[iDC] Interactive City: irrelevant mobile entertainment?

Jeremy Beaudry jeremy at boxwith.com
Tue Aug 15 23:08:03 EDT 2006

I have visions of techno-hipsters with bluetooth headsets jammed in  
their ears, capturing 15-second video clips of the urban "condition"  
on their phones, and txting knowing ; 's to their hipster- 
doppelganger pals in line behind them on the flaneuric boulevard of  
derives. But I wasn't there, so I don't know for sure. Maybe I'm just  
being harsh. [Another lurker delurks.]

I suppose none of my neighbors could ever walk/write the city like de  
Certeau, but I do believe they have an intuitive understanding of his  
very salient distinction between "strategies" and "tactics" when it  
comes to eking out a bit of deprogrammed space in the decaying urban  
landscape. Over the weekend I discovered a makeshift, mock urban  
battleground on one of the many post-industrial sites on the  
riverfront near my home in Philadelphia. Unsanctioned and imperially  
autonomous, this apocalyptic paintball playing field was carefully  
constructed of old refrigerators, oil drums, shipping crates, and  
ruined sheds. Talk about interactive city! It was the best urban  
planning to come to Philly in decades. (There's something really  
satisfying about stepping on an unspent paintball btw...) Those who  
built and use this space might be practicing for the insurrection --  
so many of my neighbors are feeling the weight of displacement and  
disenfranchisement that manifests itself in the form of condo towers,  
the de facto point of departure for urban consumption. These days,  
I'm thinking a lot about Hakim Bey's TAZ (http://www.hermetic.com/bey/ 

"Participants in insurrection invariably note its festive aspects,  
even in the midst of armed struggle, danger, and risk. The uprising  
is like a saturnalia which has slipped loose (or been forced to  
vanish) from its intercalary interval and is now at liberty to pop up  
anywhere or when. Freed of time and place, it nevertheless possesses  
a nose for the ripeness of events, and an affinity for the genius  
loci; the science of psychotopology indicates "flows of forces" and  
"spots of power" (to borrow occultist metaphors) which localize the  
TAZ spatio-temporally, or at least help to define its relation to  
moment and locale."

Play is good. By its nature, "psycho-loco" (I like that) work  
structurally shares much with the temporary autonomous zone -- at  
least in its potential to insinuate moments of liberation into the  
cracks of otherwise proper, authoritarian spaces. I mean, that's why  
we're all interested in locative media and situated technologies,  
right? The technological, new media part of psycho-loco seems to trip  
it up, though. Our technology is still so clunky and inelegant,  
uneven, and relatively non-ubiquitous. And Kevin raises an important  
point about the re-presentation of this work and how that can amount  
to a kind of reified substrate for all the dystopian prophecies of  
techno-fascism, or at least the entertainment spectacles that  
kanarinka has so aptly lamented. A lot of so-called new media work I  
see or read about still never gets beyond techno-fetishism (R&D's  
equivalent to viral marketing maybe), a series of discreet, "fun"  
activities that "test" a technology to see what happens. As a  
relative newbie in the work of community activism, I find Sarah K's  
terse call for "more structural and collective possibilities for  
action" essential. This new media stuff is, of course, just one set  
of tools among many for (hopefully) fostering agency within the great  
spectrum of everyday practices, from watching the local news to  
shopping at the corner market to lobbying local politicians to  
creative direct political actions. Yet, we -- as theorists and  
practitioners -- understand the urgency of it because of our critical  
awareness of how deeply, psychically, and structurally technology is  
reconfiguring our relationships with the world. Our neighbors knows  
this too but maybe can benefit from framing their reliance on tech in  
novel, critical ways. Which is what I hope pscyho-loco strives for.

Humbly submitted.


On Aug 14, 2006, at 2:25 PM, Kevin Hamilton wrote:

> kanarinka -
> From our own recent correspondence you can probably guess where I  
> would come out on your excellent questions, but for the sake of  
> discussion I'll jump in anyway.
> I saw very few of the actual exhibits you mentioned, but read about  
> more of them on the ISEA website, and share your doubts. The ISEA  
> Interactive City projects seemed to follow either the problematic  
> "community through collecting story" route or the also problematic  
> "liberation/activation through mobility and play" route, to which  
> you allude.
> I understand in your questions some doubt about the ways in which  
> the work of de Certeau and the Situationist project have formed a  
> significant platform for "interventionist" work today. Perhaps  
> you're more interested in questioning the application of these  
> ideas in the context of a New Media event, but I think it's worth  
> examining the whole contemporary project of critique through mis-use.
> It's a question Sarah Kanouse first asked me years ago - who really  
> gets to walk like de Certeau's walker/reader in the city? Certainly  
> his theory is useful in making sure we don't grant TOO much power  
> to Foucault-Bentham's panoptic eye on the other end. But what  
> exactly is produced in these infinitesimal acts of mis-reading? I  
> think we can answer this question on two levels - first, at the  
> level of self-perception  and second, at the level of the public/ 
> symbolic.
> On the personal level, certainly some of the actions you mention  
> produce awareness in the mis-walker of the ways in which one self- 
> regulates in space. As someone who's participated in similar  
> projects, I recall enjoying the ways in which such actions manifest  
> on a bodily scale how the world "could be other." It's as simple as  
> how jumping a fence instead of going around it connects a specific  
> bodily exertion with an extension (or negation) of permission. At  
> their most effective, such actions are the spatial equivalent of  
> Schwitters' spoken language experiments, liberating the speaker  
> through action outside of social bounds but well within the body's  
> capabilities.
> But don't they also often re-iterate an understanding of public  
> space that revolves around permission and regulation, instead of  
> around freedom, accountability, or justice? I'm also suspect of  
> permission granted or grabbed through mobility, for the same  
> reasons that the cities and buildings of Constant look to me like  
> an existentialist hell. Many of Beckett's characters have all the  
> agency they could want, pacing around endlessly, but there's  
> "nothing to do be done" with it because this agency is bestowed in  
> an asocial world.
> On the symbolic level, we can examine the different ways in which  
> acts like the ones you describe are then re-presented to others,  
> reinforcing or re-creating power structures. Especially in the  
> context of art careers, few carry out such actions without then  
> showing someone else later, and these images/videos perform a  
> separate function. Compare, say, footage of parkour runners on a  
> Nike ad to video of Alex Villar climbing a wall in Manhattan,  
> screened for an exhibition. These representations function  
> differently for their different audiences, dependent upon complex  
> intersections of race or perceived race, class, status, place,  
> history, athleticism and agency.
> For each of the examples you mention, or for those of our(my) own  
> work about mobile play, I think we just have to look carefully and  
> ask questions about where permission is granted as opposed to  
> power, whose vision and view such imparting depends on. We have to  
> ask these questions at the levels of experience and representation.  
> (For an example of the latter, I recommend Martin Berger's  
> excellent and helpful analysis of the old American painting, "Fair  
> Exchange, No Robbery" by William Sidney Mount. The picture depicts  
> a walker engaged in an apparently harmless but covert act of  
> landscape alteration, and Berger does a great analysis in terms of  
> race, form, context, representation. See the first chapter of  
> "Sight Unseen," on U of California press.)
> I'm still confident in the potential for protest or effective  
> empowerment through play, but not as a rule, and not without a  
> great deal of positioning and fore-thought and analyses on-the-go.  
> Anthropology tells us about how ritualized forms of play, even  
> socially or politically liberatory play, are carefully contained  
> and located through tradition and hierarchy. Inventing new play,  
> ostensibly outside proscribed boundaries and toward liberatory  
> ends, would probably require a kind of surrogate cultural context,  
> invented and carefully deployed. I'm not sure if I think this is  
> possible or not.
> For a discussion like this, it would also be useful to distinguish  
> between the two frequently-asked questions of "Is this action  
> politically effective?" and "What is the political effect of this  
> action?" Both questions are useful, but the first requires some  
> knowledge of a project's goals and methodology, and may not be  
> always appropriate. For example, some explicitly political projects  
> eschew the vocabulary of "effectiveness", and other projects/ 
> artifacts have no stated political function but have plenty of  
> negative/positive political effects. (I admit that I'm getting a  
> little out of my league here, through my lack of experience in  
> activism.)
> I would love to see this discussion continue in the context of  
> analysis of a specific work or two together - maybe at the Conflux  
> next month? I hadn't planned on attending this time, but the  
> promise of such a discussion would certainly motivate my  
> involvement. I recall Trebor calling for more specific analyses of  
> projects here on the list, as well, so maybe it can happen online.
> Thanks for bringing it up, Catherine.
> Kevin Hamilton
> PS - Sorry I missed the IDC gathering, I had to leave after my  
> panel, and just barely made my next appt. in San Francisco.
> kanarinka wrote:
>> Hello All -
>> A pleasure to meet some of you at ISEA. A brief introduction - my  
>> name is kanarinka/Catherine D'Ignazio. I am an artist, software  
>> developer, co-founder of iKatun and the Institute for Infinitely  
>> Small Things, former Co-Director of Art Interactive in Cambridge,  
>> MA, and part-time faculty in the Digital+Media dept at RISD. I  
>> have been lurking on the list for some time now but have not posted.
>> I wanted to post a nagging doubt I have in light of the title of  
>> the ISEA conference theme "Interactive City" in conjunction with  
>> the ZeroOne "Global Festival of Art on the Edge" and the artwork  
>> showcased there.  This is not a condemnation, more of a call to  
>> reflection for myself (who participated in a project there) and  
>> possibly for others. I would be interested to hear from others as  
>> to their thoughts on this.
>> The festival's imagination of the "Interactive City" seemed to be  
>> characterized by a spirit of play which feels increasingly  
>> oriented towards middle-class consumer spectacle and the  
>> experience economy. To give you an example of some art experiences  
>> that were possible at ISEA:
>> - eating ice cream and singing karaoke
>> - calling an old person in San Jose to talk about whatever you  
>> might have in common with them
>> - pressing a button on a machine and getting an artsy plane ticket  
>> with your photo on it
>> - drifting through the city as if it were a sports field via  
>> applying sports plays in urban space
>> - visualizing your social network via bluetooth as you go around  
>> the conference and talk to your friends
>> - watching/listening to noise music made by people riding  
>> skateboards around the conference
>> - listening to an erotic sci-fi narrative about san jose on your  
>> cell phone while riding the train
>> - flipping light switches to make a one-word message in public space
>> - viewing colorful 3D representations of wireless digital data
>> So, my questions to the artists, the organizers, the attendees and  
>> everyone else is - is psychogeography/locative media work simply  
>> R&D for a new generation of entertainment spectacle? Or, what are  
>> we actually trying to do with these ideas of "play" in urban  
>> space? Who gets to play? And what about the interactive cities in  
>> Iraq and Lebanon and elsewhere? Why didn't we address war,  
>> security, militarization and terrorism as aspects of the  
>> contemporary interactive city? For me, running around making the  
>> city into a sandbox, a playground or a playing field feels  
>> increasingly irrelevant and irresponsible.
>> A gentleman invited to drift with us summed it up nicely "Sorry, I  
>> can't go with you. I have to work here until 8PM and then I have  
>> to go to my other job."
>> What are your thoughts?
>> Thanks,
>> kanarinka
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