Saturday, February 4, 2006

Helping hands

In Artists Burnish RFID's Image, Mark Baard conjures RFID as rather complex social and cultural assemblages:

"[A]rtists in the United States and Europe are adding RFID to their palettes as well. They're drawing hip crowds as well as the attention of the RFID industry, which hopes to gain some good publicity for its controversial tracking technology.

'There is a lot of public aversion to RFID because of privacy issues,' said Paul Stam de Jonge, global RFID solutions director at LogicaCMG, a large European technology services company. 'And anything that will bring to it a more positive attitude will be beneficial.'

[...]

The RFID industry seems to be cautiously reaching out to artists. The trade publication RFID Journal recently invited artists from the RFID-Lab in The Hague to its European industry conference last fall...'It was quite remarkable to have been invited to this rather closed and expensive conference for executives,' said RFID-Lab organizer Pawel Pokutycki.

Accenture Technology Labs senior manager Dadong Wan said he's pleased the artists are drawing positive attention to RFID. 'Artists definitely have a role in facilitating and accelerating the technology by raising (the public's) awareness,' Wong said."

The inter-dependence of artists and technology industries is clear, but the politics and ethics perhaps less so. While not wanting to ignore the history of net-art and critical internet culture, it seems to me that wireless art is offering a special challenge to traditional leftist critique-at-a-distance.

By actively and explicitly embracing their inevitable interconnectedness, both artists and corporations are able to achieve things that are not possible if either resists or retreats from the other. This sense of communal exchange need not imply collusion or assimilation - although both are, of course, possible - and it need not imply consensus either. Convergence alone is politically and ethically worthwhile.

But "public awareness" is a funny thing, not at all homogenous or equal, and certainly not to be confused with "consciousness raising".

1 Comments:

Anonymous e-tat said...

"wireless art is offering a special challenge to traditional leftist critique-at-a-distance. By actively and explicitly embracing their inevitable interconnectedness, both artists and corporations are able to achieve things that are not possible if either resists or retreats from the other."

Very well put. I couldn't have said it so well. But at the same time, I want to attach question marks to a couple of things. First, the 'go away, come closer' dance of ambivalent partners is under-reported in wider public discourse, so it would be good to see such ambivalence expressed more frequently, more clearly. Mainly because 'at-a-distance' critiques are too often stuck in idealist positions, when what's required is a willingness to get dirty (i.e. accept less than ideal conditions) in the development of interim solutions.

So artists getting in bed with technologists can be a good thing - especially for the technologists. But as you say, the politics and ethics are less clear, which suggests that for artists, and the art-world more generally, it is high time to provide a reflexive critique of artist's roles in various ethical dilemmas. I can put it bluntly: artists are responsible for disguising or diverting attention from ethically dubious activities. The role of artists in gentrification is an obvious example. The role of artists in biotechnology is also disturbing, albeit intentionally so.

My second question mark is therefore around the extent to which artists should be saying 1) 'our role is to trouble certain boundaries, to tease both sides into some sort of awkward embrace, but which is by no means trouble-free!' and 2) that we take some credit/bear some responsibility for the consequences.

This needs more thought, but you probably get the gist.

07:33  

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