e-flux journal issue 45: Language and Internet
out now

e-flux journal issue 45: Language and Internet
out now

e-flux journal

May 23, 2013
e-flux journal issue 45: Language and Internetout now

with Hito Steyerl, Martha Rosler, Geert Lovink, Ana Teixeira Pinto, Diedrich Diederichsen, Anselm Franke, Abou Farman, Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl, Brian Kuan Wood, and Boris Groys


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In April, Mark Epstein from the Cooper Union Board of Trustees announced the end of fully subsidized education across the college’s art, engineering, and architecture schools. It was a closing chapter in a ferocious battle in the college since it announced its insolvency in 2011. But it may be the beginning of something else.The details are too complex to fully describe here. On the one hand, a shortfall in Cooper’s endowment became unsustainable following the market crash of 2007–2008. An extravagant and badly timed building project around the same time compounded the problem. Subsidizing a free art school costs money, and the school simply did not have it. But in his address to the Cooper community, Epstein’s brutal pragmatism inadvertently described a much larger problem.

As we saw with the absurd closing of Middlesex University’s philosophy department in 2010, the logic is deceptively clear: if you want it, you have to pay for it. But the real blow in Epstein’s remarks wasn’t to be found in his numbers, but in the total evacuation of any idea of why a school should be free in the first place, as a principle and a right, and as the primary means of leveling class differences in society. How could that have gone missing from an address by the school’s very own trustees?

Let’s try to look at this another way—and maybe we can even take Epstein’s pragmatism at its word. The big hit to Cooper’s endowment came from the market crash. Essentially, the subsidies to operating costs and tuition had been placed in a number of risky investments and managed assets, and these lost a staggering 14% of their value without ever recovering. So even if we are to take the trustees’ argument seriously—that the crisis is a purely fiscal one—then we must also recognize that the markets themselves are in the midst of their own financial, and even existential, crisis. And Cooper Union’s solution—to adopt austerity measures at the expense of the college’s own mission, thus liquidating support for generations of young artists—is to miss a crucial, and even quite interesting, aspect of what the financial crisis has revealed about how money and markets actually work.

As the role of the state in ensuring the value of currency has grown weaker over the past few decades, markets have increasingly assumed the qualities of language, of a “system of signs in which the only essential thing is the union of meanings” (Saussure). The other language economy is of course the internet, where it was thought that the immaterial qualities of language would evade limits in supply and demand. But now for some reason, this promise reverses. As language becomes more free, everything else becomes incredibly expensive. This has made language, and the internet with it, a class battleground now more than ever, because it represents access to both knowledge and capital simultaneously.

Market collapses have only made it more clear that the money system follows a recursive structure where value is not absolutely backed but mutually reinforced. And for those whose livelihoods depend on the integrity of the financial system, or even the state for that matter, this has produced a deep existential crisis. How can we be governed by recursive logics and swells of belief and disbelief, by speech acts and depressive episodes? Could my fortunes be pegged to nothing more than just this? Artists will tell you: of course. Because that is how the art system has always functioned. It has always been pegged to language.

The students demonstrating at Cooper Union understand exactly this. And this is why the cost-benefit ratios of Mark Epstein and the trustees sound so alien. Furthermore, when the language of financial markets suffers, why should art education be subordinated to a logic of capital that is not only itself at risk, but also not backed by an idea? Cooper Union can produce its own capital, and the students know this. The language that backs it is the thing to be developed.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle


Hito Steyerl—International Disco Latin
No gallery in Salvador da Bahia, no project space in Cairo, no institution in Zagreb can opt out of the English language. And language is and has always been a tool of Empire. For a native speaker, English is a resource, a guarantee of universal access to employment in countless places around the globe. Art institutions, universities, colleges, festivals, biennales, publications, and galleries will usually have American and British native speakers on their staff. Clearly, as with any other resource, access needs to be restricted in order to protect and perpetuate privilege.

Martha Rosler—English and All That
It’s one thing to critique double-talk as gobbledygook, a meaningless jumble of memes and phrases. It’s another to shine a negative spotlight on the word salad as a way of proving that theoretical discourse, or the very enterprise of theory, is a sham and a shame, a foreign import, or perhaps simply a fallen discourse.

Geert Lovink—After the Social Media Hype: Dealing with Information Overload
We can read as many facts as we like, but if we try to add them up, they refuse to become a system. We struggle to keep track of all the information that approaches us, making it hard for most info bits to be properly digested. This is the passive indifference that Jean Baudrillard celebrated during his lifetime, and which has now become the cultural norm. The result is “epistemic closure.” When we are constantly exposed to real-time interactive media, we develop attention fatigue and a poor sense of time.

Ana Teixeira Pinto—The Whole Earth: In Conversation with Diedrich Diederichsen and Anselm Franke
It’s important to mention the historical parallel between, on the one hand, the growth of systems theory and cybernetics, and on the other, the development of space travel. Another point is the conceptual similarity between a planet and a system, or rather between the image of the planet and the system. The image of a planet, just like a system, is something you watch from the outside. But at the same time, you’re also inside it.

Abou Farman—Towards a Post-Secular Aesthetics: Provocations for Possible Media in Afterlife Art
But secularism has privatized belief to such an extent that, outside of Sundays, very little of this sort of thinking is institutionalized in wider educational, legal, or state spheres. It is permitted insofar as it is privately held. Even for those who believe in life after death, the possibility of a person remaining active asan agent in this world after his or her death is outside the realm of possibility; their lives are not inflected by either the decisions, desires, and doings of the dead, or their own post-mortem plans.

Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl—Sensing Grounds: Mangroves, Unauthentic Belonging, Extra-Territoriality
Air is the weight of water—and the leg that ventures into a mangrove swamp is asking to be eaten. If it isn’t snapped up by a saltwater crocodiles, a tiger, or tropical insects, it will at the very least partially disappear in the dense mud between protruding roots. In the mangrove, memory fails, just as the marking of claims becomes impossible.

Brian Kuan Wood—We Are the Weather
As the contradictions twist tighter and tighter, it starts to become clear that a massive reallocation of resources from infrastructure to intellect produces a bubble economy within the artist’s person as its primary carrier. This means that, as this person develops strange superpowers just to find expansive solutions for constant contractions in time and space, an internalized instability emerges as pure psychosis.

Boris Groys—Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive
Still, the impression that the internet as a whole is unobservable defines our relationship to it—we tend to think about it as an infinite flow of data that transcends the limits of our individual control. But, in fact, the internet is not a place of data flow—it is a machine to stop and reverse data flow. The unobservability of the internet is a myth. The medium of the internet is electricity. And the supply of electricity is finite. So the internet cannot support infinite data flows.


The print edition of e-flux journal can now be found at:
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Rio de Janeiro: Capacete / A Gentil Carioca Rome: MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma / Opera Rebis Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute / Witte de With Saint-Nazaire: Le Grand Cafe, Centre D’art Contemporain Salzburg: Salzburger Kunstverein San Antonio: Artpace São Paulo: Kunsthalle São Paulo / Master in Visual Arts, Faculdade Santa Marcelina Sarajevo: Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art Seoul: The Books / The Book Society Sherbrooke: Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University Skopje: Press to Exit Project Space Sofia: ICA Sofia / Sofia Art Gallery St Erme Outre et Ramecourt: Performing Arts Forum St Louis: White Flag Projects Stockholm: Bonniers Konsthall / IASPIS / Index / Konstfack, University College of Art, Craft and Design Stuttgart: Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Sydney: Artspace Tallinn: Kumu Art Museum of Estonia The Hague: Stroom Den Haag Toronto: Art Metropole / Mercer Union / The Power Plant Torun: Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Torun Toowoomba: Raygun Contemporary Art Projects Trieste: Trieste Contemporanea Umeå: Bildmuseet, Umeå University Utrecht: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst / Casco-Office for Art, Design and Theory Vaduz: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein Valletta: Malta Contemporary Art Foundation Vancouver: ARTSPEAK / Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia / Fillip / Motto / READ Books, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design Vienna: Salon für Kunstbuch, Belvedere Gallery Vigo: MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo Vilnius: Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) Vitoria-Gasteiz: Montehermoso Kulturunea Visby: BAC, Baltic Art Center Warsaw: Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki / Zachęta National Gallery of Art Wiesbaden: Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV) Yerevan: Armenian Center For Contemporary Experimental Art, NPAK Zagreb: Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic / Gallery Nova / Institute for Duration, Location and Variables, DeLVe Zurich: Postgraduate Program in Curating, Zürich University of the Arts / Shedhalle / White Space.

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