[-empyre-] FW: ::fibreculture:: review of acmi empire conference (robert hassan)

Dear list,
Politics and network intertwine here in this post to fibreculture and at the
risk of remix I offer it here up for grabs, gratis indirectly our fellow
empyrean Geert Lovink.


 soundart performance videoinstallation multimedia painting theory


------ Forwarded Message
From: geert <geert@xs4all.nl>
Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2004 08:59:33 +0000
To: "fibreculture@lists.myspinach.org" <fibreculture@lists.myspinach.org>
Subject: ::fibreculture:: review of acmi empire conference (robert hassan)

Art versus Empire
Robert Hassan

Review from RealTime 61

The recent Empires, Ruins + Networks conference at the Australian Centre
for the Moving Image came as a timely, if tentative intervention in the
growing 'crises' of art and politics in these postmodern times. One
surmises that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's controversial book
Empire (Harvard University Press, 2000) provided the inspiration for
part of the conference title and the theoretical impetus behind the many
issues it explored.

The judgment of Empire bodes ill for the economy, for society, for
politics and for culture. The authors argue that the interaction between
neoliberal capitalism and the information technology revolution has
produced a powerful system-logic. Since at least the mid-1970s, they
argue, the whole of society has become connected, interdependent, and
oriented towards the imperatives of capital. 'Empire' is thus the empire
of capital; the interrelation of ubiquitous computing and omnipresent
commodification that has seeped into every nook and cranny of
contemporary life. The 'ruins' are the wreckage of a civil society where
institutionalised politics are wholly ineffectual. And 'networks' are
the global digital logic that makes this baleful prospect realisable.

A premise of the conference is that the theory and practice of art as a
language for critique and as a dimension of a politics for change lies
somewhere buried and lifeless beneath the rubble of civil society. Under
the regime of neoliberal Empire, art that is not explicitly conceived as
a commodity is nonetheless instantly commodifiable. Critique is either
non-existent as part of the process of production or it is muted or
distorted by the artifact's exchange value. Coupled with the
ineffectuality of mainstream politics, the crisis of art means that
principle ways of understanding and changing the world have been
repressed and silenced. Reading our children's books and/or marvelling
at, say, the 'authenticity' of a Tracey Emin is as good as it is going
to get in terms of setting the world to rights or gaining insight into
our contemporary condition. Mark Latham rapidly drops one solution for
another and the obsession with the dregs of Emin's life disconnects (and
silences) the public politics of feminism from the highly marketable
public persona of the artist.

Speakers at the conference, however, lifted the lid on another,
presently subterranean logic that is emerging as the dialectical
antithesis of neoliberal Empire. Across the world through many differing
modes of articulation, networks, art and politics are coalescing in the
production of alternative spaces for other ways of seeing and being.
Digital technologies are central to this process. Artist/activists are
increasingly turning to new media to connect and to collaborate as much
as to produce the video or extend more traditional forms of visual art.
Moreover, networking through the internet has made many projects
observable to others who may want to connect with the existing
connections. Through such networks art and politics simultaneously exist
both locally and globally.

Highlights of the conference were many, but space allows for the mention
of only a few. Keynote speaker Okwui Enwezor argued that the emergence
of more collective work in art signals moments of crisis in society and
a political reaction to these crises. He cited the political/artistic
works produced by the Sarai collective based in New Delhi
(www.sarai.net). Here theorists and artists from across the planet
contribute to discussion lists, develop visual art projects and produce
politically-oriented readers in new media theory and practice that are
freely downloadable. Sarai, its website reads, is interpreted as "a very
public space, where different intellectual, creative and activist
energies can intersect to give rise to an imaginative reconstitution of
urban public culture, new/old media practice, research and critical
cultural intervention." As Greek curator Marina Fokidis showed, Sarai
has a sort of European-based equivalent in Stalker (2004) a
Situationist-inspired Italian architectural collective.
The neoliberal empire takes 'flexibility' as its lodestar and
'information and communication technologies' (ICTs) as the solution to
all problems. Ross Gibson, in his paper "Agility and Attunement" showed
how, in a dialectical turn, these processes are being adopted and
adapted to produce outcomes that work against the grain of the rigid
instrumentalism of the neoliberal way. 'Flexibility' in the hands of ICT
practitioners with a critical perspective on the dominant order, Gibson
argued, may be a highly effective (and potentially deeply subversive)
form that could be applied to developing new forms of politics. In this,
Gibson echoes Geert Lovink and his theory and practice of "tactical

Nikos Papastergiadis, co-organiser of the conference, closed the 2 day
meeting with a reminder that art and politics intertwine. Their immanent
power emerges as a "critical vector", he argued, only when ideas "exist
not only in the content of the work, but also in the way it joins up
with the experience and ideas of other people." In other words, in a
world characterised by the "banalisation of information", artists and
activists need to make their own collaborations, develop their own
matrixes of meaning and articulate these as critical and/or political

The difficulties facing the renewal of civil society through revivified
forms of politics and art are considerable. Conference delegates came
only with questions and pointed to scattered chinks of light emerging
from the darkness of the ruins. In this sense the conference, one hopes,
can be a catalyst for further explorations. What is clear is that
collaborative and collective artistic practice will become increasingly
political and radical as the crises of neoliberal postmodernity deepen.
The key task is to develop ways to connect these emergent political and
aesthetic languages with the everyday concerns of people before they
become commodified and/or safely marginalised. What is also clear is
that in a world reduced by 'time-space compression' and bounded by a
single circuit of capital, the response must be both local and global,
utilising what Ulrich Beck has termed global "networks of diversity."
These will be possible only though critical, aesthetic, political and
tactical use of ICTs to create new spaces of meaning and resistance that
form the basis of a new politics. The Empires, Ruins + Networks
conference showed that this has already begun.

Empires, Ruins + Networks, ACMI, Melbourne, April 2-4, 2004


Robert Hassan is a Research Fellow in Media and Communications at the
Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University, Melbourne. His
most recent books are The Chronoscopic Society (Lang, New York, 2003),
and Media, Culture and Politics in the Network Society (OUP,
Buckinghamshire, 2004).

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