Friday, April 20, 2007

Real quick:

The incident in which a mentally disturbed man shot and killed thirty-something people at Virginia Technical University earlier this week is certainly not the "worst" shooting massacre in US history.

Any "news" source which reports the incident as such is contributing to a conspiracy of disinformation. You are being lied to. The facts as reported are false.

The dubious pride of place for most innocent victims of a shooting rampage (in North America) should undoubtedly go to any number of planned mass murders of indigenous people or Americans of African descent.

What you consumed as news was not news. It was entertainment. It was not entertainment. It was whatever it takes to shift product between commercial breaks. It was not that. It was propoganda.


We are not the consumers of the media, we are the product.
---Kevin Danaher, 10 Reasons to Abolish the IMF & World Bank

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
---Derrick Jensen, Endgame

It is not the television that is lying to you. Who is lying to you?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Frog with Implanted Webserver

I just returned from the opening night of the Dutch Electronic Art Festival in Rotterdam. I am not happy.

The first work visitors are confronted with is something called Experiments with Galvanism: Frog with Implanted Webserver. Here is the official description of the work:
Garnet Hertz has implanted a miniature webserver in the body of a frog specimen, which is suspended in a clear glass container of mineral oil, an inert liquid that does not conduct electricity. The frog is viewable on the Internet, and on the computer monitor across the room, through a webcam placed on the wall of the gallery. Through an Ethernet cable connected to the embedded webserver, remote viewers can trigger movement in either the right or left leg of the frog, thereby updating Luigi Galvani's original 1786 experiment causing the legs of a dead frog to twitch simply by touching muscles and nerves with metal. Experiments in Galvanism is both a reference to the origins of electricity, one of the earliest new media, and, through Galvani's discovery that bioelectric forces exist within living tissue, a nod to what many theorists and practitioners consider to be the new new media: bio(tech) art.
Let me translate for those readers not accustomed to the morally vacuous language of the wine-soaked art world:

Asshole takes the corpse of a frog---amphibian corposes are easy to come by in these days of human-instigated global warming, toxified water, and poisoned air---sticks some motors in its legs and wires in the gallery, and invites visitors to participate in his shit-brained glorification of an artistically bad, technologically backward, and morally repugnant idea.

(Hey, you don't think it's morally repugnant to use a frog's corpse? How about we use your grandmother's corpse instead? Put her in a clear glass container of mineral oil and click the mouse to make her legs kick. Sorry: if you don't get what's wrong I don't know if I can explain it to you.)

The single redeeming factor in the inclusion of this otherwise utterly useless, horrendously uncreative and straight up tasteless attempt at "art" in the DEAF exhibition is that at the very least it alone demonstrated (brazenly, arrogantly, proudly, shamelessly) something inherent in everything else on display: the absolute affrontery to the natural world necessary to be a good and cooperative "media artist" in this trash heap of a culture.

Your little art goes beep and lights flash and another sixty or so Iraqi children succumb to some strange form of cancer to make it happen. Safely tucked in here at the end of history you make a witty installation with RFID (radio frequency identification) technology---my, what big subsidies you have!---while brown people somewhere else are forced to show their ID cards at (American, British, Israeli, whatever) gunpoint to get to the other side of town.

Besides leaving, there was nothing I wanted to do---as an experiment, of course---so much as shut down the electricity on some of these artists. For good.

Now is as fine a time as any to let you know that I'm just about through reading volume one of Derrick Jensen's heartbreaking call to action Endgame. Jensen---whose earlier work A Language Older Than Words was, until now, perhaps the single most important book I have ever read---is turning my bad attitude even worse.

And yet: You. Must. Read this book. Start here.

Back to cutting off the electricity. I wonder what these "media artists" or "electronic artists" or whatever would do if there were no electricity to juice their little gadgets and installations (and fucking "bio(tech) art"). So much of it---and this is a conclusion Jensen would quickly make if he bothered to dally in the minutiae of this ultimately inconsequential and wine-soaked world---so much of it simply legitimizes and glorifies harmful technologies, often without any meaningful content to at least somewhat call out the culture's persistent violence.

Guess what the theme of DEAF 07 is? Ready for this? Interact Or Die!

Now I suppose this could be understood a number of ways. For example, it could be a call to all of us to start interacting with each other in meaningful ways. After all, it is the absence of our own nurturing of community that allows governments and corporations to set the agenda and limits of human interaction. Or "interact or die" might be a warning that we fail to recognize the fact of interdependence in the natural world we (should) inhabit at the risk of spiritual and ultimately literal death.

But since the natural world was so completely absent in this exhibition (with one or two minor exceptions: a video with leaf cutter ants carrying little national flags instead of leaves, for example) I have to assume that what we were invited to interact with was the unnatural world of these works. The field for interaction is the field defined by these uncreative creations, mobilizing under the banner of the unusually explicit "interact or die" theme to do further violence to lingering memories of the Planet Earth (where once upon a time frogs ate mosquitos, not ethernet impulses, and lived on the banks of rivers, not clear glass containers of mineral oil).

I do realize that I might be alienating myself from the few friends in the art scene here who even bothered to read this far. I know some of this may be unpopular with my computer-programming, electronic musician colleagues. And sure: part of my work exists within the realm of electronic art, insofar as it uses electricity and electronics. (I'm even using electricity and electronics now to fire off this mediated communique.) This is not a fact in which I rejoice, but an issue with which I wrestle constantly.

But this isn't about me. I don't stick ethernet cables in corpses.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Not-So-Innocent Bystanders

From Society Under Seige by Zygmunt Bauman:
Five per cent of the planet's population may emit 40 per cent of the planet's pollutants, and use/waste half or more of the planet's resources, and they may resort to military and financial blackmail to defend tooth and nail their right to go on doing so. They may, for the foreseeable future, use their superior force to make the victims pay the costs of their victimization (were not the Jews under the Nazis obliged to pay the train fares on the way to Auschwitz?). And yet responsibility is theirs -- not just in any abstractly philosophical, metaphysical or ethical sense, but in the down-to-earth, mundane, straightforward, casual (ontological, if you wish) meaning of the word.


We are all bystanders now: knowing what needs to be done, but also knowing that we have done less than what was needed and not necessarily what needed doing most; and that we are not especially eager to do more or better, and even less keen to abstain from doing what should not be done at all . . . There are more and more goings-on in the world which we sense are crying for vengeance or remedy, but our capacity to act, and particularly the aptitude to act effectively, seems to go in reverse, dwarfed ever more by the enormity of the task. The number of events and situations that we hear of and that cast us in the awkward and reprehensible position of a bystander grows by the day.