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<nettime> Questioning the Frame
coco fusco on Thu, 30 Dec 2004 07:29:53 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Questioning the Frame


In response to Geert's request, below is my commentary
that was published in IN THESE TIMES recently. The
comments were based on my lecture at the School of the
Art Institute of Chicago in November, 2004. The series
is entitled:

 MAPPING / CULTURE / BORDER / HACKING /

and the school's description of the series is:

"This lecture series examines the work of artists,
artist-collaboratives, and film/video makers whose
works address or proceed from shifts in articulations
of global culture, politics of the border and dilemmas
of transnational or diasporic identities--identity as
a spatial concern. Special attention will be given to
artists who use the gesture and organizational logic
of mapping, cartographic sciences and the grid to
locate identity as well as its displacements."

I found this description so baffling and overladen
with jargon that it prompted my response.

I have not had a moment yet to respond to Holmes's
post. I found it a bit surprising that he would locate
a response to an article in a left-wing Chicago
newspaper on a list-serve with a primarily European
readership (of his his allies, I would add). A
decision to locate his response HERE as opposed to
THERE seems more like a rallying cry to his nettime
readership than an address the substance of my
argument or to the public in Chicago, a city with a
long and venerable history of community and labor
organizing, activist media, and radical black
politics.

Coco


--- geert <geert {AT} xs4all.nl> wrote:

> Subject: Re: [spectre] Questioning the Frame
> From: geert <geert {AT} xs4all.nl>
> To: coco fusco <animas999 {AT} yahoo.com>
> Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2004 01:12:18 +0000
>
> dear coco, could you post this essay to nettime-l, so that the text
> can be discussed? brian holmes already responded. i am not sure if you
> have already written a response as i have only sporadic email access
> at the moment. yours, geert
>
> On Thu, 2004-12-16 at 20:51, coco fusco wrote:
> > IN THESE TIMES
> > 
> > 
> http://www.inthesetimes.com/site/main/article/1750/
> > Questioning the Frame
> > Thoughts about maps and spatial logic in the
> global
> > present
> > By Coco Fusco	December 16, 2004
> >
> > Terms such as " mapping," "borders," "hacking," "trans-nationalism,"
> > "identity as spatial," and so
> on
> > have been popularized in recent years by new media theories'
> > celebration of "the networks"-a
> catch-all
> > phrase for the modes of communication and exchange facilitated by
> > the Internet.
> > 
> > We should proceed with caution in using this terminology because it
> > accords strategic primacy
> to
> > space and simultaneously downplays time-i.e.,
> history.
> > It also evades categories of embodied difference
> such
> > as race, gender and class, and in doing so
> prevents us
> > from understanding how the historical development
> of
> > those differences has shaped our contemporary worldview.
> > 
> > Technocentric fantasy
> > 
> > The rhetoric of mapping and networks conflates the
> way
> > technological systems operate with modern human communication.
> > According to this mode of thought
> we
> > are to believe that we live inside the world of William Gibson's
> > Neuromancer and that salvation is only attainable via very specific
> > technological expertise unleashed against the system-i.e.,
> hacking.
> > Consider the heroes of Hollywood sci-fi
> blockbusters
> > such as The Matrix whose power lies in their
> knowledge
> > of "the code." It is implied that we operate in networks because
> > computers and the Internet have restructured "our" lives and because
> > global
> economic
> > systems have turned us into global citizens.
> Hacking
> > then comes to stand for all forms of critical engagement with
> > preexistent power structures.
> > 
> > I'm just a little too old to believe these new
> media
> > mantras unquestioningly. This rhetoric implies two possible
> > explanations for the difference between
> the
> > networked present and the non-networked past.
> > 
> > The first explanation suggests that no one on the
> left
> > before the age of the Internet practiced
> subversive
> > manipulation of existent media, tactical
> intervention,
> > investigative reporting and infiltration of power structures. It
> > also would seem that before the
> dawning
> > of the networks, no one knew what being an organic intellectual was
> > about, no one elaborated
> alternative
> > communication systems and no one was aware of or sensed a connection
> > to geographic regions other
> than
> > Europe.
> > 
> > The second explanation would be that electronic communication has
> > produced a form of networking
> that
> > is so radically different as to imply a neat break with the past. In
> > either case, these arguments conveniently situate their advocates
> > outside
> history,
> > since either way tactical media practitioners have nothing of value
> > to inherit from the past.
> > 
> > While I can understand that there might be a
> dearth of
> > knowledge about tactical interventions of previous centuries, I am
> > perplexed by the apparent loss of short-term memory of many cultural
> > theorists now
> in
> > vogue, who were alive and active in the '70s.
> > 
> > Can we forget Daniel Ellsberg's publishing of the Pentagon Papers,
> > the uncovering of the Watergate scandal, the break-in to an FBI
> > office by an
> anonymous
> > group that led to revelations of COINTELPRO and
> the
> > Freedom of Information Act, the many Senate investigations of FBI
> > corruption, the widespread solidarity with Third World independence
> movements,
> > the plethora of underground and alternative
> presses
> > and global mail art networks-all operated by
> radical
> > activists, artists and intellectuals? Those of us
> who
> > can at least recall the ways that these strategic interventions
> > transformed political and cultural
> life
> > in that decade necessarily cast a skeptical glance
> at
> > the messianic claims of technocentrists.
> > 
> > The shift from Eurocentric internationalism to a
> more
> > globally inclusive worldview came long before the
> age
> > of the Internet. It was launched outside Europe
> and
> > America, and emanated from the geopolitical
> margins.
> > The process took place across a range of fields of knowledge,
> > culture and politics. This revision of
> the
> > world picture was catalyzed by postwar
> decolonization;
> > the Non-Aligned Movement launched in 1961; and
> civil
> > rights struggles in the developed world, including
> the
> > Black Power and Chicano movements-all of which invariably affirmed
> > their alliances with Third
> World
> > revolutions. This political process was expanded
> upon
> > by a postcolonial understanding that various
> diasporas
> > shared transnational connections and that these diasporas were
> > produced by the economics and
> politics
> > of colonialism and imperialism. The historical
> bases
> > of these movements are consistently obfuscated by
> the
> > technocentric rhetoric of networks and mapping
> that
> > emanate from Europe, North America and Australia.
> > 
> > Instead of dealing with these histories,
> contemporary
> > discourses on globalism and new technology tend to dismiss
> > postcolonial discourse as "mere identity politics." They tend to
> > confuse bureaucratic
> efforts
> > to institutionally separate the concerns of ethnic minorities with
> > what always have been the much
> broader
> > agendas of anti-racist political struggles and postcolonial cultural
> > endeavors.
> > 
> > I am a great admirer of the practice of electronic civil
> > disobedience and have used "hacktivist"
> software
> > such as Floodnet to engage in online protest
> actions
> > myself. But I find the willed historical amnesia
> of
> > new media theory to be quite suspect, and even dangerous. One of the
> > reasons I chose to make
> a/k/a
> > Mrs. George Gilbert, a video art piece about the Angela Davis case,
> > was because I wanted to
> reexamine
> > crucial histories that are now being forgotten
> within
> > the contemporary conversations on globalization.
> The
> > alienation caused by multinational corporate domination (otherwise
> > known as Empire) that many middle-class young adults in the Global
> > North feel
> is
> > just the last chapter in a long history of
> reactions
> > against imperial projects.  Mapping mistakes
> > 
> > Another issue of concern is the new media
> culture's
> > fascination with mapping-a fascination that it
> shares
> > with the military strategists. The news of the
> Iraq
> > war frequently involves men in uniform pointing to
> or
> > better yet walking across maps of various Middle Eastern
> > countries-so when I then walk into
> galleries
> > and cultural conferences in Europe and find more
> men
> > (without uniforms) playing with maps, I start to wonder about the
> > politics of those
> representations.
> > 
> > In the American media, maps dominate
> representations
> > of warfare. While realistic depictions of the
> violence
> > of war via photographs and film have been banned
> from
> > American television news, maps are acceptable to
> those
> > in power because they dehumanize the targets.  Similarly, in the
> > context of the art world, maps
> have
> > come to abstract and thereby silence individual
> and
> > group testimony.
> > 
> > New media culture uses maps to read the world in
> terms
> > of extremes. Contemporary cultural theory is rife
> with
> > renderings that celebrate macro views and micro
> views
> > of the workings of the world, both social and biological-which is to
> > say, maps of vast spaces
> and
> > physical phenomena and maps of the most minuscule thing. We hear
> > over and over again about global systems and panoptic vision on the
> > one hand and
> genome
> > chains and nano-entities on the other. When I
> first
> > noticed this phenomenon I was struck by how it complements the
> > resurgence of formalist art criticism's love affair with the grid.
> > By this I
> am
> > referring to the return in the '90s to the
> definition
> > of art as a search for "perfect forms," and a celebration of the
> > formal characteristics of
> objects
> > and surfaces. What I have become more concerned
> about
> > as time goes on, however, is how this fetishizing
> of
> > spatial extremes enables the resurgence of
> Descartes'
> > idea that humans are rational, autonomous
> individuals
> > and that the human mind and mathematical
> principles
> > are the source for all real knowledge.
> > 
> > However objective they may appear, maps do have a point of view, and
> > that is one of privileged super-human sight, of safe distance and of
> > omniscience. The mapmaker charts an entire field
> of
> > vision, an entire world, and in doing so he (yes
> he)
> > plays God. Whether you are beholding the map as a viewer or charting
> > it as the cartographer, you
> rule
> > the world before you, you control it, and, in
> putting
> > everything in its place, you substitute a global
> whole
> > established through pictorial arrangement for an actual dynamic
> > engagement with individual elements
> and
> > entities. The psychological motive behind assuming that position of
> > power is not questioned, nor is
> the
> > predominance of white male techno-elites in that discourse seen as
> > anything more than incidental.
> > 
> > It is as if more than four decades of postmodern critique of the
> > Cartesian subject had suddenly evaporated. Those critical discourses
> > that
> unmasked
> > the way universals suppress difference, which gave voice to the
> > personal experience of women, the
> poor
> > and disenfranchised minorities, are treated as inherently flawed by
> > both the progressive and conservative discourses of globalism.
> > Progressive media advocates dismiss these discourses of
> difference
> > as "essentialist" while Republicans decry them as
> "the
> > tyranny of special interests." But both provide ideological
> > justification for the dismantling of legislation protecting civil
> > rights.
> > 
> > Viewing the world as a map eliminates time,
> focuses
> > disproportionately on space and dehumanizes life.
> In
> > the name of a politics of global connectedness, artists and
> > activists too often substitute an
> abstract
> > "connectedness" for any real engagement with
> people in
> > other places or even in their own locale.
> > 
> > What gets lost in this focus on mapping is the
> view of
> > the world from the ground: lived experience. What
> is
> > ignored is the pervasiveness of the
> well-orchestrated
> > and highly selective visual culture that the
> majority
> > of Americans consume during most of their waking hours. Most people
> > are not looking through
> microscopes
> > and telescopes and digital mapping systems to find truth about the
> > world. They are watching reality
> TV,
> > sitcoms, the Super Bowl, MTV and Fox News, all of which also offer
> > maps of a completely different
> kind:
> > conspiracy theories that pit innocent Americans against the Axis of
> > Evil, embedded journalists' hallucinatory misreadings of foreign
> > conflicts, allegories of empowerment through consumption and
> > endlessly recycled, biblically inspired narratives
> of
> > sin and redemption.
> > 
> > Going off-grid
> > 
> > Finally we should consider what is being left off
> the
> > maps and why? What has happened, for example, to institutional
> > self-critique in the art world? Why
> has
> > such examination become taboo in exhibitions or unpopular with
> > artists who gravitate to political subjects? Why in the midst of
> > myriad
> investigations of
> > corporate control of politics and culture is there little or no
> > attention paid to corporate control
> of
> > the museums and of corporate influence in art collecting? Why is it
> > acceptable to the art world
> for
> > an artist to address the Israeli-Palestinian
> conflict,
> > but not to address the pressure put on the
> organizers
> > of global art exhibitions to showcase a disproportionate number of
> > Israeli artists? Why is
> it
> > fine for black artists to celebrate the
> construction
> > of black style but not to make visible the virtual absence of black
> > people as arbiters in the power structures of the art institutions,
> > galleries, magazines and auction houses where black art is
> given
> > economic and aesthetic value?
> > 
> > We live in a very dangerous time in which the
> right to
> > express dissent and to raise questions about the workings of power
> > is seriously imperiled by fundamentalisms of many kinds. Now more
> > than ever
> we
> > need to keep the lessons of history foremost in
> our
> > minds and to defend the critical discourses and practices that
> > enable differing experiences and perspectives to be heard and
> > understood.
> > 
> > There are just too many important parallels to be drawn between
> > COINTELPRO and the excesses of law enforcement brought about by the
> > Patriot Act to be dismissive of history. Socially conscious artists
> and
> > activists, rather than embracing tactics that rely
> on
> > dreams of omniscience, would do well to examine
> the
> > history of globalism, networks, dissent and
> collective
> > actions in order to understand that they are
> rooted in
> > the geopolitical and cultural margins.
> > 
> > Coco Fusco is an interdisciplinary artist and an associate professor
> > at Columbia University's
> School of
> > the Arts. Her most recent publication is Only Skin Deep: Changing
> > Visions of the American Self
> (Abrams,
> > 2003).
> >
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>
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