[spectre] "Connection in Visibility" - talk at Art + Communication 2004, RIXC, Riga.

Eric Kluitenberg epk at xs4all.nl
Sun Oct 3 22:56:58 CEST 2004

dear Spectrites,

Just returned from the excellent RIXC Art + Communication 2004 
festival "Transcultural Mapping" in Riga I decided to immediately 
brush up the notes of my talk there and post it here. It is the third 
text in a series exploring different aspects of the concept of Hybrid 
Space, after "Constructing the Digital Commons" and "Virtualitee, 
adieu mon amour". To some extent they are variations on a theme, but 
I still think there is sufficient new material here to justify 
posting it.

all the best
apologies for any cross-posting.....



Talk given at:

Art + Communication 2004 - Transcultural Mapping - Riga, October 2, 2004.

[ http://rixc.lv/04/en/program/index.html ]


Connection in Visibility

Reconnecting the Space of Flows Unplugged

by Eric Kluitenberg

In the middle nineties the Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells 
introduced a useful concept in his book The Rise of the Network 
Society (1996) - the Space of Flows: The Space of Flows is 
essentially the interconnected space of electronic communication and 
information networks, primarily telecommunications, internet and 
digital financial networks.

In the book Castellls contrasts two spatial logics that emerge in the 
network society and that threaten to become increasingly unrelated to 
each other - the Space of Place and the Space of Flows.

Castells writes: "...people still live in places. But because 
function and power in our society are organised in the space of 
flows, the structural domination of its logic essentially alters the 
meaning and dynamic of places. Experience, by being related to 
places, becomes abstracted from power, and meaning is increasingly 
separated from knowledge. It follows a structural schizophrenia 
between two spatial logics that threatens to break down communication 
channels in society. The dominant tendency is toward a horizon of a 
networked, ahistorical space of flows, aiming at imposing its logic 
over scattered, segmented places, increasingly unrelated to each 
other, less and less able to share cultural codes. Unless cultural 
and physical bridges are deliberately built between those two forms 
of space, we may be heading toward life in parallel universes whose 
times cannot meet because they are warped into different dimensions 
of a social hyperspace."

[Castells, "The Rise of the Network Society", Blackwell Publishers, 
Malden (Mass.), 1996, p. 428]

Thus, while the life experience of the vast majority of people is 
still connected to places - the Space of Place -, economic and 
political power, and finally also cultural power, is increasingly 
organised in a the place-less and a-historical space of flows. The 
word "deliberate" in his call to build bridges between these two 
spaces is important. Castells suggests that it requires deliberate 
collective action if we are not to move towards a structural social 
schizophrenia with all its inherent disastrous consequences...

However, the question how to build such bridges, remains unaddressed 
in Castells analysis, and I would argue that this is in part due to 
the fact that his theoretical framework is simply too general to 
accommodate that question. Furthermore, the requirement of some form 
of collective action to intervene in the increasingly divergent 
spatial logic of the space of flows introduces, at the very least 
implicitly, a political dimensionto the analysis that equally 
remains out of sight in the book.

In the middle of the debate on the emergence of geolocative media, 
mobile electronic media that integrate geographical positioning 
technologies in their functionality, an approach from a critique of 
public space might be useful to address some of these missing links 
in Castells analysis.

Geolocative bridges?

The practices involving wireless media and geo-positioning 
technologies indicated with the term 'locative media' can be seen as 
one direction where such bridging can take place, but not 
self-evidently so. The question is where the critical moment is, 
where such practices actually transcend the pure functionality of the 
design of the technology itself. The slogan that art involving 
emergent technologies can be seen as a strategy of humanising 
technology is not incorrect in itself, but as such much too vague and 
too general to be truly useful. The mere application of existing and 
emergent technologies as such is similarly unconvincing. It amounts 
to little more than underpaid beta testing by 'advanced users' in 
service of the identification and exploration of future markets for 
wireless and GPS technologies.

One strategy that might shift the debate on locative media 
significantly enough to offer new insights and a more critical 
understanding of the roles these media can play, could be to question 
the extent to which locative media can be utilised to create new 
forms of the social and new forms of public space. This can then be 
understood as one way of addressing Castells call to build bridges 
between the two divergent spatial logics of places and flows.

To do this, however, Castells rather univocal reading of the space of 
electronic / digital communication networks needs to be supplanted by 
a more diversified understanding of those structures. Secondly the 
notions of the public domain and public space as highly localised and 
historicised concepts should be brought into relation with the 
extreme sophistication of the contemporary electronic communication 
spaces. This leads towards a more general criticism of public space 
and requires a careful analysis of why so little of the contemporary 
electronic communication spaces can be considered, in the proper 
sense, 'public space'.

The aim of such an analysis is not simply a critique of locative 
media practices, or the realm of electronic mediation in general, but 
much more an attempt to understand how new forms of sociality and 
public space can be brought about through such practices.

The critique of public space and electronic mediation can start quite 
classically with Richard Sennett's criticism of the "fall of public 
man" and the death of public space. In his classic study of 1974, 
city-sociologist Sennett examines the conscious and unconscious 
withdrawal of modern man from public life and the retreat into the 
private domain or into more intimate spheres of life and experience. 
Sennett observes a tendency across various domains of especially 20th 
century life that are characterised by a simultaneous increase of 
visibility and transparency of public life, combined with an 
increasing detachment from actual engagement in that public life, a 
tendency he characterises as the paradox of isolation in visibility.

Electronic mediation exponentiates the severity of this particularly 
modern disorder of social life:

Sennett: "Electronic media is one means by which the very idea of 
public life has been put to an end. The media have vastly increased 
the store of knowledge social groups have about each other, but have 
rendered actual contact unnecessary. The radio, and more especially 
the TV, are also intimate devices; mostly you watch them at home. TVs 
in bars, to be sure, are backgrounds, and people watching them 
together in bars are likely to talk over what they see, but the more 
normal experience of watching TV, and especially of paying attention 
to it, is that you do it by yourself or with your family.
Experience of diversity and experience in a region of society at a 
distance from the intimate circle; the "media" contravene both these 
principles of publicness."

He then goes on to ask in what way the electronic media embody the 
paradox of an empty public domain, the paradox of isolation and 

Sennett: "The mass media infinitely heighten the knowledge people 
have of what transpires in society, and they infinitely inhibit the 
capacity of people to convert that knowledge into political action. 
You cannot talk back to your TV set, you can only turn it off. Unless 
you are something of a crank and immediately telephone your friends 
to inform them that you have turned out an obnoxious politician and 
urge them to turn off their TV sets, any gesture or response you make 
is an invisible act."

[Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, W.W. Norton & Company, New York / 
London, 1974, pp. 282 - 283.]

Thus, Sennett indicates how the pervasiveness of electronic media 
continues and exponentiates the trend of isolation and visibility, by 
locking people in their private homes connected to the outside only 
by an electronic screen, which allows no feedback, no communication, 
no exchange, and certainly no encounter with the 'other'.

Mobile electronic media transfer this trend of electronic isolation 
to public space itself. They create a dramatically increased 
isolation in visibility, and this inthe midst of all others, through 
the progression of wearable technologies: walkman, mobile phone, 3G 
and 4G wireless media. Mobile media entrench many people in a form of 
electronic autism in which these people are locked in singular 
concentration on their wearable devices while they move through 
public spaces, visible and plugged-in, but entirely disconnected from 
the environment...

This trend towards a semi-conscious withdrawal from public life and 
an increasing retreat into the personal sphere is further made 
evident by the curious tendency of a considerable amount of people to 
make their personal lives loudly manifest in public space by 
discussing at length the excruciating details of their highly 
personalised existence on mobile phones. Such acts of unwarranted 
intimacy are a blatant disregard for the social and the necessarily 
rule-based conduct of public life. What they in fact demarcate is a 
radical expansion of personal life at the cost of (the possibility 
of) public life, and thus they contribute significantly to a further 
hollowing out of the public sphere.

What to do?

Smash mobile phones?

One of the most violent reactions to the invasion of public space by 
obtrusive personal communication devices is probably the Phone 
Bashing action, carried out in London (date unsure, end of nineties). 
Two young gentlemen dressed up as walking mobile phones, wearing a 
prop-suit (in fact stolen from a video shoot for a commercial video 
clip), look like giant mobile phones with legs and arms sticking out.

Upon the sound of a mobile phone going off in public space they swing 
into furious action: running towards the person holding the phone, 
grabbing it, and smashing it in front of their eyes, upon which 
usually a pursuit by foot ensues. As the phone bashers run, their 
suits sway back and forth in a ridiculously caricaturesque manner....

"Run!!! Keep running!!!" they shout half out of breath, pursued by 
the outraged former owners of a working mobile phone...

[ http://www.phonebashing.com/ ]

Although a most welcome and warmly supported gesture, this seems 
hardly a viable strategy to rescue public life...


A more subtle solution has been proposed by the Dutch artist Arthur 
Elsenaar, who developed a portable transmitter to block the spectrum 
bands used by mobile phones and other wearable communication devices. 
The transmitter has about the size of a regular matchbox and is 
battery-powered. By pushing down the only available button a jamming 
signal is released, just strong enough to switch off all mobile 
devices in an area of about 3 to 5 metres around the device - i.e., 
exactly enough to turn-off the obnoxious conversation in the tram, 
metro or train seat in front of you...

The device has been packaged as a possible product for the wider 
consumer market under the name Bubl-Space. The only drawback here is 
that the device is completely illegal, because of existing 
telecommunications laws that protect vital wireless communication 

[ http://www.bubl-space.com/ ]

The social and economic pressures not to engage seriously in these 
and other acts of selective disconnectivity, at present, work against 
such an idea. However, I strongly advocate locating the right to 
disconnect firmly in the universal declaration of communication 

Beyond the Space of Flows

The differentiation between the Space of Flows and the Space of Place 
is not nearly as clear-cut as Castells presents it in his Rise of the 
Network Society. Interconnection of geography and electronic 
communication networks is far more complicated and manifold. For one, 
the image of a separate space of flows or a "cyberspace" tends to 
forget the enormous material investments needed to provide for the 
infrastructure needed for this electronic communication space to come 
into being. These investments in themselves already make the space 
highly inaccessible for the majority part of the world.

Secondly, the emergence of geolocative technologies is part of a 
larger trend both in security and control, as well as in the 
provision of wireless services, where the physical / geographic 
location becomes an intractable part of the electronic communication 
space. We therefore need concepts that can more properly accommodate 
the intertwinedness of physical and electronic spaces.

Looking back today at cinematic imaginaries such as "Lawn-Mower Man", 
we cannot help but get a hopelessly antiquated, dated and retrograde 
sensation. The very idea of a disembodied self-contained data-space 
today seems patently absurd. It is this retrograde conception, which 
does not allow any understanding of the intertwinedness of the two 
spatial logics, and that also makes The Matrix into a highly 
conservative vision of the relationships between embodied and 
electronic data-space.

"Hybrid Space", as a concept, is better suited to help us read the 
complexities of how electronic and physical space weave in and out of 
each other. The resulting image is more diversified; an image of 
complexity, rather than the strict duality that Castells still 
suggests. This intertwinedness, however, in no sense does away with 
the issues of inclusion and exclusion in the electronic communication 

The question then is how the interface between the electronic 
communication space (the Space of Flows), and the lived embodied 
spaces of people's actual existence and experience can be made more 
radically public?

 From my own experience I can only offer some approximative models of 
working with such an extended concept of hybrid space. What these, 
and other similar projects can do is to highlight a new sensitivity 
for the hybrid in the spatial experience that they produce. It 
suggests a shift from the descriptive and analytic mode towards the 
aesthetic. This could be problematic. For instance, Jean-Francois 
Lyotard's famous exhibit "Les Immatériaux" (1985) similarly tried to 
highlight a new sensibility to what is changing in our relationship 
to reality, vis-à-vis the "fact" of the "new materials" (the 
immaterials). His argument, ultimately leads in the direction of a 
technological sublime that denies an actual possibility of agency in 
the new material/immaterial configuration, which was so brilliantly 
outlined in his visionary project.

[J.F. Lyotard, Thierry Chaput, "Les Immatériaux - Conception", Centre 
Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1985]

It is therefore important to re-emphasise the conversion into 
political action of these approximative models (sometimes called 
"art"), so as not to end up in a dead-end street....


In 1999 together with architect Frans Vogelaar and students of the 
Academy of Media Arts in Cologne we devised an interesting fusion of 
different spatial logics in a singular context. The project was 
called "reBoot: a floating media art experiment", and it entailed 
bringing 50 artists for a week together on a ship that was 
simultaneous a working space (media-laboratory), a presentation 
space, and a living space. The boat would move between the cities 
Cologne, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Wesel, Arnhem, Rotterdam and 
Amsterdam, all connected by the river Rhine, another network backbone 
for this part of Europe, though a far more historical one. (Amsterdam 
is connected by a branching canal but previously connected by the 
original historical trajectory of the river).

[ http://www.khm.de/`reboot ]

The important aspect of the project, however, is the layering of 
spatial logics; the permanence of the environment of the ship, 
mirrored in a permanent connection to the internet, broadcast signals 
emitted from the ship throughout the week, and discontinuous 
connections to local media, most notably to local television in 
Amsterdam. The flow of the project was further determined by the 
shifting geographical location of the boat and the docking points 
where local presentations and projects were staged, and finally by 
the continuous flow of the river and its historical role as transport 
route, as travel space, as mass sewage, as release of superfluous 
water masses.

In this complex configuration new types of public interfaces could 
continuously be tested, and for the audience the possibility of 
having different entry points to the project, on-line, via television 
or radio, at a docking point, or by joining the ship from one harbour 
to the next, could generate a distinct as well as a multi-layered 
experience of the project, of immediacy and delay, of proximity and 

The discontinuous nature of the actual technical possibilities for 
connectivity, lead to a highly discontinuous experience for both the 
artists as well as the audience, and highlighted the 
micro-interstices between the physical and electronic space. Often, 
only sound could be transmitted live from the ship, especially when 
it was moving, with at best a reBoot chat running next to it. Video 
materials produced on the ship had to be shipped to the central 
studio in Amsterdam by car and aired from there. Such fault lines did 
not constitute failures, but actually emphasised the highly 
discontinuous nature of hybrid space, which can be regarded as one of 
its essential characteristics.

Another example of the enquiry into the characteristics of hybrid 
space are the scenario studies that Frans Vogelaar and Elisabeth 
Sikiarid are conducting in the frame of their studio invOFFICE for 
architecture, urbanism and design, in Amsterdam. They propose 
typologies for public interfaces at the intersection points of 
physical and electronic network flows. These connection points are 
sometimes located in highly ordinary daily spaces - the laundrette 
for instance - and sometimes they are positioned in spaces devoted to 
the concentrated study of informational resources (such as libraries 
for instance). However, these spaces are always decidedly public so 
that more traditional forms of public behaviour (washing clothes or 
reading books outside of the confines of your private home) merge 
with new hybrid electro-physical interfaces.

Towards a Politics of Hybrid Public Space

In quite a different context an engagement with the politics of 
public space was sought in the project "Debates & Credits - Media Art 
in the Public Domain", which was initiated in late 2000 by the then 
Moscow based curator and media art theorist Tatiana Goryucheva, and 
finally executed in the Fall of 2002. In this project we brought 
together 4 artist collectives form Russia and four collectives from 
The Netherlands to design media art projects as interventions into 
the urban public spaces of Moscow, Amsterdam and Ekaterinburg.

[ http://www.debates.nl ]

One of the most challenging projects was BeamMobile(tm), conceived by 
the Dutch art/design collective DEPT who now work under different 
names. Their project was as simple as it was effective. By hooking up 
a strong beamer to a regular construction-type electrical generator 
with stable output, and connecting a laptop or simple video 
equipment, they managed to create a mobile digital agit-prop device. 
The equipment fits in a simple delivery van and can be easily driven 
around any city. In minutes the projector can be aimed at a nearby 
building or larger structure in the environment, and different kinds 
of visual materials can be superimposed on the architecture or the 
environment at large.

In this case BeamMobile was used to project images and messages in 
the urban environment that are notably absent there: poetic 
statements, highly personal imagery, displaced images that for 
instance transposed summery scenes from Amsterdam's infamous Vondel 
Park (former Hippy-heaven) into a cold nightly bedroom region of 
Moscow (Biberova). In other actions the gesture became more overtly 
political when imprints of digital culture were superimposed on the 
material remains of authoritarian culture in ruins, such as the 
central icon of the Soviet Union, Vera Mukhina's Worker and 
Farmers-daughter, designed for the Paris World Fair in 1937 and later 
placed outsidethe monumental permanent exhibition park of economic 
achievements of the Soviet Union Republics in Moscow, or the façade 
of the now out of use Heineken Brewery in the heart of Amsterdam 
(dysfunctional branded urban space).

This personal voice made into a public interface, layering material 
and digital culture, authoritarian and micro-cultural poetic 
imaginations, has no place in our contemporary over-regulated urban 
public spaces. The voices that regularly manifest themselves in the 
urban environment are those of corporate power (advertisement) and 
state power (regulatory indications, prohibitions, propaganda). The 
personal voice is reduced to a purely personal imagination that 
remains, on the social plane, invisible, or it surfaces only as an 
annoying hindrance in public transport, but is never (allowed to be) 
converted into social dialogue, The results for social and civic life 
are disastrous, and it is this inequality that such projects attempt 
to address, even if they remain completely marginalised.

Connected Unplugged

Locative media as an artistic and cultural practice can be seen as a 
more sophisticated way of addressing this complexity of how the 
geography and the (wireless) electronic networks interweave. At the 
very least it heightens the experience of a new hybrid spatial 
sensibility. But these practices do not contribute self-evidently to 
countering the paradox of isolation in visibility in public space - I 
can be very isolated in the singular concentration on my geolocative 
contraptions. The question remains how to design more radically 
public interfaces for these media in order to engage people actively 
in a social, and therefore, by necessity, political process.

In hybrid space the challenge would be to feel, and actually be, 
deeply connected to both the physical environment and to others in 
that space, as well as to the disembodied confines of electronic 
space. To paraphrase the words here of Richard Sennett, to be able to 
engage in a form of "civilised existence, in which people are 
comfortable with a diversity of experience, and indeed find 
nourishment in it", where people can actively pursue their interests 
in society. A space that can serve as "a focus for active social 
life, for the conflict and play of interests, for the experience of 
human possibility".
[ Sennett, 1974, p. 340 ]

Sennett speaks in these words about the city as "the forum in which 
it becomes meaningful to join with other persons without knowing 
them", in short the encounter with the 'unknown other'. He could in 
1974 hardly have imagined how his analysis would be brought to the 
point of absolute crisis by the advance of mobile electronic 
communication media and the take-over of public space by personal 
life; in which everything is there for us to see and hear, while 
everyone remains essentially isolated from each other.

One way to look critically and I would suggest productively at artist 
projects in the realm of locative media would be to question to what 
extent they facilitate or deny public interaction and communication, 
and indeed make possible this encounter with the unknown other.

Eric Kluitenberg
September 2004

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