[-empyre-] Thanks so much Anna Munster, and Welcome Simon Biggs and Madeleine Casad

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Wed Sep 21 07:46:10 AEST 2016

Thanks to Tim and Renate for inviting me to contribute to the discussion on empyre this month, on how net art has travelled the past 25 years and artists working in the field are responding to the progressive commercialisation of the network.

Firstly, a word of warning. My post-humanist tendencies have always been informed by a borderline misanthropy. The proposition that we as a species are no longer human isn’t extraordinary, given that we never seemed to fulfil the ideal that was the human. We are failed humans (our idea of what it is to be human) and that failure demonstrates our hubris in believing we could be better and our incapacity to be so. The internet has also been a field of failed dreams - as with all media and representation, it is a mirror of our failure.

Recently I’ve become interested in the concept of ‘dark matter’ as a metaphor for our collective unconscious. This year I’ve made a new interactive environment titled ‘Dark Matter’ and also written an article about that work. Documentation of the work can be found here:

My thesis in this work is simple and, I feel, illustrative in the context of this discussion. The proposition explored in Dark Matter is that we are motile assemblages rather than stable individuals, subsets of a larger assemblage that could be considered a form of 'collective unconscious'. That assemblage is explored as shaped by the forces of dark matter, in the form of the cultural information and patterns that we "don't know that we know". This is a generative ontology, manifest in the artwork through multi-agent interaction with liminal visual and textual information. Interactors physically interact, through the use of motion tracking, with textual fragments derived from interviews with a Guantanamo inmate. Depending on the number of viewers the 3D textual space is rendered from first, second or third person points of view, creating a shifting experience of the immersive environment as a form of co-reading.

As background to the ideas explored in Dark Matter, Slavoj Zizek has observed, @ http://www.lacan.com/zizekrumsfeld.htm
"In March 2003, Rumsfeld engaged in a little bit of amateur philosophizing about the relationship between the known and the unknown: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." What he forgot to add was the crucial fourth term: the "unknown knowns," the things we don't know that we know - which is precisely, the Freudian unconscious, the "knowledge which doesn't know itself," as Lacan used to say."

Zizek argues, in the short text from which the above quote derives, that the activities of US and allied invaders at the Abu Ghraib prison camp belong to the category of unknown knowns. The activities at the Guantanomo detention facility can be considered similarly. Initially designated Camp X-Ray it has lived up to its name - a strange contradictory existence where activities we 'don’t know we know' are broadcast around the planet. This is a strange form of knowledge indeed, where we are all implicated, even as we suppress that we know. This is our 'dark matter', accruing to the force that disallows us to escape ourselves, forever repeating and failing our human existence. The force is ourselves - we are black holes in the making.

What has this got to do with the internet and net art? As suggested earlier, the internet is a mirror of our failures. It might also be considered as something of a repository for our 'unknown knowns', our forgotten knowledge, our suppressed reflections - the reflections of ourselves we do not want to know. Artists have always been excavators, or revealers, of such buried reflections. Net artists are no different. They work in the subterranean reaches of the internet (the internet isn’t in the cloud but in the sewers - perhaps Wark’s streets? - beneath our feet) to bring to the surface that which we have buried and forgotten. It is the case, though, that this task has become more difficult as those sewers have filled up with the crap generated through the commercialisation of the internet. Not only has the weight of shit that needs to be lifted up that much heavier but the systems we use to do so, the protocols of the internet, have been weakened through fragmentation, as the internet has been broken up and bounded by  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and numerous other corporate agents. The task facing the contemporary net artist is that much greater than a generation ago. Perhaps it is little surprise we see far less effective work being done in the area. But there is work, sometimes recognised and sometimes not. The question is who is doing this work?

I’d like to identify three of these. What they all share in common is that they all engage with the network but they aren’t necessarily focused only on, or primarily with, the internet as we usually think of it. It’s the concept of the network, and the relational implications that flow from it, that each of these three projects share. They are all working towards outcomes that affect peoples lives, both those directly involved in the projects and others. They are all, in contradiction of my above argument, working towards an ideal of some kind. This is work I would argue is post-internet in that the work is inconceivable without the internet but extends far beyond it to a more fundamental engagement with how social inter-agency might function.

Furtherfield exists as a physical place in the form of the Furtherfield Gallery (including Furtherfield Commons) in London’s Finsbury Park, a website at http://furtherfield.org/ and the netbehaviour listserv. Each of these aspects of what is a distributed organisation undertake projects in the different kinds of social contexts each aspect facilitates, whether it be exhibitions, workshops, online events or the discourse of its listserv (which isn’t that dissimilar to empyre, although as a non-curated list it’s discussion is more free ranging and volatile). Furtherfield has been in existence since 1996, so amongst the early initiatives that emerged as the internet and the web collided into general consciousness. Its success is evidenced in its longevity, its expansion and diversification and the impact it has had on numerous artists, activists, hackers, makers and community workers.

The P2P foundation is "a global network of researchers, activists, and citizens monitoring and promoting actions geared towards a transition to a Commons-based society. We are a decentralized, self-organized, globally distributed community building an information-commons ecosystem for the growing P2P/Commons movement. We examine both the digital and the material worlds, their freedoms and restrictions, scarcities and abundances. We are an incubator and catalyst, focusing on the "missing pieces" and the interconnectedness that can lead to a wider movement.” https://p2pfoundation.net/

Sauti ya wakulima (The voice of the farmers) at http://sautiyawakulima.net/bagamoyo/about.php?l=1 was developed by Mexican artist Eugenio Tisselli ( http://motorhueso.net/ ) as "a collaborative knowledge base created by farmers from the Chambezi region of the Bagamoyo District in Tanzania by gathering audiovisual evidence of their practices using smartphones to publish images and voice recordings on the Internet.” The intention is to collect and share the tacit knowledge held in the community to promote sustainable traditional farming methods in the face of globalised agri-business (perhaps this is a bit like contemporary net artists trying to work in the cracks in the corporatised internet). Through this communication system the indigenous farmers work with each other, their extended community, scientific researchers and others to develop strategies to adapt their activities in a changing environment.

Hopefully empyre listserv members will have a look at each of these initiatives and a discussion can ensue around how we can work with the internet to better social outcomes - or whether we shouldn’t bother. I’m in two minds myself...



Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk

> On 21 Sep 2016, at 01:18, Timothy Conway Murray <tcm1 at cornell.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> It is so fitting that end the week featuring Anna Munster with her
> important recollection of the feminist roots of Melindha Rackham's
> founding of -empyre-.  Thanks so much, Anna, for your helpful focusing of
> the week's discussion of net.art and finance as well as for your other
> important contextualizing of net.art and the -empyre- list.
> We are now pleased to welcome to the third week of "Through the Net: Net
> Art Then and Now," two other long time participants and supporters of
> -empyre-, Simon Biggs (AU) and Madeleine Casad (US). I still remember how
> energized I was to run across Simon's pionneering interactive digital art
> in the early 1990s.   Many subscribers will recall with fondness that he
> worked with Renate and me as a moderator of -empyre- and shaped so many
> important discussions, which remain accessible on the -empyre- archive:
> http://lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/.  Mickey also has been a
> vital part of the -empyre- community ever since Cornell's Rose Goldsen
> Archive of New Media Art stepped in as a cosponsor with the University of
> New South Wales (where Anna Munster teaches, so the loops continue).  We
> were very sad to see her leave Cornell for Vanderbilt University after
> fifteen years of helping to build the infrastructures of the Goldsen
> Archive since its founding in 2002.
> So welcome back to -empyre- both Simon and Madeleine.
> Simon Biggs (UU) is a media artist, writer and curator with interests in
> digital poetics, auto-generative and interactive systems,
> interdisciplinary research and co-creation. He is Professor of Art at the
> University of South Australia and Honorary Professor at the University of
> Edinburgh.  His work has been widely presented, including at Tate Modern,
> Tate Liverpool, Tate Britain, Institute of Contemporary Arts London,
> Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow, Kettles Yard Cambridge, Centre
> Georges Pompidou Paris, Academy de Kunste Berlin, Berlin Kulturforum,
> Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Kunsthalle Bergen, Maxxi Rome, Palazzo della Arti
> Naples, Macau Arts Museum, Oi Futuro Rio de Janeiro, Arizona State Art
> Museum, San Francisco Cameraworks, Walker Art Center Minneapolis,
> Queensland Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He has
> presented at numerous international conferences, including the
> International Symposium on Electronic Arts, ePoetry, Society for
> Literature, Science and the Arts, Electronic Literature Organisation and
> Festival International Literature Electronica Sao Paulo and lectured at
> Cambridge, Newcastle, Cornell, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, Ohio State,
> Paris 8, Sorbonne and Bergen Universities, amongst others. Publications
> include Remediating the Social (2012, editor), Autopoeisis (with James
> Leach, 2004), Great Wall of China (1999), Halo (1998), Magnet (1997) and
> Book of Shadows (1996).  He has held lecturing posts at Middlesex
> University and Academy Minerva Groningen and Professorships at Sheffield
> Hallam University and the University of Edinburgh.  His URL is
> http://www.littlepig.org.uk
> Madeleine Casad (US) teaches in the Vanderbilt University Department of
> Cinema and Media Arts and coordinates the Vanderbilt Center for Digital
> Humanities.  She has been involved in efforts to preserve and historicize
> digital media art practices since 2002, when she began working in Cornell
> University¹s Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, a collection for which
> she became Associate Curator that spans six decades of global history and
> a complex variety of electronic media formats.  Until 2016, she managed
> outreach, education, and preservation initiatives in the Goldsen Archive
> and developed digital humanities programs for graduate students as part of
> Cornell University¹s cross-institutional Digital Humanities Collaboratory.
> Her academic interests focus on narrative, identity, counter-history, and
> contested public memory across varied technologies of storytelling.  In
> 2012, she defended one of Cornell University¹s first comparative media
> dissertations. In 2016, she oversaw and co-authored the Goldsen Archive's
> innovative white paper, "Preserving and Emulating Digital Art Objects"
> (https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/41368).
> So welcome back to -empyre- Simon and Madeleine.  We're really looking
> forward to your thoughts on Net.Art.
> All my best,
> Tim 
> Timothy Murray
> Professor of Comparative Literature and English
> Taylor Family Director, Society for the Humanities
> http://www.arts.cornell.edu/sochum/
> Curator, Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art
> http://goldsen.library.cornell.edu
> A D White House
> Cornell University,
> Ithaca, New York 14853
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

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