Digicult : Interview

I’m interviewed by Giulia Simi in the italian magazine digicult.it. Here is the interview in english:

How Logo.Hallucination idea was born?

Up to now many of my work were dealing with questions of language and globalization, commodification of speech (http://www.iterature.com/adwords) etc., and I felt that I had to move more deeply towards a field closer to the question of the image, but in relation to similar questionings.

There are some previous pieces of mine that involve the question of the image in a globalized world. For instance Fascinum (http://www.unbehagen.com/fascinum) is about the accounting of the glance, as a global object. Non-Weddings (http://www.unehagen.com/non-weddings) is a hack of Google Image Search that tries to echoe some minimal semiotic structure. I had also made a performance in Dublin at the Joyce Festival (http://www.iterature.com/bloodforsale) which featured “the pervasive invasion of language by financial globalization” and in which I was walking along Joyce’s paths and collecting “sponsored epiphanies” related to logos and brands I was encountering in the streets.

But somehow these pieces were all hacks of an existing structure constituted by the architecture of control of language, ruled by search engines, and I wanted to bypass this structure, to bring my work one step further.

But this is a difficult problem, precisely because this new architecture does not exist yet (image search engines for instance are in fact text based). So we had to build something from scratch…

Valeriu Lacatusu, the mathematician and programmer who did the software behind logo.hallucination, and who was working on image recognition and neural networks at that time, was very excited with my project. Then I met Jean-François Rettig of the Rencontres Internationales Paris-Berlin (where the project was exhibited for the first time) and we got a grant “Aide à la production” from the DICREAM. This is how it started.

Logo.Hallucination has a very ironic subtitle, anticipating the paradox of entire work: “We scan your intimacy to protect your privacy”. There’s a reference in this, about the practice of control investing the emotional side of the human being. How do you think that web dynamics, particulary those of web 2.0, can normalize and model our dreams and our desires? And what are the differences with the well-known system of control of TV? And finally, how could it change, in this sense, internet scenary when – and if – pattern reconignition technology will be entirely achieved?

Web 2.0 is an enslavement mechanism that I called “taylorization of discourse” (cf http://www.cosmolalia.com/readme100/index.php for instance) in which there is an alliance between “societies of control” and the “society of spectacle”. TV is going to delegate its rudimentary control tools to the global structures of the Web, or more probably both structure will merge somehow and reorganize themselves… all this is being done right now: TV channels go web 2.0, Google buys Youtube etc… but both poles, control and spectacle, will get stronger. The former towards a pervasive “panoptic” structure of surveillance, the latter towards the global snuff movie. Both have one raw material: our intimacy.

This trend is a large scale trend: as the world-system reaches its limitations (depletion of natural resources, expected end of low-cost labour, the end of the ideology of liberalism, the fading of desire, etc.), capitalism uses the irony of history to relaunch its machinery by pushing back its internal limits. Thus freedom of speech is revealed to be the prerequisite for the scientific colonization of intimacy.

In your concept description you talk about “economic dynamics of the collective hallucination leading us towards a privatization of the glance”. Could you explain this key-concept? What do you exactly mean about “collective hallucination”?

Not easy to say actually. Of course there is Gibson’s “consensual hallucination”. But I remember that when I first thought about this idea of collective hallucination, I didn’t know Neuromancer. A few years ago, I wanted to do something about history seen as a collection of collective errors. But this term of error, of illusion, appeared to me not so relevant here. The term of error is too much linked to the question of truth and this is not what I had in mind: in the historical process, errors may be seen for instance as necessary illusions to go one step further, closer to some hypothetical truth… I needed a more radical concept, a concept which would be less in the realm of the modernist idea of progress.

Hallucination is more radical.

I also remember somebody I knew, long time ago, who was very skeptical towards the idea of “phallic symbol”. He used to tell me that Freud’s ideas about interpreting this or this as phallic symbols were stupid because anybody could see phallic symbols anywhere. And everytime I saw him, he kept pointing at things and telling me: “look how Freud’s ideas are stupid, this form could be interpreted as a phallic symbol, and this one also, and this, and this …” . And then he couldn’t stop seeing phallic symbols so that at the end he seemed to turn into a living unvoluntary exemplification of Freud’s ideas.

The idea of “privatization of the glance” comes from a general tendancy that can be perceived in the history of the Web, in the history of net.art and in the transition from market capitalism to network capitalism as described by Rifkin (let’s call it from capitalism 1.0 to capitalism 2.0). The post-fordist ideas that are at play in the economical dynamics of global structures like Google are:
a) through a “dematerialization” phase, commodification of the ultimate “atoms” of human relations: (ad)words, gaze ..
b) establishment of 2.0 markets for these new commodities (long tails etc. ) and hence globalization of their concept (by definition, the long tail is an extension of the concept of the “fordist” object to the globality of the human desires)
c) global control of these “global objects” (ie privatization of the glance), before the unavoidable rematerialization phase.

In front of this trend, the crisis of national identities (cf the current french polls) are an epiphenomenon.

You often use irony like a key-element to unmask power dynamics hidden in practices felt as naturals. Through the irony you create estranging situations bringing new sense to formerly codified structures, as it was for Google Adwords and as it’s now for this project, where we see, for example, an African Mask juxtaposed to McDonald’s Logo. Do you think, in this sense, that irony can find a preferential space in new media art, wich is born as a subversive re-intepretation and re-appropriation of economic or military technologies?

I guess the irony here is partly a reaction in front of the utopies that often accompany the technological progress. But it’s clearly not a particularity of new media art. However I think it has some links with the question of globalization (which of course is very present in new media art). After all, in front of the totalizing knowledge machines, irony recovers its original sense: from L. ironia, from Gk. eironeia, from eiron “dissembler,” perhaps related to eirein “to speak”. Used in Gk. of affected ignorance

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