Among the predictions made by George Orwell in 1984, the dynamics ruling the relationship between people and state forces are something you can’t help but keep thinking even once you finished reading the book.
One of the most memorable slogans of the English Socialist Party (“INGSOC” for short) of Oceania is “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”; the concept of being kept away from the truth is central to any form of government and the only difference lies in the fact that sometimes it’s less evident than others. Secrets are the foundation of how whole nations keep functioning, both in politics and economics; the same goes with corporative activities, even and especially dot-coms.
If once upon a time the plan of designing a shared context where everyone could express themselves was at the core of the internet utopias, now we’re facing a less optimistic reality; marketing-driven social media networks, automated collecting of Big Data, blurred collaborations between national agencies and corporations are just a few of the many questions concerning who is interested in developing a non-opaque Web.
The Disruption Network Lab is for sure among the prominent platforms that in recent years are focusing on these problems from a critical point of view; founded by Tatiana Bazzichelli, it’s an ongoing platform of events and research on art, hacktivism and disruption in Berlin and from today to Saturday 1st October it will present IGNORANCE: The Power of Non-Knowledge, the 9th event of its programme taking place at Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin. In these two days symposium, artists, philosophers and science writers will discuss and reflect ways and strategies to explore ignorance and its political, legal, technological and social uses in everyday life. I took the opportunity to ask a few questions to the founder of the Lab, Tatiana Bazzichelli, and the co-curator, Daniela Silvestrin.
Filippo Lorenzin: How would you define the Disruption Network Lab’s activity? What are your purposes?
Tatiana Bazzichelli: The Disruption Network Lab investigates topics with a critical approach within the field of digital culture, information technology and political activism, by presenting to the public artistic, political, and technological practices based on the strategy of “disruption”. Disruption, in business terms, means: “to introduce into the market products that the market does not expect”. Applying the concept of disruption into a context of artistic and cultural criticism, it becomes an occasion to reflect on artistic practices that generate unexpected consequences working from the inside of social, political, technological and economical systems (as I described in the book Networked Disruption, DARC/Aarhus University, 2013, http://networkingart.eu/the-books/).
Main idea is to establish a connection between experimental and artistic practices realised by artists, hackers, researchers, critical thinkers, activists and whistle-blowers involved in digital networks, adopting a “disruptive” critical approach. The aim is to encourage an experimental approach focusing on the unexpected as an art practice, a method that pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo – methodology that is at the core of artistic experimentation since the Avant-gardes.
Filippo Lorenzin: Could you tell about the events you’re developing in these months?
Tatiana Bazzichelli: The Laboratory takes shape through on-going conference events at Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin, in cooperation with Kunstraum Kreuzberg /Bethanien. The first series of conferences took place from April to December 2015. Currently we are developing our second series of events, under the thematic framework “Art & Evidence”, that will last until November 2016, while we are also planning new series of events for the years 2017 and 2018.
Filippo Lorenzin: In which way IGNORANCE follows what the Lab did present in the past months? What is its role within the main programme of the Lab?
Daniela Silvestrin: At the Disruption Network Lab topics are really specific and most of the cases very concrete. In the past 2015 series, for example, we focused on the use of drones in political conflicts, on the emergence of social media practices shaping our everyday life and privacy, on identity and sexuality in post-digital contexts, on the frontiers of bio-hacking, on the practice of whistleblowing as a way of exposing misconducts in political systems, on political stunts and disruption of corporations’ logic, to reveals bugs of economic and business processes from within.
IGNORANCE is the second conference of the conceptual framework “Art & Evidence”, which develops through a total of three thematic events, distributed from June to November 2016. The series of conferences relates to the concept of “Art & Evidence”, inspired by an exchange with Academy Award-winning filmmaker and journalist Laura Poitras in 2014 (http://www.transmediale.de/files/Interview_Bazzichelli_Poitras.pdf). Art is seen as a mean to reveal facts, expose misconducts and wrongdoings, and to produce awareness among the audience about social, political and technological matters. Therefore, with our conferences, we aim to inform the public about sensitive issues, and also generate an in-depth analysis within the framework of social and political action, as well as digital culture and network practices.
The thematic framework of “Art & Evidence” is presented as a context of artistic exploration, in which the issues under scrutiny are investigated in their imaginative potential and not given for granted, by questioning the concept of “evidence” itself – as it will happen during IGNORANCE. The goal is not only to provoke awareness but also to encourage the imagination of alternative models of thinking and understanding.
In particular, with the conference IGNORANCE, we aim to discuss and unfold the study and exploration of induced non-knowledge and its political, legal and social uses in everyday life. This conference seems a bit more “philosophical” than the previous ones, but we are also planning to speak about very concrete issues related to the production of non-knowledge in politics, science, technology and society.
Filippo Lorenzin: Tatiana, could you tell more about the programme?
Tatiana Bazzichelli: The choice of creating an on-going series of events comes from a political reflection, wanting to generate a sustainable programme that is developed throughout the year, instead of concentrating resources only in few days of activity once a year; but it is also curatorial choice, aiming to encourage sharing among the Berlin local and translocal community working with art and digital culture, as well as extending the technological discourse into the post-digital realm of politics, culture and the everyday life in general.
This is a curatorial strategy that I previously applied during my three years of curatorial activity at transmediale festival (2011-2014), where I established the on-going project “reSource transmedial culture berlin”. With the Disruption Network Lab, however, the idea is to focus each conference on specific topics, proposing the simple format of a keynote and a panel (sometimes we also have in addition a film screening).
The curatorial methods of the Disruption Network Lab is to create a montage of practices and experts coming from different fields of expertise, and it is by the (expanded) combination of them and their reflections, that we aim to generate an in-depth analysis of topics, and encourage unexpected forms of imagination and interventions.
Filippo Lorenzin: This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Lab; the event will address the questions from a wide range of points of view – from politics to psychology, from hacktivism to art. What does it mean to coordinate such a numerous and diversified group of experts?
Daniela Silvestrin: It mainly requires a huge amount of time for research.. I have been constantly reading and researching people, topics, and aspects in relation to this field of study for over 2 years now — not full time of course, but on a regular basis and repeatedly in a very intense manner and in the context of different projects.
In an event as ours at the Disruption Network Lab we can only present and discuss a limited number of aspects, fields of research and approaches that address and thematize forms and uses of ignorance, but I it will give a good overview and highlight relations among the variety of fields and questions that are at the core of this rather new field of ignorance studies.
The goal was to create a balance between presenting this variety and allowing to go deep enough into specific topics, which ultimately hopefully will inspire people to go read and find out more about it themselves afterwards —as well as create more awareness of the existence of and dynamics behind “unkown unkowns” as the other side of our “knowledge society” in general.
Filippo Lorenzin: When and how did you get interested in ignorance, specifically in relation to dot-com logics?
Daniela Silvestrin: It is a field of research that spans the different areas and projects I have been working in during the past three years. With the Disruption Network Lab — but also in many of the projects curated by Tatiana that I had been working on with her at the Transmediale festival before that — ignorance through secrecy and military or political classification was a recurring topic. It was at the core of various events about whistleblowers, violation of privacy through increasingly ubiquitous surveillance, or the use and access of data, just to name a few — even if not clearly thematized under this aspect back then.
At the same time, I have been working on other projects, more related to questions and fields on the intersection of art and science. Scientific research, its methods, funding structures as well as the communication of its results is at the core of many of the aspects, questions and problems addressed through the study of ignorance. Ignorance is a positive and important inspiration and incentive for science and the pursuit of discovering and understanding the world; but by being one of the major driving forces of progress and resources for today’s knowledge society, scientific research has also become a battlefield of political, economic, legal and social interests and agendas — being used, manipulated and suppressed for various reasons and goals. Marshall McLuhan said that art acts as a “radar” and as an “early alarm system” that enables us “to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them”.
Through the close collaboration with artists I learned about, or indirectly came to various aspects and methods of the creation and maintenance of ignorance for social, political or economic goals — for example in my work with Pinar Yoldas for her project “An Ecosystem of Excess”, but especially through the work for the recently published book “LIMEN. Ecologies of transmission” that I co-edited together with Mario de Vega and Víctor Mazón.
Mario and Victor had been working on the physical as well as sociocultural implications and effects of electromagnetic radiation produced by wireless telecommunication devices and related microwave technologies for several years, creating a body of work that we brought together in the book for which I invited different scholars and a journalist to contribute essays and interviews, thereby addressing different aspects of the projects’ backgrounds and reflections that had been at the core of the artists and my work.
Filippo Lorenzin: What kind of audience do you aim to reach?
Daniela Silvestrin: In general, the Disruption Network Lab events aim to reach people coming from various backgrounds. We always invite key figures for the individual themes to give lectures and presentations in which they introduce the public to the field and give deep insight into their personal research, work and experience; these keynote lectures are then followed by panel discussions where we bring scholars, journalists, artists, hackers and other professionals together to bring in other and different aspects of the theme.
The goal is to create relations among these different backgrounds and fields while developing a dialogue among more theoretical approaches with investigative, creative, disruptive, experimental and critical ones.
This is also the case now in the event on ignorance; this time the topic is a bit less tangible than when talking about drone politics, or undersea cables for example, but at the same time it touches upon aspects of so many different questions and reflections within different fields of research, practice based work and everyday life, that both professionals in the presented fields as well as interested lay people, or people with other professional backgrounds will find many points and moments to connect to during the program of the 2-days event.