e-flux journal issue 31, with contributions by Keller Easterling, Gean Moreno, Gregory Sholette, Sven Lütticken, Grant Kester.
As we continue to reflect upon the chain of political upheavals of 2011, it may be interesting to consider a particular shift in the status of information technology, now that it has been deployed as such a powerful force in facilitating the rise of a new popular voice.
But first, how did this happen? How did a form of communication—developed in the late 1950s with a well-funded US Defense Department initiative in response to the Sputnik threat, then blossoming in the hands of engineer-entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley of the 1970s into the center of accelerated hyper-capitalism in the 1990s—evolve to become a strange hybrid of a free press, judiciary, and public market?
After all, it was not long ago that information technology seemed to stabilize as a mere outgrowth of capitalism with side benefits for those who could afford the hardware necessary to access it. Its major scruples concerned copyright violators and the contradictions of using a system of distribution in which everything could be duplicated at zero cost. Perhaps the Motion Picture Association of America even looked past its fear of piracy to a further endpoint where people would simply begin to produce their own films themselves. But anyhow, we no longer care what the MPAA thinks, because the scale has shifted significantly—it seems that the internet not only moves songs, movies, documents, and transactions, but a form of consensus and organization that can mobilize civic life itself.
We can say, as if at the end of a Hollywood film, that it was you all along, The Internet, watching over us for the last half-century or so, accelerating global financial trade, presiding over economic deregulation, abstracting borders, shutting down factories and opening cafés and restaurants, making everyone a freelancer in some way—whether a roadside fruit vendor or an engineer. And its early stages accompanied a wave of deregulation that extended from Bretton Woods to Sadat’s Infitah, to Reagan and Thatcher, and onward.
It is often said that the information age was heavily pushed in the 1970s as a means of revitalizing a stagnant economy. Information systems would create an entirely new trade sector that would work in tandem with a lagging industrial base to smooth communication between disparate locations, but also produce new commodity forms made up entirely of information. Factories could now be run by remote control, new factories could be built to produce these remote controls, and programmers would develop and refine the language transmitted by them.
But what now seems clear, as commentators such as Manuel Castells and Franco Berardi have suggested, is that the information economy is not simply the next logical step following an industrial economy, comparable to the shift from agriculture to industry. The internet is as unpredictable as popular opinion, and powerful enough to exceed its own economic imperatives. Who could have expected that, beyond the tiresome celebration of social networks as tools for revolutionaries, 2011 would also witness access to information joining water, electricity, roads, and so forth as a basic necessity of civic life, even a human entitlement. Strange times indeed!
—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle
In this issue:
Keller Easterling—An Internet of Things
A non-modern question—the artifacts of which have always been with us, the boundaries of which include but exceed all of the above experiments, and the answer to which we already know—is how space, without digital or media enhancement, is itself information.
Gean Moreno—Notes on the Inorganic, Part I: Accelerations
By constantly invading and liquidating resource-rich contexts, capitalism encourages images that project what will inevitably be left in its wake: a dead world. And just as one can imagine (or see) patches of devastated and desolate land, a kind of localized post-extraction desertification, one can just as easily imagine this becoming a planetary condition: the globe as a rotating, dead lithosphere, coated in a fine dust of decomposing once-organic particles.
Gregory Sholette—After OWS: Social Practice Art, Abstraction, and the Limits of the Social
Once again, to go beyond shallow assumptions of social media’s invasion of traditional art practices, let me put the question differently: Where does abstraction and the non-representational intersect with the social? Or, put the other way around: What is the limit of the social within the social itself?
Sven Lütticken—General Performance
The term “performance” is slippery even within relatively well-defined contexts. In today’s economy, it not only refers to the productivity of one’s labor but also to one’s actual, quasi-theatrical self-presentation, one’s self-performance in an economy where work has become more dependent on immaterial factors.
Grant Kester—The Sound of Breaking Glass, Part II: Agonism and the Taming of Dissent
This shift from art to culture is often figured as a loss or abandonment, as art surrenders its privileged immanence to the brutal instrumentality of vanguard politics. “Unlike the political vanguard,” Romero Brest writes in 1967, the artistic avant-garde “does not have an aim to achieve.”
The print edition of e-flux journal can now be found at:
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