Between and Beyond

Between and Beyond

Open! COOP Academy 

Jorinde Seijdel

June 1, 2016editorial,

Giulia Crispiani, 0001. – Image by Federico Antonini

By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. This cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics.
—Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto, 1983

For posthuman theory, the subject is a transversal entity, fully immersed in and immanent to a network of non-human (animal, vegetable, viral) relations. The zoe-centred embodied subject is shot through with relational linkages of the contaminating / viral kind which inter-connect it to a variety of others, starting from the environmental or eco-others and include the technological apparatus.
—Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, 2013

Between and Beyond, a series of artists’ publications, is the result of the 2015–2016 Open! COOP Academy Publishing Class at the Dutch Art Institute (DAI) MA Art Praxis based in Arnhem, the Netherlands, but international in its scope and assembly. As a partner of DAI Open! conducts thematical research and publishing projects on an annual basis, with a class of first- and second-year MA students using the Open! digital platform as the overarching discursive framework and site for presentation. You can find the results of last year's Publishing Class here.

The theme for this year’s Publishing Class was the ‘posthuman.’ The concept originated in the fields of science-fiction, contemporary art, feminism, queer theory and poststructuralist philosophies and literally means a person or entity that exists in a state beyond being human. Often reverting to Donna Haraway’s seminal essay A Cyborg Manifesto,1 first published in 1983, critical discourses around posthumanism seek to reconceive the notion of the liberal humanist and anthropocentric subject that has been dominant in Western culture since the Enlightenment. In questioning the central position of the human, critical posthumanism also involves the issue of the animal other, the inhuman, neo-materialism and the anthropocene. It is engaged in rethinking modernist dualisms between nature and culture, matter and mind, man and woman, man and machine, the human and the inhuman. If ‘Man’ is not the measure of all things, what should our frame of reference be, and what else than human are we becoming?

Posthumanism is also concerned with technologized and virtual bodies in the digital age, but should not be confused here with transhumanism, which regards man and technology as able to solve the world’s problems and aims at producing a supra human being. The critical notion of posthumanism we are interested in is much more about empowerment, rethinking and resilience within the current entanglements of technology, culture and nature.

In a series of seminars with guest tutors and the Open! editorial team, and with several face-to-face meetings, Open! COOP Academy Publishing Class has been exploring and discussing critical posthumanism – its ethics, politics and aesthetics. We read texts by Donna Haraway, Rosi Braidotti, Vilém Flusser, Baruch Spinoza and Jacques Lacan among others and worked on two publishing assignments. Each student-participant contributed to the printed group publication Between and Beyond – A Posthuman Bestiary. This compendium of ‘beasts’ provides physical and allegorical descriptions and illustrations of real or imaginary posthuman animals along with interpretations of the philosophical and political significance each animal embodies. Between and Beyond – A Posthuman Bestiary considers and represents new relationships and entanglements, questions old hierarchies, crosses boundaries and introduces new subjectivities and narratives.

Alongside the bestiary the student-participants developed (image) essays related to the main subject matter, but grounded in their individual interests and ways of working. This has resulted in a rich and heterogenous body of texts in which aspects of the posthuman appear without assigning it a fixed identity. The contributions of Giulia Crispiani, Malcolm Kratz and Miguel Ángel Rego Robles are concerned with the philosophical implications of human entanglement with developing technologies. Sebastian De Line, Despina Sevasti, Wayne Wang Lie Jim, Florencia Almirón and Zhenia Vasiliev are focused on the need to decentre the male and anthropocentric perspective in the social and political realm, while Valentina Curandi, Maike Hemmers and Mirjam Linschooten depart from the material entanglement of bodies, things and institutions to dislodge prevalent Cartesian dualisms. These contributions will be published on Open! in the coming months, together with a curatorial-editorial extension by Sonia Kazovsky, who provides an extra discursive layer by linking the texts to each other and to existing texts on the Open! platform.

Tutors and guest tutors: Kayla Anderson, Janine Armin, Rick Dolphijn, Florian Göttke, Mohammad Salemy, Niels Schrader, Jorinde Seijdel, Etienne Turpin

Contributions

1. Donna Haraway, 'A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,' in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), 149–181.

Jorinde Seijdel is an independent writer, editor and lecturer on subjects concerning art and media in our changing society and the public sphere. She is editor-in-chief of Open! Platform for Art, Culture & the Public Domain (formerly known as Open. Cahier on Art & the Public Domain). In 2010 she published De waarde van de amateur [The Value of the Amateur] (Fonds BKVB, Amsterdam), about the rise of the amateur in digital culture and the notion of amateurism in contemporary art and culture. Currently, she is theory mentor at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and head of the Studium Generale Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. With Open! she is a partner of the Dutch Art Institute MA Art Praxis in Arnhem.

Team: Course leader Jorinde Seijdel; Associate PhD researcher and co-tutor Florian Göttke; Editor Janine Armin; Design Niels Schrader
did you feel it?
‘did you feel it?’
Image: Foundland, quote taken from ‘Softward Takes Command’, Lev Manovich, 2013

As a partner of the Dutch Art Institute (DAI), Open! undertook a research and design project with an international group of first- and second-year Master of Fine Arts students in the academic year 2014–2015 on the functioning of ‘affect’ in the digital network-and-image culture. Open! considers this subject important because – within the scope of a better comprehension of the workings of mediatization and digitization processes for the public sphere, one of its editorial leitmotifs – an understanding of affect can help us gain greater insight into how the digital environments in which we increasingly find ourselves affect us and influence our actions in the personal, social and political senses. The influential essay ‘The Autonomy of Affect’ (1995) by Canadian philosopher Brian Massumi was the starting point for our investigations. Referring to Baruch Spinoza and Gilles Deleuze / Félix Guattari, Massumi construes affect as “a pre-personal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body’s capacity to act.” Affect therefore has to do with a sphere of experience which falls outside the dominant paradigms of representation and with unconscious processes which underlie our behaviour and influence our attitudes towards the world around us.

In a series of seminars with guest tutors that included Brian Massumi1, we asked: How is affect being produced and transmitted in today’s digital environments? What sort of role does it play in the networked society in terms of the formation of subjectivity? What about the aesthetics and politics of affect? Can affect be defined as a critical departure point for curatorial and artistic practices? If anything subsequently became clear to us, it was that affect is a complex and hard-to-grasp notion that does not easily lend itself to being used as a theoretical, artistic or activist tool. In itself, the concept is neither good nor bad in the ethical or aesthetical sense, and different disciplines – the neurosciences, social sciences, art-and-media theory – approach and apply it differently, although ‘The Autonomy of Affect’ is a recurring reference point.

In his generous seminar, which included a closed masterclass as well as a public lecture, Massumi emphasized again that affect always is a movement from one experiential state of the body to another, that it is relational by nature and that it always concerns ‘to affect and being affected’. Precisely because it is about movement and therefore about change and becoming, affect has a political dimension: affect can govern a transition. “Politics, approached affectively, is an art of emitting the interruptive signs, triggering the cues, that attune bodies while activating their capacities differentially,” according to Massumi.2 Politics can instigate certain affective fields, and for instance create an atmosphere of fear, such as George Bush did after 9 / 11. Against this, Massumi sets the possibility of ‘affective alter-politics’, which he considers dissensual “in the sense that it holds contrasting alternatives together without immediately demanding that one alternative eventuate and the others evaporate. It makes thought-felt different capacities for existence, different life potentials, different forms of life, without immediately imposing either a choice – or a compromise – between them.”3

Initially, the main emphasis of our investigations was on examining how public images (the course at DAI was called ‘Affective Images: How Public Images Produce Affect in a Digital Age’) play a role in affective conversion processes. We understood ‘public images’ to be mediated images that are engaged in public political discourses. These could include amateur images as well as news images and artistic images – ranging from photos of Abu Ghraib to the ISIS videos or images of public art works. We focused on how these images conceal ideological layers and produce affect.

Gradually, however, we also became interested in technological or digital interfaces and their affect. Realizing that we are continually in and around the media in our daily lives and that we have developed a symbiotic relationship with technology, we focused on the interface, that ubiquitous and largely hidden layer between human and machine that permanently shapes our view of the material, the social, the political and the technological. “The moment of impact is like an interface to affect and being affected,” according to Massumi at the DAI seminar. What interested us philosophically about the interface was the Massumian ‘threshold’: “When you affect something, you are opening yourself up to being affected in turn, and in a slightly different way than you might have been the moment before. You have made a transition, however slight. You have stepped over a threshold. Affect is this passing of a threshold, seen from the point of view of the change in capacity.” In terms of media theory, we took inspiration from Alexander Galloway’s The Interface Effect, in which he describes the interface as “an autonomous zone of aesthetic activity, guided by its own logic and its own ends”.4

The insights and questions which arose after taking the course led to the organization of ‘did you feel it?’ A Symposium on Digital Interfaces and Their Affect, which will take place in the Designhuis in Eindhoven on 16 September 2015.  ‘did you feel it?’ deals with the concern of how affect manifests through technology, by focussing attention on the idea of the interface as a relational space that creates and mediates the affective forces that influence our social, political and artistic encounters. How do interfaces shape, transform and transmit affect? In what ways does the experiencing of affect, mediated through an interface, work upon our daily lives? And how can we as artists, theorists, activists, designers and ‘users’ engage in the zone of aesthetic activity that the interface opens? This symposium is entirely curated by the DAI students.5 The keynote speakers / performers are the theorists Mercedes Bunz, Mark Fisher and Nishant Shah and the artists Veridiana Zurita, Benedict Drew and Erica Scourti.

As part of the course, the students also worked on individual contributions about image, interface and affect that in the coming period will be published on Open! in batches. These (visual) essays reflect the students’ different artistic and critical practices and therefore are very diverse in terms of form, content and approach. Together however, and in relation to each other, they provide provocative insights and questions concerning the subject matter.

Open! is also publishing a review on Brian Massumi's Politics of Affect by Eric Kluitenberg. Besides, in November 2015 Open! will publish a new interview by Willem van Weelden with Massumi and the video recording of the lecture the latter gave at DAI in Arnhem on 18 June, Virtual Ecology and the Question of Value.

Between and Beyond
Cloud_0001
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