Circuits open, closed and indifferent

Colin Hood responds to theoretical issues raised at New Media Forum 4—Closed Circuit at The Art Gallery Of NSW, May 26

“The differences that count the same—the ones that, in themselves do not add up to, or make, any difference—are a matter of indifference to us. But can the same be said of assertions of indifference?.” Timothy Bahti

In his forum paper Utopia: Coming or Not, John Potts outlined a number of relational scenarios (conceptual, historical and aesthetic) between modernist technological utopias and contemporary administered information culture. The question might be as simple as this: “Compare and contrast the technological utopias of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Futurist F.T. Marinetti”. Or as complex as: “In what ways did the Utopian Socialism of Fourier, Saint-Simon and Owens influence the will to action and community of the historical avant gardes. How have the concepts of messianic pathos (Benjamin) and heterotopic epistemes (Foucault) changed our attitudes to progress—social, intellectual and technological?”

The Historical avant gardes—blending art, theatre, architecture and music into ‘model’ communities and performances—provided a working model of an aestheticised life-world. Problem is, the National Socialists and also Hollywood stole the blue-print. They made it happen bigger, better and faster.

Potts is certainly correct in drawing a line between Marinetti and Gates on the issue of ownership and copyright. Both travelled the world spreading the good word and their respective claims to authorship and extended franchise. The technological dreams may have changed dramatically, but the “will to dominate” reads as all too familiar, both then and now.

The forum became more fruitful when—leaving aside the ‘bit players’ of speed and hybrid communication, we shifted into discussion about terminology, etymology and history. Utopia—Dystopia? What’s the difference? Nothing. Today, conceptual oppositions dissolve into a relational flux (the affirmative deconstruction of the history of ideas demands it). Good for a moment or two of speaking or writing this or that. Then subject to cancellation. An ideological fix is installed when conceptual dyads are set up, naturalised and given fixed tenure.

A quick example: the Apollonian/Dionysian distinction has been thoroughly abused by those seeking to glorify the ‘participatory’ excesses of certain media while assigning poor Apollo to shifty scientists and technocrats. Problem is, as Nietzsche clearly pointed out in The Birth of Tragedy, we have need of lies, dreams, illusion, Hamlet and delay—lest we perish of Truth (to live life at its ultimate extremity which is, dare I say, a hyperbolic limit).

John Conomos relieved the congestion around the prime word topos by suggesting that a more critical relational matrix—of objects and concepts—requires an engagement with particulars that bypasses the subjugation of conceptual regimes. Utilising a Derridean ‘opposition’ (derived from Aristotle) between topos and chora (logical space versus sacred personal space). Conomos suggested—to me at least—that certain forms of new media work us over faster than we can think—that they are ‘across’ our understanding before we muster the conceptual force to render them ‘aesthetic objects’.

New Media Forum Four coincided with media artist Luc Courchesne’s visit to Australia and the installation of his interactive Hall of Shadows as part of the No Exit exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. Katherine Byrd—co-producer of the Booth Project (a mutant photo booth), together with Courchesne and artist Rosemary Laing discussed their work on an artists panel as part of the same event.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 26

© Colin Hood; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 1996