The following was written for the Your Body is a Temple collective of artists, whose work, amongst others, will be the subject of discussion at the South London Gallery in Peckham on Wednesday night.
The internet is a giant pun.
When Marx describes, in the first chapter of Das Kapital, the religious world as the reflex of the real world, he does not demand that we eradicate the former in order to better understand the latter. Rather, he suggests that only with recourse to the mist-enveloped world of religion might we find a suitable analogy with which to understand the fetish-character of commodities, in which a definite social relation between men assumes, in our eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. [Marx, K., Capital (London, Lawrence & Wishart,1967), pp.76-87, and see esp. p.77. The full text of Vol. 1 is also available at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/index.htm] In the religious world, says Marx, “the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands.” The infinite plurality of virtual worlds has arguably superseded the religious one in Marx’s formulation whilst maintaining a degree of mysticism necessary to their self-replicating evanescence; the internet is the utopian refuge of the fetish-character, wherein Marx’s satire of our propensity to equate as values the products of specific social labour by their exchange becomes a form of triumphant, perpetual dissolution of “character” itself. Fetish unbound and free from any hyphenated attachment to social state or being might instantiate itself at infinity speed across the length, breadth and scope of the living net, no longer merely prescribed in aspect; life endowed with independent being is grateful for your traffic, and wistfully imagines that your heart will beat forever in the silver lining of the chat-box panelling the screen. The internet is a giant pun, whose giddy shimmering between life and realism might at any point tip ruthlessly into either of those de-mystifying dead-ends, but whose imperial magnanimity is in any case the pre-condition for both. "What we desire is to bring into a world founded on discontinuity all the continuity such a world can sustain". [Bataille, G., Eroticism (London, Marion Boyars, 1962), p.19] But then again, we can always just create another world.
The viral strain of net utopianism -- that assumes, with lethal cupidity, that the instantiation of the screen as site and sound of a radical participatory mass-media culture of constant prosumer re-definition is the means by which the image is freed from its authenticity of presence in some backwater post-Benjaminian dungeon -- is as blithely and reductively universalist as the phantom objects it purports to critique. The internet has done more than any other invention in human history to instigate an ersatz universal equivalence of experience and subjectivity disguised as the harmonious interaction of endless and immutable particularity. Advertisement logic as profile stimulator. Meme extraction. This is why the internet is so profoundly at home in the New Age, or whichever cultus of abstract man is lashed to its latest masthead banner ad for freshly bottled emotive water. The internet is brilliant at producing the wholeness we desire to extract from it because it is built on the sale of a radically interactive egalitarianism which alleviates political and economic reality into its very own neo-sincere celebration of utopian avatar expressionism.
Someone has recently said:
In the Post-Internet climate, it is assumed that the work of art lies equally in the version of the object one would encounter at a gallery or museum, the images and other representations disseminated through the Internet and print publications, bootleg images of the object or its representations, and variations on any of these as edited and recontextualized by any other author.
So as the distance between us is forever annihilated into the barest intimation of formal intersubjective fantasy, the image accelerates farther away from us than ever before – the dialectical tendency of the limitless re-deployment of an image across multi-platform occurrences is that we may never finally approach anything except the knowledge that we have encountered an artwork, and the proliferation of pure image becomes the merest coded announcement of its own narcissistic predilections for display. Seth Price has referred to “the embarrassing and stupid demands of interactivity itself, which foists an infantilizing rationality on all “Internet art,” and possibly Internet use generally, by prioritizing the logic of the connection, thereby endorsing smooth functioning and well-greased transit” [Price, S., Teen Imagewww.distributedhistory.com/Teen_Image.pdf], although this assumes that what is at stake is the completion of the artwork, rather than any specifically diagnostic claim about what might happen to physicality in a network of remote, as opposed to tangible, experience - what about the logic of the dial-up, the logic of the bad connection, the logic of the YouTube faith-healing account? How does a participatory structure distinguish between credit card fraud and facial recognition? How can I look into your eyes on Skype and know that you see my eyes looking back at you? How can we enjoy intimacy with an infinitely deferred other? If your body is a temple, who (or what) is worshipping inside you?
“In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race”. At the crux of that interaction now is the formation of the “human race” itself as the magnanimous progenitor of its own global and technological refresh-rate. Together, you are told by Cisco Systems Incorporated, we are the human network, in the blissful rhetoric of implied corporate idealism that says, because it does not say it, that without Cisco Systems Incorporated we are the dismembered faceless backwards-looking monads in helpless disarray. What we need now is an art that is as far removed from the ersatz utopianism of the Cisco Corporation as it is deeply cognizant of the social conditions and structures through which that logic arises. If there is any chance of a critique of the limitless technological and cultural expansion that might also engender the hopefulness in particularity of the experience of virtuality as becoming more real than it yet remains possible to be, it will emerge here, in this world, right at the heart of my refusal not to accept the data that does flow through my bloodstream like desire.
Click here for the gallery site, and here for more YBT.