[iDC] scattered resonances, re: Electrosmog and Mobility Shifts

Eric Kluitenberg epk at xs4all.nl
Thu Jul 28 14:08:39 UTC 2011

Dear Micha, all,

Thank you for a number of highly insightful reflections on the issues of remote and embodied presence that I was hinting at in my posting on the experience and outcomes of the ElectroSmog festival (in particular its shortcomings).

As I see it you address three issues: (1) (the importance of) concentration in exchange of knowledge and experience, (2) Transborder and Transgender experiences in relation to shifting mobility paradigms (fascinating connection by the way), and (3)limitations of the idea of 'immersion'.

Let me respond below underneath each of these three points.

On Jul 26, 2011, at 7:29, micha cárdenas wrote:
> Hi all, 
> I'm micha cárdenas, an artist and theorist who lives in LA (recently relocated from san diego) and works with Liz Losh at Sixth College. As she invited our core team there to join this discussion, I jumped in here and found Eric's comments very compelling and relevant to my own experiences. Still, I only offer a few scattered thoughts. 
> One is that a group I've worked with in the past, Artivistic [http://artivistic.org] is also working on thinking through the many problems with the conference/event/festival format, not only with regards sustainability questions, but also questions about how to move beyond discussions towards the possibility of long term community engagement and change. Promiscuous Infrastructures, their current project, came out of the TURN*ON festival about art and activism dealing with sex and gender that I (remotely) helped them curate and organize. We felt that the event didn't live up to our expectations in a number of ways but one of those was the lack of local community engagement that comes from having artists, activists and theorists flown into a city for a few days. The question of how do we move beyond activist/artist tourism and towards more constructive work with people we may want to work with from around the globe is certainly a difficult one, and one attempt they are taking (i'm not really involved in the collective any longer, due largely to distance) is to move towards a residency and workshop model away from a 3 day event model. 
> This discussion also reminds me of something lev manovich tweeted a few days ago:
> manovich: Maybe 1990s new media theory and criticisms were intense because everybody was discussing in rhizome/nettime. Concentration helps advances

This is part of a larger and longer running discussion of how to stage such encounters differently. The workshop mode is highly preferable to loose gatherings with a mass of presentations (festival, large scale conferences). Here the issue of scale works in two different and opposing directions, while exchange is enormously enhanced by a smaller scale setting, conducted over a longer period of time and with more intense interaction, so far I have only seen this work in an embodied setting and immediate physical presence. The problem is that the scale, the necessity of it being relatively limited in terms of number of participants also means an important public dimension is lost, often a prerequisite for (cultural) funding, but also important because we do not want to limit knowledge exchange exclusively to expert settings.

Now in on-line formats, mailing list go some way to addressing the trade off between in-depth exchange and co-presence over a longer period of time without necessitating physical presence, as exchanges on this list, but of course also on many other lists demonstrate.

The question that we have been exploring at De Balie, the centre for culture and politics in Amsterdam where I lead the media and technology program for many years was to see if we could find another way of integrating this longevity with on-line exchange and also connect the on-line and the off-line. Our chief project was the Cool Media Hot Talk Show series that we realised as the conclusion of a three year research trajectory into these questions. The format and concept of the show was developed by curator Tatiana Goryucheva and our team used the experience of the 3 year research to develop a radical talk show format where audiences could decide the topic, the agenda of the discussion, the possible speakers and submit questions to one or more speakers before the show was put together. Each month the highest rated scenario, based on audience votes pro and contra, would then be assembled into a talk show hosted by a virtual host (a computer voice) that would strictly follow the prescriptions of the audience (i.e the moderator was deleted 100%).

See for the archive of the shows: http://archive.coolmediahottalk.net/ and  http://archive.coolmediahottalk.net/archive.html for the archived webcasts.

People could also submit questions during the show, that were rated and then assembled on highest rating by the computer and relayed to the speakers.

From this format we developed interfaces for the ElectroSmog festival to enhance pre-festival discussion and participation.

Now the thing is that the Cool Media Hot Talk show functioned reasonably well as it was staged over a year's time with one show per month, but for the festival the interfaces mainly seemed to be a threshold to participation. The embodied nature of the shows at De Balie seemed also to be a better stimulant for activity on-line than the remote connected nature of ElectroSmog. It would seem that this local embededness is crucial to making exchanges work.

The question is, is this a matter of social convention, of audiences not being used yet to the idea of a remote interaction as meaningful and significant, or is there another process going on underneath the exchange that only blossoms in  physical, embodied exchange. Is the idea of embodied exchange itself phantasmatic or is the suggestion of electronic mediation leading to physical encounter the phantasmatic?
(this is not rhetorical, I honestly don't have the answer to this question)

> But more specifically, what I would have liked to discuss at MobilityShifts (i won't be attending as I can't afford the mobility) is the Transborder Immigrant Tool, a project I've been working on for a few years with the Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0 to turn cheap cell phones off of ebay into life saving devices that provide physical and poetic sustenance. The project centers around a java app written by Brett Stalbaum that allows users to access the gps functions of the phones without service. 
> With this project, we're very much interested in what the *particle group* has called "Science of the Oppressed", that is developing lines of flight an trajectories of thought and technological trajectories driven by the needs and desires of oppressed groups including migrants, women and queer and trans people. A main goal of ours has been to make the technology low tech enough that it could work on very inexpensive phones that we could buy in bulk and then distribute. I think that there are certainly huge economic issues at play in the ElectroSmog conference described below that are only hinted at. Who can afford the bandwidth, the better machines, speakers, etc? Who can afford to go to universities to get into art programs and new media art institutions? Who is encouraged throughout childhood to be good at art and science and who is encouraged to go into the military, or prison, or the kitchen? And certainly these economic issues are tightly bound up in the US with questions of race, class and gender and that is where a lot of my own interest lies, in those intersections, between say immigration or transnational experiences and transgender experiences?
> I want to clarify, though, that I'm not advocating a view of digital literacy based in a simple idea of the “digital divide”, which I feel is an oversimplification, as it reifies the kinds of social exclusion that technology reproduces and recreates along lines of race, class, gender and ability and simply reduces the question to one of economics. In contrast, thinking about the work of people like authors in the netporn studies reader [ http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/inc-readers/the-art-and-politics-of-netporn/ ] or like Danah Boyd's about class and racial divides in MySpace, Facebook and Flickr, one can see how marginalized groups use social media platforms as rich sites of intellectual production of language (i.e. Lolz, ROFLMAO or ke$ha), of image vernaculars (i.e. porn sharing sites or MySpace comment feeds that are impossible to load) and of systems of knowledge necessary for survival (i.e. transgender voice changing tutorial videos). 

Transborder Immigrant Tool is a great project. I discussed it recently at an architecture symposium at the University Delft in relation to the theme of 'public agency in Hybrid Space'. It also foregrounds the embodied in a dramatic way, given the number of annual deaths occurring at the Mexico / US border. In terms of an 'educational intervention' into such a charged social and economic space it really challenges almost every aspect of how 'education' can be conceived - far beyond the non-institutional and informal learning discussions.

The issue of the Open Journal Im/Mobility - exploring the boundaries of hypermobility, made in a way a similar shift. Seeing the failure of the remote connection project in the ElectroSmog festival (out of which the issue emerged) we went back to drawing table to re-examine the whole question of shifting mobility patterns and their economic, social and political segregation. Rather than offering linear narratives about these phenomena and their possible future trajectories, we sought to intensify the inherent and structural contradictions of the new and emerging regimes of mobility and immobility, the new forms of social filtering, the malleability of border regimes, the relation between profiling and surveillance, database structures (such as the Schengen Information System) and the ways in which borders 'fold inwards', surveying all everywhere, making the 'border' ubiquitous.

So far the only approach to stage some kind of resistance to these new regimes of im/mobility seems to be offered by Saskia Sassen's conception of the local as multiscalar and the establishment of lateral horizontal connections between multiple local actors on a potentially global scale, i.e. using the network to undermine the totalising effect of that same network.

Transborder Immigrant Tool is a great example of how to strengthen the local agency through a networked toolset, by-passing vertical systems of hierarchy and power. What its implication would be as a model for education would be a fascinating question to discuss.

Then, the link between transborder and transgender experience is another mind boggling challenge - that's a real pity you can't be at the event in October as I wouldn't even know where to begin to address that question. 

> Lastly, I think the soft telepresence you're talking about below supports Salen and Zimmerman's idea of social immersion that Tom Boellstorff applied to Second Life in Coming of Age in Second Life. My own experiments with more immersive technologies like motion capture and stereoscopy have shown me their limitations for long term use, and as they malfunction they drastically interfere with human connection. In the short term, though, I think that such technologies can certainly add layers of embodied expressivity that can enhance immersion, such as an HMD with head tracking that allows you to look at another avatar and have them know you're looking at them, or my more recent work with Elle Mehrmand using biometrics in which the person you're communicating with can know even more about you that someone who's in the room, such as exactly when your heart rate or body temperature changes. 

Having started out my 'new media' involvement in a  centre specialised in 3D graphics and animation (in the later 1980s) the question of immersion passed by time and again, and I have never seen a completely satisfying solution. The virtual caves with their impressive technical architectures (super computers full surround projection etc.) also never really convinced me. Nor did VR games (arcade games and the like) ever take off, while the 2D screen based games are bigger than Hollywood by now.

I see this primarily as research for a time when these technologies become more portable and more widely useable. Augmented reality connected to mobile devices (smart phones and tablets and so on) are perhaps pointing the way to more quotidian applications that could really start to deliver useable applications. So I'm personally most interested in these kind of hybridised forms of experience that connect the on- and off-line in all kinds of surprising and contradictory ways. I think that's where the research you are describing becomes really exciting!

bests and thanks again for this,

> thanks all, 
>   micha
> 2011/7/18 Eric Kluitenberg <epk at xs4all.nl>
> Hello IDC'ers,
> I've been asked to expand somewhat on my introduction and the concerns that I would like to bring to the Mobility Shifts conference, and would like to follow up on some things I hinted at earlier in my introduction. The main scope is to raise some critical issues about certain assumptions in telepresence practices and research, based on the ambivalent outcomes of the radical ElectroSmog festival format (march 2010), and indicate possibly valuable insights that may be gained from that for tele-connected learning (even though they do not originate from a strictly educational context).   
> ...

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