Thursday, June 19, 2008

Between Agitation and Animation: Activism and Participation in Twentieth Century Art, Stella Rollig

"Down with art that aspires to be nothing more than a spot of beauty on the ugly lives of the rich. Down with art that tries to be a glittering stone in the merciless and dirty lives of the poor. Down with art whose sole purpose is to escape a life not worth living. Work for life and not for palaces, cathedrals, cemeteries and museums. Work in the midst of all and with everyone."
Alexander Rodtschenko, Slogans, 1920/21

If one is involved with art history, then the dominant theme of the nineties - the saga of radical change along with paradigm change - seems to be less radical New Art and more about refocusing on the determination of that which counts as contemporary and relevant. In fact, what is happening is an updating of the discourses and practices with which artists were involved during the entire twentieth century.

At the beginning stands the project of modernism: committed to the spirit of the enlightenment, progress-oriented, optimistic and justice-conscious. A pre-view was already staged in one of the century's first theatre plays, Chekhov's "Three Sisters," written in 1900 and premiered in spring of 1901. Even these unhappy figures, who with their rudimentary education are cut off from all intellectual discourse in their empty provincial Russian nest, still feel the utopia of the turn of the century. In the future, happy people will exist who will no longer be able to imagine how miserably those - from today's perspective pre-modern - people, lived.

When the Revolution transformed Czarist Russia into the Soviet Republic in 1917, artists were heavily involved in designing the new society. Lenin himself repeatedly referred to the significance of their role.
In their central demands, the constructivists followed the same objectives as the entire European avant-garde after World War I: to unite art and life and to break from the indifferent autonomy of the nineteenth century's bourgeois salon art.

However, different countries and movements have attached different significance to the impulses for this break and have connected it to diverse political, social, institutional-critical or individualist demands.
To clarify: Even the Italian futurist's project was a political one, although it was tied to a deep-seated elitism, nationalism and fascism. Even the futurists were calling art back into life. In the Futurist Manifesto of 1909 there is a statement similar to Rodtschenko's: "We want to destroy the museums." Yet Marinetti also goes on to state: "We want to praise militarism, patriotism and war, the only hygiene of the world." The individual exists here merely as the man at the steering wheel; the masses are cast as extras in the stage light of glorious industrialization.

The futurists are often put forward as counter examples when art as social intervention is defined as primarily a project of the left. The futurists, however, were not concerned with actual human standards of living. Umberto Boccioni wrote in 1910, in a manifesto that follows along with Marinetti: "Human suffering interests us to the same degree as the suffering of an electric light bulb, whose trembling ends with a heart-thumping screech of color."

The critical, emancipative and enlightening claim that we identify with art as social intervention leads to its assessment as a leftist project. But what is leftist? The Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio published an essay in 1994 with the subtitle "right and left." In it, he describes the twin concepts as necessities ever after the end of state communism in Europe, at a time of economic interests' unchallenged priority over political course setting. Bobbio comes to the conclusion that it is in no way obsolete to associate the left with freedom, equality and fraternity.

Of course, also in leftist theory, the claim to social shaping through art is controversial. In the philosophy of the Frankfurter Schule there are clearly divergent views. On one hand it is obvious that there is no pure consciousness and no consciousness outside of economically determined power structures. It is still, however, remarkable that in the context of the authority-critical and trial-like art of the nineties, also projects, actions, texts and other non-object forms have long serviced their own markets. Similarly, often our own ideological character is the blind spot overlooked in the process of ideological critique.

Theodor W. Adorno assumed that art in the age of the mass media and culture industry would dissolve into a popular culture that is understandable and accessible to the masses and into a thin, mysterious and retreating avant-garde, whose hermeneutics and elitism it would defend as a reservoir of resistance. In this, he denies the possibility of an emancipative-participatory practice of art which transverses art.

Herbert Marcuse, on the other hand, sees particularly in this marginality and peripheral position of art its affirmative character - as a demarcated zone in which societal problems and neuroses can be acted out without consequences. - Once again, nothing effectuating social change. Jürgen Habermas speaks of a "false revocation of the separation of art and life," in which he meets Marcuse's "repressive de-sublimation," which means the loosening of social coercion for the purpose of better economic and institutional control.

That many of the Frankfurter Schule's ideas no longer apply in the current context has to do with the changes of the media, power structures, the creation of more and more partial audiences and forms of information and communication. The kind of problem that artists of the left must confront, for example, is culturalization - the transposing of virulent conflicts into art events. What do events such as "Film Day Against Racism" or "Anti-Xenophobia Clubbing" mean?

For Norberto Bobbio, the concept of equality is central to a contemporary leftist worldview. Art's connection to leftist guiding principles can take place on various levels. For one, in the message formulated by a work: famous historical examples are George Grosz' brutal portraits of capitalists or the worker-frescos of Diego Rivera. However, the effort to make the art business less elitist is also leftist, as was attempted for example by the "Art Workers Coalition" in New York after 1969, when it took up opposition to the white-herrscher attitude of the Museum of Modern Art. Or collaboration between artists and non-artists.
In the countless manifestos of the Russian constructivists, equality is formulated as solidarity among artists, architects and writers together with workers and farmers. The professed commonality however, besides being a very generously described aim of communist society, remains unclear.

In 1920, Tatlin announced the program of the "Productivists' Group," in which he turns against the increasing individualism of the constructivists. And in 1923, the Magazine LEF (Left Art Front), founded by Wladimir Majakowski warned: "Constructivists! Beware of degenerating into a school of aesthetics.... Production artists! Beware of becoming artisans for the applied arts. Learn from the workers while you are teaching them. Your school is the factory."
Popular art history reduced Russian constructivism to Malewitsch's "Black Square," perhaps also including Tatlin's "Tower"-design. Rodtschenko is marketed today as a photographer and Warwara Stepanowa's worker's clothing is shown at art and fashion shows next to Elsa Schiaparelli. And the term "Production Art" is rarely ever used today in the sense of an interaction between artists and industrial workers on equal levels.

The problem that resurfaced toward the end of the nineties was also not solvable at the beginning of left art: equality among artists and non-artists in projects conceived of and carried out by artists remains a fiction. Alexander Rodtschenko and Warwara Stepanowa, unlike other constructivists, consciously give up painting; yet even these production artists finally see themselves as teachers and graphic designers who work for and not with the population. Their pedagogic idealism is to be seen in the image-language which they and others, among them Majakowski, developed for the illiterate and which is used as political propaganda as well as for advertising.

In the equal positioning of the fine and the applied arts, the Russian revolutionary artists are related to art producers of the nineties. With one difference: If an artist, for example a woman artist, creates graphic art today, then that is most probably for a catalogue, flyer, brochure or other means of communication within the art industry. The kind of worker's association that Rodtschenko developed in 1925, the Club for Cultural Workers, corresponds today to the "Depot - Art and Discussion" in Vienna which was set up in 1994 by the artist Josef Dabernig.

In the European/US-American writing of art history, constructivism is seen as a formal-ism among other -isms. However, in the space of time from the turn of the century until Soviet isolation under Stalin (Lenin died in 1924) there had been a flourishing exchange of political ideas between Russian and German artists. The manifesto, for example, of the German "November-Gruppe," founded after the failed revolution in November 1918, was influenced by the Russians. Their guidelines, published in 1919, could have been taken from the New York "Art Workers Coalition's" 1969 manifesto and are also consistent with current demands:

"We want a voice and an active roll in:
All architectural projects as a matter of general interest: in city planning, in new developments, in public administration buildings, industry, social constructions, in private building projects...
The reorganization of art academies and their curricula, ...the selection of teachers by artists' associations together with the students...
The transformation of museums: eliminating prejudice from collection policies, putting a stop to the purchasing of objects which are only valuable to scholars... the transformation of museums into art centers for the general public...
Accessibility of art halls: eliminating privileges and halting the influence of privilege and capitalism...
Legislation in artists' affairs: rights for artists as inventors of ideas, protection of artists' ownership, doing away with all taxes on art works."

Not long thereafter, the "November-Gruppe" was attacked by "Opponents of the November-Gruppe" for being false revolutionaries. Today, their challengers are more prominent: Otto Dix, George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch. And with this it was possible to move on to dada: to the dada movement which of course can only be understood with a much more anarchist political concept than constructivism, which dada associated mainly with the rejection of the bourgeoisie.

The ideology of constructivism had already begun to fade in the inter-war period. As of the late twenties, three concepts became the three main coordinates of art: abstraction, realism and surrealism.

Popular art historical works are picture books. Since art, through to the present, has for the most part produced images and objects, its content continues to be falsified through the convention of illustration. Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes and Roy Lichtenstein's paintings of typeset copies are reproduced in art books' chapter on the sixties. What is not shown? For example the neighborhood projects that Stephen Willats has carried out since the mid-sixties with tenants of English housing developments in which he examines, together with them, their living conditions.

The picture book as form of mediation is the side effect of an art system whose core functions through tradable goods. All major institutions within this system need an art that is transmittable through individual objects: the museums, art halls, auction houses, galleries, the accompanying magazine, etc. As soon as artists produce something other than transportable and representable objects or installations, they fall out of art historic mediation and canonization. Their visibility and with it the extent of their effectiveness is limited.

Only recently has the historical phase of concept art been dealt with by museums - the exhibition "Reconsidering the Object of Art" on the period 1965 - 1975 took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1996. In 1997 Catherine David designed a documenta with a conceptual-political focus. Yet the transmission of the history of ideas is always insufficient. Why is Jeff Koons known but not Dan Graham; why is Anselm Kiefer a star while no one has ever heard of Robert Smithson?

A history of activism and participation in twentieth century art: an 'other' art history with a focus on participatory interventions with critical-emancipative intention. It is clear that the constructivists and productivists can only be credited as pre-participatory art, after which they must form the base for such a story.

Why is it at all necessary to rewrite art history? Must the established canon be changed?

Shedding a new light on the historical bases and writing critical artistic practices into art history: only on this basis can art history carry weight and find a new, sustainable definition. Without this historical consciousness, it remains possible to attack socially and politically motivated art, by which authority is legitimated by turning back to an aesthetically oriented art history. In autumn of 1998 in Austria, one such attack was made by the former dean of the Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst. Art's capabilities consist, Rudolf Burger wrote, "only of sensually sympathizing with individual problem moments, of symbolic or allegorical illustration, and this only in retrospect." Everything else is deemed nonsense. Or non-art.

Between agitation and animation. Activism and participation in twentieth century art:
The Duden dictionary for German foreign words and phrases explains agitation as a compelling advertisement for certain political views, animation as invigoration and excitement, activism as the emphasis of purposeful behavior and participation as (temporary) involvement.
Like agitation, activism is usually based on some pre-formulated, mostly politically defined goal, while participation claims to be nothing more than someone playing a role in some process, some event, some business that could also be at a profit or loss in an economic sense. Participatory practices in art are developed fundamentally as a result of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Whatever artists are dissatisfied with is followed by a characteristic offering of participation and enabling the participants a degree of self-determination. Participation can be based on the equality of rights and competencies and can be distributed in the sense of the allocation of social capital (knowledge, skills) to real or presumed underprivileged groups. Or animation: whereas animation - in an entertainment-oriented Club Med style, in which artists guide free-time activities - is a somewhat crude description for art projects. Art's recent 'festivalization' has offered us a number of such spectacles.

After World War II, a participatory concept of art found further development, above all in interdisciplinary collaborations.
At Black Mountain College in North Carolina, USA, the painter Robert Rauschenberg, the musician John Cage and the choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham, among others, met each other. They developed - partly together and partly individually - works with participatory approaches. In 1952 Cage composed "4' 33''", a piece which consisted only of sounds from the concert hall. The same year, Rauschenberg painted his "White Paintings," whose integral component is the shadow of the observer. In both works, the audience was quasi instrumentalized and not individually active. That may appear insufficient by today's standards, yet historically it was a preliminary step. These examples are also interesting for a more precise definition. Without an audience, neither "4' 33''" nor "White Paintings" can exist at all, exist completely or make any sense. The extent of audience participation in projects is a question that has been very current in Austria since the early nineties. When does an artwork become an artwork? Was it when the artist Christine Hill opened her second-hand boutique - as she did in Berlin and then at the documenta X - or was it when someone first bought an article of clothing there? In any case, Hill does not define her "Volksboutique" as an installation but as a realm for social communication.

Even fluxus events and happenings were oriented on participation, yet the amount of audience participation followed lines that had been predetermined by the artist. As a result, participation sometimes meant touching the art objects and rearranging them. The German Franz Erhard Walther displays objects, often textiles with choreographic instructions - which is related to Franz West's concept of sculpture in which significance is first given by handling the objects.

This concept of participation does not of course necessarily open up a social realm.
In the sixties, the emancipation movement made an immediate dynamic impact on art. In North America, above all in the USA, the civil rights movement influenced the art scene decisively: the women's movement, the protests against the war on Vietnam, the struggle for the rights of ethnic minorities, black power. Grassroots organizations were formed, citizens organized. In 1969 artists founded the "Art Workers Coalition" after a conflict with the Museum of Modern Art. Soon the coalition organized protests and events on museum policies, the representation of women and persons of color in the art world, the neglect of the socially disadvantaged in terms of cultural offerings and last but not least, also against the Vietnam war. These actions were however not declared to be art works. The members - among them Nancy Spero and Leon Golub, Carl Andre, Robert Morris and Lucy Lippard - also carried out their work individually. At the same time, Vito Acconci was staging participatory actions with underlying political content. He spent every night for four weeks in spring 1971 on a lonely pier on the Hudson and invited the public to visit him between one and two in the morning when he would then tell them a secret. The visitor became an ally, at the mercy of the artist.

One consequence of the emancipation movement was in the cultural field of integration with less privileged groups. They were encouraged to formulate their own ideas and to find their own cultural expression. "Giving a voice" is the corresponding parole. In 1978 in a slum in South Bronx, the artist Stefan Eins founded his art studio "Fashion Moda," which became a cultural pressure cooker in which graffiti, rap, popular culture and high art were all steamed together.

Numerous related projects and initiatives can be cited: in the beginning of the eighties, the "Group Material" from the store gallery on the Lower Eastside or Tim Rollins and his collaboration with the black ghetto youths under the label "K.O.S." (Kids of Survival). In the mid-eighties, the social pressure under conservative Reagonomics and the tragedy of the Aids epidemic politically remobilized the US art scene. With "ACT UP," the "Aids Coalition to Unleash Power," artists, cultural workers and other activists worked together on strategies against the repression of the Aids crisis by the government and the increasing hysterical homophobia and art-xenophobia among politicians. "Art is not enough," proclaimed the artist-activist collective "Gran Fury."

Art or not art - in the urgency of activism, these questions were the last to be asked and would first resurface when Aids activists' propaganda posters turned up in museums.

The dominant figure of the art-politics-participation debate in Germany never doubted the status of art. With Joseph Beuys, everything was art: from his enigmatic objects to his candidacy for the Green party, from his autistic-seeming performances to the founding of the "Freien Internationalen Hochschule für Kreativität und interdisziplinäre Forschung" ("Free International School for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research") in 1974.

Art - art concepts - political practice: When is something considered art? When is it accepted and by whom? In the New Genre Public Art, or art in the public interest, as it has been practiced in collaboration with representatives of special audiences and interest groups since the eighties in the USA, the insistence on the status of art is tied to the claim of a struggle. This is also true of the seemingly endless applications of art practices in the nineties in Europe, where everything, from a charitable measure to a party, from a lecture to an interview, can be defined as art.

Since February 2000, or since the right wing, national-populist government took office in Austria, artists have played a significant role in the resistance. Interestingly, the status of art in these projects and initiatives is not even an issue.
Is it necessary to draw the conclusion that political practice by artists is only considered art when it's about nothing serious? Even within a progressive scene, the absence of a sense of history has its drawbacks. What was initially called the re-politicization of art in the nineties was rejected by various sources as a fading trend at the end of the decade - not only for conspicuously conservative reasons. The demand for an 'other' art history is also directed against this.

Further literature in:
Charles Harrison & Paul Wood (ed.): "Art in Theory. An Anthology of Changing Ideas" (Oxford/UK, Cambridge/USA 1992, 1993)
Norberto Bobbio: "Rechts und Links. Gründe und Bedeutungen einer politischen Unterscheidung" (Berlin, 1994)

Above copied from:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE: 'Post-Digital' Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music, Kim Cascone

"The digital revolution is over." Nicholas Negroponte (1998)

Over the past decade, the Internet has helped spawn a new movement in digital music. It is not academically based, and for the most part the composers involved are self-taught. Music journalists occupy themselves inventing names for it, and some have already taken root: glitch, microwave, DSP, sinecore, and microscopic music. These names evolved through a collection of decon-structive audio and visual techniques that allow artists to work beneath the previously impen-etrable veil of digital media. The Negroponte epi-graph above inspired me to refer to this emergent genre as ‘post-digital' because the revolutionary period of the digital information age has surely passed. The tendrils of digital technology have in some way touched everyone. With electronic com-merce now a natural part of the business fabric of the Western world and Hollywood cranking out digital fluff by the gigabyte, the medium of digital technology holds less fascination for composers in and of itself. In this article, I will emphasize that the medium is no longer the message; rather, specific tools themselves have become the message.

The Internet was originally created to accelerate the exchange of ideas and development of research between academic centers, so it is perhaps no sur-prise that it is responsible for helping give birth to new trends in computer music outside the con-fines of academic think tanks. A non-academic composer can search the Internet for tutorials and papers on any given aspect of computer music to obtain a good, basic understanding of it. University computer music centers breed developers whose tools are shuttled around the Internet and used to develop new music outside the university.

Unfortunately, cultural exchange between non-academic artists and research centers has been lacking. The post-digital music that Max, SMS, AudioSculpt, PD, and other such tools make pos-sible rarely makes it back to the ivory towers, yet these non-academic composers anxiously await new tools to make their way onto a multitude of Web sites. Even in the commercial software industry, the marketing departments of most audio software companies have not yet fully grasped the post-digi-tal aesthetic; as a result, the more unusual tools emanate from developers who use their academic training to respond to personal creative needs.

This article is an attempt to provide feedback to both academic and commercial music software de-velopers by showing how current DSP tools are be-ing used by post-digital composers, affecting both the form and content of contemporary ‘non-academic' electronic music.

"It is failure that guides evolution; perfection offers no incentive for improvement." Colson Whitehead (1999)

The ‘post-digital' aesthetic was developed in part as a result of the immersive experience of working in environments suffused with digital technology: computer fans whirring, laser printers churning out documents, the sonification of user-interfaces, and the muffled noise of hard drives. But more spe-cifically, it is from the ‘failure' of digital technol-ogy that this new work has emerged: glitches, bugs, application errors, system crashes, clipping, aliasing, distortion, quantization noise, and even the noise floor of computer sound cards are the raw materials composers seek to incorporate into their music.

While technological failure is often controlled and suppressed - its effects buried beneath the threshold of perception - most audio tools can zoom in on the errors, allowing composers to make them the focus of their work. Indeed, ‘failure' has become a prominent aesthetic in many of the arts in the late 20th century, reminding us that our control of technology is an illusion, and revealing digital tools to be only as perfect, precise, and effi-cient as the humans who build them. New techniques are often discovered by accident or by the failure of an intended technique or experiment.

"I would only observe that in most high-profile gigs, failure tends to be far more interesting to the audience than success." - David Zicarelli (1999)

There are many types of digital audio ‘failure.' Sometimes, it results in horrible noise, while other times it can produce wondrous tapestries of sound. (To more adventurous ears, these are quite often the same.) When the German sound experimenters known as Oval started creating music in the early 1990s by painting small images on the underside of CDs to make them skip, they were using an aspect of ‘failure' in their work that revealed a subtextual layer embedded in the compact disc.

Oval's investigation of ‘failure' is not new. Much work had previously been done in this area such as the optical soundtrack work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Fischinger, as well as the vinyl record manipulations of John Cage and Christian Marclay, to name a few. What is new is that ideas now travel at the speed of light and can spawn entire musical genres in a relatively short period of time.

> Back to the Future

Poets, painters, and composers sometimes walk a fine line between madness and genius, and throughout the ages they have used ‘devices' such as absinthe, narcotics, or mystical states to help make the jump from merely expanding their perceptual boundaries to hoisting themselves into territories beyond these boundaries. This trend to seek out and explore new territories led to much experimentation in the arts in the early part of the 20th century.

When artists of the early 20th century turned their senses to the world created by industrial progress, they were forced to focus on the new and changing landscape of what was considered ‘background.'

"I now note that ordinarily I am concerned with, focus my attention upon, things or ‘objects,' the words on the page. But I now note that these are always situated within what begins to appear to me as a widening field which ordinarily is a background from which the ‘object' or thing stands out. I now find by a purposeful act of attention that I may turn to the field as field, and in the case of vision I soon also discern that the field has a kind of boundary or limit, a horizon. This horizon always tends to ‘escape' me when I try to get at it; it ‘withdraws' always on the extreme fringe of the visual field. It retains a certain essentially enigmatic character." - Don Idhe (1976)

Concepts such as ‘detritus,' ‘by-product,' and ‘background' (or ‘horizon') are important to con-sider when examining how the current post-digi-tal movement started. When visual artists first shifted their focus from foreground to background (for instance, from portraiture to landscape paint-ing), it helped to expand their perceptual bound-aries, enabling them to capture the background's enigmatic character.

The basic composition of ‘background' is com-prised of data we filter out to focus on our imme-diate surroundings. The data hidden in our perceptual ‘blind spot' contains worlds waiting to be explored, if we choose to shift our focus there. Today's digital technology enables artists to explore new territories for content by capturing and examining the area beyond the boundary of ‘normal' functions and uses of software.

Although the lineage of post-digital music is com-plex, there are two important and well-known pre-cursors that helped frame its emergence: the Italian Futurist movement at the beginning of the 20th century, and John Cage's composition 4'33' (1952).

Futurism was an attempt to reinvent life as it was being reshaped by new technologies. The Italian Futurist painter Luigi Russolo was so inspired by a 1913 orchestral performance of a composition by Balilla Pratella that he wrote a manifesto, The Art of Noises, in the form of a letter to Pratella. His manifesto and subsequent experiments with intonarumori (noise intoners), which imitated urban industrial sounds, transmitted a viral message to future generations, resulting in Russolo's current status as the ‘grandfather' of contemporary ‘post-digital' music. The Futurists considered in-dustrial life a source of beauty, and for them it provided an ongoing symphony. Car engines, ma-chines, factories, telephones, and electricity had been in existence for only a short time, and the resulting din was a rich palette for the Futurists to use in their sound experiments.

"The variety of noises is infinite. If today, when we have perhaps a thousand different machines, we can distinguish a thousand different noises, tomorrow, as new machines multiply, we will be able to distinguish ten, twenty, or thirty thousand different noises, not merely in a simply imitative way, but to combine them according to our imagination." - Luigi Russolo (1913)

This was probably the first time in history that sound artists shifted their focus from the foreground of musical notes to the background of incidental sound. Russolo and Ugo Piatti - who together constructed the noise intoners - gave them descriptive names such as ‘exploders,' ‘roarers,' ‘croakers,' ‘thunderers,' ‘bursters,' ‘cracklers,' ‘buzzers,' and ‘scrapers.' Although the intonarumori themselves never found their way into much of the music in the Futurists' time, they did manage to inspire composers like Stravinsky and Ravel to incorporate some of these types of sounds into their work.

A few decades after the Futurists brought incidental noise to the foreground, John Cage would give permission to all composers to use any sound in composing music. At the 1952 debut of Cage's 4'33', David Tudor opened the piano keyboard lid and sat for the duration indicated in the title, implicitly inviting the audience to listen to back-ground sounds, only closing and reopening the lid to demarcate three movements. The idea for 4'33' was outlined in a lecture given by Cage at Vassar College in 1948, entitled ‘A Composer's Confessions.' The following year, Cage saw the white paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, and he saw in this an oppor-tunity to keep pace with painting and push the stifled boundaries of modern music. Rauschenberg's white paintings combined chance, non-intention, and ‘minimalism' in one broad stroke, where the paintings revealed the ‘changing play of light and shadow and the presence of dust' (Kahn 1999).

Rauschenberg's white paintings were a powerful catalyst that helped inspire Cage to remove all con-straints on what was considered music. Every environment could be experienced in a completely new way - as music.

Of equal importance to Cage's ‘silent piece' was his realization that there is, in fact, no such thing as ‘silence' - that, as human beings, our sensory per-ceptions occur against the background noise of our biological systems. His experience in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University prior to composing 4'33' shattered the belief that silence was obtainable and revealed that the state of ‘nothing' was a condition filled with everything we filtered out. From then on, Cage strove to incorporate this revelation into subsequent works by paying attention not only to sound objects, but also to their background.

> Snap, Crackle, Glitch

Fast-forwarding from the 1950s to the present, we skip over most of the electronic music of the 20th century, much of which has not, in my opinion, focused on expanding the ideas first explored by the Futurists and Cage. An emergent genre that consciously builds on these ideas is that which I have termed ‘post-digital,' but it shares many names, as noted in the introduction, and I will refer to it from here on out as glitch. The glitch genre arrived on the back of the electronica movement, an umbrella term for alternative, largely dance-based electronic music (including house, techno, electro, drum'n'bass, ambient) that has come into vogue in the past five years. Most of the work in this area is released on labels peripherally associated with the dance music market, and is therefore removed from the contexts of academic consideration and acceptability that it might otherwise earn. Still, in spite of this odd pairing of fashion and art music, the composers of glitch often draw their inspiration from the masters of 20th century music who they feel best describe its lineage.

> A Brief History of Glitch

At some point in the early 1990s, techno music settled into a predictable, formulaic genre serving a more or less aesthetically homogeneous market of DJs and dance music aficionados. Concomitant with this development was the rise of a periphery of DJs and producers eager to expand the music's tendrils into new areas. One can visualize techno as a large postmodern appropriation machine, as-similating cultural references, tweaking them, and then re-presenting them as tongue-in-cheek jokes. DJs, fueled with samples from thrift store pur-chases of obscure vinyl, managed to mix any source imaginable into sets played for more adventurous dance floors. Always trying to outdo one another, it was only a matter of time until DJs unearthed the history of electronic music in their archeological thrift store digs. Once the door was opened to exploring the history of electronic mu-sic, invoking its more notable composers came into vogue. A handful of DJs and composers of electronica were suddenly familiar with the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Morton Subotnick, and John Cage, and their influence helped spawn the glitch movement.

A pair of Finnish producers called Pan Sonic - then known as Panasonic, before a team of corpo-rate lawyers encouraged them to change their name - led one of the first forays into experimentation in electronica. Mika Vainio, head architect of the Pan Sonic sound, used handmade sine wave oscillators and a collection of inexpensive effect pedals and synthesizers to create a highly synthetic, minimal, ‘hard-edged' sound. Their first CD, titled Vakio, was released in the summer of 1993, and was a sonic shockwave compared to the more blissful strains of ambient-techno becoming popular at that time. The Pan Sonic sound con-jured stark, florescent, industrial landscapes; test-tones were pounded into submission until they squirted out low, throbbing drones and high-pitched stabs of sine waves. The record label Vainio founded, Sähkö Records, released material by a growing catalog of artists, most of it in the same synthetic, stripped-down, minimal vein.

As discussed earlier, the German project Oval was experimenting with CD-skipping techniques and helped to create a new tendril of glitch - one of slow-moving slabs of dense, flitting textures. Another German group, which called itself Mouse on Mars, injected this glitch aesthetic into a more danceable framework, resulting in gritty low-fidelity rhythmic layers warping in and out of one another.

From the mid-1990s forward, the glitch aesthetic appeared in various sub-genres, including drum‘n'bass, drill'n'bass, and trip-hop. Artists such as Aphex Twin, LTJ Bukem, Omni Trio, Wagon Christ, and Goldie were experimenting with all sorts of manipulation in the digital domain. Time-stretching vocals and reducing drum loops to eight bits or less were some of the first techniques used in creating artifacts and exposing them as timbral content. The more experimental side of electronica was still growing and slowly es-tablishing a vocabulary.

By the late 1990s, the glitch movement was keeping pace with the release of new features in music software, and the movement began congealing into a rudimentary form. A roster of artists was developing. Japanese producer Ryoji Ikeda was one of the first artists other than Mika Vainio to gain expo-sure for his stark, ‘bleepy' soundscapes. In contrast to Vainio, Ikeda brought a serene quality of spirituality to glitch music. His first CD, entitled +/-, was one of the first glitch releases to break new ground in the delicate use of high frequencies and short sounds that stab at listeners' ears, often leav-ing the audience with a feeling of tinnitus.

Another artist who helped bridge the gap be-tween delicate and damaging was Carsten Nicolai (who records and performs under the name Noto). Nicolai is also a co-founder of Noton/Rastermusic, a German label group that specializes in innovative digital music. In a similar fashion, Peter Rehberg, Christian Fennesz, and the sound/Net art project Farmers Manual are tightly associated with the Mego label located in Vienna. Rehberg has the distinction of having received one of only two honorary Ars Electronica awards in Digital Music for his contribution to electronic music. Over the past few years, the glitch movement has grown to encompass dozens of artists who are defining new vocabularies in digital media. Artists such as immedia, Taylor Deupree, Nobukazu Takemura, Neina, Richard Chartier, Pimmon, *0, Autopoieses, and T:un[k], to name just a few, constitute the second wave of sound hackers exploring the glitch aesthetic.

There are many artists who have not been mentioned here who contribute to pushing the boundaries of this movement. It is beyond the scope of this article to go deeply into the evolution of glitch music, but I have included a discography at the end of this article that will offer good starting points for the casual listener.

> Power Tools

Computers have become the primary tools for creating and performing electronic music, while the Internet has become a logical new distribution medium. For the first time in history, creative output and the means of its distribution have been inextricably linked. Our current sonic backgrounds have dramatically changed since 4'33' was first performed - and thus the means for navigating our sur-roundings as well. In response to the radical alteration of our hearing by the tools and technologies developed in academic computer music centers - and a distribution medium capable of shuttling tools, ideas, and music between like-minded composers and engineers - the resultant glitch movement can be seen as a natural progression in electronic music. In this new music, the tools themselves have become the instruments, and the resulting sound is born of their use in ways unintended by their designers. Commonly referred to as sound ‘mangling' or ‘crunching,' composers are now able to view music on a microscopic level. Curtis Roads coined the term microsound for all variants of granular and atomic methods of sound synthesis, and tools capable of operating at this microscopic level are able to achieve these effects. Because the tools used in this style of music embody advanced concepts of digital signal processing, their usage by glitch artists tends to be based on experimentation rather than empirical investigation. In this fashion, unintended usage has become the second permission granted. It has been said that one does not need advanced training to use digital signal processing programs - just ‘mess around' until you obtain the desired result. Sometimes, not knowing the theoretical operation of a tool can result in more interesting results by ‘thinking outside of the box.' As Bob Ostertag notes, ‘It appears that the more technology is thrown at the problem, the more boring the results' (1998).

"I looked at my paper, said Cage. Suddenly I saw that the music, all the music, was already there.' He conceived of a procedure which would enable him to derive the details of his music from the little glitches and imperfections which can be seen on sheets of paper. It had symbolic as well as practical value; it made the unwanted features of the paper its most significant ones—there is not even a visual silence." - David Revill (1999)

> New Music From New Tools

Tools now aid composers in the deconstruction of digital files: exploring the sonic possibilities of a Photoshop file that displays an image of a flower, trawling word processing documents in search of coherent bytes of sound, using noise-reduction software to analyze and process audio in ways that the software designer never intended. Any selection of algorithms can be interfaced to pass data back and forth, mapping effortlessly from one dimension into another. In this way, all data can become fodder for sonic experimentation.

Composers of glitch music have gained their technical knowledge through self-study, countless hours deciphering software manuals, and probing Internet newsgroups for needed information. They have used the Internet both as a tool for learning and as a method of distributing their work. Com-posers now need to know about file types, sample rates, and bit resolution to optimize their work for the Internet. The artist completes a cultural feedback loop in the circuit of the Internet: artists download tools and information, develop ideas based on that information, create work reflecting those ideas with the appropriate tools, and then upload that work to a World Wide Web site where other artists can explore the ideas embedded in the work.

The technical requirements for being a musician in the information age may be more rigorous than ever before, but - compared to the depth of university computer music studies - it is still rather light. Most of the tools being used today have a layer of abstraction that enables artists to explore without demanding excessive technical knowledge. Tools like Reaktor, Max/MSP, MetaSynth, Audiomulch, Crusher-X, and Soundhack are pressed into action, more often than not with little care or regard for the technical details of DSP theory, and more as an aesthetic wandering through the sounds that these modern tools can create.

The medium is no longer the message in glitch music: the tool has become the message. The technique of exposing the minutiae of DSP errors and artifacts for their own sonic value has helped further blur the boundaries of what is to be considered music, but it has also forced us to also to examine our preconceptions of failure and detritus more carefully.

> Discussion

Electronica DJs typically view individual tracks as pieces that can be layered and mixed freely. This modular approach to creating new work from pre-existing materials forms the basis of electronic music composers' use of samples. Glitch, however, takes a more deconstructionist approach in that the tendency is to reduce work to a minimum amount of information. Many glitch pieces reflect a stripped-down, anechoic, atomic use of sound, and they typically last from one to three minutes.

But it seems this approach affects the listening habits of electronica aficionados. I had the experi-ence of hearing a popular sample CD playing in a clothing boutique. The ‘atomic' parts, or samples, used in composing electronica from small modular pieces had become the whole. This is a clear indication that contemporary computer music has become fragmented, it is composed of stratified layers that intermingle and defer meaning until the listener takes an active role in the production of meaning.

If glitch music is to advance past its initial stage of blind experimentation, new tools must be built with an educational bent in mind. That is, a tool should possess multiple layers of abstraction that allow novices to work at a simple level, stripping away those layers as they gain mastery. In order to help better understand current trends in electronic music, the researchers in academic centers must keep abreast of these trends. Certainly, many of their college students are familiar with the music and can suggest pieces for listening. The compact discs given in this article's reference list form a good starting point. More information can be obtained by reading some of the many electronic mailing lists dedicated to electronica, such as the microsound, idm, and wire lists. In this way, the gap can be bridged, and new ideas can flow more openly between commercial and academic sectors.

"We therefore invite young musicians of talent to conduct a sustained observation of all noises, in order to understand the various rhythms of which they are composed, their principal and secondary tones. By comparing the various tones of noises with those of sounds, they will be convinced of the extent to which the former exceeds the latter. This will afford not only an understanding, but also a taste and passion for noises." - Luigi Russolo (1913)


-Cage, J. 1952. 4'33'. Published c. 1960. New York: Henmar Press.
-Idhe, D. 1976. Listening and Voice: A Phenomenology of Sound. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.
-Kahn, D. 1999. Noise, Water, Meat. Cambridge, Massa-chusetts: MIT Press.
-Negroponte, N. 1998. ‘Beyond Digital.' Wired 6(12).
-Ostertag, B. 1998. ‘Why Computer Music Sucks.' Available online at
-Revill, D. 1992. The Roaring Silence. John Cage: A Life. New York: Arcade Publishing.
-Russolo, L. 1987. The Art of Noises. New York: Pendragon Press. (Originally published in 1913.)
-Whitehead, C. 1999. The Intuitionist. New York: An-chor Books.


-Christian Fennesz. 1999. +475637-165108. London: Touch TO:40.
-Farmers Manual. 1999. No Backup. Vienna: Mego MEGO008.
-Kim Cascone. 1999. cathodeFlower. Frankfurt: Mille Plateaux/Ritornell RIT06.
-Mika Vainio. 1997. Onko. London: Touch TO:34.
-Mouse On Mars. 1995. Vulvaland. London: Too Pure 36.
-Neina. 1999. Formed Verse. Frankfurt: Mille Plateaux MPCD72.
-Nosei Sakata and Richard Chartier. 1999. *0/rc. Brooklyn: 12K 12K.1006.
-Noto. 1998. Kerne. Bad Honnef: Plate Lunch PL04.
-Oval. 1994. Systemische. Frankfurt: Mille Plateaux MPCD9.
-Pimmon. 1999. Waves and Particles. Tokyo: Meme MEME015CD.
-Pita. 1999. Seven Tons for Free. Osaka: Digital Narcis MEGO009.
-Ryoji Ikeda. 1996. +/-. London: Touch TO:30.
-Various Artists. 1999. Microscopic Sound. New York: Caipirinha Music CAI2021-2.
-Various Artists. 2000. blueCubism. Osaka: Digital Narcis DNCD007.
-Various Artists. 2000. Clicks and Cuts. Frankfurt: Mille Plateaux MPCD079.

This text was originally published in Computer Music Journal 24:4 Winter 2002 (MIT Press), where it can be downloaded in pdf format.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Communication Guerilla - Transversality in Everyday Life? autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe

Several years ago we coined the term "communication guerilla" to designate a number of political praxis forms - praxis forms that traverse the old boundaries between political action and the everyday world, subjective anger and rational political action, art and politics, desire and work, theory and practice. In other words, the term does not denote an organization like Globalize Resistance, nor a political network like Attac, nor any of the more complex, rhizomatic and continuously newly constituted formations of the global protest movement, such as People's Global Action [] or the European noborder network []. The imaginary brigades of communication guerillas are not necessarily networked with one another. What joins them is a specific style of political action drawing from a watchful view of the paradoxes and absurdities of power, turning these into the starting point for political interventions by playing with representations and identities, with alienation and over-identification.
As it emerged in the 90s, the concept "communication guerilla" was, not least of all, a response to the exhaustion of traditional leftist activism after the fall of the Berlin wall. The search for new forms of praxis led (at least in some points) to a new, transversal praxis beyond the realm of the "old" activism - even though the point of departure for this search was the experience of a seminal defeat of the left. Today, following the rise and possibly already the incipient downfall of a new global movement, the situation is a different one, and the question arises as to the extent to which this concept from the 90s is still useful. The new activism has become more global, more networked, but most of all, it has developed a new dynamic beyond political and national borders. At the same time, however, this activism still evinces many features of the old polit-activism, not only in the neo-communist party version of the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and Globalize Resistance. Despite all the rhetoric, activism often still has a stance that is strangely separated from people's everyday life, even that of its own protagonists. The future of this global activism will depend on whether it succeeds in being capable of action at the local level, the level of everyday life, while continuing to develop its transversal, border-crossing character at the same time. The most important border that has to be crossed is the border that constitutes the activist her or himself in a separation from the "rest" of society. We think that the praxis of the communication guerilla can contribute to this kind of border-crossing. This is our motivation for discussing in the following text experiences with this praxis along the lines of flight that are inscribed in it, along the border-crossings, through which it is constituted.

Art and Politics

A web site [] that turns the self-presentation of the WTO right side up: an inattentive conference assistant enters the words WTO into a search engine - and a representative of the Yes Men can appear as a representative for the World Trade Organization at a congress for international law [], transforming the conference into a slapstick scenario. We encounter the same Yes Men shortly after the protests in Prague, costumed as "Captain Euro" at a demo against repression and arrests in front of the Czech consulate, but also at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, at art events in Barcelona, Vienna or London - is it all an artistic end in itself or political action? The campaign against the German deportation airline Lufthansa [] starts with a poster exhibition ("Deportation Class") that attacks the airline's self-presentation and links it with the theme of deportations. This exhibition tours through German art institutions, while the corporation simultaneously attacks the Internet version of the same pictures with furious legal threats. This, too, is an uninhibited way of dealing with the border between art and politics. It is not the question of which of the two fields a project should be attributed to that is interesting, but rather: Does it work? How does one manage to make a fool of a seemingly over-powerful institution or person and possibly even partially force them to take a defensive position?

Communication guerilla differs from traditional political forms of action in that it consciously draws from the density of meanings of images and narrations. We are tired of private security services and the omnipresent purchase obligation, the removal of park benches that forces passers-by into cappuccino bars or to just move on. We know about the privatization of inner cities, the disappearance of public space. But how is it possible to intervene against the apparent automatism of these processes - with an information event? A demonstration? A blockade of the pedestrian zone? Or how would it be, if there were suddenly an obstacle, a break in the Saturday business of the pedestrian zone - not a colorful street theater or exhibition project providing information about the limitations and constraints of privatized urban space, but rather something else that makes it possible to see and experience these constraints, a test arrangement, in which the users of the shopping street are assigned their actual roles, but in an exaggerated form?

The images: a pedestrian zone -- lifestyle shops, cafes, buying, street musicians and idlers, who are discreetly expelled from the square, advertising stocks, black-clothed security at the portals of noble shopping passages ... construction sites .. red and white barriers in the flow of the promenading crowd ... a large square area in the middle of a city square is blocked by red and white ribbons, flanked by security guards in black jeans and white T-shirts. Friendly employees wearing the company logo address passers-by, the same logo is repeated at an information table. Information sheets with a questionnaire about the use of the pedestrian zone are distributed: How often do you come into the city? How much do you expect to spend today? Which method of payment do you prefer? The questionnaires are used to determine permission to cross the area or not. The narration: "We are conducting this survey for the company Bienle, which is contemplating the purchase of the entire Castle Square. We are using this test arrangement to determine the user profile of the area to be purchased, in terms of profitability." [1] What is important is that the picture is right. The barricade is executed precisely, the body language of the security guards radiates uncompromisingness, the company employees operate smoothly and in a friendly manner, but firmly; the corporate identity is thoroughly and professionally styled, all the way from the company logo to the outfit for the "staff". The activists adapt the language of power, the plausible over-identification is implemented through precise and reflected observation, an eye for aesthetic details and a professional way of dealing with materials.

This action was carried out by the politically active artist group 01, but it was not identified as an art action -- except to a few irritated members of the police force, who had obviously not been informed by the "Bienzle Company" ahead of time. The art label was thus employed here only instrumentally as camouflage and protective shield. For the passers-by, the action was an irritating reality resulting in a subjective experience of the fact of the privatization process in their city, forcing them to take a position more than an information or protest event would have done. It is also imaginable that a project like this could be conducted in the framework of an art festival -- there, however, the predominant framework of interpretation for outside observers would not have been "privatization" or "intervention in the freedom of movement", but rather "art": the same project, conducted within the boundaries of an art space, produces tame artistic social criticism, not communication guerilla. It is also imaginable that a project like this could be exhibited in a museum -- the art business' current greed for contact with "authentic" actors makes it possible. [2] The Yes Men subsequently exhibited their appearance as "Captain Euro" as a video installation at in Vienna []. At the same event, a technical device for checking irises regulated the turnstile at the entrance. Here criticism of the surveillance possibilities of the control society take the form of technical playfulness in keeping with the site of the presentation, the Technical Museum. The potential of an action depends on the context, this determines which codes the audience uses to read it.

Communication guerilla pursues a political concern. It attempts to criticize the rules of normality by creating irritations and ambiguities, thus enabling new ways of reading familiar images and signs. The criticism of naturalized power structures first requires making these visible -- and they become visible where the smooth functioning of the sign systems and interpretation mechanisms starts to get stuck. This is hardly possible, however, within the framework of art operations: the general interpretation framework of "art" has the effect of a kind of lubrication that makes it possible for the viewer to easily swallow even the crudest provocation. Radically slandering the established art scene, for example, has long since been legitimized and thus defused as a modus of the artistic avant-garde. Mixing up images and signs by employing artistic techniques first becomes exciting, when it leaves the integrating framework of art behind.

"Is it not better to distort the signs than to destroy them?" Roland Barthes once asked. The militant leftist scene works hard at signs, too, their actions are also symbolic -- yet here it is a matter of the gesture of a military attack, of the destruction of signs: paving stones into the windows of banks, the obligatory trashing of a McDonalds branch, the battle with robo-cops. The significance of this praxis of signs with its staging of battle, revolts, tumults, should not be underestimated. It is not without reason that the Seattle riot functions as a sign, simultaneously symbolizing and catalyzing the emergence of a new global movement. The media treatment of this riot catapulted the image of a militant resistance against the abstract lack of alternatives of the capitalist economy into the eye of the public. This image -- a war machine opposing the abstract war machine of global capital -- developed a huge mobilizing impact. At the same time, though, militant resistance is always already integrated in the mythology of parliamentary western democracy. In the bourgeois media, the images dwindle into an illustration of basic democratic principles: the ones to "blame" for the street battles are a few wicked hooligans, who functionalize the peaceful, colorful protest for their own purposes. The "Black Block" does not uphold the basic rules of non-violent protest, the recognition of private property, the democratic game rules, and must therefore be restrained with a massive police presence. This figure of argumentation legitimizes not only the violent appearance of state power, but also the right of the globalization managers to continue to make their decisions without public scrutiny.

However, the example of global protests can also be used to show the effectiveness of the tactical distortion of signs. At the protests against the World Bank meeting in Prague in September 2000, the hip-swinging fairies of the "Pink Block" not only managed to penetrate into the symbolic "heart of the beast" (the conference center of the World Bank meeting) -- which neither the Tute Bianche in their cushioned overalls, nor the black-clothed warriors of the Black Block had succeeded in doing -- in addition, they also created images that took the icon of the stone-throwing street fighter against the police to the point of absurdity. The warrior is a fighting woman in pink, she is a samba dancer. A year later in Genoa, it was martians, UFOs, the U-NO men and women soldiers of the PublixTheatreCaravan, bikini girls, tire men, and others that distorted and alienated the firmly fixed image of what a radical demonstration is supposed to look like and how it is to act.

We have the feeling that the self-image of many militant activists holds the danger of thinking of oneself as separate from the rest of society: an activist subculture is emerging with its own signs, its own values, and its own patterns of legitimization. Resistance derives its legitimacy from the authenticity of the use of one's own body, the intensity of one's commitment. There are lamentations about the isolation of the activist ghetto, but at the same time, the "purity" of one's own side is anxiously maintained, the rhetoric of confrontation and the apocalyptic millenarianism of the activists camp clearly separates it from mainstream society. This separation also finds expression in the turbulent discussions about contacts with the mainstream media, or in the laboriousness of attempts to make contact with the neighborhood of squatted houses. Despite occasional collaboration, one is distrustful not only of the often narcissist art world, but also of the "geeks", the cyberactivists of the 90s, who flocked around events like the "next 5 minutes" congress in Amsterdam. A playful way of dealing with signs, images and meanings, allowing for hybridity and complexity, could contribute to partially breaking down these demarcations. In an optimistic scenario, the paradoxical meeting of two marginal social fields, the art scene and polit-activism, could lead to the emergence of a transversal art-polit-activism that overcomes the boundaries and limitations of the respective scenes. In October 2000, the Museum for Contemporary Art in Barcelona held a series of curated workshops on the theme of "Direct Action as one of the Fine Arts", which evolved into a two-week meeting of activists []. Watched at first distrustfully by many "veteran" activists, this event resulted in several political projects that are still active today -- ninguna es ilegal organized a border camp in 2001 at the southern tip of Spain [], where thousands of African refugees arrive; indymedia Barcelona [] was founded, and a coalition was formed that took part with graphical and theatrical means in the protests against the planned and then canceled World Bank meeting. It is not a coincidence that communication guerilla forms and techniques are often used with projects that arise on occasions like this, forms that can stimulate the pleasurable appropriation of artistic methods in political work as well as the politically effective employment of artistic potentials.

The environment of the global protests creates a social space of its own in the form of an activist subculture that transgresses national borders and is constituted through manifold digital and physical networks. Sometimes it seems that the networking itself and the mastery of its tools are (still) the most important result of this movement. The "art scene" provides a room on the side in this social space, too. People meet again -- not only at the next global protest, but also at biennales and film festivals, at Documenta and Ars Electronica. The interaction between art and political scenes is still intermittent, communicated through a few hyperactivists oscillating between art and politics. A stronger interaction, which could become the starting point for a broader transversal praxis, still needs to be developed in concrete projects. The art scene's current interest in "real social life" can provide an impetus for this; the possibilities for succeeding in the art market with resistive practices will also play a role. Whether or not more will come of this remains to be seen.

Activism, Everyday, Work

The media image of the activist, as well as his self-image (for the person represented is usually a "he") reduce the activist to the practice of action. It seems as though these people do nothing else but occupy buildings and organize demonstrations -- just as the artist is also reduced to his projects and products in the public view. Both, however, the artist and the activist, are normally quite different. They work in agriculture or in construction, as seasonal laborers, professional charity donation collectors, in social work, or as part-time employees in offices and call-centers; they teach at language schools, adult education centers or universities. Not least of all, they work in the field of new media -- graphics and web design, network administrators, computer specialists. They move in the working world and simultaneously in an activist world that has its own calendar, its own temporal and spatial order. This is nothing new (the artist Franz Kafka was an administrative employee, too); what is new though, in our opinion, is the increasing integration of knowledge, lifestyle and resources from both areas.

Just as it is still customary in some trades to take tools during the lunch break in production for one's own needs, office copy machines are used for the production of flyers, information material is run through the company postage machine. Various indymedia sites are largely updated from places of work. On the other hand, many media workers have their means of production, like computers and video cameras, at home and can use them not only for work, but also for political actions. Most of all, though, the knowledge of the dominant discourse and the predominant aesthetics constantly glides from one area to another, can be used both for reproduction and for criticism of existing power relationships.

Here the border-crossing goes in both directions: knowledge about how to arrange texts that activist desktop-publishers acquire through faking city information brochures or official letterheads, is also useful for paid commissioned work. Those who conversely reproduce the design and ideological structures of the advertising world day after day in their professional everyday life, can turn the statement of advertising aesthetics upside-down with just a little twist in a successful fake. The knowledge of the "language of power" that is required in professional life can be turned into resistance and into subversion at any time. For communication guerillas, this knowledge is central. One of the reasons why the campaign against the deportation airline Lufthansa was so successful was because the form of professional self-representation was imitated so perfectly, while the meaning was turned into its opposite through consistent exaggeration - from Lufthansa's "we fly you there" to the " we fly you out" of the Deportation Class.

For communication guerillas, it is not enough to know the adversary -- the point is to master the forms and signs that constitute "the language of power", so to speak, ourselves. Communication guerill@s are not spies or undercover agents in the working world or the world of bourgeois consensus. In their life praxis, they are often part of it, accepting roles as teachers or colleagues, assuming functions in the capitalist system. Yet it is precisely in this way that the oscillation between radical criticism and camouflage becomes possible. The recipient-journalists and their readers, potential customers, everyone confronted with the advertising material of the Deportation Class, are automatically drawn into the contradictions of the capitalist system and its western humanistic ideology: Is Deportation Class really a cynical special offer from Lufthansa for cheap seats on deportation flights? Or is it in fact a particularly successful criticism of their deportation practice? If the recipient decides on the first reading, then they are confronted with the question of whether this entails money-making at the expense of human dignity or a legitimate marketing instrument. If they see through the Deportation Class as a fake, then they cannot simply dismiss it as an absurd slander -- it is too close to the logic of the narration of the real Lufthansa ideology. Regardless of which reading the recipient decides to take, once the questions are posed, they stick to Lufthansa. In this way, soiling an image breaks open what is widely accepted and taken for granted in the capitalist system, thus opening up an unmediated view of contradictions between reality and representation.

The communication guerilla must have no fear of contact: she has to dare to completely enter into the logic of the detested dominant discourse, in order to turn it around from the inside. And he has to trust in the effectiveness of signs, not give in to the temptation to offer explanatory information after all and thus dropping the mask. In the course of the warring escapades of the German SPD government, which was also supported by the Greens, a poster turned up with the familiar dying soldier ("Why?") []. A slight distortion turned the "Why?" into "Why not?". The logos of the SPD and the Greens at the lower edge of the poster suggested that the poster could be a publication from these parties -- although the knowledgeable reader of signs understands very well that political parties would never state the cynicism of their politics that openly. Through the choice and montage of the images, the poster clearly said: a cynical "Why not?" is the attitude of these parties, whether they admit it or not. With the addition of a reproachful text, however, this intervention would have left the space of the communication guerilla to become propaganda/agitation. Its function would have been an explanation with a grin factor, rather than irritation, which forces reflection in the best case.


There is no doubt about it: we are in the midst of globalization, particularly as activists. The skills that are practiced with the protests of the often so-called anti-globalizers, are exactly the ones that every corporate boss would wish for in his employees: capability for teamwork in time-limited projects together with previously unknown colleagues. Flexibility, cultural competence, knowledge of foreign languages. Flat hierarchies, optimum use of limited resources, ability to improvise. Mastery of digital communication tools. Speed, full dedication. Transversality here too -- the only question is, to which end?

If it is true that we find ourselves in the midst of a transition to the control society, then in the future it could be even more important to hone our subversive potential at the molecular level, to make it even more targeted. In the emerging Empire, it will become even less possible for us to direct our displeasure to individual governments -- the game with images and representations will become increasingly important in the networked parts of the world, but without a decrease in the importance of vehement actions in public space. It is a matter of a political positioning that is not limited to theoretical analysis in the terms of sociology and cultural theory, but rather which also thinks in images and knows how to use sign systems. Fury and irritation and the desire to flip off power often lead more effectively than rational reflection to recognizing the cracks and contradictions in dominant discourse. Yet the communication guerilla does not stand still in a self-referential temporary confusion -- she continues to link it with argumentation in bourgeois and own media, is connected to counter-public spheres and refers to the themes and concerns of social movements. In recent years, these movements have taken over new technologies, from mobile phones to the use (and faking) of increasingly interactive web sites and videos, to live streaming.

Information technologies, useful instruments of the control society, can be subversively turned around, activists can make use of the skills they acquire in their paid work for other purposes as well. Conversely, the ways of working that they learn in the scene world can also be useful to them in the neoliberal, flexibilized everyday world of work. Time-limited, project-oriented teamwork and spatial flexibility are only two examples from many. Particularly in a societal formation, in which signs, branding, images are increasingly important not only in the business world, but also for governments and multinational structures such as the WHO or the G8, the communication guerilla can carry out efficient attacks. The world of activism is not located outside the globalization process, the transition from the age of bourgeois democracies to something else, something not yet defined. It is part of this -- and it is in the intimate knowledge of the structures to be fought that its potential to at least question their legitimacy is found -- even if the next grand narrative is yet to come.

Translated by Aileen Derieg

[1] cf. S. Brünzels, Dos ejercicios tacticos para hacerse con el espacio publico, in: Modos de Hacer, ed. P. Blanco et. al., Ediciones Universitad de Salamanca 2001
[2] Although an art project by "Everyone is an Expert" at the Turin Biennale in Italy was thrown out after publicly criticizing Berlusconi, cf.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Ingestion / Anti-Pasta, Romy Golan

Here is a photo of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti eating a plate of spaghetti in 1930. What looks like an anodyne photograph was in fact a highly loaded image, for this was the man who, together with his younger colleague Fillia (the pseudonym of Luiggi Colombo), had just published the "Manifesto of Futurist Cookery" (1930), which dared declare anathema Italy's sacrosanct pasta. Marinetti saw the Italian table as weighted down by heavy traditional food. The English might be content with their dried cod, roast beef, and pudding, the Germans with their sauerkraut, smoked bacon, and sausages, but for the Italians pasta would no longer do. Marinetti wanted to reverse the best-known chapter of the history of Italian cuisine. In the 17th century, the city of Naples had initiated a gastronomic revolution whereby its inhabitants, until then known as mangiabroccoli and mangiafoglie, now became mangiamaccheroni. The pasta eater, holding the spaghetti in his hands above his mouth, became a stock figure, like the characters of Commedia dell'Arte, disseminated in prints all over Europe. Now the Futurists were calling for the abolition of what they deemed an absurd Italian gastronomic religion. Marshalling the opinions of doctors, professors, hygienists, and impostors, Marinetti claimed that pasta induced lethargy, pessimism, nostalgia, and neutralism. In short, pasta stood behind everything the Futurists had been battling ever since the appearance of their initial manifesto in 1909.

They lamented that pastasciutta—dried pasta of the sort we all eat—was 40 percent less nutritious than meat, fish, and vegetables. Mixing scientific data with poetic flights of eloquence, Marinetti held that pasta ensnared Italians within the slow looms of Penelope and bound them to the sailing ships somnolently awaiting a gust of wind on a sleepy Mediterranean. Being anti-pasta meant being antipassatista, i.e., against the past.

Predictably, upon its publication in the Turin daily Gazetta del Popolo on 28 December 1930, and its translation in the Parisian daily Comoedia a few months later, the manifesto provoked an uproar. Delighted to have finally managed to write a manifesto that, in line with Futurism's intent to transform every aspect of life, had finally hit on the one realm of the quotidian that affected every single Italian, Marinetti and Fillia gleefully devoted a whole section of their 1932 Futurist Cookbook to recording the blistering effects of the initial cooking manifesto. In typical Futurist fashion, the section containing the polemic preceded the section with the actual recipes. Marinetti and Fillia claimed, in equally characteristic Futurist inflationary style, that the pros and cons of pasta were endlessly debated in the Italian press in hundreds of articles by writers, politicians, chemists, and famous cooks, not to mention innumerable cartoons. Meanwhile, foreign publications from London to Budapest, from Tunis to Tokyo, and all the way to Sydney had announced somewhat incredulously that Italy was about to abandon spaghetti. In the city of l'Aquila (a few hours from the Italian capital) women had taken the situation into their own hands by signing a collective letter of indignation, addressed to Marinetti, in favor of pasta. In Genoa, an association called P.I.P.A., an acronym for International Association Against Pasta, was formed. Thousands of miles away in San Francisco, a fight had erupted between two Italian restaurants situated on different floors of the same building. While the head cook of the Savoia, Italy's royal family, actually came out against pasta, the mayor of Naples professed that vermicelli with tomato sauce was the food of the angels. To which Marinetti responded that if that were the case, it simply served to confirm the boredom of life in paradise.

Ultimately, Marinetti believed, modern science would allow us to replace food with free, state-sponsored pills composed of albumins, synthetic fats, and vitamins that would lower prices for the consumer and lessen the toll of labor on the worker. Ultraviolet lamps could be used to electrify and thus dynamize food staples. Eventually, a totally mechanized production would relieve humankind of labor altogether, allowing man to be at leisure to pursue nobler activities. Dining could thus become a purely aesthetic enterprise. On this premise, Marinetti and Fillia's proposals for the new Italian cuisine constitute one of the most inspired chapters in the annals of Futurism. The cookbook gave a new infusion of giovinezza—a favorite Fascist word, meaning "youth"—to the slightly tired antics of a movement now known as Secondo Futurismo. While the spectator could already expect, by the 1930s, to be abused by the Futurist text, the Futurist painting, the Futurist polimaterico (multimedia sculpture), and the Futurist performance, here the abuse went not to the head, but straight to the stomach.

The polemics in The Futurist Cookbook were followed by an elaborate account of some Futurist banquets. One of the more memorable of these Aeropranzi futuristi was a banquet for 300 people held on 18 December 1931 at the Hotel Negrino in Chiavari. Guests were delighted and terrified as they braced themselves to ingest dishes prepared by the famous cook Bulgheroni, who had come especially from Milan to this small Ligurian town to preside in the kitchen over the burial of pastasciutta. Although the Futurists had advocated the abolition of eloquence and politics around the table, the guests nevertheless first had to sit through a lecture by Marinetti on the state of world Futurism. Afterward, the meal began with a flan of calf's head seated on a bed of pineapple, nuts, and dates, stuffed—oh, surprise!—with anchovies. Then, to cleanse the palate, Bulgheroni served a decollapalato (a pun on decollare, meaning "to get off the ground"), a lyrical concoction of meat broth sprinkled with champagne and liquor and decorated with rose petals. The main dish was beef in carlinga (another aeronautic term, probably referring to a kind of Dutch oven), meatballs—whose composition was best left uninvestigated—placed over airplanes made out of bread crumbs. After a few more dishes the dessert, named eletricita atmosferische candite, arrived, consisting of colorful little cubes made of fake marble crowned with cotton candy that enclosed a sweetish paste containing ingredients only a long chemical analysis could disclose. Not everybody made it to the end of the dinner.

Most memorable among other Futurist recipes was the carneplastico: a synthetic sculptural interpretation of Futurist aeropittura referring to the much-beloved Italian landscape. In honor of the beacon of Italian industry, one could taste the pollo Fiat, a stuffed chicken placed on puffy pillows of whipped cream. On a more pornographic note, one could also have a porco eccittato, a cooked salami placed vertically on the plate with coffee sauce mixed with eau de cologne.

Whatever Marinetti might have thought about his capacities for perennial transgression, such conceits of dishes as "divine surprises" had a long historical lineage. They went back to the most extraordinary passages in Petronius Arbitrius's Satiricon, thus reviving an aspect of Romanita that the Fascists, in their eagerness to revive Roman glories, would have been all too happy to endorse. Indeed, many of the ingredients were coded so that the exotic fruits that appear in so many Futurist dishes were meant to evoke Italy's hope for a firmer grip on North Africa in fulfillment of its imperial ambitions as master of the Mediterranean. There was, it turns out, some disagreement during the Fascist ventennio as to the uer-history of pasta. According to the story presently told in Rome's Museo Nazionale della Pasta Alimentare (the only such museum in the world, founded in the 1990s), traces of early pasta implements were found in the archeological remains of the Etruscan town of Cerveteri, near Rome, dating to the 4th century BC. Pasta was also identified in low reliefs of the 12th century. And yet the writer Paolo Buzzi, in an article printed in 1930 in the much-venerated journal La Cucina Italiana, pointed to the fact that no mention of pasta by the ancient Romans could be found in the history of Italian cooking by d'Apico, the Homer of cooking. This might sound strange, he added, if one thinks of the thousand stories one was told as a child about the catastrophic volcanic eruption of Pompeii, one of which told of plates, still filled with maccheroni, thrown into the lava.

As always with Futurism, Marinetti's ottimismo della tavola had its darker side in the realm of realpolitik. Not by chance, as he himself acknowledged in the manifesto, Marinetti launched his attack against pasta just when Italy, hit hard by the Depression, was struggling to achieve one of Mussolini's great dreams: autarchy, or the elimination of Italy's economic dependence on foreign markets. Pasta, quintessentially Italian as it was, depended on expensive imports of wheat. The regime thus launched a campaign in favor of home-grown rice as a better substitute. Rice, we are told, was more virile, more patriotic, and more suitable for fighters and heroes. Rice also had its part in the history of Italian cooking as the great rival of pasta; it came from the Po valley in the industrial North, while pasta, with its hypothetical birthplace in Etruria and its triumph in Naples, was identified with the center, and even more with the agrarian and backward South. This was a battle that could thus be waged on familiar Futurist geopolitical territory.

And so the Futurists offered tuttoriso: new dishes to replace the traditional Northern risotto. More sinister is the fact that among the doctors summoned by Marinetti was the eugenicist Nicola Pende, the man behind the new Instituto di Biotipologia in Rome. Marinetti's attacks against pasta coincided, significantly I think, with the first wave of Taylorization of pasta production. On display in the Museo della Pasta in Rome are vintage photographs of women (almost never men) at work in front of vertical hydraulic presses, grinders, cutters, and blenders that look no less impressive, no less daunting, and no less alienating, than the assembly line at Fiat's famous Turin factory known as the Lingotto, a Futurist favorite back in the teens. By the 1930s, the institution of biotypes as substitutes for Taylorism to attain maximal efficiency in the working place and the provision of a master race had taken hold of the Fascist imagination. Thus the New Futurist Man, the man without pasta, the homo ludens who might eventually replace homo edens, the man whom one may be tempted to theorize as the postmodern "desiring machine" of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, was, then, first and foremost, the New Fascist Man.

Fine. But what is one to make of our Marinetti snapshot? The staple photograph we see reproduced shows Marinetti instructing a female cook on how to concoct one of his recipes, both of them standing in front of a 1913 Muscular Dynamism painted by Umberto Boccioni. So is our photograph here of Marinetti caught red-handed in the act of eating the infamous dish? A good Italian who just couldn't resist? And this taking place at Biffi, if one is to believe the caption, one of the best-known Milanese establishments (still in existence) and a favorite haunt of the Futurists? Or is it a clever maneuver by Marinetti intended to bamboozle the viewer, leave him or her guessing, spinning yet still more controversy? About to send off my text and still wavering between these two interpretations of this piece of photographic evidence, I stumbled on one little paragraph of The Futurist Cookbook. There, entry number 7 in a short section on apocryphal anecdotes provided a possible answer: "Photographs of Marinetti in the act of eating pasta appeared in a few mass-circulation magazines: they were photographic montages carried out by experts hostile to Futurist cuisine, who were trying to discredit the campaign for a new way of eating."1 There could, however, be another reading: the photo is real and Marinetti, whatever he might have claimed in his cookbook, was simply lying about the montage. There must have been moments when, even for Marinetti, the desires of the everyman vanquished those of the Futurist and the Fascist in him.

1 — Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, The Futurist Cookbook, trans. Suzanne Brill (San Francisco: Bedford Arts, 1989), p. 99.

Romy Golan is Professor of Contemporary European Art and Theory in 20th Century European Art at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of Modernity and Nostalgia: Art and Politics in France between the Wars and co-author of the catalogue for The Circle of Montparnasse: Jewish Artists in Paris 1905-1945, an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York.

above copied from:

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Images from Networks, Art, & Collaboration - a conference that took place at SUNY Buffalo, April 24-25, 2004.

> FAQs

Do we feel threatened in the face of terrorism? Is that the reason for the renewed attention to collaborative efforts of the 1960s, which were often seen as models for change (Cotter)? What is Free Cooperation? Do we need leaders? What about competition, self-sacrifice and individual gain? What should be part of an ABC of working together? How does the "battle of the sexes" play out? Woman to woman, man to man, and man to woman. What can we learn about collaboration from Fluxus, networked art, micro radio, and social software like weblogs or wikis? Are there specific areas that make collaboration presently more interesting? What are new organizational possibilities based on emerging technologies that facilitate cultural practices? Participatory online cultures allow for shared information systems, development and knowledge representation. How do these new contexts change the way we learn, or distribute knowledge? Which open source tools are in our reach? Is this the end of the university as we know it? How does the miniaturization of databases impact all this? How does jointness succeed better – by working together chest to chest or by collaborating in participatory online cultures? How can we be "free" in a collaboration? Who gets the credit? Whose labor remains invisible?

> The Collaborator

Collaboration is a buzzword hot like a sauna today. The use of terms like collaboration, solidarity, friendship, we-ness, network, interaction, community, alliance, collectivity, and more recently, free cooperation varies widely depending on the agenda of the person using it. "Collaborator" in many languages stands for a sympathizer with the Nazis. In post-WWII times, for instance, Slovenians and Croatians were portrayed on Serbian Television broadcasts as Nazi sympathizers. Today, the Slovenian group "Laibach" provokes the audience with references to these historical traumas with post-industrial music. I grew up under socialism in East Germany and there a substantial part of the population consisted of what we called "Stasi collaborators." To this day "collaborator" is a word with heavy connotations. Collaboration just implies "to work together, especially in an intellectual pursuit." The term "collaboration" suggests that we cannot achieve the same goal on our own. It assumed that there is a common goal and that people in the group share responsibility in achieving this goal.

> Free Cooperation

Collaboration and cooperation must be free, very much in opposite to the forced collaborations in the creative industries. Freedom always means the freedom of those who think differently from us (Luxemburg). An example for a forced collaboration is the 1960s East German art movement of production romanticism called "Bitterfelder Weg" in which the state demanded artists to depict the beauty of production.

Cooperation commonly means that people assist each other to reach the same end. In cooperation, people walk in parallels. Each participant is in it for herself, motivated by egoistic "micro-motivation"? (Tuomela) or altruistic collective reasons. Free Cooperation, with the German critic Christoph Spehr in "Gleicher als der Andere," emphasizes that everybody can freely leave the cooperation at any time taking with them what they put in. Free cooperation needs to pay off. If there are disagreements the cooperation needs to remain workable. There is no cooperation in which nobody is taken advantage off, in which everything is ideal. There is no such thing as a pure and perfect cooperation.

> Free Cooperation in Action

Cooperative group models in the urban United States include models such as Reclaim the Streets and Critical Mass. During the anti-war protests of 1993, bicyclers in San Francisco blocked major urban intersections and highways with hundreds of bikes as part of "Critical Mass." This was initiated by leafleting in neighborhoods with times and dates of such actions without any central leadership. "Reclaim the Streets" is a similarly decentralized model of taking back the public sphere. Other ways of organizing community include broadcasting free radio, graffiti, and street parties. Jeff Ferrell points especially to Radio Free ACTUP, The Micro-Radio Empowerment Coalition, and Slave Revolt Radio.

In German "Kinderlaeden", parents rotate to look after their children in a rented store or flat. In San Francisco, a similar, less formalized small-scale model exists in which parents in a given neighborhood trade their time watching over the children. Each time you put in time you receive a token giving you the right to claim that same amount of hours from the cooperative network. Once you run out of tokens you have no right to benefit from this cooperation anymore. Only up to ten such tokens are given out at a time to avoid abuse.

Online, Saul Albert's "Distributed Library Project" ( is "a shared library catalogue and borrowing system for people's books and videos. There is no reason the dlp shouldn't be used to share other resources too, which is one of the development aims of this project." Users of the open source software locate fellow "librarians" in their vicinity and share with them whatever their local library would not have. This is only one example of cooperative networks. I will come back to more examples of open, shared and free networks later.

> Temporary Alliances

Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau use the term "radical and pluralist democratic" discourse to describe a project that creates links among multiple struggles against subordination and domination. No one subject position, be it defined by class, race, or gender functions as central identifier for a given temporary alliance. People of different backgrounds come together focusing on one single issue. One example is the green movement. To solve global ecological problems Buckminster Fuller envisioned an international cooperative effort that would create "some artifact, some tool or invention." Johann Wolfgang Goethe calls on us to always strive for the absolute and if we can't be an absolute ourselves, then we should become a serving part of an absolute. Following this logic it is important that the cooperation is meaningful enough to all involved to willingly subsume their egos but, in opposition to Mr. Enlightenment, I'd argue for free and equal relationships instead of servile subordination. As the creation of technology-based artworks requires increasingly deeper levels of specialization and collaboration between the technological and conceptual components. Collaborations between artists and programmers are the subject of many conferences such as "The Beauty of Collaboration," in March 2003 at The Banff Centre in Canada.

> Organizational Structures

In aggressive or competitive contexts, so called "tiger teams" are (often forced) collaborations based on several competing groups of 4 or 5 individuals who are given the same task. Each group strives to solve the given problem best driven by prospects of financial and career gain. Critical Art Ensemble suggests groups of 2 to solve one task. Let's hear some examples. Founded in 1981, Paper Tiger TV is another consequential model of collaboration. Paper Tiger creates and distributes often collectively produced activist video work that critique the media. The New York City-based chamber orchestra Orpheus works without conductor and rotates all functions among its musicians. Another organizational structure is the national network of alternative spaces such as micro-cinemas, not-for-profit galleries and others that exist all over the US. Examples are Artist Television Access in San Francisco and Squeaky Wheel in Buffalo, to name just two. But for me, the most powerful collaboration took place on February 15, 2003 when millions and millions and millions of demonstrators worldwide simultaneously mounted a collective "no" to the war in Iraq.


In art history the most ready association with collaboration is the Fluxus movement, with artists like George Maciunas. In 1961 Allan Kaprov wrote the influential essay "Happenings in the New York Scene" laying out ideas of interaction that were mainly associated with the happenings of the 1950s and 1960s. A happening according to Kaprow is "an assemblage of events performed or perceived in more than one time and place." Fluxus focused on the Do-It-Yourself-aspect of art (you too can be an artist), and the interaction between the artist and her audience. It was the Fluxus artist Ray Johnson who pioneered Mail Art not much later.

More recently, with web-based art we question the ownership of the networks in which collaborations takes place, and also critique the politics of online visibility. Search engines like Google list websites that are linked to by a high number of sites, which themselves have high popularity and link ratings. For this reason power remains largely with the websites of the mainstream media. To whom do we link from our websites? Do we link (cooperate) at all? Lesser known directories like the Open Directory Project build an alternative. The Open Directory Project is the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is entirely reliant on globally collaborating, volunteer editors. For the last nine years more artists have taken on networked spaces as the context for their work. Networked communication on laptops, small wireless devices like cell phones or PDAs lead the focus away from the art object and the individual author becomes less significant (Barthes). One of the first Internet-based artworks was Douglas Davis' "The World's First Collaborative Sentence" of 1994. Everybody can add to an ongoing sentence, but nobody is allowed end it, to add a full stop. Tens of thousands of people have contributed to it. The changes of the piece over the past ten years reflect the changes of the World Wide Web. Bret Stalbaum designed a program called Floodnet that overloads a site with calls to load its pages. In an attack in support the Zapatista rebels the Mexican government's official site, returned the message "human_rights not found on this server. (Stallabrass) If a sufficient number of people launched attacks the action became a virtual march.

> Social Needs versus the Needs of the Art World

Recent art history lists many collaborations including Art & Language, General Idea, Gilbert & George, Guerilla Girls, Group Material, REPOhistory, PADD, Art Workers Coalition, Critical Art Ensemble, Rtmark, Temporary Services, Komar and Melamid, Berna and Hilla Becher, Fischli and Weiss, and Collective Actions Group. It is often assumed that collaboration is by default valuable, alternative, and politically progressive. I disagree. Collaborations between artists can be quite profane. To be relevant and consequential artist collaborations need to focus on social needs instead of the needs of the art world thus questioning all of culture. The cooperative vision of groups like Group Material changed curatorial practice and provided new art activist models. Group Material collectively saved money for an entire year and then rented a space in New York City, a storefront gallery. Here the group put on the exhibition "People's Choice" for which they asked homeless citizens to bring in objects that they thought were beautiful. Another significant exhibition was "AIDS Timeline."
Graduating art students frequently form art collectives because of the positive implications of shared resources such as knowledge in the areas of (art) history, (cultural and media) theory, literature, and science. The more they know the broader is the specter of issues that they can address (Critical Art Ensemble). Cross-disciplinary efforts can be supported because individuals have different skill capital (from video to programming, performance, and writing).

Free Cooperation in the art context means that the artist stays in control of her work. Institutions of the art world are not interested in free cooperation, and are not supportive of them. The model of the artist as 19th century genius and as exemplary sufferer is alive and prospering. Often an articulate, attractive individual out of the group is selected and promoted by institutions and (main stream) media. The logic of the art world and that of technology-based art, created on and distributed via computers are opposed to each other. The art world focuses on the romantic idea of the author who creates an auratic art object that can be distributed by its many institutions. Technology-based art is variable, often ephemeral, existent in many copies, collaboratively authored and can often be distributed online.

> Weapons of Mass Instruction

Will open source technologies soon become weapons of mass instruction (Lovink)? Is this the end of universities as we know them? Many class rooms today accommodate a circular positioning of the chairs that is a must for class room cooperation. Students in the US interact with each other and other learners world wide almost constantly through online communication forums. Teachers may become no more than (online) linkers to knowledge. Collaborative networked education, might become a much more serious alternative to the costly and sometimes slow and disconnected structures of the university. Free software and open source are still not widely used in academia but that will hopefully change. An example of stable open source software is "Open Office," which as a community, aims to create the leading international office suite that will run on all major platforms and provide access to all functionality. Free text books are put online at Wikibooks(.org), and many texts can be found at the Gutenberg Project ( The project Opentheory(.org) is the application of ideas of Free Software to the development of texts, theories and forms of thought. Users of the site improve on each others texts. Wikiversity, a project just recently under way expressed the goal facilitating e-learning and distance learning via Wikis. Online learning environments may have better chances to accommodate differences in communication styles, temperaments, and fundamental beliefs and values than a class room situation. E-learning software also allows for long distance learning and the sharing of educational resources such as videos or audio across poor regions.

> The ABC of Working Together

In East Germany I often experienced a commonality of values when working together with others. Due in part to a a shared opposite- the state, butalso a certain monoculture of the everyday. We read the same books and listened to the same Pete Seeger records. Learning from this experience I realized that it builds trust to start a collaboration testing out the compatibility of values and common interests first instead of immediately focusing on the goals. Social resources like trust, mutual RESPECT, tolerance, and shared values make it easier for people to work and play together. Based on this trust true communication can take place. Within the shared space of the collaboration, participants must feel free to experiment. Again, freedom in cooperation means the freedom of those who think differently from us (Luxemburg).
Collaborators need to get to know each other as people and need to find out about each other's agency. This dedication to the other person can be at times a bit scary and collaboration does not work for everybody. Getting to know each other always works much better offline, chest to chest rather than online, which can be very slow. The ABC of collaboration demands that needs are addressed and the lines of communication are kept open. Each collaborator needs to be given full authority about their task. Collaborators need to respect the professional priorities of the other participants.

In "Gleicher als andere" Christoph Spehr argues passionately that absolutely all our relationships should be based on freedom and equality to each other and the cooperation. If we can't negotiate this, we should PUT PRESSURE on the cooperation. If that does not work we should WITHDRAW our cooperation or leave altogether. Spehr asks for the RULES of the cooperation to be acknowledged, as there always are rules. Spehr talks, with Gayatri Spivak of "rules as always being the old rules." CONFLICT that occurs while renegotiating the rules builds respect. Conflict is a scary thing in the face of loosing territory or even a position within the cooperation. Conflict, pull backs, silent times for reflection all lead to INDEPENDENCE within the cooperation, which makes us stronger contributors. We need to find save zones for conflicts. Always and again: NEGOTIATE! Get organized. LOYALTY, Spehr claims, should always be to people, never to structures. We should be self-reflected and SELF-CONFIDENT, instead of acting like slaves.

Metaphors for individuation within cooperation include that of life lived singly and free like a tree, yet brotherly united in a forest (Wader); John Donne's "No man is an island, entire of itself..." and Indra's net of jewels with each jewel reflecting all others. For all members of the network to shine in caring interdependence TRUST that the other will do her part needs to be developed. REPUTATION is another crucial aspect of cooperation.

Over the past years communication tools like video conferencing, live chats, web cams, instant messaging and the Indymedia software became inexpensive and readily available, which aids cooperative efforts. Online communication forums such as Friendster(.net), Fakester, LinkedIn or Tribe(.net) make cooperations easier and are all based on trust. Friendster, for instance is a web-based application that allows users to network their friends based on their social profiles.

> Nobody Needs to Have the Say

Let us aim for COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP. Spehr suggests the politics of negotiation, in which everybody contributes to the cooperation in a way that is useful, realistic and well suited for the moment. There are always hierarchies in collaborations. Those who formulate the orientation of the cooperation dominate. Collective leadership would mean that those leading the way change so that everybody at one point dominates. This is similar to the changing order in the formation of bird migrations with alternating birds leading the way to the unlikely example of Lenin's never implemented plan to rotate political functionaries on a two year basis between political office and work in factories.

But how can the cooperation motivate silent group members to take the much needed initiative? How can we put this into action? In cross-disciplinary artist collectives individual dominance shifts with the medium used in each project. For a video project the artist with relevant skills is heading the collective, for a text-based project, the writer in the group has the lead. Leadership is usually founded on commitment of time, energy and resources, intellectual contribution or the contribution of networks. Commonly, the person who puts the most resources and time into a project has the most say over the project. This dynamic endangers the cooperation, as it marginalizes other group members. How can we positively motivate each other to avoid such shortfalls?

> Invisible Labor

Does free cooperation have to have a leader? In his poem "A Worker Reads History"? Bertolt Brecht took on the issue of invisible labor. He writes: "Young Alexander conquered India." and asks: "He alone?" "Caesar beat the Gauls. Was there not even a cook in his army?" and "Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears? Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War. Who triumphed with him?" The Renaissance studios of Rubens or Rembrandt produced collaborations for which a single creator signed therefore making these cultural objects collectable. Andy Warhol took full credit for the low-paid production in his studio, the "Factory." Whose labor becomes invisible whilst credit is given to specific types of labor, particular individuals? Issues of crediting are more developed in the film world, theatre, dance, architecture and music. Here the choreographer is listed as such and so is the stage designer.

> All Competition and No Play?

In the "Communist Manifesto" Marx and Engels argue that the free development of each individual is the condition for the free development of all. This does not mean that everybody does as they please. It also does not mean that everybody takes what they think they need. That does not work. But working in a group is often associated with self-sacrifice, giving up of individual gain. What about personal gain? Do we lose out to the competition when we share our networks, knowledge, or skills? Do we lose our edge like an exhausted cowboy in a bad Western? What is the relationship between cooperation and competition? Teams such as the mentioned tiger teams define themselves in comparison aiming for the creation of measurable capital. Without comparison their competitiveness would be meaningless. Cooperations should take on a playful productive shape without (or as little as possible) competition. Group efforts need worthy goals- GOALS that are based on social needs, in opposition to the needs of profit driven capitalism.

> The Toolbox of Openness

Online spaces are shared and knowledge, and creativity are distributed. Inside and out of the commercial realm - inexpensive online communication tools become more tailored towards collaborative development. Participatory cultures became yet another hot buzzword. Creators invite users to participate, but then patronize them by limiting their interaction to a few customizable options. Customized user interaction has little to do with true participation, which leaves it up to the user what they do. Web-based communication formats such as collaborative weblogs (blogs) allow for user contribution- mainly in the form of responses or upload of texts, audio, images or video. Discordia, for example, is a collaborative weblog about art, techno-cultures and politics. Users log on and vote on submitted texts, on which they can also comment. Open content initiatives include Wikis, Open Archive(.org), Open Law, and Open Video. Electronic logging systems known as Wikis allow real time online editing of existing texts. Wikipedia(.org), for instance is a multilingual project with the aim to create a complete and accurate open content encyclopedia. The website Wikipedia states "We started on January 15, 2001 articles and are already working on 110535 in the English version." Openlaw is an experiment in crafting legal arguments in an open forum. On the Openlaw web site it reads: "With your assistance, we will develop arguments, draft pleadings, and edit briefs in public, online. Non-lawyers and lawyers alike are invited to join the process by adding thoughts to the "brainstorm" outlines, drafting and commenting on drafts in progress, and suggesting reference sources." These open content formats allow for cooperative creation of content that is free, available and would often not be made accessible by those in power.

> Conclusion

In this text, without going into much detail I attempted to point to some areas that make cooperation a relevant topic right now. Free Cooperation is valuable if is has goals that are based on social needs instead of the artificial needs of profit driven capitalism. Free Cooperation is a useful concept to evaluate, negotiate and re-negotiate our own relationships. To work together is not inevitably a positive or politically progressive stance. We can use the given examples and ideas to continue the debate in the areas in which we see hopeful opportunities.


- Conference website "networks, art & collaboration"
- "Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII" by John Donne
- "Tearing Down The Streets" by Jeff Ferrell
- "Internet Art. The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce" by Julian Stallabrass
- "Introducing Social Action and Cooperation" by Raimo Tuomela
- "Doing Their Own Thing, Making Art Together" by Holland Cotter, January 19, 2003, New York Times
- "The Future of Ideas" by Lawrence Lessig
- "My First Recession" by Geert Lovink
- "The Return of the Political" by Chantal Mouffe
- "Caution! Alternative Space!" in "Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art" ed. by Kristine Stilles and Peter Selz
- "Observations on Collective Cultural Action" by Critical Art Ensemble
- Wikipedia:
- Discordia:
- Wikiversity:
- Openlaw:


- Open Source Software at Oreilly:
- is a voluntary cooperative association dedicated to education, collaboration, and advocacy of the creation of free digital network infrastructures:
- The University of Openess: The UO is a framework in which individuals and organizations can pursue their shared interest in emerging forms of cultural production and critical reflection such as unix, education, cartography, physical and collaborative research.
- Many 2 many is a group weblog on social software:
- Open Archives: The Open Archives Initiative develops and promotes interoperability standards that aim to facilitate the efficient dissemination of content. The Open Archives Initiative has its roots in an effort to enhance access to e-print archives as a means of increasing the availability of scholarly communication.
- Womenspacework: An independent, non-profit and self-organized feminist internet project. It offers a structure to make feminist theories, practices and projects more visible. It serves as a tool for networking. It is functioning as a navigation instrument to support feminist activism on the internet and, in so doing, outside web space as well.

This text introduced issues that were at the center of the conference "Networks, Art, & Collaboration" ( that took place April 24-25, 2004 at the State University of New York at Buffalo. It was published online in NY Arts Magazine in April 2004.

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