[ISEA2011] Panel: Una Chung – Cap­ture, Mea­sure, Rhythm: In­vent­ing new re­la­tions of aes­thet­ics and pol­i­tics in the elec­tronic arts

Panel Statement

Panel: Slowness: Responding to Acceleration through Electronic Arts

Global cap­i­tal­ism has been de­scribed as it­self an art of ac­cel­er­a­tion, and war today is fought less across spa­tial bor­ders than through the as­sy­met­ri­cal re­la­tions of vari­able speeds. In­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies and mo­bile de­vices en­able cor­po­ra­tions to ac­cel­er­ate pro­duc­tion by ex­tract­ing small pack­ets of at­ten­tion and cog­ni­tive labor; par­tic­i­pa­tory cul­ture has not merely been cel­e­brated as de­mo­c­ra­tic but also an­a­lyzed as a cap­i­tal­ist in­ven­tion for more flex­i­ble ex­trac­tion of value. The re­sults are so­cial spaces over­whelmed by in­for­ma­tion and stim­u­la­tion, and mass phe­nom­ena of sen­sory and cog­ni­tive ex­haus­tion and even vi­o­lent psy­chopatholo­gies. It is in­dis­putable that the ques­tion of slow­ness raises ethico-po­lit­i­cal is­sues at the heart of our sit­u­a­tion today. If art has tra­di­tion­ally pro­vided a space of re­flec­tion for think­ing through our col­lec­tive prob­lems as well as to en­counter in­spi­ra­tions for new ways of liv­ing by way of aes­thetic me­di­a­tions, then it seems that elec­tronic art might more im­me­di­ately en­gage the so­cial con­text through di­rect han­dling of the aes­thet­ics of time. Rather than pro­duce rep­re­sen­ta­tions for con­tem­pla­tion, elec­tronic art has the ca­pac­ity to ren­der new knowl­edge and to cul­ti­vate new ca­pac­i­ties for en­gag­ing the sit­u­a­tion of speed and ac­cel­er­a­tion. Slow­ness is a po­tent trope not only hear­ken­ing back to the value of con­tem­pla­tion but join­ing our view­ing of art with the ur­gent need to de­velop skill­ful nav­i­ga­tion of modal­i­ties of cap­ture, mea­sure, and rhythm. These are at once aes­thetic and po­lit­i­cal—the means by which we are caught up in the ac­cel­er­a­tions of global cap­i­tal and also the means by which we might at­tain a sus­tain­able rhythm of ac­tive en­gage­ment with our world. I en­vi­sion not a utopian de­sire for tab­ula rasa, a slow­ing down to zero-point, but rather a prac­ti­cal, em­bod­ied slow­ness that might allow us to learn to move within this world with­out vi­o­lent panic. Elec­tronic art, I pro­pose, has the power to in­vent and teach us new prac­tices of liv­ing in the tech­no­log­i­cal speed of the pre­sent. Cor­re­spond­ingly there may be a use­ful­ness of elec­tronic art crit­i­cism in ar­tic­u­lat­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of these aes­thetic prac­tices, which need to be un­der­stood dif­fer­ently from from the ways in which the tra­di­tional arts have taught us to look and think about art. In this pre­sen­ta­tion, I pro­pose to dis­cuss a se­lec­tion of elec­tronic art—specif­i­cally in­no­v­a­tive uses of video, al­go­rith­mic de­sign, and ges­tural in­ter­faces—in order to ex­plore how elec­tronic artists cre­ate spaces for the gath­er­ing and hold­ing of at­ten­tion, new ways of tak­ing mea­sure of our lives, and un­der­stand­ing the em­bod­ied rhythms of en­gag­ing elec­tronic art. Cap­ture, mea­sure, and rhythm are terms I use to mark the am­bigu­ous po­ten­tial­ity of what elec­tronic art makes per­cep­ti­ble and open to in­di­vid­ual mod­u­la­tion. Slow­ness is often ex­plored by artists through slow-mo­tion (often in con­nec­tion with close-up), time-lapse, in­stal­la­tion or video of slowly mov­ing ob­jects or ob­jects of vari­able vis­cos­ity; ad­di­tion­ally the use of al­go­rithims to bring vis­i­ble mi­cro- or macro- move­ments (evo­lu­tion, nano) into the human range of mean­ing­fully per­cep­ti­ble speeds. Many artis­tic at­tempts to use such strate­gies for ex­plor­ing the trope of slow­ness tend to­ward a cer­tain de­pen­dency on the modal­ity of cap­ture. Sim­i­larly, crit­i­cal dis­cus­sion of spec­ta­tor­ship also tends to draw on modes of cap­ture. For ex­am­ple, par­tic­i­pa­tion and in­ter­ac­tiv­ity em­pha­size ges­tures in re­la­tion to bod­ily move­ments tracked by sen­sors and we­b­cams, or se­man­tic and cog­ni­tive processes linked to rec­og­niz­ing pat­terns or ex­press­ing one’s will to choose, click, act. How­ever, I would argue that the modal­i­ties of cap­ture can­not ac­tu­ally give us slow­ness. Slow­ness can­not be achieved by re­vers­ing or re­duc­ing the speed of ac­cel­er­a­tion. Slow­ness is given dif­fer­ently. I will at­tempt to ar­tic­u­late these al­ter­na­tive po­ten­tial­i­ties of elec­tronic art.

  • Una Chung is As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor in Global Stud­ies at Sarah Lawrence Col­lege (NY, US). She writes on new media art and de­sign, con­tem­po­rary film, and lit­er­a­ture, within a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work em­pha­siz­ing ma­te­ri­al­ist philoso­phies, sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy stud­ies, post­colo­nial the­ory, fem­i­nist and queer the­ory. Re­cent ar­ti­cles in­clude “See­ing Spec­tral Agen­cies? An Analy­sis of Lin+Lam and Uniden­ti­fied Viet­nam” in Be­yond Biopol­i­tics: Es­says on the Gov­er­nance of Life and Death (Duke 2011); and “World­ing of Af­fect: Avatar and Beast” forth­com­ing in the Viral Issue of WSQ. She is cur­rently work­ing on a book pro­ject, ti­tled Hand­book for the Art of Power (Crit­i­cal Stud­ies in Gen­der, Sex­u­al­ity, Cul­ture, Pal­grave Macmil­lan, forth­com­ing), that at­tempts to ar­tic­u­late a new dis­course on art and pol­i­tics, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to elec­tronic art. This book traces the ge­neal­ogy of thought on the re­la­tion­ship of aes­thet­ics and pol­i­tics through Marx­ist crit­i­cism, Frank­furt School, post­colo­nial dis­course, and fem­i­nist and queer the­ory. The book ex­plores how tropes of sci­ence fic­tion, racial­ized bod­ies, and ab­stract sex might be brought to­gether in in­no­v­a­tive and gen­er­a­tive ways with the grow­ing lit­er­a­ture on new media, dig­i­tal art, cy­ber­net­ics, and cy­ber­space. Shift­ing away from an em­pha­sis on phe­nom­e­nol­ogy and ap­pa­ra­tus the­ory, Hand­book for the Art of Power charts a dif­fer­ent path through the think­ing about aes­thet­ics, ethics, and af­fect in the work of Baruch Spin­oza and Gilles Deleuze, on the one hand, and in Taoist and Bud­dhist philoso­phies on the other.