Post-Internet Cities - Morten Søndergaard - On Para-logic Practices
Post-Internet Cities
August 2, 2017
Post-Internet Cities

On Para-logic Practices

Martin Kippenberger, Transportable Subway Entrance, Madulain, Switzerland, 2007. Photo: Kamahele.

In 1993, artist Martin Kippenberger first envisioned Metro-net, a sculptural project that “reacted” to the impact of the internet on urban existence. Consisting of 1:1 entries of metro stations built out of solid, local materials like concrete and wood, Metro-net was installed in remote locations on the Greek island of Syros, Dawnson City West, Canada, Kassel and Venice. Creating a useless, imaginary network of unknown connectivity, Metro-net speaks to not just what a “post-internet city” could be, but also the paradoxes and problematics inherent within such notions of physical/virtual “reality.” Fast-forward to 2015 and Ryan S Jeffery & Boaz Levin’s film All that is Solid Melts Into Data, which by exploring the design and development of data centers, addresses what Kippenberger envisioned in 1997: a “digital sphere [that] grows larger, demanding an ever-growing physical infrastructure, effecting and shaping our physical landscape.”1

Whereas Metro-net is a personal and very direct artistic response to the internet as the metaphor of the information terminals of decentralized globalization, All that is Solid Melts Into Data is an almost clinical dissection of the material effects of data (and by inference, the internet) on the future conditions of the city. It is possible, I will claim in the following, to see both Metro-net and All that is Solid Melts Into Data as evidence of a new kind of practice in the post-internet city; a practice that is skeptical of existing iterations of both the “city” and “technology” and looks at how these two concepts actually materialize in the spheres of post-internet citizens. Underneath the dissent and antagonistic attitudes, practices such as these aim to establishing a new, other logic—a para-logic—of things in the culture of ubiquitous information.

Film still of Ryan S Jeffery & Boaz Levin’s film All that is Solid Melts Into Data, 2015.

The city is the venue of citizens. Historically, it is the complex and multi-layered space of events, which frames the city as an ever-changing political and social public sphere.2 “Everything solid melts into thin air” could be claimed to be the pre-internet, pre-digital premise for the public sphere; wars, revolution, ideological battles, totalitarian tendencies, global capitalism and fragile postwar democracies could be said to be the effects of the modern city.3 From these city-effects emerged modern citizenry as the “agents” of public space. Within the last decades however, this position of the city as public sphere is being challenged and transformed beyond recognition by technological inventions such as the internet and the smartphone. As Jean-François Lyotard famously argued in 1979, the period in which the city was the “grand narrative” of modernity is over.4 Both Metro-net and All that is Solid Melts into Data suggest a post-internet city that has melted, if not into the thin air of Marshal Berman (and Karl Marx), then into the information aesthetics of what Mark Weiser famously called “the culture of ubiquitous computing” and what Lyotard referred to simply as “the condition.” The post-internet city is, above all, a manifestation of data and infrastructures we may only imagine, and never see or feel.

Technologies in the post-internet city are, according to Wendy Chun, “second nature: autonomous yet intimate, individual yet collective.” They have become part of our habits, and “through habits, we have arguably become our technologies: we click, stream, update, capture, upload, share, grind, link, verify, map, save, trash and troll.”5 In this way, society itself may be interpreted as a series of practices that aim to establish order. Every order is an expression of an actual structure, and if we are to envision a transition from the established order, we need to abandon the view that only one single order is possible. The question that both Metro-net and All that is Solid Melts into Data raises is how we as inhabitants of the post-internet city may break with our habits and “retake control” of the all-encompassing disorder of globalization and technology. Within both projects there is a strategy of withdrawal. They point towards different solutions—a creative role played both capital, artists and labor alike—and the ever-present possibility, and dialectics, of antagonism and hegemony.

Another demonstration of how the “post-internet condition” affords para-logic practices is the 2002 project In-line by Swedish sound artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff, in which the habitual turn-call sounds of a bank’s waiting-line ticket system in Roskilde, Denmark, was changed to newly composed, “unknown,” and “weird,” sounds. Both the new and the old sounds were integrated into the computer-system of the bank, highlighting what Freidrich Kittler understood to be the general digitalization of information within the simplest of daily routines.6 By introducing small cracks into the apparently “innocent” surface of a bank visit, Hausswolff unveils everyday life to be constituted by a series of “survival spaces,” where according to Jacques Attali, “[sound] indicates the limits of a territory and the way to make oneself heard within it, how-to survive by drawing one's sustenance from it.”7

Survival Space

Far from suppressing criticism of everyday life, modern technical progress realizes it. This technicity replaces the criticism of life through … those activities which rise above the everyday, by the critique of everyday life from within: the critique… of the real by the possible and of one aspect of life by another.8

Digital media has realized a situation where technology incessantly reinvents the meaning and redefines the limits everyday life. The ubiquity of technology has made the modalities of criticism (and critical thought) become transitory, fugitive and invisible. This does not mean that criticism in the expanded and increasingly digital field of everyday life is extinct or unimportant, but rather that the critical activity of philosophy, art, poetry, and hermeneutics are ubiquitously present, ultimately meaning that cultural artefacts do not carry or imply the same authority they once did. It is no longer possible to presume there to be a reader of a literary work or a visitor to a museum, not to mention one that shares the same norms, values, and habits of the author or curator. A circuit of cultural order has seemed to have been broken, but what—or whom—will take its place?

In “The Author as Producer,” Walter Benjamin calls for the author to be address and enact socio-political questions and problems. While he laid the foundations for understanding our culture of ubiquity, we could ask as a thought experiment how Benjamin would look at and see the world we live in today? Whereas Walter Benjamin, writing in 1934, advocates for the “cultural producer” to intervene in the production process in the manner of an engineer, Geoff Cox and Joasia Krysa argue that “social change does not simply result from resistance to the existing set of conditions, but instead from adapting and transforming the technical apparatus itself.”9 The phenomenology of the culture of ubiquitous information relies on the paradox of engineering participation—the transformation of an audience into citizens with political and social responsibilities—and the ability to transform technological apparatuses into “cultural” media—to facilitate, in the vernacular of Lefebvre, a generative and meaningful production of space.

The para-logic producer is an emergent type of subject capable of reflecting on the culture of ubiquitous information as a “survival space.”10 Their practices highlight and de-stabilize existing methodologies (political, social, creative) and their hidden technological criteria to reveal the constituent elements of the distributed public sphere we all now inhabit.11 In this way, para-logic practices forge a different network of space-production: drawing sustenance from the fact that the public sphere will never be harmonious, it points towards an investigation into alternative orders of the post-internet city and the political organization of its citizens.

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Post-Internet Cities is a collaborative project between e-flux Architecture and MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology within the context of the Utopia/Dystopia exhibition and “Post-Internet Cities” conference, produced in association with Institute for Art History, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities – Universidade NOVA de Lisboa and Instituto Superior Técnico – Universidade de Lisboa, and supported by MIT Portugal Program and Millennium bcp Foundation.

Morten Søndergaard is Associate Professor and Curator of Interactive Media Art at Aalborg University, Denmark. He is co-founder and AAU-coordinator of Erasmus Master in Media Arts Cultures, co-founder (with Peter Weibel) of ISACS – International Sound Art Curating Conference Series, and (with Laura Beloff) the upcoming EVA-Copenhagen symposium.

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Notes - On Para-logic Practices
1

See .

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2

Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford University Press, 2005).

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3

Marshal Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (Simon and Schuster, 1982).

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4

Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (Les Éditions de Minuit, 1979): 25.

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5

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011): 22–23.

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6

Frederich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (MIT Press, 1987): 102.

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7

Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (University of Minnesota Press, 1985): 18.

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8

Henri Lefevbre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991): xi.

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9

Engineering Culture: On "The Author as (Digital) Producer", eds. Geoff Cox and Joasia Krysa (Autonomedia, 2005)

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10

Ibid., Lyotard: 25

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11

Such practices favor legitimating discourses that explore paradoxes and anomalies, foreground the critique and destabilization of existing methodologies, and create new ones in their place. Paralogy is therefore an approach that favors dynamic tensions and heterogeneity over operativity and consensus. It is the bending of rules, the creation of new rules, and a self-reflexive awareness of the rules that govern its research and culture.

Go to Text

See .

Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Marshal Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (Simon and Schuster, 1982).

Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (Les Éditions de Minuit, 1979): 25.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011): 22–23.

Frederich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (MIT Press, 1987): 102.

Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (University of Minnesota Press, 1985): 18.

Henri Lefevbre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991): xi.

Engineering Culture: On "The Author as (Digital) Producer", eds. Geoff Cox and Joasia Krysa (Autonomedia, 2005)

Ibid., Lyotard: 25

Such practices favor legitimating discourses that explore paradoxes and anomalies, foreground the critique and destabilization of existing methodologies, and create new ones in their place. Paralogy is therefore an approach that favors dynamic tensions and heterogeneity over operativity and consensus. It is the bending of rules, the creation of new rules, and a self-reflexive awareness of the rules that govern its research and culture.

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