[-empyre-] Institute For Aesthetic Research

daniel p. lichtman danielp73 at gmail.com
Tue Nov 10 02:16:39 EST 2009


Dear -empyre-,
As a start to our conversation, I am posting an email conversation
that David and I had on Sunday. I hope that the
length doesn't discourage you from joining the conversation!

Barring any explicit objections, I will post the resulting
conversation on the Institute for Aesthetic Research wiki at
http://www.instituteforaestheticresearch.org.

Best regards :)
David and Dan

====
Date: Sun, 8 Nov 2009 4:17:19 PM GMT
Subject: some thoughts
From: danielp73 at gmail.com
To: davidbaumflek at hotmail.com

Hi David, a start our conversation, with plenty of loose spots for you to fill
in:

I just read "The Revenge of the Concept: Artistic Exchanges, Networked
Resistance." in Art and Social Change, A Critical Reader (we should get this
book but it's hard to find; I got it at the Goldsmiths library), but it's
available at http://pzwart.wdka.hro.nl/mdr/pubsfolder/bhrevcon/. It elaborates
the crisis of neoliberalism according to a familiar (but instructive) narrative,
and frames the struggle against it on interesting terms. Holmes describes large
scale international protests such as those against the WTO in May, 1998 and the
Carnival against Capital during the 1999 G8 summit (and no doubt would include
more recent international protests such as those against the war in Iraq or
elections in Iran) as examples of "networked resistance. He is chiefly concerned
with the organizational processes that enabled tens of thousands of people to
execute coordinated, sophisticated political action against these summits. These
projects "begin and end with the fabrication of publicly available texts":
Leading up to these events, the contested practices and institutions need to be
theorized, possible modes of protest suggested and discussed, and mechanics of
the protest need to be planned. After the event, social, legal and political
follow-up need to be discussed among participants--all of these discussions on
an international scale with thousands or tens of thousands of collaborators.

Holmes compares this process to that which drives the open-source development of
software such as Linux--in both cases, the labor necessary to formulate and
implement a vastly complicated system is divided among many people who
contribute without any expectation of financial exchange. Artists and cultural
theorists have long taken interest in this phenomena and have compared it to
Marcel Mauss' writing on gift economies within modern systems of exchange.
Mauss, according to Holmes, attributes the motivation of gift giving to the
imposition of a debt on the receiver, if only in an abstract sense. This ties
the his economy of the gift to the systems and interests in place under
capitalism.

Holmes writes that the organizational process that takes place before, during
and after the large scale international protest, as well as the process that
results in open-source software, constitutes an exchange of ideas and knowledge
external to the capitalist system. Unlike gifting in Mauss' sense, collaborators
on these projects contribute intellectual resources that accumulate into an
outcome that resists commodification and effects (in the case of the protests)
real change in global politics. Most importantly, both systems achieve these
ends through the opening of innovative spaces of collaborative discourse in
which large groups of individuals generate and refine complex theoretical ideas
and practical systems; individuals collectively exploit communications
technology to produce results for the community.

Art these strategies useful to art as a strategy for advancing a critique of
neoliberalism? Conceptual art, as Holmes touches upon, attempted to decouple
artistic practice from the reaches of capital and the art market by shifting
focus away from the object and towards a more ephemeral exploration of language
and systems... Most people think it didn't work, and was easily recuperated by
the market system.


IAR aims to create a space for non-hierarchal discourse and production through
it's weekly meetings, web-based wiki and eventual production of a publication.
Does it do this?

And how do the discussions on empyre relate to this paragigm?

Dan

====
From: david baumflek <davidbaumflek at hotmail.com>
Date: November 8, 2009 5:37:45 PM GMT
To: <danielp73 at gmail.com>
Subject: RE: some thoughts

False Consiousness and my Laptop-

Hey dan.  Here are some of my thoughts about Holmes...

To begin with, I would have to ask for a more concrete historical analysis of
the protests that Holmes is talking about.  I can accept that the wave of anti
globalization protests of the 90’s and early 00’s were a site of new
interweavings of virtual even viral communications and mass action. But I would
have two major questions-
1)   how was the communication which took place any more ‘activating’ or
successful to the goals of the movement because of its virtuality?
2)    How successful was the movement itself?  It is fine to point out the
convergence of message with medium, but what change was effected?
This last question is absolutely critical for me to think about my own
relationship with these mediums-
I am uncomfortable with the self-satisfied rhetoric of protest and resistance
which only narrowly escapes immediate commodification and which does not deliver
on its more tangible objectives.  In this way I side much more with Zizek’s
reading (or one of his readings) of May 68.  We need to be able to understand
and confront failure at a structural level if we are to do anything new at all.
As one who (along with many readers I am sure) was present at a number of the
protests that Holmes makes mention of I have to speak about my own experience-
Each one of these had the tactile quality of libidinal release that the
Situationists so accurately diagnosed.  As with their readings of student
revolts in the 60’s these too had the sense of a pressure valve being released-
a carnivalesque atmosphere which lead to the easy reabsorbtion of the protestors
back into the economy of the spectacular.  With the same tour bus mentality as
dead heads, protesters would look forward to the next stop on the black block
express where they could “really live” and finally retaliate against the high
cost of their starbucks with a cheer as someone throws a garbage can through the
plate glass.  Unfortunately, this all had the quality of being so proper- the
appropriate place and the appropriate time.  This is a protest, so we will
revolt- the “distribution of the sensible” was never more intact.

With this question of “networked Resistance” I am reminded of a story I heard
from a prison activist.  In the late 60’s when inmates were beginning to
organize for more rights and better conditions, the appeasement the institutions
offered was to give them TV.  This had the desired effect as TV viewing became
both a mollifying force to the less militant inmates as well as disciplining
tool par excellence (“get in line or no “Price is Right!”).  Can a similar logic
be applicable to the “networked” movement?  Where has it moved exactly?  Is all
resistance in America now exclusively through facebook?
Additionally, if the actual hardware and software that is being used by these
autonomous components of ‘multitude’ is written by Microsoft, how are to expect
anything but the most crushing and effective surveillance?  Isn’t this in
evidence with the recent arrest of members in an Astoria Queens squat who were
charged with protest organization through tweeting?
To return to the first question of Holmes analysis- how effective has the left
been in America since these new media tools are at its disposal?  Isn’t the
co-optation of these strategies complete when they are enacted to elect a US
president or used by Fox News?

--
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====
From: david baumflek <davidbaumflek at hotmail.com>
Date: November 8, 2009 6:55:58 PM GMT
To: <danielp73 at gmail.com>
Subject: addition

As I say all of this, I am also heavily reliant on the economy of knowledge that
these mediums have generated.  This is one of  the space of radicality that
these movements have left us-  the enormous user generated circulation of
thought and discourse which still has resisted capitalist processes of
accumulation and in fact offer the starkest and most widespread alternative
economic model.   This is perhaps where viral marketing exists as a serious
threat- perhaps not in its current, rather unsophisticated forms, but for what
it represents for future incursions.

As for IAR- It is interesting for me to consider the effects that form has on
exchange. How is a critical dialogue in a physical meeting space distinct from
an international list serve such as this?  What are the effects of the
circulation of printed material in relation to an open, completely alterable
website?   Each seems to have its limits- temporal, emotional, physical.  Each
of these has a differing vision of audience, public, participation- perhaps even
democracy.

--
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====
Date: Sun, 8 Nov 2009 11:11:52 PM GMT
Subject: RE: addition
From: danielp73 at gmail.com
To: davidbaumflek at hotmail.com

Hi David,
Holmes narrates a pretty abstract story of how these protests were organized,
how they unfolded, and what kind of political change they managed to effect. I
agree that without (a lot) more detail, it's a weak argument that the exchange
of ideas he's talking about really constitutes an alternative economy of ideas.
I don't think he's arguing, however, that this communication was more activating
BECAUSE of it's 'virtuality'--rather, that the type of communication necessary
to produce such events was made possible by the convenience of new forms of
communication. This technology created the condition of possibility for the
collaboration between thousands of individuals to plan and execute synchronized
events throughout the world. Just how transparent, non-hierarchal and
independent from private interests it was is, as well as how effectively it
challenged neoliberal interests, is hard to know, of course.

A mistrust (or fear) of the use of commercial media such as facebook to
facilitate these strategies of communication is certainly well-founded. I don't
think this undermines, however, the use of new-media for collaboration as a
whole--such communication and collaboration need not take place in commercial
forums (though even in email, services like gmail scan your messages so as to
provide targeted advertising...). I think it's productive to look closely at
these examples in order articulate the possibility of alternative economies of
information exchange rather than to assume that because they can be co-opted
they are always co-opted.

Regarding the IAR: I would say that an exploration of the effect of form on
exchange is the primary domain in which we are trying to experiment. In
combining weekly meetings in at the gallery space with web-based wiki, both
leading to a print publication (produced in conjunction with the gallery), we
are attempting to position these political questions, particularly a
consideration of the possibilities of collaborative practice as a means of
working outside of neoliberalism, in the gallery space (and thus the art
context, as opposed to academic context). So articulated this way, perhaps the
main thrust of the project is to provide a set of tools for collaboration in
order self-evaluate the process itself. By collectively considering the
publication, we necessarily have to consider the lasting impact of our
discourse, as well as its position in art world-system.

Dan

====
From: 	David Baumflek <davidbaumflek at hotmail.com>
Subject: 	addition subtraction
Date: 	November 9, 2009 2:29:26 AM GMT
To: 	Daniel Lichtman <danielp73 at gmail.com>

Hi >David, Dan
>Holmes narrates a pretty abstract story of how these protests were organized,
>how they unfolded, and what kind of political change they managed to effect. I
>agree that without (a lot) more detail, it's a weak argument that the exchange
>of ideas he's talking about really constitutes an alternative economy of ideas.
>I don't think he's arguing, however, that this communication was more activating
>BECAUSE of it's 'virtuality'--rather, that the type of communication necessary
>to produce such events was made possible by the convenience of new forms of
>communication. This technology created the condition of possibility for the
>collaboration between thousands of individuals to plan and execute synchronized
>events throughout the world. Just how transparent, non-hierarchal and
>independent from private interests it was is, as well as how effectively it
>challenged neoliberal interests, is hard to know, of course.

Yes this technology did create these conditions, but people using far less
sophisticated methods of organization and transmission of information have had
far reaching insurrectionary movements…
This is just to state that this technology has not been wedded to a particularly
effective form of mass political action yet.  I agree that the mediums
themselves do have a potential beyond this, but I feel that it is almost
entirely separate from the form of protest that Holmes is discussing.  If
anything this seems like a prelude to a far more serious change in how these
forms of transmission shape a new subjectivity altogether-  One that will create
an entirely different form of activism, which will not have its borders
demarcated by ‘boots on the ground’ form of protest.  Remember Erin’s comment
about her friends speaking of committing mass suicide on facebook?  Even this
form of connectivity to one’s virtual presence seems outmoded.  Doesn’t the
proper logic of this suicide lead to ressurection?


>A mistrust (or fear) of the use of commercial media such as facebook to
>facilitate these strategies of communication is certainly well-founded. I don't
>think this undermines, however, the use of new-media for collaboration as a
>whole--such communication and collaboration need not take place in commercial
>forums (though even in email, services like gmail scan your messages so as to
>provide targeted advertising...). I think it's productive to look closely at
>these examples in order articulate the possibility of alternative economies of
>information exchange rather than to assume that because they can be co-opted
>they are always co-opted.
>
>
>Regarding the IAR: I would say that an exploration of the effect of form on
>exchange is the primary domain in which we are trying to experiment. In
>combining weekly meetings in at the gallery space with web-based wiki, both
>leading to a print publication (produced in conjunction with the gallery), we
>are attempting to position these political questions, particularly a
>consideration of the possibilities of collaborative practice as a means of
>working outside of neoliberalism, in the gallery space (and thus the art
>context, as opposed to academic context). So articulated this way, perhaps the
>main thrust of the project is to provide a set of tools for collaboration in
>order self-evaluate the process itself. By collectively considering the
>publication, we necessarily have to consider the lasting impact of our
>discourse, as well as its position in art world-system.

Do not get me wrong, I think that the whole business of appropriation and
co-optation needs to be rethought- it seems a dead end.  I think the first part
of this self-evaluation is to see that collaboration is itself an appropriated
form, not to mention a hot commodity within current art practice- an art
industry byproduct of the ubiquitousness of social networking. I say this to
propose that Neoliberalism is not antithetical to collaborative practice, but in
fact the opposite- the practice is de rigueur for current corporate models of
productivity and autonomy.
All of this being said, we need not abandon the practice or process simply
because of these trends.  I am interested in the limits which exist within these
ideas of collaboration- what can be said, what is ‘appropriate’ what disturbs
the process and creates discensus.  What does this process have to do with the
other aspects of my life which fall outside the limits of this discursive
space?  How does this get negotiated?
 I can say that I heard disappointment in your voice earlier today when I voiced
that I was very busy and didn’t know if I had time to write back to you.  I put
other situations on hold to be attentive to this- I put other people on hold.
This is the interesting part of the process to me.  How do you negotiate your
love life and thinking about viral marketing?  Now that is a topic for
collaborative thought…

>dan, david

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