Category Archives: GUEST VOICES

Decentralize! Self-organize! Commercialize? / Online and offline art

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Guest author: Marlene Ronstedt

The Berlin of the 1990s, with its occupied houses, temporary autonomous zones, and anarchistic playgrounds, bore close similarity to the open internet which emerged at the same time. Back then, the possibilities cyber space offered to geeks and nerds seemed to be infinite. Neither NSA surveillance nor commercialization had yet reached into the digital sphere.

This offline situation constituted – at least in Berlin – the ideal biotope for the art and techno scene to prosper. But it also meant that the city became increasingly interesting to investors and real estate agents, leading eventually to the gentrification of those very places. Unlike in the 90s in Berlin, in the online world of the same period only a handful of net artists came forward to claim digital space. It was only in the early 00s with the rise of web 2.0 – a more user-friendly, but also a commercial and centralized version of the internet – that substantially more net artworks emerged. Tumblr, Flickr, WordPress and Instagram made it easier to put net artworks on display and provide infrastructures to reach followers.

Both on- and offline, formerly autonomous zones have undergone changes shaped by commercialization, regulation, and increased surveillance and censorship. Instagram, for example, forbids images of period blood and female nipples, while monetizing users’ information without giving them an alternative to opt out. In the physical realm of Berlin, erstwhile autonomous zones such as project spaces are often either forced to close down, professionalize or be pushed to the peripheries of the city.

_Disobedient_still_5_smDorine van Meel, Disobedient Children, HD Video 17’00”, 2016

Online, a system has been created to reclaim aspects of the internet’s former ideals of decentralization and autonomy, namely through blockchain. This means that net art has a new chapter ahead of it in which it can be displayed in less restrictive contexts. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the cryptocurrency Bitcoin emerged together with blockchain, on which is based. Blockchain allows for transparent, decentralized structures. Soon startups jumped on the bandwagon, building tools that can ascribe energy, art, votes or cars to blockchain tokens. By doing this they aim to circumvent the power of central banks, institutions, big energy enterprises or even nation-states. Read More

Projecting Space

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Guest author: Benjamin T. Busch

I. Center and Periphery
Center and periphery are spatial concepts that, following Henri Lefebvre, resonate in three distinct yet interrelated registers: physical space, represented space, and representational space (1). Considering the periphery, or margin, as a necessary and constituent part of the center, without which the center could not exist, this text will discuss Lefebvre’s “spatial triad” in relation to the project space:

First, in spatial practice, or physical space, the material conditions of society come to the fore. Spatial practice is space that is perceived, constantly undergoing interpretation and transformation by society. Second, representations of space are formalized conceptions of space. Organized by scientists, planners, urbanists and (social) engineers, these spaces tend towards systems of verbal signs. Third and finally, representational space is space as directly lived through its complex symbolisms: the dominated space “which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate. It overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects” (2). This is a space of dissensus that challenges hegemony.

As a part of physical space, the project space naturally belongs to the field of spatial practice: It is animated by human beings at the point where center and periphery meet. Now, how can we understand representations of space (e.g. urban legislation and zoning codes) and representational space (the space where ideals and social movements form) in relation to the project space?

II. Expulsions
What we commonly refer to as gentrification, a process closely linked to representations of space, is just the tip of the iceberg. As Saskia Sassen recognizes in Expulsions, the extreme complexity of the global economy tends to produce elementary brutalities. Sassen posits the notion of expulsions as an analytical device that “takes us beyond the more familiar idea of growing inequality as a way of capturing the pathologies of today’s global capitalism” (3).

Home Coming ParadeNile Koetting, Sofia Stevi (Fokidos), Mieko Suzuki, Yukihiro Taguchi and TOKONOMA bond over a sense of home: Who or what constitutes this place, if it even is one? What do we do when what we secretly hoped to have seems to be lost – nowhere to be found? If it doesn’t make sense anymore to imagine such spaces, because the coloring book is full, yet the forms are empty or broken – why go home at all? Is this very absence what covertly keeps everything together?“Who’s gonna take us home, tonight?You know you can't go onThinking nothing's wrongWho's gonna drive you home tonight?”Nile Koetting, Sofia Stevi (Fokidos), Mieko Suzuki, Yukihiro Taguchi & TOKONOMA, Home Coming Parade, 2016
Photo: Joanna Kosowska

If we site gentrification purely within spatial practice, we might tend to believe that artists and other “creatives” are among the first culprits causing rent increases and the homogenization of urban centers. But if we take a closer look at the global economy, to which all real estate is subject in one way or another, we find that expulsions from the center to the periphery are symptoms of something else entirely. Read More

RECOUP: Reflections accumulating before a performance

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Guest author: Bryndís Björnsdóttir

What if I told you – my (for now) presumed female reader – that currently there is an island in the north fighting for your right to gush fresh hot geothermal water on your bare breasts and airdry them in the midst of a public pool, just like saggy manboobs on any old Thursday? Were it not my last name revealing the country I was born in (as you may call me “Ms.-the-daughter-of-her-father”), I could trick you in thinking that I am here making a universal claim, rather than a provocation with a hint of cynicism typical to the cold and dark north. Though – as with many tongue-in-cheek utterances – behind this one lies a feeling of urgency: a longing for feminism to find a strategic path for real transformations.

The most recent representation of feminism in Iceland is the “Free the Nipple” movement, now occurring annually in a festive mode – this year in a local public swimming pool. Baring breasts in public space has a particular history in Iceland, where women used to sun-bathe topless. However, the Free the Nipple movement does not find its origins here, but rather in Iceland’s big other brother, the USA. Feminists in Iceland ride the Free the Nipple wave in the belief that society has become engulfed by pornography. Women do not have the prerogative to decide on their own terms when their bodies are being viewed as sexual or not, especially not on Facebook, let alone in the swimming pool. The Free the Nipple movement shames capitalism – while selling a T-Shirt online with real-life sized white breasts and nipples censored with a black X.

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