[iDC] Here's to some other Things, then...

tobias c. van Veen tobias at techno.ca
Thu Sep 21 10:09:27 EDT 2006

> Isn't there a strong chance that the discussion of the
> Internet of Things is just an excuse not to talk about,
> think about, touch the things that aren't connected to any
> kind of profesional fetishization, any kind of academic
> bandwagon, any kind of corporate payoff for the shrinking of
> your self to a normalized and gadgetized ego-on-a-leash?

Thanks to Brian for enveloping the discussion over on -empyre- concerning
mobile tech and specifically telco sponsorship -- which follows from what
has been discussed here on iDC earlier concerning mobile tech, locative
media and ISEA. 

This sphere of concern is much wider, I feel, and the strains of an
underlying debate are apparent in other technology arts sectors, as its
effects are plainly enough tied into the broader issue of the fetishization
of specific discourses and technologies in the hype of Web 2.0, which is
what this is all wrapped up in. In the arts this debate is finding its old
stomping grounds in the polarization of art vs. industry. I am thinking,
close to home for me, of the international Upgrade network which has also
recently seen some limited although charged debate over the place of
industry in a global, DiY network dedicated to the presentation of artist's
works in the technology arts. [1]

I have found that part of the difficulty is effectively communicating the
stakes of this debate. For the most part, I don't see it as "art vs.
industry." Mark Shepard mentioned Heidegger's jug, so let me say that I am
somewhat swayed by Agamben's argument in _Man without Content_ that pop-art
and readymades offer the possibility of a "thing" that blends into everyday
life, that renounces its artworld status at the same time that it is also no
longer a product. Such a thing becomes the very possibility for an
ontological existence.

Marcuse, also in the vein of Heidegger that Agamben carefully draws from,
turned to the history of the early 20C avant-gardes in developing an
ontological theory of the "aesthetic," in which, basically, thingness is
enveloped in an ontological aesthetic (aesthetic thought here in
non-Enlightenment, rather Heideggerean terms). Andrew Feenberg, in _Marcuse
and Heidegger_ provides much of the same argument as Agamben -- though,
intriguingly enough, arriving from the stance of critical technology studies
-- in considering the possibility of a democratic, critical technology
practice attuned to the needs of the world. Feenberg extends the unthought
in the late Marcuse beyond Marcuse's reliance on the 1844 Marx's
species-being to think not merely human needs, but the needs of a tekhne, a
world revealing encompassing both "nature" and "culture," thought in
Heideggerean-Aristotelian terms found in the early Marcuse (for those
interested, circa the 1931 lectures of Heidegger on Aristotle).

Mobile tech, telco sponsorship, industry driven locative media and the rest
are very much wrapped up in the creation of objects that possibly are
neither commercial nor artistic things. But this is a fine line: the
commercial interests would very much like you to think you are owning
something special in this regard, and it is easy enough to convince yourself
that telco sponsorship leads to better art, as today, "better" art is "more
technological," at least in this ever-widening sphere. So all the seductive
apparatuses are in place to sustain the fetish-object that surveils,
calculates and digitizes its host body, that, as Brian wonderfully puts it,
shrinks "your self to a normatized and gadgetized ego-on-a-leash."

As for the Upgrade -- and I believe there are a few other Upgraders kicking
around here -- the question finds itself in praxis : should Upgrades present
solely industry presentations ?

John Sobol's poetic rendering of these questions -- he brilliantly performed
his poetic-slam style with saxophone at the Nettime Upgrade, a witty, very
untechno history of technology -- reminds me here of the need to think these
questions with where I am, and what I am doing.

Answering "yes" to this question would seem not to engage the above debate,
but side effectively with the old problem that we find with Lucas' anguished
telco sponsorship. But answering "no" is too easy, that old high ground of
the late-SI and the purists of all kinds, a kind of suicidal refusal. The
third answer -- to ignore the question, question its appropriateness,
silence its opening -- worries me even more. The question exists & its force
is everywhere. There's something of an aporia here, so we must be on the
right track.

Considering and reflecting upon "things" that, on some other channel, find
no home either in the artworld or with industry *perhaps* -- and I am far
from convinced -- opens onto that rare portal one finds in the old
territories of pop-art and readymades. That place and time in which I first
encountered Warhol's "death" works of 63/64, for example: the electric
chair, over and over again; the automobile accidents (of which we are
reminded, as I think someone mentioned here, of Virilio's warning of a new
accident for every new technology); the Couch films. And perhaps here I find
something to the effect of Wilfried Hou je Bek's 'dot.walk' project : the
city as peripatetic computer, with humans as its cogs, taking the
mechanization of humanity to such a level of utter absurdity that the
calculative force finds itself rendered trivial. [2]

As an arts organisation, curator or otherwise host, to become solely focused
on industry with no art content at all -- or, in what amounts to the same,
vice-versa -- is to give up this (im)possible chance of a different kind of
"tekhne." Without getting too Heideggerean, tekhne here means the
possibility for a democratic, "artistic" and "critical" (with some
reservations) relationship to the unfolding of the world in the epoch of now
near-subliminal technology... a relationship which is not merely passive but
in which our things "produce" that world (and the crux lies in that wicked
word, "production"). For unlike Marx this attention to an Internet of
Things, like the discussion on precarious work, does not present labour as
the solution to living in the world of technology. Playing-around while
working-toward-death being the general state of things in the wealthy world
-- [aaahh!] -- to sample Hou je Bek...

Here's to some other Things, then...



[1] http://theupgrade.net
    I curate Montreal with Anik Fournier & Sophie Le Phat-Ho:
    http://upgrademtl.org .

[2] http://socialfiction.org/
We find the word "peripatetic" again from Aristotle, who taught his
philosophy, apparently, by walking around. I'd certainly prefer that to some
of the seminar rooms I have to sit in, restless & bored.

More information about the iDC mailing list