[iDC] IPF09 Conference thoughts

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at aliceadsl.fr
Mon Dec 7 19:15:03 UTC 2009

Kevin Hamilton wrote:
> Thanks for thinking this through some with us Brian (and John)...

Hello Kevin, everyone -

Very interesting replies!

Here's a link to the Beatriz Colomina text on the Eameses' "Glimpses of 
the USA," describing the content and astonishing ideological context of 
one of the first multiscreen displays:


Also I blogged my 2 earlier posts with some links and images:


I don't know the history of education very well, but I think Kevin is 
headed in a very interesting direction when he points to the WPA 
tradition as the benchmark against which one could measure the effects 
of the informational paradigm in art schools - because that workerist 
tradition would represent the form that the 1930s social compromise took 
in art. Examining how it changes when the Bauhaus meets cybernetics in 
the 60s and 70s could be quite interesting, once you realize that: A. 
such meetings founded a new paradigm and B. we are now entering the 
regulation crisis of that paradigm, where the definition of what 
education should be, who it should serve and how it should be paid for 
is once again up for grabs, along with many other aspects of the social 

 > The latter approach, as exemplified in the "modified Bauhaus"
 > education described earlier, drops the desire for a shared,
 > predictable world and accepts instead a constructivist, subjectively
 > constructed world. This newer approach folds perfectly (perhaps by
 > design) into consumerist habits of being and seeing.

This point is the most subtle. When it reached its full development 
during the economic boom of the 90s, the new constructivist/ 
informationalist approach *claimed* to be addressed not to consumers, 
but to prosumers. That was an egalitarian claim: everyone should be able 
to attain the quasi-demiurgical status of perceptual wizard, "imagineer" 
etc. Interestingly, the most visible growth products of that period were 
tools: PCs, video cameras, Blackberries, etc. However, what we see more 
clearly today is that the most significant growth areas have been in 
finance and in military technologies. And where art is concerned, as 
many of us tried to show for years until it suddenly became obvious, the 
growth of the "creative industries" was almost entirely dependent on 
financial bubbles, first in the tech sector itself, then in real estate 
(art as fuel for gentrification). As those bubbles deflate, society is 
finding out to its dismay that the "industries" based on the radically 
constructivist approaches are mostly predatory: exactly like the 
derivatives traders that I've been studying. The growth sectors of the 
information economy extract surplus value through the creation of worlds 
of voluntary endebtment and free labor as well as the creation of 
spectacular consumption goods. Meanwhile on the military side, the 
drones go into action.... This leads to the condition that Kevin 
describes perfectly:

 > Radical constructivism, "unmoored" visual intelligence - some people
 > now experience these things as consumers, others as producers. Of
 > course the dream of many a student/consumer is to become an expert
 > producer - but even then, not all will have access to the codes of
 > constructing consciousness. Some will simply get to mimic and
 > reproduce that produced by others - it depends how much debt the
 > student wishes to incur in the process. More college debt = greater
 > access to the rudder of cybernetic consciousness control.

That's the nakedly cynical claim that now appears in broad daylight. But 
I think that there's some dispute boiling up over that particular deal 
in the USA right now (as there has been, not only in California but in 
Champagne-Urbana where university staff just won their labor struggle!). 
What's at stake is not a return to the old Fordist equilibrium, though 
some of its better aspects may be brought back too. It's mainly about 
finding egalitarian, sustainable and socially meaningful uses for the 
informational tools, which means reembedding them in social 
solidarities, some of which have never even existed in the past and have 
yet to be invented. There is a lot at stake in these issues of 
consciousness creation.

best, Brian

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