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Excessive research

Liverpool, UK, November 3-5, 2015

Month

October 2015

Nathan Jones – The Testimony of Structure: Codecs and Contemporary Poetry

Excess and writing have in many ways become impossible to understand in the terms of one another. The boundless capacity of the internet, and even a modest personal computer, to register, store and move textual matter, along with interface illusions such as the infinitely scrolling page, means that it becomes ever more implausible to think of a technological limit to writing. This is problematic, not least because human rhythms and capacities are increasingly measured and set against those of technology. Terms such as “limitless potential” are used interchangeably with regard technology and cognition to imply an infinite financial wealth within the mind which need only be unfettered by faster and more efficient devices, and greater intimacy with them.

INCOHERENCE
In The Interface Effect (2015), Alexander Galloway proposes four regimes for art, based on their political and aesthetic incoherence or coherence. Ideology for example, is proposed to be politically coherent – aligned to a dogma – and aesthetically coherent – it makes sense. Galloway finishes by proposing that it is to the “dirty regime” of Truth, where works intersect political incoherence and aesthetic incoherence, that we must look for works which are capable of speaking in non-generic ways about the coercive nature of technology. This, he says is an analogue of Giorgio Agamben’s theory of ‘the whatever’:

“The whatever finds its power in incontinence and transformation, not unification or repetition. Likewise the whatever is politically incoherent because it tends to erode existing territories and institutional routines … No centre exists toward which it might gravitate” (142)

Artworks of the regime of truth, it is suggested, offer a way in which the increasingly coercive and invisible process of structuring by interfaces might be made available for critique: “effacing representational aesthetics and representational politics alike, in favor of direct immanence” (142). The politically unaligned and aesthetically inconsistent work, almost by definition, is one which comes into contact with, and breaches, its limits – the ends of enquiry which match up, hold the work together (aesthetic coherence) and align it with existing social frameworks (political coherence), are left ragged, and the moment of the work is not generic: “neither a universal nor an individual included in a series, but rather “singularity insofar as it is whatever singularity” (Agamben 1990, 1).

Disappointingly though, Galloway posits no singular work that exhibits these qualities – other than a footnote which gestures towards an unpublished work by his colleague Eugene Thacker. In this essay I would like to suggest that Ben Lerner’s poem Mean Free Path exhibits precisely these qualities by disclosing, as a facet of the poems the formerly withdrawn aspects of relation between his testimony on love poem, war poem, and elegy, and the structuring, disorganizing principals of ‘the language of new media’ which allow for it.

I want to use the digital “Codec” as a framework to describe the occluding/revealing process of the enunciation as a structure for testimony. The writing of excess in Mean Free Path (2010) I will argue, does not explode into (and therefore gesture at) limitlessness, breaking down boundaries of decency, rapidity, scale for example, but rather flickers at the limit of what has and hasn’t been said – stammering – hovering in the condition of the unsaid, while continuing to say it.

THE CONTEMPORARY
In referring to the “contemporary”, I am drawing on Agamben’s notion of someone who is able to view ‘the darkness’ of their time (Agamben 2009, 50). Agamben uses the metaphor of the darkness in the night sky, which he says is not the darkness of absence, but rather of those stars which move away from us so fast their light never reaches us – it withdraws: “To perceive, in the darkness of the present, this light that strives to reach us but cannot-this is what it means to be contemporary.” I would like to show how the contemporary poet is now one for whom interface effects are retrieved from withdrawal.   The darkness of their time, I assert, refers precisely to ‘that which is withdrawn’ in use.

THE WITHDRAWN
Withdrawal is essential to Heideggeran ontology, and Agamben (1973, 71-75) has used the term to affirm a distinction between the human open-ness and animal self-withdrawal of which he says the human-as-animal is composed. I posit a similar move in considering the boundary of human open-ness and technological self-withdrawal which makes up the writing subject. For Heidegger, a tool necessarily withdraws into invisibility while we express our own being through it – using it to our ends. Galloway similarly has written of the invisibility of media and interfaces thus. The better they work, the more invisible they become. To look at the other side of the coin: our experience of devices is precisely and uniquely the experience of their failure. This, what Heidegger called un-readiness-to-hand (Heidegger 204-207), when a tool becomes unavailable, broken or unwieldy is a moment in which the tool discloses itself in relation to someone who would use it. Importantly, this disclosure is specifically related to an aspect, that is, the nature of its unsuitability in-relation-to.

What the contemporary must bring back from withdrawal – the darkness which is the light which moves away – is the withdrawn technological and its relation to the human language it produces subjectivity with. In writing at limits, the contemporary poet in particular is in a position to retrieve those formerly withdrawn aspects of the technological process which structures their enunciation.

TESTIMONY
Testimony is associated with speaking at limits, especially as it relates to speaking trauma. In Remnants of Auschwitz (1999, 144-146), Agamben distinguishes between the living being and speaking subject. In this distinction, we have the opportunity to observe how the technological inculcates itself as an element of subjectivity at the moment of the enunciation. The enunciation as the horizon on which the “possibility of speech realize[s] itself as such”, has to do with the techné of language production – the interface is now then the apparatus which allows the testimony to appear as such.

CODEC
But what the structuring processes of the technological against which the testimony becomes an excess? The model I would like to use is that of Codecs. Codec (compression-decompression/coding-decoding) is a process which allows for the most salient features of New Media – namely its sampling and quantifying, and the subsequent tropes such as modularity and variability (Manovich 2002, loc 646- 800).

The low-order language in which a digital media item is stored is called data, that protocol which allows for it to be shown, the interface. Codecs such as those having the file extension .jpg, .tiff, .raw, store visual information as data, in a string of alphanumeric figures. Before being run by the Codec interface, the data itself does not conventionally exist on the plane of the human subject, and after, both the interface and data are withdrawn as the a-priori to what we see.

Two aspects that are important to note about this relation: 1) both the storage format of data and the structuring interface used to make the image immanent ordinarily occlude themselves in revealing the image – they are the unsaid which is in the saying of the image. 2) The data of the storage format stakes no claim to being the originary, or ‘essence’ of the image, being only precisely the a-priori, not containing either the exhaustive information with which the image can reveal itself (for it requires the interface for that), nor to contain everything that will be shown (for any viable interface could show a singularly different version of it), nor having any privileged relation to the real (being structured like a language).

The salient innovations of Glitch Art bring aspects of both the data and the interface in a Codec into immanence. Artists such as Rosa Menkman (2008) and Nick Britz (2011) have forced the Codec to disclose itself, by editing the source code of data or interface in order to produce situations wherein they fail to articulate or stammer their data. The resulting media then literally exceed their data, being added-to by patterns, colourings, warps from the interface; while also becoming diminished, half-withdrawing from view in favour of the ‘darkness’ of their structure.

MEAN FREE PATH
I want to read the way in which the Amercian poet Ben Lerner, in his 2010 collection Mean Free Path, willfully enters the enunciation of his work into the disorganizing principals of new media, in effect making the structuring relation of data-interface by which we access his testimony critically present in a work “singularity insofar as it is whatever singularity”.

Sampling
In Mean Free Path the poem is broken into the unit of the phrase and reformed as stanzas, each of a uniform number of lines and line-lengths. Each phrase appears to us as a singular ‘bit’, reappearing in any number of different contexts throughout the poem. In the systematic incoherence generated by these contexts – their failure to determine a singular meaning – what Lerner crafts in the work is a distinction between ‘traditional language’ (whose ‘sampling’ we might associate with the literary technique of parataxis), to the more violent sampling of linguistic units by the computational.

“I’m not above being understood, provided

The periodic motion takes the form of

Work is done on the surface to disturb

Traveling waves.” (48)

The misfit in semantic units and phrase-unit across the poem is a continual smeering and bluring of the edges of the unit, producing a sense of leaking or liquidity of relations in the stanza – a sense that the uniform is being exceeded by the potentiality of its content. Very rarely will a full-stop or line break relate to a semantic gap in the work, whereas such gaps announce themselves seemingly randomly throughout. All the way up, zooming out of the structure of the poem, we anticipate a form to emerge, but this finale or closure is continually offset by the confusion of structuring and content which bring it into existence:

“I planned a work which could describe itself

Into existence, then back out again

Until description yielded to experience

Yielded an experience of structure

Collapsing under its own weight like

Citable in moments: parting

Dusk. Look out the window. Those small

Rain. In holding pattern over Denver

Collisions clear a path from ground to cloud” (49)

Variability
In the drama that plays out across the book, it is as though the enunciation of each stanza is a bank of the same data subject to a new interface, activating a variable version of what is willed to be said – each refusing to reinforce the other, as with these elements from the first two stanza:

“But not how you mean that. The slow beam

Opened me up. Walls walked through me

Like resonant waves”

[…]

“Imperceptably into gift shops. The death of a friend

Opens me up. Suddenly the weather

Is written by Tolstoy, whose hands were giant

Resonant waves.” (39)

The system of relations between the what is sayable and unsayable in each stanza then, is continually deferred by virtue of the numerous ways in which the component phrase-units and stanzas might be read across and with one another. What is clear is that something is escaping us in each version:

“There must be an easier way to do this

I mean without writing, without echoes

Arising from focusing surfaces, which should

Should have been broken by structures” (40)

Mean Free Path does not exist without the structure which disorganizes its content. Its poetic making is precisely in the interplay of this content and that disorganizing structure to which Lerner testifies – what the poem says, is what is unsayable:

“And that’s elegy. I know I am a felt

This is the form where my friend is buried

Effect of the things that I take personally

A gentle rippling across the social body

I know that I can’t touch her with the hand

That has touched money, I mean without

Several competing forms of closure” (56)

We have observed several motifs of ‘aesthetic incoherence’ in Lerner’s work, and this kind of approving denouncing ambivalence toward the disorganizing principals of new media (and “money”) is what Galloway refers to as the ‘political incoherence’ of the regime of truth. Lerner’s poetry is sustained by the rhythms, tactic and tropes of new media, without which it simply wouldn’t exist on the plane of the contemporary; but then what it testifies to, is the impossibility of testimony (or elegy) under these very conditions.

CONCLUSION
What I will call the Glitch Poetic as the writing of an excess, is not human attainment surpassing the speed and efficiency of new media. Nor is it the human testimony explicitly falling short of the demands made of it. It is rather the moment produced when the sampling, quantifying activity integral to new media (Berhard Steigler’s “grammatisation”, Heidegger‘s “technological-understanding-of-being”, and Galloway’s “interface effect”) does not exhaust that which it structures.  Sampling and quantification as new media structuring devices are a new poetic form, and by reading poems which work in excess of this form, we don’t mean that the form breaks, but rather the sayable in them is tangibly corrupted by its emergence through that form.  The Glitch Poetic, is in this sense, a call to and a performance of the irrational in language, a Romanticism to parlay against the new-Empiricism of code.

Bibliography

Agamben, G., Kishik, D. and Pedatella, S. (2009) What Is an Apparatus? and Other Essays. United States: Stanford University Press, United States.
Agamben, G. and Attell, K. (2003) The Open: Man and Animal. 1st edn. United States: Stanford University Press.
Agamben, G. and Hardt, M. (1993) The Coming Community, Vol. 1. 2nd edn. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Agamben, G. and Heller-Roazen, D. (1999) Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. New York: Zone Books.
Briz, N. (2011) Glitch Codec Tutorial [glitch art demo] full tutorial. Available at: https://vimeo.com/23653867 (Accessed: 22 October 2015).
Galloway, A. R. (2012) The Interface Effect. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.
Heidegger, M. (1962) Being and Time. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Lerner, B. (2010) Mean free path. United Kingdom: Copper Canyon Press.
Manovich, L. (2002) The Language of New Media. 8th edn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Menkman, R. (2008) Vernaculat of File Formats. Available at: http://rosa-menkman.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/vernacular-of-file-formats-2-workshop.html (Accessed: 22 October 2015).
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Tessa Zettel & Sumugan Sivanesan – Plan Bienen: Exchange and reciprocity in the more-than-human city

This paper reflects on an ongoing artistic research project, Plan Bienen, outlining the terrain in which it operates and sharing some of its initial outcomes. The project is a collaboration between its authors, Sydney-based artists and writers, which developed from a 3-month residency undertaken in 2014 at the ZK/U – the Centre for Art and Urbanistics, Berlin.

The terrain

Plan Bienen set out to investigate real and speculative relationships between two parallel contemporary crises – one in bee ecologies and the other in European economic systems. In an era being variously called the Anthropocene and the Sixth Great Extinction, our proposition was that by overlaying these two objects of study we might find new ways into broader concerns that both intersect with, bound up in the increasing tension between the expansionary logic of free-market capitalism and the necessary reductions in emissions and consumption required to avert widespread irreversible ecological breakdown. Bees, our micro-political entry point into these much larger-scale questions, have long been a vessel onto which human ideological positions are projected – by turns having been cast as model capitalist producers and collective communist bodies. As transdisciplinary researchers, we were curious to explore potential ways of thinking from and with them, towards other ways of living together in the city via revised ethical and ontological positions.

One commonality we drew between bees and economics is that our relations with both are at present governed predominately by modes of exchange that are literally not able to be sustained, they are ‘defuturing’ in that they take futures away (both ours and other species’) and appear more or less to be heading for a kind of collapse (Fry). In Berlin, where our research began, we could nonetheless see in both spheres other sorts of relations at work, practices demonstrating different ways of generating, measuring and exchanging value, either being developed now or nestled in the city’s many pasts.

This then is what the territory of the project came to encompass – on the one hand the various problems facing bees (but extending out to other species), and specific linked approaches to urban beekeeping; and on the other histories of fiscal crisis, and responses to that including share economies and non-monetary systems of exchange. Emerging as crucial within this net was the political agency of ‘non-humans’ and the right to the city or urban commons discourse, particularly as it intensifies alongside gentrification in the city of Berlin, where all of these things have a special resonance and converge in unexpected ways.

The means

Our research involved meeting with beekeepers, researching (and using) share-networks and alternative economies, and interviewing economic historians and community economists. Working closely with feminist beekeeping collective the Moabees, we initiated a non-monetary exchange network in which local beekeepers traded honey for services and labour—including translation, singing lessons and help with honey harvesting—to rethink understandings of value and reciprocity as well as our relations with other species. We produced a series of notgeld—emergency bank notes—to commemorate each exchange, as well as hosting discursive events, meals, high-frequency trades and focus groups, and wrote texts and performance-lectures.

Engaging with various economies throughout, we have taken care to be attentive to what parts of an exchange are overlooked or ignored, what exactly is being shared with whom and on whose terms, and what are its limitations and potentialities.

Vanishing bees

To begin with the bees, as sociologists Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut point out, “only when bees vanish do they tangibly appear to us” (Moore and Kosut, Among the Colony 517). The phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder (as named in 2007), in which an entire hive of worker honeybees just disappears, first surfaced in the pollination industry in the US, prompting fears that this sudden threat to Apis Mellifera would jeopardise the future of many crop species that it pollinates. The condition was attributed to a complex situation in which a new type of systemic insecticide, neonicotinoids, combines with factors including Varroa mite and Nosema, a lack of biodiversity, effects of climate change such as ‘season creep’, constant moving of hives, and immune systems weakened by generations of being fed sugar syrup to replace extracted honey.

The crisis drew worldwide attention to the conditions of industrialised hives, galvanising much support for this little co-habitant of the world-within-a-world that we humans have constructed. Urban beekeeping took off over roughly the same time frame, especially in post-industrial cities like Detroit and Berlin where an impoverished state unable to afford city maintenance left many public areas to grow wild, offering more biodiversity of food for local bees (and less pesticides) than rural areas dominated by monocultures. In Berlin, this resurgence is inflected by the city’s embedded cultures of urban resilience and self-sufficiency as well as specific local histories of beekeeping in relation to city planning and the state. With around 900 beekeepers (still only one quarter of the numbers seen there in the 1950s), beehives are popping up in every neighbourhood, across school gardens, rooftops, empty lots and cemeteries.

Amongst the many different approaches to urban apiculture on offer last year at Prinzessinengarten’s annual Stadt Honig Fest, we find one bekeeper who tells us her honey is ‘a gift from the bees’, which she is permitted to take (commonly known as ‘robbing the hive’) as long as she promises to pass it on to others, giving jars to friends and tradespeople to acknowledge a job well done. We also meet Rainer Kaufmann, who unlike those in the honey trade managing hives for maximum yield, only harvests a tiny amount of honey for himself after winter when it is no longer needed for the brood, and doesn’t give his bees sugar to sweeten the deal. When we invite him to participate in our micro-honey exchange network he politely declines; his garden provides for all his needs, and besides his honey is too precious to trade. Erika Mayr, Berlin’s celebrity beekeeping advocate, is however keen – she already uses her own rooftop honey to pay for dental work and the DJs in her bar. In fact, during the DDR many people kept bees in order to trade the honey for desired commodities; they could even sell it back to the government at a fixed price, constituting a rare source of extra personal income. Today honey, like jam, always circulates within a gift economy, which as Marcel Mauss made clear, is not to say that there are no sticky two-way (or more) transactions involved.

 

Working Bees

At a seminar on the multiple modes of dwelling in Tiergarten—Berlin’s ‘Central Park’— we meet Viennese philosopher Fahim Amir, who declares bees the quintessential ‘emblem of green capitalism.’ Gesturing at the beehives installed on the roof of the building we are in, Berlin’s iconic Haus der Kulturen der Welt, he challenges us to recognise ‘naturecultures’ being put to work in the neoliberal city. Here bees produce honey to be sold in the gift shop as a boutique locavore product and service eco-friendly public relations. Just as their pollinating activities produce conditions desirable for us to live in, the presence of bees on prominent skylines performs symbolic work, assisting the city in its efforts to re-brand from an urban playground and post-communist social experiment to a green ‘lifestyle capital’, making it an attractive option for investment capital and facilitating the march of gentrification.

This role can also shift, as for Oliver, a physicist-turned-apiarist who sells his honey direct to people on the street over the hedge of his schrebergarten. In addition to their more obvious perambulatory role in the garden (a local law requires every gartenkolonie to have at least one beekeeper), he sees the bees as contributing valuable PR and visibility to their kolonie, important since there is talk of the land being sold off by its adjoining owners; it’s now good real estate in a desirable part of town.

Following Amir’s provocation, we can understand city bees as an ‘insect working class’ whose labours are both utilitarian and abstract. It is tempting then to imagine the disappearance of bees within industrialised agriculture as a kind of workers’ strike—or as Amir has put it a ‘zoooperaism’— a strategic political action undertaken to sabotage the human-centred mechanisms of global agribusiness production in which they are ensnared.

 

Being with

In such a critique we somehow lose sight of the bee again; Moore and Kosut, studying urban beekeeping in New York City, warn of our limited ability to ‘know’ bees using human senses, terms and concepts. They call for instead ‘new modes of embodied attention and awareness’—ways of standing back, intra-acting and just ‘being with’—essentially following the bee through its social transactions with objects, humans and insects, apprehending it as operative within its own world of meaning. In this they recognise other kinds of agency that bees have in the formation of engaged alliances within urban landscapes, through their embodied labour of pollination even constituting us physically as a species. Bringing together ‘the idea of the bee, humans’ material relationship with the bees, including use of them, and the actual bee as its own thing’, Moore and Kosut describe ‘an ontological murk of relations’ that leaves behind strict distinctions between species and their surroundings towards a relationship that is intimately ‘enmeshed and porous’.

Thinking further through interspecies relations wherein the terms of exchange are reconsidered, states like Bolivia and Ecuador have recently conferred the legal rights of subjects to nonhuman entities that include lakes, plants and the Panchamama. But what would a legal multispecies framework in a contemporary European city look like, and how could non-humans effectively defend those rights?

Berlin-based biologist Herbert Lohner is currently working on a ‘white paper’ that makes recommendations for state policies on ‘green infrastructure’, incorporating the wellbeing of bees and legislating such things as a minimum number of kleingarten to be built along with each new apartment. This is also about the right to a certain kind of green space, a commons that is not fully ‘public’ but necessarily involves interspecies sociality, providing a value not so easily quantified in monetary terms.

The Berlin Summt initiative, responsible for the hives at HKW, also hosts beehives across hundreds more of the city’s iconic buildings, including the Abgeordnetenhaus (House of Representatives), where Heinz Risse keeps 50,000 bees so that they may directly influence the decision-making of the parliamentarians inside. Heinz and Rainer are directors of the activist association Mellifera e.V., which works explicitly to ‘interfere politically on behalf of the bees’, recently helping to secure a temporary ban on neonicotinoids in the EU which is now being followed in parts of the US.

These moves can be traced back to the footpaths themselves; many of Berlin’s most famous streets are named after the flowering trees that line them – Kastanienallee, Unter den Linden – living traces of the influence of beekeeper lobby groups who in the late 19th Century shaped the ecologies of the growing city to ensure food for bees throughout the year (and of course honey for themselves).

Share-ability

In Berlin the practice of beekeeping sits alongside a broader culture of DIY economies and radical social formations that evolved over periods after reunification where there simply wasn’t much money around. Certainly times have changed, and such activities are now framed by the global ‘sharing economy’ which Cameron Tonkinwise observes has become ‘overwhelmingly an antiregulatory, precariat-creating way of monetizing social interactions’ (Tonkinwise). At last year’s annual OUIShare summit, a sort of trade fair mix of entrepreneurial social innovation start-ups and more radical grassroots initiatives, punters browsed such stands as a cargo bike-share platform, the free shop Leila, and the citizen-science project Open Source Beehives – standardised beehives that monitor bee health and behaviour in different parts of the world to address limited scientific knowledge about pollinator species and the ‘wild’ ecologies that support agricultural landscapes. Also present were LebensmittelRetten (foodrescue), an organised operation with partners that include the organic supermarket chain Bio Company, who operate a network of public fridges for distributing waste food across the city. The fridges fit into well-established modes of circulation and exchange that are in a sense built on the failures of an economic system driven by constant growth and wasted surplus. Such practices also tap into the momentum of an urban farmer-maker-hacker movement developing and sharing food sovereignty in a way that links localised autonomy from exploitative global markets with open source knowledge infrastructures.

Here too is a history here stretching back a century or more. In the 1920s when the German economy collapsed due to war reparations, hyperinflation pushed a loaf of bread up from 150 marks to 200 million in a year or two. Many regional municipalities responded by producing their own independent local currencies, or Notgeld, which had to be used regionally and before the expiry date (spent not saved). Being pictorial histories of desire at such a time – they show fields, cows, even beehives – as collectibles they accrued a different kind of value altogether. Commodities like coal and butter also became informal currencies, since they could not could lose all their value overnight, and were inherently less unstable than money – which as economic historian Winfried Bogon reminds us, is nothing more than a system of trust that functions only as long as everyone believes in it.

Operating on a tiny, pilot scale, our own notgeld functioned partly to capture some of the disproportionate quantities of labour needed to facilitate an interaction experienced by only a handful of participants. Each banknote (in an edition of three – two for the traders and one for the bees) commemorated one honey exchange in a micro-visual narrative. The B (bee)-side elevates their critical role within this transaction; clearly they make the honey, but there are also other things that a beekeeper receives in exchange for the care and home that they provide; many will speak of falling ‘in love’ with their bees, of being somehow changed by them. The bees themselves are further engaged in their own exchanges of pollen for pollination with the city’s flora, both wild and carefully planted.

As Tonkinwise puts it, sharing is about the messy negotiation of access to goods, which in the interests of futuring necessarily become scarcer. One salvageable value he finds in sharing systems today, or their potential for shifting mainstream values, lies in the friction caused by new socialities not defined by the alienated service roles of work. In this sense value must be negotiated person-to-person, sometimes awkwardly, in other words “capitalism is an alienated way of handling those negotiations; sharing forces you to negotiate with aliens”. Our honey trades were indeed examples of economic relations with ‘social thickness’, resource flows (how many jars is one singing lesson worth?) being placed upfront in a novel social relation. The process involved determining value outside a reductionist equation of money, what a jar can be sold for in the supermarket for example, as well as an assessment of one’s own capacities to meet the needs of others – human and non-human – that we share our cities with.

Plan Be/e

In the context of an economic crisis that, for Massimo de Angelis, is a capitalist crisis of social instability, the creation and maintenance of the commons become an imperative of social production. De Angelis defines commoning as a process of “socialization, communication and the transformation of subjectivities and social relations”, in which “the other is no longer alien but a coproducer of life in commons” (de Angelis 140). Drawing from the theories of physicist-philosopher Karen Barad, Moore and Kosut advocate a practice of ‘intra-species mindfulness’, which may also have resonance in considering how we organise together in urban communities. Contra to many scientists or beekeeper who attempt to figure another species out, they encourage their readers to figure bees in, and in doing so urge us to move outside our human selves to understand both ‘human’ and ‘other’ as cultural constructions. (Moore and Kosut, Among the Colony 520) Intra-actions are the material-discursive exchanges that co-constitute entities and refute the idea of bounded “entities in themselves”. As artists working with social relations, we’re heartened to hear that it is “relationality all the way down” (Haraway cited in Gane 141)—that the very fabric of life is itself somehow socially contingent.

Plan Bienen, being a pun on ‘Plan B’, references an imagined (even imaginary) ‘exit strategy’ to relations subsumed under capitalism. It may be that our best chance out runs in another direction, following the bee to a kind of thinking that seeks to undo the human, in an attempt to re-configure our relationship with other species, and by extension the common lifeworlds that we co-produce.

Plan Bienen blog: http://planbienen.net/

References

de Angelis, Massimo ‘Plan C&D: Commons and Democracy’, in Collectivize! Essays on the Political Economy of Urban Form ed. Marc Angélil and Rainer Hehl, Vol. 2, Ruby Press, Berlin.

Fry, Tony, 2011, Design as Politics, Berg, New York

Gane, Nicholas, 2006. ‘When We Have Never Been Human, What Is to Be Done? Interview with Donna Haraway.’ Theory, Culture & Society 2006, vol. 23, no. 7–8, pp. 135–158.

Kosut, Mary and Moore, Lisa Jean, 2014. ‘Among the colony: Ethnographic fieldwork, urban bees and intra-species mindfulness.’ Ethnography, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 516–539.

Kosut, Mary and Moore, Lisa Jean, 2014b. ‘Bees Making Art: Insect Aesthetics and the Ecological Moment.’ Humanimalia: a journal of human/animal interface studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Spring )
URL: http://www.depauw.edu/humanimalia/issue10/kosut.html Accessed: 26 September 2015.

Tonkinwise, Cameron 2014. ‘Sharing you can believe in: The awkward potential of sharing economy encounters’, Medium.com URL: https://medium.com/@camerontw/sharing-you-can-believe-in-9b68718c4b33

Mitra Azar – Virtualization of the Gaze and POV as a Political Battlefield

POV BETWEEN PORNOGRAPHY AND POLITICS

POV (Point of View) is not only an expression referring to a certain way of shooting porno movies, where “the man [woman] receiving sexual gratification holds the camera himself [herself] and aims it down at his [her] genitals and the partner/s who is/are pleasuring him [her]” (Wikipedia), avoiding the presence of a “separate camera crew filming the action” and, thus, creating a sense of continuity between the viewers and the images, as if they were embedded/embodied in them. From an aesthetic perspective – as strangely as it might sound – POV and the notion of the embodied image and its excessive proliferation has also become nowadays politically relevant, especially in relation to the anonymity and frozen inscrutability of CCTV (Close-Circuit TV) or Drone imaging as metaphors of a centralized (yet already mobile) panoptic gaze. The Arab Spring comes, and POV mobile phones images become as well the format people adopt to post online images of demonstrations and military abuses, thus activating their digital netizenship in the context of uprises and through the epistemology of an open distributed network of nodes. Slightly later, the Selfie as a technique of taking self portraits, especially with a hand-held mobile phone embedded camera, becomes widely popular, transforming a POV of someone over somebody/something into a POV of someone over himself. During the 2015 #Youstink Lebanese movement, rioters threw stones at the military with a rock in one hand and the phone pointed at themselves in the other. Meanwhile, POV starts slipping away from users‘ hands, thanks to the Selfie stick, an object (namely a stick) in between the mobile phone camera and the hands of the users, highlighting a gradual process of POV disembodiment, moving towards a CCTV-like image format.

Here, I would like to start a post-phenomenological cartography of the processes of abstraction of the POV (and of the body), in relation to the virtualization of the Gaze within the compulsive proliferation of image production, especially in the context of a crisis. The process of virtualization begins as a slippage of POV as an embodied relation between camera, user and audience, into FPV (First Person View), where POV is remoted wirelessly from the POS (Point of Shoot), and the user controls the device “from the driver or pilot’s view point” (Wikipedia). When FPV frames from a microscopic perspective, medical imaging manifests itself as a very peculiar form of gaze embodiment, whereas when it frames from a macroscopic perspective, CCTV and Drone imaging manifest themselves as last degrees of actualized gaze disembodiments. POV, FPV and CCTV are indeed the macro-regime of visibility, according to which they organize a post-phenomenology of the anthropo-technical mutation of the gaze, and of its online/offline circuiting.

GOOGLE GAZE CIRCUIT AND POV DISEMBODIMENT BETWEEN COLONIZATION AND SUBVERSION

According to this framework, Google Maps, Google Car and Google Glass are the metaphoric boundaries of the journey of the gaze out of the body. Google Maps satellite imaging visualizes a CCTV disembodied geographical Cartesian space; Google Car mimicries the possibility of an ubiquitous fully transparent, yet (mechanically) embodied FPV over that geographical space, while Google Glass turns Google Car FPV into a POV with CCTV traits. Here, the micro-standardized overlapping of CCTV, FPV and POV and, consequently, of geography over territory (G. Bateson, 1972), generates a “map that engenders the territory […] whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire but our own: the desert of the real itself” (J. Baudrillard, 1998). The Google gaze circuit is well visualized by the image of somebody taking a Selfie with his phone, while getting caught by a Google Car camera passing by exactly at the moment of the shooting, making the (POV) Selfie eventually available on Google Maps within the CCTV gaze of Google Satellites and the FPV gaze of Google Car, as in the mostly unconscious net art performance by Nasr Bitar, citizen of Ontario, Canada. Particularly, Google Glass gaze circuit emphasizes the shrinking of the space of abstraction related to the processes of POV disembodiment, now at few centimeters from the user’s retina. Here, POV and CCTV, along with territory and geography, collapse into each others. Here, geography starts generating territory, instead of the contrary, and the “abstraction is no longer that of the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (J. Baudrillard, 1998). POV and CCTV overlap also with the GIGA Selfie, a system patented in Australia allowing tourists to take (POV) Selfies remotely controlling a CCTV-like camera able to zoom from a CCTV-like frame to a POV-Selfie-like close-up of users‘ faces, making the human figure a measure of the surrounding space, and shrinking the “space of appearance” (A. Harendt, 1958) from the territory to the figure, thus implying a conservative anthropocentric Vitruvian idea of the relation between body and landscape. If in this Google gaze circuit types it is possible to sense the attempt of colonizing and normalizing (CCTVing) a perceptive region intrinsically autonomous (POVing), and therefore potentially subversive, similar overlapping can produce quite opposite results, and POV disembodiment can become a form of resistance. As in the case of the first hologram protest held in Madrid, Spain, opposing the law banning demonstrations outside the government buildings, and portraying a crowd forced to fully disembody in order to exercise its right to protest. Along the same line, on a symbolic level, people’s takeover of the national TV studios during the 1989 Romanian Revolution can also be read as a form of POV disembodiment from the streets into a CCTV/television-like format. Something similar happens with the Tahrir Cinema, where the protesters’ POVs uploaded online, documenting the Egyptian Revolution are downloaded and projected in a CCTV/cinema-mode in the same square they’ve been archived. More recently, Bryce Williams recorded with his phone his deadly gun shoots at two of his colleagues while on air, metaphorically warning about the unpredictable and un-domesticable nature of POVs. Bryce’s phone points at the cameraman and at the woman presenting, while approaching them, waiting the TV camera to frame her before shooting with his gun, and, thus, turning his POV into a CCTV/television-mode live feed.

POLITICS OF REGIMES OF VISIBILITY AND REGIMES OF TRUTH

It is worth noticing that each of these regimes of visibility brings along a regime of truth. It is indeed possible to think about the process of virtualization of the gaze, not only as the transformation of POV into CCTV, and of territory into geography, but also in relation to the degree of vérité of the respective regimes of visibility happening within this process. From the unter-testimony of CAT scan, MRI and laparoscopic videos documenting the inside of the body from a non-human scale, to the dubious testifying status of certain (POV) Selfies, to the objectifying gaze of CCTV cameras and Drone imaging, to the uber-testimony of an hologram protest, one of the recurrent elements of these regimes seems to be the actual difficulty of defining their vérité status. Maybe the becoming CCTV of the POV (and viceversa), and the becoming geography of territory (and viceversa) is at the base of the confusion between fiction and reality, and of the consequent state of hyperrealism mentioned above. Neda Agha-Soltan died in Tehran on 20 June 2009, killed by a sniper, while being recorded by a demonstrator’s mobile phone POV, staring in the moment of death straight at his camera. The image goes viral online and becomes the symbol of the revolution, while the Iranian authority calls it a mise en scène orchestrated by the CIA and the American press, questioning the documentary status of this image. The dubious vérité status of POV images affects Selfies as a form of reflexive POV as well. The ontological nature of the Selfie itself rises question about the documentary or fictional status of the image produced, because of the posing attitude of the subject staging the image, and because of the common practice of shooting tens of the same Selfie, then selecting and uploading just one. Selfies can act as a documentary POV with CCTV function, as in the case of Selfies taken by thieves, allowing the police to track and secure them, or, as in the case of Mastercard Selfie’s technology for payment procedure, identifying the buyer and securing the shopping. But the Selfie can also act as fictional mise en scène as in the Twitter post showing a Palestinian youngster taking a Selfie, while running away from two Israeli cops, custom-made by Dam, a hip hop trio from Ramallah. The question about the realness of the image is also attributed to the Selfies Abdou Diouf took of his illegal border crossing from Africa to Europe, Selfies that, once uploaded on his Instagram page, work as a form of political net-activism, despite their potential CCTV status. Thus, Selfies seem a great example to show how a certain type of image (and gaze) can disembody by changing its function but not its phenomenological nature, highlighting a tension between the ontological and the epistemological status of the regimes of visibility, manifesting in our cartography. At the same time, the different regimes of visibility and the technology making them available are more and more fluid, so that every state of POV embodiment and disembodiment can turn into another one almost flawlessly. According to our cartography, Drone imaging is the last degree of POV disembodiment. Within the military and security field, Drone transforms CCTV cameras into mobile entities able to monitor (and eventually attack) the space around them from an aerial perspective. Now, think of the wearable drone selfie, a bracelet with an embedded camera that you can release on air to take a Selfie of you from a Drone perspective. Here, Drone imaging as convergency of CCTV and FPV becomes a Drony – basically a (POV) Selfie with a Drone POS (Point of Shoot). The turning into a Selfie of a Drone imaging is matched by its opposite, the turning into a Drone of a Selfie, as in the case of Buildering, “the act of climbing on the outside of buildings and other artificial structures” (Wikipedia), and – I would add – of taking (POV) Selfies on top of them, highlighting how the processes of POV disembodiment are simultaneous to those of CCTV (or Drone) embodiment. These processes can activate authoritarian politics, as much as subversive practice. Even though it is possible to see a pattern connecting POV disembodiment (or CCTV embodiment) to the risk of repressive politics (especially in relation to data mining and privacy), and one opposite pattern connecting POV embodiment to forms of resistance to these politics, it seems important to investigate how to inject subversive potentialities into the very same processes that normally tend to assume a political repressive connotation. Tahrir Cinema and Buildering detour the turning into CCTV of the POV, into a political practice of re-appropriation of the space, whereas the disembodiment of the crowd’s POV during the Spanish hologram protest has been a way to overcome the demonstration ban.

THE OFFLINE/ONLINE CIRCUITING OF THE GAZE BETWEEN CONJUNCTION AND CONNECTION

It is worth noticing that the processes of POV disembodiment can also be read as the Prometheic attempts of its re-embodiment over the Internet, as the excessive pornography available online proves to suggest, as much as the number of absurd online challenges (as the #firechallenge, or the #kyliejennerchallenge), where the internautes engage in extreme ways with their bodies, while taking Selfies. The regimes of visibility connected to the POV processes of abstraction can be observed under the lens of their online/offline circuiting, and POV disembodiment seems indeed to happen in parallel with another process, that of the Internet embodiment (IE), offering the opportunity of conceptualizing the Net not anymore as a simple interface, but rather as environment and behaviors (H. Steyerl, Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?). According to this frame, we can look at the Selfies not only as the beginning of POV disembodiment, but also as a consequence of the Internet domestication of the gaze, and of its embodiment into offline behaviors, fully oriented to an uploading phase. The conjunctive as the offline modality of becoming-other and developing singularities by enhancing differences, is replaced by the connective, the functional interaction of elements of a given relationship, according to principles of similarities and compatibility (Bifo, 2011). The shrinking of the offline space of appearance seems indeed simultaneous to the opening of an online space of appearance – in fact, it is hard to give sense to the Selfies without thinking of their online uploading, confirming the offline behavioral nature of the nowadays Internet, and the ontological changing of the relation between reality and virtuality, territory and geography, offline and online. The colonization of the POV is indeed a process that happens in the offline/online circuiting of the gaze, and in the affordances (Gibson, 1977) offered by the military-entertainment complex (T. Lenoir, H. Lowood, Theaters of War, the Military-Entertainment Complex) – from front mobile camera to Dronies, and so forth. In this context, designing a cartography of the relation between the processes of virtualization of the gaze, their vérité statuses and their offline/online circulation seems important in order to investigate how to elaborate a strategy of resistance and of being-together, in the perspective of the overwhelming narcissism and ontological onanism manufactured by a repressive use of the technology available nowadays.

Publications:

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacres et simulation, Paris: Éd. Galilée, 1981.

Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

Hanna Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

Dan Getting et al., The Drone Primer: A Compendium Of The Key Issues, Center for the Study of the Drone: Bard College, 2014.

Franco Berardi Bifo, After the Future, Oakland: AK Press, 2011.

Online:

J. Butler, Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street, Eipcp.net.

H. Steyerl, Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?, e-flux.

P. Friedl, History in the Making, e-flux.

Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood, Theaters of War. The Military-Entertainment Complex. Stanford.edu

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_of_view_shot

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-person_view_(radio_control)

http://www.buzzfeed.com/deannye/selfie-on-street-view#.yhAo8WgoK

http://hyperallergic.com/194573/explore-a-surreal-performance-parody-of-google-street-view/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvian_Man

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3038317/The-world-s-HOLOGRAM-protest-

Thousands-join-virtual-march-Spain-against-law-banning-demonstrations-outside-government-buildings.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/12/europe/spain-hologram-protest/

https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/u/0/exhibit/the-romanian-revolution-broadcast-live/wRsiAKoC?hl=en&position=30%2C80
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11826100/Bryce-Williams-profile-of-Virginia-news-gunman.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CT_scan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_resonance_imaging

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laparoscopy

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/09/crime-scene-selfies-generally-a-bad-idea.html

http://emgn.com/entertainment/these-10-selfies-got-all-these-stupid-criminals-arrested-justice-served/10/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/palestinian-mans-selfie-while-running-away-

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/desperate-migrant-uses-instagram-share-6185285

https://instagram.com/abdoudiouf1993/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buildering

https://www.distractify.com/such-great-heights-1197777371.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_challenge

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3047484/Disturbing-new-Kylie-Jenner-challenge-sees-teens-suck-shot-glasses-blow-lips-double-size-disastrous-results.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affordance

Videos:

Google Glass ad:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSnB06um5r4

Bryce Williams:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKKWkCOnXE8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPMBiQX5Tx4

Neda Agha-Soltan:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1hkQtuwV38

Wearable Drone Selfie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Pcosoqk3W4&feature=youtu.be

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjqEAgINNWE&feature=youtu.be

Wolfgang Sützl – Sharing: Existence, Expenditure, and the Economy of Sacrifice

For Heidegger, sharing is a property of Dasein, of the mode of being that is constitutive to the human mode being-in-the-world, that is, to existence. The world we exist in is always already a shared world making being in the world Mitsein, or being-with. It is because of this originary sharing that we are always also the other, and so the sharing of the world allows others to appear. Nancy takes this thinking further, considering sharing as a prerequisite of meaning, and at the root of his critique of capitalism.
It is through the historical universalization of exchange, necessitated by the principle of private property, that sharing has drifted to the margins of western culture. The current triumph of neoliberalism amounts to an attempt at creating a world that is no longer a shared world. In such a world, optimized towards the requirements of exchange, sameness and generalized positivity give radical otherness nowhere to be. Precisely at the time when sharing is hailed as a more agreeable, pleasant form of capitalism, the actual meaning of sharing becomes all but impossible to communicate.
When Bataille developed his concept of expenditure in the 1920s, he intuited that an effective critique of capitalism must let go of the principle of exchange and instead ground itself on what is given away without return, what is wasted and “sacrificed.” Does his notion of expenditure contain leads for developing a radical critique of neoliberalism from existential and ontological understandings of sharing?
Referring to recent works by Wendy Brown, Byung-Chul Han, Gianni Vattimo & Santiago Zabala, this talk asks the question where the place for a critical understanding of sharing is within the critique of neoliberalism.

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