Date: Fri, 04 Apr 1997 23:12:28 +0200
From: Pit Schultz

the final content

Pit Schultz

1. can a new medium determine a new art movement and

2. what’s wrong with such a question?

‘everything is wrong’ stood in big letters on a painting of a danish artist whose name i forgot at Manifesta Rotterdam, 96. what would this painting mean, digitized and put onto the net as a free copycommodity? within the new media art system, how are the segment of progress and the segment of tradition communicating with each other?

there was this question for the ‘stuff’, the ‘Materialund Gegenstand’, the quality of the medium the artist-as-artisan had to master and ‘deeply understand’ - traditionally. It is the need for substance and object which gives digital media art a sculptural touch. in this lack it is a plastic art. if "the content of any medium is another medium" (mcluhan), preferably an old medium, you better find out how to quit. the seeking of radical new media reproduces a paradoxical desire for an essential substance hiding behind the next surface. call it identity, call it presence, call it important. the formal rules which lead to the ‘golden content’ have yet to be defined.

selling the future: whether from within or outside of the media we can detect certain faultlines. The storage mania of the content castles in expectation of the final cash-in leads to a profane aesthetic of panic production and conceptual dead-ends. In a real existing gift economy like the web there is not much money to make without giving something back for free. It is much more likely that rings of exchange will trade with each other then the total inclusion of any existing info-exchange within the circuits ending in Wall Street. Meanwhile an auto-eroticism of digital spiritualism tries to ‘come together’ as a part of a rebuilding process of a messianic christian subjectivity with all known side effects of priesthood and bigotry to form an universal ‘body without organs’. the ‘digital artisan’ (R. Barbrook) travels and explores these mystified zones to fill the virtual cathedrals and temples of net commerce with alchemic ‘content’.

in the cultural sector of the ‘virtual working class’ one works hard to develop new presets of cyber-subjectivity which can get adapted by the expected following cyber-masses. Many ecstatic net-intellectuals are enlightened with the belief that that they’re to become the leading-class of an upcoming Netzvolk. They update the modernist model of the ‘Uebermensch’ and his crisis of human forces which is headed toward becoming a crash-dummy at the time-wall of the millennium. Without any rights or social security the net-freelancer has at least the pride of being a pioneer between commercialisation and institutionalisation. in fact the Web is still the eldorado of hobbyists, D.I.Y arriere-garde artists, adventurous entrepreneurs and evangelical ideologists. But the heroic info-arenas for the masses, a metaphysical architecture of content as power is just around the corner. the victims of this process are already all-too-visible as soon as we leave our terminals.

the emperor’s new media. not that king content was wrong but a specific form of perception. the essence of content is social context (// contact, communication, conflict). a social framework doesn’t need a dedicated medium nor does it determine a specific fluid which fills its networks. it is zones of activity and lines of attention, it is power relations and magic buzzwords which equals content. but most of all it is the social architecture of beliefs and norms, layers of memory which are more a potential, a surrounding force-field, an unstable flow which produces repetitions, selects and sets limits and norms through time. "come to the content and stick around for the conversation" (e-minds) who are the producers? who is making profit? Who’s responsible? the aggregates of a collective subjectivity or free emerging market forces? a grand social sculpture or an anonymous, machinic substance-essence informing the cyberflow from somewhere ‘outside’? if you believe so, then you may find someone speaking its name.

stop making content. the common whine that ‘capitalism is wrong’ clashes in a classical paradox as long as it is said from within capitalism. even if i don’t sell this text, even if i give it away for free, it works within a specific economy. the inversive economies of the avant-gardes add some sacral value onto the imaginary accounts of a WeltKulturBank: reputation, credibility, cultural capital. today it becomes almost unthinkable that there is an outside of the markets, that there is something uncommodified and overcoded by the final medium of digital money. to resist capitalism can become if not a schizoid rite-de-passage, a regressive game. the power to escape power which produces power under a sign of ‘no power’. we went through these dreams of independence and they where driven by a real existing world dichotomy of cold-war economies. but also today, after the decline of the two-system theory, we love to hate the totalitarianism of ‘globalisation’ until we became active parts in it. (the discussion of MetaforumIII, Budapest, continued by Richard Barbrook, Ken Wark, Mark Stahlman and others) but the imaginary cannot be fully transcoded, there may be a small tactical path which opens to a zone of ‘content’ which money cannot buy and the whole net is full of such ‘crap’.

so what constitutes the information owner? for the empiricist there is no information without access. imagine a cd-rom encased in a brick of glass - imagine an encrypted pgp-msg and you lost the key - or a website which is turned off - what information does it contain? is it really a human receiver that makes information out of a signal, and a bunch of them baking content out of it? Frank Hartman may once explain to us what he understands as ‘data critique’. As long as the Ockhams/Soros knife cuts, we will be able to falsify whatever comes as noise or ideology. work harder. it’s about the cult of efficiency and the disrespect of effectivity (Morgan Garwood). efficiency works within the system, effectivity goes outside of it. efficiency may have it’s inner finalist goals of auto-logic complexity, but what are the side-effects? efficiency may be not a valid criteria for an aesthetics of networks. (‘notworks’, David Garcia)

going back, an interface is not an image. it can be a plug, the ringing of a telephone, some push buttons, or the parameters of a program. it is not a one-to-one simulacrum, but a one-to-one-to-another-one transmission of parallel streams, a process of translation between different levels of code. the interface limits a system as an ‘membrane’ for transitional elements. it has nothing to do with a TV screen. it is constitutive for the definition of systems and works not for ‘humans’ only but also between and within machinic aggregates. it does not have to end in visuality or a neo-baroque garden of an expensive art installation. Visuality can become an ideology of enlightenment. Trying to expose the mysterious under light is where we speak about the hidden in terms of optical media. I see therefore i understand. the net has no given visuality but it produces a lot of narratives and works as an universal plane of projection. like the Ocean in Stanislav Lem’s Solaris it functions as a ‘cathartic interface’ (Perry Hoberman), more a gigantic group therapy then an athenic agora but fundamentally based on the interconnected subjectivity of its users which lead to the questions of social network architecture, cultural groupware and a redefinition of urban life.

The inter-passivity of the multimedia user-frontend, trashed with the pink noise of unsolicited data, is not the door to a world which is closed to the rest of us. if you dive into a system of full data objects, you begin to orient yourself within that environment without being able to draw a colourful picture. (but you may ask someone else if she was there before) the most effective content-channels are operating on the rich code of human language. (telephone, e-mail, mailinglists, rumours) And this is what the commercial world doesn’t want. Shut up and work. the machines are doing the rest for you, making you feel excited.

We may use our brains for something better then just watching. The interface works as an end-segment which cuts you from a recursive chain to a rootless tree, a network of possible decisions between nodes of reference which are in constant motion. you *know* about them so you don’t have to see them nor do they have to constantly inform you about their existence. The behaviourism of Pushing makes you want to get pushed around more and more. It works via establishing a social normative field of redundant interest and smooth acceptability.

pseudo-geek: the visibility of the internet doesn’t need an ‘image’. it is more about the absence of bodies and the things which disappear through operations of representation. a net is defined by ‘nodes’ connected to each other. both, nodes and connections can become physically invisible through a layer which conceptualises the complexity of a certain class of events into one zone of consistency. interfaces are here much more based on protocols between nodes and layers. predescribed algorithms of possible communications and the format of the transferable data. it is possible to draw maps from the internet to a certain degree, and it is also possible to make a theater out of it. but it may be much more useful to describe before how it was connecting to other networks onto other layers (and times), up to the level of everyday noise. the internet empire doesn’t end with the internet, it just changes its protocols. "its offline elements uphold and fuel its forms, even as those forms rebound back to affect its ‘outside’." (Jordan Crandall)

I am still in an image-less net-time and why not? Maybe it is enough to draw some spirals or a cloud when someone asks you to make an image of ‘the net’. (Janos Sugar in Spessart 95) After the electronic solitude in front of your desktop interface we need dynamic maps for different kinds of topologies of connected client-server-cities, which are including the question of power, work, representation and social interfaces. the relations, the activities, the exchange of flow has to get reinvested, not just click-counted. the different channels have to get connected, get hybrid, or at least resonate, to begin to ‘swing’ and it is very unlikely that money can remain the only goal. the worst is if the net ends like format-radio today - media for the brain-dead. the construction of truth and the subject through a technology of visuality (the camera obscura) ends with the plans of new architectures of knowledge, where the option of an external panoptical observer is turned off.

The metaphors of intersubjectivity do not need the romanticism of the structured life at the tribal village, nor do they need exotic tales about the world in-real-life. it was already a virtual neighborhood, when you spoke in the evening you referred to the day. the pompous picture which many people are asking for, the glamorous ordered interface, just functions like the garden architectures of the absolute roie du soleil representing the (mechanistic) cosmos of things.

Forward to the machines, walking up the staircase of layers, model after model, from substance to essence; the signal, electric-, electromagnetic potential, waves/particles; the chip, the bit, the byte, the packet, the document. As long as it circulates between machines, it’s data. Machines communicating with machines, the worldwide whispering in techno-code is, in fact, establishing an electromagnetic climate which is quite new in the history of terra. analysing information on the physical level takes you to the limits of hardware (Kittler) and at the same time to the human body which has its systems of physiological communication capable of defining immersive interfaces beyond the theory of the image. some remember Vladimir Muzhesky pleasure/fear wave generator. It may be wireless weaponry which uses such bionic information systems first, or it will remain a product of art and paranoia or just chinese medicine.

anything, anywhere, anytime connecting to itself. the process of folding and enfolding. packing and unpacking, reading-writing, embedding into protocols, pushing, pulling, grouping-linking, can make a lot of sense on another level. The read protection bit turned off. A certain char on your bank account or police file or passport can change your life. on this level the hacker can be seen as a kind of artist. he manipulates a system in a way to produce public content, socialize data, shifting contexts. 2600, an heroic computer art magazine shows how the hacker seeks for a power over the network of the technical sublime, gaining access and connecting a closed system to the outside. But the hacker is also a very conservative artist, driven by the will to autonomy and the l’art pour l’art beyond the principles of (political) effectivity.

Back to The Thing, Heidegger said: ‘das ding dingt’ How to hack a tautological language loop, how to tickle the ‘truth’ out of it? (it’s metaphysical function..) on another page Heidegger compares the river described by a poet with the same river a power plant is using to produce energy. The difference between art and technique. What now when the artist is using such a technique? He produces something paradoxical. A power plant which produces nothing.

But didn’t it need a deeper know-how of the medium itself? Going with the bits and bytes, seeing the net, watching the wires, like Van Gogh saw the lines of force in a sunflower? There is still no Rembrandt of TCP/IP, no Pollock of the desktop interface, no Cezanne on Softimage, no Dada of Html (ugh maybe), no Turner of the Web. But anyone who once disk-edited their own harddrive, scrolling through random orders of private text-chunks of old e-mails, can have truly surrealistic deja-vues. The memory-dump dream analysis? is using the undefined side effects of html, sreenshots of system crashs, layers of encapsulated coding where text is handled as graphics and vice versa.

Tannenbaum once wrote a book called "the art of programming" which was pretty serious. A program has to run efficiently and shall not contain errors. It has to consume as little time (processing states) as possible. These were the good times where programmers were proud when their code was ‘elegant’. Today it remains unclear what a program ‘is’ until you know exactly what it ‘does’. Some say that the whole internet is art which just works for itself (abroeck’s machinic aesthetics of packet-switching?), near to something of absolute beauty, an almost-oceanic experience with a hidden smile. (net=art, heath bunting)

In fact it was the anti-matter of software and information which dematerialized art and was called ‘concept art’ later. anything could become the carrier for an artpiece, society, a train, the postal network, or a river. Spiritual information (Erik Davis) - the idea of the artist survives it all. In fact, concept art works together with the Ready-made-trick as one of the main redundant genres of contemporary art. While the vocabulary extends to all kinds of mixed media, the art of programming aims at the functionality of the whole work within the social field and the art system - how did the piece reached a certain place - surrounded by context. But it is a question of tactical decisions to implement a running code within the dirty frames of real life. It cannot be closed to all sides. The art system is the first enemy of creative concepts because it needs closed spaces, a programming environment. Paths around it we may find in Alexei Shulgin’s work.

Then there are new/old big narrations. Pathetic pictures. Sacral art. Assume the net is a smooth and uncolonized desert, all kind of tribes can build their cult-temples right on it. But in fact it’s also a civilized grid, a big virtual church of "western" subjectivity. The long walk through the web. The new land of milk and honey. Global dialogue, Gaia, darwinistic algorithms. The web becomes a dramatic interface for alienated slackers to experience themselves as members of virtual tribes, digital parsifals, net-hippies, founding fathers of the substandards, juppies on the path to digital money. more memory, more performance and more efficiency of reproducing ourselves as machinic identities.

Couldn’t it be helpful that the romantic-ironic project of is a contribution to the tradition of heretic resistance? or does it rebuild a Bauhaus made of Junk-data. Who cares? The mighty media makes best use of the history of imperial infrastructures integrating its enemies and let them work in the net - if needed subversivly. A basic ambiguity which leads to an oscillating irony as a basic mode of being. Don’t believe in the net but don’t quit it. It is about showing the system borders, playing with artefacts and netscape-errors, nihilist cults (search +BLAH) opening it to the other, the body, a big dinner, the write access of some friends, a shitload of data. The production of a collective subjectivity not overcoded yet by some money is just a temporary ground. Nothing radically new, so one will find an elegant way to say good bye. Just like (love) songs or paintings and poems, cultural data works as transference of info-packets triggering emotion and care.