Reconfiguring liveness


These days hardly any other media technology receives as much approval as live streaming. It can be considered one of the central features of what will be (or is already) called “corona culture,” the culture of physical (if not social) distancing, as the live event, which depends fundamentally on physical co-presence, has been suspended indefinitely. This measure appears virtually inconceivable – socially, aesthetically, economically. Thus, in a move to cling to the live event as their founding principle and business model, cultural institutions everywhere, large and small, public and independent, have started to broadcast live concerts, operas, plays, readings, performances, dj sets, etc.

The venerable debate about the mutuality of artistic expression and “live” audience, of physical presence and aesthetic experience, especially in the performative arts, has been aptly summarized by the title of Philip Auslander’s classic Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (1999). A few days ago, any traditional notion of “liveness” had to cease, brutally. Conversely, it is being recalibrated against the background of the corona condition. In contrast to live sports such as football, for which so-called ghost games are not a permanent option, for the above mentioned cultural forms and formats, the ghost game, playing without an audience, is at least approved as a modality of crisis resilience.

Clearly we can push aside many of aesthetic theory’s beloved arguments about the indispensability of the interaction between the stage and the auditorium for a while. On the one hand, the aesthetic argument gives way to the economic, on the other, there is no way around redesigning cultural consumption under the conditions of quarantine. It remains to be seen what effects the abrupt implementation of the livestream principle in the cultural field will bring about. It is quite likely that many of the physical sites of the performative arts and music will not recover from the crisis, for many owners and operators are facing bankruptcy. However, economic damage is but one aspect for consideration. Live venues will also suffer from the collective rehearsal of the livestream mode that is now taking place, already featuring the marks of a complex media transformation.


Live video streaming of influencer Lauren Hallanan

Live streaming video services such as YouTube or Twitter have been paving the way for this development for years. The hyperculture of influencers and other internet celebrities plays a decisive role here. The popularity of live streaming in China, for instance, has helped create massive, addictive dependencies among users. Recent behavioural psychological studies on computer and internet practices emphasize online identification both with the streaming “live” artists and presenters and the streamed audience. In the course of one of these studies, 338 people were interviewed online: the “subscales” of the survey included “demographics, psychological factors (life satisfaction and loneliness), Big Five personality traits [i.e. openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism], motivations, and problematic use of live video streaming services.” Of the results, the following stood out: people with “neurotic personality” tended to use live video streaming “excessively”, while those with “pleasant [agreeable] personality”; “instrumental motivations” such as the search for information or self-presentation show little relation to the symptoms of addiction, while “passive motivations” such as “interaction, escapism and voyeurism” are associated with addiction.

Interaction, escapism and voyeurism – are these the ingredients for the future that the cultural scene will have to adapt to? Or has already adapted to? The said “motivations” are well known parameters of the culture industry and spectacle. Now, with full legitimacy of the current emergency, they could suffocate the remaining residuals of self-determined cultural practice. And while this is taking place, the data centers around the world are heating up (only to be cooled down again, producing massive carbon and water footprints) to enable all the “passively motivated” streaming traffic. Adding to the cultural and economic disaster, more environmental havoc would be caused. Perhaps live streaming should be reduced to the bare minimum: to tutorials around health and medical issues, to tele-meetings of the infected and vulnerable with their loved ones, to non-commercial online courses in the newly decentralized educational systems. TH

March 21st, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02

A  word on “post-truth” by postcolonial and photography scholar Zahid R. Chauhary (from his 2020 essay “The Politics of Exposure: Truth after Post-Facts”):So perhaps it is not simply that truth acts (such as whistleblowing) expose what we already know, but that the place of knowledge in an atmosphere of fetishistic disavowal lends such disavowal a libidinal frisson. In cynical reasoning, truth actually matters a great deal because acting in spite of it is what endows the action with its distinctive fetishistic pleasure.”

October 26th, 2021

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
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