Crit theory class

BLOG 1


EXPERIMENTATION IS A PROCESS BY WHICH THINGS COME INTO BEING

MAKING IS AN UNPREDICTABLE ACTIVITY


MULTI-SITED RESEARCH: the object of study may itself not been known before, but emerges on the links.


Do not follow a goal.

Let yourself flow into affection, exploration, intuition, questions.


In the path of experimentation/observation, we build a relation with the things we are doing. With matter, with the digital, with whatever we are working with. Instead of following a goal, explore. Let yourself to be affected. Change of plans may appear, that is: being in relation, being affected. This could bring unexpected decisions. An act of listening and talking. Communication, in sort way.


To embrace other’s agency to drive my own practice, is necessary to focus on processes, experimentations, exploration; instead of results. Trust in the process.


Looking for a final result already in mind is a human-intended action despite the world. No affection. That’s the kind of art education that I received in my undergraduates. Pure conceptual art. The idea first. The processes as just as a gap to achieve a pre-conceived idea, but not a process itself. Clever ideas with no-body.


Reading ‘Alien Agency” I concluded that a posthuman and non-materialist art practice involves a methodology of work that embraces processes and its unpredictability. It needs a methodology that listens. It needs an artist that allows itself to be affected by the matter of study; an artist that gives up control.


To be able to do this, I insist, we need time. Time for connection. Time for experimentation. Time to be with the other.


“(...) I know that when you are working in this way [durational performances], phychological and physical change takes place. You are affected by duration: your perception and your reality becomes different. So, if its done truly, int the way that Tehching did it, transformation takes place (...)” Marina Abramovich in Time (2013).


Some time ago, I attended to a lecture about “non-human theatre”. In it, the play writer highlighted that this was still theatre for humans by, for example, the use of human language. Nevertheless, there was something about the process that could be less hierarchical, instead, center in learning from others. This talk comes to my mind now. Contemporary art might still be done by “humans” and for “humans”, but I like changing the focus on the idea/goal and take it into the process. Listening others.


The act of listening is different from the act of seeing/observing. In this last one, there is a distance between the observer and the observed. As in front of a landscape, the observed is always in front of us. Even in a tiny distance, you need distance to focus your eyes. A completely different situation is the act of listening. Sound is a surrounding phenomenon. We are always in the middle. There’s no distance. Moreover, listening implies bringing to the inside what is outside. We need a connection with ourselves to be able to listen.


// Areas to explore (computing)

My interest about the concept of time, affection, living with others; misses a computational question that I haven’t find yet. To achieve connections, I’ve concluded the following areas of study to explore:

- Relations human-machine, cyborg relation, how to live together, interactivity, sensors, computer vision, bodies in relation.

- Book: Vehicles, Valentino.

- Autopoiesis, Maturana-Varela.

- Book: On the mode of existence of Technical Objects, Simondon.

- Computer predictions or a posthuman/non-materialist unpredictable approach.

-

Bibliography

Salter, C. (2015). Alien Agency. Cambridge, Massachusetts : The MIT Press.

Time (2013). London: Whitechapel Art Gallery.



BLOG 2 : 16th November 2020


“(…) our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.”

D. Haraway (1984)


When I read this phrase for the first time, I agreed with it but, I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. We’ve seen many cyberpunk movies depicting the “ghost in the shell” imaginary: from the film that titles that phrase, to many other productions such as Terminator, Tron, Blade Runner, Ex-Machina, WestWorld, among others. Beyond the fact that these “living machines” have been pretty much conceived as “human-like” replicants —; I kept wondering how “frighteningly inert” are we. How inert am I?


I’m not going to dig into the life-inert dilemma, nor into “we are all cyborgs” nor either into “all matter is vibrant matter”. But I’m interested in this turn from “life” to “inert”, as Haraway suggested. Inert, here, doesn’t seem to mean “absent of movement”, or “absent of action”. “We” keep breathing, our hearts keep beating, though, Haraway’s words feels very accurate. The dystopian cliché: wake up, go to work, go back home, sleep, and wake up again: an eternal loop of linear automatism. Or pretty much as "Matrix" (1999): living human-battery supplies that feed the capitalist system. Empty automatic behavior. No time for decision-making. No space for a sensitive and relational being. In addition, processes of homogenization, loss of individualization and alienation.


On Vimeo, I found a video of Franco Biffo Berardi talking about his book “After the Future” (Sujo Docs, 2011). Here, he explains that “the future is over”, so we would need something beyond the end, beyond the future. That, he says, is time. Time to live.


“We don’t need more things; we need more time. We don’t need more property; we need more joy. Today, we have developed the conditions to produce everything we need in terms of exploitation. So, the problem now is not about growth, but enjoy the world we’ve achieved. (…) the possibility of self-care, self-therapy, self-education. “ (Sujo Docs, 2011).


“We need to stop working and start living”, he says.

If we need to start living… that sentence already contemplates that we stopped living.


“(…) frighteningly inert”.


That’s finally the meaning that I was looking for.

We are frighteningly inert, frighteningly dead. Dead in the middle of the end of the future.


Berardi was very emphatic in the phrase “we need time for living”. He repeated it several times. And even when I find his approach very snob, I agree with the sentence. Actually, it is the core of my current research.


Berardi also mentions Simondon’s ideas of “individualization” and “singularity”. If I understood correctly, he is trying to explain how “the history of capitalism is the history of homogeneity” (Sujo Docs, 2011) which flats our human singularities. I would add that this homogenization is not new at all. Started with Europe and its violente colonization around the world, erasing and literally killing lives and cultures that were different, therefore, unacceptable. Today, finally, the process went back into the colonizers. Homogeneity has reached us all.


Berardi claims: “we have more information but less meaning”, and this might produce an effect on our human relationships. Alienation from nature, from other people, from our work and from ourselves, as Marx categorizes. I deeply believe that we need time to live, as Berardi says. Living is living time, we can’t just skip it. Living takes time, it involves duration. A concept that I was studying in Byung-Chul Han’s book “The Scent of Time: A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering”.


But before going any further, I would like to highlight Marina Garcés’s “Nueva Ilustración Radical” (Garcés, 2017), in which she also rises the phrase “the end of the future”, calling it a posthumous condition. I like that she introduces the concept of “life of dignity” as the condition for a posthumous future. She observes:


“The end of modernity, of history, of ideologies and revolutions. We’ve been seeing the end of progress: the end of the promise of the future as development and growth. Today, we see resources running out, water, oil, clean air, and the extinction of ecosystems and their diversity”[1] (2017, p. 13).


What we find here is a liminal state. “The limit of a livable life”, she says. In this context, "life of dignity" would mean something like "basic socio-human-being needs". A basic standard to live and die healthy, “properly”, with no-alienation and back to our bodies, back to our relations with others and the world.


Let's remember the initial idea of "inert" for a second. A life without dignity would be, then, an empty and inert automaton. Living, then, it's not just about joy, as Bifo manifests, it's –a lot— about dignity.


“Dignity” is the more spread word in the recent Chilean revolt (2019-): if you ask any Chilean the reasons behind their protests, they would probably say: "for a life of dignity". This is a very open answer, I know. It's not about pensions, it's not about taxes, it's not about education; it's about all of them. Is a structural problem. The basics are broken.



Bibliography

Garcés, M. (2017). Nueva Ilustración Radical. Barcelona: Anagrama.


Haraway, D (1991). ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, in Haraway, D. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature. London: Free Association Books, pp. 152.


Sujo Docs (2011). Bifo: After the Future. Available at: https://vimeo.com/25367464 (Accessed: 16 November 2020).

[1] Translation from Spanish by Camila Colussi


BLOG3: 1st December 2020


Cycle and transformation


Last week, a student asked me about my project “Better Times Are Coming”. “Cycle and transformation” was the core of her thesis, so she was looking at artworks that could express her approach. She asked me if my work could be thought from that perspective. Sadly, I realized that it doesn’t.


The concept of time and transformation are very significant to me. I built the project about ideas of cyclical history versus progress, linearity, eternal return and the possibility of change. Mainly about the possibility of change. When this student asked about my work, I realized that I was talking about transformation, but the structure of the piece was purely cycle. It might show variations at each cycle but, at the end, it doesn’t allow transformation. The code is fixed, stable, even when the interactions alter sound and graphics, it always resets itself as a brand new repetitive cycle.


Lately, I’ve been approaching to theories of chaos and predictability. Fractals, recursion, feedback. Cybernetics and theory of systems. Complexity. Change, cycles and transformation. This approach comes from a relational understanding of existing in the universe. No more individuals, but complex agents of fluid systems, inseparable and in mutual co-creation. This interest comes from my first divagations about the concept of time and duration. Time and alienation. Time to be-in-relation. Bodies-in-relation. How to live together. I’ve been thinking about the idea of "to affect and being affected", that is basically a state of feedback. This takes me to question my artwork in terms of structure. “Better Times Are Coming” is, then, a contradiction. So, now on, I would like to take my practice under this state of “being affected” to allow a possibility of transformation.


In the last entry of this blog, I analyzed Haraway’s words “(…) our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert”. To do this, I intersected thoughts about /time/ and F. Berardi’s “After the future” lecture, as well as M. Garcés’s “Nueva ilustración radical” book. I pointed out Berardi’s expression “we need time to live” and it's relation with the concept of alienation and automaton: “inert” as a lineal behaviour of automatization. An unaffected body. Even when I disagree with many aspects of Berardi's thought, I would like to add his observations about contemporary human sensibility —which he describes as the trigger of many contemporary psychological sickness that include depression, anxiety, fear, among others— . Berardi argues that the current speed of the machine and the whole capitalist system run faster than our human capability of empathy and sensibility. Then, we find ourselves living in a state of automation that disables sensibilities. Alienation comes again. He connects this observation with what he calls "cellular labour", and somehow is still a problem about time and duration.


From another perspective, I would like to mention the author Jane Bennett in her book “Vibrant Matter”, in which she explores the idea of “thing power”. She criticizes the live-inert dichotomy, not just to question “what it means to be alive”, but also to show the interweaving nature of matter: there isn’t a real individualization of subjects or organisms. We are all parts of the everything. Membranous and porous. No boundaries but a fluid matter that groups us in different forms. A constant state of affection.


Bennett critics the idea of /inert/, but I keep thinking Haraway's words:

“(…) our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.”


The phrase contains a certain intuition of something missing. From my perspective, that is affection. The chance of “being affected” by others. The becoming into a lineal automaton that is not able to process any information beyond its determinism.


That takes me back to my artwork “Better Times Are Coming”, and how its structure is cyclical: varies each cycle, but it returns to a zero starting point every time with no transformation in it. With no real influence on its body —the piece's body—. If I want to research about time and duration to approach to the idea of “bodies-in-relation”, I also need to start looking at the possibilities of affection in the structure of my practice.



BLOG4: 7th December 2020


Predictability


After reading “Personalities without people” by Katherine Behar, I realized how important might be the research on processes of computational predictability for my work.


Behind the question about time —productive time—, I’ve been looking at concepts such as flexibility, transformation, change. This with the intension to question any kind of determinism. I want to believe in alternative futures beyond the socio-economical-historical rules that seemed to condition the human existence —I’m thinking in a cause-effect conception of history, in the political power over socio-cultural systems as education, in cultural norms as the ones related to gender, among others. Maybe closest to Foucault’s disciplinary society of control—. I don’t want to believe in fixed realities. I’m against linearity. Then, my interest in Einstein’s Relativity Theory stands not only in the specific idea of “relativity” within the theory, but also due to the mutable behavior of science, therefore, in the flexible possibility of living the world. There might be many other examples inside the scientific history, but I started looking at this one.


A new focus came to me after reading Behar’s text, after watching the fourth season of “Westworld” , and the micro-series “DEVS”. Big Data, artificial intelligence and algorithmic predictions being used to order and configure the world. Not only the market, as might be easier to see, but also every detail of existence. This is ‘predictability creating determinism’ in a different way that I previously thought. The traditional conception of history: past-present-future. The movie “Back to the future” (Robert Zemeckis, 1985) comes to my mind. Everything is the way it’s supposed to be. But now, DEVS or Westworld as something closer to Gattaca, in which humans are born knowing the trajectory for the course of their lives. There is no space for imagination or speculation —in Behar’s words. The code determines a fixed future. There is no space for the impossible. No space to “think-differently”.


“(…) is becoming impossible to be anything other than possibly” says Behar.


Nevertheless, is interesting how this phenomenon of algorithmic predictability is happening at the same time and after Zygmunt Bauman “Liquid Modernity”. Liquid reality. The fall of the great pillars that supported the human socio-cultural models. A moment of uncertainty, multiple directions and twists. A time that questions everything:


Gender,

the conception of history,

the conception of “true”,

the “true” in science,

the theory of everything,

situated knowledges and no-innocence,

the human and the non-human,

new materialism,

a new turn for objectivity and the subject,

we are not individuals but multitudes,

we are not Darwin’s competitive creatures but collaborative porous webs,

we are not women,

we are cyborgs,

we are not States anymore,

and no democracies.


A moment of transformation that looks and questions

what we are,

what we thought we were

and

what we could be.


And COVID. One day to another we were moved to a land of uncertainty. Many might agree with me when describing the first lockdown as a moment drown by the feeling of uncertainty. No-body knew what to do. How to do your job, how to continue with your studies. In a limbo. No projections. No toilet paper or general shortage. I remember being just in my bed, not even taken a shower, and just watching Netflix while waiting for any news about what to do next. Normal life was stopped. Maybe around a month after, our social life took its new path. The new normal. The workspaces re-organized their way to work. In my case, university re-organized the way to teach. We got deadlines again. Goals.


Even at the era of predictive algorithms, pure uncertainty happened.



BLOG5: 15th December 2020


OOO-OOF


Last class, we talked about OOO and OOF. We discussed that the first one runs the problem of reducing subjects into objects. Which is particularly problematic when analizing it from feminist and decolonial perspectives: being reduced to an object is precisely what feminism and decolonialism has been struggling for so long.


When I first listened about OOO, it was something such as:


“The concept of ‘object’ shouldn’t have a negative connotation. When 'object' is used to diminish a subject, it implies a subject-object hierarchy that diminishes the object by itself. OOO attempts to modify that kind of hierarchy to establish a horizontal relation in which we are all objects”


I liked this.

Let’s tear down the hierarchies.


Nevertheless, OOF is critical and I also agree.


OOO seems to look from a white-West-male standing point as it doesn’t face the complexity of historical objectification applied over women, original cultures and people of color. OOO seems to miss an important social gap that is still in conflict. It risks erasing historical social struggles that still need to be pointed out.


From a computational approach, we discussed that computational systems are reducing humans —and everything— into a very simplistic and utilitarian capitalist objectivization. Numbers. Pieces replaceable from a bigger machine. No humans. No people anymore. Then, the question objectifying appears even more relevant.


Nevertheless, ‘the subject’ is also a problematic concept. As a counterpart to “OOO, everything as an object”, we could say “everything is a subject” to establish more horizontal relations between human and non-human organisms. But this doesn't seem right either. "Everything is a subject" might “humanize” things and beings, which is not the idea either.


I like some approaches such as Lyn Margulis symbiosis theory, which establishs that organisms in the universe are not individuals but porous multitudes.


No more subjects.


Here we return to the very first problem of making disappear the subject —either if that is human or non-human. How to be multiple but also a subject. At the end of the class, we concluded that non of these existing concepts are longer valid, and that we are in the path to build new ideas of the self and our communities and complexities.


Materialities

From a different perspective, I would like to point out that the art practice could be an interesting platform to explore this object-subject conflict. I must admit that I’m pretty much a thinker than a maker, and that my art approach has been much more conceptual than a material one. We could keep theorizing about OOO and OOF, and that’s totally fine, but right now I consider that I need to move a step aside and focus on materialities – or at least for a while until achieving a balance. The first text that we read for this class had an accent on material processes and I agreed with that. Nevertheless, I haven’t been able to do apply it. I’m stack in the ideas, blocked by the hope of a successful result. Thinking too much instead of making. When thinking about OOO, OOF and new materialist approaches, it implies moving forward with more dedication into the making, into prototypes, failures… a necessary procedure to focus on materialities, objects, things, organisms… Getting lost in the making.