[spectre] [Workshop] Adajania: Art for the Future

Inke Arns inke@snafu.de
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 20:08:41 +0100

[I met Nancy Adajania, editor of ArtIndia, during my trip to India in
September 2001; Monica Narula, who sent this to the Sarai workshop list is
right: Nancy is great talking to! Greetings, Inke]


From: Monica Narula <monica@sarai.net>
Subject: [Workshop] Art for the Future
Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2001 13:05:12 +0530

Taking the conversation "of a south Asian perspective' yet further: (Nancy
is the editor of ArtIndia Magazine, and good fun to talk to!)

When the website anthology-of-art.net began to ask the following question,
Nancy Adjania replied with the essay below.

"What is, in the context of contemporary art, your vision of a future Art?"

Take the Fast with the Slow
Nancy Adajania


In an age of fatal de-sensitisation, when the horrific and the terrible are
routine, it is almost inevitable that I should choose to start with an
apocalyptic vision of the future: this vision will be less of a celebration
and more of a cautionary tale. In the future, I suspect, art will undergo a
comprehensive process of 'de-matting'. I am employing this financial
metaphor, drawing it from the realm of stocks and shares, to push to the
extreme the idea of a de-materialised and de-localised art of the future.

In the scenario that I will outline here, such conventional art
institutions as galleries and museums will perhaps become defunct (as the
cyber-artist Jeffrey Shaw notes playfully, discussing his installation,
'The Virtual Museum', the telematic living room of the future will be
occupied by "sedentary travellers in a simulated world" with world-ranging
access to art holdings at their cybernetic fingertips). Theoretically, at
least, technology will ensure that the process of production, access and
reception of art will be fully democratised. Art, therefore, will be
vehiculated through telematics: this will transform not only its form, but
also its content, in radical ways.

'De-mat art', as I will call this telematics-based art of the future, will
function in a constantly changing virtual landscape that is trans-time and
trans-space. Rapid advances in the field of telematics (especially the
increasing use of computer systems in the former Third World) will ensure
the sustenance of such a de-materialised art, and also facilitate the entry
into this new space of art of impulses that were not formerly regarded as
'art-worthy': we will have a further democratization here, an opening-up of
the terrain of art-making to constituencies that were not formerly regarded
as art-makers, or whose experiences have not been recognised by formal art
institutions as a valid basis for art. The monopoly of academy-trained
artists will be challenged by citizens at large, empowered by cybernetics.

Correspondingly, with the dismantling of the conventional art
infrastructure (or, at least, its marginalisation in favour of
telematics-based art venues), the users of de-mat art will no longer belong
to the traditional community of art-gallery viewers. New constituencies of
users -- let us call them cybernauts -- would emerge.

Here comes the caveat, however: even as the process of art-viewing becomes
de-hierarchised, art may run the risk of becoming indistinguishable from
entertainment, sharing a hyphenated relationship with fashion and commerce,
it will always be topical. We must reflect on whether it would not, in its
very novelty, cease to have a determinate bearing on the textures and
directions of our lives, if it is constantly ephemeral, spasmodic, if it
scintillates briefly before our eyes and is gone? This momentariness of the
new de-mat art experience will, perhaps, negate the values of more
conventional art-works: those of contemplative energy, poised presence,
critical subversion and robust affirmation. Will de-mat art sacrifice
substance to speed?

Discussing the harmful effects of speed and movement in a telematic
environment, in Popular Defense and Ecological Struggles, the cultural
theorist Paul Virilio asks, "And what if the primary goal of travel was not
to 'go' somewhere, but simply to no longer be where one is? What if the aim
of movement has become like that of military invasions or sports records:
to go faster while going nowhere, in other words to disappear?"

This phenomenon of "going fast, but going nowhere" can be described, in the
context of virtual art, as the art of the fast lane (as against the slow
lane of conventional art, based on the display of physical art-works). In a
speed-saturated virtual art scenario, artistic expressions would become
even more aleatory and fractal than today. At the culmination of de-mat art
there would be a total disintegration of the image.

Let us, polemically, accentuate this alarmist vision of the art of the fast
lane. Here, technology augments the role of human agency so that the
mind-body functions through prostheses. With so much free play on offer,
the possibility of aleation, coupled with the sheer availability of visual
and textual content, makes the viewers/users forget what they were looking
for in the first place. When the viewer/user is clicking/jumping from one
hypertext to another, s/he is always on the move, but motion is not
movement, just as speed is not a guarantee of arrival, or even of
discovery. Motion and speed become goals in themselves, and this is a
dangerous development.

Eventually, this situation would lead to an atrophy of the senses. The
producers and receivers of art will no longer function as autonomous beings
within their mind-bodies; they would be handicapped without their machines.
And now, with advances in biotechnology that may change our faculties
through implants rather than prostheses, the enslavement to technology, and
especially to telematics, would be complete, insidious, and binding. In
this, dromomanic environment (in Virilio's phrase; the word comes from the
Greek 'dromos', meaning a race, a pursuit of speed) we may become a
superhuman species, but we would lose the possibilities of wonderment that
go with being human.

Telematics, a product of globalisation, is no longer just an option: it is
a condition. Speaking for my own country, India, it has been estimated that
there will be 4 million Internet users by 2003, to be followed by an
exponential growth in their numbers. Already, after the opening-up of the
Indian economy through the 'liberalisation' policies determined by the
International Monetary Fund, we have witnessed the installation of several
thousand roadside cybercaf=E9s across the country. Dromology has changed the
pace, space and architecture of the Indian street, and the emergence of a
cyber-community cutting across traditional boundaries of class, caste,
gender, region.

Two Indian cities, Hyderabad and Bangalore, are considered the
dream-destinations of the software industry. Consider Hyderabad, for
instance: it was once the feudal capital of the Nizami kingdom and it
became the capital of the province of Andhra Pradesh after independence.
Today, it has been transformed by software dromomania into a postmodern
city of virtual finance, high technology, spectacular entertainment and
accelerated consumption.

Not surprisingly, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu,
is a dedicated Netizen. Recently, a popular magazine ran a story about his
administration willing to respond to citizens' grievances sent by email.
But what of the illiterate, the disempowered, those without access even to
the usual channels of justice, leave alone a PC terminal or a lease-line?
How do these people (who number in the millions) reach the Chief Minister
at his email address?

In rural Andhra Pradesh, outside the capital Hyderabad, poverty and
undernourishment are endemic conditions. Impoverished weavers, broken by
the failure of the cotton crop and the lack of insurance, continue to
commit suicide. Maoist guerrillas continue their armed struggle for the
rights of the impoverished peasantry, and are engaged in a brutal war with
the police, but Chief Minister Naidu would not embellish his website with
such details: the website, like the entire image of techno-savvy, is driven
by the redemptive vision of global capital; it is meant to attract foreign
investment to the province. One need not spell out, therefore, that
cyber-access has become a simulation of democracy in this case: an ersatz
advertisement selling technological progress as democratic progress!

Neither cyber-access nor a nascent cyber-community translates automatically
into emancipation. Commenting on the unequal geography of access in
electronic space, Saskia Sassen talks of a new "geography of centrality and
one of marginality." ("The Topoi of e space: Global Cities and Global Value
Chains", posted on Nettime, 28 October 1996, also available in the Sarai
Reader 01, and at www.sarai.net/journal.reader1.html) Can the dromological
architecture of cyberspace be made truly democratic? Can it become a
virtual venue for artistic and political activism? This is where artists
can, in the future, work as ethical and political agents of change by
setting up counter-republics in virtual space, dynamising the dispersed
cyber-community of the present into a coherent public force.

So that speed does not result in an implosion of space, these republics
should aspire to being truly res publica, "things of the people". Take the
fast with the slow, galvanise speed towards action and not passive
reception. We should not allow technology to shape us. We should shape its
contours and make it more humane. If we do not want technology to take over
public spaces of protest and resistance, we will have to alter the
dromological architecture of telematic space. Artists will have to explode
the one-way lanes of image-consumption and articulate broader political and
social needs through artistic strategies that enter public debates
laterally. Artists will, perhaps, have to form alliances with activists,
architects, scientists and cultural theorists.

They would have to set up multiple interfaces, getting out of even the
singular interface between the gallery and street which fascinates so many
artists today: already, it has become played out, become an aestheticised
act without political edge. In formal terms, artists can use the device of
interruption, which, as Virilio put it (in conversation with Sylvere
Lotringer, in 'Pure War'), acts as punctuation to the existent dromomania:
"Interruption is the change of speed".

When art becomes dromomanic, as we have seen, the image, which is an
irreducible unit of all art-works, becomes less dynamic, and gets dispersed
and fragmented. Fast-lane art has yet a few things to learn from the
old-fashioned slow-lane art: the image in the slow lane, by reason of its
slowness, can develop substance, assert ethical weight and determinacy.
Being a physical entity, to be approached in space and time, it provides
within itself a pause for reflection, revelation and contemplative
attention to the art-object. What it lacks in terms of reflecting the
accelerated momentum and dizzying transformations of the telematic age, it
makes up for in these ways.

The lesson that the slow lane offers the fast is this: the freedom promised
by telematics will be realised only if there is actual material
empowerment: telematic freedom must be positioned within a robust
understanding of the political economy, or else it is doomed to being mere
fantasy-play. Salvation lies neither in speed nor in inertia, then, but in
their creative re-working. The art of the future will be modulated between
the slow and the fast lanes, especially for former Third World countries;
for us, indeed, such a modulation will be far saner than a plunge into the
no-holds-barred, no-upper-limit traffic of the fast lane, enticing as it
is. After all, artistic freedom without responsibility is like driving=

And finally, so that art does not become a 'no-exit' situation, we should
embrace the Gandhian model of political resistance. Art, whether material
or de-mat, should be inspired by the strategy that Mahatma Gandhi described
as satyagraha, a truth-offering, resistance that gives the self autonomy,
not by isolating it within ideological judgements, but by inviting the
world to share in the experiment of dialogue.

--- --- --- ---

Nancy Adajania

Born Dec. 1971 in Bombay, India. Nancy Adajania is an art theorist and
film-maker based in Bombay. She has been editor of the art journal =91Art
India=92, since March 2000. In this capacity, she has accentuated the
importance of public art and new media for contemporary art, emphasising
the intimate connections between the aesthetic and the political, the
private artist-self and the public sphere.
   She studied Politics at Elphinstone College, Bombay (1989-1992), and
Social Communications/Media at Sophia Polytechnic, Bombay (1993-1994). From
1995-1996 she worked as programme coordinator of the newly constituted
crafts research department of the National Centre for the Performing Arts,
Bombay, organising a number of seminars and workshops, including the
national-level symposium, =91Should the Crafts Survive?=92 (April 1995).
   N. A. then trained in film at the Film & Television Institute of India,
Pune (1996-1998). She has made a video documentary critique of the failed
welfare state which turned into an instrument of oppression, =91Khichri Ek
Khoj=92 (=91In Search of Khichri=92), 2000, and is currently working on a cy=
of video-poems.
   She has written catalogue essays for selected artists and has regularly
contributed essays and articles to journals and newspapers as =91Art India=
=91Humanscape=92, =91The Times of India=92, =91The Hindu=92, =91The Indian=
 Express=92 and
=91The Asian Age=92, writing on the visual arts, development issues, popular
culture, and the relationship between art practice, technology and
political engagement.
   Her specific area of interest is the emergence of what she describes as
a =91new folkloric imagination=92, a variegated mode of resistance, aligned
across an array of cultural practices including installation, cinema,
photography and street theatre.

- http://www.v2.nl/~arns/