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micha cardenas / azdel slade on Tue, 10 Nov 2009 07:05:29 +0100 (CET)

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The new article I co-authored with Felipe Zuniga entitled “IO NON HO
NIENTE DA DIRE (I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY)” is in the current issue
Digimag [http://www.digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=1625], an
italian new media magazine. Since its only in Italian, I’ll post the
english text here. The article discusses the Emergency – Emergent
Agency / Emergencia – Agencia Emergente
[http://luiproyectocivico.wordpress.com/] project for the Dialogos y
Interrogantes portion of the Proyecto Civico exhibition at CECUT in
Tijuana [http://proyectocivico.blogspot.com/].


by Micha Cárdenas and Felipe Zuñiga

How do we deal with broken promises? How can artists work to enhance
agency among participant audiences who are anonymous, migratory and in
transition? Can the museum become a space for Habermasian democratic
dialogue under a state of exception? These are some of the questions
that guided the project Emergencia – Agencia Emergente // Emergency –
Emergent Agency by the Lui Velazquez collective, which was part of the
Proyecto Cívico: Diálogos e Interrogantes (PCDI) public programming
developed by Bill Kelly Jr. as part of the Proyecto Civico show
curated by Lucia Sanroman and Ruth Estevez, at the Centro Cultural de
Tijuana (CECUT) in the fall of 2008.

The Proposition

Is it possible to create a discursive democracy, in the manner
theorized by Jürgen Habermas, under the state of exception that
Giorgio Agamben claims is the contemporary form of governance? Our
project, Emergencia aimed to investigate this question, which was
posed by the organizers of PCDI, by focusing on the possibility of
communication among agents left outside the infrastructure of
communication, mediatic (private) and cultural ( public
institutional), specifically, unrepresented youth on both sides of the
border. The question of misrepresentation was central to this
initiative; since the PCDI program was an excuse to exercise dialogue
among citizens, or an invitation for citizens to exercise their right
for public dialogue and representation.

For decades, the goal of projects such as Paper Tiger Television and
Indymedia has been to realize the democratic promise of mass media by
allowing disenfranchised groups to have access to the airwaves. Bulbo
TV is a Tijuana based media collective whose mission uses a different
approach, fostering communication and liaison between social/cultural
groups alienated by their ways of living in order to gain a deeper
understanding of their social realities. Bulbo was another of the
groups who participated in PCDI. They are not specifically making
claims at democratization such as PTTV, but similarly targeting
various social groups and attempting to create better understanding
between them. Yet in many ways the promises of media activism have
failed to materialize. While today more people have access to
publishing than ever thanks to blogs, social networking sites, photo
and video sharing sites, there is still little improvement in
political conditions thanks to this increased media production. Most
media produced is personal, private and for entertainment purposes.

For the last three years, mass media in Mexico has undergone
unprecedented levels of privatization. An example of this was the
Televisa Law, the unofficial name that a series of amendments to the
Federal Telecommunications Law (LFT) Federal Law of Radio and
Television (LFRT) of Mexico, published in the Official Gazette on
April 11, 2006. This controversial law was approved in March 2006 by
the whole House of Representatives and in a span of 7 minutes, without
the prior reading, the text was voted unanimously, something unusual
in the history of Mexico. The law was upheld by the Senate, "without
changing a comma", during the last year of the presidency of Vicente
Fox and shortly before the general elections of 2006.i Vicente Fox
could have banned the law for the statements made by the Ministry of
Communications and Transport against it but decided to publicize it,
and in fact, entered into forceful arguing that for democracy to
prevail in the chambers, approval was necessary.

The controversy is that, in view of its critics, the law enshrines
deregulation of spectrum for digital duopoly formed by Mexican media
group Televisa and TV Azteca. Senators who were in fact members of the
LIX Legislature before the Supreme Court of the unconstitutionality of
a Nation, argued that the so-called "Televisa Law" inhibits
competition and promotes the power of the television duopoly.

According to this law the digital frequency spectrum is given to
private TV stations use, free of charge, a public good that belonged
to the Mexican state. Opponents of this legislation agreed that this
law would increase the control of television on the market blocking
free frequencies for radio or television for educational or community

While the mass media around the world grows increasingly privatized,
it supports the state of exception whereby the population is
disenfranchised and alienated from the political process, steadily
eroding any sense of citizenship or social responsibility. Yet the
situation is more complicated than simply a mass media in service of
pure totalitarianism. In her 2004 book, Network Culture: Politics for
the Information Age, Tiziana Terranova looks at the politics of
information theory, communication and noise. In it she states:

“the public sphere of the welfare state and mass democracy is
described by Habermas in terms that are markedly different from those
of the bourgeois public sphere… The current public sphere is not a
sphere of mediation between state and civil society, but the site of a
permanent conflict… Communication is not a space of reason that
mediates between the state and society, but is now a site of direct
struggle between the state and different organizations representing
the private interests of organized groups of individuals.”

For PCDI, our project Emergencia focused on the transmission of
messages, as a most basic form of communication, as a means of
facilitating engagement between various social groupings and the mass
media. Emergencia can be seen as an entry into this network of
conflict, a modulation of the flows of messages, not with the goal of
creating communication or understanding between groups, but with the
goal of allowing the messages to find a broader audience, opening the
possibility that they might find their intended recipient. While we
did not seek to create pure communication, we did seek to engage the
passions of those involved by offering them a mass media platform for
their voices. We also sought to impact the viewer on an affective
level, in a way demonstrating the non-transparency of communication.

We planned to solicit various groups for short messages they wanted to
have broadcast, and then encode as many as possible into a short 20
second segment that we had negotiated with a spanish language
television station in the San Diego.ii We first engaged with a group
of homeless youth, through an expressive arts facilitator. Some of
these youth are undocumented, sexually exploited, queer, transgender
or do not fit any of these categories, but they must all remain
anonymous, for their own safety. In this way, we hoped to offer these
youth a space of reflection on what they might want to communicate
through the mass media.

Our contact at the station told us that they receive messages such as
lost dog information nearly everyday, and they discard these. This was
one of our initial inspirations. It is an example of how the mass
media can maintain the state of exception, by choosing who’s emergency
is worthy of broadcast, and who’s is worthy of broadcast a hundred
times a day. By broadcasting these messages, we open the question of
the mass media as a public service and who they should be serving.

For the Habermasian space of discursive democracy to exist, there
needs to be a space of pure communication. The mass media, much like
the art museum, always already precludes such a space of pure
communication, because such a space would have to exist without
privilege or hierarchy, among equal speaking partners. In the mass
media, just as in the system of the museum, there is always a
gatekeeper, be it a director or curator, who not only chooses what
messages are to be included in the communication, but who sets the
very terms, questions and focus of the dialog from the outset. Given
the years of work that are required to become a television network
producer or a museum curator, there is no pure communication here,
because the participants are not equals, and are subject to pleasing
the hierarchy.

Our project critiques this idea of discursive democracy by providing a
service to the groups we engage, without attempting to reproduce the
rhetoric of democracy that only reproduces the state of exception. In
his book Protocol, published in 2004, Alexander Galloway examines the
politics of information infrastructure, asking “how control exists
after decentralization” and proposing protocol as the answer. He
proposes that the way control societies operate is through a
decentralized  “protocol [which] not only installs control into a
terrain that on its surface appears actively to resist it, but in fact
goes further to create the most highly controlled mass media hitherto
known.” (emphasis in original) Not only does the mass media serve to
maintain the lack of democracy, it does so by presenting itself as a
constituent part of democracy.

As we are concerning ourselves with messages, missives or letters
which have been discarded or disregarded, it seems appropriate to
visit the “Seminar on The Purloined Letter” of Jacques Lacan, which
deals with the question of the possibility of communication that is at
the basis for Habermas’ discursive democracy. Lacan also found
television to be an interesting site of intervention, as some of his
seminars were broadcast there. In the seminar, Lacan claims that “a
letter always arrives at its destination.” If this were true, it would
seem that our task for our project, of broadcasting anonymous
messages, would be unnecessary. How is one to understand this concept?
In the same seminar, just before, Lacan says that “the sender…
receives from the receiver his own message in an inverted form.” If
this is so, if one only hears the inverse of what one says, perhaps
communication is not possible. Perhaps the public at the root of the
notion of the public sphere doesn’t exist, but in its place can be
found a network of immeasurable complexity, such that one can only add
more messages to send off into space, not knowing if they will be

The Project

The Lui Velazquez collective was invited to participate in PCDI and
asked to find a group of people outside of our own collective with
whom we should facilitate a dialog. From the beginning, we had a
concern about tokenizing a group of people by choosing a particular
group and trying to offer them a service through our project.

We were aware of the problematic nature of project, specifically under
the critical arguments developed by theorist since the mid nineties.
Miwon Kwon recapitulates this discussion in her book, One Place After
Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity and brings up the
controversy in the collaborative interaction between artist and local
community groups. Kwon points to Grant Kester's argumentiii that
cultural mobilization of social “usefulness” of art (foundational to
community-based art) and the rhetoric that accompanies it need to be
understood within what he calls the “moral economy of capitalism” and
the history of liberal urban reform. “This outpouring of compassion
and concern over “community”—imagined by many critical practitioners
as a means to greater social justice and inclusive political and
cultural processes—“must be understood in relation to the successful
assimilation in the US of conservative arguments about underlying
causes of poverty, social and cultural inequity, and

As a result, we decided to work initially with a group of anonymous
youth, through the medium of an expressive arts therapy facilitator,
Jennifer Stanley. The youth all homeless for various reasons but had
to remain anonymous for their safety and because of the restrictions
of the institution at which she interacted with them. Around the time
of our offer to participate in PCDI, the collective was also in
conversation with a television station about producing a short series
of informational television segments, based on a performance of one
collective member, Felipe Zuniga, which the station had broadcast

The group with whom the collective worked represented a challenge:
youth living on the streets. This population can be seen as a parallel
to the situation of immigrants: the condition of bare life, under
which the individual is stripped of universal human rights and turned
into a subject totally under state power. Homeless youth have a very
problematic condition especially when we look at the restriction of
their freedom. In the first place, because of their lack a of legal
guardian, the state prevents the possibilities of the teens to have
visibility before the law. To prevent exploitative practices employed
by media, the teens are prevented from being portrayed by media. This
restriction of the use of the image and speech generates a very
harmful effect: the disappearance of the individual. So here legal
protection applies as a restriction that produces erasure. The
individuals lose the opportunity of factual presence and are pushed
into an anonymous condition that increases their fragility and

Combining our former approaches of radio transmission and broadcast
performance, we planned to offer the youth the opportunity to
broadcast a short message on television. The facilitator held a
workshop with the youth about media privatization and institutional
racism in the mass media and told them that they could write short
messages, one sentence only, which may be selected by an artist group
for broadcasting on television. She further told them that they could
write anything they liked, such as an announcement for something lost,
a commentary or simply a shout out. The youth wrote varied messages,

I have nothing to say

Ethnicity? Human.

Felizidades! Acabas de Ignora otra hora de hambre en Africa.

The government f***** (fucking) sucks

I would like to give a shoutout to my brother michael.

Hi I'm X X. I would like to encourage to play football.

I love my lil brothers.

Our collective then made it our task to try various means of
broadcasting these messages to a broader public, to try to create
resonance with anyone who may be receptive. We used three platforms,
video, radio and t-shirts a public art fair.

To try to begin to create a dialog, we facilitated a video production
workshop in professor Claudia Algara's new genres class at the
Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC). We explained the
project and gave the students the original messages from the original
group of youth and asked them to create responses to the messages
using video. We explained that the original group had to remain
anonymous, and so they should also try to make their videos under the
same restriction, without showing their faces or voices . The students
made a series of videos during the workshop, around school and with
available materials. The students were also informed that the videos
would hopefully become the content of the Univision broadcast.

These videos are available on: http://www.youtube.com/user/luivelazquezart

A second part of the workshop took place at the Lui Velazquez space in
Colonia Federal, where interested students were able to continue
editing their videos, learn more editing techniques and participate in
the radio workshop. At these workshops, a radio broadcast was also
used to disseminate the original messages. In collaboration with
Neighborhood Public Radio, discussions on visual arts production and
politics, mass media privatization and the state of exception took
place at the workshops at Lui Velazquez, led by Michael Trigilio and
Ricardo Dominguez, both working artists and professors in the Visual
Art department at UCSD. Students who attended the workshops were able
to see how to produce a low power FM broadcast. The edited versions of
the videos the students produced were posted on Youtube.com at the end
of the workshop, broadcasting them online and allowing the students to
share the videos with friends.

Our next attempt to distribute the original messages of the youth took
place at Entijuanarte, an annual art fair held in the courtyard of
CECUT. We were invited to participate by organizing a booth as part of
our role in PCDI. At our booth, we played the videos produced by the
UABC students and allowed visitors to make t-shirts in response to the
original messages of the youth. We supplied blank t-shirts with the
Lui Velazquez name on the back as well as the name of the project,
fabric markers and a bowl with small slips containing the original
messages. We encouraged youth attending the art fair to read the
messages, think of a response and make a t-shirt of their response. In
this way we attempted to engage youth to consider participating in the
dialog and to engage the public at the art fair to become an audience
for the dialog as well.

With the edited videos, we went back to the television station. Yet,
the producer was not happy with the content of the videos. In
particular, one video was made in response to a youth who said “I HAVE
NOTHING TO SAY.” The video depicted two young women, students in the
media art class at UABC, wearing black plastic bags over their heads,
breathing silently. Given the context of violence in Tijuana and the
daily stories of victims found dead with bags over their heads, the
Univision producer found the videos objectionable. Ultimately, we were
unable to broadcast any of the videos or the messages on Univision. In
a way, this could be seen as breaking our original promise to the
youths who wrote the original messages. Yet we tried as best we could
to disseminate the messages in many other ways.

Our last act of transmission (before this article!) was at the
presentation of projects for PCDI at CECUT. We discussed the project
in the museum, in front of a public audience, and displayed many of
the original messages.


In an attempt to deepen the dialog, we wanted to go back to the
original group of youth who wrote the messages and let them know how
people had seen the messages. Yet when we asked the expressive art
therapy facilitator, we found out that all of the youth had left the
institution at which she met them. This led us to consider the success
of our project and the ways in which it may have been effective or

When considering the question of how artists can enhance agency for
political actors who may be anonymous, transitory or in transition or
becoming, perhaps one answer is the notion of scaffolding. For our
project, given our limited resources and limited time to accomplish
the project, we did not create a long lasting infrastructure for
political engagement. Yet what we did was to create a light
scaffolding, a temporary infrastructure, a prototype for testing out a
form of communication or engagement. Perhaps given the rapidly
shifting social conditions of the state of exception and disaster
capitalism, building light scaffolding makes more sense than
dedicating years to an infrastructure of political action. When not
only the conditions are changing but also the subjects of political
action are, a light structure can be more flexible, allowing rapid
changes to a plan of action. In our case, the scaffolding was the
project Emergencia, facilitated by our collective. Within this
scaffolding, various groups of youth were invited to engage in a
consideration of politics, media and communication. Neighborhood
Public Radio (NPR) itself can be seen as an example of this kind of
scaffolding, in that they use small, mobile, temporary broadcasts for
each of their projects and as such have evaded the large fines that
the FCC has levied on many other unlicensed broadcasters.

Yet with NPR and Lui Velazquez, one can see an infiltration and a
parasiting of larger institutions which allows for a more flexible
approach to political engagement. In the case of NPR, their
participation in larger institutions of art such as the Whitney
Biennial can provide legitimacy and possibly allow them to operate
more freely than a broadcaster without such institutional support. Yet
the extent to which the Whitney understands and supports the actions
of NPR as opposed to NPR benefiting from the relationship more, is
unclear. Similarly, Lui Velazquez was invited by CECUT to participate
in their public programming, and thanks in part to the legitimacy
provided by the museum, was able to expand a number of existing
relationships and invite new collaborations from groups we sought to
work with, and provide agency for, through the museum.

The possibility for political engagement becomes a question of scale.
Along the lines of thought of micropolitics or molecular revolution
from Deleuze and Guattari, daily acts begin to take precedence here
over moments of massive social upheaval or long term social movements.
When asking how we can empower political agents whose identities are
in flux, the notion of relying on laws or universal human rights
begins to break down. With groups of people who do not have fixed
identities, the kind of linguistic fixity and specificity required by
laws and declarations of rights is incompatible. As such, movements
for legislative gains are incompatible with a will to improve the
conditions of communities without names, communities without
definition, under the state of exception.

In the second day of media workshops at Lui Velazquez with the
students from UABC, Ricardo Dominguez elaborated on the relationship
between communication and democracy. Speaking of the origins of
democracy in Greece, Dominguez elaborated a genealogy of democracy
stemming from theater and tragedy.

Yet, he offered another possibility, saying that if tragedy can be
seen as the origin of democracy and the will to pure communication,
perhaps comedy can be seen as another form of communication. What is
important here, beyond comedy specifically, is the notion of another
kind of communication. Perhaps when artists and curators consider how
to engage in politics in the space of the museum, another kind of
communication outside of pure democratic dialog is necessary. Other
forms of communication such as affective communication, or
communication allowing for uncertainty and ambiguity, may be useful
ways of engaging publics in political action through museums.

In the place of discursive processes leading to a liberatory
democratic situation, we offer an emergent agency, based on the
multiplication of pathways, codes, messages, identifications and
groupings.  Guattari claims in Chaosmosis that the mass media is a
technology of subjectivation. He offers a strategy of using complex
interactions to offer new possibilities, saying,

“the important thing here is not only the confrontation with a new
material of expression, but the constitution of complexes of
subjectivation: multiple exchanges between individual-group- machine…
Grafts of transference operate in this way, not issuing from
ready-made dimensions of subjectivity crystallized into structural
complexes, but from a creation which itself indicates a kind of
aesthetic paradigm… an ethico-aesthetic engagement”.

As such, we propose that the value of dialogic processes of engagement
with communications media do not arise from working towards a common
reasonable agreement, but from the exercise of expressive and creative
faculties and the fashioning of new collective subjectivities. Our
project attempted to serve as a kind of “Emergency Broadcast System”,
interrupting the normal flow of mass media broadcasts to introduce
these anonymous messages. The interrupting of the patterns of flow can
be important, as Guattari states “these complexes actually offer
people diverse possibilities for recomposing their existential
corporeality, to get out of their repetitive impasses and, in a
certain way, to resingularise themselves.” Perhaps instead of working
out agreements over differences among already constituted groups,
poetic subversive acts like ours can offer paths towards new groupings
and new ways of reimagining social engagement.

i. 47 senators of the LIX Legislature, brought on May 4, 2006 a
constitutional dispute with the Supreme Court against the Nation's
Laws Radio-Television and Telecommunications, in order to be declared
unconstitutional, in whole or in part, arguing that they were in
violation of Articles 1, 25, 27 and 28 of the Constitution of the
United States of Mexico.The Supreme Court declared unconstitutional
articles 6, paragraphs 16 and parts of the texts of the law, and it
was credited legislative omissions. The auction process for
concessions and the automatic endorsement of them were removed from
the law .



Becerril, Andrea, “La ley Televisa, una imposición previa a las
elecciones de 2006, según Creel”, La Jornada, May 5th, 2007, Mexico.

Becerril, Andrea, “Nada justifica los privilegios en la ley Televisa:
Aguirre Anguiano” La Jornada, May 5th, 2007, Mexico.


?,Anulan corazón de "Ley Televisa", BBCmundo.com June 6th, 2007.


iiOur contact at the station ask that we not use the station's name,
as we never had a formal contract with them, only an informal, verbal
statement of interest.

iii. Aesthetic Evangelists:Conversion and Epowerment in Contemporary
Community Arts” Afterimage (January 1995): 5-11.

ivThis interest can be traced back in a previous effort were the
collective tried to establish another temporal dialogic platform in
the US developed at the residencia at LACE, Street address series, La
Radio Cubo, which consisted in the production of one day workshop and
radio transmission with homeless youth in Los Angeles under the
umbrella of the infrastructure of a shelter. The project had the aim
to offer air time on the web as well as in radio frequency.

micha cárdenas / azdel slade

Artist/Researcher, Experimental Game Lab, http://experimentalgamelab.net
Calit2 Researcher, http://bang.calit2.net

blog: http://transreal.org

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