Remote relations, cultures of distance

 

Artwork from Zoom website, https://zoom.us/docs/en-us/covid19.html

Among the most unsettling attributes that have quickly gained notoriety (and poignancy) due to the current crisis’ new linguistic conventions and discursive framings can be counted “from a distance” or “remote”. In particular, the prescription of “social distancing”, which for too long has been met with incomprehension and reluctance, plunged the idea that intimacy relies on physical proximity into deep crisis. Instead, the possibilities and necessities of non-physical proximity as well as long-distance business and educational relationships have been granted utmost importance. The Greek prefix τῆλε (tele) and its inimitable career in image and media technologies, through optical devices such as the telescope and the telephoto lens or in apparatuses like “tele-vision” gains an ethical dimension and at the same time seems to break ontological ground.

This new meaning of the long-distance relationship is far less novel than what is being presented at the moment. If Skype and Zoom are heralded as tools of learning and teaching, planning meetings and unplanned socializing in “remote” mode, they can also be seen as a re-enactment of individualized and locally unbound study. This was the case with television and how it was implemented by Western educational systems through didactic – rehearsed pedagogical sub-departments such as tele-learning or school television and educational institutional inventions exemplified by the distance remote learning universities of the late 1960s to the 1980s – arguably the most glorious example being the BBC’s intersection with the British Open University.

At a more fundamental level, however, every image is to be considered a distancing tool. In “Nah und Fern zum Bilde”, a short 1986 essay (the title of which was also used for a later anthology of some of his miscellaneous essays) by the late art historian Martin Warnke incorporated these somewhat mysterious sentences: “The gaze from a close range can be found suspicious of wanting to examine something, as if to watch something with a magnifying glass. To look at an image from close range usually implies wanting to get something out of it that it never wanted to give.” This formulation, inspired by a Rubens drawing of a Pordenone fresco, may be taken as advice for how to behave in these days. TH

March 19th, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02
Interface

Lauren Berlant, the brilliant theorist of “cruel optimism” and related issues, died of a rare form of cancer on June 28. The following, devastatingly optimistic quote is from a 2016 essay on the commons as “infrastructures for troubling times,” part of a book that they worked on with the typically double-edged title On the Inconvenience of Other People: “What remains for our pedagogy of unlearning is to build affective infrastructures that admit the work of desire as the work of an aspirational ambivalence. What remains is the potential we have to common infrastructures that absorb the blows of our aggressive need for the world to accommodate us and our resistance to adaptation and that, at the same time, hold out the prospect of a world worth attaching to that’s something other than an old hope’s bitter echo. A failed episode is not evidence that the project was in error. By definition, the common forms of life are always going through a phase, as infrastructures will.”

 

Some basics from the Strike MoMA site: “Campaigns, actions, and letters chip away at the regime’s facade from the outside. Inside, every time workers organize, defy the boss, care for a coworker, disrespect secrecy, or enact other forms of subversion, cracks are created in the core. Cracking and chipping, chipping and cracking. As the walls that artificially separate the museum from the world collapse, we reorient away from the institution and come together to make plans. Let us strike in all the ways possible to exit from the terms of the museum so we can set our own.”

 

via Hyperallergic on the environmental impact of blockchain referring to recent NFT (non-fungible token) art sales: “This is not the first time the art world has come under scrutiny for being on the wrong side of the climate conversation. Artists and activists have protested everything from the carbon footprint of physical art fairs to the fossil fuel money funding major museums. But some say the energy consumption of cryptocurrencies is particularly egregious, and research shows it’s relatively easily quantifiable. A study by Cambridge University, for instance, estimates that bitcoin uses more electricity per year than the entire nation of Argentina. (Ethereum mining consumes a quarter to half of what Bitcoin mining does, but one transaction uses more power than an average US household in a day, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)”

 

Nicholas Mirzoeff on “Artificial vision, white space and racial surveillance capitalism”: “Based as it is on ‘epidermalization’ (the assertion of absolute difference based on relative differences in skin color), AI’s racial surveillance deploys an all-too-familiar racialized way of seeing operating at plan-etary scale. It is the plantation future we are now living in. All such operations take place in and via the new imagined white space of technology known as the cloud. In reality, a very material arrangement of servers and cables, the cloud is both an engine of high-return low-employment capitalism and one of the prime drivers of carbon emissions.”

 

Sara Ahmed on the performativity of disgust (from The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004): “To name something as disgusting is to transfer the stickiness of the word ‘disgust’ to an object, which henceforth becomes generated as the very thing that is spoken. The relationship between the stickiness of the sign and the stickiness of the object is crucial to the performativity of disgust as well as the apparent resistance of disgust reactions to ‘newness’ in terms of the generation of different kinds of objects. The object that is generated as a disgusting (bad) object through the speech act comes to stick. It becomes sticky and acquires a fetish quality, which then engenders its own effects.”

November 7th, 2020

David Graeber (1961-2020) on What Would It Take (from his The Democracy Project. A History, a Crisis, a Movement, 2013, p. 193): “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse. But the primary question is: how do we even get there? What would it take to allow our political and economic systems to become a mode of collective problem solving rather than, as they are now, a mode of collective war?”

September 7th, 2020

T.J. Demos on why cultural practitioners should never surrender, via tranzit.sk:  “For artists, writers, and curators, as art historians and teachers, the meaning-production of an artwork is never finished, never fully appropriated and coopted, in my view, and we should never surrender it; the battle over significance is ongoing. We see that battle rise up in relation to racist and colonial monuments these days in the US, the UK, and South Africa. While the destruction of such monuments results from and is enabling of radical politics, it’s still not enough until the larger institutions that support and maintain their existence as well as the continuation of the politics they represent are also torn down. This is urgent as well in the cultural sphere, including the arts institutions, universities, art markets, discursive sphere of magazines and journals, all in thrall to neoliberalism, where we must recognize that it’s ultimately inadequate to simply inject critical or radical content into these frameworks, which we know excel at incorporating those anti-extractivist expressions into further forms of cultural capital and wealth accumulation. What’s required is more of the building of nonprofit and community-based institutions, organizing radical political horizons and solidarity between social formations.”

August 21st, 2020
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