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Interactive City, play and spectacle

I’m currently enjoying the natural splendour of Banff and the excellent company of all the participants at the Banff New Media Institute’s Interactive Screen 0.6 event. I’ve been posting my notes and thoughts on all of our presentations and discussions at purselipsquarejaw, and will continue to do so for the rest of the week.

But I was just catching up on the iDC list, and thought I’d point to the very interesting critical discussion taking place on the recent ZeroOne San Jose / ISEA2006 Interactive City Summit and conference theme.

It started with kanarinka/Catherine D’Ignazio’s questions:

“[I]s psychogeography/locative media work simply R&D for a new generation of entertainment spectacle? Or, what are we actually trying to do with these ideas of ‘play’ in urban space? Who gets to play? And what about the interactive cities in Iraq and Lebanon and elsewhere? Why didn’t we address war, security, militarization and terrorism as aspects of the contemporary interactive city? For me, running around making the city into a sandbox, a playground or a playing field feels increasingly irrelevant and irresponsible.”

Kevin Hamilton shared her concerns and continued:

“I understand in your questions some doubt about the ways in which the work of de Certeau and the Situationist project have formed a significant platform for ‘interventionist’ work today . . . [W]ho really gets to walk like de Certeau’s walker/reader in the city? Certainly his theory is useful in making sure we don’t grant TOO much power to Foucault-Bentham’s panoptic eye on the other end. But what exactly is produced in these infinitesimal acts of mis-reading? . . . I’m still confident in the potential for protest or effective empowerment through play, but not as a rule, and not without a great deal of positioning and fore-thought and analyses on-the-go.

Anthropology tells us about how ritualized forms of play, even socially or politically liberatory play, are carefully contained and located through tradition and hierarchy. Inventing new play, ostensibly outside proscribed boundaries and toward liberatory ends, would probably require a kind of surrogate cultural context, invented and carefully deployed. I’m not sure if I think this is possible or not. For a discussion like this, it would also be useful to distinguish between the two frequently-asked questions of ‘Is this action politically effective?’ and ‘What is the political effect of this action?’”

Sarah Kanouse added:

“I’d like to briefly raise the question of what kind of political actor is assumed by positioning mobile play as politically transgressive. The ideal “urban player/city writer” seems substantively similar to the prosumer figure sought for Adobe’s ever-expanding market. This politics of enlightened consumption can be seen everywhere–the green consumer movement, for instance–and I think we need to attend to also attend to more structural and collective possibilities for action, not just in the new media sphere.”

Tobias Van Veen said:

“I’m always a little weary of any implied purity in this artistic endeavour. No technology arts production is pure from commodity production, entertainment and spectacle. Stiegler & Derrida write that at a fundamental level prosthesis or the relation to the technics of the other is the figure of contamination productive of subjectivity. So at some philosophical level here, we are not going to be able to simply produce non-appropriable art — i.e. technics. But… we could be doing much better in terms of strategizing current technology arts explorations. The technological givens of corporate research tend to structure the work, rather than our dreams — or whatever else. Thus, at least today, I find the general tendency of psycho-loco projects to be short-term with few breakthroughs . . . While I fully share Kanarinka’s feeling and concern, there are all kinds of tendencies to embrace — yet always for the best reasons — a threatening and restricting moralism which would inhibit what play and freedoms we currently enjoy . . . Everywhere in the world we will always need those sandboxes — without them, the world is a mere ’sandbox’ for the military’s rather vicious and destructive toys.”

And Molly Hankwitz added:

“[T]he interactive city concept led to a lot of corporatized ‘play’ which wasn’t accessible in its futurism and athleticism. i think this question about militarism and terrorism is very good, and its unfortunate that instead of taking on the problem of the city, its location, etc, it seemed to be avoided and, even, denied for sensibilities which could just as well have taken place in any suburb.”

(Molly has posted a detailed critique of ISEA on her blog that is also worth reading.)

I think all of these posts raise very interesting questions that deserve further reflection and discussion, and while I don’t have time to engage the list right now, I do plan to raise some of these political concerns in my keynote address on Thursday, so stay tuned.

One Comment

  1. ancel wrote:

    … Our cities and lives are currently in the process of being computerized, in one respect or another, and becoming more unitary and imaginary than ever before. However, the content presented in these computerized environments is not necessarily interesting. In any case, the future society and urbanity we are talking about here is already no longer media-oriented per se, but definitely spectacular in nature. This means that “messages” are no longer on the agenda, not even artistic messages. Consequently, the imaginary freedom provided by the process of computerization will not be able to continue beyond the post-media age arriving with the digitalisation of the entire planet, with the effect that only some actions or gatherings of universal, or even cosmic, significance will make sense and be of real interest in the context of the techno-sciences…

    extract from my paper
    “SPN_Shanghai_2010″ at ISEA06

    Monday, August 21, 2006 at 21:40 | Permalink