Post-Cinematic Control #scms16

Full text of my response to a panel at SCMS on “Post-Cinematic Control,” with papers by Lisa Åkervall and Gregg Flaxman:

Post-Cinematic Control: A Response

Shane Denson

It’s an honor and a pleasure to offer a response to this panel on “Post-Cinematic Control” and thus to set the stage for our discussion. Before I get started, I would like briefly to thank Lisa Åkervall for organizing the panel, and thanks to both Lisa and Gregg Flaxman for their excellent papers.

What I want to do is to think about the common base or context that unites these papers. I’d like to start by turning to the panel description that Lisa wrote as part of the proposal process, which I think neatly sums up the overarching questions and perspectives brought together here. She writes:

Today, scholars and critics often allude to a new technological, economic, and even epistemic age, but what is the medial logic that characterizes our brave new world and how has it transformed the very nature of audio-visuality? This panel is dedicated to analyzing the integral function of media in the emergence of the social form that has come to be called “control society”; in particular, the papers brought together here dwell on the “post-cinematic” cultures of image, sound, and affect in control societies. Where “disciplinary” power had previously worked to distribute, segregate, and organize bodies, “control” refers to a relatively fluid space of social relations. The dissolution of institutional milieus (home restriction, privatized HMOs, remote labor, home schooling) is inextricable from the emergence of a new post-disciplinary organization of power. We maintain that, far from concentrating power (in a sovereign) or consolidating it (in social institutions), control relies on post-cinematic media to disseminate power into the most private and unsuspecting of spaces, making its individuals knowable, calculable, and thus controllable.

Hence, this panel is concerned with understanding different dimensions of control by virtue of different aspect of post-cinematic media. More precisely, each paper examines aesthetic instances in which cinema persists as an echo rather than an actuality, whether this entails electronic voice modulation, instantaneous communication, or even the metamorphosizing nature of the cinema itself.

There are a number of things that can be said about this description, but I’d like to highlight and unpack just a few of them.

First of all, the panel is asking about the “medial logic” of our age, and this medial logic is credited with transforming “the very nature of audio-visuality.” Accordingly, this logic of post-cinematic media is seen to be located at an ontological level that is foundational with respect not only to media “contents,” but also to the processes of perception itself. If I am reading this correctly, that is, the transformation of “audio-visuality,” or stronger: the very nature of audio-visuality, cannot be reduced to a change in the objective forms of audio-visual media; it’s not just about new narratives, editing styles, or even image types – but it concerns rather a modulation of sight and sound as sensory channels, or perhaps even a transformation of phenomenality itself.

It is for this reason that the question of post-cinema’s medial logic is here given priority over questions of “a new technological, economic, [or] even epistemic age” – because any medial logic, or any force whatsoever that might be capable of such global modulations, cannot be reduced to the objective or subjective forms of causal processes, rules, rational choices, or knowledge formations. The medial logic at stake here concerns a level of reality that lies deeper than the subject, deeper than its objects, and deeper than any intentional relations between them. It concerns what I have termed the anthropotechnical interface itself: “a realm of diffuse materiality . . ., the relational substrate which underlies the socially, psychically, and otherwise subjectively or discursively organized relations that humans maintain with technologies” (Postnaturalism 26).

Seen thus, as I have written elsewhere, post-cinematic media

serve not as mere “intermediaries” that would relay images neutrally between relatively fixed subjects and objects but . . . act instead as transformative, transductive “mediators” of the subject-object relation itself. In other words, digital and post-cinematic media technologies do not just produce a new type of image; they establish entirely new configurations and parameters of perception and agency, placing spectators in an unprecedented relation to images and the infrastructure of their mediation.

The transformation at stake here pertains to a level of being that is therefore logically prior to perception, as it concerns the establishment of a new material basis upon which images are produced and made available to perception.

(“Crazy Cameras, Discorrelated Images, and the Post-Perceptual Mediation of Post-Cinematic Affect”)

Or, as Mark Hansen has added, upon which they are NOT made available to perception.

In fact, this addition is essential to the perspective being outlined here, which renders the study of post-cinematic media in many ways a speculative undertaking concerned more with ontology than with psychology, but this does not at all mean that it is doomed to being an apolitical perspective. For at stake in these investigations is precisely the material basis of what has been called subjectivation, the material and political process of becoming-subject, which requires for its control, steering, or modulation, the operationalization of forces that are by definition sub-personal or pre-subjective. Accordingly, with post-cinema we enter into

a fundamentally post-perceptual media regime. In an age of computational image production and networked distribution channels, media “contents” and our “perspectives” on them are rendered ancillary to algorithmic functions and become enmeshed in an expanded, indiscriminately articulated plenum of images that exceed capture in the form of photographic or perceptual “objects.” That is, post-cinematic images are thoroughly processual in nature, from their digital inception and delivery to their real-time processing in computational playback apparatuses; furthermore, and more importantly, this basic processuality explodes the image’s ontological status as a discrete packaged unit, and it insinuates itself . . . into our own microtemporal processing of perceptual information, thereby unsettling the relative fixity of the perceiving human subject. Post-cinema’s cameras thus mediate a radically nonhuman ontology of the image, where these images’ discorrelation from human perceptibility signals an expansion of the field of material affect: beyond the visual or even the perceptual, the images of post-cinematic media operate and impinge upon us at what [I have] called a “metabolic” level.

(“Crazy Cameras, Discorrelated Images, and the Post-Perceptual Mediation of Post-Cinematic Affect”)

These are issues that Maurizio Lazzarato has dealt with under the heading of a “video philosophy” – a philosophy of what he calls “machines to crystallize time.” These machines, which are exemplified in the video camera and further perfected in the digital processor, have a direct line on our becoming-in-time, as they operate at a speed that outstrips our cognitive processing and, on this basis, in fact modulate our perception itself.

The question of “control society” is thereby linked to these sub-phenomenal modulations, where the sub-phenomenal subtends and transforms the realm of the phenomenal by enabling new forms of audio-visuality in post-cinematic media.  On the one hand, these new audio-visual forms are imbricated in the mechanisms and networks of control, but on the other hand, they offer us sensory spectacles upon which basis we can inquire and speculate on the anthropotechnical and sociotechnical interfaces being mobilized in contemporary subjectivation processes. In other words, these new audio-visual forms might serve as something like what Whitehead calls a “lure for feeling”; we can look to them to discover, speculatively, the operational agencies at work in the constitution of contemporary agency itself.

There is a kind of displacement, a non-actuality, a lack of positivistic self-presence, or what Derrida might call a “spectral” logic implicit in this view of post-cinematic mediation. This is reflected in the panel description in terms of the echo-like relation posited between cinema and post-cinema: “cinema persists as an echo rather than an actuality.” To begin with, this statement militates against ideas of caesura, or the death of cinema, by designating the cinematic as a quasi-virtual moment, a kind of memory-image that supplements and explodes the confines of a punctual present or a concluded past. But the echo, as echo, itself resists confinement to past and present, it is always experienced as movement forward, into the future that it contains and anticipates in its reverberations. Accordingly, we need to supplement this perspective: post-cinema’s relation to cinema is not just one of retention but also protention. It implies what Mark Hansen has called a “feedforward” logic, which is very much the medial logic of control itself.

Again from the panel proposal: “control relies on post-cinematic media to disseminate power into the most private and unsuspecting of spaces, making its individuals knowable, calculable, and thus controllable.” I have claimed that post-cinema, with its microtemporal processing, produces essentially post-perceptual images; here, what Deleuze called the “dividuality” of formerly discrete subjects is enacted at the level of the perceptual object, which is no longer stamped as a discrete photographic entity but modulated as a variable and infinitesimally divisible quantity. The post-cinematic image is generated on the fly, by means of processes that are dependent upon codec settings, available processing power, bandwidth limitations, and buffering, so that the pixillated images we see on our digital devices are in a very real sense data visualizations. And all the while they generate a further stream of data or metadata that delivers information about our attention and perception to corporate interests like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Netflix. This metadata, it should be pointed out, is not “meta-” in any metaphysical sense of a detached second-order register; in many ways, it is the primary data, while our sense data is secondary or supplemental for the purposes not only of the money-making machine but also for the production of sense data to come. Futurity is implied in this equation in a way that explodes the simple feedback loop as we have known it. This is not about surveillance, but about control in a newer, non-deterministic and non-disciplinary sense. Wendy Chun reminds us: that “the English term control is based on the French contreroule—a copy of a roll of an account and so on, of the same quality and content as the original” (Control and Freedom 4). As a verb, to control enters into Middle English in the sense of to “to check or verify accounts,” in particular by referring to a duplicate register. But in post-cinematic media the idea of the register, the record, or the memorial function more generally of control shifts to a future-oriented, protentional one, whereby the subject of perception is actively anticipated or called into existence by means of microtemporal calibrations of data and sensory streams.

Portending the future, or better: protending it, these media synthesize time or becoming through the real-time generation of data that point backwards and forward at once. Perception itself is dispersed, along with the data of its generation, between here and there, now and then, between the two rolls or scripts, where the acts of reference and correlation between them explodes the static “now” of either one and enables the generation of new experiences and affects in real time (or, what amounts to the same, in a microtemporal duration that is outside the window of subjective perception).

This, indeed, is the temporal truth of Autotune, as it is explored in Lisa’s paper “The Truth of Autotune”: a real-time input (an audio signal) is analyzed and compared to a set of possibilities (the discrete notes or values inscribed on the contreroule or control script), subjected to modulation accordingly, and made to correspond to the acceptable values before the signal is even made available for perception. Past, present, and future are synthesized here, their discrete natures dissolved in the interplay of script and counter-script. Of course, it is possible to analyze the situation logically or algorithmically, and to study the exact path of the signal with the help of technical instruments, so that we might claim that it only appears that time is subject to transformation. But since it falls beneath the temporal threshold of perception and thus undercuts or bypasses appearance itself, this microtemporal processing does indeed revolutionize time for all intents and purposes – which is to say, for all human intentionalities and telic goals, which are structured in the molar temporal space of gross phenomenality.

And the microtemporal ping-pong that characterizes the Autotune process also conditions digital images in computational video playback, which is especially evident in processes like motion smoothing, where new images are generated on the fly and interpolated between a just-past image and one that is just-to-come, which means that both of them must be assessed and processed before any image is made available for perception.

But how do we get from these low-level processes and infrastructural materialities to the higher-order, sometimes global, and in any case narrative formations discussed by Gregg in his paper “Conspiracy in the Age of Control”? In fact, it’s not such a stretch, I suggest, as these stories of conspiracy and control place computational processes at the very heart of the struggles over political agency and resistance, and they invite us to reflect on the ways that these apparatuses serve as the fulcrum of subjectivation itself and the site of communication between micro-scale materialities and macroscopically narrativizable or cognitively mappable realities.

Response.001

Three Days of the Condor opens with images of a machine for “reading” books, enacting a sort of “distant reading,” as Franco Moretti calls it, by which thousands of books are processed and correlated with one another to reveal humanly inaccessible patterns. Soon we find out that this work is being done for the CIA, thus exposing avant la lettre what Richard Grusin has called “the dark side of digital humanities.” The protagonist, codename Condor, is both a hermeneut and an expert in communications technologies, and it is this combination that not only makes him a digital humanist, of sorts, but that equips him to negotiate between local subjectivities and global networks of conspiracy. His political agency, as Gregg emphasizes, hinges on his cryptographic skills, his ability “to render narrative what might otherwise be noise, coincidence, or nothing at all.” As such, the story is precisely about the media-technical linchpin between a material base or infrastructure of experience and the aesthetic forms it can assume. Confronting us allegorically, as Jameson says about conspiracy movies generally, with the sprawling architecture of the global system of transnational capital, Three Days of the Condor simultaneously confronts us with its computational media-technical underpinnings. The reading machine at the opening of the film is the infrastructural point of passage to the dispersal of agency described with the term “control society.”

bourne

And it is in this respect as well that the Bourne movies can be seen, as Gregg has suggested, as an unwitting update of Three Days of the Condor: for not only are these movies about an intensified system of global, dispersed control, but they hinge the question of subjectivation processes on the infrastructure of computation, big data, and – crucially – a global network of cameras, screens, and images. At decisive moments, the film screen becomes, as Gregg puts it, a “data screen.” And here we see that Condor’s struggle (to render machinic information into narrative form) is in fact one of the defining struggles of post-cinema more generally: it is the problem of how to build narrative strands out of (and back into) sprawling transmedial digital networks. In other words, Condor’s reading machine and the reading practices it leverages (which confront mathematical communications technologies with the demands of a hermeneutic or narrative/representational interest) prefigures the network of computers and digital video surveillance cameras featured in Bourne. In many ways, these are self-reflexive spectacles, such that post-cinema figures its own enabling infrastructures and challenges us, in this way, to confront the political processes of subjectivation that inform life today and shape it from the media-technical ground up.

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Post-Cinema at SCMS 2016 #scms16

scms16

At this year’s conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (March 30-April 3, 2016), I will be involved in two post-cinema related panels.

First, on Saturday, April 2, 2016 09:00AM-10:45AM (panel N9), I will be giving a talk as part of a panel on affect, collectivity, and contemporary cinema:

N9: “Affect, Collectivity, Contemporary Cinema.”

Chair: Claudia Breger (Indiana University)

Shane Denson (Duke University), “Post-Cinematic Affect, Collectivity, and Environmental Agency”

Anders Bergstrom (Wilfrid Laurier University), “On Dissipation: The Loss of the Movie Theatre as Affective Site in “Goodbye, Dragon Inn””

Jecheol Park (National University of Singapore), “A Counter-neoliberal Collective to Come: Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing”

Claudia Breger (Indiana University), “The Epic Aesthetics of Ruptured Collectivity in Fatih Akın’s “The Cut” (2014)”

Then, on Sunday, April 3, 2016 11:00AM-12:45PM, I will be responding to panel T19 on “post-cinematic control”:

T19: “Post-Cinematic Control”

Chair: Lisa Akervall (Bauhaus-University Weimar)

Respondent: Shane Denson (Duke University)

Lisa Akervall (Bauhaus-University Weimar), “The Truth of Auto-Tune: Voice Modulations in Post-Cinematic Media-Ecologies”

Viviana Lipuma (North Carolina State University), “Semiocapitalism: the production of signs as the production of desire in the media”

Gregory Flaxman (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), “Left of Conspiracy”

You can view the complete conference program here (opens as a PDF).

And here, finally, is the abstract for my paper:

Post-Cinematic Affect, Collectivity, and Environmental Agency

Shane Denson (Duke University)

The computational and broadly post-cinematic media at the heart of contemporary moving images are involved in a massive transformation of human agents’ phenomenological relations to the world. Digital imagery has long been held accountable for effacing the indexicality of cinema’s photographic base, while post-cinematic images more generally might be thought in terms of their “discorrelation” from viewing subjects. There is, however, a flip-side to these negative determinations: if the microtemporal and subperceptual operations of post-cinematic media bypass and hence displace subjective perception, they also serve to expand the domain and the material efficacy of sub- or supra-personal affect. What this amounts to, ultimately, is a radical empowerment of the nonhuman environment, the agency of which becomes tangible in sites and forms ranging from the Fitbit to “big data” and the computational modeling of climate change.

Drawing on Steven Shaviro’s account of post-cinematic affect, and supplementing it with Mark B. N. Hansen’s recent work on the “feed-forward” mechanisms by which biofeedback and environmental sensors serve to expand worldly agency, this presentation argues that new forms of collectivity may become thinkable in the spaces opened up by post-cinematic media. In the reconfiguration of agency, that is, by which digital media bypass the individual and transfer its powers to perceive and to act onto the nonhuman environment, the “dividuality” that Deleuze saw as a correlate of the control society may open onto a more positive conception of collective power. Maurizio Lazzarato’s provocative Bergsonist-Marxist “video philosophy” will serve as a catalyst for conceptualizing this new collectivity and its relation to moving-image media, while the work of independent filmmaker Shane Carruth (Primer [2004], Upstream Color [2013]) will help to focus the interplay among post-cinematic affect, environmental agency, and the mediation of collectivity in the micro- and macrotemporal intervals of contemporary media.

Bibliography:

Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” October 59 (1992): 3-7.

Denson, Shane. “Crazy Cameras, Discorrelated Images, and the Post-Perceptual Mediation of Post-Cinematic Affect.” Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film. Eds. Shane Denson and Julia Leyda. Sussex: REFRAME Books, forthcoming 2015.

Hansen, Mark B. N. Feed-Forward: On the Future of Twenty-First-Century Media. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2014.

Lazzarato, Maurizio. Videophilosophie: Zeitwahrnehmung im Postfordismus. Berlin: b_books, 2002.

Shaviro, Steven. Post-Cinematic Affect. Winchester: Zero Books, 2010.

Trust Issues: Community, Contingency, and Security in North America

Surveillance_cameras

My friend and colleague Felix Brinker, now at the Freie Universität Berlin, is co-organizing a conference on the notion of “trust” — including all the technologies and media of surveillance and control upon which trust is built and broken — in contemporary America. I am pleased to post the call for papers for this exciting event:

“Trust Issues: Community, Contingency, and Security in North America”

GSNAS Graduate Conference 2014

May 9-10, John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

From the misprision of financial institutions to the NSA scandal, recent years have seen several revelations calling the architecture of American society into question. The United States has been rocked by crises of faith that have cast new doubt on the American Dream. Historical breaches of trust are also at the fore. The fortieth anniversary of Watergate is a further reminder that issues of trust constitute a central concern in North American studies.

This conference engages with the significance of trust for social cohesion and the consequences of its withdrawal from social, political, and financial institutions. We also welcome papers exploring how these processes are represented in literature, film, and other media. Where can we place our trust, culturally and socially, given a multitude of informational sources and authorities? How can America’s damaged politico-cultural institutions be stabilized, transformed, or replaced?

Papers are invited on a range of topics from various disciplines. Possible subjects include, but are not limited to:

  • How has America created, maintained, and interrogated its ‘grand narratives’ throughout history? What role does popular culture assume in debates regarding surveillance and control, conspiracy theories, and leadership? 
  • How can the conflicting priorities of an individual’s right to freedom and the communal desire for security be accommodated? In what way do business interests interact with political responsibilities? Can corporations rebuild trust at a local and transnational level? 
  • In what ways do the histories of race, sectarianism, and sexuality in North America intersect with those of community and security? How does the figure of the Other stabilize or destabilize a sense of trust?
  • In what way does minority/divided government influence political accountability and legitimacy? Do the political systems of the U.S. and Canada inspire trust in adequate representation?
  • What does the erosion of trust between narrators and readers signify for modern and postmodernist texts and aesthetics? How are alternative realities, paranoia, and the fear of technology depicted in fiction?
Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words and a short CV to gsnas.conference2014@gsnas.fu-berlin.de. The proposal deadline is February 9, 2014. For updates, please refer to http://www.gsnas.fu-berlin.de/en/conference/2014/index.html.

Das Zwergenproblem — and how to solve it…

karinas_krass_people

What is the Zwergenproblem, or the problem of the gnome? Though this looks and sounds like one of those classic German words destined for import into the English of intellectuals (think of Zeitgeist, Weltanschauung, or Fahrvergnügen…), you won’t find the term “Zwergenproblem” in any dictionary. And yet it’s a widely shared opinion in Germany (at least in left-leaning circles) that garden gnomes — themselves typically Deutsch — are somewhat (how should I say?) problematic creatures. Their nation-based typicality is one of the problems, and they are aligned with a range of conservative political values as symbols of a bourgeois Sesshaftigkeit that finds its natural expression in the carefully mowed lawn and Garten of the proud homeowner/Dorfbewohner. This is by no means to say that gnomeownership, any more than homeownership, is a clear indication of one’s politics. Still, the associations and stereotypes are there — so much so, in fact, that garden gnomes have come to embody a downright cliché for a certain sort of lifestyle. Of course, the existence of a cliché always invites ironic appropriation as a response, and so recent times have seen the appearance of black-leather biker-gnomes, pot-smoking gnomes, and gnomes doing gnaughty things. Trying to dissociate gnomes from notions and practices of bürgerliche Spießigkeit, these have been attempts to solve what I am calling the Zwergenproblem. But none of them, it seems to me, has yet provided an adequate response, one suited to the true gravity of the situation.

revenge-is-pink

Meanwhile, beyond and outside of Germany, the garden gnome has come to represent a mostly white, middle-class, suburban existence in a depoliticized any-space-whatever. Garden gnome liberationism has emerged in response — an international effort to free the gnomic proletariat from their servitude, to return gnomes to the wild, and more generally to draw attention to their plight. And yet the political edge wears thin when these efforts devolve into “pranks.” The travelling gnome prank — in which mostly white, middle-class, suburban kids steal their neighbors’ gnomes and take them on vacation, photographing them in front of famous tourist attractions — is all good fun, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really address the core of the Zwergenproblem. Clearly, this is because the prank is situated within the same space of possibility as the “straight” form of gnomeownership that it ostensibly questions: the space of material affluence, leisure, and the freedom to travel, where the suburban home materially anchors and spiritually secures the traveller’s foray “out into the world” like the warmth of Heidegger’s Hütte accompanied him along his Holzwege. Besides, any last drop of radical potential was drained when a major Internet travel company appropriated the prank for its marketing campaign, thus transforming the “liberated” garden gnome into a symbol for digitally enabled neo-liberal capital and the transnational flows of money, bits, and bodies. Behold: the neo-liberated gnome.

gnosferatu

This is where things get interesting, I think, and where a space for artistic intervention into the Zwergenproblem begins to disclose itself. The example of Internet-based travel, which of course depends on real money (hence real labor) and ideally gets real bodies to real places, places the garden gnome squarely in the realm of the so-called “new aesthetic” — which James Bridle describes as “a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities,” especially as concerns the intersection of material and digital realms. The neo-liberated gnome embodies capital as it flows within the control society, and it both emulates and encourages the “participatory culture” of viral marketing, whereby the unpaid immaterial labor done on social networks is appropriated and a surplus value is extracted by algorithmic means. What better mascot than the neo-liberated gnome, which bears witness to the wonders of the world, makes us hungry for travel (and for good-natured pranks), and even tempts us to donate our labor by posting pictures to Facebook et al that will serve as further advertisement for that travel company with the funny garden gnome…

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The association with the “new aesthetic” is even clearer in the context of 3D printing and scanning technologies, where the garden gnome has become a symbol for that magical intersection of materially unique objects rendered digitally reproducible, as in MakerBot’s extensive use of the gnome to demonstrate their machines. There should be no doubt about it: 3D printing really does involve a revolutionary sort of realignment of the physical and the ideal, but why should the garden gnome become the symbol for this transformation? The answer, I think, has to do with the fact that before it became the mascot for the new aesthetic, the garden gnome was a mascot for a putatively “old aesthetic” that itself was secretly bound up in the appearance of industrial modernity and its “aesthetic of the new.” The garden gnome’s origins are in nineteenth-century Germany; accordingly, the creatures must be seen as an essentially modern phenomenon, and as a part of the popular culture that begins to emerge in Europe alongside industrial technologies of production and communication. And yet they feign resistance to that culture, pretending to belong to a romanticized folk culture that is pitted against the emerging commercial popular culture. The gnome, in other words, claims allegiance to the oral culture and local tradition that bequeaths to us the fairy-tale, and it aims to distinguish itself from the mass-produced industrial culture of the modern world — to which, nevertheless, it essentially and materially belongs! Now, with the advent of 3D printing and design, the possibility of digital reproduction calls the gnomes’ bluff, makes their mass and serialized nature apparent, and reveals that they have been subject from the start to the same iterative principles as the serial figures of popular culture. What’s more: the digital infrastructure democratizes the production process, putting the means of production in the hands of the many (or at least in the hands of the growing number who have access to the technology). The gnome becomes shareable across time and space, and subject to a serial process of modification. But again there is the danger that the material and immaterial labor of this “participatory culture” is subject to appropriation and exploitation.

Gaga-Gnomes-Digital-Seriality_smallest

Besides, there’s nothing very subversive about printing born-digital gnomes in order to repeat the pranks of their more earthy forebears. If we’re really going to do something about the Zwergenproblem — i.e. if we are going to address the problematic politics of the garden gnome as it exists in our transitional moment — we will have to do so with a historical consciousness, one cognizant of the gnomes’ troubled history, their relation to modern production processes, material and immaterial labor, class consciousness, nationalism, popular and high-art cultural formations, and the role of seriality in all of these constellations.

frankie-and-bride

From an artistic perspective, no one is doing a better job of this at present, I think, than Karin Denson, with her “Krass People” series of gnomes, which are featured throughout this post. (Full disclosure: Karin is my wife. I’m biased. So what? No one’s got better gnomes than her!) Based on iconic figures from popular culture and modern art, her gnomes call into question the boundaries between industrial mass production, pre-modern handcraft, and modern and postmodern artistry. Half ready-made, half carefully crafted objects, the gnomes are collected from flea markets, outlet stores, garage sales, eBay, and wherever else they might be found, before they are hand painted and occasionally re-sculpted to resemble superheroes like Superman or Batman, creatures such as Nosferatu or Frankenstein’s monster, pop stars like Lady Gaga or David Bowie, figures from Star Wars or Pirates of the Caribbean, or re-imaginings of artworks by Duchamp, Miró, or Dalí. The result is a set of unique physical objects that retain strong conceptual and material links to the cultures of seriality that, since the nineteenth century, have increasingly and irrevocably problematized any notion of uniqueness or (artistic) authenticity. Finally, the objects are digitized and their images subjected to various further transformations: placed in Photoshop collages, set in motion in animated gifs, and displayed in a growing virtual gallery on tumblr. And that’s just the beginning: video, generative, and other works are in planning.

justice-gnomes

So does this answer the Zwergenproblem? Perhaps not completely. After all, can there be a truly final answer to a problem that is so thoroughly serial in both its historical genesis and its structural formation? Any answer, it would seem, would itself have to be serial rather than static. And that’s precisely what we have here: an ongoing, serially unfolding, plurimedial and mixed-reality approach that may not answer, but which first succeeds in formulating or addressing, that central problem of the modern world: das Zwergenproblem.

Gaga-Gnome-Applause-Series

Finally, in case you’re interested: Karin’s gnomes are available for purchase, but there is only a very limited supply of these (problematically) unique and labor-intensive objects. Karin will be exhibiting and selling them this coming Sunday, November 3, 2013, at the Kunsthandwerkermarkt at the Kulturzentrum Faust (from 11am to 5 pm in the “Warenannahme”).

[UPDATE: There’s now an Etsy store where the gnomes can be purchased online: https://www.etsy.com/shop/KrassStuff]

bride