e-flux journal issue 74: “Art Ontologies of Silicon Valley”

e-flux journal issue 74: “Art Ontologies of Silicon Valley”

e-flux journal

June 15, 2016
e-flux journal issue 74: “Art Ontologies of Silicon Valley”

with Douglas CouplandIngrid BurringtonAndrew Norman WilsonMike PepiLee McKinnonElvia WilkAlexander GallowayZach Blas, and Marina Simakova


Get issue 74 for iPad here.

Tech is never simply technology. It never appears in the abstract, any more than the characters “H20″ appear anywhere on water. Tech is always specific. How old should someone be when they first have sex? How old before they get their first cell phone? This sequence unsettles us because it is hard to think about either inevitability. Sex and technology are instruments of desire, the objects and system of adult unfreedom. Children at play are so analog. Young is life before text. We clutched love letters, in the past, when we couldn’t clutch each other. Now our phones get warm and vibrate. Eventually, they die. As a proxy for a body, technology is never better than the next best thing. Too often, it’s the only one. Today the image of the beloved appears most against the canvas of the phone, carved into polymer, inscribed onto text messages, recorded in electronic memory. Our relationships with our phones are our relationships, most of the time.

Any ontology of Silicon Valley must include this new technics of reproduction, considered in this issue by Lee MacKinnon in “Love Machines and the Tinder Bot Bildungsroman.” After all, the moniker “Silicon Valley” signifies more than the source of our immediate gizmos of desire. It also serves as a desirable object in its own right. In “Asynchronous! On the Sublime Administration of the Everyday,” Mike Pepi details how the appeal of non-linear processing has birthed a raft of new management techniques named like sports drinks: Agile and Lean. In the ascendant project of technocracy, these new philosophies represent new techniques of governance. In “The Artist-in-Consultance: Welcome to the New Management” Elvia Wilk compares the role of resident corporate artists to management consultants. Both are exogenous scolds, enlisted to shame and discipline communities and to anticipate their weaknesses.

In “Light Industry: Toxic Waste and Pastoral Capitalism” Ingrid Burrington examines the material history of Silicon Valley, both above and below ground. Santa Clara County is a place, distinguished not only by its geographical location but by its historical one as well. It is not all technology, all the time: it is this technology, here and now.

Is the Valley interested in art? Even if today we bathe in high-tech culture, what is high tech-culture? Does it exist? “They have no culture!” the colonizer shouts upon seeing the natives. But they do. They are engineers. They are mathematicians and quants. They are venture capitalists. They are concerned with community, with sharing ideas and with the odd proof-of-concept slice of machine expressionism. Perhaps they don’t have the time or the vanity for the art market. In “What If There’s No Next Big Thing?” Doug Coupland presents the radical possibility that tech itself is the next vanguard art, that the two strains of high art and high technology have finally become indistinguishable. In “Jodi’s Infrastructure,” Alexander Galloway takes up the work of Jodi.org to illustrate the vanishing difference between working in the digital, and working on it. Zach Blas offers a “dildotectonics of the internet” in order to compare the network’s sudden death at the hands of nationalist dictators with its slow evaporation into the lifeworld.

What becomes of the artist in this new arrangement? Andrew Norman Wilson, in “The Artist Leaving the Googleplex,” narrates his journey from corporate video artisan to rising star in “the cottage industry of critical art.” Finally, in “No Man’s Space: On Russian Cosmism” Marina Simakova examines artwork orbiting around an earlier faith in technology’s ability to redeem the infrastructure of beauty amidst the unfolding revolution.


In this issue:

Douglas Coupland—What if There’s No Next Big Thing?
What if tech itself is the next big thing in the art world? What if tech itself is the Duchamp urinal in the twenty-first century Armory Show? Is the notion that technology = art depressing? Are you a hater to think such things? Which is better art: a performative piece whose movements are informed by real-time Los Angeles traffic patterns, or plein air watercolors of delicate song birds done on a foggy morning? Does it drive you crazy when autocorrect always flags the word “performative”?

Ingrid Burrington—Light Industry: Toxic Waste and Pastoral Capitalism
Suburban landscapes do not lack history but they are designed to undermine it. When driving around Silicon Valley, history and political reality alike are things glimpsed for a moment in between searching for a parking spot and merging onto the highway. This dislocated sense of history suits a place that is often perceived less as historical landscape and more as a synecdoche for an entire way of life. Whether it’s being spoken of with overwhelming contempt or feverish faith, critics and champions alike tend to talk about Silicon Valley as a condition rather than as a concrete geography. It isn’t a place that exists so much as something that happens to people and industries and other cities.

Andrew Norman Wilson—The Artist Leaving the Googleplex
We entered 1600 Amphitheater Drive through one of many sets of large glass doors, and I halted in front of a row of six digital prints of the Google logo, all on the same 3 × 5 foot canvas, each one done in the style of a different modern master—Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Dali, and Pollock. The Pollock was a basic Photoshop splatter-brush defacement, while the Monet was an epic travesty: an impressionistic GOOGLE floating nowhere above three lily pads. The Dali was a shotgun marriage between the Persistence of Memory and the famous insignia. The collapsed sense of space and time resonated most with its surroundings. “Yeah they like to do art projects here,” said Bert impatiently.

Mike Pepi—Asynchronous! On the Sublime Administration of the Everyday
To overcome the political nature of their autonomous subjects, sublime administration must paradoxically erect a baroque set of protocols that are hyperfocused on distributed autonomy and asynchronous assembly. This is all done under the guise of empowerment and individual choice. But the sum total of this framework creates value at the expense of the subjects it administers. In its most extreme forms, sublime administration purports to administer a (human) resource that it fundamentally feels it would be better off without. The mechanics of sublime administration trade not in the employee’s innate human capacities, but in the ability to confront and remove the bottlenecks created by such capacities.

Lee McKinnon—Love Machines and the Tinder Bot Bildungsroman
Let us consider the protocological mobile phone. The mobile device is constantly receiving and sending information across its control channel to its closest cell tower. Now and again, tower and phone exchange packets of data, establishing their connection. This silent transmission is itself like a form of intimacy between devices as they bypass the human as its executive operator. The cell phone processes millions of calculations per second, digitally compressing and decompressing the human voice, reminding us of the complexity, not only of this technical system, but of the human thought and speech that it facilitates, translates, and reiterates.

Elvia Wilk—The Artist-in-Consultance: Welcome to the New Management
But who is the absolute best predictor? Hypothesis: artists. The tech sector in particular sees the artist as the original disruptor—the avant-guardist, or so goes the cliché. And more to the point, artists are relatively harmless, they need money, and it’s possible to convince them that working as a consultant is itself a disruption of their own industry, the art industry. Art needs to disrupt itself as much as any other industry—how else is it going to survive?

Alexander Galloway—Jodi’s Infrastructure
In the modern “on” mode, infrastructure is everything. Content dissolves into context, and context itself becomes content. Hence the great mantra of modernity is “there is no content”—or, as Marshall McLuhan famously put it, “the medium is the message”—since all content is overwhelmed by context. By contrast, in the non-modern, premodern, or postmodern mode of working “within,” content is what it is, no more and no less. Here content provides its own context, and the environment grows in accordance with the emergent emanations of the inside. No larger transcendental category arrives like a conquistador to command and encompass it from outside. For the non-modern, the message is the message. And any other loftiness—from heaven above to down below—will always be legible right there within it. Indeed, only a modern would ever invent the word “content” in the first place.

Zach Blas—Contra-Internet
What does it mean to kill the internet? If one attempted to physically locate where the internet was killed in Egypt, one might go to the Telecom Egypt Building at 26 Ramses Street in Cairo, just four kilometers from Tahrir Square, which is the major fiber-optic connection point going into and out of Egypt. But can technical infrastructure be killed? Or, can technical infrastructure die a political death, like the more than eight hundred people killed during the uprising? If the internet did die, then it was also resurrected, while the protestors remain dead. Is the internet undead then, like a zombie?

Marina Simakova—No Man’s Space: On Russian Cosmism
Declaring the “cosmic growth of humankind” its goal, cosmism was, of course, a modernist project, but it was the project of an alternative modernity. It experienced the tremendous impact of scientific theory, becoming its esoteric extension. The dream of human immortality was not a romantic fantasy, but an integral system of viewpoints that grew out of a principled refusal to view the world through the eyes of the lonely and selfish individual, that is, through the eyes of the nihilist. Immortality implied an unwillingness to separate the human of the present from the human of the past, as well as the destruction of all obstacles standing between people, so they could easily feel as one.

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