David Garcia on Mon, 23 Feb 1998 23:42:43 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Old and New

An essay version of a talk on tactical media for the Interstanding
conferrence in Tallin. For the Soros Foundation.

                                  Old and New Dreams forTactical Media

Prehistory Our cultural and political life is framed in the symbols and
grammar of the electronic media and these are still overwhelmingly
dominated by television. No mainstream political or cultural player can
afford to ignore television's seductive power, in fact the media itself in
the form of journalists, editors, TV inquisitors and spin doctors
collectively make up a separate and unelected branch of the political life
of liberal democracies. 

>From its beginnings as a *mass* broadcast medium, television
understandably, constructed its audience accordingly, as *The Masses*. The
notion of mass culture, arising from mass society, was a direct expression
of a media system controlled either by the state or large corporations.
Although artists and activists from the early part of the century had
consistently challenged the notion of the audience as passive and
homogenous, it was not until the 80's that the mainstream media (along
with everything else in the capitalist economies) was forced to re
configure along more flexible and customized lines. It was during this
period, in the 80's when a revolution in consumer electronics combined
with the regulatory uncertainty in the media landscape to sporn the
incredible variety of achievements in the field of art, civic
communications and electronic dissidence that we call Tactical Media. 

Intermediate Technologies There is a tendency to blur into a single step
the journey from the period of mass broadcast media described above to our
own era of hypermedia and the internet.  In fact Tactical Media emerged
from a vital bridging period during the eighties, when a whole range of
intermediate technologies allowed for ways of interacting with the media
which were far less passive than pundits and media theorists, (including
Mcluhan) had ever envisaged. The TV zapper, the walkman, the VCR, the
video rental industry, the greater range of channels through cable and
later home satellite receivers and above all the camcorder, arrived on the
scene within a few years of one another. This revolution in consumer
electronics for the first time allowed audiences to create their own
individually customized media environments exploding once and for all the
dominance of broadcast media as the centralized source of societies
representations. With the camcorder came an "additional modification to
the one way flow of images and further developed the process of
integrating our individual life experience to life on screen". This was
the situation which made tactical media possible. And the fact that these
technologies were everyday household appliances, freed artists and media
activists from the classic rituals of the underground and alternative
scene. Whilst at the other end of the spectrum "big media" whether MTV
graphics or BBC's Video Diaries were incorporating techniques and ideas
that for years had been the exclusive province of the avant garde. This
was why we introduced the term tactical media, because the old dialectical
terminologys of mainstream Vs underground or amateur Vs professional or
even private Vs public media no longer seemed to describe the situation we
were living through. 

During the 8o's groups as culturally and geographically diverse as The Gay
Men's Health Crisis in New York to Australian Aboriginel's satellite
telecastings, or Despite TV, London were proving that you could make
effective media interventions from outside of the established hierarchies
of power and knowledge. Re-emphasizing the role of transitional media is
not merely academic. Different parts of the world move at different
speeds. For members of a rural community in the developing world,
struggling to come to terms with the impact of television, picking up a
camcorder and making their own stories is still a way of taking power. Any
one who has seen the work of Sylvia Meijer who uses camcorders as a
consciousness raising tool with Colombian women in villages and in jails
can attest to the fact interactivity is not just a property of "new

Thriving on Chaos
The movement we call tactical media has been comprehensively explored in
two conferences held in Amsterdam, called The Next 5 Minutes. As we are in
the process of planning the third its important that like every generation
of modernists we to try to confront the paradoxes and ambiguities of our
position. It is an old difficulty in new disguises but we dare not avert
our eyes from the abyss even though as Nietzsche warned it might stare back!

Along with all other moderns, media tacticians have to face the fact that
not only can all their acts of subversion be co-opted by capital, but the
perpetual cycle of destruction and renewal which characterizes tactical
media, is itself an embodiment of the forces unleashed by capitalism.
Plenty has changed since our world was transformed by 19th century
industrialists, but the mutually dependent relationship between capital
and its malcontents remains much the same.  This is why even the most
corrosively nihilistic movements from Fluxus to Punk can be coopted so
easily. Capital is not threatened by chaos it thrives on it. The
difference between our age and others is the growing openness about the
fact. 19th century industrialists averted their eyes the from the
nihilistic logic of the forces they had unleashed, not only by creating a
veneer of respectability and permanence but also by instituting the
radical bourgeois public sphere. The civic and cultural institutions
including museums of art and academies of science. It is not enough for us
to go on subverting this public sphere, which has been the auto-pilot
response of generations of radicals. Modern capital, with its corporate
evenings and sponsorship deals is already doing that job effectively
enough.  For today's operators in the advanced service industries, from
insurance to advertising, every act of "ontological terror" is another
marketing opportunity. Years after it occurred, Hakim Bey is still
fulminating angrily at Pepsi calling one of their parties "a Temporary
Autonomous Zone". What did he expect? 

CHANGE IS GOOD, proclaims Wired Magazine's cover at the beginning of the
first 98 issue. Demonstrating once again how libertarian capitalism has
finally abandoned the strategy of previous generations of bourgeoisie to
identify themselves as the "party of Order". One of the clearest
illustrations of capital's new realism about its brotherhood with the
anarchic forces it once feared, is the highly profitable partnership
between the Damien Hurst generation of English artists and the advertising
mogul Charles Saatchi. In his boldest act so far Saatchi has even
succeeded in co-opting the Royal Academy (the very summum of stuffy
bourgeois institutions) to display, and advertise the "cool Britannia"
part of his large collection. And the more horror and shock waves the
exhibition creates the happier he is. 

Re-dreaming Public Space
The net is not averse to pretending to be a place. Especially when there is
money to be made. In the Web, domain names are the equivalent of real
estate and prime locations are already being hotly contested.. "Recently
the most expensive known domain name  -business.com- was sold for $150,000
to an undisclosed buyer by a London-based  banking software producer
Business Systems International". To give the flavor here is an extract from
an add published by InterActive Agency

Real Estate is a valuable commodity even on the internet here's your chance
to enjoy a penthouse view of cyberspace!"

It was Hannah Arendt in the 50's who asked of Marx ( but could have put
the same question to any modern, including libertarian capitalists) "if
the free development of each is the condition of the free development of
all, what is it that is going to hold these freely developing individuals
together?"  Perhaps Habbermas has come closest but still, no theorist of
the modern has yet been able to build an effective theory of political
community. We still have "no true public realm, but only private
activities displayed in the open". 

A Sense of Place
In Manuel Castells's Networked Society he describes a situation  in which
everything in our culture is re configuring around virtual flows. {flows of
information, flows of technology, flows of organizational interaction,
flows of images, sounds and symbols} Moreover these flows are not just one
element in the social organization, they are an expression of processes
dominating our economic, political and social life.

But PLACES do not disappear.

In the wider cultural and political economy the virtual world is inhabited
by a cosmopolitan elite. In fact put crudely elites are cosmopolitan and
people are local. "The space of power and wealth is projected throughout
the world, while people's life experience is rooted in places, in their
culture, in their history". If projects like the Next 5 Minutes or Nettime
place their faith in "a-historical virtual flows, superseding the logic of
any specific place, then the more our emphasis on global power will escape
the socio/political control of historically specific local/national
societies". We must create a more consciously dialectic relationship
between these two realms, which Castells calls the Space of Flows and the
Space of Place, because if they are allowed to diverge to widely, if
cultural and physical bridges are not built between these two spatial
logic's we may be heading (we may already be there) towards life in two
parallel universes "whose times cannot meet because they are warped into
different dimensions of hyperspace". One possible direction may lie in
reclaiming community memory re-imagining the public sphere through the
sybolic role of the public monument.No broad discussion about the public
domain can be separated from the physical embodiments of community memory
in the form of public monuments. "The model here is that of the city (the
polis) in classical antiquity, and the stress is the memorable action of
the citizen, as it publicly endures in narrative". The opposite of this is
the dream of the placeless utopia of the metropolitan elite visible in ads
such as the one currently being run by Peter Stuyvesent depicting
"swingers" letting their hair down, Club Med style, in unspecified
metropolitan nightspots. The byline proclaims; "THERE ARE NO BOARDERS'.
Another example is the Lufthansa inflight magazine which has a generous
selection of highly detailed maps, almost good enough to be a small atlas.
In the words of the Lufthansa magazine "the maps are designed to give a
rough outline of the earth's surface forms and vegetation zones".... It
then goes on to proclaim .. "The exclusion of all national boarders is

The need for an enduring sense of place with its own community memory was
powerfully brought home to me on my visit to Tallinn, for this conference.
In an artist's club, a young man told me about how a group of his friends
were involved in a project to take all the old Social realist statues from
the communist era and melt them down into one gigantic bronze
cube..Obliterate them..
As he was talking I remembered what had been done with similar works in
Hungary, where they have been arranged in a park in Budapest, made into
virtual history. Communism the "experience". The theme park.
I argued with him that communities like individuals shouldn't try to deny
their past. "We may not like it but its a fact". I said, "if he and his
friends conspired to bury the past, in the end, they'd regret it".
And he looked me straight in the eyes..and he said..."Don't try to
psychoanalyze us..you're an outsider..you don't understand..You don't even
begin to understand what its like to live and grow up under a foreign
tyrany..For you soviet stuff is a fashion..The Red Army quire, fur hats or
levis its all the same.." I apologized. I was put in my place. In secure
liberal democracies nationalism(a secure sense of our own *place*) is often
portrayed as an irrational vice but for him, the word nation was
interchangeable with word freedom.

Tactical Media like most modern movements has tended to privilege the
ephemeral, the moment. But "in opposing the monument to the moment we see
the monument not simply as a symbol of repression but also a repository of
knowledge and as memory. Reclaiming the monument means reclaiming depth in
time, dure=E9, its a way of getting back to work on memory."
Perhaps this sounds dangerously like the familiar siren calls of all those
classical revivals," to the natural order of things through appeals to
universal principals outside of space and time." But I'm thinking of very
concrete examples where public space and public monuments were appropriated
and re-invented in the way that Martin Luther King and the American Civil
Rights movement of the sixties went to the heart of white American
establishment when King made his famous speech from the Lincoln Memorial.

There is one image to which I keep returning; my private  resolution to the
apparent contradiction between the moment and monument. There is a black
and white photograph in which the facts are deceptively clear. At the
bottom of the image the photographer's clenched fist is turned to the
camera to look at his watch. It is daylight and we can see on the watch
that the time is around mid-day. Beyond the hand and the watch a boulevard
stretches out, leading to a square of what is obviously a major European
city. But it is as eerily empty as a de Chirico. Even on a Sunday this
would be strange. So we are presented with a mystery.
Those who are familiar with central European cities might recognize it as
Prague and as one of the main avenues leading to Wensclas Square. In fact
the photograph was taken by Joseph Koudoulka in 1968. A few days earlier
Breshnev's tanks had rolled in to crush Dubceques's experiment in
"socialism with a human face". Kadoulka had agreed to meet some fellow
citizens for a march on the square. For reasons we can all to easily
imagine they failed to keep the appointment. The failure is marked with
this photograph. His watch on a hand clenched in an angry fist, a visual
intersection of the picture and the boulevard. Two time lines cross; an
individual life and the sweep of history in the making. The photograph
seems to hold its breath. I can almost hear the sound of the shutter
recording and becoming both a moment and a monument.

David Garcia 98

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