[-empyre-] authors and authority :.

Jean-baptiste Labrune labrune at media.mit.edu
Sat Oct 16 09:56:52 EST 2010

Dear Lorna, and dear soft skin empyrees,

Le 15 oct. 10 à 07:24, Lorna Collins a écrit :

> Dear Jean-Baptise, dear all,
> JB, I want to make a very brief comment on your message, about my  
> experience of organising this event. We -- I suppose you could say  
> that we have formed a royal we, which in this instance refers to the  
> committee of people who have organised the second colloquium at  
> Cambridge. This is not intentionally separated or hierarchical royal  
> We. We have not wanted to close ourselves to a small group, on the  
> contrary we are constitutively open, but in order to organise this  
> event we have had to communicate between a small amount of (eight)  
> people in order to make it happen. These people were not 'chosen'  
> but volunteered at a meeting, and we formed a natural committee. One  
> of the purposes of the second colloquium is to set up the next event  
> in this series. We will open the floor to see who wants to be  
> involved in organising an event like this.

That seems like an interesting idea. One model that works well in  
scientific conferences is the creation of a curated track by the  
organisers (let say in the morning) and another one curated by the  
participants (let say in the afternoon). The participants organised or  
proposed track can be either assessed by the organisers (that can then  
talk about their choice on blogs, etc) or by the audience itself, in a  
participatory manner. I participated recently to many short  
conferences (few days) on this pattern, they usually work well (for  
instance http://libreplanet.org/wiki/LibrePlanet2010 or http:// 
fab6.nl/ )

> How can we organise an event without forming a smaller grouping of  
> people, and asigning different tasks to different people? And JB,  
> how can we organise this event in a way that challenges the  
> authority of the institutions?

First I must say that I appreciate particularly the time you spend to  
answer, especially few days before the event! I believe as well that  
if I would know you in person, I would have prefer to talk with you  
around a beer than through an email Listserv :)

That being said, I believe first that I indeed do not see that much  
alternatives to the famous Margaret Mead quote - "A small group of  
thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing  
that ever has". However, the accountability of these thoughtful people  
is crucial when it comes to an event that is not intended to be  
rhetorical, not carrying a prealable discourse (not teleogical as you  
mentionned it in your first email ) . By opening the organisation of  
this event on a list or a publicly accessible forum, it helps  
controversial voices (like mine today) to be expressed, I thank you  
for that.

The time you spend with me (us?) explaining your desire and motivation  
while in a position of power is rare. When the same questions are  
asked to people leading cultural boats, or any intellectual in charge  
of an Art program, school, medialab, etc with a full agenda, they  
rarely engage in trying to deconstruct the branch they are seated on.  
As reminded actually yesterday in Netbehavior about the impossibility  
of being a teacher (Ranciere Ignorant Teacher http://www.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/20101014/017692.html 
  ), maybe it is also tricky to put things in 'order' (with a  
comittee) when it comes to throw out an experimental semiopragmatic  
party :)

A recent example of alternative to the industrialo-cultural french  
establishment was proposed during the event Futur en Seine last year  
(a well funded initiative/festival for arts and tech in Paris, also  
sponsoring IRI) where a group of artist decided to receive a grant but  
not cashing it, and created an antidatamining performance that  
deconstructed the network of influence that actually constituted the  
event ( http://incident.net/theupgrade/page/11/ ). Of course, as we  
say in France, this is a bit considered as 'spitting in the soup' -   
being a party pooper - since you deconstruct mainstream cultural/ 
industrial places that fund you, and you refuse the usual celebration  
of technology. This tension between discourse/meaning independance and  
acceptance of funding/places is very true in Paris in hackerspaces,  
techno/arty places (LeLaboratoire, Gaieté Lyrique, Mains d'Oeuvre, Ars  
Longa, etc). On the institutionalo-industrial level (Ircam, IRI, ML  
SciencesPo, Pompidou festivals, schools of art and design, FING and of  
course Palais de Tokyo) there is no tension anymore, the discourse is  
usually meliorative, celebrating power, technology and usually  
innovation (nouveau monde, nouvelles technologies, futur, avenir,  
progrès). This exclusive mechanism maintains the power of the brand  
and empowers its tenants. By locating your event in such a loaded  
place of discourse, it cannot be perceive totally as a free,  
autonomous experiment...

In addition, refusing the establishment of an establishment is somehow  
delicate to any wannabe tenure-track researcher or artist that want to  
get contracts, funding, and so on. As a 'non-chosen' group, you could  
have decided to create such an event in other spaces in Paris or  
London, or maybe even outside of metropoles or even in other  
countries... But the choice of visible place like Pompidou brings not  
only some support in terms of money or space but more important, a  
brand that is strong in legitimizing discourse. If you are a young  
artist and you exhibit in Pompidou (or Tate, or PS1, ...) you will  
definitely change your social status, going to the closet to the  
vitrina. And in the 'economy of attention', being visible is being  
alive, to exist - publish or perish, demo or die, shine or disappear...

As mention by the british university people that highlighted the  
"marketisation' of their institutions, being present in the space of  
discourse nowadays is linked to branding, visibility. After one  
hundred year of double-bind advertisment, communication, and even  
politics (plausible deniability) the public space has been  
territorialised and (p)owned by "communicants"TM, often instrumenting  
meaning as an attribute if it is visible. The IRI (like many  
"laboratories" anchored in overbranded places in Paris) is definitely  
trapped in enormous constraints of visibility, usually the sole  
assessment of such places with their own hierarchy. They are  
evaluated, i.e. understood by their peers/bosses on criteria of social  
impact, dissemination of the ideas they create, make public. Then,  
instead of confronting themselves to peers through international  
conferences, their activity is more about creating their own  
conferences, space for discourse such as events, books and then gain  
more control about their impact.

But market presence and meaning (sensemaking) are not the same thing  
at all. The need of creating one's own rules in a society  
(semiogenesis, autonomy) does not cohabit well with the argumentative  
efficiency of rhetorical, persuasive mechanisms. Being visible or  
being meaningful ? Reinventing, crafting, exapting new interpretative  
frameworks, epistemologies, poetics is difficult when assessed on a  
metrics of  impact. What is the status of the error, the errance,  
wandering, drifting, when assessed under the frame of media victory,  
conquest, territorial ownership and market share. Challenging  
institutions and their necessary autotelic narratives implies maybe  
that as artists, researchers, either we refuse to sustain their  
visibility imperatives or find new ways to make their actors  
accountable, socially available - not only through the prism of their  
PR but also to be malleable, deformable, plastic to the others.

In being Derrida, it is about incorporating, re-investing a body, it's  
fantastic, but only possible because JD is now haunting us as an  
immaterial instance, from another dimension. Investing the collective  
body that reflects on its hypothetical brain and its sensemaking  
capacities is very difficult since this body is still alive,  
coordinated by the assembly of its constituants, but seen through its  
visible elements and attributes. Are we interested in moving like  
Derrida or being dressed as him ?

> We have found ourselves continually challenged by the institutions  
> and we try to new find ways of communicating with those in  
> authority. This is not a deconstructive
> or destructive intention -- we need to communicate with the
> institutions, in a language that can open and redistribute their
> hierarchy. We do not want to incite an aggressive revolution, but,
> rather, we try to explain to the institutions how their system and
> authority can be challenged and an alternative suggested, in this way,
> and we discuss how to make things make sense and then change. 'In this
> way' -- what is this what? What is the alternative? How do we make
> things make sense and then change? These are the very questions that
> we will be discussing and experimenting with at the colloquium.

That's sounds great! Don't hesitate to publish your results...

> At the first colloquium in Cambridge, on the day we found that we
> could use artistic performance to open and invigorate the protocol and
> system that governed the institution that housed us; this opened the
> day to all who participated. Our creativity and collaboration made a
> new kind of sense, which we went on to publish (forthcoming, with
> Peter Lang, Making Sense 1). Most of all this was not about the names
> or their authority, it was the way that art can open an interface for
> difference, it doesn't matter who or where you are, the process of
> creating an artwork, and the process of encountering an artwork
> creates a free space.

well, on this I think there are different levels to go through. From a  
psychological perspective, I would agree that free experimentation,  
simulation, playing without a panopticon, a pressurising externality  
is needed for creativity, invention - of a language, a narrative or  
anything else. But these artefacts cannot stay in a free space, they  
are always, at a certain point confronted to reality, defined usually  
as what resists, like the World or the Other. Similarly, the xTh walls  
of a fiction, artistic creation, performance create a Coleridgian  
suspension similar to the Winnicotian transitionnal space. A language  
understood by one or by a small group is like a codex, a cipher and  
excludes as well as it invites to encounter. Like media separate and  
link, thinking of a free space is challenging when it comes to  
meaning, and even more when it implies its distribution to a politi.  
Even if free space can exist they always tend towards people or  
existing places.

Like you I had the chance to encounter many creators and their  
artworks, ranging from the arts, the sciences, the humanities in  
temples of knowledge. Their presence reminded me how much their  
artefacts can not be unassociated from them (and liberated in free  
space, hence being subject to transformations) but on the contrary,  
and as was mentionned by others participants in the discussion, are  
more subject to translations, involving sentient beings, or as Lucy  
Suchman puts it in the technological domain to re-configurations ( http://www.sciy.org/2010/05/22/located-accountabilities-in-technology-production-by-lucy-suchman/ 
  ). Free spaces should not be de-humanized, or to put it in a  
different way, and like some people think that mathematics are a human  
science since they are a creation of mathematicians, free spaces  
always coexist at a certain poin with social spaces and historical  
space and the many intricate dimensions of human experience.

In addition, If some make sense in a free space and then document  
these semiotic experiments for others, does it not necessarily implies  
a relation of subordination between the sensemakers and their  
audience? How to guarantee sensemaking as a recursive and always  
unfinished process, that replicates not only in institutions,  
universities, media, think-tanks, but everywhere ?

> I realise that I can't say something like that without receiving a
> hoard of critical questions from the large group of people who
> subscribe to Empyre, which is quite scary. But I genuinely believe
> that the 'we' of Making Sense, which is laid open to all of Empyre
> during this debate, is creating something really important.

I agree, writing to mailing lists is like shouting in the mountain and  
is quite scary, you cannot predict the force of the echo. Lurking is  
sooo confortable :)

> JB you ask: "are we ready to abandon what constitutes current
> political space, especially authority and control of curation of
> experimental endeavours ?" I would say that this is one of the
> questions we are challenging with Making Sense. Clearly you have a lot
> of ideas about this, so I'd like to ask you what you would do, or how
> you would contribute to answering your own question?

I grew up in a generation where artists are dreaming of being curators  
and intellectual to become head of famous institutions :) In a  
competitive world where everyone wants to belong, to be recognised, it  
seems to be the only working strategy to exist, and negotiate one's  
own conditions of social existence, and visibility. A way to answer  
this question would be I think to invent alternatives to the model of  
curation where one person or group of person is invested with lots of  
power. I had the chance to help people in Dorkbot Paris to create a  
series of nomadic events; the organising team is open to everybody  
that want to join and any meeting always has an openstage for anybody  
wanting to talk about anything... Douglas Repetto (initiator of  
Dorkbot) is particularly attached to the idea of not putting any  
constraints on this events, up to an extreme point maybe but it kind  
of works so far I think... And of course, being in Paris, Dkbot has  
been in often hosted by institutions (Palais de Tokyo for instance)  
and it always created a hearted debate online and while in the event  
(like understanding that our event was programmed in the same space  
and time than a http://www.wool.com promotional fundraising event  
where a demonstration of  PETA activists occupied the Palais de  
Tokyo :)))

In addition, when doctors are also pharmacists, and artists becomes  
curators, it becomes unclear what epistemic or semiotic framework is  
appropriate to make sense of their discourse. Power of institutions is  
in wordling, in stating what is and magically makes it happen in  
culture, in society... When in addition, this discourse is highly  
metaphorical, new for the sake of 'innovation', or intricated, complex  
as a caricature of post-modernism, it does not help to "make sense".  
Intentional confusion, plausible deniability and post-rationalisation  
are also frequent. How then make sense as actors of this world, as  
audience, when the sense is not co-constructed but dynamically  
translated, re-configured according to actors needs and situations ?  
Well, maybe by starting to confront it and deconstruct media, artwork  
explanations, communication, event making, and many forms of socio- 
political organisations in a soft and respectful environment, not the  
one I must say I see every day in blog comments full of troll and PR  
strategies... Your event seems like a great opportunity for this kind  
of safe intellectual and artistic haven, I am sure you will be  
inspired and see more clearly how and where to go from there.

> All the best,


-- http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeanbaptisteparis/sets/

> Lorna
> 2010/10/14 Jean-baptiste Labrune <labrune at media.mit.edu>:
>> Dear John (and Penny, Lorna and *.Empyre),
>> Thanks for your time in explaining your desire and early production  
>> in the
>> context of the Making Sense event to happen in few days. I have no  
>> doubt
>> your production with Penny and other participants will be very  
>> creative and
>> rich.
>> As you mention it, the open nature of a Mailing-List like Empyre,  
>> allowed me
>> to rant on an extended scale :) and not only in the time allocated  
>> to me if
>> I would have asked a question during this event (especially on  
>> controversial
>> topics such as the organisation of the event itself, and not only  
>> on the
>> topic of the day).
>> When Penny talks about Mallarmé and the making of his patrimonial  
>> artefacts
>> (the book) as maybe a precursor of Memex or the Web or when you  
>> quote the
>> text as practice, I imagine that you both refer to semiotic systems  
>> where an
>> audience, a reader or other externalities to the author are  
>> involved in the
>> Sensemaking process. There is therefore a difference of nature  
>> between the
>> creators (authors) and the space of reception of the artefact,  
>> artwork,
>> discourse.
>> In the same way, there is difference let say of chatting in Empyre  
>> (or
>> NetBehaviour, IDC, Nettime, ...) and publishing under the name of a  
>> famous
>> brand such as Pompidou, Tate, Cambridge, Brown, you name it, is in  
>> the
>> authoritative surrounding of this production. Making Sense (and  
>> society!) ,
>> as many other events use the rhetoric of openess an experimentaton,  
>> (and it
>> looks like you have a great line up for an extraordinary event! ),  
>> however I
>> was just pointing out how social authority is so manifest in the
>> publicitation of the event. From big names (Nancy, Stiegler, etc)  
>> to big
>> brands, it looks to me that it was important for the organisers to  
>> make this
>> event legitimate, using people or places authority. If we want new  
>> political
>> atmospheres, are we ready to abandon what constitutes current  
>> political
>> space, especially authority and control of curation of experimental
>> endeavours ?
>> Everybody can launch a discussion on Empyre or any other lists, so as
>> everyone can create a webpage to express an opinion, even create a  
>> project,
>> curate a topic. On the contrary, everybody can not be on the  
>> organising
>> committee of a Pompidou-related event, it is a closed club, usually  
>> not
>> constituted solely on merit or research/artistic excellency but  
>> usually
>> following a discretionary process, involving a lot of branding,  
>> authority
>> and social networking.  The context (or situation) I was talking  
>> about is
>> precisely the one of the curation of a public event that proposes  
>> to discuss
>> and experiment on Sense Making in the context of politics and  
>> society. I
>> believe that openness (like open-source in the IT world) has its  
>> limits,
>> usually sketched by the power of people and their need to sustain  
>> their own
>> narrative. In this sense this is more the republic than democracy -  
>> and in
>> the kalipolis, artists where out if they didn't want to abide by  
>> political
>> imperatives.
>> In adressing the social constitution
>> of this experimental event, I am not only playing the role of the  
>> party pooper/troll/etc of a party where I was not invited to  
>> participate from the organisation point-of-view, but I am also, I  
>> think, raising out how huge claims lead to the dilution of  
>> arguments or experiments.
>> After a second look at the flyer and homepage of the event, and after
>> re-reading all the emails on Empyre, it is obvious to me that the  
>> actual
>> experimental collaboration that was pulled up by Lorna and  
>> colleagues is
>> pretty impressive and I have no doubt that it will be a kick-ass  
>> event (and
>> yes, very experimental compared to traditional formats such as  
>> 20min pres
>> adn 2 min question), and I see here a tension with what is claimed  
>> (as in
>> territory) on the webpage announcing the
>> event http://www.makingsensesociety.org/
>> I also want to underline how much a challenge it is to organise an
>> international line-up of speakers/experimenters in my dear french  
>> capital
>> where french is still the only intellectual currency :)))
>> With that said, I wish you bon courage for the organisation and  
>> look forward
>> to reading the post-hoc accounts of Making Sense !
>> Cheers,
>> Jb
>> --
>> Le 14 oct. 10 à 00:13, John Cayley a écrit :
>> Dear -empyre-
>> I was ready to write with some thoughts on my collaboration with  
>> Penny
>> Florence when my reading of Jean-Bapiste Labrune's recent responses  
>> rendered
>> me acutely aware of the context of this practice, and of the  
>> context of
>> aesthetic practice generally. I've become so paralyzingly aware of  
>> context
>> that, for example, I originally wrote 'Penny' and 'Jean- 
>> Bapiste' (as if you
>> and I know both of these people well) and went back and added  
>> surnames,
>> since I don't know J-B and many of us may not know Penny, at least  
>> not as a
>> collaborator. I have just playfully (I hope) evoked the  
>> indeterminate play
>> of address that is prevalent in all critical discussion but  
>> radically so in
>> digitally mediated fora. The link here is institutions. J-B asks us  
>> to be
>> aware and wary of the institutions within which we work, especially  
>> while
>> pretending an autonomy for this practice. I agree absolutely that  
>> we are
>> always within and necessarily complicit with _many_ institutions as  
>> we work
>> and that the value systems of these institutions - only occasionally
>> aesthetic - often manifest agonistic and contradictory relations. A
>> contemporary problematic - the institution of a contemporary  
>> problematic -
>> arises from networked and programmable media's ability to generate
>> potential, emergent, virtual (in the strong, contra-digital sense  
>> of this
>> word) institutions with close-to-immediacy. I'm here. I'm in - 
>> empyre-. How
>> did I get here? And do I belong? Scaled-up somewhat, these remarks  
>> apply to
>> the institutional complicities which J-B interrogates.
>> As it happens, and perhaps in opposition to the practices of what  
>> are now
>> suddenly and shockingly predominant institutions - Facebook, Google  
>> Accounts
>> - -empyre- is exemplary. I have been introduced. You already know  
>> that next
>> week I will play a collaborative role in a presentation to the  
>> 'Making
>> Sense' colloquium in Paris-out-of-Cambridge. Terrifying. I have,  
>> through
>> Penny, been introduced to an institution that I do not yet know  
>> well. As
>> Penny set out in her recent post, our work entered into productive
>> correspondence during and after the organization and realization of  
>> a series
>> of events at the Tate Modern that placed digitally mediated  
>> literary poetics
>> in dialogue with art. My other qualifications for this engagement?  
>> Until
>> 2007, I practiced and theorized irregularly and relatively  
>> independently as
>> a poetic writer in and of programmable media. Pretending the role  
>> of a
>> writer of this description means that I attempt to produce literary  
>> work for
>> which computation is a vital aspect of the literary artistic  
>> medium. In 2007
>> I accepted a position in the Literary Arts Program at Brown  
>> University.
>> Although Brown's program is rightly recognized as strongly  
>> innovative,
>> institutionally it is also a part of the "creative" "writing"  
>> program(me)
>> that has pullulated in the US academy (cf. Eli Batuman in a recent  
>> LRB).
>> Context indeed. That's how it's happened; here (at last) is how I  
>> see it
>> working:
>> Penny's outline has been posted. Here is a summarized retelling  
>> from the
>> viewpoint of my current practical engagement (in the midst of my  
>> attempt
>> actually to make something that is new to me - and I do mean that I  
>> am doing
>> this in this extended, shifting present). Penny responded to certain
>> formalizations of iterative, literal translation that I have  
>> represented as
>> process in coded, time-based pieces of literary art. She refers  
>> specifically
>> to the series that I call _translation_, and has already provided a  
>> link to
>> my lamentably 'ancient' website. In this series, nodal, natural  
>> language
>> texts are sited within a dynamic system driven by relationships  
>> between
>> protosemantic elements (those _on the way_ to 'making sense' -  
>> although
>> 'sense' for me is a difficult word) at the level of the letter. The  
>> texts
>> perform transliteral morphs from one to another, often across  
>> languages. At
>> stake, I believe, is an aesthetic and critical wager that (even)  
>> these
>> directed protosemantic processes have some significance- and
>> affect-generating bearing on the texts with which they engage and  
>> also that
>> such time-based processes themselves can and should be read as _the  
>> text_ in
>> a broader and ultimately more comprehensive understanding of text and
>> textual practice. The process is the text.
>> Penny was as interested in the virtual critical address of such
>> text-as-process towards (found or composed or conventionally  
>> translated)
>> 'host' and 'guest' texts (these terms are from Lydia Liu's  
>> _Translingual
>> Practice_) in systems where these categories of text are implicitly  
>> or
>> explicitly paired. Do the generated liminal, transitional states of  
>> the
>> system have a critical or aesthetic purchase on our readings? My  
>> investment
>> has already been made clear. Yes they do, I wager, poethically (Joan
>> Retallack's formulation). But Penny sees a way to go further.  
>> Taking up her
>> long-standing readings of Mallarmé, she paired a sonnet, 'Le Pitre  
>> chatié'
>> with some verses extracted from the 'Prose pour Des Esseintes' and
>> challenged us to find a way to put these texts into a dynamic  
>> relationship
>> based on underlying translations, ultimately by both of us, into  
>> English.
>> Penny is also interested in allowing the protosemantic, transliteral
>> processes back into the work as, I would suggest, subprocesses of  
>> those that
>> will drive an initial iteration of 'Mirroring Tears: Visages' but I  
>> may not
>> get that far in the coding before our presentation next week and I  
>> also
>> worry about the incorporation of the audio correlates that Penny has
>> identified.
>> It all sounds reasonable now but it took a while before this made  
>> sense -
>> practical sense, sense as practice - to me. In my other work,  
>> currently, I
>> am explicitly engaged with reading (_The Readers Project_ another
>> collaboration between Daniel C. Howe and myself) - with what  
>> reading is, and
>> with how all the endlessly various dynamic visualizations and
>> representations of reading that digital media make possible - how  
>> these may
>> reveal or conceal, enhance or destroy what reading has been for us.  
>> Now, I
>> am tending to see many of the digital poetic pieces that I have  
>> made as
>> 'readers,' but as readers that read critically and that also,  
>> arguably,
>> write - with and against me, with and against us.
>> What one may see or read, when 'Mirroring Tears: Visages' is  
>> presented, will
>> be two poetic texts, in French, each with "wind-eyes" "torn" in their
>> "tissued facade" (quoting phrases my my own translation of 'Le Pitre
>> chatié'). Inside these windows, words and phrases mined from all  
>> the English
>> translations made for both texts by Penny or I will be shown,  
>> according to
>> an algorithm the details of which I am still working out. These  
>> "tears" in
>> the texts will read and translate the two texts one into and out of  
>> the
>> other, with, virtually, a critical, human translator's address - an  
>> address
>> that will be mediated by a technological encoded representation of  
>> 'reading'
>> - reading that relates to human reading but is programmatic:  
>> exhaustively
>> describable in terms of digital symbolic manipulations. Penny  
>> asked: can
>> digital poetics perform a critical address to these texts? We hope to
>> present one of many possible answers.
>> And all I really wanted to say is that I have already learned and  
>> will have
>> learned so much from this collaboration. And I anticipate that much  
>> of what
>> I will have learned will derive from its context. I will have been  
>> making
>> sense, although I may still have been struggling with the object  
>> implied by
>> the practice that this rubric continuously suggests. On the other  
>> hand I'm
>> sure, more or less, that we will have been making.
>> Yours,
>> John (Cayley)
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>> --
>> Jean-Baptiste Labrune
>> MIT Media Lab
>> 20 Ames St E14-464C
>> Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
>> http://web.media.mit.edu/~labrune/
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> -- 
> Lorna Collins
> PhD Candidate: "Making Sense; art practice as a social act"
> Jesus College
> Cambridge
> CB5 8BL
> http://web.me.com/lornacollins/
> http://www.makingsensesociety.org./
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre


Jean-Baptiste Labrune
MIT Media Lab
20 Ames St E14-464C
Cambridge, MA 02139, USA


More information about the empyre mailing list