[-empyre-] Art, Representation, Communication

paulina aroch p.aroch at gmail.com
Thu Nov 29 06:22:13 EST 2012

Hi Erin,

Thanks for that... Yes, the drone does seem an interesting place to think
through questions of neoliberal technologies, logics, aesthetics.
Especially because of the subjectlessness involved or, much more
accurately, the displacement of subjectivity.

It is interesting how the drone's "artificiality" plays out when it is used
as mechanism to guard and maintain the equally "artificial" borders of a
nation-state. Especially considering that the nation-state in question is
the U.S., at once an exacerbated paradigm of the nation as such and the
place from which the state has been emptied out of the substance it had in
an industrial-capitalist society, now functioning as mere place of juncture
in a neoliberal private-oriented mode of governamentality. The
juxtaposition of those two artificialities in the patrolling drone lays
bare the role of artifice (understood as form in place of substance) in
safeguarding spatially displaced yet historically very real relationships
of power in today's world. Also, it elicits questions concerning the
relationship of art and artifice which I would like to think further about.

Thinking back on the question of the ship for the Elizabethan imagination,
it strikes me how the ship is also significant of desire, of a positive
sexual drive. Back to the drone, and its hyper-mediated, always-already
deferred subjectivity, I wonder how we could think of desire here (it
resonates strongly with Lacan's understanding of the subject in terms of
his [sic.] desire, the subject as *occurring *in an ever displaced chain).
I wonder also how the drone as a particular mode of structuring/displacing
desire frames the drone as a figure standing in for neoliberalism's
particular mode of transportation/communication, its particular mechanisms
for the exertion of power. Any ideas?


On Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 10:33 PM, Erin Obodiac <emo57 at cornell.edu> wrote:

>  *Paulina,*
> *
> *
> *I like your employment of the figures/devices/machines "ship" and
> "tank."  I would like to add "drone" in light of the drone attacks in
> Pakistan and the drone patrolling of the Canada/US/Mexico borders.  Here's
> an interesting link on drone and robotic weapons:*
> *Robotic Weapons: *<
> http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/27/us/ROBOT.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=ab1
> >****
>  Patty,
>  For Derrida etc. the trace is always under erasure, constituted by
> erasure, n'est-ce pas?
>  best,
> Erin Obodiac
>  ------------------------------
> *From:* empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [
> empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Maria Damon [
> damon001 at umn.edu]
> *Sent:* Tuesday, November 27, 2012 10:31 AM
> *To:* soft_skinned_space
> *Subject:* Re: [-empyre-] Art, Representation, Communication
>  I would be very interested to know if people have references to a
> subject one could loosely call the "poetics of debt"– a colleague and I are
> trying to assemble a panel for a conf next year.
> On 11/26/12 11:59 PM, paulina aroch wrote:
> *Art, Representation, Communication*
>  For this week’s discussion of risk on *empyre_soft_skinned_space*, we
> would like to pose some questions about the relationship between risk,
> representation and communication. Is it possible to aesthetically represent
> risk, understood either as a foreseeable and thus anticipated event or,
> conversely, as a more abstract, imagined scenario? And, if so, what are the
> potential implications and responsibilities that such a representation
> might bear, whether political, social, ethical, or otherwise? Insofar as
> risk corresponds to a future tense (something will or will not happen), and
> representation, by definition, adheres to a logic of “afterness”—are the
> terms themselves conceptually and categorically incompatible? Conversely,
> precisely because risk depends on imagining something that has yet to come,
> in what ways could we say that it always needs a system of representation
> to make such an imagining legible and meaningful? In other words, in what
> ways might risk, in order to be understood, depend on representational
> systems? Reciprocally, what might representation, understood as an
> “after-the-fact” practice bring to bear on contemporary conceptions of
> risk?
> In what ways might representation serve as a constructive tool for
> bridging—rather than widening— the divide between risks that remain in the
> sphere of potentiality and those effectively realized? Thinking of new
> communication and transportation technologies as the condition of
> possibility for neoliberalism, and communication itself as both a valued
> commodity and a hyper-inflated trope in today’s world, what is the relation
> between representation and communication in art? And how is the
> communication/representation of risk modified by those conditions?
> The images presented here (see attachments) gesture toward not an
> anticipation of an event, but rather the time of ongoing risk (revolution)
> and the time of aftermath (disaster). We offer readings of two different
> images by two different artists, operating in different mediums, cultural
> contexts, and geographies. The first, a photograph of graffiti images,
> features an intriguing arrangement of artistic responses to social protest
> and political turmoil in a shared space in Cairo (“Tank vs. Biker”); the
> second, an image from a photographic series of graffiti texts written by
> victims of a common natural disaster in New Orleans(“Destroy this Memory”).
> *1. “Tank vs. Biker”*
> “Tank vs. Biker” is a graffiti piece sprayed on a street of Cairo in the
> context of the Arab Spring; while some hold it to be anonymous, other
> sources attribute it to Ganzeer. I first came across the image at a lecture
> that another Egyptian street artist, Bahia Shehab, gave on September 22,
> 2012 at Cornell. Shehab showed a chronological photographic account of how
> this wall had been successively occupied by a series of different artists,
> mostly anonymous to each other yet in dialogue through the public space of
> this wall. The authorities also participated in the dialogue, by
> selectively black-spraying some of the elements that were successively
> incorporated into this virtual public landscape. (The image you see in
> attachment is at the earliest stages of the graffiti interaction, which
> Ganzeer inaugurated. For a video account of the wall’s posterior stages see
> Shehab’s TED lecture at
> http://www.ted.com/talks/bahia_shehab_a_thousand_times_no.html)
> Shehab’s account of the risks involved for graffiti artists under the
> present conditions in Egypt is twofold. On the one hand, there is the risk
> of getting caught in the act and being arrested by the police. On the other
> hand, there is, at least for Shehab herself, the persistent risk of
> publicly recognizing her art as hers, of claiming authority over the
> illegal action in Western public forums. The risk might be worth taking
> since only by acknowledging the position from where she speaks can Shehab
> communicate the information that concerns her and which is also a major
> public concern. Yet there is a second reason: authorial claim is perhaps
> the sine qua non for art to be able to participate in the circuits of
> aesthetic and economic value production in the global art market. Shehab
> needs to own her art if she is to make a living as an artist.
> The catachrestic encounter between superimposed values in the same act of
> authorship calls for considering the question of how risk might be
> configured differently from the perspective of the global periphery.
> Furthermore, I wonder how we can understand risk from the “periphery,” not
> only in the sense established by world-systems theory, but also in the
> disciplinary sense. In what ways do these graffiti artists question
> academic imaginations of risk? Against what kind of concept is risk being
> defined in the social sciences? And in the arts? What notions of stability
> unfold? How does stability – as a condition of understanding or as a desire
> – mark the narratives of the core geographical and disciplinary areas from
> where risk itself is imagined?
> Since early on risk was imagined as a thing of the sea. We can think of
> Gaspar Mairal’s ongoing investigation into the word’s first appearance in
> maritime insurance contracts in the Mediterranean and its dissemination in
> association with the overseas realities of the New World. Risk as belonging
> to a seascape is an image that takes a strong hold over the Elizabethan
> imagination: think of the role and meaning of the sea and particularly of
> ships in Shakespearean plays such as *The Merchant of Venice*. But if the
> ship is paradigmatic figure of risk for a mercantilist society whose
> (imagination of) wealth pivots around the colonies, what trope organizes
> our imagination of risk in neoliberal times? What is the paradigmatic
> transportation/communication technology evoking a mode of capitalist
> accumulation with a logic and an aesthetics entirely different from that of
> mercantilism? Ganzeer portrays a tank and a bicycle, represented on a one
> to one scale, face to face. Can we imagine the tank as the mode of
> transportation that is to open a new horizon for capital in the very
> particular ways it has done so, at the global periphery, since Santiago de
> Chile, 1973? In other words, is the tank to neoliberalism what the ship was
> to the mercantilist world? And can we think of the realistic mode of
> representation of this graffiti art as risking exile from the global
> circuits of aesthetic value production? What is the risk involved for art
> when its aim – distant from both the “the means is the message” precept
> that characterizes modernism and the hyperinflation of the means as such
> that characterizes postmodernism – seems to be simply the message?
> Paulina Aroch p.aroch at cornell.edu
> *2. “Destroy this Memory”
> *
> To say that Hurricane Katrina was a tremendous disaster, the effects of
> which are still largely unfathomable and the response to which is still
> largely unconscionable, is an understatement. Interestingly, it is perhaps
> the word “failure”—and not “risk”—that first comes to mind when remembering
> the devastation caused by Katrina along the Gulf Coast in August 2005.
> There were basic infrastructure failures resulting in the collapse of
> multiple floodwalls and levees surrounding New Orleans, where the greatest
> damage occurred, submerging over 80% of the city under water. There were
> rescue and response failures, state and government support failures,
> evacuation failures, and perhaps at the root of all these, there were
> systems and communication failures. In fact, few disagree that regarding
> communication, the Bush administration’s response—both with preparations
> beforehand and relief efforts after the storm hit— was unequivocally a
> double failure of public health and public affairs.
> Much of the news coverage of the disaster offered images that evoked the
> feeling of failure as well. Many of us likely remember the dramatic scenes
> of the overcrowded Superdome, the mesmerizing aerial shots of the fallen
> levees, listless in their watery graves, or pictures of residential
> wreckage—uprooted trees, toppled cars, and ravaged houses. In the weeks
> after the hurricane, internationally acclaimed photojournalist, Richard
> Misrach (*Desert Cantos, Cancer Alley, Petrochemical America*) traveled
> to New Orleans, where he began taking photographs of Katrina’s aftermath.
> In this process, he took “field notes” with a small point-and-shoot camera,
> the contents of which would later prove to contain dozens of hidden
> treasures that would become a project all on their own. Hundreds of the
> locations that he shot as a note-taking strategy for mapping both the
> disaster’s pathways and his own photographic trajectory contained textual
> traces of human survival. These traces took the form of writing. Graffiti
> messages became testimonials indicating the number of dead or alive, phone
> numbers, and an array of emotional expressions: rage, fear, love, and
> sadness. As he developed these photos, Misrach realized that the messaging
> pattern shifted from practical information (i.e. names of those who had
> been abandoned or rescued) to larger existential questions centered on
> trauma, memory, and survival (i.e. “what now?”). Some victims wrote
> messages of faith and recovery, such as the textual inscription on the
> plywood scraps featured in the photograph included here, small fragments of
> hope among the trashed landscape. The accumulation of these graffiti
> messages by Misrach meant that they would become art, eventually published
> in a book and exhibited in museums. But many of the messages had a much
> simpler purpose: they were meant to inform their future readers of who had
> survived and who had not. As a response to a catastrophic event, these
> texts communicated something visceral and real that was being threatened to
> disappear as the floodwaters remained: “I am here.”  Equally moving were
> those messages that indicated that no one was present (either due to death
> or evacuation), yet nonetheless promised a return harbored in messages of
> belief and solidarity: “we will rebuild.”
> If Rene Magritte’s paradigmatic representation of a pipe entitled “This is
> not a Pipe” played, through intermediality, with representation as such,
> then how might we think of Misrach’s project, where intermediality traces
> the impossible yet actual transition from representation as communication
> to representation as art? Does the photographic register risk the erasure
> of the pragmatic dimension of the primordial semiotic act in the face of
> trauma and, with it, the erasure of trauma itself? Does this artistic act
> succeed in turning trauma—understood as that which cannot be put into
> words—into a dialogic counterpoint? Or does it foreclose that possibility
> by emptying communication out of the picture, transforming the message into
> a referentless trace and allowing trauma, as the direct impact of the real,
> unmediated by the symbolic, to take over the space of representation as a
> whole? When natural disaster strikes the social order in the form of
> trauma, when risk control fails, is communication itself at risk of erasure?
>  Patty Keller pkeller at cornell.edu
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