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Re: <nettime> art (under attack) - under attack (art)
David Teh on Sun, 6 Jan 2002 19:02:47 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> art (under attack) - under attack (art)

thanks to newsmad for this thought-provoking description.

i'd like to offer a few comments about this work, with the obvious disclaimer 
that i've not been to Milan to see it (is there an online version?...) so my 
remarks rely upon your post.

> What happens if  the observer becomes the protagonist?
> What happens if the observerís behaviour determines the action?
> What happens if the action is a terror attack?
> And if the terror attack displayed and enacted by the observer really 
occurred, and we all witnessed it, and all of us obsessively assisted to its 
looped video documentation?

i cannot imagine a more relevant or more pressing set of questions to pose to 
the worldwide audiences than this. it now makes more sense to me why one of my 
earliest, visceral responses to S11 was to claim responsibility for it - for me 
this meant acknowledging that it was not an act of 'madness', that there were 
reasons for it, and that we all (australians that is, but i would guess most 
nettimers too) are implicated by those reasons. it still seems an inescapable 
conclusion that the grievances of the West's 'others' - many grievances of 
many 'others' - some murderous, and many peace-loving, found very eloquent 
expression in this shocking crime. 

as one who shares in the prosperity that was scorned, in the stability that was 
shattered, and in the system that was hacked, i cannot overlook my complicity 
in the rank inequality from which this hatred sprang.

i will not try to divine here what this act was communicating, but it was 
surely communicating something, which is why it was at first so uncomfortably 
received into the normal, vacuous bit-flow of the global media networks - even 
putting a momentary halt to ad-revenues. this cost was ably absorbed of course; 
terrorism's really rather good for ratings. if only humanitarian disasters had 
more shiny surfaces, night-vision sights and explosions.

it's encouraging indeed to see (read of) an artwork that makes so succinctly a 
metaphor of this production-consumption feedback loop. the 
perceived  'passivity' of televisuality is misleading insofar as it expels 
every drop of agency from the process, thereby entrenching more deeply the 
mindless conviction that the media simply 'covers' things, that is, things that 
were already there in the first place.

[aside: it's interesting in the immediate present that the Western networks 
(CNN, BBC, NBC ...) have persisted in 'covering' the Australian bushfires, a 
more or less routine event, but a telegenic one which nonetheless was 
certainly 'already there', a matter so self-evidently 'beyond our control', and 
i wonder what that's prescribed to do for the global viewer-mentality, 
juxtaposed as it is with our brave coalition fighting fires of another sort in 
the Hot-beds of World Terror.]

ok. so what if We make the Media which makes the Event (happen)? does it really 
mean we're the 'engine' of the footage? might this be a way for us to begin 
taking responsibility for the terror, to de-gear the mythology of US-and-Them?

i think the implications are rather too subtle for this. for a start it's too 
easy to elide the agency of the perpetrators who gave us these questions in the 
first place. of the deluge of information and analysis kicked up by S11, 
surprisingly little has been concerned with the nature of the crime as a media-
intervention, of which it was a most brilliant example. the frenzy of semio-
philic talk that was bound to flow from an attack on such conspicuous targets 
tends to over-simplify the discourse of antagonism we are supposedly listening 
to. the media itself was both weapon AND target. it's an old tactic - the 
besuited swindler hurrying out of court strikes out at the camera or camera-
person. attacks on the media have always made good viewing. and it was the 
peculiar sovereignty of the corporate media that was (albeit too fleetingly) 
the first casualty here.

[the media CAN BE a target because it thinks that (somehow) it represents us; 
and it IS a target because we still think that (somehow) it does.]

from this perspective, the video-work in Milan both passes and fails - it is an 
attack On media In media, in that it uses the medial visuality to criticise 
that media intelligently; but it would be a *real* success if it took place ON 
the global media networks (on the net) or better still, on CNN.com itself, as a 
piece of electronic disturbance theatre. artists and other media-active people 
can learn a lot from the terrorists.

* * *

then we might turn to our (viewer) agency - the fate of the imagery in the 
hands of the channel-changers, once the media has figured out how to mediate 
the imagery that came to it so uncanny, so un-stage-manageable.

the first thing to note here is that the footage immediately becomes a sign for 
other 'news' which doesn't necessarily have anything to do with it (this 
happened within hours of impact) - like a war in South Asia. DeLillo on the 
Texas Highway Killer (in Underworld) is instructive here. this is so it can 
start to be eviscerated to the status of the mere file, and thereby become 
useful, usable and eventually interchangeable.

the imagery then has to be subjected to the usual content controls, in this 
case as the IP of the Pentagon, to be deployed strategically in a fashion that 
speaks of order and ownership... by this stage, all hope of a globally shared 
sense of responsibility is lost...

i'll spare you my usual pseudo-French media critique to end with a few notes 
about the art-work:

> Nor is the observer freed from the interaction
> if he halts, as standing still for a couple of seconds
> produces a shift to another (randomly chosen) video.
> That is: whatever the observer does, heís involved. 

what a fantastic parable of powerlessness in this era of neo-Manichaean 
idiocy!  you're damn'd if you do and damn'd if you don't in Dubya's Manual for 
the New World Order. 

this reminds me of 'duopoly as a perfection of monopoly' (Baudrillard), the End 
Game (or cigarette) after the coming of Saint Competition. another little piece 
of screen art springs to mind here - made by the crew from TheChaser < 
http://www.chaser.com.au/splash.asp > and aired (astoundingly) on Australian 
public TV in their coverage of the Federal election late last year. A screen 
graphic showed a Two-Party-Preferred bar graph (duopoly.gov.au accounts for 
about 90% of the vote anyway), the (conservative) Liberal party neck-and-neck 
with the (conservative) Labour party. Suddenly, a jet-plane icon enters stage-
right and smashes into the Labour party's 'tower', bringing it crashing to zero.
if duopoly seems a stable form, it's due not to a heterogeneity, but to a 
homogeneity, implicit in that form. self-regulated competition begets dualities 
that can collapse in an instant.

> This work is primarily  meant for non Americans, I suppose.  

i don't agree. let's get it online so american nettimers can circulate it!

> It questions the illusion of distance and security
> that television/video screens usually evoke, the
> relationship between game or fiction and reality:  you
> can move the airplanes back, you might act like in a
> videogame, but you know very well thatís no game at
> all...

or perhaps it IS an interactive video-game. that's the point, isn't it? by the 
time they catch Osama Bin-Laden we might be able to take part from the comfort 
of our living-rooms, moving our own little green targets around the screen . . .

> the videos have been retouched: you recognise them, but their colours
> differ from the original ones). 

unnecessary IMHO.

thanks again for letting us know about this important piece of work.

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