[-empyre-] Last Questions / Wrapping up Accumulations

Elia Vargas elia.christian.vargas at gmail.com
Tue Dec 22 16:57:58 AEDT 2020

Hi Dan,

I think it is interesting to try to account for such broad potential,
wide-reaching outcomes, through specific trajectories. By that I mean, your
question takes on a really enormous scope in tackling Utopianism. I like
when practices lead topics, rather than siloing interrelated ideas to
maintain disciplinary continuity. Cultural practices, media practices,
naturecultural practices, etc. might not be about a Utopian vision, but the
work they do might collectively point towards some ongoing becoming of
self-actualization. I'm actually not that interested in Utopia though. To
me, the Utopian impulse is interesting as a kind of cultural artifact—it
exists, and what does that mean?—but obviously, the legacy of utopian
thinking, as it is articulated in English, since the enlightenment, is an
incomplete vision, not only in its exclusion of certain humans and its
tendency towards monoculture, but also in its conception of
space/time/individualisms, one might even say it is the colonization of
perfection.  As a person who has lived in such utopian facing punk houses,
coops, squats, etc., each of which has its own variant of investment or
rejection of these ideas—the sort of spaces that much of the video art,
conceptual art, avant-garde that you speak to emerged from—I'm certainly as
invested as the next person in radical life experimentation, but I'd like
to put more faith perhaps in Octavia Butler's religion of Earth Seed: God
is change. But actually, I'd rather get rid of the still present
metaphysics of individualism that Butler's God carries (or is maybe just a
crucial part of all of Butler's stories) and so I'll arrive at Karen
Barad's critique of the metaphysics of individualism by rejecting
representationalism in favor of performative becomings. We—whoever that
is—don't need Utopia, we need ongoing practices that mutually enact a
different world in its together ongoingness; we need different measurement
concepts of space/time/matter; different measurement concepts of
self/other, human/nonhuman, nature/culture; different measurement concepts
of measurement concepts.

Digital Humanities and Library Sciences researcher Bethany Nowvitski has an
interesting article titled, "Speculative Collections" in which she quotes
jazz musician Shebaka Hutchings: "communities that have agency are able to
form their own philosophical structures." This is a quote to live by.
Practices make new concepts possible. Indeed, they are not separate from
each other and there is no final arrival when practices and concepts are
finished. What I'm getting at here is that the vision lies in the doing,
that ever so important verb shift to the present progressive, the
performativity of being. Communities that have agency world their own
worlds and that is emancipatory in itself. I would like to know these
worlds. Who wouldn't? And in case my excitement is misread as a
utopian-like optimism, I think it is deeply important to recognize that
these differences mean exactly the death of the kind of monoculture that
utopic communities often require as cultural capital: everyone who cites
the same manifesto knows the passcode to get into the party. Isabel
Stenger's idea of cosmopolitics feels really useful to me here: interests
in common which are not the same interests. I'm certainly talking about
more than just human relations, but participating in—dare I say
actualizing—different worlds is not necessarily a comfortable practice.
Oxygen is a life-enabling infrastructure for humans, it is a hostile toxic
atmosphere for mitochondria. While I lived in northern Ghana, I attended a
World Radio Day conference put on by Farm Radio, an international NGO. It
was interesting to observe a sort of tribal fascism that emerged by the
specific tribes utilizing the media network. Having access to radio
transmission became a way for tribal values to be socially enforced and
rigidly upheld by the chief: such as homophobic family values that
differentiated social belonging. This was occurring on the backdrop of the
2019 World Radio Day's themes of Dialogue, Tolerance, and Peace.

My point is that communities' philosophical structures are not always, and
not often, going to be the same interests, but that shouldn't stymie the
practices of self-determination. It should not even be a component of the
measurement system. There are differences; life forms. Technological
practices, and by that I mean practices that are conventionally understood
to occur with what is conventionally understood as technology, such as the
internet, are no different. One must be attentive in the way a tool wields,
includes, and excludes power. One must be attentive to the capacity for an
environment to actualize certain things over others. Zoom is an enormously
limiting platform but also, the privacy concerns surrounding it have been
well documented by institutions such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
This comes as no surprise. What is less obvious though is the ease with
which we—myself and probably most of you—let Zoom determine our sense of
expressive communication. We know it causes screen fatigue in myriad ways,
we know that psychologically and neurologically our bodies use an embodied
approach to absorb (if that is even the right metaphor) information in
social interactions, yet we still generally conceptualize the idea of
telepresent communication as one that has only marginally changed since the
invention of electricity and the telephone (see Carolin Marvin's excellent
"When Old Technologies Were New").

What I hope for is that these practices of networked community enact new
concepts of mutual actualization that can rework or reworld practices for
the future.

in light,

On Mon, Dec 21, 2020 at 11:18 AM Daniel Lichtman <danielp73 at gmail.com>

> Hi Elia, as well as Angeliki, Cristina, Oscar, Simon, Matt, Sophia,
> Benjamin, Rowan, Sameen, Philip, Lee, Char, Maximillian, Sophie and Sasha,
> As a way of beginning to wrap up this month’s program, here is a question
> to Elia, and all of the other artists who participated in Accumulations (
> http://accumulations.online/exhibition.html). I think everyone on the
> empyre list is well aware of the myriad catastrophes—pandemic, assault on
> democracy, environmental crisis, racial injustice, to name a few—that we
> face today.
> The pandemic has obviously generated a lot interest in networked
> structures for collaboration and community building. Accumulations has
> presented a number of projects that take digital interfaces, networking
> protocols and systems for organizing information as a starting point for
> reimagining what it means to commune, socialize and make art together
> today. All of these projects locate their new visions for creative
> community in the decentralized  operation of producing, collecting and
> arranging fragments of audio-visual-textual material. I am drawn to the new
> visual, literary and auditory forms that they produce.
> One broad topic that I am interested in, but conflicted about, and perhaps
> useful to end up on this month: do these projects propose a Utopian vision
> for the future of networked community and collaboration? Especially as
> contestations to capitalist forms of social organization and big-tech
> surveillance and profiteering. The hopeful way that these projects make
> innovative formal use of digital tools reminds me of the Utopian impulses
> that I see in avant-grades of the past—for example in the creation of
> Modern, individual painterly style in European abstract painting of the
> early 20th century, in contestation of art historical convention. Or in the
> formal experimentation with video technology in video art of the 70s and
> 80s, contesting the hegemony of mass media production. Or net.art of the
> 90s that remixed the possibilities of hypertext, HTML and early CSS. In
> each of these art historical moments, artists responded to historical and
> political imperatives by developing whole new modes and techniques of
> production.
> Where or how do the projects presented this month point us in the way of
> the future of community and collaboration? When/if the pandemic subsides,
> will the new, networked forms of working and being together brought to the
> fore by social isolation challenge the status quo of how artists live, work
> and socialize together? What does this mean for wider populations of people
> and communities who are not directly involved in the arts?
> These are broad questions. To all the artists, I invite you to respond to
> any aspects that seem to resonate with you or your project. Or if you
> disagree with any of my characterizations, please share that with us too!
> Feel free to respond briefly and/or informally.
> I also invite anyone from the Empyre list to chime-in here, in response to
> the presented projects, these questions, or anything else that is of
> concern to you in relation to this month’s topic.
> Looking forward!
> Dan

Elia Vargas

*-Leonardo/MIT Press:* *Crude Illumination: A Crude Oil Art Inspection*
*-LRLX Publication 5: Rare Earth: The Ground Is Not Digital available* HERE
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