[-empyre-] transdisciplinarity and transnetworks

christopher sullivan csulli at saic.edu
Wed Apr 14 15:19:37 EST 2010

I think that it is important to acknowledge that
the notion that the Transborder Immigrant Tool might be illegal in notions of
aiding and abetting, is not absurd, arguable, but not absurd. often Artists
cross cultural borders of legal limitations, and this is important, but I don't
think that shock should be part of our response. 
     Ricardo, Brett, Micha, are entering a battlefield of immigration,
which is not an easy place to negotiate. It would be a good use of political
energy to help Mexico create economic stability, so that heading dangerously
towards tho border to work and ship money home, is not a normal mode of
operation for the poor and disenfranchised citizens of Mexico. I don't want to
see people die at the hands of smugglers or by dehydration. But unmitigated
border crossing is not a socially viable long term solution.
      Tactical Media, does raise question for me in terms of how deeply ones
students should be involved in faculty work, political or otherwise. Don't know
where I stand, but it is often problematic to me. My best wishes for everyone
who is in legal danger from this situation. Chris.

Quoting nicholas knouf <nak44 at cornell.edu>:

> Dear -empyre-,
> Apologies to coming late to this discussion.  Thanks to Tim and Renate
> for inviting me to participate, although I wish it were under better
> circumstances.  Thanks as well to the other participants who have
> already posted thoughtful commentary on the situation.
> I want to explore first off the relevance of EDT and bang lab's work for
> my own development in this space, and then go through two of my recent
> projects that engage with similar problematics.
> As a graduate student I am coming to the work of tactical media years
> after statements of its demise.  Nevertheless, I think the recent
> incidents show its continued relevance and development into novel forms.
>  The recriminations against Ricardo, Brett, Micha, and others show
> atavistic tendencies and a return to the attacks that we witnessed
> against CAE during the mid 2000s and the subpoenas sent to the
> developers of txtmob in 2008.  This, along with other developments in
> the context of the US, ought to disspell any simplistic notions that we
> are living in a different time after the election of Obama.
> The work of EDT and bang lab has been formative for my own development,
> as their projects show how networked activism can go beyond agit-prop by
> incorporating poetic statements that build off the materiality of
> networks.  The work of everyone behind EDT and the bang lab shows a
> continued willingness to disrupt the mechanisms of power, especially as
> the Internet has steadily stratified into staid configurations based on
> mass-media semiotics.
> I want to pick up on a term that Micha used in her post, and that is the
> word "trans".  One of the most important methodological components of
> bang lab's work, in my view, is its resonance with what Guattari called
> "transdisciplinarity", the need to think across disciplinary boundaries
> and develop new assemblages of practice that work across (rather that
> within and between) traditional fields.  This works to counter the
> take-up of "interdisciplinarity" and "multidisciplinarity" by the
> University and funding bodies---at least until transdisciplinarity
> itself becomes yet another buzzword.  I'd be interested to hear if Micha
> sees connections between her use of the word trans and Guattari's
> development of the prefix.  (As a side note, Gary Genosko has a very
> interesting paper in Angelaki entitled "Félix Guattari: towards a
> transdisciplinary metamethodology" from a few years ago detailing the
> key points of Guattari's use of the word; if you don't have access to
> Angelaki from your site, I'd be happy to send you a copy.)
> To turn to my own work.  Like Micha I too have been interested in the
> ways in which we can use the university as a site of political
> engagement.  Partially as a result of the changes underway in the
> university across the world, hastened by the developments of the
> so-called financial "crisis", and partially as a result of reading about
> other struggles in universities that have been described ably by the
> members of the edu-factory collective (http://www.edu-factory.org/), I
> have been developing over the past year a project called MAICgregator
> (http://maicgregator.org/).  This is a Firefox extension that aggregates
> information about the military-academic-industrial complex (MAIC) and
> overlays it on university websites.  It was occasioned by my desire to
> interject alternative representations into the heavily-controlled space
> of the university website, a space that tends to efface any friction and
> of course highlights only the "positive", meaning that which can improve
> the University's image and consequently bottom-line.  I collect
> information about Department of Defense (DoD) funding, DoD grants to
> small businesses and Universities, press releases about the University,
> news items mentioning the University, and clinical trials in which the
> University is involved.  As well, I wanted to put a "face", so to speak,
> on the trustees of the university.  These people have the ability to
> make decisions on all manner of issues, including choices about tenure,
> capital projects, and most importantly, financial investments of the
> University's endowment.  The transporting of funding strategies from
> Wall Street to the University over the past decade is one major
> contributor to the precipitous fall of many Universities' endowments.
> This component of the project works to try and "discover" who these
> people are and "find" their photos using an image search, while at the
> same time showing how the techniques of data mining (which are the
> technical underpinnings of the project) often produce spurious results.
>  Finally, I have just added a component that highlights words on
> University webpages that seem to be especially important to the
> University today, words such as "business", "innovation", and
> "technology transfer".  (You can see a video of MAICgregator at work at
> http://maicgregator.org/post/27 as well as download it from the
> MAICgregator homepage.)
> Part of this project is to also contest the stranglehold of corporate
> interests and "clean design" on the construction of the web.  I want to
> work within the tension between simply presenting "more information"
> that I have collected from an alternative set of sources and other
> poetic ways of displaying it.  The idea is to consider the "mashup" in a
> way that does not simply reinforce traditional ways of engaging with
> data.  To that end I am also working to release an interface to the data
> I have collected to allow others to rework it if they so choose; I hope
> to release this interface over the summer.
> Obviously something like MAICgregator does not directly change the major
> structural issues facing Universities today such as the transplanting of
> the Bologna process to the US.  As well, much of what it collects will
> not be unknown to empyre subscribes.  Nevertheless, I see Firefox
> extensions like MAICgregator (as well as others; see
> http://artzilla.org/ ) as one way to challenge the control over the
> computing infrastructure on University campuses.  Given the ability to
> install these extensions on library and lab machines, even if only for a
> short period of time, we can potentially open up portions of the web
> once more.  Additionally, by their very nature Firefox extensions
> include their (client) source code, enabling others to understand how to
> mutate the materiality of the web.
> The second project I want to mention is called Fluid Nexus
> (http://fluidnexus.net/ ).  Like the Transborder Immigrant Tool, this
> too is a mobile phone application.  The idea is to provide a way to send
> messages (text, images, video, audio) independent of the mobile phone
> network.  The way this works is by using Bluetooth to send the
> information to nearby phones; people then carry this information to
> other places, the information hops to other phones, and thus the data is
> transferred by movement throughout the world, without relying on a
> corporate- or state-controlled network infrastructure.  This project
> came out of reading blogs and news reports during the war in Lebanon in
> 2006 and the protests in Burma in 2007, when the fragility of these
> centralized mechanisms was all-too-apparent.  Fluid Nexus exists as free
> software for Nokia phones; this is not insignificant, as the continued
> advance of Apple's closed phone platform portends dangerous restrictions
> on our ability to modify the materiality of the mobile phone.
> Fluid Nexus has not been deployed anywhere as of yet; it works as a
> barely functioning prototype.  Nevertheless, even in this state, it has
> raised all sorts of fear amongst those in the academy.  With my
> collaborators I have written a few grant proposals to my home
> institution to further the development of the software.  Each time we
> have been rejected.  However, what is important in our context is the
> language used in these rejections.  Keep in mind that these are comments
> from faculty members: "I can imagine it being of as much interest to
> criminals or terrorists as to oppressed youth or revolutionary
> democrats."  And: "A final question is how does such a technology stay
> out of the hands of organized crime, and other powerful folks wanting to
> work offline?"
> Such comments fail to understand the dangerousness of using these words
> to describe the work of a graduate student.  They fail to understand the
> multistability of technology.  They fail to consider how these projects
> can work to address uneven---to put it lightly---power relationships.
> In presentations of this project to engineers who receive DoD funding
> and work in similar areas, I asked if they had ever received similar
> criticisms; of course their answer was no.  The denial of funding for
> this type of work functions to keep the space of application limited, to
> restrict its potential widespread distribution and further development.
> Sadly, all of this is not surprising, given the University's traditional
> role in reproducing the means of reproduction.  As Stevphen Shukaitis
> and David Graeber have ably demonstrated, any belief in the University
> as a space of radical thought has to be understood as relating to a
> particular historical moment based in the late 1960s.  Nevertheless, as
> others have brought up, I still believe in the power of utopias to
> (eventually) effect change, and still hope to see the University as a
> place where that change can develop and occur.  Our challenge, then, is
> how to understand the contradictions involved in our own placement
> within the university; how to bring those contradictions to light within
> pedagogical moments; and how to effectively counter regressive
> tendencies that threaten to shut down the very possibility of these
> moments.  This is a question, in my mind at least, of developing new
> forms of "organized networks", as described by Geert Lovink and Ned
> Rossiter; I see this list as functioning within that space.  I look
> forward to our further discussions around these problematics that I hope
> resonate with others.
> Best,
> nick knouf
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

Christopher Sullivan
Dept. of Film/Video/New Media
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
112 so michigan
Chicago Ill 60603
csulli at saic.edu

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