely available
to individuals. The blatant suggestion is that these might be manipulated, enabling
disfunctional gaps, realigning the network.
Dominguez's Electronic Disturbance Theater and âTMark's
pieces reevaluate the possibilities and potential forms of activism
and agency allowable once the concept of agency itself has been
dismantled in the same manner as that of the individual .
While McLuhan's technodeterminacy, maintains
that the individual is constructed via the particular sense ratios
demanded by the media with which it engages, it somewhat contradictorally
divides media along a "hot/cold" divide.
The divide exists such that, "hot media are low in
participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion
by the audience" (McLuhan, Understanding Media, 23).
The theory indicates that, as with Bourdieu's habitus as
a structuring structure, there is a reciprocal construction occuring
between media and audience. The
audience, though a product or, in McLuhan's terms, a servomechanism,
of its media base, still plays a constructive role; one whose
participatory degree or intesity depends upon the qualities of
the media form. McLuhan's writing in the 1950's and 1960's largely
attempted to explain,
reveal, and navigate the cataclysmic effects television held for
society, but engenders renewed enthusiasm in the contemporary
media shift from television to the computer.
The one-way transmission of high definition television
(in the McLuhanesque rather than the technical sense), so often
commented upon, and usually condemned for its numbing effect,
obviously situates television as a cool media.
In contrast, the decentered, participatory nature of the
Internet and wireless media indicates the "hot" quality
of cyberspace. Still the question remains, even if the medium
is hot, how can there be participation once the subject has been
stirred in the visitor by the etoy army and the zapatista netwar
mirrors that which is demonstrated in the increasingly visible
mass protests made possible through tactical usage of the Internet
in places like Seattle, Washington D.C., and Quebec. Disembodied in cyberspace, the visitor remains as desire…Deleuze
and Guattari attempt to explain desire's capacity to exist without
physicality or intrinsic integrity by claiming,
are passional, they are compositions of desire.
Desire has nothing to do with a natural or spontaneous
determination; there is no desire but assembling, assembled desire.
The rationality, the efficiency, of an assemblage does
not exist without the passions the assemblage brings into play,
without the desires which constitute it as much as it constitutes
them (Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 399).
Bourdieu's habitus as a structuring structure, with its capital
composition/accumulation referent replaced with the intensity
of rhizomatic connections to other multiplicties (efficiency of
lines of flight and lines of articulation).
This model may explain desire's intense presence
in the deconstructed disembodied virtual world that TenaCity attempts to reconstruct.
the last zone, the visitor “finishes” the exhibition and leaves
the gallery through a back entrance. But this final line of flight, escape from
the gallery, has, as we noted, only changed the relation to the
exhibition which, through a deterritorialization of the gallery
encroaches into the outside world with which it constantly interacts. At this moment the visitor might also reflect on the images and
sounds present in the collage that are not pulled from the exhibition’s
own resources. These resources are proven to extend beyond the
walls of the gallery. From
where then? Perhaps from the very location that the visitor
plans as its next stop. New
lines of flight appear…
the functioning of an assemblage of which the gallery, the visitor,
the aritsts artists, the individual pieces, and TenaCity as a whole, are only parts.
Through this assemblage the construction of individual
elements reacts to the intermingling, exchange, presence, and
forces, in sum, the "experience" of all the other elements.
In this transference which is experience, the temporary
forms, physical and ephemeral, manifest. Any manifestation is stable only so long as
its convergence with other manifestations remains constant in
all its particularities. This
equilibrium is never reached.
Bourdieu, Pierre. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard
Carducci, Vince. (2002), "The Aura of the Brand". Master's Thesis. Graduate Faculty at New School
Crary, Johnathon. (1990). Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century,
Cambridge: MIT Press.
De Landa, Manuel. (1997). A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. New York: Zone.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. (1986). A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis:
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. (1977). "Balance Sheet-Program for Desiring-Machines" in Semiotexte
vol II, no
Harraway, Donna. (1991). "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late
Century" in Simians, Cyborgs and Women.
Jameson, Frederick. (1983). "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" in The Anti-Aesthetic. Ed. Hal Foster.
Townsend: Bay Press.
Jameson, Frederick. (1991). Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic or Late Capitalism. Durham:
McLuhan, Marshal and Quentin Fiore. (1967). The Medium is the Massage. New York: Bantam
McLuhan, Marshall. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Miller, Paul. (2000). "Material Memories: Time and the Cinematic Image" from Ctheory, Technology and
Culture Vol 24, No 1-2. http://ctheory.com/
Owens, Craig. (1983). "The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism" in The Anti-Aesthetic. Ed.
Hal Foster. Port Townsend: Bay Press.
Rajchman, John.(1991) "The Postmodern Museum" in Philosophical Events: Essays of the '80's. New York:
Scott, Joan. (1992) "Experience" in Feminists Theorize the Political. Ed. Judith Butler and Joan Scott.
New York: Rutledge.
Virilio, Paul. (1998). "The Vision Machine" in The Virilio Reader. Ed. James Der Derian Oxford:
Volkart, Yvonne (curator). (2000). TenaCity: Cultural Practices in the Age of Information and
Exhibition Presented at the Swiss Institute. Info and installation scenes at:
"it" will replace the traditional (he/she) pronoun
used to distinguish human beings both internally, along the
gender line, and externally, from other living and inanimate
objects. Since the purpose of TenaCity
and this paper is to demonstrate new conceptions of the subject
and its world, this approach helps relieve attachment to distinctions
that may no longer be relevant or functional.
Proper names will be employed but these titles of identity
ownership and consistency should also be reexamined through
the notions that this exhibition and this paper offer.
Unfortunately, such logic cannot be extended to all areas
of concern. For example
descriptions of space (i.e. "room", "object",
or objects) that also may no longer serve, must nevertheless
be employed in order to achieve communicability through text. It may thus be this technology, text, itself
which is most (indirectly) questioned in this account.
It is important
to note that TenaCity
operates on two levels, both demanding that subjectivity must
be understood in the plural.
These two levels will be expanded later in the paper.
The first relates to an awareness of otherness, (the
multiple identities represented through an awareness of feminism,
multiculturalism, etc.) and distinction, as Bourdieu understands
the term (the drastically different worldviews embodied in hierarchical
social space). The second
refers to multiple subjectivities within a single body (thus
questioning the body as a ground itself).
For a discussion
on the import of psychic distance preconditioning modernist
aesthetics see Arthur Danto' "The End of Art" in The Death of Art ed. Berel Lang (New York 1984). Psychic distance is also employed by Pierre
Bourdieu to characterize the aesthetic stance of the upper class. For his discussion see Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement
of Taste (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1984), 34-41.
reflesh to body, 2000. http://www2.sva.edu/~dianel/idrunr
In A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History,
Manuel De Landa traces the course of human societies resulting
from the flow of energy and matter. He writes, "In the eyes of many human
beings, life appears to be a unique and special phenomenon…However,
this view betrays an 'organic chaucinism' that leadsa us to
underestimate the vitality of the processes of self-organization
in other spheres of reality. It can also make us forget that, despite the
many differences in them, living creatures and their inorganic
counterparts share a crucial dependence on flows of energy and
minerals. In many respects the circulation is what matters,
not the particular forms that it causes to emerge." Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Zone, 1997) 103-104.
response to DeLanda, TenaCity highlights the forceful
exchange, interaction, compulsion, and repulsion endlessly playing
out between the organic and inorganic, the virtual and the real,
etc., and finds its success in its realization of the momentary,
fragile, and interdependent character through which these divisions
emerge. One obvious
example through which this realization is manifest is the soundscape
whose organic ambience is a conglomeration-mesh of intermingling
elements, only occasionally and fleetingly isolatable from the
2000. Live webstream
at SI/NY TenaCity opening reception. http://involuntary.org
In the assemblage,
construction never occurs in a simple causal realtion. It is only through the complex interaction
amongst singularities which are themselves emergent, that new
emergent properties surface.
still on the Internet, was originally broadcast as a live stream
for the TenaCity opening.
are defined by the outside: by the abstract line, the line of
flight or deterritorialization according to which they change
in nature and connect with other multiplicities…The line of
flight marks: the reality of a finite number of dimensions that
the multiplicity fills; the impossibility of a supplementary
dimension, unless the multiplicity is transformed by the lines
of flight." Gilles
Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A
Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota, 1987), 9.
âTMark, News Coverage, 1999, 2000.
Marcos on 'Free Media',
1997 and Post-Media-Impossiblity,
Ronfeldt, Zapatistas "Social
Netwar" in Mexico, 1999
See for example,
Talal Asad, "Agency and Pain" Culture and Religion 1 (1): 29-60, May 2000.
Guattari write, "Principle of Multiplicity: it is only
when the multiple is effectively treated as a sbubstantive,
'multiplicity,' that it ceases to have any relation to the One
as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and
world…There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object or
to divide the subject…A multiplicity has neither subject nor
object, only detereminations, magnitudes, and dimensions that
cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing
in nature…Every rhizome contains lines of segmentarity aaccording
to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified,
attributed, etc. as well as lines of deterritorialization down
which it constantly flees."