[-empyre-] netopticon and personal culture

Jon Thomson j.thomson at ucl.ac.uk
Wed Jan 19 21:43:29 EST 2011

Cynthia's and Simon's posts seem to interweave a little.  We are of course, thinking this from our own perspective as artists, who want to make art works and show them to people alongside other artists in a dialogical community of related practitioners.  But we, like anyone in our position, have to negotiate the myriad conditions of the world in order to achieve this; gallery systems, the need to pay the rent, the art world, the netopticon (?), prevalent web-platforms of the moment, political thinking, government policy, global business, the passing fashions and tastes of contemporary culture, economic health, strokes of luck etc.  Often, it's all weather to an artist, passing over our heads, raining on us or shining on us as we try our best to get what we need to do done...

Cynthia said:
> In my experience, however, when offered the opportunity to participate in something truly meaningful, something that truly operates outside of the art world, significant numbers of artists will embrace the opportunity  
The most recent example of this we have seen is how the student movement in the UK responded last year, to impending radical reformation of Higher Education in the UK in the name of our economic crisis, and how a group of previously politically apathetic art students all woke up in the space of a week or so in a valiant bid to defend the right to affordable education in UK (well England really).  In doing so, they surprised and rattled the political classes, hijacked national media, and disrupted the daily flow of British cities on almost a weekly basis for a couple of months, and made artworks (performances, banners, teach-ins, installations, videos) that facilitated and synthesised this new found political engagement.  It was and remains inspiring to see young artists leading the way in this burgeoning movement of resistance.

Cynthia also said:
> That the same individuals might also jump at the chance to show in a high profile commercial setting is an indication of the complexity of the situation, because if no one knows who you are or ever sees your work, how meaningful is your resistance?  

Well the art students' resistance here was seen more widely through national media than through any art world channel, but their aims were also ultimately dashed in so far as the policies they are objecting to continue to be implemented. It is also true of the art students comprising The Slade occupation, that some already have professional relationships with Charles Saatchi, popular artists like Ryan Gander, the art press, and a whole range of other galleries and artists that more or less face the commercial arm of our international contemporary art world.  

It's quite understandable that many artists would wish to reach a wide audience by what ever means necessary, not least because the implicit logic of art making suggests a viewer/audience most of the time.  More generally, a message of resistance whether art or not, would also logically need to reach the right people in some shape or form for resistance to take any effect, and then probably as many people as are prepared to listen.  One question though, is what effect that then has on the 'resistor'? Some politicians and prison guards for example may enter their professions because they have the best of intentions, or the good of society at heart, but anecdotally on more than one occasion, we have heard both professions as being described as jobs that change you -damage you in some irrevocable way that compromise your intentions in the first place.  Whether you believe this to be true or not, the question remains; how are artists' work, or messages of resistance distorted by the mechanisms that convey them? Perhaps this is one reason why artists become so pre-occupied by context when discussing work amongst themselves?

Simon said:
> I would therefore like to add to or return to the image of the optic of a netopticon its carceral characteristic, and call it in view of the prison which we are not said to be trying to escape only resist: Stockholm Syndrome. The other side of the optic is obviously the desire to submit oneself to it. In its carceral incarnation as a gaze of permanent and global surveillance to which we apparently all fall victim, what else could the willing prisoner be said to be feeling but love for his guard?

The re-mentioning of Stockholm Syndrome is a powerful, seductive and illuminating companion to the 'Panopticon [as] a metaphor for the way that culture operates', and perhaps can be used to explain some of the students' almost opposing tendencies, although that does mean we have to cast the 'high profile commercial setting' as carceral in this instance and the question is raised about who the guard is (because in the netopticon's hall of mirrors it might be us, or rather each other).  In conjunction with Simon's sad and vivid story of addiction, the idea is underlined by describing fb as a drug and the drug as a prison, and begins (we think) to let both metaphors extend beyond the confines of culture -unless Simon means culture in its widest possible sense.  

So we are wondering two things here that perhaps others on the list can help answer if they want to:

- how completely can the Panopticon/Stockholm Syndrome metaphors go towards explaining the almost paradoxical complexity Cynthia identifies?  Perhaps Simon's opening statement  is connected here where he asks whether we 'ought  to be looking rather for an image adequate in the way that in itself it establishes resistance, perhaps in the way of paradox?'

- how far can the metaphor of the Panopticon go and still seem intact as it travels towards to the surface of the many-layered onion that is our collective understanding of things?  In the Netopticon, is it the browser? or internet protocols? In our culture, is language our (panoptic) prison (Jameson's 'The Prison house of Language')? Or can we think of the speed of light as a panoptic prison, or mortality, or the idea of the Panopticon/Netopticon itself etc.

best wishes,
Jon & Alison

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