At the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand Annual Conference, 5 ‐8 December 2014 Launceston, Tasmania, I am covening a panel ‘Hacking the Metropolis’. It features paper presentations which draw attention to the structures and sociopolitical dynamics, which govern our spaces, reflecting on how our communication channels are constructed, offering visions of, or new perspectives on, current urban scenarios and poetics. The artists and researchers invited to share their perspectives within this context are: Elissa Ritson (TAS), Selena de Carvalho (TAS), Dr Julia Drouhin (TAS, FR), and The Bureau of Word Witches [Kate Britton and Prue Gibson] (NSW). Demonstrating a speculative spirited perspective through the aesthetic, playful and thought provoking approaches to existing processes and communication systems; these artists invert the ideology of expediency and seamlessness associated with embedded technologies and reject the idea of mining an experience of beauty for all it is worth.
Here is an my abstract for the presentation I am making of the panel:
In an age when even the availability of natural resources depend on computational logistics and devices (i.e. mobile devices) can initiate communication without any request to users, the risk of technological ‘singularity’, uninformed exploitation of information is vast. A leap towards a world that provides us with a context that we may not want at all is at stake. However, when an artist/hacker reveals and produces the patching and the seams that tie these GEOspaces together, then they are being culturally, socially, and critically productive. Gaining hopeful insights in these situations is crucial for societies at large, but this doesn’t always have to be a direct political or even technical action. Therefore thematic panel ‘Hacking the Metropolis’ applies an ethos of creative speculation to critiquing how one can address a city as a living system with it’s gaps and limitations; an integrative poiēsis of processing between orders as extant between geology, plants, machines and humans. This thematic session explores how the human body itself becomes seen as a node in a complex network of force fields, where nature, genetic science, political and feminist topics intersect.
As we move through the city and accessing information in ‘the cloud’ via WIFI on the fly, our data includes our customised preferences and settings, connections are often made without human consent – computers, through computer-mediated communication and computer agents Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), Content Management Systems (CMS), programmed scripts (code), bots (chat bots, robots) have become key social actors and communicative partners in the human domain. In the age of the Internet of Things, most microelectronic devices (from cars, phones, credit cards, cameras) are Internet-enabled micro-computers. There is no secret that there is an abundance of data flying about that is not ‘entirely species dependent for its encoding, decoding or recoding’. micro_research (Martin Howse and Johnathon Kemp) state that in many ways we are no longer the sole traders in the realm of the symbolic as a species that within the interaction of human text with machine coding, language is not the exclusive domain of human thought but also that of the internal logic of computers). But the meaning of natural language communication emerges from its context, rather than its form. Does this come as a consequence of the fundamental misunderstanding of the correlation between formal and natural language? Every computer language has a defined grammar that is interpreted by a compiler, which digests its semantic content and produces byte code (which the computer can then execute). Wendy Chun writes ‘To know the code is to have a form of “X-ray” vision that makes the inside and outside coincide, and the act of revealing sources or connections becomes a critical act in and of itself’ (2011, p. 188). All societies are replete with social transactions and codes of conduct which must be learned by an individual wishing to function fully within that society. What happens when the embodied written work becomes type, the type becomes symbols for a calculating machine, and the written text becomes a garden, a performance, a medium, something more than just words on a screen or paper? Does it set something unfathomable into motion? Is it more than incongruous that both the polemics and the behaviour – of which media theorists are critical – come from the same misconceptions?
‘Hacking the Metropolis’ is a rebuff at the mechanical control codes hardwired into our daily urban spaces, the papers presented attempt to reach a point of awareness through demonstration in order to inform our embodied awareness; highlighting the everyday engagement we have and the fact we are sharing meaning with machines – these could be how one partakes in minor meditations in their domestic space, contemplating their own positions relative to their broader environments (Elissa Ritson) or donning an Evolutionary StraitJacket and re-wilding in order to contemplate a lost and found species (Selena de Carvalho), or perhaps turning into a terrestrial geophonic radio, affect architectural environments (Julia Drouhin), in a performative and experiential writing model where the ‘expert patriarchal art voice is toppled from its apical position’ (The Bureau of Word Witches). The changing role of art on this epoch is one where it does not just create a new aesthetics but gets tangled in patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations.
Other Panel Presentation Abstracts
Selena de Carvalho – Unpacking the cardboard box
Recently I have been working on a project called the Evolutionary StraitJacket a project where participants are encouraged to wear costumes of extinct animals and sing Karaoke songs that are lyrically rich with tales of evolution. The Evolutionary StraitJacket hopes to encourage participation and employing humor as an entry point, through a ridiculous, poetic, neo-ritual as opposed to getting hung up on the apocalyptic tragedy of it all, by ‘re-wilding in order to contemplate a more sustainable future. Interested in the poetics of the dance between technology, environment and creativity, and what may emerge when these forces intercept, my creative works respond to a sense of place and discovery, exploring a belief that everything has the potential for mystery as we move through places and place move through us. As an artist in a constant process of reading the world through my own subjective lens using creativity as a vehicle to translate this unique perspective. I am a neo explorer, interested in the ‘forgotten’ or dilapidated pockets of human built spaces that have been left to entropy, these falling down buildings have a limited life span as development is usually just around the corner. I make up my own rules while I am anchored to integrity and respect. This is also a perspective I have taken to wild places that have imminent plans for destruction through logging or mining. I bear witness to change, storing inside of me a catalogue of places that no longer exist. The paradox inherent in our contemporary relationship with the natural world is discussed, how we yearn for the untamed and yet so often seek to control it. Focusing on the imminent sense of fragility regarding interconnectivity, technology is often employed as a means to reflect on our relationship with the atmosphere.
In my presentation I’ll be investigating the fearful dichotomy between craving wildness and seeking safety, which the garden encapsulates by challenging the boundaries between submission and control in a dance with the natural world. In particular I’ll be looking at how five urban-based artists unfurled this theme in the Book of the Garden exhibition: contemplating their own positions relative to their broader environments. The idea of gardens, although once a broader term, is nowadays most commonly tied to the residential, suburban garden. It is a curious non-space where poetry takes root in the ground, and intuitive learning blossoms. Cycles and systems can be laid bare in the garden as it forms itself from the sun, the rain, the soil, the coding in its seeds and the interactions with its inhabitants. As a link to nature it is tangible and philosophical, physical and spiritual. In Book of the Garden, an exhibition of plant life and paper, the garden was the setting for unfolding and reflecting on existence. Like the act of gardening, the act of drawing, of making art, is often simultaneously inwardly and outwardly focused. A series of small decisions, minor meditations, collisions in time, that provide a structure for growth. Done well, and with generosity, both art and the garden provide a place of growth for those outside of the process as well. The realm of plants connects the earth to the sun, and animals to the earth, but also taps into an ancient root of knowledge tracing through humankind. In the garden, we can learn things that feel like they are being remembered from a time now past.
Julia Drouhin – Art of radio transmission and geophonic public space.
If hacking is not just for computer code but also social code, is there a potential to attempt a social rewiring through playful insurrection? If we don’t have the means to significantly influence web propaganda and surveillance, there are other media that can be used to pursue a subversive aesthetic. Radio transmission is one. It has been used as such since the early 1900’s when amateur broadcasts disrupted naval communications. Radio broadcasting is an old, traditional form that has been continuously hijacked. More subversive than aesthetic, despite the Futurist’s effort to occupy radio space as an art form, radio transmission is mutating to a digital form, just like television. The hertzian system could then become an abandoned and forgotten realm, and for this very reason terrestrial radio offers a high potential for experiential performance and participative creation that explores the art of transmission.
The DIY possibilities in the mastery of this old technology can provide a medium on a human scale, especially with short wave radio. Even if the transmission perimeter is limited, it is a link to a geospecific audience. Radio waves and electromagnetic phenomena can be used to build temporary networks made up of transmitter and receiver modules. Broadcasting free content with analog frequencies can affect an architectural and social environment but above all create a disembodied sonic public space. This use of radio generates sound streams that can activate an imaginary and poetic territory in which the public is invited to immerse themselves. We can use the term geophonic public space as it involves immediate and ephemeral propagation of inaudible and audible information through narrative intervention. A geophonic public space can provide a space for debate, governed by the pleasure of conversing freely, in the tradition of free radios that radically differ from the conventional mass media. They do not impose their programs on a wide audience counted statistically, but infiltrate a molecular audience in a way that changes the nature of communication between those who speak and those who listen. This possible dialogue enhances the meaning and potential of radio art which could serve as a vehicle for communication, not in terms of distribution, but between the individuals involved. Traditional forms of radio can offer an alternative approach to the sense of urbanism in a digital age, creating temporary autonomous zones.
The Bureau of Word Witches (Kate Britton and Prue Gibson) – The speculative writing hack
We propose a puckish model of hacked writing, defined as art writing that is immanent to its subject. If we puncture the limits of human comprehension, we start to explore possibilities beyond mortal life. This facilitates a new discourse surrounding the problem of authoritative and expert art writing. Taking the work of artist Pia Van Gelder as a platform, we launch into an experimental passage of data interference, a performative interruption of conventional art writing habits, to break open a space to “write with” the artwork, rather than in judgment of it. Isabelle Stengers and Gilles Deleuze inform our collaborative interest in developing an immanent and speculative art writing practice that reclaims a pre-critical writing voice. The object/subject dyad is dismantled and the expert patriarchal art voice is toppled from its apical position.
If the black box is in input output code, where transmissions radiate between the artwork, the art journal, the audience, the exhibition space and the material as subjectile forces, then an art writing practice that is reciprocal and immanent might allow new capacities to emerge. Our art writing practice addresses systems of art information as a mode of anticipating the non-human, using a non-chronological and unbounded methodology. This takes the form of a performative and collaborative writing process: to think with the objects, as objects, becomes an exploration of a matrix of connections and coded interceptions. We are the word-witches and we reclaim art writing as a new form of sorcery, that responds to the allure and immanence of machinic art systems.