Kunst im Dialog mit Netz-Kultur.
( A lecture delivered at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart 14. Nov. 1997 by Philip Pocock )
have 2 words for Us tonight: "MeWe!"
For any of You who may still possess or be clinging to that lingering modernist ego thing, and for any One still bent on carving up territory in terms of I's and You's, instead of Me's and We's, this will all seem to miss your center-mark. For this, maybe I O U an apology. Please bear with Me ... We. 'Mais Oui.' "MeWe!"
"MeWe!" isn't mine. I am not its author. "MeWe!" is recorded in "The Guinness Book of Records" as being the shortest poem of all time. I heard it in a movie last summer when a grey-haired talking-head subtitled Gore Vidal retold an anecdote about an arguably great media theorist, a personality, who like an artist lives out a theory, constantly tests it, reinterprets, reiterates, recombines and readdresses it. Some may know already who authored "MeWe!"
Another clue to its authorship. "MeWe!"
was uttered on the fly, as a rap, a lyric, a requested epilogue to a formal
address at the graduating ceremony in Harvard University, 1971. Students
called out: "You speak so well, please, give us a rap, give us a poem!"
And the speaker did. Two words, or are they one: "MeWe!" Like a shuffle
followed by a jab, "MeWe!" danced off their author's tongue like a butterfly
and stung the attending students' ears like a bee. Most
of Us now know, without Me uttering a name, who I mean.
|"MeWe!" is a model for network art, an ethic for network business, an acronym for network identity. It encapsulates, like any good postulate or poem, an essence. "MeWe!", with email brevity, says all that I could say or wish to say here and now about cybernetic art. "MeWe!" is media theory in two syllables.|
|Who authored it is another question?
Who wants to know? Here's another clue for modernist egos, another postulate
for the rest of Us. "MeWe's!" author also claimed to be faster than electric
current, electric technology. This theory unmasks another axiom intrinsic
to networks by its sheer absurdity, and it goes something like this: "You
know, man, I'm so fast! I'm so fast, that, you know, when I go and flick
off my bedroom light at night, I'm in my bed before it's dark!" Mohammed
Ali said that. And I say, have You ever heard a wittier critique of Virilio's
mantra; 'speed, speed, speed?' Ali cooked up this fable in a hotel room
in Mobutu's Zaire in 1974, while nervously waiting for a cut to heal over
his opponent's left eye, before bringing Afro-Americans and the world back
home with him via satellite.
What I understand Ali to be joking about here is that our affective ability to perceive, tolerate and respond to a signal creates the bottleneck in electronic culture, and not the effective speed of an anonymous signal, just as the speed of light does not control the speed with which we perceive a work of art or each other. Virilio's notion of 'speed' is an historical comparison, like Heidegger's, a bridge linking electronic to mechanical culture, only of interest as a means to make the jump from one period to the next, a necessary observation but according to Ali, insufficient.
It's like Ali was telling Us that the global village is, after all, just a village, dependent on villagers and visitors for its viability, its affectivity. Electric 'ninja' technology may have while shrinking our planet, displaced us, disoriented us, but the speed of media is not a measure relative to distance and time, but of relationships between people.
Imagine had Ali said "MeYou!" instead. I and You are fighting words. José Ortega y Gasset writes at length about the I - You problem in his book "Man and People" from 1930. He declares: "The 'I' and the 'You' are superconcrete... they resume two lives in a superlatively condensed form which, for that very reason, is highly explosive. That is why... courtesy curtails their employment, to keep our personality from weighing too heavily on our neighbor, oppressing and wearing him down... In the Far East... where men have to live almost on top of one another... it is not suprising that the Japanese language has succeeded in supressing those two... impertinent pistolshots, the 'You' and the 'I,' in which, whether I want to or not, I inject my personality into my neighbor and my idea of his personality into the You. In Japan both these personal pronouns have been replaced by flowery ceremonial phrases, so that, instead of 'You,' one says something like: 'the miracle that is here,' and instead of 'I' something like 'the wretchedness here present.'"
In English there is no euphemistic form of the You as You have in French and German. The American street You is best expressed by an unapologetic:"Yo!" copyright Stallone. But what about You and I on-line?
Visualize for a moment the form of a network, like folds of cloth forming and reforming to fit your body and its movements, only on the Net data folds to envelop your agency, your words, some images, folding into folds from otherwhere, couplng and crossing many other to build a supple mesh of linking identities, recombining all the time; its a de facto "MeWe!" situation.
Gasset provides the clue as to why and when the I-You model becomes a de facto "MeWe!" situation. It has to do with population density reaching a threshhold value, and be that in urban Asian or cyber-newtowns like the 'equator,' a critical mass then forms that self-regulates the interpersonal system into an open "MeWe!" model, and the viability of a centralized authority is greatly reduced once a certain threshhold value is overshot? What emerges from such critical masses inevitably frightens the benevolent dictatorship of politicians, educators, parents, executives, and artists, critics and curators are no exception. A picture comes to mind of Beckett's 200 players in "The Lost Ones" looking for ladders in the 12 million square centimeters of niches, tunnels and space on the stage he only describes.
Not control but controlling influences move in from the periphery. This happens in financial markets every day, where 300000 networked screens set international monetary exchange rates. No longer does a politician broadcast from a Rose Garden somewhere and make much of a point difference. Central authority strategies in cybernetic art, or art for cybernetic life, have about as much chance as the Queen of England in the popular press. Lady Di was the people's princess, abdicating the Royal We, and loved for her paradoxical predicament.
We are already experiencing the emergence of a post-federal-democratic model for life on the periphery - consternating urbanists, art critics, and our former identity-givers, organized religious and political bodies. Crossing the threshhold from a system of productive forces, I and You, to one of productive relationships, Me and We, has affected how we interface with some art.
[Above: André Kunkel telephones with his God to get his blessing and learn the news concerning the well-being of one of his patients.]
The paradigm in the artworld is shifting away from the creation of autonomous art objects to an idea about relations, an art of relations, and it's nothing brand new, We have seen this movement grow since the 50s, beatnik art, fluxus, performance, idea art, land art, scatter art, installation art and now perhaps with interactive network art.
Aesthetics too are shifting away from a set of codes which act to homogenize everybody, of course, the powers-that-be are resisting. Aesthetics are also breaking with the tautology of broadcasting code and defining that same code at one and the same time, a mass-conforming strategy, aimed at constructing a giant consensual You.
Where aesthetics are shifting is unclear and the subject of much discourse in schools and in art criticism. It must be said that art and aesthetics are not like bees and honey, they are not inextricable. The formation of a giant concsensual You requires that we all register ouselves, fix our wherabouts and identities. This is wonderful instrument for industry and state control. Fixed identity is for sitting ducks, intransigent identity has always sadly been about control, alienation, punishment and domination.
Fixed identity is, however, unnatural. For 3,5 billion years viruses and simple lifeforms have propagated themselves by exploiting and confusing identity. The instrumentation for exploition and confusion has only grown along with organisms in complexity.
Identity, like perception, has always been about transigence, subversion, interpretation, adaptation. The primary task/function of conscious or living things has been to develop provisional identity strategies for self-replication or survival. This is after all how strains of HIV confuse a host. And it is no stretch for the imagination to realize how transigent identity strategies abound on the net.
As far as networks and art go, there is a major distinction to be made between art-on-the-net and network-art. The former is simply the publication in electronic form of an artist's ego substitute, asking for little more from the Net user than their capacity for consumption, Clicking a mouse without the possibility of adding to the work, it is also important to note, is not a shared activity, and therefore cannot provide more than the temporary illusion of interactivity, of sharing.
I came upon a quote a couple of hours ago about sharing from LEonard Nimoy, better known as Dr. Spock from the starship Enterprise. He said: "The more we share, the more we have."
Network art would be OtherLands general category, if only to distinguish it from much of the art published on the Net and on CD ROMs. Network art is an art of relations, as cybernetics is the science of pure relations (© Nam June Paik).
Network art is about the relation not only of the audience to the art, but the audience to each other, the co-authors to the audience, the co-authors to the script, the script to other information, and all the leaky boundaries in between which form its architecture or datatecture. Florian will speak about this tangentially in a few minutes.
Network art is aptly foreseen by Nam June Paik in a text he wrote in 1984. If We just substitute his word 'satellite' for the word 'network,' he says it for me, I quote: "Satellite art... must consider how to achieve a two-way connection between opposite sides of the earth; how to give a conversational structure to the art; how to master differences in time; how to play with improvisation, in-determinism, echos, feedbacks, and empty spaces in the Cagean sense; and how to instantaneously manage the differences in culture, preconceptions, and common sense that exist between various nations. Satellite art must make the most of these elements (for they can become strengths or weaknesses)... The satellite will accidentally and inevitablely produce unexpected meetings of person and person... Thanks to the satellite, the mysteries of encounters with others (chance meetings) will accumulate in geometric progression and should become the main nonmaterial product of post-industrial society."
I would like to get concrete for a moment and take the opportunity to say something about the Solitude network and its much talked about neighbor, the Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie. It is clear to me using Ali's axiom that what we have here on the outskirts of Stuttgart and meanwhile all over the place is a "MeWe!" situation.
The ZKM is clearly remaining within the centralized power contraints of the I - You thing. I thought yesterday about what I would do were I asked to exhibit or curate at the center in Karlsruhe. First I would empty out the halls, and place in the center hall Nam June Paik's Buddha piece that is at the moment disgracefully installed. Then perhaps We could begin to share some datatecture, build a database network.
But it would be a lot less work adapting the already-in-place cross-cultural, transmedial, global, interpersonal Solitude network. This may seem paradoxical, but the basis for new media is more apparent in a lo-tech structure like Solitude than a hi-tech center like the ZKM.
Let me open a page on Hans Magnus Enzensberger as a measure of comparison between the ZKM and Solitude. Ask yourself - and I am well aware that this is an I - You situation and provocative for this reason - which heading fits the ZKM and Solitude respectively? Here are the two headings:
|Repressive Use of Media||Emancipatory Use of Media|
|Centrally controlled program||Decentralized program|
|One transmitter, many receivers||Each receiver a potential transmitter|
|Immobilization of isolated individuals||Mobilization of the masses|
|Passive consumer behaviour||Interaction of those involved, feedback|
|Depoliticization||A political learning process|
|Production by specialists||Collective production|
|Control by property owners or bureaucracy||Social control by self-organization|
I'll close now with Enzensberger's closing paragraph in "Constituents of a Theory of the Media," 1997 from which I also excerpted the list which is occupying the screen right now. I quote: "For the old-fashioned 'artist'-let us call him the author-it follows from these reflections that he must see it as his goal to make himself redundant as a specialist... ...his social usefulness can best be measured by the degrees to which he is capable of using the liberating factors in the media [on the screen]... his role is clear. The author has to work as the agent of the masses. He can lose himself in them only when they themselves become authors, the authors of history."
This is "A Description
of the Equator and Some OtherLands."
[Right: The 'Fetish Telephone' surrounded by empty Gin bottles and splattered with animal blood after a recent magic medecine ceremony conducted by André Kunkel.]
|© Philip Pocock 1997||All photographs this page courtesy Gert Chesi from "Die Medizin Der Schwarzen Götter", Haymon Verlag, Innsbruck, 1997.|