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<nettime> Conference review: Capturing the Moving Mind
Ned Rossiter on Wed, 5 Oct 2005 10:52:53 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Conference review: Capturing the Moving Mind

[from B.Neilson {AT} uws.edu.au]

The following review of the 'Capturing the Moving Minds' conference was published
in the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto on 2 October 2005. The Italian version is
available at:


I append an English version below.

A window on the world

> From Helsinki to Beijing on board the trans-siberian train. A  
> mobile conference of activists, artists, researchers and mobile  
> communications experts, gathered to investigate the new logic of  
> the economy and generate forms and practices of resistance to  
> global control. 'Capturing the Moving Mind,' an itinerant event  
> organised by the journals Ephemera and Conflitti Globali.

Brett Neilson

To move without cause, to organise without ends, to flee the war against
intellect: these were the imperatives that animated the conference held on the
trans-siberian train: 'Capturing the Moving Mind: Management and Movement in the
Era of Permanently Temporary War' (September 11-20, 2005). Organised by a group
surrounding the online journal Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization
<http:// www.ephemeraweb.org/index.htm> and affiliated with Framework: The Finnish
Art Review and the new Italian journal Conflitti globali, the conference brought
together activists, artists, mobile communication experts, filmmakers, musicians,
and researchers of all stamps. In reality, this moving event was something more
than a conference. The rhythm of the train, the changing landscapes, the
interactions with strangers, the border controls and currency exchanges: all
imposed contingencies that demanded constant interrogation and shifts of
perspective. At the same time, the train functioned as a kind of protective shell,
like the set of a reality TV show, removing the participants (their discussions
and creations) from the world that flitted by outside. Yet, in this isolated
space, there was time for rumination, intimacy, withdrawal, and debate - an
ongoing group dynamic, fight or flight, contained by neither the many nor the one.

It is not difficult to criticise an undertaking like this: a pack of
intellectuals, activists, and artists, predominantly white and English-speaking,
speeding past impoverished towns, disputing the finer points of immaterial labour
while aestheticizing the crumbled factories on the way. To be sure, the paradoxes
of this situation were sharpened as the train continued on its arrogant line, like
Benjamin's angel, but with its face unturned, oblivious to the storm behind. The
outside world, as it were, reacted back on the group, sparking internal
dissension, stunts of devil's advocacy, and, in one case of one participant whose
passport was stolen, delicate negotiations at the German consulate in Novosibirsk.
It is tempting, following the formulation of another participant, to characterise
the event in temporal-historical terms: a bunch of people from the twentieth
century, hurtling past nineteenth century villages on their way (like the business
leaders of our times) to find the twenty-first century in Beijing. But a mere
stroll around Beijing, let alone Moscow, reveals the limits of this elegant

In these former second world cities, the first world implodes upon the third. All
the global divisions can be found in a single locale.  The petrodollars that swell
the pockets of the Russian oligarchy do not trickle down. The houtons of Beijing,
rapidly being cleared for the 2008 Olympic Games, border on corporate skyscrapers
and department stores. As the local participants in both Moscow (Michael Chernyl)
and Beijing (Zhiyuan Cui and Wang Hui) insisted, the concept of capitalism is too
wide to explain what is happening in these urban laboratories. If, as Deng
Xiaoping once said, 'we do not know what socialism is,' perhaps today we need to
add, 'we also do not know what capitalism is.' For it is the very precariousness
of capital, its constitutive exposure to venture and risk that makes it impossible
to isolate as an empirical object. As that most abstract of abstractions, capital
produces an -ism to which nothing (but almost anything) can attach. Doubtless,
this is why it propagates so incessantly. And perhaps this is also why the power
that it breeds is so mad, indeterminate and arbitrary, no more so than at a time
of seemingly permanent war.

It was the emergence of the new forms of global control (which find their
principal mode of being in war) that occupied the conference's critical core.
Beyond the state of exception, beyond the borders and fences, beyond the
humanitarian tragedies and suicide bombings, there operates a new and seemingly
pure power that functions without institutional legitimation and seems to change
day by day. The control of the mind, of collaboration between minds, of feelings,
affects and the generic human capacity to relate is the borne of this power. Under
its sway, politics melds with productivity and the primary struggle becomes a
fight for the free use of human minds. It is no longer a matter of this or that
issue, this or that injustice.  When power becomes detached from any single logic
or rationale, all that remains is to stay on the move, to meet its madness with a
delirious rigour that shifts, twists and compulsively derails. With such movement,
there emerges a variety of experience that motivates itself and, in so doing,
acquires the quality of an experiment - a kind of pure theoretical practice that
attempts to create something new. This, in essence, was the gambit of the
conference, locking away forty brains and bodies in a train and leaving them to
sense as well as cogitate. Can there, could there emerge from such an experiment a
new form of politics, another way of being, within and despite the frenzy of
global control?

The trans-Siberian journey was kind of learning without pedagogy, an exercise in
improvisation as much as organisation, a passionate encounter where relations by
hand, touch, and intuition (although not necessarily physical) outweighed those
that occurred on the cusp of understanding. Beyond the lands of the Roman
alphabet, with only one Russian and one Mandarin speaker, the signs become
illegible and the entire symbolic realm of language begins to fall away - imposing
itself as a kind of barrier, sure, but also opening new vistas of intimacy that
are neither communicative nor symbiotic. To buy food on the platform, one was left
only with the hands - pointing, counting the fingers, expressing gratitude by
joining the palms. Some used digital cameras to display the items they wanted to
purchase. But this gestural economy, importantly motivated by commodity exchange,
could not go unnoticed by the group. Obsessed with the movement of the economy
from the limited sphere of rationality to the in-born and adaptive human
faculties, the discussion constantly veered back to these chance encounters.
Perhaps because this accidental ethnography - more than the internal group dynamic
- registered how the purity of experience is always contaminated by contingency
and context.

The memory traces of this event were already under construction before it began.
Part of the process involved the use of newly invented 'mobicasting' software to
feed images and sounds via mobile phone from the train to a website
<http://www.kiasma.fi/transsiberia> and display in the Kiasma Museum of
Contemporary Art in Helsinki. An exercise in the assemblage of an open archive as
much as an act of intellectual tourism, the conference sought to build common
resources for creative political expression. Nor has this generativity ceased with
the dispersal of the participants, each of whom came and left with his own
baggage. As the object of journal issues and art exhibitions, one of which will be
held at the Villa Croce museo d'arte contemporanea in Genova next summer, the
process goes on.  Disposable cameras distributed to non-conference travellers on
the train will be sent to a studio in London, film rushes shot on the journey will
be stitched together with others, digital video of an action carried out at the
Russian-Mongolian border will provide source material for media art, a manifesto
about a network of networks will be penned. But these material products should not
be considered ends in themselves. The point of the conference was to institute,
through the sheer experience of movement, a mode of being that reveals itself
phenomenologically - a way of living without opportunism or fear, paralysis or
submission. Such a strike against boredom, or activism for the sake of activism,
can have no outcome.  It exists only in the present, somewhere between departure
and arrival, in the thick of the night, when the movement seems to slow and the
rhythm of the train at once wakes you and lulls you back to sleep. In this time
and space, there is neither dream nor calculation, transport nor retreat, but only
the incessant clang of metal on metal.

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