Perhaps by thinking in this direction the distinction between new and old media finally and definitively crumbles: TV and the net, analogical and digital technologies, risk being overcome by a process of convergence that is dangerous, especially in social terms. This process does not regard the often flagged problem of freedom of information, but rather the increasing lacking of being critical regarding the transmitted content.
Curated by: Marco Mancuso, Claudia D’Alonzo & Michal Brzezinski
Texts in catalogue: Lucrezia Cippitelli, Claudia D’Alonzo, Marco Mancuso, Valentina Tanni, Krzysztof Siatka, Oktawian Bulanowski, Michal Brzezinski
On April 16th 2010, the exhibition Globalne Ocieplenie / The MediaGate curated by Marco Mancuso and Claudia D’Alonzo for Digicult and Michal Brzezinski, opened at Galerie NT / Imaginarium in Lodz.
In the Polish city that gave birth to the director Zbigniew Rybczynski, home to one of the most prestigious film schools in Europe (Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowe, Telewizyjna the Teatralna PWSFTviT), beloved by David Lynch that here directed much of his masterpiece Inland Empire, Digicult and Galeria NT / Imaginarium organize an exhibition focusing on a series of works, installations, videos, net art and software art projects, performances that reflect on the re-actualization of the relationship between digital and analog media, about the possible control they exercise on the fragile social contemporary mechanism, as well as the possibilities offered by art to detect the keys to understanding of an increasingly technologically “mediated” reality.
The exhibition catalogue, curated by Marco Mancuso, Claudia D’Alonzo and Michal Brzezinski is a further instrument of this analysis, thanks to its critical texts and inedited interviews of the artists of the exhibition.
“Do not truste the media”
by Marco Mancuso
“There are people who believe in nothing from the day they are born. This doesn’t mean that they cannot take action, do something with their lives, be busy with something, produce something. Other people have the habit of believing: duties become real before their eyes in the form of ideals to be realised. If one day they will stop believing, perhaps slowly, through a successive, logical, or maybe even illogical series of disillusionments, they will rediscover that “nothingness” that for others has always been so natural”. (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Petrolio, 1975)
“The more he contemplates, the less he lives; the more he accepts the fact of recognising himself in the dominant images of need, the less he will understand his own existence and desire.” (Guy Debord, La società dello spettacolo, 1967)
“Internet is the first means of communication, which will soon be of mass communication, that has developed an ironic awareness in the spectator. For this the distribution of false and paranoid information on the net surely is not dangerous”. (Franco Berardi Bifo, Spunti di riflessione, 1996).
In an article from the now distat time of 1973 entitled Acculturazione e acculturazione (Socialization and socialization), Pier Paolo Pasolini, from the column’s of the Italian newspaper “Il Corriere della Sera”, manifested the responsibility of television as a mass medium, an instrument for control. According to the Italian director, writer and essay writer, television is the direct manifestation of the spirit of power. A new modern fascist power, capable of using means for communication and information to its advantage, increasingly refined in operating not only as through-joints, but as centres for the elaboration of various kinds of messages.
Branded as an alarmist and reactionary in his era, Pasolini’s discourse is still terribly current. What actually surprises is the stubborn impermeability of man toward a desire and capacity to learn from his mistakes; most of all, and it’s sad to admit, despite the arrival of Internet and new digital media. The spreading of these media over vast areas of the planet, their intrinsic capacity to integrate themselves into modern societies of consumption and information, their logarythmic factor of development in relation to concepts of integration, their portability, locative ad interconnection, over the span of a few years have made them means of massification, control and deceit of the most potentially pervasive kind that the history of man has ever known.
Perhaps by thinking in this direction the distinction between new and old media finally and definitively crumbles: TV and the net, analogical and digital technologies, risk being overcome by a process of convergence that is dangerous, especially in social terms. This process does not regard the often flagged problem of freedom of information (in this sense Internet has the capacity to self-regenerate, developing new technologies endemically, getting around systems of censorship and making space for itself in small and large niches of freedom of expression), but rather the increasing lacking of being critical regarding the transmitted content.
If on the one hand TV bombards us daily with alarming visions, economical collapses, preventive wars, climatic abuse, global pandemics, on the other Internet does not come short, recalling and amplifying this flux of images, sounds and information, integrating them and branching out into the new system of virtual connections. But there’s a second democratic risk factor that this phenomenon of integration brings with it, that is perhaps more important than the first. It is what the Mediagate exhibition wants to indicate as a “great case of the media”. Are we in fact certain that all the news that leaks through the meshes of contemporary mass media are true, without conditioning and not the fruit of a complex strategy that feeds new fears, paranoia, myths, religions in function to a superior social and economical plan?
What are the true emergencies of the beginning of this century? What are the real fears that man should suffer? If television and internet bombard us daily with new alarms, what are the antibodies that we need to develop in order to defend our capacity of judgement? Well, art is certainly one of these antibodies.
The Mediagate exhibition, through the selected artists and critics and curators of the Digicult network, underlines how those forms of remediation and audiovisual manipulation of analogical and digital technologies (Mylicon/En), the critical use of software potential in the dynamics of social networking Les Liens Invisibles), the game-like reconsideration of multi-media content share don the Net (Marc Lee), the emphasis of the rapport between man and technology in interactive terms (Dorota Walentynowicz) and intellective terms (Yorit Kluitman), as well as the integration between the languages of video and motion-graphics (Jan Van Neuen), are all capable of arousing the right questions, doubts and thoughts in contemporary man. Because perhaps one day we will find the necessity to have to build an autonomous media zone, as Sašo Sedlaček, the last artist in the exhibition, suggests. Because the Infocalypse is Now, and perhaps we all have nowhere left to run!
“At what time will the world end?”
by Claudia D’Alonzo
One of the fundamental sources for the creation of the concept of the Mediagate exhibition came from the acknowledgement that our current experience of the media is constellated by a series of absurd denials of news items that are central to global political and social life. Pandemics, terrorist attacks, security threats, announcements and alarms bounce in a spiralling tam-tam that goes beyond the continental boundaries and cultural differences and periodically synchronizes the media ecosystem in a constant rhythm of fear.
News bounces from one side to the other of the planet, is modified and overlapped, creating a dynamic where the retrieval of sources, which is the foundation of the principle ethics of information, becomes difficult if not impossible. To affirm that a piece of information that is totally free is difficult if not impossible to find is not something new, we know very well that the journalist’s job entails the double role of informer and moulder of public opinion.
This however is not the most interesting aspect that can be confronted with the critical magnifying glass of art: it is a reality that is now ascertained so that it has become a part of the themes of information and politics. It is interesting to explore, through the work of contemporary artists, the balances and imbalances of the mediasphere, discover how artists play with their own works and the paradoxes of information, on the brink between the two contrasting natures where they coexist.
Mediagate therefore does not focus on the problems of disinformation, on the bad and good use of the media, on the political manipulation of information: what we find as a stimulus to activate thoughts and provocations is the oscillation between truth and lies. Once this double soul has been identified the second discussion regards our way of living every day with the concept of information, of news: most daily readers, internet users, spectators, are aware that each piece of news cannot be considered to be the absolute truth, that there is always a margin for denial. Despite this each and every one of us keeps reading daily newspapers, keeps visiting information portals, watching news reads, in other words, keeping informed… or misinformed?
Therefore we have established a kind of coexistence, a resigned acceptance of the paradox of information. We have metabolized it because there have been many pieces of evidence over the course of the past 100 years – relative to the period when the Western information system was configured to how we know it today – of the two faces of news. There’s a real story for the false piece of news, the hoax, as it is commonly called. The most famous episode was set in Grovers Hills, New Jersey. It was the 30th of October 1938 and the voice of correspondent Carl Phillips interrupted the program of the radiophonic channel CBS to announce to the United States that close to a farm of the Wilmuth family, flying saucers had landed.
The description was rich with detail: from the alien spacecraft, monstrous creatures descended, armed with weapons and rays, pointed at the population and armed forces. A wave of collective panic swept across the nation instantly and about 1 million listeners thought they were experiencing a live alien invasion. Terror gives life to different reactions: police switchboards were jammed, cars escaped from the city, entire families locked themselves in their houses. Uncountable phone calls and requests to the press were made, and a man called the New York Times and shouted the famous question: “At what time will the world end?”
As we all know it was one of the most famous fakes of history, created by a young Orson Wells. The news was none other than a radio program from the book The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. But before this case created by Wells was the announcement of life on Mars on the pages of the New York Sun on the 25th of August 1935; the escape of ferocious animals from the New York Zoo, published on the first page of the “New York Herald” on the 6th of November 1874; the bloody and tumultuous conflicts in Trafalgar Square on the 16th of January 1926, announced by the BBC.
For sure, images of aliens descending to visit a farm in New Jersey like the streets of New York filled with lions and giraffes makes us smile. It’s important to remember that in the period in which these news items were released, they created a great amount of terror in people for their own safety, self-security, and social order. It is for us users of contemporary information that the mechanism has not changed: when fear gets involved we are more likely to trust, to delegate the interpretation of the reality to the media. But they are just different fears, closer to us so that they can appear more real.
“From detournement to T.A.Z. poetics: models of entertainment subversion”
by Lucrezia Cippitelli
“Toute la vie des sociétés dans lesquelles règnent les conditions modernes de production s’annonce comme une immense accumulation de spectacles”i. In 1967, that is how Guy Debord, summarising the cultural and political experience of the publication “Internazionale Situazionista” (International Situationist), began the Società dello spettacolo (Entertainment Society).
A political essay and not (as Debord himself underlines) a philosophical piece, the text takes from Marx’s Capital, which began by declaring that the richness of society founded on the capitalist production model was expressed through an “immense accumulation of merchandise”ii. According to Debord, modern life, that of the industrial boom and evolution of mass media for communication, has been transformed into an “Entertainment Society”, which is defined as being “capital to a point of accumulation to becoming image”.
The text adapts the Marxist theory of formation of capital and the modern consumerist culture, transforming merchandise into image: a scary insight, seen from the eyes of this first decade of the XXI century, equal only to that of Pasolini who in a famous interview talked about fascism through consumer society. A poignant example of this analysis that sanctions the central role of image in post-industrial society is the McDonald’s logo. This is “all image”, as the father of Visual studies Nicolas Mirzoeff states. It’s not only a sign, but most of all a promise: cheap food for underpaid workers; reliable space that is always the same for middleclass families or adolescents.
In contrast with Ford, whose logo is not so memorable and whose strength is all in the product itself (the solid and reliable car produced by the company for over a century), McDonald’s puts its commercial force in the notion expressed by its logo. In an article from 1956 Debord talks of an antidote to that which today we would call victory of the brand: détournement or “possibility to interrupt the flow of the spectacle”. In 1921, Duchamp, with the help of Man Ray, had already planned the first example of détournement with Belle Haleine: Eau de Voilette (literally: Beautiful Breath: Veil Water).
It was a perfume bottle, created by modifying the label of a product that really was being produced and was very popular. The label had a play on words, “Belle haleine”, which makes one think of a lotion to freshen one’s breath. The perfume in question was Rigaud, whose commercial image was connected to that of a provocative and naked drawn woman, as she was being seduced by the scent of the perfume. The seducing notion of the brand (re-evoked in the wording New York – Paris under the name of the perfume) was overturned by a photograph (taken by Man Ray) of Duchamp being seductive and dressed as a woman. With the photo of a man dressed as a woman (where Duchamp personifies his alter ego Rose Selavy), the title suggests halitosis and the packaging destroys the notion of the brand.
From Duchamp onwards, art is crossed by different examples of détournement, operated by artists and activists: from Fluxus to Barbara Kruger, from Alfredo Jaar to Luther Blisset to Yes Man. Practice with every means necessary builds a subversion of common sense and assumes mutable forms and definitions: diversions; distortions; indebted appropriation; hijacking; overturning; cultural sabotage (cultural jamming); Subvertising (= sub advertising). This modus operandi is common: resistance to entertainment through its subversion. “Tous les moyens d’expression connus vont confluer dans un mouvement général de propagande qui doit embrasser tous les aspects, en perpétuelle interaction, de la réalité sociale”, Debord says.
The objective is to overcome aesthetics in order to carry out the upheaval of the present. The American collective Critical Art Ensemble uses the term “cultural activism” to define artists who work this way between the end of the XX century and the XXI century. The elements of this cultural and political project that, and this must be underlined, aim to overtake art through the insertion into reality are: de-personalisation of the author/director, who no longer appears as an individual identity but rather as a collective or nickname; The invasion of spaces different from those destined to art (urban spaces, newspapers and publications, internet websites); The critique of advertising communication is not used (nor that of official communication), but rather the twisted use of this communicative model to activate a reaction in the spectator; Internet, the digital city that substitutes or moves alongside advertising spaces in contemporary cities – central to the social critique conduced by the International Situationist – becomes a principle place of action.
In 1985, the independent editor of New York Autonomedia published an epic volume, T.A.Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone. Mixing situationist avant-gardism and cyberpunk literature (in particular the utopia of rebel and decentralized autonomy in Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling), its author Hakim Bey proposes a model of subversion in the common sense of entertainment society through the twisting of its productive spaces: amour fou, walking naked on the street, organising impromptu parties in spaces that are not used for entertainment ( for example banks or offices), producing graffiti to avoid the boredom of public spaces.
Every intervention can determine the dissolution of entertainment society, according to Bey PT (Poetic Terrorism), and must be practiced without wanting to define oneself an artist. Bey retraces the paths that have already been laid out in previous decades, most of all invoking the overcoming of aesthetics through the insertion into social life: Don’t do PT for other artists, do it for people who will not realize (at least for a few moments) that what you have done is art. Avoid recognizable art-categories, avoid politics, don’t stick around to argue, don’t be sentimental; be ruthless, take risks, vandalize only what must be defaced, do something children will remember all their lives–but don’t be spontaneous unless the PT Muse has possessed you. Dress up. Leave a false name. Be legendary.
The best PT is against the law, but don’t get caught. Art as crime; crime as art. The détournement is a temporary autonomous zone, the freeing of spaces from post-industrial capitalism of functionality, a land where the “cultural guerrilla” has constructed a new meaning: […]a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it. Because the State is concerned primarily with Simulation rather than substance, the TAZ “occupy” these areas clandestinely and carry on its festal purposes for quite a while in relative peace. Perhaps certain small TAZs have lasted whole lifetimes because they went unnoticed, like hillbilly enclaves–because they never intersected with the Spectacle, never appeared outside that real life which is invisible to the agents of Simulation
“The era of infinit version”
by Valentina Tanni
“Abundant, cheap distribution of facts means an abundant, cheap, and unlimited variety of narratives, on demand, all the time.” (Bill Wasik)
There’s a traffic jam on the information highway.
This is an uncertain era for the media. The 19th and 20th centuries’ set-up of communication media (TV, radio and print) was literally swept over by the arrival of digital technology and network systems, that in a few decades have created a crisis in a system that is solid and affirmed in every way, obliging it to rethink its shape and content, languages and format.
In better cases, we witnessed the appearance of brief identity crises with consequent pushes to renewal; in the worst cases the shielding to defend a presumably acquired and untouchable authority. But if the old system appears weak and lost, the new media horizon does not seem to have reached its own balance yet. The undeniable potential of the channels of media communication, identifiable mostly through the accessibility of information and the endless variety, are accompanied by contradictions and side effects that still need to be understood.
Internet is by nature the reign of the alternatives, a place where all voices can find a place, where counter-information acquires platforms and resounding bodies. Where the critical consciousness of citizens can proliferate and become stronger, where a single and central point of view is substituted by multiple visions. Most of all, debate and conflict are a rule and not an exception. But the more attentive observers will not miss the new dangers of this never-before-seen information abundance, which together with what we could call a real-time dictatorship, often makes the search for the truth of the facts a difficult if not impossible task.
As stated by Bill Wasik, a famous American writer and journalist, known for having organised the first Flash Mobs in 2006, once a human being has formulated an opinion, it tends to search for facts and information that supports it (in psychology this is called confirmation bias). This tendency, which is certainly nothing new, in Wasik’s opinion finds a privileged place of action on the Internet, where it is possible to gain access to – in a short amount of time – an enormous quantity of information with opposing opinions, capable of giving any kind of opinion some kind of foundation.
It isn’t surprising then that the most popular sites are dedicated to “conspiracy theories”, pages and pages of detailed information, full of texts, videos, images and statements, trying to de-mask what are presented as global lies (the 9/11 attacks were organised by the U.S., man has never been on the moon, AIDS was created in a laboratory, Paul McCartney is dead, etc.). In this case, we are not faced with a new phenomenon, but certainly the ease and vastness with which these pages can be shared contributed to making them stronger, confusing the already murky waters of information. It must be said that, in the old and new media, sensationalism has never lost its footing, with the consequent tendency to give a broad amount of space to the real or presumably real big events, neglecting the small changes that are perhaps less visible but that influence people’s lives directly (the changing of a law for example, or the presentation of motions in parliament).
The Long Tail of Truth
The possibility of finding endless “versions” of the same story, is defined by Wasik, as being “The Long Tail of Truth”, establishing a parallel interest with the renowned theory of the “Long Tail” coined by Chris Anderson, to describe the new economical and commercial models created with the Net: “In the realm of political discourse, and indeed of narrative in general, I fear we have fallen into a far less salutary situation. One might call it the Long Tail of Truth: given any trend that one wants to identify in the world – about the popularity of a buzzword or a band, the mendacity of a politician or a pundit, the rise and fall of any fashion – on the Internet one can readily convince oneself that the trend exist, as long as one runs the targeted search or browses the properly biased sites.”
What Wasik describes is a particularly unpleasant distortion that can be recognized in the media all over the world: the journalistic obsession for trends, for the creation of cases, trends that exaggerate from one article to another, from one News show to another, in a kind of exponential auto-legitimisation. You could almost say it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the most common and dangerous disease in the contemporary information field, forced into the obsessive search for the story, as microscopic and used as a pretext as it may be. This isn’t so bad when the trends that are being waved around are bizarre Hollywood diets, designer shoes or vacation spots, but the risk is when the case, for example, is a viral disease destined to spread over the whole global population.
The multiplication of points of view, that in the opening we cited as potential, then risks becoming a kaleidoscopic trap for the citizen. Welcome to the era of infinite versions.
An alerting system
The manipulative possibilities of the media – the new and the old – is a theme that is increasingly dealt with by contemporary artists. The mediascape that we are immersed in is so invasive, omnipresent, and controversial – as well as in full redefinition – that it cannot be ignored. Naturally, artists are the ones who realise this and use the media as a platform for their experimentation. They expose the weaknesses of the system, its contradictions and its risks.
Sometimes with openly political works, sometimes with the weapon of irony and disorientation, other times simply detourning the medium through unforeseeable uses. Art works as an alarm system, an alarm clock for slumbering consciousnesses, a memento of awareness, to remind those who watch that they can be the public without being the audience. That Internet, despite its contradictions, is mostly a place for participation and a platform for the sharing of knowledge. As Clay Shirky states, “the intention of users has more impact than the intention of the designers”. Technology therefore must be taken into our hands and used, and its uses are not and must not be predetermined by the industry. The artists help us to remember, once again, that what the media will become in the future will depend on how we use them in the present.