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Political Art in the Zeroes and Through Zeroes and Ones

Maxigas     print
 
**There is no armchair criticism -- every critique as such is confined
to the wheelchair!**

The Frankfurt school spearheaded by Habermas developed the position of
the "critical intellectual" into a confortable and accepted niche for
cognitive workers who wanted to confine themselves to their safe areas
of specialisation and at the same time maintain a political profile.
Their idea was that a traditional Marxist position is theoretically
obsolate, while practically contaminated by vulgarism,
authoritarianism and the bad historical examples set by the USSR and
other socialist states in the East, worsened by the retrograde
rhetorics of social-democratic parties in the West. In turn, they
referred back to the critical philosophy founded by Kant and the
Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts and The German Ideology, replacing
Marx in the objective idealist context. They set out to contest the
scienticist discourse of their times and to unearth and reinvigorate
the political consciousness of their people, mostly working with a
revolutionary perspective in antirevolutionary times. Thus, their
approach was informed by a deep theoretical background as well as an
accurate analysis of the historical moment, driven by that
characteristic Gramscian attitude:

"The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without
becoming disillusioned."

In the second half of the twentieth century their well-grounded
strategy degenerated into a B-category mainstream practice which
favoured discourse generation over transformational effect, commentary
against critical engagement with issues seen in a strategic context.
The worst and most characteristic facet of this transformation is that
it solidified an **identity** which managed to capture the majority of
politically active intellectuals and passivise their energy and
ambition, leading them astray into a representational realm where they
could feel to have their say but without exerting an actual effect on
the political context or the power structure. As a result, today's
critical intellectual is always already in a state of forgetting about
the strategic context of the tactic that she exercises. Being born
into **critical intellectualism**, even if she reflects on her
condition in a critical way, she seldom gets beyond representation and
therefore critique merely adds to the volume of the discourse, a sort
of new dimension, like a new market of intellectual production.

----

Excursus I.

Let me demonstrate the process on a personal example. I was asked to
write a series of blog entries for Tranzit Hungary (for 40.000 HUF
plus VAT). The opportunity fitted nicely into my precarious life of
immaterial labour, betatesting postanarchist strategies of evasion and
contamination in order to get by without selling out, transforming
society by strategic participation and tactical sabotage, guided by
the nomadic topology of cracks on that surface which is circumscribed
by Labour, Property and Knowledge [#]_. The last entry was planned to
be on the state of video production and consumption on the free
software and activism front. A few days before writing it I received
a call for an event about YouTube Community, to present "my favourite
YouTube video". I answered that exactly on that day I am planning to
write a small manifesto against YouTube and presenting the
alternatives -- and that for years I have been active in a network of
video activists against YouTube. I will certainly not participate in
an event advertising the globe's biggest media firm and the so-called
"community" that it is manifacturing. "Fine, so instead of a work
it's a statement." The answer of a professional curator and critical
intellectual. I was invited to present my alternative take in the
same way as other people presented their favourite YouTube videos,
creating advertisement revenue for Google with every click on the
projected screen, presenting the coolness and hipness of Tranzit blog
subtitled 'Critique and Visuality' (funded by Erste Bank, as it is
compulsory to add). My frontal attack on the absurdity of the idea
was turned into a parallel critique in a liberal framework where every
opinion can be expressed without contradiction, and conflict is merely
another way to create more opinions. Changing the context is the
measuring rod of every political work, but in this case instead of
changing the context I merely added to the volume of production. More
precisely, I provided that tinge of self-reflection and critical
awareness that is the finishing touch of every serious intellectual
endevour after the dawn of postmodernism. "Negative advertisement is
advertisement all the same." -- the saying resonates richly in this
story.

----

Critical intellectualism translated into **institutional criticism**
in the art world, which means criticising the insitutions without
changing them. Institutional critique is a mainstream trend in art
production by now, so much so that it actually has some effect on the
sort of projects that are realised by powerful art establishments,
although it certainly fails to effect the decision making processes
and the institutional context of the cultural content. There are also
many renegarde self-managed and self-organised initiatives, although
these have always existed, only that they are highlighted by the
increased amount of funding and attention that comes with this
attitude becoming fashionable. For sure, different ways of
organisations result in different products, and the re-organisation of
the art establishment around this idea of institutional criticism
produced a new type of art, which can be called critical art.

Jacques Ranciere draws this distinction between **critical art and
engaged art** which can be inspirational in this context. Engaged art
is basically a form of direct action that seeks immediate effect on
people's life and takes a clear political stance. It may also be a
symbolic gesture or carry a complex ethical-philosophical or affective
message communicated through the 'mundane' change which happens.
Thus, engaged art seeks to create ruptures on the established order of
everyday life and inhabit these ruptures with a biosphere composed of
the bacteria of exodus. In contrast, critical art seeks to
destabilise structures and discourses in the symbolic, often without
taking the risk to contribute constructive criticism in a sustainable
way. The concept of postmodernism is often used to describe these
strategies, and indeed the ideas behind these works often come from
French philophers associated with the current, but the Italian
critique and characterisation of this ideology as 'weak thought' is
revealing here. Since the realm of art is more material and concrete
than thought, these artworks often seem too feeble and abstract next
to the works that are immediatist interventions into the state of
affairs.

Moreover, Ranciere does not build up these categories in the abstract,
but in a dialectical way, submerged in the historical process of class
conflict. In the explication engaged art comes before critical art,
and critical art -- which I described above as the cooptation of
political art in general -- follows in the last decades of the
nineteen hundreds. From this perspective engaged art may well seem
retrograde and some people would say that it is simply out of tune
with the 'spirit of the times' at the moment. However, the question
can be considered in a more sophisticated context as well. After all,
what does it mean to synchronise with the historical beat? Do artists
consider themselves political subjects who are the authors of history?
When the very idea of authorship has been called into question, why
does it seem to be impossible to make invervention into social life?
Is it a virtue to be up to date with reactionary times? Even if
'going with the flow' appears as a historical order or absolute
necessity, is it possible to create divisions in time which turn the
reactionary tendencies into revolutionary potentials?

The Polish group around the journal *Krytyka Polityczna* seem to have
developed a similar perspective. In a text published both offline and
online artist Artur ?mijewski argues for **Applied Social Arts**:
activity that is not bound by the autonomy of the art realm but uses
this very autonomy as the freedom to engage in interaction and
collaboration with other fields such as politics, science or
journalistic discourse. Surveying the emergence of autonomy in
regards to art in its historical development -- somewhat in the line
of Ranciere's throught -- he comes to the conclusion that eventually
autonomy of art resulted in the manifold alienation of artist from
society and also from reality in general. As a result, artists are
afraid of consequences. The effect is highlighted by ?mijewski's
paradoxical judgement, similar to what I have written some paragraphs
ago about institutional criticism: "Art may be political as long as it
stays away from politics." In more vulgar terms this means that
"Symbolic power, strength through knowledge, openly political
attitudes are simply rejected." The concept of applied social arts is
proposed as the remedy for this situation, as **the
instrumentalisation of autonomy**. This rescue strategy or evacuation
plan is carried out through the re-interpretation of the concept and
practice of autonomy, or, in the fashion of the return, the
restoration of its original meaning. From the negative concept of
autonomy as limitation and border, a kind of cage to the artist that
limits her activity, autonomy could become a productive force, a
freedom of choice between different fields or the freedom of movement
across borders to foreign fields. In this way the social practice of
art and the persona of the artist could regain their power in and for
society and artistic activity would be transformed into a useful tool.
He acknowledges the risks inherent in such a venture but argues that
art has a special power to handle risky situations, much more than
politics or science. If the concept is triumphant, "art could once
again serve as an instrument of knowledge, science, politics."

Nice plan. However, judging from the manifesto of *Krytyka
Polityczna*, *Left-wing strategies* and ?mijewski's exhibition in
Budapest entitled *Radical Solidarity*, the initiative still remains
on the level of representation, and a kind of elitist discourse. As
far as I can see from my limited experience, these people expand the
role of the artist in a search for freedom and relevance, but fail to
brake through the limits of the identity of the critical or public
intellectual outlined above. In a similar vein, closing and interview
about the exhibition to a Hungarian art blog, ?mijewski acknowledges
the limited effect of the exhibition as exhibition and says something
like "still, the visitors at Traf? gallery become part of the process
of an emerging consciousness, of course only if they do not regard the
whole thing as a mere diversion but seek to answer the questions
raised in my works." One of the video works pictures physically
challanged people helped by other people to perform everyday tasks.
While this is a thought-provoking gesture indeed, in a world under the
costellation of the spectacle, advertisement campaigns and empty
political rhetoric, ridden by the end of ideologies, gestures have
lost much of their power. This is evident from both the
self-criticism of the artist and the feeble voice of the quoted text.
While ?mijewski's text refers to the return of the everyday through
his reference to Julita W?jcik who was peeling potatoes in a gallery
and the "silent majority" whose actions really define the state of
affairs, as long as intellectuals fail to transgress their own borders
and limitations and start to be directly involved in the shaping of
reality there is little chance that their credibility will be restored
in the eyes of the common people. *Left-wing strategies* also
professes that "it will be possible to raise above the dominant
dispute on condition that the imagination of the masses is won." This
populism is very relevant indeed, but the strategies involved in the
realisation cannot rely solely on representation.

In a network society (copyright Manual Castells) where people connect
peer-to-peer and spontaneously denounce hierarchical power the
behaviour of people is not really defined by the ideology forged by
intellectuals but by the actual practices they encounter.
Intellectuals' behaviour may be changed by ideologies, and thus
ideologies as tools of change are not completely discounted, but their
relevance is certainly reconfigured. Perhaps it has been always like
that, but the present historical processes highlight this perspective.
Thus, in Budapest with some people we are trying to work under the
motto "implementing theory and interpreting practice". We are trying
to work on practical projects that are relevant to the everyday life
of people, setting up (infra)structures of counterpower that are both
directly helping people in their problems and serve as a propaganda of
the deed. These activities go hand-in-hand with our theoretical
efforts to understand our sociohistorical context and work out
strategies of world domination. When the Militant Research Group
writes, our arguments are underpinned by a practice of what we preach.
This is necessary for a number of reasons. On the one hand, when we
argue for our ideas we can refer to practical examples that we believe
in so much that we are exercising them. On the other hand, we do not
want to appear as mere intellectuals who want to tell other people
what to do. We believe that a lot of people already realised that
this kind of obedience is not productive and it has to be replaced by
cooperation and mutual solidarity. We work together with
intellectuals on the theoretical level and with the common people on
the practical level, both in direct action for changing our day-to-day
reality and in the formation of a common political subjectivity. We
even employ strategies that seek to deconstruct the left/right
division in political discourse in order to reach a wide number of
people. *Left-wing strategies* seem to be oblivious of these factors
and aim at the reconstruction of the role of the critical intellectual
and the resurrection of the retrograde left-wing ideologies.

----

Excursus II.

For example, we use the freeshop concept in the struggle against
exchange value. As the name suggests, a freeshop looks like a shop,
but all the goods inside are free to take, and users are encouraged to
bring in things they don't need. There is no reciprocity, in line
with Marx's famous line from the Criticism of the Gotha Program: "From
each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."
Since all consumption/contribution is voluntary, there is no control
on the flow of materials. Similar establishments operate in many
squats around Europe and there is a very successful shop in Vienna
that works in the same way, called *Kostnixladen*. Freeshops mostly
deal in clotches, but a random selection of other articles is also
traded such as books, computer parts, smaller pieces of furniture,
etc.

This is a way for people to participate in our politics without
theoretical debate, in a way which is immediately accessible for them
and which is relevant to their everyday lives. Conversely, when we
engage in theoretical debate with people about exchange value and so
on, we can refer to practical examples and everyday practices that
work in the local environment, not just abstract discussions between
intellectuals. We are also users of the freeshop and therefore we can
show personal example of our ideology, not just urging other people to
adopt the ideas that we thought out.

How does artistic production come into such a project? One problem
that we face is that many middle class people look at the freeshop
basicly as a source of lousy clothes, so that they bring in a lot of
clotches but continue to buy the ones they wear in trendy commercial
shops. Facing these challenges it seems necessary to develop the
freeshop from a structure of distribution into a structure of cultural
and material production. Since we are, after all, intellectuals who
posess cultural capital which is also a means of production, and also
activists and hackers who are willing to learn the (technical) skills
necessary for managing our everyday life in an anticapitalist way, we
just have to find the time in our precarious reality to undertake this
venture. Using submitted material we can use the techniques of
detournement, remix and sampling to re-edit clotches in a fashionable
way that communicate and educate while displaying our cultural power.
The result would not be a set of products per se, but a series of
festive workshops in which it is possible to involve people and
cooperate with them in the creation of material articles that also
carry cultural value, both which are directly exloitable in their
everydays lives. Of course, this is no more than the old recipee of
countercultural production, through the craft of fashion which has
always possessed this combination of usefulness and cultural power.

Insitutional criticism should be exchanged for the creation, operation
and extension of counter-institions, in the same way as the
Independent Media Centres (incorporated in the Indymedia network)
proclaimed: "Don't hate the media, be the media!"

----

While *Krytyka Polityczna* may serve as a critical powerhouse of works
and ideas, the digital underground have long since invented a practice
beyond critique, focusing on building counterpower in a rhyzomatic
structure that is both up-to-date by being a diverse networked process
and powerful by maintaining a strategic profile and a political
position. The social practice of hacklabs with its collaborative
processes of production and the unmodulated flow of creativity as well
as its political context serves as a model for the description of many
other phenomena. To give an actual example, the *Hive Networks*
initiative succeeds to operate a more or less continual process of
production which happens in a strategic context without loosing
relevance to the everyday life of the people. Combining collective
intelligence and individual desires, Hives have direct impact on the
social strata, bringing a gift of good life to the receivers, while,
in the same gesture, they are contributions to local insurgent
infrastructure building efforts and global technological innovation.

*Hive Networks* is probably the most sophisticated initiative on the
wireless art scene. It combines artistic practices with what they
call a "Trojan horse strategy". A *HiveWare* is a device based on a
wireless router that serves a special purpose. The *Hive Network*
project follows the Unix philosophy of using distinct tools for
distinct purposes, which requires each tool to do only a single thing,
but do it very well. This is even more appropriate for a project that
works with routers whose computing powers are comparable to the first
PCs from twenty years ago. In practice, this means that rather than
developing multifunctional multimedia towers the artists focus on
making simple machines like a wireless file server, an Internet radio
receiver, a video streamer or an information booth about local
activities. These are seen as useful gifts to precise people who can
use these very gadgets in their lifes in a meaningful way. For
example, your grandmother can listen to your Internet radio show every
Sunday afternoon, without having to know about the Internet or
computers, or owning the traditional hardware and connection (her
neighbour can easily be persuaded to share some bandwith for her a few
hours a week used only for this very purpose). The Trojan strategy
lies in the fact that these devices use a mesh technology that make
them a node in the network. Therefore, by giving such a gift to your
grandmother you contribute to the building of the wireless mesh
infrastructure in the city -- all by way of a side effect. Thus, the
contributions of software and hardware as well as network development
coming out of the *Hive Networks* are advancing civil/technopolitical
goals along their artistic aspirations. Through this strategy they
are able to involve a wide range of potential partners and resources,
as well as creating an intelligent context for network building that
civic intiatives often lack.

Another feature of the computer art scene that the ongoing work in
*Okno* new media salon demonstrates is the focus on collaboration. As
much as network art is about connecting computers it is about
connecting people. Currently, the Brussels based laboratory brings
together people every couple of weeks in a series of 'process oriented
workshops' where participants cooperate freely to work on a topic of
common interest, improving the technology and improvising its artistic
potential. The workshop series has a single direction: creating
intelligent autonomous mesh nodes which produce their own electricity,
form a network in a horizontal way, and interact with their
environment through various kinds of sensors and controllers. There
is already a community mesh network deployed in the city by *Reseau
Citoyen*, which is however seldom used for any practical purpose
whatsoever. Therefore, the strategic context of working around these
topics in the lab is improving and using the local citizen-powered
network infrastructure. Free information infrastructures are
essential in developing a radical democracy from below, and thus this
work is highly political (art) work without explicit and direct
political content.

These examples open a new conceptual space, or rather a perspective or
position from which it is possible to see and go beyond political art
as it is theorised by Ranciere. Even if his description is
historically accurate, the so-called contemporary future that has been
essentially there since the 60s evades these categories. There are at
least three ways in which these activities resist and maybe hide from
the categories explicated above:

1. content vs. context
2. antagonism vs. constitutive element
3. collective production vs. personality cult

**Firstly**, oftentimes they are not political in their *content*, and
sometimes even the form/content dichotomy escapes them. Their
political significance can be plummeted by looking at their *context*,
the way in which they interact with society and their direct impact on
the social strata, be that telecommunication practices or social
networks. This aspect is familiar from, and in fact highlights a
family relationship to the classic avantgarde, where artistic activity
was closely tied to the social movements and the political history of
the moment. While the configuration of the link between work and
context follows an entirely different protocoll, there are substantive
similarities. For example, the artistic output of Dziga Vertov cannot
be understood without the socio-political history of the October
revolution and the development of state capitalism, which was not only
the background but the actual strategic context in which the filmmaker
operated. In the same way, the rise (and fall) of the Indymedia
network is an organic part of the cycle of the struggles misnamed as
the antiglobalisation movement. Avantgardists did not 'thematise'
abstract categories to raise questions about their validity, but
seeked to achieve specific effects in a given social context. More
precisely, they aimed to *change* the political context in which they
worked -- because this is the real stake of all political activity.

**Secondly**, even if the social aspect is considered, the reflex --
rightly based on the main thrust of art history -- is to theorise
artistic production as a representation of social conflict or class
interest, or in rare cases as the real manifestation of these
struggles. In the cases presented above these layers are present, but
under an additional tendency which is as often overlooked as it is
important, in fact more essential than the others, being that these
initiatives are the actual production of the means of production in a
way that the restulting productive forces are always already
appropriated. This is a sabotage of the artistic process which --
according to its bourgoise concept -- does not result in anything
useful, especially not in a tool. More importantly, however, this
production **cannot be grasped with the unmediated terms of
antagonism, because it is first constructive, and only then
antagonistic**. As long as political antagonism is tied to direct
conflict there is no way to conceptualise these strategies, which are
however as important as the organisation of the supply lines behind
the frontline and the frontline together. Luckily, there are many
alternative ways to think about social conflict. The ontological
anarchism developed by Hakim Bey puts great emphasis on the techniques
of disappearance as techniques of resistance, and also the contruction
of autonomous zones where antagonist subjectivities can exercise their
productive forces (creativity) without having to brake through the
barriers layed out by their antagonists all the time. The concept of
**dual power** formulated by Lenin in his more horisontal period is
one of the most important terms which can be used in this context. It
refers to a strategy of seizing power by building an alternative
society inside the hegemonic one and provoking the eventual
confrontation between the old and the new in this way rather than by
way of participation or frontal offensive. The same concept -- also
with Marx's more general idea of the counterpower -- served as the
political agenda of the autonomist movements in the 1970s, with the
establishment of the squats and later the independent media movement.
These are not 'alternative' processes in the sense that they do have a
confrontative character, but their constitutive elements are primary.
The constitution of political subjectivities as an aspect of artistic
production is somewhat established in the metadiscourse on political
art, but if the phenomenon leaves the safe haven of identities and
representational discourses it moves into a theretical blind spot.

**Thirdly**, also because these practices are not or cannot be
isolated from a popular movement or from the everyday life of people,
there is a strong collective element in the production process that
makes it difficult for these activities to fit into the mainstream
artistic discourse which is very much dominated by the *personality
cult* of the genius. These collective practices also emphasise
process over product, which does not mean that they are not
result-oriented; but that the sometimes the result is the development
of something that is already there, or simply the change in the
configuration of the political context. Also networked production
like free software development is hard to grasp because the technology
is often developed in an accidental manner by diverse entities from
invididuals to temporary informal groups to corporations, combining
existing code and tools to achieve something unique. Moreover, even
uniqueness is challanged when the primary goal is merely to extend an
existing structure or to reproduce something at another location, and
innovation is secondary in that it is merely needed to overcome the
particular difficulties of the local context, so that innovation comes
into the process by way of a detour. To sum up, various concepts that
serve as the cornerstones of the art discourse are eroded by
collective practices, such as authorship, identity, originality, or
the product, the signature and the exhibition. The problems are
spilling out to the art market, the gallery and the museum, but these
aspects are not addressed here.

These are the features of an artistic practice emerging from the
digital struggles which can maybe called network art, referring to its
products as well as its practices (the technological and social
aspect). However, it is also possible that these developments seem so
elusive simply because they are not really art, and that's why they
escape the descriptions that usually fit art things. Many surely do,
and many never professed themselves to be artistic activity. Having
said that, there are genuine arguments for keeping some of this
creative production in the art terrain -- again, for strategic
reasons. Revolutionary movements always had a tactical advantage on
the art terrain. The three revolutionary tendencies of art at this
point in history, seen from the point of view of autonomous
initiatives are the following:

1. Respect amongst the bourgoise.
2. Institutional infrastructure.
3. Theoretically defended conceptual vagueness.

**Firstly**, despite all moral panic and the abhorrent repression of
artists by contemporary Polish politicians, art has a reputation
amongst the bourgoise which means that even direct political agitation
is generally tolerated. This is a characteristic advantage,
especially in times of the 'war against terror' and various techniques
of political censorship and repression that come bundled with
neoliberal hegemony. The effect may have something to do with the
dichotomy of private and public which structures the discourse on
control.

**Secondly**, the respect amongst the bourgoise nurtures an
institutional infrastructure with a set of funding sources, real
estate for various purposes, associations for production and
edcutation, propaganda channels, etc. Basically the art establishment
provides a lot of things that a traditional party needs. Therefore,
it often serves well as the covert support structure of the
extraparlamentary left.

**Thirdly**, the theoretically defended conceptual vagueness provides
for the almost infinite variety of activities accepted and supported
as art work. Since most people do not know what is art, and those who
claim otherwise have a wide range of ideas on the subject, including
the notion of a historical development that leaves ample space for
innovation, it is rarely possible to categorically expel an act from
the art terrain. Even the persona non grata of risk society, the
terrorist has been credited in contributin to art history by some
theoreticians.

----

Excursus III.

The late Centrum Group, a squatter collective in Budapest organised an
exhibition at a local festival entitles "How to get into an empty
house". The exhibition comprised of photo documentation of several
empty houses and their security systems, the title of the images being
advises on how to brake them with references to the installation part
-- various heavy tools like wire cutter and flex were suspended near
the pictures. The exhibiton occupied one room in the festival hall
and was accompanied by guerilla propaganda workshop, screenings and
music. As far as I know this was the only 'official' event the
collective organised. The idea was that we have to buy some
professional equipment for the next action, and raise the money
through the NGO which organised the festival, incorporating the tools
into the exhibition and the budget. The scheme worked out perfectly,
and we later used the gears successfully in the open and occupy some
other houses. Nobody really thought about it as art: what happened is
that we exploited the revolutionary potentials of art outlined above.
It was in a way the destruction of art for the sake of business, going
beyond engaged art -- rather the end of art and the beginning of
politics, than any kind of political art.

----

However, if one contrasts the concept of "art with consequences" -- or
even the social practice of the netart / new media / hacker scene --
with classical avantgarde attitude, especially Dziga Vertov who wanted
to create an evolutionary leap in human consciousness and society as
well as a novel political subjectivity, the former approach still
appears somewhat feeble. **Vertov's focus on cyborg ontology,
database production, open and transparent processes informs a
contemporary consciousness that is both powerful and up-to-date.** Lev
Manovich based his groundbraking book, `The Language of New Media`,
mainly on this idea, but he (appropriately) constrained his
interpretation solely on the consequences related to the computer
interface.

Vertov and his creative team used the camera and the editing pad as
the extension of human capabilities both in terms of sensibility
(information gathering) and thought (information processing) in order
to contribute to the communist transformation of society and
individuals in an anthropological perspective. Their approach is
exemplary because on the one hand it defines the concept of new media
and on the other hand it situaties technological development in a
progressive social(ist) perspective. Although their output was
limited to audiovisual material and theoretical texts, their
development of the Kino Pravda is an example of creating alternative
structures that answer to immediate needs finding creative solutions.

Vertov saw himself as a cyborg on a mission, a self-assembling
machine, an assemblage composed of eye, camera, scissor and projector,
etc. "I am the machine that reveals the world to you as only I alone
am able to see it." But how does a vision (in the double sense of the
word) inspired by Vertov answers the challenges outlined above: the
formulation of a political art that has direct impact on the social
strata and which operates effectively in the contemporary social
context?

Firstly, it goes beyond institutional criticism by setting up
counterstructures. The news crews of Kino Eye are a model for this,
and perhaps the creative practice of freeshops or even the REDakcja
combined art space set up by Krytyka Polityczna. Secondly, it answers
to the techosocial state of affairs by using novel distribution
techniques and the latest machines. Krytyka Polityczna merely
attempts to use the traditional artistic devices in a new way. Artur
?mijewski states that "today, the camera is the artist's best friend."
However, today Vertov would rather be a VJ, an Indymedia activist or a
new media artist than a film maker. He would spend most of his time
gathering and re-structuring submitted material and organising a
movement inspired by the slogan of the Peoples' Global Action network:
"We are everywhere." Thirdly, Vertov's efforts concerned themselves
with current affairs as well as the everyday life of common people
while being informed by a strong political stance reinforced by the
concept of an anthropological tranformation. This combination of the
actual and the conceptual, the micro and macro is necessary for a
powerful and effective creative political activity.

----

Excursus IV.

The above ideas reach their synthesis in the mesh network
visualisation efforts I have been working on from time to time during
the last year and the present. Mesh networks are a form of
communicational counterpower infrastructure formed by user managed
routers -- connecting machines and people in a horizontal way. The
mesh routing algorithms that power these routers (finding out the best
way for the packets of information to travel from source to
destination through the nodes of the network) are mathematical models
of horizontal organisation and decision making that can be
conceptualised as abstract proofs of the effective operation of a
self-managed and self-organised society. Conversely, the loose
associations of users operating these nodes without taking binding
decisions about the configuration and proliferation of the initiative
or the management of shared resources are examples of a Negrian way of
communism where the actions of the common subjectivity emerge through
mutual communication and solidarity rather than any formal decision
making process. All members are free to configure their routers as
they wish, utilising their own resources to serve their individual
purposes and experiment through the exercising of their
creative-productive forces, but since they are only part of an
assemblage that creates a Deleuzian machine, they risk cutting
themselves off from the rest of the network. The man-router machine
is only a node in the virtual-potential mesh network and if the inputs
and outputs with other nodes don't click, the machine is rendered
useless.

Mesh networks are used for as many purposes as the Internet, modulated
by their local rather than global nature, which prioratises the
establisment of local services, high-fidelity broadcasts and artistic
or engineering experiments that are unexpected in the context of a
crystallised global network like the Internet focusing on performance
and controlled by states, corporations, etc. In their
historical-strategic perspective community mesh networks is a global
movement of creating essential communication infrastructure from
above, one that could one day replace the Internet with a system based
on free participation rather than the commercial access of services
through ISP companies. In many respects and in many locations
worldwide this is already reality and everyday practice, the
establishment of communicational autonomy. The World Summit on Free
Information Infrastructures facilitates this process.

Similarly to most political and cultural currents, the success of the
mesh networking initiative depends on its ability to become a mass
phenomenon. Thus, propaganda is a key issue which is scarcely
addressed properly in the circles of network engineering enthusiasts.
The key problem is that the network is essentially invisible: the
medium of communication is the very air we breath, or more precisely
the waves of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is therefore a mission
critical task to create an image of the network that is perceivable
and conceivable by the common people: **to make visible the
invisible**. At this point we are back to the very question Vertov
has been struggling with: how to put together the image of the
machine, the machine that is at once technical and social. This is a
moment when ways of vision become problems of social transformation.

In order to bring about a different (bottom-up) organisation of
productive forces, the invention of a new vision is needed. Vision
that is capable to grasp the mathematics of mesh routing and the
movement of the electromagnetic spectrum -- in the sense that Vertov
needed the movie camera to record the tranformation of communist
society and the transfiguration of the proletar:

"Our eyes see very little and very badly - so people dreamed up the
microscope to let them see invisible phenomena; they invented the
telescope... now they have perfected the cinecamera to penetrate more
deeply into he visible world, to explore and record visual phenomena
so that what is happening now, which will have to be taken account of
in the future, is not forgotten."

Interestingly, the very routers that form the mesh network are also
the machines that have the image of the network in their circuits --
the inscription process is part of the productive process. Therefore,
all that is needed is the extraction of these numbers and the
orchestration and restoration of their harmony. My movie camera is
the router and my editing pad is the computer. Deleuze rightly
described Vertov's images as the result of a materialistic, objective
vision which has a gaseous quality, in terms of not being attached to
a single viewpoint nor to an organism. Now, a mesh network of routers
dispersed over an nomadic territorry, mapping out rhyzomatic routes
between unstable nodes is exactly the realisation of this vision,
especially if we do the number-crunching and the aesthetic engineering
to turn mathematic processes of electricity and thin air into a work
which lends itself directly to the human senses.

Moreover, after the spacial dimension is mapped the temporal dimension
opens up as in the same movement: the resulting product does not have
to be a memory to retain (although it may have memory), but a an
easthetic-diagnostic instrument that produces the image of the network
in real time. The image of a horizontal distribution of power, an
image of a truly democratic society embodied in a networked machine
formed by the assemblage of humans and physical devices glued together
in a common locality and by the very air that fills it.

maxigas,

2008 March,

Budapest Maribor Ljubljana Trieste Milano Budapest and on the way
between these geographic nodes.

.. [#] The three focus points of the politics of Gyurcs?ny Ferenc
Hungarian Prime Minister in 2008, as I learned from the
television, through which he spoke to me -- the first time ever
we agreed!





 

 


 

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