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<nettime> Virtualité, adieu mon amour...
Eric Kluitenberg on Mon, 30 Aug 2004 18:42:49 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Virtualité, adieu mon amour...


dear nettimers,

As we recently decided to put the remaining essays on-line of the 
dutch / russian art and media project Debates & Credits, I thought it 
might also be useful to post the essay here which I wrote a year ago 
for the book. It continues some of the explorations begun in the 
"constructing the digital commons" text, which was also available 
here.

hope this will be of interest.

best,
eric

----------------------

This essay was written for the final publication (Book & DVD) of 
"Debates & Credits - Media Art in the Public Domain", a Dutch / 
Russian art and media project. D&C consisted of a series of media / 
art interventions in the urban public spaces of Moscow, Amsterdam and 
Ekaterinburg, resulting in 16 projects and about 40 separate events.

Full documentation of this extensive project can be found at the 
project webiste, including essays, reports, visuals and video:
http://www.debates.nl

All these materials are published in book and dvd form to provide 
better readibility and the dvd obviously (still) offers better image 
quality for the videos. The publication is availalble from De Balie 
Uitgeverij and on-line via Nijhoff & Lee book sellers.
( http://www.debalie.nl/artikel.jsp?articleid=7954 )

Tatiana Goryucheva & Eric Kluitenberg (ed.)
Publisher: Uitgeverij De Balie, Amsterdam
Year of publication: 2003
pp. 144
Includes DVD
ISBN: 90-6617-298-3


----------------------


Virtualité, adieu mon amour...

What happens when 'our' media encounter the 'real' world?


Donna Haraway already pointed it out, hybridity is a defining 
characteristic of our cyborg lives. We are always multiple, always 
living in more than one world. Our realities are always composed of 
an arrangement of incongruent parts. We have to unite the 
incommensurable, on a daily basis: it's called survival. "Welcome to 
the real world"? Come on!! The Matrix is already a nostalgic image, 
more Debord than Baudrillard, as if there is a "real" world beyond or 
underneath it all, this continuous enactment, this consensual 
hallucination we wake up in every day...

Maybe that is where we missed an important point, back then, in the 
nineties, in the previous millennium, before the crash, before the 
meltdown, before the bubble burst. When the temporary general 
denominators, with their high "vagueness coefficient", instilled a 
false sense of unity to our endeavours, a mistaken sense of coherence 
(if only for a short while). Some of the most brave (or naïve, or 
maybe both?) declared our new space "independent" - that idea was 
shot down in a day ("hey!!! what about our bodies?!?? will they 
become independent too...??"). But still, the feeling was strong that 
a new parallel sociality could be constructed. Something that would 
be less bothered by borders, class, protocol, institutionalisation - 
in short power...

When limits started to emerge, we went on to question electronic 
borders, inclusion / exclusion and the digital divide. Our friend 
Castells was talking about two spaces, the space of flows, of 
networks, of communication channels, of high-technology where 
increasingly power was getting organised, versus the space of place, 
the physical, the embodied, the dreary space of ordinary people's 
lives, living in vast majority in dread and misery. Time to build 
bridges Castells concluded - how right he was... But before the 
bridges were there the dams broke and both spaces flowed into each 
other, a dirty mess. It turned out the virtual was not so virtual 
after all, pretty real in fact: money, power, fraud, corruption, 
idolatry, dependence, delusion...
(WorldCom, World-Online, Enron, Quest, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, 
Merrill Lynch, AOL..... The list is long and indeed hybrid...)

What we have come to understand the hard way is that the space of 
flows is deeply entrenched in our everyday social realities. We 
cannot make the neat separation between the wired world and the 
embodied one, just as we cannot make the separation between the 
virtual and the real. Media is the stuff our social reality is made 
of, and the real is composed of and composes the symbolic codes that 
circulate in the media networks that define the social.

What in fact needs to be done is to introduce the strategies of the 
nineties autonomous media cultures in the embodied spaces we inhabit, 
and it paradoxically requires the use of the very technologies that 
have created the mess we have now been flooded in. One step in that 
direction is to articulate a new sensitivity, a sensitivity for the 
hybrid, for the necessarily impure, for the nestedness of our living 
environments, a desire for contamination... The disembodied media 
worlds need to be infused with the virus of the real, as much as the 
living spaces of everyday social reality need to be infected with 
viral media. We are looking for models that break the illusion of 
perfect control....


PUBLIC DOMAIN 2.0

Amsterdam has a famous history for exploring the new social spaces 
that emerged when the internet slowly became a public medium in the 
beginning and the middle nineties. The model of the Digital City, a 
metaphoric analogue to structure and understand social processes 
mediated on-line by the rapidly developing internet, was a direct 
extension of the squatted local media landscape.

First rule of engagement: Never ask permission, just appear.

In the Amsterdam squatter movement the urgency of finding a decent 
place to live quickly replaced the decency to ask if it was ok to 
take over an empty building. From that point it is not so hard to 
make the conceptual leap to also claim the media spaces that were 
left open, vacant and unused, to fill the gaps in the media 
architecture, use the loop holes, find the entry point. Famously in 
Amsterdam, the squatters found their entry via an open satellite dish 
taking in corporate and state TV propaganda from abroad for the 
docile home TV viewer. At night, when the couch potatoes were asleep, 
they beamed their signals into the dish and thus right into the 
nightly living room screens. They created an alternate environment 
for night birds, derelicts, the insomniacs, artists and other 
marginals...

Upon complaints, not least by cable operators, telcoms and concerned 
viewers, in an unimaginably pragmatic Dutch turn of the cards, the 
city decided to legalise rather than to prosecute the media 
squatters. Importantly, with legalisation this new social sphere that 
had emerged on Amsterdam nightly TV turned from a space of pure 
freedom into a regulated space, be it one that allowed more of the 
city's populace than ever before their highly idiosyncratic access to 
the screen. A variety of voices and media cultures emerged. Every 
little group their own little corner; ethnic, religious, aesthetic, 
political, even the squatters themselves received their own regulated 
corner in the media house. Thus Amsterdam became an idyllic test bed 
for a new kind of public sphere, a space for the public that unfolded 
through the media channels rather than in the street or on the square.


May we have your bandwidth please?

In this environment it became a logical next step not just to claim 
TV and radio space, but also the space of the internet, a new medium 
for communication and exchange that was slowly opening up for the 
wider public from the confines of the academic and research 
community. The Digital City, the famous community network, achieved 
considerable success alongside the steady growth of internet use in 
The Netherlands in the mid nineties. Decidedly localised, a Dutch 
language network on the supposedly "global" internet, it became a 
famous attempt at establishing a digital networked public sphere, 
indeed as a parallel space, taking the metaphors of the physical city 
and slowly discovering its own dynamics.

Within its own limitations the Amsterdam squat/media elite was highly 
privileged. A demonstration of early adopters in the city centre of 
Amsterdam, carrying banners claiming "We Want Bandwidth!", became the 
catchy ident of an international campaign and research project. As 
part of the temporary media lab Hybrid Workspace 1997 during 
documenta X in Kassel the Bandwidth campaign started to ask difficult 
questions. Bandwidth, the transmission capacity for a network 
connection, was chosen as an emblem for the right and the capacity to 
connect: Connect to the world's information resources, connect to the 
other connected on the digital networks, but also an expression of 
new value systems expressed in technological terms and a new economic 
order where the available bandwidth can be understood as a measure 
for the capacity to participate in the unfolding new global economic 
order.

May we have your bandwidth please? we asked documenta visitors, and 
they already seemed fairly well connected (what a surprise!?). But 
when we started to ask outside our own little circle the picture 
quickly got dramatically different....

We measured the distribution of nodes in the network:

Country:			Number of Nodes:	Inhabitants per
							Node:

Netherlands			270.521		57
Germany 			721.847		115
Japan 				734.406		170
Romania			8205			2600
India				3138			300.000
Cameroon nodes:		0
( http://www.waag.org/bandwidth , July 1997)

The situation today may be somewhat different, but the general 
picture remains the same. Even if today the internet is an enormous 
success with well over 500 million people regularly on-line, it still 
means that 90 percent of the world's population has no or virtually 
no access at all. If we speak about a new public space than this 
fundamental inequality must first of all be addressed.


	Access to information and communication should be
	a fundamental democratic right for all citizens of the world.


A year later the people who created the bandwidth campaign along with 
some fresh faces went on to develop an extensive "Public Research" 
called "Public Domain 2.0", which was carried out at the Society for 
Old and New Media (De Waag) in Amsterdam in the beginning of 1998. We 
sought to question the definition of this new public space that was 
seemingly emerging with the growth of the internet. A new version of 
the public domain, 2.0, still very much in beta-testing phase...

We were quite aware of the incongruencies implicit in the very notion 
of this public domain 2.0, the discrepancy in addressing real-life 
divisions, and the impossibility of bridging them in one go. One of 
us, David Garcia, cried out that the new space of flows might be 
becoming a dominant social, political and economic force, but "PLACES 
DO NOT DISAPPEAR!!"

Garcia: "In the wider cultural and political economy the virtual 
world is inhabited by a cosmopolitan elite. In fact put crudely 
elites are cosmopolitan and people are local. The space of power and 
wealth is projected throughout the world, while people's life 
experience is rooted in places, in their culture, in their history."

Nonetheless, we tried to understand what "public domain" actually 
meant, how it might work in the new context of networked digital 
media. So, we first asked the most obvious question: "What is the 
public domain?"

Our answer at the time:

"First of all the public domain as a social and cultural space should 
be distinguished from its juridical definition. The public domain is 
traditionally understood as a commonly shared space of ideas and 
memories, and the physical manifestations that embody them. The 
monument as a physical embodiment of community memory and history 
exemplifies this principle most clearly. Access, signification, 
disgust, and appropriation of the public monument are the traditional 
forms in which the political struggles over collective memory and 
history are carried out."

Thus, our venture into the space of networks (what hollywood and some 
confused theorists called "virtuality", or even worse "virtual 
reality"), lead us back to the monument!!!
That crude symbol of authoritarian power, the piles of brick, mortar, 
stone and steel....

The monument... both matter and symbol at the same time, a 
pre-digital hybrid, how fitting....


LEAVING VIRTUALITY

Leaving virtuality is a painful process for sure, not just for the 
cyber-enthusiasts. Also in our critical counter cultures on the net 
we had revelled in the dream of a digital temporary autonomous zone. 
Yes the temporary was already there, from the beginning, we knew it 
would end, but probably we hoped that it would last a bit longer. The 
crash of the new economy in 2000 brought us all right back in muddy 
reality...

But there is a significant change. The hype maybe gone, but the net 
is still there, and growing. What we got in return for the wide open 
cyber frontier was the ugly face of surveillance and control, 
accelerated, enhanced and powered by 9/11... The naissance of the 
network society of control.

First commerce, then the state again, the autonomous spaces of the 
net are firmly entrenched again in the regular social order. No 
independence. But something was gained from this window of 
opportunity in the nineties, a shift in mind set. If anything, 
networked media managed to question the professional monopoly on the 
media channels. Where else can you find the open channels of 
Amsterdam's local TV? In Berlin, ok, a few places in the US, here and 
there, but they are the utter and extreme exception. Like the public 
city space, the media space is generally tightly controlled and kept 
well in the hands of the professional and power elites. But when we 
ask the same for the internet the answer is surprisingly the reverse: 
Where could we find the open space of the net? Well..., in the middle 
nineties basically everywhere where there was an internet connection. 
The open channels model was thus radically dispersed and a new 
generation could experience this new model of media first hand.

It seems all too obvious, but it constitutes a fundamental shift in 
thinking about real-time electronic media: a system more geared 
towards distributing the multitude of different and contradictory 
voices to the few (willing to listen), rather than the well 
established industrial model of media production channelling the few 
voices to the multitude of silent receivers. Brecht finally got what 
he truly deserved, what was taken away from radio 70 years 
before...., a radically open media space. The pandemonium was 
unleashed...

This 'just-do-it-yourself' model of media has become deeply ingrained 
in the consciousness of a young generation of artists, activists and 
ordinary media users, who will not easily let go of this heritage. 
Something was learned: that media production is easy, that "quality" 
is an arbitrary norm, that the sign of the subjective is far more 
engaging than the requirements of professionalism. Media could take 
many different faces, from the dilettante to the poetic, from the 
absurd to the grotesque, from the banal to the dandyesque. Important 
in the media game is articulation of a different voice. Also 
marketeers recognised that, but they are in for a big surprise, 
because the mere appropriation of the unprofessional look of media 
will only bring them into contact with the passive media consumers 
already sold to their daily capitalist/terrorist media-barrage. When 
tests were conducted in new housing districts with high-bandwidth 
connections the statistics of actual use flabbergasted everyone: 
people were transmitting more than they were receiving with their new 
media toys: ecce homo medialis....

I transmit therefore I am!

Try to integrate that in your marketing strategy!!!!


HYBRID SPACE

This young generation will do more than simply port the model learned 
from the net to the old and established trenches of the analogue 
media landscape. We can call this teleportation the emergence of 
hybrid media, the interconnection of digital and analogue, of 
networked and wave spectrum media, of internet and TV, of radio and 
net.audio. It's already happening and it is fusing, no need to 
speculate, just watch and see....

Hybridisation, however, goes far beyond the confines of media. With 
the emergence of a plethora of new wireless protocols, digital media 
become portable and move into the physical spaces. The mobile phone 
teleported audio to everywhere. The new devices take the image to 
places where no image has gone before. The contamination of the 
global landscape is complete. Disconnection becomes the true 
privilege of the age of wireless media!!

With media becoming mobile they start to melt with the physical 
environment. What emerges is neither a different kind of media space, 
nor a different kind of physical space, but a new hybrid space, a 
space of interconnection. What is the logic of this new space? 
Paradox! Fundamentally incongruent, and still happily alive... What 
is the most frequently asked question on the mobile phone...?

Where are you?

Who cares, since you're on the phone it's already clear that you are 
not together, and since you are still physical, a body, you cannot 
travel with the speed of light (like information can), and thus you 
are thrown into the incommensurate... And still, mobile phones are 
unimaginably popular.... what a drag!!! Phone bashing?? Not an 
option, there are simply too many out there, resistance is futile....


reBoot

In '99 we put 50 artists on a boat stuck from bottom to top with 
media equipment, to find out something about the contradictory logic 
of the new hybrid space, the fusion of the physical and the mediated. 
We found out more than we liked about the tenacity of the old 
physical limitations (and the economic for that one). The boat was 
going along the Rhine from Cologne to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, but 
surprisingly when we tried to strike a deal with one of the biggest 
mobile phone providers about connecting the boat during the week it 
was going down the river continuously to the internet, they refrained 
in the last moment - why? Because they could not guarantee full 
coverage. Damn masts!! In one of the most densely populated and most 
highly developed regions of Europe. We were amazed.

Architect and professor for Hybrid Space Frans Vogelaar at the 
Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, was highly interested in the 
contradictory interface between physical space and media space. 
Together we worked on this project and involved a wide variety of 
young artists, underground media makers, net.audio experimenters, 
sound artists, performance artists and other genres to fill the boat 
for a week with media related art projects. Results were aired 
continuously on-line and were possible via the Amsterdam local TV 
channels. The first interesting outcome was the spatial discontinuity 
of the project: While the media location of reBoot was fixed (a url 
and a channel on Amsterdam local TV), its dispersal (within Amsterdam 
by TV, and everywhere else via the net) was radically decentralised, 
yet the physical location was ever changing (the boat going down the 
river) and at the same time entirely localised (on the boat). This 
gave us an interesting set of spatial coordinates to work with.
( http://www.khm.de/~reboot )

The fact that we could not get the full bandwidth all-the-time and 
real-time connection, that some materials had to be physically 
shipped by car to the Amsterdam studio, that we often needed an 
analogue telephone cable in the harbour to actually go on-line, was 
in the end nothing to lament. Altogether these points of friction 
constituted an important indicator; a reminder of the messiness of 
hybrid space. When media move back into the physical environment they 
invariably collide with the limitation of the lives of 'bodies' in 
'places'....

So is this the 'real' world?


PUBLIC SPACE IS A HYBRID MONSTER....

Well..., isn't what is real that what is publicly shared? But what is 
publicly shared? Is it something we tell ourselves in our circle of 
friends, or is it the pieces we conveniently take from the daily 
media-barrage to construct our own particular perverted realities? 
Isn't the public something that constructs itself in space? But what 
then is public space?

Today we can no longer think of a uni-dimensional public space. 
Meetings that happen in the physical (embodied) public space are 
already constructed and defined in advance in media terms. When 
politicians address a crowd they usually look over their heads at the 
camera's, knowing that the true space where they message will be 
heard is mediated. It does not make the media 'unreal' since reality 
itself is constructed, at least on the social plane, in the terms 
defined by the media game. It is there that a collective 
consciousness and collective memory is formed and continuously 
reformulated. Media are the stuff social reality is made of, they 
continuously transform the physical environment. Yet, the physical 
environment remains the substrate of the media sphere.

If we want to transform the public sphere in the era of hybridisation 
we need to operate strategically with multidimensional tactics. The 
media in and of itself is not enough, that painful lesson has been 
learned. Without connections to the rest of the world, to the 
embodied places where people actually live (and where even the 
virtual class is forced to reside, if only, out of biological 
necessity), the media space, the internet, the networked communities, 
can easily become a post-modern-day ghetto. If we wish to break the 
isolation of the media sphere there is no choice but to move out into 
physical space.

What other locus to choose than the site of contemporary urbanity. It 
is in the density of the urban space that one encounters the ultimate 
degree of tenacity of the so-called "real" world. Ever heard of 
"permissions"? This word may sound odd for the internet generation. 
Why need permission, when all that you want is to speak in your own 
personal voice?

Did we forget about systems of surveillance and control?

The post-modern city is a site of power interest. It speaks to the 
imagination, and thus, through its mediated multiplication to the 
masses. The triangle of city - media - imagination is what defines 
its vectorial power, to paraphrase McKenzie Wark. It is within this 
potent locus of media power that struggles will necessarily end up, 
the sites of collective identification that are both symbol and 
embodied site at the same time: The image that can be symbolically 
consumed and physically visited at the same time. It is here that the 
sign of the real inscribes itself most vigorously.... If you don't 
believe that 9/11 happened you can go to the tip of Manhattan and 
find out for yourself.


THE MONUMENT APPROPRIATED...

The Debates and Credits project, executed in Amsterdam, Ekaterinburg, 
and Moscow called for a multidimensional urban visuality. Like Rafael 
Lorenzo Hammer who exclaims about his Relational Architecture, "we 
don't want less images in the city, but more", we were also looking 
for other narratives in public urban space. To find ways how to bring 
the urban into the media environment, and the media into the urban 
landscape, cross connecting and hybridising them through 
cross-pollination and contamination. When Rafael calls for more 
images in the city he is not merely pointing at quantity- when 
walking on Moscow city streets one would hardly consider such a 
request seriously! Instead, what we all are after is a greater 
variety of images, of narratives and discourses in public space.

Highly deliberate was the choice within Debates & Credits not to be 
seduced into a purely political (or counter-political) position. That 
would be a capitulation. Instead the project tried to identify a 
multiplicity of models to articulate different and other voices in 
public space. The cross connection of media and public space here is 
not used as a marketing scheme, nor as a propaganda tool. Rather the 
hybridisation opens up a new sensory and communicative space for 
sovereign experimentation. The projects moved far beyond the 
didactic. The guerrilla model was much more inspiring for us: just 
appear!!  (obviously, we did not crash fancy art parties in gorilla 
suits - what a lame act!)

We asked: How does public communication constitute itself in hybrid space?


	In confrontation.


You should not fear friction once you move into hybridity, it's the 
most natural thing. Confrontation is the unwarranted encounter with 
the unforeseen. It is so natural, but apparently the prime source of 
panic for most 'advanced' contemporary societies, where control seems 
to mean the exclusion of the unpredictable. The public in the first 
world, thus, is locked up in communities of mutual self-confirmation. 
The illusion of world-wide consensus (to name just one; the "end of 
history") is only broken in the crash, when it is too late.....


	Better to break those illusory surfaces before the crash.


How does one enter the public imagination in the era of hybridity?

By going to places that are both symbol and embodied presence at the 
same time: in our case ideally embodied in the public monument in 
city space. When we put our digitised messages on Mukhina's Worker 
and Farmer, the infamous cultural icon of the Soviet era, we layered 
shifting personal narratives on top of a multi layered history 
embodied in steal, stone and symbolic form. In retrospect it was the 
ultimate locus for exploring the models for a multidimensional urban 
visuality we had aimed at from the beginning. Finally we had arrived 
in hybrid space....


Eric Kluitenberg
July 2003

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