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<nettime> X Notes on Practice
Monica Narula on Fri, 10 Dec 2004 17:17:54 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> X Notes on Practice

Dear all

Here is an essay we wrote a few months ago, meant to be published in: 
Immaterial Labour:  Work, Research & Art, ed. Marina Vishmidt, Melanie 
Gilligan, Black Dog Publishing, London/New York, 2004. This is our day for 
sending in our essays, so there is another one next which extends some of 
the ideas raised in this .



X notes on Practice
Stubborn Structures and Insistent Seepage in a Networked World
Raqs Media Collective

The Figure of the Artisan

The artisan stands at the outer threshold of early modernity, fashioning a 
new age, ushering in a new spirit with movable type, plumb line, chisel, 
paper, new inks, dyes and lenses, and a sensibility that has room for 
curiosity, exploration, co-operation, elegance, economy, utility and a 
respect for the labour of the hand, the eye and the mind. The artisan is 
the typesetter, seamstress, block-maker, carpenter, weaver, computer, 
oculist, scribe, baker, dyer, pharmacist, mason, midwife, mechanic and 
cook - the ancestor of every modern trade. The artisan gestures towards a 
new age but is not quite sure of a place in it.

The figure of the artisan anticipates both the worker and the artist, in 
that it lays the foundations of the transformation of occupations (things 
that occupy us) into professions (institutionalized, structural locations 
within an economy). It mediates the transfiguration of people into skills, 
of lives into working lives, into variable capital. The artisan is the 
vehicle that carried us all into the contemporary world. She is the 
patient midwife of our notion of an autonomous creative and reflective 
self, waiting out the still births, nursing the prematurely born, weighing 
the infant and cutting the cords that tie it to an older patrimony. The 
artisan makes us who we are.

Yet, the artisan has neither the anonymity of the worker drone, not the 
hyper-individuated solipsism of the artist genius. The artisan is neither 
faceless, nor a celebrity; she belongs neither in the factory, nor in the 
salon, but functions best in the atelier, the workshop and the street, 
with apprentices and other artisans, making and trading things and 
knowledge. The artisan fashions neither the mass produced inventories of 
warehouses, nor the precious, unique objects that must only be seen in 
galleries, museums and auction houses. The objects and services that pass 
through her hands into the world are neither ubiquitous nor rare, nor do 
they seek value in ubiquity or rarity. They trade on the basis of their 
usage, within densely networked communities that the artisan is party to, 
not on the impetus of rival global speculations based on the volumes and 
volatility of stocks, or the price of a signature. As warehouses and 
auction houses proliferate, squeezing out the atelier and the workshop, 
the artisan loses her way. At the margins of an early industrial 
capitalism, the artisan seemingly transacts herself out of history, making 
way for the drone and the genius, for the polarities of drudgery and 
creativity, work and art.

II. Immaterial Labour

Due to the emergence of a new economy of intellectual property based on 
the fruits of immaterial labour, the distinction between the roles of the 
worker and the artist in strictly functional terms is once again becoming 
difficult to sustain. To understand why this is so we need to take a 
cursory look at the new ways in which value is increasingly being produced 
in the world today.

The combination of widespread cybernetic processes, increased economies of 
scale, agile management practices that adjust production to demand, and 
inventory status reports in a dispersed global assembly line, has made the 
mere manufacture of things a truly global fact. Cars, shoes, clothes, and 
medicines, or any commodity for that matter, are produced by more or less 
the same processes, anywhere. The manufacture of components, the research 
and design process, the final assembly and the marketing infrastructure no 
longer need to be circumscribed within one factory, or even one nation 
state or regional economic entity. The networked nature of contemporary 
industrial production frees the finished good from a fidelity to any one 
location. This also results in a corollary condition - a multiplication of 
renditions, or editions, (both authorized as well as counterfeit) of any 
product line at a global scale. Often, originals and their imitations are 
made in the same out-sourced sweatshop. The more things multiply, the more 
they tend towards similarity, in form and appearance, if not in function.

Thus, when capital becomes more successful than ever before at fashioning 
the material surface of the world after its own image, it also has more 
need than ever before for a sense of variety, a classificatory engine that 
could help order the mass that it generates, so that things do not cancel 
each other out by their generative equivalence. Hence the more things 
become the same the more need there is for distinguishing signs, to enable 
their purchase. The importance given to the notions of 'brand equity' from 
which we get derivatives from which we get derivatives like 'brand 
velocity', 'brand loyalty' and a host of other usages are prefixed by the 
term 'brand' indicative of this reality.

Today, the value of a good lies not only in what makes it a thing 
desirable enough to consume as a perishable capsule of (deferred) 
satisfaction. The value of a good lies especially in that aspect of it 
which makes it imperishable, eternally reproducible, and ubiquitously 
available. Information, which distils the imperishable, the reproducible, 
the ubiquitous in a condensed set of signs, is the true capital of this 
age. A commodity is no longer only an object that can be bought and sold; 
it is also that thing in it which can be read, interpreted and deciphered 
in such a way that every instance of decryption or encryption can also be 
bought and sold. Money lies in the meaning that lies hidden in a good. A 
good to eat must also be a good to think with, or to experiment with in a 
laboratory. This encryption of value, the codification and concentration 
of capital to its densest and most agile form is what we understand to be 
intellectual property.

How valuable is intellectual property?

How valuable is intellectual property? In attempting to find an answer to 
a question such as this, it is always instructive to look at the knowledge 
base that capitalism produces to assess and understand itself. In a recent 
paper titled "Evaluating IP Rights: In Search of Brand Value in the New 
Economy" a brand management consultant, Tony Samuel of 
PricewaterhouseCoopers' Intellectual Asset Management Group says:

"This change in the nature of competition and the dynamics of the new 
world economy have resulted in a change in the key value drivers for a 
company from tangible assets (such as plant and machinery) to intangible 
assets (such as brands, patents, copyright and know how). In particular, 
companies have taken advantage of more open trade opportunities by using 
the competitive advantage provided by brands and technology to access 
distant markets. This is reflected in the growth in the ratio of 
market-capitalised value to book value of listed companies. In the US, 
this ratio has increased from 1:1 to 5:1 over the last twenty years.

In the UK, the ratio is similar, with less than 30% of the capitalised 
value of FTSE 350 companies appearing on the balance sheet. We would argue 
that the remaining 70% of unallocated value resides largely in 
intellectual property and certainly in intellectual assets. Noticeably, 
the sectors with the highest ratio of market capitalisation to book value 
are heavily reliant on copyright (such as the media sector), patents (such 
as technology and pharmaceutical) and brands (such as pharmaceutical, food 
and drink, media and financial services)."1

The paper goes on to quote Alan Shepard, sometime chairman of Grand 
Metropolitan plc, an international group specializing in branded food, 
drinks and retailing which merged with Guinness in 1997 to form Diageo, a 
corporation which today controls brands as diverse as Smirnoff and Burger 

"Brands are the core of our business. We could, if we so wished, 
subcontract all of the production, distribution, sales and service 
functions and, provided that we retained ownership of our brands, we would 
continue to be successful and profitable. It is our brands that provide 
the profits of today and guarantee the profits of the future."

We have considered brands here at some length, because of the way in which 
brands populate our visual landscape. Were a born again landscape painter 
to try and represent a stretch of urban landscape, it would be advisable 
for him or her to have privileged access to a smart intellectual property 
lawyer. But what is true of brands is equally true of other forms of 
intangible assets, or intellectual property, ranging from music, to images 
to software.

The legal regime of intellectual property is in the process of 
encompassing as much as possible of all cultural transactions and 
production processes. All efforts to create or even understand art will 
have to come to terms, sooner or later, with the implications of this 
pervasive control, and intellectual property attorneys will no doubt exert 
considerable 'curatorial' influence as art events, museums and galleries 
clear artists projects, proposals and acquisitions as a matter of routine. 
These 'attorney-curators' will no doubt ensure that art institutions and 
events do not become liable for possible and potential 'intellectual 
property violations' that the artist, curator, theorist, writer or 
practitioner may or may not be aware of as being inscribed into their 

III The Worker as Artist

What are the implications of this scenario? The worker of the twenty first 
century, who has to survive in a marker that places the utmost value on 
the making of signs, finds that her tools, her labour, her skills are all 
to do with varying degrees of creative, interpretative and performative 
agency. She makes brands shine, she sculpts data, she mines meaning, she 
hews code. The real global factory is a network of neural processes, no 
less material than the blast furnaces and chimneys of manufacturing and 
industrial capitalism. The worker of the twenty first century is also a 
performer, a creator of value from meaning. She creates, researches and 
interprets, in the ordinary course of a working day to the order that 
would merit her being considered an artist or a researcher, if by 'artist' 
or 'researcher' we understand a person to be a figure who creates meaning 
or produces knowledge.

Nothing illustrates this better than the condition of workers in 
Information technology enabled industries like Call Centre and Remote Data 
Outsourcing, which have paved the way for a new international matrix of 
labour, and a given a sudden performative twist to the realities of what 
is called Globalization. In a recent installation, called A/S/L 
(Age/Sex/Location)2, we looked at the performative dimension in the lives 
of call centre workers.

The Call Centre Worker and her world3

A call centre worker in the suburb of Delhi, the city where we live, 
performs a Californian accent as she pursues a loan defaulter in a poor 
Los Angeles neighbourhood on the telephone. She threatens and cajoles him. 
She scares him, gets underneath his skin, because she is scared that he 
won't agree to pay, and that this will translate as a cut in her salary. 
Latitudes away from him, she has a window open on her computer telling her 
about the weather in his backyard, his credit history, his employment 
record, his prison record. Her skin is darker than his, but her voice is 
trained to be whiter on the phone. Her night is his day. She is a remote 
agent with a talent for impersonation in the IT enabled industry in India. 
She never gets paid extra for the long hours she puts in. He was laid off 
a few months ago, and hasn't been able to sort himself out. Which is why 
she is calling him for the company she works for. He lives in a third 
world neighbourhood in a first world city, she works in a free trade zone 
in a third world country. Neither knows the other as anything other than 
as 'case' and 'agent'. The conversation between them is a denial of their 
realities and an assertion of many identities, each with their truths, all 
at once.

Central to this kind of work is a process of imagining, understanding and 
invoking a world, mimesis, projection and verisimilitude as well as the 
skilful deployment of a combination of reality and representation. 
Elsewhere, we have written of the critical necessity of this artifice to 
work, (in terms of creating an impression of proximity that elides the 
actuality of distance) in order for a networked global capitalism to 
sustain itself on an everyday basis, but here, what we would like to 
emphasize is the crucial role that a certain amount of 'imaginative' 
skill, and a combination of knowledge, command over language, 
articulateness, technological dexterity and performativity plays in making 
this form of labour productive and efficient on a global scale.

IV. Marginalia

Sometimes, the most significant heuristic openings are hidden away on the 
margins of the contemporary world. While the meta-narratives of war, 
globalization, disasters, pandemics and technological spectacles grab 
headlines, the world may be changing in significant but unrecognized 
directions at the margins, like an incipient glacier inching its way 
across a forsaken moraine. These realities may have to with the simple 
facts of people being on the move, of the improvised mechanisms of 
survival that suddenly open out new possibilities, and the ways in which a 
few basic facts and conceptions to do with the everyday acts of coping 
with the world pass between continents.

Here, margin is not so much a fact of location (as in something peripheral 
to an assumed centre) as it is a figure denoting a specific kind or degree 
of attentiveness. In this sense, a figure may be located at the very core 
of the reality that we are talking about, and still be marginal, because 
it does not cross a certain low-visibility, low-attention threshold, or 
because it is seen as being residual to the primary processes of reality. 
The call centre worker may be at the heart of the present global economy, 
but she is barely visible as an actor or an agent. In this sense, to be 
marginal is not necessary to be 'far from the action' or to be 'remote' or 
in any way distant from the very hub of the world as we find it today.

The Margin has its own image-field. And it is to this image-field that we 
turn to excavate or improvise a few resources for practice.

A minor artisanal specialization pertaining to medieval manuscript 
illumination was the drawing and inscription of what has been called 
"marginalia"4. "Marginalists" (generally apprentices to scribes) would 
inscribe figures, often illustrating profane wisdom, popular proverbs, 
burlesque figures and fantastical or allegorical allusions that 
occasionally constructed a counter-narrative to the main body of the 
master text, while often acting as what was known as "exempla": aids to 
conception and thought (and sometimes as inadvertent provocations for 
heretic meditations). It is here, in these marginal illuminations, that 
ordinary people - ploughmen, peasants, beggars, prostitutes and thieves 
would often make their appearances, constructing a parallel universe to 
that populated by kings, aristocrats, heroes, monsters, angels, prophets 
and divines. Much of our knowledge of what people looked like in the 
medieval world comes from the details that we find in manuscript 
marginalia. They index the real, even as they inscribe the nominally 
invisible. It would be interesting to think for instance of the incredible 
wealth of details of dress, attitude, social types and behaviours that we 
find in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, or Pierre Breughel as 
marginalia writ large. It is with some fidelity to this artisanal ideal of 
using marginalia as exemplars that we would like to offer a small gallery 
of contemporary marginal figures.

V. Five Figures to Consider

As significant annotations to the text of present realities, and as ways 
out for the dilemmas that we have faced in our own apprehensions of the 
world, we find ourselves coming back repeatedly to them in our practice - 
as images, as datums and as figures of thought, as somewhat profane icons 
for meditation. We feel that these figures, each in their own way, speak 
to the predicament of the contemporary practitioner.

Figure One: The Alien Navigates a Boat at Sea

A boat changes course at sea, dipping temporarily out of the radar of a 
nearby coast guard vessel. A cargo of contraband people in the hold, 
fleeing war, or the aftermath of war, or the fifth bad harvest in a row, 
or a dam that flooded their valley, or the absence of social security in 
the face of unemployment, or a government that suddenly took offence at 
the way they spelt their names - study the contours of an unknown 
coastline in their minds, experiment with the pronunciations of harbour 
names unfamiliar to their tongues. Their map of the world is contoured 
with safe havens and dangerous border posts, places for landing, transit 
and refuge, anywhere and everywhere, encircled and annotated in blue ink. 
A geography lesson learnt in the International University of Exile.

Figure Two: The Squatter builds a Tarpaulin Shelter

Tarpaulin, rope, a few large plastic drums, crates, long poles of seasoned 
bamboo, and quick eyes and skilled hands, create a new home. A migrant 
claims a patch of fallow land, marked "property of the state" in the city. 
Then comes the tough part: the search for papers, the guerrilla war with 
the Master Plan for a little bit of electricity, a little bit of water, a 
delay in the date of demolition, for a few scraps of legality, a few loose 
threads of citizenship.  The learning of a new accent, the taking on of a 
new name, the invention of one or several new histories that might get one 
a ration card, or a postponed eviction notice. The squat grows 
incrementally, in Rio de Janeiro, in Delhi, in Baghdad, creating a shadow 
global republic of not-quite citizens, with not-yet passports, and 
not-there addresses.

Figure Three: The Electronic Pirate burns a CD

A fifteen square-yard shack in a working-class suburb of northeast Delhi 
is a hub of the global entertainment industry. Here, a few assembled 
computers, a knock-down Korean CD writer, and some Chinese pirated 
software in the hands of a few formerly unemployed, or unemployable young 
people turned media entrepreneurs, transform the latest Hollywood, or 
Bollywood blockbuster into the stuff that you can watch in a tea shop on 
your way to work. Here, the media meets its extended public. It dies a 
quick death as one high-end commodity form, and is resurrected as another. 
And then, like the Holy Spirit, does not charge an exorbitant fee to 
deliver a little grace unto those who seek its fleeting favours. 
Electronic piracy is the flow of energy between chained product and 
liberated pixel that makes for a new communion, a samizdat of the song and 
dance spectacular.

Figure Four: The Hacker Network liberates Software

A community of programmers dispersed across the globe sustains a growing 
body of software and knowledge - a digital commons that is not fenced in 
by proprietary controls. A network of hackers, armed with nothing other 
than their phone lines, modems, internet accounts and personal computers 
inaugurate a quiet global insubordination by refusing to let code, music, 
texts, math and images be anything but freely available for download, 
transformation and distribution. The freedom is nurtured through the 
sharing of time, computing resources and knowledge in a way that works out 
to the advantage of those working to create the software, as well as to a 
larger public, that begins swapping music and sharing media files to an 
extent that makes large infotainment corporations look nervously at their 
balance sheets. The corporations throw their lawyers at the hackers, and 
the Intellectual Property Shock Troops are out on parade, but nothing can 
turn the steady erosion of the copyright.

Figure Five: Workers Protect Machines in an Occupied Factory

Seamstresses at the Brukman Garment Factory in Buenos Aires5 shield their 
machines against a crowd of policemen intent on smashing them. The power 
of the Argentine state provokes a perverse neo Luddite incident, in which 
the workers are attacked while they try to defend their machines from 
destruction.  The Brukman Factory is a "fabrica ocupada", a factory 
occupied by its workers, one of many that have sustained a new parallel 
social and economic structure based on self regulation and the free 
exchange of goods and services outside or tangential to the failed money 
economy - a regular feature of the way in which working people in 
Argentina cope with the ongoing economic crisis. Turning the rhetoric and 
tactics of working class protest on its head, the seamstresses of the 
Brukman factory fight not to withdraw their labour from the circuit of 
production, but to protect what they produce, and to defend their capacity 
to be producers, albeit outside the circuit desired by capital.

VI. Significant Transgressions

These five transgressors, a pentacle of marginalia, can help us to think 
about what the practitioner might need to understand if she wants to 
recuperate a sense of agency. In very simple terms, she would need to take 
a lesson in breaking borders and moving on from the migrant, in standing 
her ground and staying located from the squatter, in placing herself as a 
link in an agile network of reproduction, distribution and exchange from 
the pirate, in sharing knowledge and enlarging a commons of ideas from the 
hacker, and in continuing to be autonomously productive from the workers 
occupying the factory.

The first imperative, that of crossing borders, translates as scepticism 
of the rhetoric of bounded identities, and relates to the role of the 
practitioner as a 'journeyman', as the peripatetic who maps an alternative 
world by her journey through it.  The second, of building a shelter 
against the odds of the law, insists however on a practice that is located 
in space, and rooted in experience, that houses itself in a concrete 
'somewhere' on its own terms, not of the powers that govern spaces. It is 
this fragile insistence on provisional stability, which allows for 
journeys to be made to and from destinations, and for the mapping of 
routes with resting places in between. The third imperative, that of 
creating a fertile network of reproduction of cultural materials, is a 
recognition of the strength of ubiquity, or spreading ideas and 
information like a virus through a system. The fourth imperative, of 
insisting on the freedom of knowledge from proprietary control, is a 
statement about the purpose of production - to ensure greater pleasure and 
understanding without creating divisions based on property, and is tied in 
to the fifth imperative - a commitment to keep producing with autonomy and 

Taken together, these five exempla constitute an ethic of radical alterity 
to prevailing norms without being burdened by the rhetorical overload that 
a term like 'resistance' invariably seems to carry. They also map a 
different reality of 'globalization' - not the incessant, rapacious, 
expansion of capitalism, but the equally incessant imperative that makes 
people move across the lines that they are supposed to be circumscribed 
by, and enact the everyday acts of insubordination that have become 
necessary for their survival. It is important to look at this subaltern 
globalization from below, which is taking place everywhere, and which is 
perhaps far less understood than the age-old expansionist drive of 
capitalism, which is what the term 'globalization' is now generally used 
to refer to. It embodies different wills to globality and a plethora of 
global imaginaries that are often at cross-purposes with the dominant 
rhetoric of corporate globalization.

The illegal emigrant, the urban encroacher, electronic pirate, the hacker 
and the seamstresses of the Brukman Factory of Buenos Aires are not really 
the most glamorous images of embodied resistance. They act, if anything, 
out of a calculus of survival and self-interest that has little to do with 
a desire to 'resist' or transform the world. And yet, in their own way, 
they unsettle, undermine and destabilize the established structures of 
borders and boundaries, metropolitan master plans and the apparatus of 
intellectual property relations and a mechanism of production that robs 
the producer of agency. If we examine the architecture of the contemporary 
moment, and the figures that we have described, it does not take long to 
see five giant, important pillars: (5)The consolidation, redrawing and 
protection of boundaries (6)The grand projects of urban planning and 
renewal and (7)The desire to protect information as the last great 
resource left for capitalism to mine - which is what Intellectual Property 
is all about, (8)Control over the production of knowledge and culture and 
(9)The denial of agency to the producer.

Illegal emigration, urban encroachment, the assault on intellectual 
property regimes by any means, hacking and the occupation of sites of 
production by producers, each of which involve the accumulation of the 
acts of millions of people across the world on a daily, unorganized and 
voluntary basis, often at great risk to themselves, are the underbelly of 
this present reality.

But how might we begin to consider and understand the global figures of 
the alien, the encroacher, the pirate, the hacker and the worker defending 
her machine?

VII. Capital and its Residue

The first thing to consider is the fact that most of these acts of 
transgression are inscribed into the very heart of established structures 
by people located at the extreme margins. The marginality of some of these 
figures is a function of their status as the 'residue' of the global 
capitalist juggernaut. By 'residue', we mean those elements of the world 
that are engulfed by the processes of Capital, turned into 'waste' or 
'leftovers', left behind, even thrown away.

Capital transforms older forms of labour and ways of life into those that 
are either useful for it at present, or those that have no function and so 
must be made redundant. Thus you have the paradox of a new factory, which 
instead of creating new jobs often renders the people who live around 
'unemployable'; A new dam, that instead of providing irrigation, renders a 
million displaced, a new highway that destroys common paths, making 
movement more, not less difficult for the people and the communities it 
cuts through. On the other hand sometimes, like a sportsman with an injury 
who no longer has a place on the team, a factory that closes down ensures 
that the place it was located in ceases to be a destination. And so, the 
workers have to ensure that it stays open, and working in order for them 
to have a place under the sun.

What happens to the people in the places that fall off the map? Where do 
they go? They are forced, of course, to go in search of the map that has 
abandoned them. But when they leave everything behind and venture into a 
new life they do not do so entirely alone.  They go with the networked 
histories of other voyages and transgressions, and are able at any point 
to deploy the insistent, ubiquitous insider knowledge of today's networked 

Seepage in the Network

How does this network act, and how does it make itself known in our 
consciousness? We like to think about this in terms of Seepage. By 
seepage, we mean the action of many currents of fluid material leaching on 
to a stable structure, entering and spreading through it by way of pores. 
Until, it becomes a part of the structure, both in terms of its surface, 
and at the same time continues to act on its core, to gradually 
disaggregate its solidity. To crumble it over time with moisture.

In a wider sense, seepage can be conceived as those acts that ooze through 
the pores of the outer surfaces of structures into available pores within 
the structure, and result in a weakening of the structure itself. 
Initially the process is invisible, and then it slowly starts causing 
mould and settles into a disfiguration - and this produces an anxiety 
about the strength and durability of the structure.

By itself seepage is not an alternative form; it even needs the structure 
to become what it is - but it creates new conditions in which structures 
become fragile and are rendered difficult to sustain. It enables the play 
of an alternative imagination, and so we begin seeing faces and patterns 
on the wall that change as the seepage ebbs and flows.

In a networked world, there are many acts of seepage, some of which we 
have already described. They destabilize the structure, without making any 
claims. So the encroacher redefines the city, even as she needs the city 
to survive. The trespasser alters the border by crossing it, rendering it 
meaningless and yet making it present everywhere - even in the heart of 
the capital city - so that every citizen becomes a suspect alien and the 
compact of citizenship that sustains the state is quietly eroded. The 
pirate renders impossible the difference between the authorised and the 
unauthorised copy, spreading information and culture, and devaluing 
intellectual property at the same time. Seepage complicates the norm by 
inducing invisible structural changes that accumulate over time.

It is crucial to the concept of seepage that individual acts of 
insubordination not be uprooted from the original experience. They have to 
remain embedded in the wider context to make any sense. And this wider 
context is a networked context, a context in which incessant movement 
between nodes is critical.

VIII. A Problem for the History of the Network

But how is this network's history to be understood? To a large measure, 
this is made difficult by the fact of an "asymmetry of ignorance" about 
the world. We are all ignorant of the world in different ways and to 
different degrees. And that is one of the reasons why the "Network" often 
shades off into darkness, at some or the other point. This is what leads 
to global networks that nevertheless ignore the realities of large parts 
of the world, because no one has the means to speak of those parts, and no 
one knows, whether people exist in those parts that can even speak to the 
world in the language of the network. Thus the language of the network 
often remains at best only a mobile local dialect.

A media practitioner or cultural worker from India, e.g., is in all 
likelihood more knowledgeable about the history of Europe than could be 
the case for the European vis-a-vis India. This is a fact engendered by 
colonialism that has left some societies impoverished in all but an 
apprehension of reality that is necessarily global. The historian Dipesh 
Chakrabarty has reminded us,

"Insofar as the academic discourse of history is concerned, 'Europe' 
remains the sovereign, theoretical subject of all histories, including the 
ones we call 'Indian', 'Chinese', 'Kenyan', and so on. There is a peculiar 
way in which all these other histories tend to become variations on a 
master narrative that could be called 'the history of Europe'."6

But this very same fact, when looked at from a European standpoint, may 
lead to a myopia, an inability to see anything other than the 
representational master narrative of European history moulding the world. 
The rest of the world is thus often a copy seeking to approximate this 

All this to say: not merely that we have incomplete perspectives, but that 
this asymmetry induces an inability to see the face in the wall, the 
interesting pattern, produced by the seepage. We may inhabit the anxiety, 
even be the source and locus of the destabilization and recognize the 
disfiguration, but the envisioning of possible alternative imaginaries may 
still continue to elude us.

IX. Towards an Enactive Model of Practice

Recently in a book on neuropolitics7, we came across an experiment which 
is now considered classic in studies of perception, (The Held and Heims 
Experiment) which might give us an interesting direction to follow now.

Two litters of kittens are raised in the dark for some time and then 
exposed to light under two different sets of conditions.  The first group 
is allowed to move around in the visual field and interact with it as 
kittens do - smelling things, touching them, trying out what can be 
climbed and where the best places to sleep are.  The kittens in the second 
group, (though they are placed in the same environment) are carried around 
in baskets rather than allowed to explore the space themselves, and thus 
are unable to interact with it with all their senses and of their own 

The two groups of kittens develop in very different ways. When the animals 
are released after a few weeks of this treatment, the first group of 
kittens behaves normally, but those who have been carried around behave as 
if they were blind; they bump into objects and fell over edges. It is 
clear that the first group's freedom to experience the environment in a 
holistic way is fundamental to its ability to perceive it at all. What is 
the significance of this? Within neuroscience, such experiments have 
served to draw neuroscientists and cognitive scientists away from 
representational models of mind towards an "enactive" model of perception 
in which objects are not perceived simply as visual abstractions but 
rather through an experiential process in which information received from 
this one sense is "networked" with that from every other.  Vision, in 
other words, is deeply embedded in the processes of life, and it is 
crucial to our ability to see that we offset the representations that we 
process, with the results of the experiences that we enter into. We need 
to know what happens when we take a step, bump into someone, be startled 
by a loud noise, come across a stranger, an angry or a friendly face, a 
gun or a jar of milk.

In a sense this implies a three-stage encounter that we are ascribing 
between the practitioner and her world.  First, a recognition of the fact 
that instances of art practices can be seen as contiguous to a 
'neighbourhood' of marginal practices embodied by the figures of the five 
transgressors. Secondly, that 'seeing' oneself as a practitioner, and 
understanding the latent potentialities of one's practice, might also 
involve listening to the ways in which each of the five transgressive 
figures encounters the world. Finally, that what one gleans from each 
instance of transgression can then be integrated into a practice which 
constitutes itself as an ensemble of attitudes, ways of thinking, doing 
and embodying (or recuperating) creative agency in a networked world.

For us here, this helps in thinking about the importance of recognizing 
the particularity of each encounter that the practitioner witnesses or 
enters into, without losing sight of the extended network, of the 
'neighbourhood' of practices.

It is only when we see particularities that we are also able to see how 
two or more particular instances connect to each other. As residues, that 
search for meaning in other residual experiences; or as acts of seepage, 
in which the flow of materials from one pore to another ends up connecting 
two nodes in the network, by sheer force of gravity. Here it is the 
gradients of the flow, the surface tension that the flow encounters and 
the distance that the flow traverses, that become important, not the 
intention to flow itself. Intentions, resistances, may be imputed, but in 
the end they have little to do with the actual movements that transpire 
within the network.

X. Art practice and protocols of networked conversation

What does art and artistic practice have to do with all this? What can the 
practitioner take from an understanding of interactive embeddedness in a 
networked world? We would argue that the diverse practices that now 
inhabit art spaces need to be able to recognize the patterns in the 
seepage, to see connections between different aspects of a networked 

To do this, the practitioner probably has to invent, or discover, 
protocols of conversation across sites, across different histories of 
locatedness in the network; to invent protocols of resource building and 
sharing, create structures within structures and networks within networks. 
Mechanisms of flexible agreements about how different instances of 
enactment can share a contiguous semantic space will have to be arrived 
at. And as we discover these 'protocols', their different ethical, 
affective and cognitive resonances will immediately enter the equation. We 
can then also begin to think of art practice as enactment, as process, as 
elements in an interaction or conversation within a network.

For the acts of seepage to connect to form new patterns, many new 
conversations will have to be opened, and mobile dialects will have to rub 
shoulders with each other to create new, networked Creoles. Perhaps art 
practice in a networked reality can itself aspire to create the 
disfigurations on the wall, to induce some anxieties in the structure, 
even while making possible the reading of the face in the spreading stain, 
the serendipitous discovery of an interesting pattern or cluster of 
patterns, and possible alterities.

This text draws from a presentation by Monica Narula (Raqs Media 
Collective) at Globalica - a symposium on "conceptual and artistic 
tensions in the new global disorder", held at the WRO Center for Media 
Art, Wroclaw, Poland in May 2003.

The images are from A/S/L, an installation by Raqs Media Collective. A/S/L 
support: Editing: Parvati Sharma, Sound Design: Vipin Bhati, Production 
Assistance: Ashish Mahajan, T.Meyarivan, Produced at Sarai Media Lab, 
Sarai/CSDS, Delhi.


1. Tony Samuel, PricewaterhouseCoopers' Intellectual Asset Management 
Group, Evaluating IP Rights: In Search of Brand Value in the New Economy 

2. A/S/L: A video, text and sound installation by Raqs Media Collective 
that juxtaposes the protocols of interpersonal communication, online 
labour, data outsourcing, and the making/unmaking of remote agency in the 
'new' economy. Presented at the Geography and the Politics of Mobility 
exhibition, curated by Ursula Biemann for the Generali Foundation, Vienna, 
(January - April 2003). 

3. Raqs Media Collective, "Call Centre Calling: Technology, Network and 
Location", Sarai Reader 03: Shaping Technologies, February 2003. 

for more on the call center industry in India, see - Mark Landler, "Hi I'm 
in Bangalore (But I Dare Not Tell)", New York Times (Technology Section) 
March 21, 2001. 

India Calling - A Report on the Call Centre Industry in India 

4. Andrew Otwell, Medieval Manuscript Marginalia and Proverbs, 1995. 

5. Naomi Klein, Argentina's Luddite Rulers: Workers in the Occupied 
Factories Have a Different Vision: Smash the Logic, Not the Machines, 
Dissident Voice, April 25, 2003 

6. Dipesh Chakravarty, "Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who 
Speaks for 'Indian' Pasts", Representations, 37 (Winter, 1992)

7. William E. Connolly, "Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed", Theory 
Out of Bounds, Number 23, Univ. of Minnesota, 2002

-- Monica Narula [Raqs Media Collective] Sarai-CSDS 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 
110 054 www.raqsmediacollective.net www.sarai.net

-- Monica Narula [Raqs Media Collective] Sarai-CSDS 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 
110 054 www.raqsmediacollective.net www.sarai.net

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