Arguably, the last thing a critical theory of culture ought to have anything to do with is electronic art. It is not popular. It is not cheap. It is not influential. No matter how much well meaning people talk about how new technologies can empower people, it is still mostly white Americans who have their finger on the trigger. Yet there is something critically useful about electronic art, even if it does not always recognise this itself. Electronic artists negotiate between the dead hand of traditional, institutionalised aesthetic discourses and the organic, emergent forms of social communication. Electronic art is an experimental laboratory, not so much for new technologies as for new social relations of communication. This is why electronic art matters to critical theories of culture, be they the Frankfurt school or, in my case, the Birmingham school of cultural studies.
The gulf war sparked off a long overdue examination of the impact of the globalisation of media vectors, and not before time, but the gulf war was hardly an unprecedented event of this type. Nor are many of the analyses that have been offered in conventional paradigms entirely convincing. This paper presents a summary of research on weird global media events of this type that I have undertaken since 1987. The gulf war, the fall of the Berlin wall, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the ‘Black Monday’ stock market crash are all examined as examples of a new type of singularity in media events. A theory of the kind of media space they operate in and its effects is advanced, building on Paul. Virilio’s concept of the vector. The concept of ‘global village’ is refuted, as are some of the entirely pessimistic responses, particularly in the US, to the gulf war. Concepts introduced in my TISEA catalogue essay, such as ‘third nature’ and ‘telesthesia’ are further explored in relation to spin-out transnational media events.
McKenzie Wark, Macquarie University, Australia