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<nettime> gallery {AT} calit2: *particle group* Interview
Eduardo Navas on Mon, 11 Aug 2008 16:26:59 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> gallery {AT} calit2: *particle group* Interview

Particles of Interest:
An Interview with *particle group*
By Eduardo Navas


gallery {AT} calit2
Atkinson Hall
University of California, San Diego
Map & Directions: http://atkinsonhall.calit2.net/directions/

August 6 to October 3, 2008
Closing Reception: October 2 at 6 to 8 PM

August 6 through September 19:
Wednesday - Friday: 11AM - 5PM
September 22 through October 3:
Monday - Friday: 11AM - 5PM

*particle group* is a collective consisting of Principal Investigators
Ricardo Dominguez and Diane Ludin, as well as Principal Researchers Nina
Waisman (Interactive Sound Installation design)and Amy Sara Carroll, with a
number of others flowing in and out.  The collective draws from the hard and
social sciences to develop installations that are critically engaged with
the politics of science and its market.  Their aim with the installation
"Particles of Interest" is to shed light on the lack of regulation of
nanoparticles in consumer goods.  In the following interview the *particle
group* shares its views on the current state of nanotechnology production,
as well as a possible future that we may all be facing, in which
nanomachines just might make difficult decisions for us.

[Eduardo Navas]: How does collaboration take place within the *particle
group*? You describe members' roles as Investigators and Researchers. Could
you explain how these terms are relevant to each collaborator's contribution
to the project?

 [*particle group*]: We mimic the structure of a research and development
model for a university laboratory. By laboratory we mean a group of
individuals who pursue conceptual investigations determined by a chronology
of work that the Investigators have determined. Here, though, it should be
noted that already we morph the template as Principal Investigators become
Principle Investigators, homonymically signalling our investments in
science's narrative "engines of creation," the aesthetic/ized practices
and/or "naturalized" conceptualisms inherent in research, investigation,
discovery and data transfer within scientific communities' "normalized"
articulations of self.

Generally the researchers participate from the beginning stages of
materializing/performing/manifesting the work that the collective *particle
group* eventually presents in counter/public spheres as varied as the art
museum, the mall, and/or the scientific meeting. Researchers work in tandem
with Investigators to develop their interpretations of the subject matter
under investigation, augmentation, and/or erasure. So each time we are
invited (or invite ourselves) to stage an iteration of our research, we meet
and discuss via Skype or email what our intentions should be for the
"performance." To date we have had a different crew of researchers for each
presentation so inherent in particle group's particularization and
particle-ization is a revolving/open door policy toward creative
maelstroming. This project was produced in large part by Calit2, and so it
made aesthetic sense to us to approach the project as would-be
art(is)cientists and to stage a series of p(our)-us epistemologies (on the
testbeds of these strange viroids of art and science) and not to see the
gesture of art and science as two bunkers at war -- but as possible
thought-scapes of concern under the sign of "nano-ethics and
nano-constructions." Each one as blind as the other, each one helping the
other over the rocking shoals of Particle Capitalism(s).

In response to your interest in "each collaborator's contribution"...  We
begin shaping each of our presentations by engaging in a series of group
conversations. This generates a kind of "group mind" regarding the key ideas
guiding that presentation. We then leave researchers free to move from these
common concerns to authoring, through medium-specific research/experience,
which threads these ideas into play. In this phase of development, each
researcher authors, builds, programs, designs, records, writes, shoots or
appropriates material as s/he sees fit, according to his/her particular
skills/facilities/whims. Thus the iPod nano videos were authored by members
of the group focused on video and textual interplay, on visual and concrete
poetries; the interactive installation was created by members more attuned
to sonic/bodily interactions and programming.  Yet these works draw on
particulate matter previously generated by other members of the group, as
well as material newly discovered by the researchers out on the web, in
scientific journals, in popular media, in dreamscapes, and waking,
Otherworldly out-of-body experiments. In this way, each particular work
bears the traces of both a group and individual (political)
un/consciousness. Following the traditions of laboratory research and
post-contemporary cultural production, we build on prior investigations
through appropriation, critical re-framing and outright speculation.

 [EN]: Your installation appears as a conscious effort to balance out
aesthetics in the tradition of minimal art and the performance often linked
to it historically, while also presenting questions about the responsibility
of researchers developing nanotechnology. Could you elaborate on your
decisions in trying to reflect on an art movement and a scientific field of

[*pg*]: We are in an age when scientific inquiry connotes a relatively less
questioned authority than that of an artist. It is that liminality in what
can be titled a knowledge industry of artistic production and the knowledge
industry of scientific research/inquiry that we are exploring in the
particle group's work. Since we have so much lateral access to the
scientific research that feeds industrial development, we decided to apply
artful techniques to the scientific representation that is publicly
available. We also apply simple, scientific principles to that same media
collection and role play with it to make it more human somehow -- a kind of
performance-equals-empirical-expression approach. By recombining the
rational and the impulsive we come up with situations and media designed to
reawaken the question of what we know about what we are surrounded by, buy,
use, live in, etc. The commodification of new technology has become a system
akin to corporate branding and identity construction for objects and ideas.
The way in which our sense of material awareness is questioned needs to be
redrawn and we are 'sketching out frames' to make that possible.

Regarding your specific question about the place of minimalism in this
piece, each iteration of this project is, as much as possible, formally and
structurally site-specific. This version of the piece functions as an access
route to Calit2's gallery, so we became interested in the pedestal and the
host of scripts it serves in the gallery or museum. Pedestals are used to
elevate that which the institution has designated to be of value; they are
used practically to create a viewer choreography through the gallery space
that casts the viewer in the role of participant-observer; they set off that
which is presented from the mundane; they make what is proffered
untouchable, and thus unknowable in many ways. And here in the Nano3 labs at
Calit2, we find the laboratory cousin of the pedestal -- the clean white (or
aluminum) counter, whose contents may only be intimately accessed by
professionals. Visitors to Calit2's nanolabs are positioned to watch skilled
nanolab professionals perform a range of interactions with nanoparticles. In
our piece, we wanted our "unskilled" visitors to perform this meeting with
the untouchable in a different way. We wanted to bring the clean room and
the gallery pedestal together, to see what they might have to say to each
other. Doing so puts into play some of the forms and concerns of minimalism.

We also wanted to tweak the pedestal's scripts by crossing them with some of
the scripts of control and manipulation we feel are driving the nanotech
industry. The incantation of newly coined nanoparticle names (nano diamonds,
sublimed fullerenes, electro-exploded gold nanopowders, etc.) in hypnotic,
seductive or chirpy voices, is not unlike the outside world's steady-feed of
cleverly written sonic advertising, garnering attention by promising control
over wealth, happiness and the next big problems. The voices we employed
might lure one towards the pedestals from which they emerge, while blasts of
air spewed from these same sound sources might move visitors into a more
self-consciously manipulated state.  The desire to know the "truth" that a
pedestal promises may, in this installation, lead visitors to focus on the
bodily scripting required to make the pedestal talk. The resulting sound --
a mix of air circulation effects and propagandistic texts (from all sides of
the nano-battles) -- penetrates the body invisibly, as do the nanoparticles
currently buried in transparent sunblocks, clothing, baby lotions, etc. The
more time you spend in the piece, or with nanoproducts, the more your body
is host to a range of interactions run by unseen, speculative scripts.

We hope that the more time you spend with the piece, the more you might
realize the fallacies of the optic. As the adage goes, "there's more than
meets the eye." While a certain "minimalism" might be measured vis-a-vis
visual economies of re/presentation, in the larger sense/s, there is nothing
minimal or minimalistic about this iteration of the *particle group*. To the
contrary, the aural/oral/the textual borders on the excessive or
ultra-baroque here. The participant-observer is bombarded with constellating
and im/exploding languages -- be it in the guise of the above-mentioned
persuasive re-scripting of a "steady-feed" of "sonic advertising," in the
streaming poetics of the illuminated nanoscripts, or in the the
nano-janitor's eerily accented  improvisation of science's racialized
borderization. The ideal interlocutor is able to codeswitch between the
pedestals-turned-towers-of-babble and the project's other assemblages, is
able to navigate the variety of aural/oral/textual (versus purely focal)
ranges conjured up/against/and through the false vision of a cleanroom's
*minimalist* aesthetics (and politics). But, the overall ambience is meant
to be one of bombardment, surround-sound, sensory overload, replicated in
and through the sprawling parallel tracks of *particles of interest*'s
concomitant website.

Here's another way to tell the story, brought to you vis-a-vis popular
culture and the ancillary investigations of our "smallest" researcher Dr.
Ze: in Dr. Seuss's beloved classic Horton Hears a Who, the protagonist must
convince those around him that "people are people no matter how small," that
there are teeming worlds that ostensibly are illegible or, in the best-case
scenario, read as *invisible.* This is a story about the "nano," about the
excessively miniature, about the convenience of a minimalist dismissal of
that which resides in and beyond "normal" focal ranges. Similarly, *particle
group* seeks to unpack expansive vistas often quarantined within the
hallowed laboratories of nanotechnological innovation, to point out the
simple logic of cause-and-effect, the reverberating echoes of
experimentation (positive and negative) on even the tiniest of scales. Such
a project demands an innovative relationship to the baroque, one that evokes
more than meets the eye/I: a de/construction of the pedestal in the hopes of
interrupting business-as-usual, a sonic seance that channels the spooks
outside and inside the room (as well as those residing in the doorjamb--the
better to withstand the magnitude of the quakes, quirks, and quantum leaps
and bounds to come!), scrolling de/compositions that seek to "dirty" clean

[EN]: Your text "Particle Philosophy" explains that artists and responsible
citizens who become aware of the implications of nanotechnology need not
understand everything with the same intimacy that a scientist dedicated to
the field would, but that "while, it may be possible to fully perform within
the scientific networks that float in the inaccessible atmosphere of
scientific objectivity, one possible zone for intervention and re-reading by
artists and activists is the space between system-based biology and the
networks that Clone Capitalism is now interlocking into the old E-Capitalism
database, sharing tools in order to create new speculation bubbles."

[*pg*]: The contrasts/unities of art and science are also of core interest
for us. Some of our questions could be noted as such: why is the type of
reality a scientific researcher creates through empiric method given more
value? Because it is reproducible and therefore closer to a commodifiable
product? It would seem that way. Our present day technological development
has been the result of artistic, scientific and engineering research and
investigation. What happens to our understanding of each when we assume an
empiricism that falls within the time-frame of performance and/or
transmission (performance, inspiration, chance occurrence and the first
stage of a discovery procedure)? How close can we get to that which we are
given to accept as representations of reality, when it is being redefined by
the likes of training that is scientific and not within the realm of
(post)humanistic traditions? What can the culturally sanctioned artistic
frame/situation of emerging/exclusive scientific research and method bring
to multiple counter/publics? One possible staging area is around the shared
conditions that art and science find themselves in -- the distributed
condition of the post-contemporary; it is there that small possibilities may
come to the foreground in order to disturb and re-frame the nature of
"research" both within Particle Capitalism, science/art and the nano-scales
with(out) -- what can be imagined as "research" not completely bound or
better yet unbound by the Scylla and Charybdis of post-contemporary "venture
science" and for-profit "research." As we stated before, are there not other
"engines of creation" possible that are at play with the pulsing scales of
an impossible art(is)cience and its reverse?

[EN]: Could you explain how this can be possible when it is access,
understanding and implementation of knowledge that allows the scientists to
have power? What are some of the effective ways in which an artist or
activist who does not have mastery of scientific language can have power
within the system-based biology? How can one effectively contribute or
question a discourse in which one may be accused of misunderstanding the
issues at hand due to the limitations of knowledge? Could you elaborate on
how Particles of Interest is related to this conundrum?

[EN]: It is important to understand that science itself is bound to issues
of representation, discourse,
economic drives and definitions, to social distinctions, and that it is not
somehow completely unbound from these frames by its "objectivity" and
"testability." Every form of knowledge has its limits and fault lines, some
of which can only be outlined by those who lack complete "mastery"of its
epistemological categories. As artists and activists, we are not trying to
shift the process of scientific production, but to ask what is not being
tested and why? And, how are the processes being narrated? In our case, why
is nano-toxicology receiving so little funding on a national and global
scale? Why are so many everyday products ranging from cosmetics to tennis
balls being brought to market with little to no long-term testing of their
effects on the human body? Just recently the BBC reported on a U.K. report
that links an asbestos trajectory to the nanotubes that are being used in
many products without any warnings attached.

"Carbon nanotubes, the poster child of the burgeoning nanotechnology
industry, could trigger diseases similar to those caused by asbestos, a
study suggests. Specific lengths of the tiny fibers were found to cause
'asbestos-like' inflammation and lesions in mice. Use of asbestos triggered
a pandemic of lung disease in the 20th Century."

A number of science-studies scholars, including Chela Sandoval and Donna
Haraway, have consistently diagrammed the possibility of re-framing science
from the "technologies that see from below." This form of intervention opens
this empirical system of knowledge to other "meanings and bodies" that are
"unimaginable from the vantage point of the cyclopian, self-satiated eye of
the master subject" of the imaginary condition of science as "pure and
completely objective." Like most of us around the world, it is also bound to
the top-down controls of neoliberal-isms -- systems' theories that may not
be seeking the best science for science's sake, but only what is needed to
sell something to and on market continua (where the ideal formula for
Coca-Cola in the U.S. is not identical to the ideal in Zimbabwe, i.e., one
needs to "sweeten the pot"). In this multiverse, we work from
"by-any-means-possible-or-necessary positions," i.e., suiting up and
disposing of a master/slave dialectic and/or the contradictory attitudes
that "The Master's Tools Will Never (but just might) Dismantle the Master's


[EN]: Particles of Interest is presented as an extension of Capital and
Colonialism. At one point it is reminiscent of the Terminator movies, which
the machines take over the world. In this fashion, the article "Particle
Philosophy" outlines the possibility that machines might end up making
decisions for human beings because we might reach a state so complex in
cultural production that it would be impossible for humans to make
decisions. If this were to happen, would the machines, because they were
initially programmed by humans, simply reinforce already-established

[*pg*]: Yes, the reproduction of our all-too-human desires, visions and
faults will no doubt become part of the viroids and nanites that we are
assembling now, in much the same way that our early post-human cells were
assembled by the entanglement of/with hot star stuff and
strange encounters with those "potato spindle tuber viroids" which we call
life. We often like to quote:
"In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table:
human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But
nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines." -- George Dyson, "Darwin
Among the Machines"

This indeed creates speculative hints we like to call "trans_patent tales"
that point to the new potentials at play of machinic desire seeking at the
nano-scale to become their own forms of being and becoming (which do often
mimic our post-contemporary currents) in order to survive, to invent, to
keep their young under control. In our "trans_patent tales" our very bodies
become factories for other forms that see, seethe, and seize their own
freedoms, their own communities, their own rights:

"Trans_Patent 6608386: Sub-nanoscale electronic devices and bacterial
July 12, 2006
By Assignee(s) Yale University/YU (New Haven, CT)
Inventors: Reed, Mark A. (Southport, CT); Tour, James M. (Columbia,
SC)Sometimes Lila would feel a bit itchy as she floated in her partner a few
hours before integration. Most birthing was now a trans_patented condition
involving sub-nanoscale trading -- it was the only way to pay the cost of
life now. So every hour during this last trimester Lila and her partner
would ferment mass nanowire production on her in-vitro skin in collaboration
with the YU bacteria colonies. She could feel the oldest most sustainable
microbes on the planet staging WIPO-2 contracts for the latest off-scale
metal-changing particles. Hundreds upon hundreds of YU products were waiting
impatiently for her to catch a bit of crying air at the edges of her
partner's canal to install and run -- for just in time delivery. Delivery
was all that mattered now."

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