[-empyre-] Social Media as "Poetic Gesture"

Claudia Pederson ccp9 at cornell.edu
Thu Dec 18 13:19:06 EST 2014

Many thanks to Renate and Tim for the invitation and the energy they give
to keep empyre alive.

Picking up on the subject of social media, I am reminded of Critical Art
Ensemble’s essay on activist video and the notion of documentary (Patricia
Zimmerman’s focus of research) and I still think that its premise is still
valuable. Many other artists and theorists working and thinking of media
(Brecht, Guattari, Berardi, the Zapatistas, etc., etc.) have made similar
arguments under different concepts and times.

Social media as some of you indicated cuts both ways; it is a tool that can
be and is used for surveillance and for counter-surveillance. Though
counter-surveillance is a fine use of social media, it is still very much
caught up with the logic of control that frames technology’s premise on
(overwhelmingly) efficiency. This same deadly logic as you know cuts
through language and through images, with which social media is very much
caught up.

I think that we must think beyond this logic and continue to push for other
imaginaries around media. This work is as much needed as a way of going
forward toward more progressive horizons as the work done by those engaged
in so-called ‘alternative’ media. I see them as complementary. The use of
poetics is such a avenue (I am thinking for instance of Dominguez’s and
EDT’s “poetic gestures” which include the understanding of code as poetry
chalked on the sidewalks for the “floodnet” project and more recently the
incorporation of poetry in the transborder project). These gestures are
crucial for imagining media as truly “social” (that is beyond its
reductionist understanding of communication in information science, as

Another ‘tradition’ of non-linear exists tracing as far back as typographic
poems, through Dada, up through the Estredentitas, the Surrealists, and so
on… Dick Higgins of Fluxus is as far as I know one of the first artists to
take up this line of communication in his homage to his dead brother
(killed in Vietnam if I am not mistaken) *A Book About Love & War & Death*,
which was partly written with software (he coded it in Fortran IV) [his
first experiments with computer poetry were done alongside his partner and
artist Alison Knowles in the mid-sixties]. Computer-generated poetry around
the unspeakable horrors of recent date includes, “Guantanamo” (Frank Smith)
and “The Interrogators: A Novel Based on the CIA Torture Report, Written by
a Machine”.

These ideas form part of the base of “Art for Spooks” (
http://art-for-spooks.org) my collaboration with Nick Knouf. The project,
in the form of an augmented book and an app (complete, but waiting in the
approval queue at Apple), consists of images and texts from leaked
documents. The images (some of which are appropriated from the art
historical canon) come from documents labeled ‘secret’ and as far as we can
tell are part of presentations on psychological operations. The texts are
taken from ‘Ask Zelda,’ an internal NSA advice columnist, sort of a Dear
Abby for spies, where NSA analysts ask for advice on mundane topics ranging
from office gossip (“my coworker smells”) to complaints about managerial
misconduct (“I think my superior is spying on me”) . We took these texts
and algorithmically recombined them to create new questions and answers
whose logic mirrors the paranoiac method of the spy agencies. The book is
activated through an iPad interface that juxtaposes images (static and
moving). Through the act of reading, altered images and words are uploaded
to Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. The metadata on the images (the
information embedded in the image itself, such as geographical coordinates)
is mangled in various ways. We replaced, for example, the “location” of the
image with the coordinates of drone strikes based on information available
from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The “caption” for the image
includes extracts from texts on surveillance and looking by people like
Deleuze, hooks, Mulvey, and Magid. (See, for example, this image on Flickr,
and click on “Show EXIF”:
https://secure.flickr.com/photos/126630681@N03/16013932436/ .) In this way,
‘falsified’ information is fed into social media channels, which are
regularly surveilled, and thus we are hoping to provide “art for spooks”.

The project is dedicated to Mary-Ann Grady Flores, known to many
Cornellians for her generosity and phenomenal rum cakes, whom was recently
arrested and convicted (for one year) for her protest against drone warfare
(at the Syracuse Hancock airbase). In face of the unspeakable, we must push
for a social media beyond rationalization. What if we think of it as the
poetry of our times?


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