[-empyre-] Critical considerations linger.

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Wed Feb 10 08:14:04 AEDT 2021

On Mon, Feb 8, 2021 at 7:25 PM Renate Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu> wrote:

> What I am trying to wrap my head around today relates to the collapse of
> the virtual networks of social media highway into networks of physical
> political engagement, resistance, and protest in the streets... Where do we
> go from here individually and collectively?  How does art help to engage
> social media users to understand the underpinnings? What may have negative
> impacts? Or positive ones?  What can we learn from comparisons?

These are great questions. Given that in 2016, Facebook's own investigation
concluded that "64% of all extremist group joins are due to our
recommendation tools," I think we are talking about a political question
that requires the exercise of existing laws, and more likely, new
legislation. However that's not artists' work.

The art presented here is really compelling, not so much for the
obfuscating or other blocking and jamming effects it may carry out, but
more, because of its capacities to teach the viewers/users what happens
when they engage with social media. This learning can be quite focused and
technical, but it's also likely to be broad and conceptual. In the wake of
Shoshana Zuboff's writing, it now extends to the analysis of surveillance
capitalism, which is authoritative, mainstream, and of crucial importance
in terms of a possible legislative response. Offering an embodied
experience that connects to such wider discourses is definitely within the
remit of art. One can wonder, though, about the continued highlighting of
obfuscation, jamming and evasion. Can individual freedom really solve
social problems? What kind of message are we trying to send?

In the past, tactical media artists used "any media necessary" to fight
illegitimate power. Now we see that *some media* promote radicalization and
polarization, on the right for sure, leading straight into the streets,
with weapons locked and loaded. How about on the left? How to deal
artistically with a strategy of deliberate polarization? How to produce
critical strategies that do not further polarize the public space, reducing
it to a friend-enemy clash?

No doubt all of the projects presented deal in some way with small-group
formation and notions of the public sphere, or perhaps counter-public
spheres. We know that small groups can withdraw from the media sphere, and
they can produce their own ideology too: the left is good at this. How not
to collapse into your own filter bubble? How to protectively withdraw from
manipulative social media and yet remain engaged with the public sphere
that it configures? After all, politics is now made public through Twitter.
You can't wish it away.

In short, I think a new generation of tactical media artists should
probably concentrate on its affective and psychological effects on
individuals, and through them, on society. To do this they will have to
deal, not only with technical issues of tracking and identification, but
also with philosophical issues such as the relation between private emotion
and the public sphere of representation. Do I go into the streets because
I'm fighting mad? Do we want to smash the system? Do I know where my
feelings have come from? How do we figure out - or create - what we really
stand for, when so many forces struggle to answer that question for us,
over so many different media?

I said a new generation of tactical media practitioners will have to take
up these questions: but I bet the present generation already has. Looking
forward to some of their answers.

all the best, Brian
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