[-empyre-] Closing Thoughts on Transnational Enviroments:Speculations

Patricia Zimmermann patty at ithaca.edu
Wed Dec 2 02:55:19 AEDT 2015

Thank you, Renate, for that generous adieu.  Dale and I have found this month to be renewing, especially in light of the global student protests, the student uprisings in South Africa, the debates about racialized structures in higher education in the United States, the attacks in Paris, the clamping down of embodied protest, and now COP21.  Thank you to all of our guest artists who shared their thinking, their strategies, their processes, and their challenges with us this month.  We have all been enriched by your work.

The image of the thousands of shoes assembled in orderly lines in Paris as ghosts of anticipated futures of protest  evoke many of the themes traversed this month.  This image materializes the contradictions of our current global moment:  defiance in the spaces of control, remnants of the body in the spaces where bodies are denied, ghostings in the space of the social imaginary, insistence of feet on the ground in the space of attacks, colllectivity in the space of retreats into isolation.  The image has circulated through social media, suggesting a spectre not of past ghosts but of phantoms to be invokes, spirits to fill those shoes.  Again, a hinge between the human/non-human, between the digital and the embodied, between an interruption of the social imaginary and a insistence that multiplication matters, between ghosts of the past and fantasies of a different future.

This month, Dale and I thank all of the artists and collectives who have posted, shared their work, and problematized and reimagined that very tricky, often neutralized  term "the environment."  As I digest how the art works and thinking of Helen, Babak, Ismail, Michael, Stephanie, Robert, and Leila across a myriad of projects have moved our thinking in new directions, I thought I would share some speculations prompted by their works which expand on many of the conceptual models Dale and I developed in our book, THINKING THROUGH DIGITAL MEDIA:  TRANSNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS AND LOCATIVE PLACES. 

 In that book, we argue for a decentering of national locations in new media, considering how to recalibrate the concept of network as one of movements of information, art, and people in new ways on new routes.  We deliberately put works from around the globe in conversation with each other to probe the routes of the transnational and the locative that both move within and beyond the networks of control.  We also are very interested in how decenterings, reroutings, disturbances can mobilize new conceptual models of the hinge between the digital and the embodied, opening up space for new dialogues.  We are very very committed to developing theoretical models that avoid the limitations of focusing on global media from the Global North or national models (although historical and contextual specificity is operative, it should not be dominant) by placing works in conversation with each other conceptually, in terms of their propositions about newly imagined futures.   All of the projects discussed this month operate as productions of new epistemes to move beyond the default and the code through juxtaposition. 

Some speculations prompted by this month's artists, who truly represent the forefront of theorization of transnational environments and locative places, are itemized below.  We see these as extensions of our model developed in THINKING THROUGH DIGITAL MEDIA, where we emphasize a shift from theories of representation towards a model of how things work together, migrating across digial, analog, and embodied forms in fluid, shape-shifting, and adaptive ways.  We are now thinking through, as it were, how the speculations generated from this month's exciting discussion might move us towards our next volume on transnational new media. 

1. Labor matters.  In the transnational, labor relations become obscured, virtualized, invisible, as Stephanie and Jeff point out.  Digital labor, material labor, cognitive labor--how can we begin to see labor in more complexities through new media projects, accounting for reconfigured flows of commodities and their production?

2. Breakdown instrumentality in apps, programs, codes. Break open new hinges and doors to embodied engagement. As we have learned from Leila and Cary, as well a Babak and Ismail, the hidden systems of control in interface and code operate to limit bodies in space, a locative prison as it were.  Projects like Indeterminate Hikes and Derive prompt us to consider the "default" in codes and interfaces, with the default as an inscription of the corporate node into the psyche and body of the user, camouflaged as ease and freedom.  These two projects operate as unplanned interruptions of the default, breaking down instrumentality through the aleatory interactions between human/non human

3. Wilderness.  Restore the notion of wilderness to the concept of the environment.  As Leilia points out, wilderness can shift radically from a geography to a poesis. And as a poesis, itself function as a new code for the hinge.

4. Scrape.  Robert proposes scraping through security photos through his CRUFTS to explore the "power grab of our privacy."  It occurs to us that "scraping" offers a new theorization of the layers of networks, people, spaces, environments, a more spatialized consideration, and a more active one, to scrape implies to reveal small pieces, to distort the unity, to interrupt it, to scratch and scrape it, like talking paint off a chair to reveal the structure of the chair.

5. Alchemies of new meaning.  As Michael points out, information flows, data streams, personal data form the invisible surround. A process of contextualization and decontextualization through multiplication, movement across different formats, spatialization, new formations can produce new alchemies of meaning when meaning is etherealized and evaporate.

6. Collaboration as locative participatory embodiment.  As Helen discusses in her conceptualization of the Lunch Love Community Project, participation is not a priori or essentialized, it is instead a designed construction that rejects individualism by forming communities of practice.  Her project operates as a hinge between the transnational and the locative, between the nonhuman (food) and the human (schools).  Her project, as it migrates and adapts to different communities in different locations, to facilitate the production and materialization of public space for meaningful dialogue and engagement, suggests a truly environmental conceptual model, of new media as adaptive and responsive, as a conjuring of new ways to be in community.

Thank you to Tim and Renate for inviting us.  It has been a richly rewarding "community" this month, and we are grateful for the opportunity to deepen our conceptual models proposed in our new book, THINKING THROUGH DIGITAL MEDIA: TRANSNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS AND LOCATIVE MEDIA.

We look forward to more convenings, more communities, and more protests.

Patty and Dale

Patricia R. Zimmermann, Ph.D.
Professor of Screen Studies
Roy H. Park School of Communication
Codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

Ithaca College
953 Danby Road
Ithaca, New York 14850 USA



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