DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2019.03 | Issue 1 | March 2019
Author: Charlie Tweed, Bath Spa University
In this statement I consider the single screen video work Oporavak (2016), a work that has been shown in galleries, film festivals and media art biennales. The video is part of an ongoing research project called Fiction Machines where I interrogate how fictional methods can be used to produce works that propose new forms of machine that are able to escape, subvert and re-write contemporary control technologies, their content and modulation mechanisms. I begin by providing the theoretical context for Oporavak, highlighting the new forms of virtualised and biopolitical control that are enabled by networked computational writing machines powered by informatics and affective modulations. I then look at the fictional methods deployed in the production of the work including the speculative recycling of appropriated material and the deployment of the video as a form of subversive re-writing machine that both enhances and destabilises control mechanics. Finally, I consider how the video uses affective tactics to perform on, and manipulate, the expectations of the audience and their own conscious/unconscious control desires.
Oporavak (2016) is a single screen video work that was developed as part of an ongoing research project called Fiction Machines. In the project, I consider how I can develop new practical methods, within the field of media art, that expose and reformat the mechanics of contemporary control technologies. Secondly, I consider how fiction and re-appropriation can be used as a method to adapt source material and techniques such as data recovery, drawn from the operations of these technologies. Thirdly, I explore how the works themselves can become forms of self-reflexive machine, performing affective control on the viewer, whilst also exposing their artifice.
Theoretical focus was drawn from an interrogation of the new forms of machinic control that are enabled by networked digital technologies. Brian Holmes’s concept of the ‘electronic noosphere’ was a primary focus, he defines this noosphere as an additional sphere surrounding the earth’s biosphere made up of electromagnetic waves that are moving around us, tracking us, recording and responding to our actions (Holmes 2009). As Holmes notes:
a desiring mind seeks infinity and finds it today in a proliferation of signals: electromagnetic waves beaming down from the skies, fibre-optic cables emerging from the seas, copper wires woven across the continents. The earthly envelope of land, air and ocean – the realm of organic life, or biosphere – is doubled by a second skin of electronically mediated thought: the noosphere. It’s a vast, pulsating machine: a coded universe grown complex beyond our grasp yet connected at every pulse to the microscopic mesh of nerve cells in our flesh (Holmes, 2009).
Holmes says that the technologies of the electronic noosphere enable the operations of a contemporary form of overcoding to be realised. Deleuze and Guattari define overcoding as a way for organising and coding life that is enabled by computing technologies, the use of models, simulations of dynamic systems and the creation of dynamic environments (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988: 41). This enables new forms of virtualised and biopolitical control to take place via a series of networked computational writing machines that are powered by informatics and affective transmissions. Manuel DeLanda coined the term ‘panspectrocism’ to describe the new type of machinic observation that is enabled by a multitude of analytical algorithms linked to databases and networks (DeLanda, 1991: 280).
Expanding on this, contemporary cloud technologies encourage their users to store all of their data on a virtual ‘cloud’ server, thus pushing the possibilities of panspectric observation further. In Cloud Time (2012), Rob Coley and Dean Lockwood argue that the development of the cloud constitutes capital’s best effort at the interception of the future and that fused with the technologies of panspectrocism, it allows for capital’s strategy of harnessing digitality in order to breach the ‘not-yet’ to be realised (Coley and Lockwood, 2012: 9).
This assemblage is enhanced with the development of ubiquitous technologies, allowing them to move beyond the standard black-boxed computing machine to become much more invisible and integrated within the earth’s planetary skin. As Jennifer Gabrys notes via Guattari, this has resulted in a ‘polyphony of machine voices’ along with human voices, with databanks and artificial intelligence, and this complex assemblage of human and non-human voices then emerge within the operations of the electronic noosphere (Gabrys, 2016).
This notion of the electronic noosphere, whilst itself possessing deep science fictional qualities, is also the enabler and modulator of fictions; it is the space where fiction and reality become blurred, where machine and human voice are increasingly difficult to distinguish.
Within these conditions, I wanted to harness the fictional methods used within my practice (including documentary fiction and persona) to develop Oporavak as a video transmission that operates as an alternative form of critical and subversive machine. I wanted to develop a work that exposes its underlying construction, whilst also proposing future forms of control that enhance and destabilise control mechanisms in equal measures.
In this context Boris Groys has described the kind of art that can be made within the conditions of biopolitics. He states that art cannot help but take this artificial construction of life as its explicit theme and look towards new forms of fictional documentation and re-inscription as a mode of operation (Groys, 2004). Simon O’Sullivan also notes that fiction can be used not as a matter of ‘make believe’ but rather in a Ranciere sense of forging the real to better approximate historical and contemporary experience (O’Sullivan, 2017: 6). This fictional strategy also has a clear history within art practice and can be seen in the documentary fictions of Chris Marker in his films such as La Jetee (1962), in which a post-apocalyptic Paris is described in the aftermath of a third World War to comment on political conditions at the time.
Secondly, I used re-appropriation as a method for the reshaping and re-contextualisation of existing material (text, still, moving image, theoretical material, and sound) in order to create a transmission that functions as a form of speculative re-inscription machine, whilst enlisting affective tactics in its use of image and sound in order to manipulate the expectations of the audience.
Also, in the use of moving image material, I drew on the writing of Hito Steyerl regarding the value of the poor image as a mode of resistance. In this context, I wanted to explore the potential of non HD images that are intentionally pixelated, re-filmed and effected. In her essay A Thing Like You and Me, Steyerl calls for us to ‘tap into the power of the bruise and the glitch, in order to participate in the forces that compel contemporary digital capitalism’ (Steyerl, 2010).
In the deployment of my own form of transmission machine, I am also making reference to the work of Benjamin Bratton where he emphasises the need for more imaginative types of machine: ‘Our shared design project will require both different relationships to machines (carbon-based machines and otherwise) and a more promiscuous figurative imagination’ (Bratton, 2015: 283). Guattari also highlights the requirement for re-wiring information technologies for more subversive uses:
‘a reorganization of the mass-media power that crushes contemporary subjectivity and a shift toward a postmedia era, consisting in the individual and collective appropriation and interactive use of the machines of information, communication, intelligence, art and culture’ (Guattari, 1990).
Analysis of Oporavak
Oporavak proposes a methodology for what it calls ‘information recovery’ and the solving of ‘integrity problems’. The work is part alternative software training video and part the voice of a subversive hybrid machine. It takes the intent of information recovery into a new context with its apparent ability to manipulate all sorts of digital and non-digital materials via its sentient interface and performative actions, which can apparently operate at ‘molecular level’. In this way, Oporavak enacts and proposes a new form of totalising control that enhances the operations of Holmes’s electronic noosphere.
The video utilises an anonymous digital voice which functions as an unreliable narrator, and acts to draw the viewer in, whilst also raising their awareness of the affective content and remixing tools that are constantly used to manipulate their senses. For example, in one scene a video effect being used on an image of a lake is exposed ‘Add blue hue 10%’ it says. As the text appears on screen the effect becomes operational on the clip of the lake whose hue is adjusted.
The video goes on to highlight ‘integrity problems’ and how they are ‘being solved’, in this context various clips of CGI animals including gorillas and tigers are shown on screen and inserted into new situations. These images have been extracted from 3D software training applications and re-contextualised here to suggest that the machine behind this transmission is capable of improving, manipulating, and intervening in all sorts of digital and physical ‘material’. For example, a CGI gorilla is inserted into a crowd at a shopping arcade and we see an apparently human hand emerging from a 3D printer. The work suggests that its software is capable of adjusting realities in ‘real time’ and in this sense, the line between the real and the fictional, the digital and the organic and the lost and the recovered, seems to be actively blurred by its operations.
Later on the video alludes to an alternative form of gaming mechanic when it discusses how ‘recovery can be performed without expertise’ as a form of ‘exercise or therapy’, requiring no special ‘physical equipment’ or ‘access to platters’.
With the juxtaposition of re-appropriated images and the use of the calming narrator’s voice, the somewhat nonsensical voiceover begins to make sense when it notes that ‘there may still be damage at local level’ we see some footage of a snow covered woodland which becomes distorted by a video effect until all we can see is a singular matte colour. In this way, the moving image element of the work is never stable; it consists of poor images, which are constantly being effected or re-modulated by the algorithms that apparently control and produce them, a seemingly circular process, in a constant state of interference and flux.
The final section of the video looks towards a ‘sensing mechanism’ that has the functionality to manipulate and alter any type of visual material at its source. In this section, we hear a human voice calmly speaking, ‘close your eyes, take a deep breath in, and relax’, the voice, re-appropriated from hypnotherapy tapes, is connected to coloured vertical lines that rotate and vibrate ‘let your mind drift, drift with the gentle music’, it says. In this final section the video apparently changes its tactics, moving from selling its recovery and control solutions to the audience, to manipulating their subconscious using sensing and speaking therapies.
As a result, Oporavak operates as a form of interference machine, a hybrid transmission from a parallel position, one that enhances, exposes and destabilises control mechanics with its nonsensical/sensical plans and actions. In this way, the work over-identifies with the concept of panspectrocism so that it is enhanced and re-proposed as a totalising automated and ubiquitous mechanism; the affective mechanics of image and voice modulation are harnessed and the viewer’s own understanding and relation with contemporary control technologies is distorted. Thus Oporavak acts to create a fracture within the conditions of the present and the operations of standardised transmission machines and feedback loops, utilising the methods of re-appropriation and re-contextualisation in order to re-write our relationship with machines and to play back a future vision of our conscious and unconscious control desires.
Oporavak has been widely shown in a number of different contexts, this includes media art biennales, exhibitions, film festivals, and conferences. In 2016, it was presented at the international conference Cold Bodies, Warm Machines, Dusseldorf (2016) and also at the NeON Digital Arts Festival, Dundee. In 2017, it was selected for the WRO Media Art Biennale in Poland and it was exhibited at Stanley Picker Gallery, London as part of my solo show Soon we will become output.
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