----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
Thanks, Tim and Renate, for such a wonderful introduction, and thanks, Simon, 
for starting this week off so richly. 

It’s funny - I’ve come across that Rumsfeld quote so often recently – in 
situations totally divorced from its original, military-paranoid context—that I 
was beginning to worry he would be remembered only for his pithy contribution 
to the philosophy of the unknown, and not for his architecture of war, torture 
and death.  Zizek’s take on the “unknown knowns” of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib 
is a good corrective for my concern. 

I’m intrigued by the postulate of “Dark Matter” as a kind of collective 
unconscious, but I’ll add a note of borderline idealism to Simon’s borderline 
misanthropy, and assert that these ‘unknown knowns’ also include the repressed 
knowledge that things could be different, better.  Awareness that things don’t 
have to be so horrific is the flip side of awareness that things are so 
horrific.  Both these impulses need to be contained, if one is to function in 
the workaday world of the postindustrial West.  But both are always with us.  
In a sense this makes “Dark Matter” a site for ethical impulses, as well, which 
is fitting if we think of this, with Simon, as a “larger assemblage” that we, 
only-partly-individuated “assemblages” that we are, are bound to participate 

I’m interested in the examples you share, Simon, of net projects that suggest 
deeper engagements with “how social inter-agency might function.”  Say what you 
like about the corporatization of the Internet, the ubiquity, visibility, and 
immense power of its networks as a structuring epistemological metaphor have 
all contributed to a rise in network-oriented, ecological thinking that helps 
us recognize, preserve, and appreciate the value of what I, perhaps somewhat 
glibly, think of as “oikodiversity.”  (I’m borrowing here, with apologies and 
all due humility, from Hannah Arendt and her analysis of oikos, the ancient 
Greek designation for the intimate sphere of family and household, as distinct 
from the public, social, and more properly political-economic sphere of the 
polis.)  Projects like those Simon references point to a variety of models for 
“social inter-agency”, a variety of ways to construe the relationship between 
intimate networks and political economies, and a variety of ways to imagine the 
interpenetration of material, emotional, biological, and cultural life.  
Drawing on conceptual analogues in the fields of ecology and public health, the 
idea of protecting diversity as a good in and of itself has far more traction 
now than it did even ten years ago.

Each of the projects from Simon’s earlier message is engaged with such 
preservation, in the face of the digital monoculture of the corporatized net.  
The “Voice of the Farmers” project is a particularly effective illustration of 
the tactical value of preserving embedded cultural knowledge, and of the 
importance of multimedia documentation for sharing that knowledge in a 
post-literate age.  

I wonder about the prevalence of such projects and whether or not they mark 
changes in what we want or expect from cultural memory and networks across 
time.  I also wonder about the role of art and art appreciation.  Many of the 
digital projects I encounter in my current line of work are conceived as 
’digital humanities,’ not art or net art as such.  Many of them involve 
creating online repositories of previously unavailable records from 
marginalized peoples – which could be another version of the “known unknowns” 
of an information society.  One of these projects, for example, Ecclesiastical 
and Secular Sources for Slave Societies 
(http://www.vanderbilt.edu/esss/resources/imagecountsbycountry.php ) involves 
the establishment of small community digitization labs in former slave states 
of the Atlantic: Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Spanish Florida.  Staffed by locals, 
these labs photograph documents related to the enslaved populations 
–governmental, private, and church records—and upload files to a central 
database, which grows continually as a result of this broad collaboration.  
There’s a performative aspect to this project—imagine setting up document photo 
labs in 17th century Columbian village churches!—that would be documented 
differently and also discussed differently if the overall effort were seen as 
historically engaged art and not ‘merely’ an online digital archive for 
scholarly research. 

Take care,

On 9/20/16, 4:46 PM, "empyre-boun...@lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of 
Simon Biggs" <empyre-boun...@lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of 
si...@littlepig.org.uk> wrote:

    ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
    Thanks to Tim and Renate for inviting me to contribute to the discussion on 
empyre this month, on how net art has travelled the past 25 years and artists 
working in the field are responding to the progressive commercialisation of the 
    Firstly, a word of warning. My post-humanist tendencies have always been 
informed by a borderline misanthropy. The proposition that we as a species are 
no longer human isn’t extraordinary, given that we never seemed to fulfil the 
ideal that was the human. We are failed humans (our idea of what it is to be 
human) and that failure demonstrates our hubris in believing we could be better 
and our incapacity to be so. The internet has also been a field of failed 
dreams - as with all media and representation, it is a mirror of our failure.
    Recently I’ve become interested in the concept of ‘dark matter’ as a 
metaphor for our collective unconscious. This year I’ve made a new interactive 
environment titled ‘Dark Matter’ and also written an article about that work. 
Documentation of the work can be found here:
    My thesis in this work is simple and, I feel, illustrative in the context 
of this discussion. The proposition explored in Dark Matter is that we are 
motile assemblages rather than stable individuals, subsets of a larger 
assemblage that could be considered a form of 'collective unconscious'. That 
assemblage is explored as shaped by the forces of dark matter, in the form of 
the cultural information and patterns that we "don't know that we know". This 
is a generative ontology, manifest in the artwork through multi-agent 
interaction with liminal visual and textual information. Interactors physically 
interact, through the use of motion tracking, with textual fragments derived 
from interviews with a Guantanamo inmate. Depending on the number of viewers 
the 3D textual space is rendered from first, second or third person points of 
view, creating a shifting experience of the immersive environment as a form of 
    As background to the ideas explored in Dark Matter, Slavoj Zizek has 
observed, @ http://www.lacan.com/zizekrumsfeld.htm
    "In March 2003, Rumsfeld engaged in a little bit of amateur philosophizing 
about the relationship between the known and the unknown: "There are known 
knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That 
is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also 
unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." What he forgot 
to add was the crucial fourth term: the "unknown knowns," the things we don't 
know that we know - which is precisely, the Freudian unconscious, the 
"knowledge which doesn't know itself," as Lacan used to say."
    Zizek argues, in the short text from which the above quote derives, that 
the activities of US and allied invaders at the Abu Ghraib prison camp belong 
to the category of unknown knowns. The activities at the Guantanomo detention 
facility can be considered similarly. Initially designated Camp X-Ray it has 
lived up to its name - a strange contradictory existence where activities we 
'don’t know we know' are broadcast around the planet. This is a strange form of 
knowledge indeed, where we are all implicated, even as we suppress that we 
know. This is our 'dark matter', accruing to the force that disallows us to 
escape ourselves, forever repeating and failing our human existence. The force 
is ourselves - we are black holes in the making.
    What has this got to do with the internet and net art? As suggested 
earlier, the internet is a mirror of our failures. It might also be considered 
as something of a repository for our 'unknown knowns', our forgotten knowledge, 
our suppressed reflections - the reflections of ourselves we do not want to 
know. Artists have always been excavators, or revealers, of such buried 
reflections. Net artists are no different. They work in the subterranean 
reaches of the internet (the internet isn’t in the cloud but in the sewers - 
perhaps Wark’s streets? - beneath our feet) to bring to the surface that which 
we have buried and forgotten. It is the case, though, that this task has become 
more difficult as those sewers have filled up with the crap generated through 
the commercialisation of the internet. Not only has the weight of shit that 
needs to be lifted up that much heavier but the systems we use to do so, the 
protocols of the internet, have been weakened through fragmentation, as the 
internet has been broken up and bounded by  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and 
numerous other corporate agents. The task facing the contemporary net artist is 
that much greater than a generation ago. Perhaps it is little surprise we see 
far less effective work being done in the area. But there is work, sometimes 
recognised and sometimes not. The question is who is doing this work?
    I’d like to identify three of these. What they all share in common is that 
they all engage with the network but they aren’t necessarily focused only on, 
or primarily with, the internet as we usually think of it. It’s the concept of 
the network, and the relational implications that flow from it, that each of 
these three projects share. They are all working towards outcomes that affect 
peoples lives, both those directly involved in the projects and others. They 
are all, in contradiction of my above argument, working towards an ideal of 
some kind. This is work I would argue is post-internet in that the work is 
inconceivable without the internet but extends far beyond it to a more 
fundamental engagement with how social inter-agency might function.
    Furtherfield exists as a physical place in the form of the Furtherfield 
Gallery (including Furtherfield Commons) in London’s Finsbury Park, a website 
at http://furtherfield.org/ and the netbehaviour listserv. Each of these 
aspects of what is a distributed organisation undertake projects in the 
different kinds of social contexts each aspect facilitates, whether it be 
exhibitions, workshops, online events or the discourse of its listserv (which 
isn’t that dissimilar to empyre, although as a non-curated list it’s discussion 
is more free ranging and volatile). Furtherfield has been in existence since 
1996, so amongst the early initiatives that emerged as the internet and the web 
collided into general consciousness. Its success is evidenced in its longevity, 
its expansion and diversification and the impact it has had on numerous 
artists, activists, hackers, makers and community workers.
    The P2P foundation is "a global network of researchers, activists, and 
citizens monitoring and promoting actions geared towards a transition to a 
Commons-based society. We are a decentralized, self-organized, globally 
distributed community building an information-commons ecosystem for the growing 
P2P/Commons movement. We examine both the digital and the material worlds, 
their freedoms and restrictions, scarcities and abundances. We are an incubator 
and catalyst, focusing on the "missing pieces" and the interconnectedness that 
can lead to a wider movement.” https://p2pfoundation.net/
    Sauti ya wakulima (The voice of the farmers) at 
http://sautiyawakulima.net/bagamoyo/about.php?l=1 was developed by Mexican 
artist Eugenio Tisselli ( http://motorhueso.net/ ) as "a collaborative 
knowledge base created by farmers from the Chambezi region of the Bagamoyo 
District in Tanzania by gathering audiovisual evidence of their practices using 
smartphones to publish images and voice recordings on the Internet.” The 
intention is to collect and share the tacit knowledge held in the community to 
promote sustainable traditional farming methods in the face of globalised 
agri-business (perhaps this is a bit like contemporary net artists trying to 
work in the cracks in the corporatised internet). Through this communication 
system the indigenous farmers work with each other, their extended community, 
scientific researchers and others to develop strategies to adapt their 
activities in a changing environment.
    Hopefully empyre listserv members will have a look at each of these 
initiatives and a discussion can ensue around how we can work with the internet 
to better social outcomes - or whether we shouldn’t bother. I’m in two minds 
    Simon Biggs
    > On 21 Sep 2016, at 01:18, Timothy Conway Murray <t...@cornell.edu> wrote:
    > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
    > It is so fitting that end the week featuring Anna Munster with her
    > important recollection of the feminist roots of Melindha Rackham's
    > founding of -empyre-.  Thanks so much, Anna, for your helpful focusing of
    > the week's discussion of net.art and finance as well as for your other
    > important contextualizing of net.art and the -empyre- list.
    > We are now pleased to welcome to the third week of "Through the Net: Net
    > Art Then and Now," two other long time participants and supporters of
    > -empyre-, Simon Biggs (AU) and Madeleine Casad (US). I still remember how
    > energized I was to run across Simon's pionneering interactive digital art
    > in the early 1990s.   Many subscribers will recall with fondness that he
    > worked with Renate and me as a moderator of -empyre- and shaped so many
    > important discussions, which remain accessible on the -empyre- archive:
    > http://lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/.  Mickey also has been a
    > vital part of the -empyre- community ever since Cornell's Rose Goldsen
    > Archive of New Media Art stepped in as a cosponsor with the University of
    > New South Wales (where Anna Munster teaches, so the loops continue).  We
    > were very sad to see her leave Cornell for Vanderbilt University after
    > fifteen years of helping to build the infrastructures of the Goldsen
    > Archive since its founding in 2002.
    > So welcome back to -empyre- both Simon and Madeleine.
    > Simon Biggs (UU) is a media artist, writer and curator with interests in
    > digital poetics, auto-generative and interactive systems,
    > interdisciplinary research and co-creation. He is Professor of Art at the
    > University of South Australia and Honorary Professor at the University of
    > Edinburgh.  His work has been widely presented, including at Tate Modern,
    > Tate Liverpool, Tate Britain, Institute of Contemporary Arts London,
    > Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow, Kettles Yard Cambridge, Centre
    > Georges Pompidou Paris, Academy de Kunste Berlin, Berlin Kulturforum,
    > Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Kunsthalle Bergen, Maxxi Rome, Palazzo della Arti
    > Naples, Macau Arts Museum, Oi Futuro Rio de Janeiro, Arizona State Art
    > Museum, San Francisco Cameraworks, Walker Art Center Minneapolis,
    > Queensland Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He has
    > presented at numerous international conferences, including the
    > International Symposium on Electronic Arts, ePoetry, Society for
    > Literature, Science and the Arts, Electronic Literature Organisation and
    > Festival International Literature Electronica Sao Paulo and lectured at
    > Cambridge, Newcastle, Cornell, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, Ohio State,
    > Paris 8, Sorbonne and Bergen Universities, amongst others. Publications
    > include Remediating the Social (2012, editor), Autopoeisis (with James
    > Leach, 2004), Great Wall of China (1999), Halo (1998), Magnet (1997) and
    > Book of Shadows (1996).  He has held lecturing posts at Middlesex
    > University and Academy Minerva Groningen and Professorships at Sheffield
    > Hallam University and the University of Edinburgh.  His URL is
    > http://www.littlepig.org.uk
    > Madeleine Casad (US) teaches in the Vanderbilt University Department of
    > Cinema and Media Arts and coordinates the Vanderbilt Center for Digital
    > Humanities.  She has been involved in efforts to preserve and historicize
    > digital media art practices since 2002, when she began working in Cornell
    > University¹s Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, a collection for which
    > she became Associate Curator that spans six decades of global history and
    > a complex variety of electronic media formats.  Until 2016, she managed
    > outreach, education, and preservation initiatives in the Goldsen Archive
    > and developed digital humanities programs for graduate students as part of
    > Cornell University¹s cross-institutional Digital Humanities Collaboratory.
    > Her academic interests focus on narrative, identity, counter-history, and
    > contested public memory across varied technologies of storytelling.  In
    > 2012, she defended one of Cornell University¹s first comparative media
    > dissertations. In 2016, she oversaw and co-authored the Goldsen Archive's
    > innovative white paper, "Preserving and Emulating Digital Art Objects"
    > (https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/41368).
    > So welcome back to -empyre- Simon and Madeleine.  We're really looking
    > forward to your thoughts on Net.Art.
    > All my best,
    > Tim 
    > Timothy Murray
    > Professor of Comparative Literature and English
    > Taylor Family Director, Society for the Humanities
    > http://www.arts.cornell.edu/sochum/
    > Curator, Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art
    > http://goldsen.library.cornell.edu
    > A D White House
    > Cornell University,
    > Ithaca, New York 14853
    > _______________________________________________
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    > http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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