CI VIC SPE CTACL E
Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher
SLEEPLESS NIGHTS: Contemporary Art and the Culture of Performance
NUIT BLANCHE AND TRANSFORMATIONAL PUBLICS
NIGHTSENSE Jennifer Fisher and Jim Drobnick
CITY OF NIGHT: Parisian Explorations
HALIFAX’S NOCTURNE VERSUS(?) THE SPECTACLE OF NEOLIBERAL CIVICS
STREET LIGHT: Manhattanhenge and the Plan of the City
THE SCREEN POLITICS OF ARCHITECTURAL LIGHT PROJECTION
ALI&CIA’S URBANOPHAGY CEREMONIES Simon Cohen and Alicia Ríos
SPECTACULAR INFRASTRUCTURE: The Mediatic Space of Montreal’s “Quartier des spectacles”
THE FREEE COLLECTIVE DON’T WANT YOU! Dave Beech, Andy Hewitt and Mel Jordan
“A MASSIVE MULTI-FACETED SCREENING ROOM”: LA Freewaves Curates Hollywood Boulevard
URBAN PLAYGROUND ANTICS AND THE REDEFINING OF PUBLIC SPACES
DIGITAL PRODUCTIVISM: New Participatory Mass Culture
ESSENCES OF SOCIAL CHANGE: City Fusion, Interculturalism and the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland
PUBLIC DREAMING AND THE TRANSGRESSION OF NEOLIBERAL BORDERS Eric Moschopedis
“CHOREOGRAPHIES OF NATIONHOOD”: Performing Aviation as Spectacle
PARTICIPATORY ART AT THE VANCOUVER 2010 CULTURAL OLYMPIAD
COLUMN Ian Balfour
Seeing Through Spectacles
Khvay Samnang, Untitled
Nuno Sacramento and Claudia Zeiske, ARTocracy: Art, Informal Space, and Social Consequence: A Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice
Mark Nunes, ed., Error: Glitch, Noise, and Jam in New Media Cultures
Marc James Léger
Gerald Raunig, Gene Ray and Ulf Wuggenig, eds., Critique of Creativity: Precarity, Subjectivity and Resistance in the “Creative Industries”
Faycal Baghriche, SNOOZE (2004-2010), installation view, Paris. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
H E AT H E R D I A C K
SLEEPLESS NIGHTS: Contemporary Art and the Culture of Performance
Night, white night—such is the disaster... —Maurice Blanchot, L’Espace litteraire (1953)1 The fatigue he felt was in his legs, hours and days of standing, the weight of the body standing. Twenty-four hours. Who would survive, physically and otherwise? Would he be able to walk out into the street after an unbroken day and night of living in this radically altered plane of time? Standing in the dark, watching a screen. —Don DeLillo, Point Omega (2010)2
CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY COMPELS a pressure to perform that seeps into nearly all aspects of everyday life. Discussions of being “plugged in,” working remotely, or always being wired, descend to cliché status. By the turn of a paradigm shift, social relations at almost every level infuse the workings of the capitalist system. In fact it seems all the more apparent that the workday never ends. Time off no longer exists. Or, as the documentary filmmaker and critic Hito Steyerl explains it, “work has increasingly been turned into an occupation.”3 More than a semantic shift, work as occupation does not inherently imply any kind of remuneration or cessation but rather only busywork in the form of either distraction or absorption as an end in and of itself. Within this “occupied” context, attention becomes a commodity. Considering this, what are the implications of art projects that rely on the audience to be participants or, more aptly, performers? These questions are not essentially new. Certainly thinking through the changing role of the viewer dates back at least to the formative frameworks of postmodern thought, such as Roland Barthes’s announcement of the “Death of the Author” (1968) and the birth of the reader. A much earlier precedent is Walter Benjamin’s “Author as Producer” (1934) in which he considers the political status of participation by referring to art of the 1920s, including Dada performance and Soviet mass spectacles, as examples of how to politicize aesthetics rather than
S I O B H A N O ’ F LY N N
NUIT BLANCHE AND TRANSFORMATIONAL PUBLICS
IN MANY WAYS Toronto’s Nuit Blanche is a polarizing event in the cultural landscape of the city, with wildly swinging responses each year proclaiming its success or failure. Given the number of attendees and the varied aims and modes of engagement, this is not surprising that for each year from 2008 to 2010, close to a million people attended the event.1 Complaints during and after the event generally target the drunken party-goers, the daunting line-ups, the absence of impressive art, and a general disappointment in the night. Positive responses note the experience of an altered and shared public space, enjoyment in the scale of the event, and the affect and success of specific installations. The mass mobilization of these diverse publics is remarkable as arguably the common bond constituting these emergent publics is a desire to see and experience a city transformed by art. The expressions of disappointment and dissatisfaction are as valuable an indicator of the high degree of hope for something singular, transformative and immersive as are the responses signalling enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction. Also significant is the marked relaxation of societal norms, whereby individuals begin to play in public space with interactive, responsive installations and strangers. That Nuit Blanche is a transitory and ephemeral twelvehour event is not sufficient reason to discount a study of what occurs, nor is its singular location. Rather, the phenomenon of public response and interaction exists as a black swan anomaly in its shifting of public behaviour en masse in a positive direction (drunken hordes excluded). The dynamics of this emergent, diverse public model “other” modes of engagement, where public space functions as a metamorphic environment and potentially offers insights relevant to creative culture initiatives, urban planning and policy decisions on arts and culture at all government levels. As the diversity of participants problematizes alignment with any specific ethno-cultural class or group, the Toronto-centric reality of the event offers an opportunity to study the interactions of these highly diverse publics in what constitutes a large-scale social experiment. This essay presents preliminary findings in an ongoing research project that seeks to analyze the content exchanged via social media platforms during Nuit Blanche events of 2010 and 2011.2 The primary focus of the current research is the quantitative and qualitative analysis of the
Philip Beesley, Aurora (2010), Nuit Blanche installation at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Photo: Courtesy of the author.
Twitter communications exchanged just prior, during, and after the two Nuit Blanche events. This data set is comprised of over 15,000 tweets and a still-to-be calculated number of photos and videos and I anticipate that the findings should give a much more detailed understanding of the characteristics of the socially networked public who attend the event. The size of this data set is one of many examples of a widespread public interest in the digital recording of public interactions during events, which are then archived via mobile media and social networking platforms.3 This digital trace of physical activity is constituted in real-time postings of text, photos and videos on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Flickr, YouTube, and other platforms and, importantly, is generated organically as distinct from curated archives. Individuals’ desire to share their experience is expressed in messages that are personal, intended for friends and specific networks, and intentionally public in using specific hashtags that enable the tracking of common interest via real-time participation on Twitter, or the sharing of geolocated content sent out via Foursquare. These exchanges make visible the fluid actualization and processual experience of participatory, emergent public(s) that accord with how Michael Warner defines a “public”: that it is self-organizing, involves a relation amongst strangers, is simultaneously personal and impersonal in address, is constituted only through attention, and provides a discursive public space.4 Significantly, within the context of questions of urban interdynamics, this emergent public does not exhibit a key characteristic of an “awareness of subordinate status,” which Warner sees as the defining characteristic of a counter-public that is defined by a strongly articulated sense of a subordinated group claiming space or giving voice to a contested or constrained identity.5 Within Toronto’s recent
P R O J E C T: J E N N I F E R F I S H E R A N D J I M D R O B N I C K
IAIN BAXTER&, Monopoly with Real Money (1973/2009), exterior view of crowds and video screens at the TSX. Photo: Paul Litherland.
SINCE THE LAUNCHING of Nuit Blanche, all-night art events have become a contact zone for mass participation, civic marketing, and artist-created spectacles. The seeming suspension of quotidian time during the night, when the city’s bustling daytime functions rest, inspires a reconceptualization of how urban audiences relate to public monuments, landmark buildings, and the shadowy cityscape. Such a liminal atmosphere of what could be called the nocturnal carnivalesque defamiliarizes the city as well as opens it up to alternative interpretations and possibilities. The massive attendance of Nuit Blanche in Toronto demonstrates an unprecedented interest in contemporary art. Over a million people have attended in each of the last three years. Yet, some facets of the art world remain indifferent—and even condescending—to the impact and aesthetic significance of Nuit Blanche. These attitudes may arise because the event’s wide-ranging appeal collapses the historical divide between the “high art” of the museum and gallery and the “mass culture” of the stadium and television. For us, Nuit Blanche reveals not only that large audiences can deal with conceptually rigorous contemporary artwork, they take it up with gusto. Moreover, spokespersons of the mass media, rather than evaluating art from a distanced perspective, and most often summarily dismissing it, now report on it from the position of an absorbed participant. One telling example occurred during IAIN BAXTER&’s Monopoly with Real Money when Sagita Patel of City TV stood up at the game table, rolled the dice, and continued to play while broadcasting a live weather report. This is striking evidence of the spontaneous interactions that can happen when art moves out of the modernist enclave of the museum and into the networks of mass media. Our conceptualization for NIGHTSENSE articulated two curatorial concerns: to broaden aesthetics to encompass a wider sensory engagement; and, given our placement in the financial district, to respond to the recent economic crisis. The fact that vision is diminished in darkness facilitated our intent to bring forth the non-visual senses, foregrounding the diverse ways in which they contribute to experience and knowledge. Artworks were chosen for how they featured one or more of the non-visual senses, such as scent, sound, touch, taste, kinaesthesia, the paranormal, and even sensory deprivation, as an integral aspect of the aesthetic encounter. Even the purview of the invisible came into play as three artists staged interventions using radio and television broadcast signals, which proliferate in the downtown core, a major telecommunications centre. While the visual element certainly retained importance, our overall concern was to present synaesthetic, immersive, and sensorially-charged works that encouraged both critical and ludic audience participation. At the same time, given the incipience and severity of the economic crisis, the responses by artists’ to this global predicament added complexity to the sensorial engagement. NIGHTSENSE afforded an extraordinary opportunity to install artworks in some of Toronto’s most recognizable landmarks, such as the CN Tower and Union Station, as well as to access the seats of banking and finance, such as at the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), the head offices of Scotiabank, Royal Bank, CIBC, and the Bank of Montreal, and to intervene at sites geared towards shopping and tourism, such as the Galleria at Brookfield Place and the Sheraton Hotel. Bay Street, itself the emblem of Canada’s financial industry, held powerful symbolic resonance. By closing Bay Street, even for one night, artworks displaced the currency of this financial epicenter with symbolic capital as they interrogated the specter of market destabilization within a more sensory economy. The projects in NIGHTSENSE tended to combine the senses in different relative ratios and intensities. For example, while the kinaesthetic sense was deployed in both Witches’ Cradles and
FISHER + DROBNICK
FISHER + DROBNICK
FASTWÜRMS, Skry-Pod (2009) During the early stages of the financial crisis, the Toronto Star and New York Times reported that business clients were consulting astrologers and psychics in surprising numbers. Given the continuing economic uncertainty, FASTWÜRMS, the artist/witch duo comprised of Kim Kozzi and Dai Skuse, introduced a mystical dimension to the plutocracy of the financial district by orchestrating one-on-one tarot readings for Bay Street traders and the Nuit Blanche audience alike. In an area of the city virtually devoid of nature, the courtyard of the Sheraton Centre Hotel contains a littleknown oasis. Its glassed-in waterfall and split-level gardens were converted into a zone for intimate, divinatory encounters, while in the lobby three giant video screens presented night-vision footage of FASTWÜRMS’ peregrinations through the magical streets of Venice, like a tarot card come to life. Skry, derived from an Old English word, is a method for clairvoyance achieved by gazing into reflective, flickering objects such as water, candle flames, or crystal balls. For Skry-Pod, FASTWÜRMS trained eight fellow artists and writers in tarot reading and collaborated with Lukas Blakk, an artist and IT expert, to develop a tarot application for the iPhone and iPod Touch using the shake function to shuffle and select cards. The public nature of Nuit Blanche did not deter individuals from asking profoundly personal questions or making dramatic confessions. Some waited up to two hours for visionary insight into love, finances, or the future. For FASTWÜRMS, the tarot readings were not simply an exercise in the paranormal, they imparted the ethics of what the artists called a “positive economy.” Wealth may be conventionally defined as the accumulation of capital, but true prosperity is only attained by enhancing the personal freedom and wellbeing of others.
Photos: Opposite by Paul Litherland; above by Margie Macdonald.
Notre Dame et l’Île de la Cité; le Pont de l’Archêveché (1933), postcard by Impressions-Éditions d’art Mona (Paris). Photo: lilas59 on Flickr.com, http://www.flickr.com/photos/8859804@N05/sets/72157624333663833/with/4759362399/, licensed under Creative Commons.
“Hands in pockets, like a sailor, Octave went along the quays towards Notre-Dame. We followed the arms of the Seine which embrace the Île de la Cité, where the water sleeps in the shadow of the dead cathedral.” —Philippe Soupault, The Last Nights of Paris (1928) This photograph shows how, in the early 1930s, the quays of the Seine were still the true working quays so lovingly described in Soupault’s novel. From the perspective of the bridge of the Archbishop, looking back across the Seine towards the Île de la Cité, Soupault’s “dead cathedral” appears much less massive and overwhelming. Its Gothic form becomes one figure among many, in a richly textured urban cityscape that includes nature.
C AT H E R I N E H O W E L L
CITY OF NIGHT: Parisian Explorations
IN LITERATURE, music, theatre, and film, as well as in advertising, photography, and the graphic arts, Paris has been constituted and reconstituted, not as the “City of Light,” but as a “City of Night.” This essay will explore the theme of the city at night, focusing on how the spectacularization of urban topography has rendered nocturnal space and place visible, knowable and available for consumption and appropriation. My chosen site for this investigation is the city of Paris; and the principal context that I will consider is the Surrealist novel The Last Nights of Paris (Les Dernières Nuits de Paris) (1928), by Philippe Soupault (1897-1990).1 As a writer, poet, editor, journalist, and radio producer, Soupault was a man of many talents whose contributions to French culture have tended to become obscured by the story of his dispute with André Breton.2 In the context of urban studies, however, Soupault’s early novel is worth revisiting; both on its own merits, and historically, as a critical instance of the Surrealists’ exploration and appropriation of urban space. Far from being a mere footnote in the annals of literary disputes, The Last Nights of Paris prefigures urban strategies that were later adopted by Guy Debord and the Situationists, including the “detour” (dérive).3 As I will argue, Soupault presents a specifically modernist vision of urban spectacle, in which the ability to acquire knowledge of the city is, as in James Joyce’s writing, largely dependent on individual sensibility. Flash-forward to the early years of the twenty-first century, nearly a hundred years later, and we find that the Mairie de Paris has attempted to appropriate Soupault’s nocturnal urban sensibility as a marketable attribute for the city’s tourism, by instituting the popular festival known as Nuit Blanche. Viewed from a critical historical perspective, it becomes possible to claim that Nuit Blanche attempts to rationalize, and institutionalize, the unruly gambits of the Parisian avant-garde in the form of a cultural festival, mediating civic engagement with Parisian urban space through ludic, exploratory encounters with public art. From the Paris of Charles Baudelaire and Colette, to the Venice of John Ruskin and Thomas Mann, or the Berlin of Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht, the modern European literary canon offers multiple accounts of the self in relation to urban spectacle.4 In discussing the city in the
HALIFAX’S NOCTURNE VERSUS (?) THE SPECTACLE OF NEOLIBERAL CIVICS
HALIFAX’S NOCTURNE: ART AT NIGHT, an all-night “art thing” based on the successful model of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, lived its third incarnation on the evening of 16 October 2010 at sites scattered about the heart of the colonial fortress city. While the event contended with Halifax’s marginalization within Canadian art and influence, it also supplied clues as to the character of a new chapter of Canadian civilization. I call civic spectacles like Nocturne moments of Canadian civilization not to be grandiose but to name a historic process and locate them within (and, to some degree, against) the project of what Daniel Coleman calls “white civility.”1 Immediately drawing attention to the etymological and genealogical confluences of civilization, civility, civics, and civil society,2 Coleman looks at the mythology that surrounds Canada’s fabled “politeness” and the refrain of “peace, order, and good government,” a mythology which ties together early Canada’s colonial “white” past with its ostensibly multicultural present (and globalized future). He argues that Canadian cultural production, past and present, has been fixated on developing a normative image of civility fundamentally imagined as “white,” to which those considered non-white are only ever granted limited access, undermining the nation’s halfhearted (if sanctimonious) attempts at multiculturalism and doing little to address entrenched forms of racism and oppression.3 With Coleman’s approach to civility in mind I want to understand civic spectacles like Nocturne as exercises (or perhaps drills4) in what I call “neoliberal civics” that both seduce and discipline bodies and invite participation and spectatorship in order to consolidate new organizations of space and power. The term “neoliberal civics” draws attention to the way these post-public events participate in (and, at times, resist) the transformation of engagements with the city and its populations (the civus) towards a moment of market supremacy, privatization, and securitization organized along intersecting axes of wealth, gender, race, citizenship status, and occupation. Under neoliberalism, the political and economic orthodoxy that has shaped the past forty years of corporate-led globalization, civility has a double movement: on the one hand, older Eurocentric models of liberal civility, such as those associated with more orthodox understandings
Kathryn McCormack, No Rest for the Weary (2010), still from performance. Photo: Jen Polgatto, courtesy of the photographer.
Alison Creba, CITY MAIL (2010), installation view. Photo: Michelle Doucette Design & Photography, courtesy of Alison Creba.
speak to, hovering as they do above the torn, industrial chairs and dwarfed by the imposing oak doors to the locked courtrooms. Is this imperious edifice digesting these defiant collaborative works into its legal order, its nomos? Does this installation inadvertently sentence these youth to silence before the disinterested application of the civil law (judges and juries, after all, have their own, private entrances and need not see the work)? Or does it bear witness to a triumph for art-as-advocacy, voicing a preemptive defence of youth caught up in the state’s embrace, a plea for a deeper, more holistic and compassionate vision of “justice”? Who judges? Continuing North on Barrington Street, a young white woman dressed as a maid cleans a tiny, cell-like storefront window box (Kathryn McCormack, No Rest for the Weary, 2010). A mechanical apparatus helps her cry continuously, and she continuously mops up the tears. This whimsical piece is a popular hit and crowds gather (but do not touch one another) to gaze at her spectacle. Something about the staging of this augmented weeping invites laughter and joy. The artist cannot help grinning herself (through her crocodile tears) at the antics of the audience pressed up against the glass. This piece speaks to the ironic knowingness of the civic spectacle as a whole: the sombre smirk, the orgy of civility, the false labour. Indeed, all around, behind less transparent windows in glass towers and retrofitted historic properties, cleaners spend their nights returning the offices of Nocturne’s generous corporate and government sponsors to their sanitized equilibriums. Across the street from the weeping servant, an expensive furniture store remains open all night, suggesting its wares as objets d’art. At an abandoned storefront of a wellknown local photography shop, now moved to the suburbs, a temporary post-office has been set up where the public “mails” letters via an attendant within. This is the manifestation of Alison Creba’s ongoing CITY MAIL project where the artist operates an unofficial postal service, promising to deliver mail deposited at several Halifax (semi-)public spaces to any destination, offering participants a sort of structured, vicarious dérive. Here, art helps to renavigate civic space, breathing a passion and an intentionality back into the written word, lately consigned
View of Manhattanhenge from 42nd Street and Tudor City Place, 30 May (2007). Photo: Seth Holladay.
A N D R E W WA S S E R M A N
STREET LIGHT: Manhattanhenge and the Plan of a City
IT IS A FEW MINUTES after 8:00 in the evening on 30 May in midtown Manhattan. Traffic has just started moving again on Park Avenue, halting cross-town traffic. A half dozen people, cameras in hand, slowly begin to move off the sidewalk and into the bus lane. The more cavalier members of the group cross into the still lanes of traffic, a few even making it to the double yellow median lines before retreating again once traffic starts moving cross-town. A few more people have joined the crowd in the bus lane, also arriving prepared: sunglasses on, camera in hand, unfazed by the others engaged in a similar activity. All face towards the western extreme of the city, staring out towards New Jersey, forming an impromptu street community. The traffic stops. On cue, the photographers again move into the street. A collective cheer and spontaneous applause erupts from a subset of the gathering crowd. A male pedestrian walking by shouts “Everybody’s going crazy!” Another stops one of the photographers to ask if this is some type of performance art project. A few minutes later a young mother pushing a stroller stops to ask a couple about the gathering. “What is this? How did everyone know to come here?” Trading sentences, they relay a brief overview of the event: it happens twice a year, it is like Stonehenge “but different,” they heard about it on NY1 (a local television news channel) and then read about it online, and, half-joking, suggest that they will bring a picnic with them for when they return in a couple of weeks for the next occurrence. Throughout this explanation, the title of the event is repeated several times: “Manhattanhenge.” During these approximately fifteen minutes, crowds gather throughout the city on street corners, pedestrian islands, and traffic overpasses to watch the sun set directly in line with the borough’s grid. Since the island of Manhattan is shifted thirty degrees off of the northern longitudinal axis, Manhattanhenge does not occur exactly on the summer equinox. Instead, it occurs several weeks on either side of the date: once at the end of May and again at the end of the first third of July. The once casually observed solar phenomenon has grown over the past decade into an unofficial city event. This has been assisted in part by the academic legitimization accompanying astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s formal identification of the event in 2001 as a term, and also
THE SCREEN POLITICS OF ARCHITECTURAL LIGHT PROJECTION
ONE OF THE MOST REMARKABLE aspects of recent projection modalities is the way in which projectionists now choose from increasingly variable possibilities of circumstantial requirements, such as atmospheric light conditions, varied screen surfaces, and diverse flows of audiences. Thanks to innovations in projector design and related technologies, the projection of light images can occur in dimly illuminated spaces and the “screen” may be three-dimensional, replete with detail, texture and gradations in depth, semi-transparent, and even partially mobile— although this last form of projection seems to be only in its most nascent stages of application. In fact, the impetus of technology seems to be leading into a novel experiential arena in which any surface, animate or inanimate, sentient or object, willing or unwilling, can become a projection screen—and herein lies the essential problematic I would like to address. Whereas once projection was necessarily limited to certain viewing scenarios, current technology for better or worse supports the possibility of a fully immersive projection culture. This prospect asserts a palpable pressure on any isolated questions of aesthetics that might arise in relation to a systematic practice of projection across various facets of cultural production. Instead, the politics of the “occupation” of various surfaces by images and the ethics of such an obfuscation of space and place, temporary or not, become equally pressing questions. It is important to specify that by invoking “projection” and “screen” I refer more to literal than metaphorical signifiers. Although, as writers such as Laura Mulvey have demonstrated, theoretical discussions about psychic “projections” and social “screens” or identity façades so common in modern societies are crucial to a polyvalent understanding of mechanical projection apparatuses even on the most microcosmic scale. Human representational drives so rapaciously seek out increasingly sophisticated systems of projection as just a single facet of species-specific scopophilic and narcissistic urges.1 The physiological apparatus of human cognition, functioning as a constant feed between the refracting visual cortex and brain activity, is itself a kind of projection of reality allowing comprehension and translation of the external world. Not surprisingly therefore, the outward experience of various kinds of projection scenarios in everyday life has Jenny Holzer, Xenon for Paris (2001), installation view. © 2011 Jenny Holzer, member Artist Rights Society (ARS), NY.
Ali&Cia, Devorar Segovia (2009). Commissioned by Segovia 2016 as a key project in its campaign to become a European Capital of Culture. Over 100 people from a range of associations, along with professional chefs from fourteen of the cityâ€™s restaurants, collaborated to create a 24m2 model of the city that was devoured by 1,500 people by moonlight next to the Roman aqueduct. Photo: Astrid Schulz.
P R O J E C T: S I M O N C O H E N A N D A L I C I A R I O S
ALI&CIA’S URBANOPHAGY CEREMONIES
What Is an Urbanophagy Ceremony? ON 6 JUNE 2009 in Segovia, Spain, those gathered in the Plaza del Azoguejo started seeing double. From the foot of the Roman aqueduct that towered above them they could spot the very same aqueduct, but this second version was built of robust pastry stones. It was erected in the same plaza where they stood, but this was now paved with marzipan. In fact, the whole town with all its UNESCO World Heritage architecture was laid out before them in the form of an elaborate banquet, 24m2 in size, prepared by the people who could be counted on to know what the city really tasted like—those that lived there. 1,500 people had crowded into the square and onto the surrounding balconies to rediscover their hometown in all its juicy details, like the Romanesque church of pressed pigs’ ear with elegant cartilage-framed windows and roasted red pepper roofs. Outside the city’s defensive waffle walls, the river teemed with chocolate trout that tempted the edible fishermen and beyond lay the arid plains of empanada, all waiting to be devoured in a communal catharsis of the urbanophagic instinct.1 Devorar Segovia (“Devour Segovia”) was one of our Urbanophagy Ceremonies, a form of public performance art or interactive community theatre that entails the creation of an edible scale model of a locality by its inhabitants. The size of the models and the number of groups varies, but once the area to be represented has been defined, it is always divided into a grid of equal sections (normally 2m2), with each adopted by a group who will decide how to cook and build it out of food. All types of community associations participate in these projects, from organizations for refugees and immigrants and associations promoting the social integration of people with disabilities to soup kitchens and other groups that provide various educational and social opportunities. Beyond simply representing the integration of a city’s different social groups, Urbanophagy Ceremonies enact this integration and claim the city for all of its citizens.
Moment Factory, Elixir (2010), installation view. Photo: Courtesy of the artists.
SPECTACULAR INFRASTRUCTURE: The Mediatic Space of Montreal’s “Quartier des spectacles”
WHILE RESEARCHING THE ongoing post-9/11 redevelopment of the city of New York, I came across the proposed transformation of a public plaza in Lower Manhattan. The swirling brightgreen benches designed by Martha Schwartz that have, since 1997, all but filled the plaza adjacent to the Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building on Lafayette Street will be replaced by the more muted vision of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA). Van Valkenburgh, like Schwartz, is a landscape architect and certainly one of the most sought after in New York. Employing the customary civic materials of granite and marble, the MVVA proposal for the Federal Plaza is selfidentified as traditional in its approach. Some of the most familiar elements of public space are incorporated: a fountain, a number of benches, and a ring of blossoming magnolia trees. In its digital renderings, the site appears carefully considered, inviting and, it must be said, entirely innocuous. Observing this transition, without public protest, from one uncontroversial design plan to the next, one could be forgiven for overlooking the significance of the site where the change is taking place—a plaza on which was staged one of the most notorious conflicts over art in American history. This is, in other words, the very same Federal Plaza that was once aggressively cleaved in two by Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc (1981), a twelve-foot high and 120-foot long curving wall of steel that drew the ire of Chief Judge Edward D. Re and launched a national debate over the aesthetics, function, and legislation of public art. Serra defended his uncompromising work as an attempt to provoke a conceptual and perceptual re-organization of the site; Re described it as “a rusted steel barrier,”1 a violent eyesore inflicted upon those who work in the surrounding buildings. The end result of the tumult over the sculpture was of course its abrupt dismantling, overnight on 15 March 1989, only ten years after the work had first been commissioned as a permanent installation by the US General Services Administration. I mention this as a preface to discussing an entirely different development project in Montreal because the changes that have occurred at Federal Plaza are indicative of a broader shift in the aesthetic treatment of public space. This urban episode drives home the fact that, in a postTitled Arc era, the task of animating city squares, plazas, and green spaces is increasingly the
P R O J E C T: D AV E B E E C H , A N D Y H E W I T T, A N D M E L J O R D A N
THE FREEE COLLECTIVE DON’T WANT YOU
“PARTICIPATION” FIRST BECAME a buzzword as part of the New Left’s critique of existing democracies in the 1950s and 1960s. It was then taken up by C.B. MacPherson in his theory of participatory democracy in the 1970s, but went missing during the monetarist 1980s only to return in the 1990s as a conspicuous feature of relational art. Participation in contemporary art resonates with political promise. However, when one considers that participation in the new art includes having dinner, drinking beer, designing a new candy bar and running a travel agency, there seems to be justification in talking about a declining ambition for the politics of participation. Can participation in art be anything other than a pale imitation of its original political promise? Before we present our thoughts on how participation might be rethought to bring it into closer contact with political transformation, some of the ideological baggage that has attached itself to the concept of participation needs to be jettisoned. The merit of participation is hardly ever challenged today. We get some sense of how deep and widespread belief in participation has become by observing that it has come to seem absurd to suggest that less participation is better than more participation. Everything from the schoolroom to the Internet and from sport to the elimination of world poverty has been, in the last twenty years, reconfigured at various levels of intensity by the imperative to encourage participation. Participation has become a value. Within the discourse on socially engaged art or “art’s social turn,” conceptions of art and participation have been provided by theorist and curator Nicolas Bourriaud, in his concept of Relational Aesthetics, and more lately in exchanges between Grant Kester and Claire Bishop that interrogate recent trends in didactic and participatory art.1 This demonstrates divergent ideas of art and social relations between those that are convivial, ethical, or agonistic. In the UK these affirmative ways of engaging with the social have been exploited by Third Way cultural policy whereby artists have been employed to promote an ethics of participation in order to construct and manage publics and audiences. The value of participation has not been restricted to the field of art, but has entered business, commerce, education and government policy. But participation has a dark side. It goes
7. Victoria Street Renamed as Pig’s Meat Street The chalkboard is placed in position. The Chalkholders stand facing the Witnesses. Chalk is used to write a new name on the chalkboard. THE CHALKHOLDERS: We rename Victoria Street as Pig’s Meat Street. Thomas Spence was the publisher of Pig’s Meat (a reference to Burke’s savage description of the British masses as “the swinish multitude”), a very successful weekly political journal that ran between 1793 and 1795, calling for the forcible nationalization of land. THE WITNESSES: Make encouraging and celebratory music/noise. CHALKHOLDERS: We have written the name. WITNESSES: We witnessed you write the name. CHALKHOLDERS: The name was Victoria Street. WITNESSES: We disavow the name Victoria Street. CHALKHOLDERS: The name Pig’s Meat Street has been written. WITNESSES: We avow the name Pig’s Meat Street. CHALKHOLDERS: Do you believe the name of this place is Pig’s Meat Street? WITNESSES: Yes, I do believe the name of this place is Pig’s Meat Street. CHALKHOLDERS: The name of this place is Pig’s Meat Street. Make your noise in the name of this place. WITNESSES: Make encouraging and celebratory music/noise. Chalkholder #3 washes the chalk from the chalkboard. The Chalkholders turn their backs on the Witnesses and walk to Emmanuel Road accompanied by the music of the Witnesses.
Above and following spread: Freee Collective, Revolution Road: Rename the Streets! (2009), performance stills. Photos: Courtesy of the artists.
M AT T R E Y N O L D S
“A MASSIVE MULTI-FACETED SCREENING ROOM”: LA Freewaves Curates Hollwood Boulevard
IN OCTOBER 2008, the Los Angeles-based media arts organization Freewaves staged its eleventh biennial festival in Hollywood, California. The event took place over a five-day period and featured the work of more than 160 artists. It included experimental video and new media installations, performances, lectures, walking tours, and interactive exhibitions. Most importantly, the art on display was not confined to a specific location but was shown in storefronts, tattoo parlours, galleries, hotel lobbies, restaurants, on building façades, and theatre marquees along Hollywood Boulevard and elsewhere throughout the neighbourhood. According to the Freewaves press release, the festival’s mission was to “transform the world-famous boulevard into a massive, multifaceted screening room…[showcasing] both the glamorous Hollywood myth and its gritty but changing reality.”1 The event was dubbed “HollyWould.” For Freewaves co-founder and Executive Director Anne Bray and other festival organizers, this title evoked the metonymic relationship between the neighbourhood and the entertainment industry. But the deliberate pun also had a serious intent: “By placing Hollywood in the conditional tense, Freewaves invited artists to imagine what could be, while exploring the role of art in mass-media-saturated culture and the future of gentrifying neighbourhoods.”2 Hollywood is currently in the midst of an ongoing urban renewal plan. The Hollywood Redevelopment Project (HRP) began in 1986 and has already transformed the once-seedy neighbourhood long characterized by homelessness, drugs, pornography, and prostitution into a tourist-friendly, themed environment evoking the glorious heyday of American movie studios and golden era stars. The branding of Hollywood’s renewal has capitalized on its association with media, entertainment and glamour to market revitalization.3 As a result, the urban landscape of Hollywood has become a media-saturated location on par with Times Square. Freewaves challenged artists and viewers to confront many of the preconceptions and stereotypes about the city by using Hollywood’s renewal as a framing device. By asking artists to “place Hollywood in the conditional tense,” festival curators posed an implicit critique of redevelopment. Hollywood as it exists today is an imperfect place, the call for works seemed to imply. But the arts The author conducts a DeTour on the affinities between glamour and surveillance inside a McDonald’s fast food restaurant near the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland (2008). Photo by Doug McCulloh, courtesy of Freewaves.
DeTour members participating in “Actions of Time and Space” (2008) on Hollywood Boulevard. Photo by Corina Gamma.
James Rojas oversees a workshop about Hollywood’s future development at LACE’s entrance (2008). Photo by Doug McCulloh, courtesy of Freewaves.
crosswalk without a traffic light—an activity potentially hazardous to one’s health in this traffic clogged location.23 In another performance, architect and urban planner James Rojas oversaw a workshop featuring props, 3-D models and maquettes positioned over a map of the neighbourhood. The workshop was staged in front of LACE’s entrance and encouraged participants and passersby to move the architectural models around the urban grid as a way of visualizing different iterations of the city’s development. DeTour guides were aided by cellphone technologies, imaging systems, and GPS monitors provided by REMAP. Tour guides and audience members utilized the phones to map their routes, view relevant images and take photos that were then uploaded to a central server to be displayed at specific locations later in the festival, providing documentation of the tours alongside images of daily activities in and around the neighbourhood. Following the festival, these digital images were archived and made accessible on the web via REMAP’s website.24 But REMAP’s presence extended beyond the tours as well: “Acting as catalyst for neighbourhood input to what Hollywood could be… REMAP created a Cultural Civic Computing System embracing a variety of media projects with Hollywood residents, workers and business people that were presented as mobile media tours, interactive installations and participatory presentations.”25 Prior to the festival, REMAP distributed cameras with audio and video recording capabilities to residents at the newly built Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing, school kids at the LeConte Middle School, Business Improvement District Staff and the Hollywood Street Cleaning Crew. In addition to providing the technology, REMAP also offered workshops on how to use the equipment. Their goal during Freewaves was to create “environments that help people record, interpret and express… their social concerns, their shared identities, and their civic participation.”26 The resulting collection of materials produced during the festival was labelled “Remapping-LA: HollyWould” and accessible
CARMEN L. MCCLISH
URBAN PLAYGROUND ANTICS AND THE REDEFINING OF PUBLIC SPACES
A CHILL IN THE AIR did not dissuade thousands of people who assembled to participate in the Second Annual International Public Pillow Fight Day. There was energy, like a secret shared between strangers, from people who clandestinely hid pillows in backpacks or more obviously displayed them scrunched under jackets. Over a thousand gathered that cold Boston afternoon of 4 April 2009, some in costume, others wearing matching coloured t-shirts, most wearing smiles and passing mischievous looks as they patiently waited for the whistle that would begin the festivities. Teenagers and college kids, as well as families, were there to play, ignoring the brutal wind and sharing the anticipation. Finally, pillows of all shapes, sizes and colours slowly emerged, along with a hum of excitement amongst the crowd as the time approached. Then the whistle was blown; a runner with a flag shot by, and the scene became a frenzy of bodies, pillows, and laughter. The extraordinary participation that day was an echo of the inaugural event held a year earlier. The First International Public Pillow Fight Day saw thousands of people descending into a number of urban centres: from Sydney to Los Angeles, from Vancouver to New York City, from Boston to Paris, people equipped with pillows gathered for a large-scale pillow fight. International Pillow Fight Day was organized in twenty-five cities across the world in 2008 and seventy-four cities for the second iteration.1 In Boston, participation increased from 600 to 1,100 participants from one year to the next.2 Although pillow fights have innocent connotations, the reactions to these public events show that they are anything but harmless play; these seemingly frivolous events are often greeted by law enforcement. The State and commerce take crowds gathering in public spaces seriously. The fear of these types of events turning into out of control mobs has resulted in public spaces becoming increasingly privatized and citizens being discouraged to participate in public culture.3 This article examines how citizens take back these spaces to gather with friends and strangers, if only for a few minutes. If the critique is that citizens are not allowed to participate in public culture, my question is, how are citizens engaging with one another despite these restrictions? From the Reclaim the Streets dance parties of the 1990s to International Public
International Public Pillow Fight Day, Boston (2009), event still. Photo: Carmen L. McClish.
DIGITAL PRODUCTIVISM: New Participatory Mass Culture
RINGING IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, technological innovation, political transformation, and the tremors felt in the citadel of capitalism have given renewed urgency to questions of socialism, progress, and class, a set of concerns that to many seemed antiquatedly modernist only a few years earlier. Successive economic recessions as well as cascading instability in national regimes make manifest a crisis regarding long-prevailing ideologies of order and progress. Digital media have provided new spaces for communication and social organization—the opportunity for new utopian raptures as well as new forms of deliberation and action. Increasingly, artists, hackers, and activists understand themselves as facilitators of emancipatory processes and providers of tools, seeking to turn spectators into the agents of new publics, into participants in a new techno-collective future based on the production of surplus knowledge, shared intellect, and community. The following is a critical look at a few examples of creative initiatives that seek social innovation through mass participation, at the legacy of the role of the artist as producer, the ongoing institutionalization of art as social exploration, at the possibilities and limits, and ultimately the usefulness, of an applied techno-culture. Throughout modernity, artists with an interest in social progress have eagerly welcomed technological innovation, touting the potential of mechanical and electronic production, reproduction, and dissemination to provide greater access to a broader range of images and imaginaries. The historical avant-gardes in particular saw in the apparatuses of mechanized creative labour the chance to wrest the making of social experience from the iron grip of bourgeois individualism. Bertolt Brecht expounded on the radio’s capacity to become a paragon of two-way communication among the people, while Walter Benjamin famously put his faith in photography and film’s ability to enable a secular art, devoid of alienating aura and instead replete with democratic attraction and revolutionary, communal consumption. The Bauhaus envisioned the industrial production of the people’s wares to furnish its socialist cathedral, and the Productivists ventured to materialize an unprecedented project of collaborative and collective being with a program of art as utilitarian labour and industrial production implementing ideals of socialist progress in Mikro.fm, Transmitter Soldering Workshop (2007), held at the Chaos Communication Camp in Finowfurt Airport, near Berlin. Photo: Courtesy of Kaspar Metz.
City Fusion, Conference of the Birds (2009), performance still from the St. Patrickâ€™s Festival, Lithuanian Association and Author. Photo: Raven Aflakete.
ESSENCES OF SOCIAL CHANGE: City Fusion, Interculturalism, and the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland
17 MARCH 2009. It is a bright and warm day, unusual for Dublin at this time of year. City Centre is packed. The parade unfolding before garishly attired spectators is the fourteenth annual grand finale to the Dublin St. Patrick’s Festival, a six-day extravaganza founded in 1995 celebrating Ireland’s favorite saint, as well as supporting local communities and a booming national tourist industry. I am a volunteer artist and facilitator for City Fusion, an intercultural performance group that has been a fixture in the annual parade since 2007. Today, I lead the Lithuanian Association in the parade for our 2009 pageant, “Conference of the Birds,” based on Persian Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar’s book of poems of the same name. This article examines the role of City Fusion in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Festival’s parade through my perspective as a volunteer artist and facilitator as I participated in weekly rehearsals for five out of the nine groups and attended regular production meetings.1 Led by professional artists and designers, City Fusion gathers amateur performers from diverse community groups to collectively create a pageant over a two-month process leading up to the parade. Over the fiveyear history of this project, Irish-born, French, Polish, Lithuanian, Indonesian, Indian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Somalian, Congolese, Cameroonian, Jamaican, Filipino, Togolese, and Angolan groups have participated, among others. Some of these groups practice the arts as part of their mission and others were made into performers through the project. City Fusion and its role in the festival captures the stakes of the enormous economic and social changes that occurred during the Celtic Tiger economic boom, which dates roughly from 1994 to 2007.2 The Celtic Tiger transformed the nation from one struggling with economic underdevelopment and poverty to one re-shaped by wealth and opportunity. Economic prosperity brought unprecedented immigration, suddenly challenging the boundaries of contemporary Irish national identities. The name given to Ireland’s economic boom is adapted from the “Asian Tiger” economies (Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong) and refers to rapid and consistent growth in an economy and its levels of industrialization.3 I use the term “post-Celtic Tiger” to describe all events during and after the economic boom due
P R O J E C T: E R I C M O S C H O P E D I S
PUBLIC DREAMING AND THE TRANSGRESSION OF NEOLIBERAL BORDERS
BAD BEHAVIOUR IS IN MY NATURE. I cannot help it. I sniff out rules and I try to break them. This way of operating in the world goes back to my earliest days. I have smashed, crashed, stolen, painted, and trespassed. But all of that was prior to adulthood and most is duly noted in many a schoolteacher or police officer’s notebook. Today, my transgressions are far more day-to-day (walking, sitting, spitting, pissing, sleeping, and cutting across lawns or empty lots) and are arguably less offensive. But they are no less meaningful in affecting my subjectivity and securing a sense of agency as an agitator. Instead, these transgressions—pedestrian and public in nature— have come to inform both my critical and creative practice over the past decade. Since the early part of the 2000s I have been developing a methodology called “bubonic tourism” with the express interest of advancing and communicating—a form of attack really—against neoliberal social and spatial normativity. The bubonic tourist operates in the everyday as a resistive, ethical, and generous individual. An individual, who as citizen, rubs up against and playfully interrogates social and spatial systems of power that influence and shape everyday practices. But do not be grossed out. Bubonic tourism is only a metaphor and the juxtaposition of two words with strong resonance! This description may help: the swollen groins, inflamed armpits, and piles of dead bodies are out, but the symptoms of madness and the grotesque known to effect plague victims is definitely in! That is because as an interdisciplinary methodology, bubonic tourism brings together theories of multi-sensual tourism, performance auto-ethnography, and radical pedagogy. Bubonic tourism considers how identity is formed, agency determined, and subjectivity altered by transgressing geographical and habitual terrains through dialogical and aesthetic experiences (what Bakhtin calls the carnivalesque). Bubonic tourism also follows from Pierre Bourdieu in that identity is rooted in habitus. If individuals undertake actions that exist on the margins of the many different social and spatial forces that influence their habitual ways of operating in the world, then this movement away from normative behaviour is a form of “tourism.” The margins therefore become a “tourist” destination—an instance of the carnivalesque—where notions of self can be troubled, where subjectivity can be altered, agency
Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton, Zâ€™s by the C (Zurich) (2010), performance views. Photo: Courtesy of the artists.
“CHOREOGRAPHIES OF NATIONHOOD”: Performing Aviation as Spectacle
ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS sequences in 1930s cinema stages the spectacle of flight: early in Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939), an impressively rendered cyclone sends Dorothy’s house whirling through the sky. The choreography of the house, the cyclone, and the variety of people, animals, and objects flying past (including a boat and a bicycle), stretched the possibilities of cinematic technology available at the time. The scene’s status as spectacle is reinforced by the prominence of the house’s window frame within the cinematic frame, and by the consequent staging of Dorothy as viewer. Following a period of intense public interest in the “modern mechanical miracle”1 of aviation, and coinciding with the birth of mass commercial air travel, the film displays some of the anxiety that goes hand-in-hand with the public fascination: it uses the ungainly flight of the house to a strange land to teach the moral lesson that “there’s no place like home.” This well-known sequence introduces the key ideas of this article: air transport as performance site and object, flight as spectacle, and airspaces as fundamentally entwined in discourses of national identity. In a context of the rapid development of air travel (or, more specifically, “aeromobility”2) over the last century, I explore some of the ways in which aircraft have been employed and addressed in arts practices from Futurism to the 2012 London Olympics, and investigate the various perspectives at stake as a result (above, below, within). In doing so, I argue that such practices are revealing of a complex and shifting relationship to an increasingly mobile world. This investigation is, for me, part of a larger project connecting work in the “new mobilities paradigm”3 in the social sciences to performance and transport. Much of the recent work that theorizes mobility has been useful in drawing attention to the multiple ways in which travel, and the apparatus of travel, is experienced and understood. But travel, of course, is only one form of mobility. As the geographer Tim Cresswell argues, in a world that is increasingly on the move, a simple equation between mobility and movement is no longer enough: It is important to understand that mobility is more than about just getting from A to B. It is about the contested worlds of meaning and power. It is about mobilities rubbing up
Fiona Banner, Harrier and Jaguar (2010), detail: Sea Harrier aircraft, paint, 7.6m x 14.2m x 3.71m. Photo: ÂŠ Tate Photography (Andrew Dunkley and Sam Drake), courtesy of Tate Britain.
Pierre-AndrĂŠ Sonolet and Lois Klassen, Covering Up (2010), street projections at the World Tea Party, Centre A, February 19. Photo: C. Wiebe, courtesy of Lois Klassen.
PARTICIPATORY ART AT THE VANCOUVER 2010 CULTURAL OLYMPIAD
There’s not that much happening in Vancouver right now... —Heather Cosidetto1 IN FEBRUARY 2010, Vancouver transformed itself into a stage for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, accommodating in this transformation all of the associated cultural events, security requirements, and marketing campaigns expected of a world-class destination. As a performance, “Vancouver 2010”—to borrow a moniker that was at the time reserved by law for the sole discretion of the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC)—relied on the active involvement of city residents, visitors, and audiences. More than other cultural happenings in the region, and perhaps distinct from other Olympic Games, the events called upon individuals to participate in very deliberate ways. This article chronicles how audiences were expected to produce Vancouver 2010 through their actions: by becoming a synchronized prop in the international broadcasts, by uploading content to on-line media works, by gathering in off-beat social and relational spaces, or by making room for artist-led interventions. Calling for the social involvement of others in art is a fifty-year old form that is currently being rearticulated and even institutionalized.2 But unlike the original “participatory action” and “happening” art performances that were quoted in some of the art and theatre of Vancouver 2010, the involvement of the audience in these more recent works produced little critical rhetoric or social activism. In reviewing Vancouver 2010’s widespread use of participatory forms—to which I contributed as a ticketed audience member, an invitation-issuing artist, and an up-loading user—I am left to ask: is social involvement still a radical opportunity for integrating the politics of everyday life into art and theatre? At the time of the games’ official opening on 12 February 2010, almost three years of specially marketed “Cultural Olympiad” events had already occupied many of the city’s arts venues. The new Arts Legacy Fund had been combined with existing budgets to produce a number of international productions as well as local commissions, all branded to declare that most of the city’s cultural offerings between 2008 and 2010 were a part of a long-range, multi-venue festival
E X H I B I T I O N R E V I E W : B R I A N C U RT I N Bangkok University
Khvay Samnang, Untitled (2011), digital C-print. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
KHVAY SAMNANG, UNTITLED SA SA BASSAC, PHNOM PENH, CURATED BY ERIN GLEESON 15 JULY – 21 AUGUST 2011
THE FACE OF CAMBODIA’S capital city, Phnom Penh, is changing because of the privatization of lakes. According to Erin Gleeson, co-founder and Artistic Director of SA SA BASSAC gallery, this change has compelled local media and international aid workers to decry corruption and the weakening of human rights in Cambodia. The privatization of lakes means the displacement of families and, of course, the disruption of the natural environment. Khvay Samnang’s Untitled (2011) is a show of nine colour photographs and a single-channel video where sand, water, and the artist’s body are the predominant motifs. Untitled blurs distinctions between photography, performance, and documentation. Samnang is depicted standing amidst muddied water or leafy hinterlands, pouring a bucket of sand over his head. Ramshackle vernacular housing, cranes, and bland condominium developments are the backdrops. The video shows how he created the photographs. The press release for Untitled does not seek to explain the works. Rather, the release is a prose poem that begins “He saw people dismantling a house built above water” and concludes with “He saw sand where there was once water. He walked on the sand and into the grasses. He
B O O K R E V I E W : L E W I S K AY E Wilfrid Laurier University
MARK NUNES, ED. Error: Glitch, Noise, and Jam in New Media Cultures (New York: Continuum Books, 2011), 288 pages
THE VERY IDEA of digital culture is arguably predicated on the idea of perfection and flawless reproduction. I recall my first experiences with the Compact Disc, whose main selling point—“perfect sound forever”—was extremely attractive to a high school aged boy with a well-worn record collection. But as the very idea of “digital culture” has become a normal part of a broader media and cultural studies discourse, the tendency to treat it in such an idealized fashion has thankfully come under increasing scrutiny. Error: Glitch, Noise, and Jam in New Media Cultures, edited by Mark Nunes, is one of several books of late that attempt to provide just such a demystification (others I’ve enjoyed recently include Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction by Caleb Kelly and The Glitch Moment(um) by Rosa Menkman). Nunes’s edited volume grew out of a special issue of the Australian online journal M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture 10.5 (2007). While several of the chapters in the book started their lives in the journal, there is enough new material here to make this a meaningfully different work. The overriding goal of the book is to reclaim the notion of error as something of value in and of itself, rather than seeing it merely as a form of feedback used to fine tune systemic operations. Nunes sets this out in his introductory chapter, “Error, Noise and Potential: The Outside of Purpose,” contrasting it against the controlled and domesticated notion of error found in the probabilistic mathematics of Charles Sanders Peirce and the cybernetic theory articulated by Norbert Weiner in The Human Use of Human Beings. Here error becomes a fundamental element of systemic control, measured and quantified, deployed towards the goal of achieving optimal operational efficiency. Nunes draws on James Beniger’s compelling book, The Control Revolution, to illustrate how error through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries came to be used as a means of measuring machinic performance, thus coming under the totalizing systemic operations of technicized organizational structure. Calling upon Deleuze, he notes the fundamentally normative character of this quintessentially modern idea of error, that it is something wrong, something in need of correction and domestication. What has been lost, Nunes argues, is an understanding of error that sees its value outside of such totalizing systems of control. To this end, his introduction offers a genealogy of the concept of error, noting that pre-Enlightenment understandings considered error as a form of wandering rather than a deviation from truth. Error is thus also potentially a sort of productive diversion, an end in itself that provides an opportunity for exploration and learning in ways that seem quite similar to Benjamin’s idea of the flâneur. It is the uncontrolled and the unexpected that animates Nunes’s desire in this book, a belief that “error marks a path in its own right, and not merely a misstep” (14). A reinvigorated understanding of error and of its communicative counterpart, noise, offers the
Sneak peek of issue 45 of PUBLIC: Civic Spectacle. Edited by Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher, this issue considers how large-scale events h...