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FAR FROM IMPACT – INTENTION

WARUM 2.0

FAR FROM IMPACT

Warum 2.0 is an installation arena, an installation of installations, where nothing is limited to what is, but is constantly doubled into something else, not according to the logic of ‘this or that’ (to be or not to be), neither of ‘if/then’ (the one thing results from the other), but of ‘this is as if it’ (the refusal of what is). It is a tragic space, in which no event can stand for real, in which nobody can merge with for longer than the time it takes to escape, in which words, sounds, things and images happen in a constant state of suspense.

In this environment, technological per se, Paul Virilio was invited with some of his warnings against ‘impact’, against the makers of it, against their techniques of ‘storytelling’ and against the very renewed possibility of ‘synchronizing affects’ on a massive, if not global scale.

What follows here, then, is a list of events that helped me through the crucial development phase of Warum 2.0 just before its first installment. And I was very anxious to see what kind of event would happen there, exactly in a situation far from impact, or at least just far enough to create a certain distance, to give hope, to allow visitors to take in positions realizing to what extent technology already had changed them, and ultimately testing new kinds of freedom.

FAR FROM IMPACT – EVENT 1

 

Brussels, October 2007, the Video Vortex international symposium part 1, organized by the Institute of Network Cultures, in collaboration with Argos Brussels. One of the speakers present was media artist Keith Sanborn.

At one point during his presentation I heard Sanborn describe an installation project he produced not long before in Antwerp, where, in one and the same room, he apparently showed a collection of very extreme video fragments, all equally loud and simultaneously visible on multiple screens of all sizes. It was clear: Sanborn definitely succeeded in creating impact there. The visitors, he said, could stay no longer in the installation environment for more than 5 minutes.

But then he said something very strange. He said he wanted to understand what the impact is of all these surrounding pictures. Then he said he wanted to understand their impact. And then, that he wanted to discover in this way, new ways of relating to the images again.

At first, these remarks made me think only about the notion of impact and its relevance to video making, television and more specifically to YouTube, the issue of the video vortex symposium. But then I started to think more about the phenomenon of ‘impact’. Whenever ‘impact’ happens, so I thought, the only thing one can do and does, is to run away from it, to look for shelter, if not to react to it, then responding to it with counter-impact, with more impact that is.

When one is confronted with impact – of a bomb, an explosion, a news bite, a shout (be it by an artist, a guru, a politician, it doesn’t matter by whom), an info bomb-, the only one thing one definitely cannot do, is, to start thinking about it, to reflect on it, to try to understand it, let alone to start searching for new ways of understanding, to discover new ways of expression. Neither can one start then a new kind of development, form an opinion, start up a new creation as a witness, as a pro-active visitor, definitely not as a maker. Impact excludes, annihilates creation. It only calls for reaction or even intensification and repetition of the same.

Only with a certain distance from impact, I started thinking, only ‘far from impact’ indeed, can one reflect, think, investigate and comment, as a person, as a user, as a maker.

FAR FROM IMPACT – EVENT 2

Amsterdam, January 2008, the Video Vortex international symposium part 2, organized by the Institute of Network Cultures, in collaboration the Netherlands Media Arts Institute. On this occasion, I was invited not only to be part of the public, but to give a short presentation as well. I had titled it ‘Impactology’. It thought it would be fun to announce and propose this new science on this unique location and to the fine assembly of people present.

 

In fact, more than announcing I didn’t do then. The whole notion was very new to me, being at first introduced to ‘impact’ by Sanborn as mentioned above, and afterwards, in the period in between the first part of Video Vortex and the second one, having it put forward during an interview I did with Paul Virilio for Warum 2.0. I needed more time to develop the idea and definitely wanted to put more ‘lightness’ in Virilio’s thinking doom. Having noticed during the first installment of Video Vortex how also critics, academic people and artists employ techniques of impact to enforce their presentations with performance skills and visuals, I chose for the element of surprise and the sublime, and to introduce ‘impact’ as ‘impactology’, gloriously as a brand new science.

 

The aim of ‘Impactology’, I said, is to study ‘impact’, to take impact as a concept, to turn it into a new science, a new field of knowledge, and to analyze impact, chart and define it, and to study its practical consequences. With Impactology (i.e. to take, to put forward and to invest impact as a mode of analysis, as a tool of analysis, rather than just as an object of it), I proposed ‘Impactology’ as a science on the techniques of impact, such as ‘storytelling’, a machine for fabricating stories and revising histories, for formatting spirits and ways of synchronized thinking and reacting. In this field of study, even YouTube could be seen and understood as a late kind of technique of impact.

 

FAR FROM IMPACT – EVENT 3 

In 1985 there was another artist creating a great impact: Elim Klimov, with his film ‘Come and see’, a film on war, and more specifically on Nazi army troops burning down hundreds of villages in Belarus and killing everybody living there at the time.

 

Looking for historical extreme examples of artists acting as impact makers, I arrived at Klimov. I found it astounding in this context to see how he had opted for turning his feature film production itself into a form of impact, and thereby succeeding in making his fiction as powerful, for the viewers at least, in its emotional effect on them, as similar as possible, to the original Nazi ‘impact’. At some point, Klimov had decided to repeat the original horror of the fact on the screen, and to employ all his cinematographic skills to this one goal of ‘killing’ his audience and to shoot at his film itself. The effects on the viewers of his impact were nearly as disastrous as the original massacre was on the victims in Russia. The effects on Klimov himself were also terminal: he never made another film again afterward. And the staged effects on the main character in the picture were also extremely significant. The only option the director left for his character to evolve, to deal with the event, was to make him shoot on the picture itself.

So then, this I thought, is a strong case of how far it all can go:  Klimov, the film, the main character, the audience: all of it and them and us and me have to be sacrificed. In this logic of impact, in this logic of war that is, everything and everyone is destined to get trapped and destroyed.

FAR FROM IMPACT – EVENT 4

From January 14 till the end of February 2008: building the Warum 2.0 installation arena and the first public presentation, during the Artefact Festival in Stuk (Leuven/Belgium).

 

There it is, Warum 2.0, a complex of projection screens installed on four centrifugal curves spreading out in a dark space of two hundred square meters around a suspended 360° panorama, all transparent. Many visitors walk through it. They take in viewing positions and try to relate to the projected images, discovering the many look-throughs and superpositions. The installation employs and displays the interface of an automatic scanning system that translates their movements into parameters, instantly changing the positions of the projected pictures. There is a dynamic sensorround sound system of shooting, bombing and crying. At one instance the voice of Paul Virilio can be heard; at another, the shreeks and shouts of battle of assaulting marines on some exercise mission in a real desert. Visitors handle the joystick of a networked surveillance camera and grab views and pictures of their friends, unaware or waving back and smiling in the cameralens attached high up to the ceiling. Three cutouts in a huge human tetris wall sculpture invite visitors to take in and mimick positions of falling victims or shooting soldiers while activating sensors, interacting and playing with the footage of more training soldiers in combat. Other visitors teleport their hand live into a double of Warum 2.0 on Second Life, while a robot hand steers an avatar around and about falling pictures of war victims, also on display in the physical arena. With laptops on a long access point to the Web, more visitors add the YouTube video of their own choice to the overall projection. From every side faces of war victims stare at the public. They were all personally shot by cameraman Daniel Demoustier at Darfur, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kosovo and Haïti, again and again, during his missions for Doctors without Borders and ITN.

 

If this is not absolutely impact! you say. Impossible to deliver a fully convincing proof of it here, but it wasn’t the case. All the sounds, pictures, tools and machines were indeed exactly those with which usually impact is being created most effectively. But here, there was none, except by accident, now and then, when a visitor felt like testing the sensors in some frenzied way, or when a quick jump’n run was done, to see if the scanning system would hold. Visitors were seeing and testing out the apparatus and its powerful potential. They were discovering and learning more about the techniques of impact, instead of being manipulated by them. They did appreciate the opportunity, and told so, again and again, to the five hosts standing by, ready to explain, to answer questions, and engage in a discussion.

 

The starting idea of ‘Warum 2.0’ was ambitiuous from the start, as it wanted to create an environment  in which viewers would spend more time and start thinking about technology and relate to the documentary images processed by it. The installation wanted to make possible personal experience with media, instead of just offer presentation, information and interpretation. Ultimately, it wanted to invite the visitors to experience and deal with the phenomenon of impact, and not just create it.

As for the content (for this occasion, as it is quite imaginable to chose another one for a next installment), it was developped out of a videotape I made in 1985 with Paul Virilio, titled ‘Warum Wir Männer die Technik so Lieben’ (Why we men love that much technology). It took up the issue once more of ‘war’ and ‘technology’. As for war and technology, between then and now, nothing really changed in essence. One could say, there is just more war, more technology and there are more victims. But what changed really, because of technology, is the way we relate to war and to pictures of victims, and to the documentary image as such. New media changed all that. Precisely for this reason, Warum is called Warum 2.0 because it reflects on and challenges the notion of  2.0. Over the years it has become clear to me that 2.0 is kind of a fraud, at least if one understands it as I did as a situation of ‘user made content’, instead of what it is: ‘user driven impact’.

With WARUM 2.0 and possibly along its further installments and developments in the future, I hope to facilitate and help focus critical reflection on media and the techniques of impact. A horizon for public experiment, with technology, where there is no need to hide.

Paul Virilio: “Today, faced with what’s happening in science and knowledge in general, not only science but philosophy too, political philosophy, we need people who are not afraid of tragedy but who interpret, analyze, dissect, talk about things.  It’s the opposite of story telling. It’s something much more modest and in my opinion more useful today than grand spectacles’.

 

FAR FROM IMPACT – EVENT 5

 

1984. ‘1984’ is not only Orwell, it is also the year Paul Virilio published his book ‘The negative horizon’.

 

As I interviewed Paul Virilio again a few months ago, for the installation project Warum 2.0 (after the first interview we did together nearly 25 years ago), I read the ‘Negative Horizon’ book again. I had read it at the time, of course, but now reading it again, it was as if I read a new book. Obviously because I had changed, my understanding had changed, but also because the times have changed. Today, it read like a prophecy that came true.

In the book I even found descriptions which were like literal descriptions of the main element of the physical installation arena Warum 2.0. At one point he describes the ‘dromosphere’ (the sphere of speed) as a ‘centrifuge’, a stadion for one person, in which one is witness of the anamorphosis of the speeded up reality, an environment driven by technology in which one experiences – as daily while driving a car – the grotesque deformations of what we once called ‘reality’.

In the interview, Paul Virilio again and again repeats a quote by Octavio Paz, and keeps on expanding on it: ‘The impact of the moment is as uninhabitable as the future’ (L’impact de l’instant est aussi inhabitable que le futur). And he goes on saying that life in the impact means futurism. When we say that an artist is an impact-maker, we actually are saying he is a futurist. And remember, he says, futurists inspired fascism. Futurism lead to fascism, leads to new kinds of fascism which have nothing to do with pantzers, Mussolini or Hitler, but to fascism linked to technical achievements.

“Why do men love that much technology? If you would ask me that question again”, Virilio says, “I would answer, because they think they are God! They have gone beyond the mastery of knowledge, towards an illusion of divinity. They create accidents of knowledge.” There exactly lies the encendive for his latest call: no longer for a museum of accidents, but for a university of the accident (une université du désastre): a contra arsenal. In all modesty, a kind of Warum 2.0.?

FAR FROM IMPACT – EVENT 6

In 1983 Vilem Flusser published his book ‘Towards a philosophy of photography’ (Für eine Philosophie der Photographie). In it I found some helping tools for analyzing further the techniques of impact.

Talking about photography and pictures and visual media in general, Vilem Flusser offers a model of investigation based on four basic concepts: the image – the apparatus – the program – and the information. And what is important, I think, is that he defines ‘information’, not as information as data, but as the unique expression of the critical ‘handling’ of this trinity of image/machine/program.

Coincidence or not (and very probably not), also in the eighties, Henri Lefebvre started to publish work developing his notion of ‘rhythmanalysis’. He introduces the ‘rhythmanalist’, a person he describes not as a user, but as an observer who intervenes, in a situation of ‘mediatized everyday’, an everyday that is simultaneously fashioned and ignored by these (technological) means that make the apparatuses. Just like Virilio after him, he proposes to study the disasters we live in (futurism, impact, the synchronization of instantaneous emotions – what Virilio calls ‘the communism of affects’) – and to intervene.

 

FAR FROM IMPACT – INTENTIONS

In the WARUM 2.O installation project, I tried to install distances from impact, by all means. I tried to create a possible but concrete context ‘far from impact’. I wanted to get away from the daily ‘dressage’, that ‘training’ (by media, by programs, by gadgets and by technology expertise) that constantly imposes, educates and breaks-in onto us, but that in effect is based on the military model (again a military model) once instituted by Roman traditions.

In the end, ‘they’ who wish for, refine and execute this ‘training’ are not concerned with us (users and makers who want to express works and opinions of our own). They are mostly operating from a specific strategy and a certain desire for power – call it: populist circumstantial interventionism; a certain cult of a scientific-military messianism; a cult of the arsenal; a lust for unheard of strategic possibilities of social, environmental and psychological management; a kind of extermination of the personal expression on a daily basis, bypassing arenas, open public forums, even institutions of justice.

So then, again, far from impact, with some distance to impact. Can we exist, if not without impact, then at least, can we find ways to act, make and think from a certain distance (a critical distance that is) from impact? That is what I tried and try to explore with WARUM 2.0. A real challenge. It is possible to ‘be’ as we are, pro-creators that is, far from impact? – and intervene?

Far from impact. My feeling today is: it will never be that far from it. Especially if we want to intervene as well. And even more so: what if we phrase it as ‘far from war’?

What I suggest with Impactology is not so much a radical critique that is itself impact, but a tool for analysis that may add that extra critical investigating rhythm to the world as it is. I guess we are done with the idea of the spectacle, for a while. So far from impact, so far from war, at least from the logic of it.

However, it could also well be that YouTube, just like TV and ‘corporate science’, as such, also offers a way out, because as it is and happens, ‘it’ definitely triggers all the violence and excess there is, and it puts it in the open and onto the public stage. Let’s always be aware of individuals and organizations (the ‘us’ of us, that is) who offer their unique alternative, especially so if they are as arrogant to say: this is for your own good.

 

Stefaan Decostere


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They should make Human Tetris into a real video game — NES original

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