The Dimensiones Variables cycle is a project that seeks to explore the paradoxical inclination that affects certain contemporary

artistic practices, which seem to struggle between two apparently antagonistic interpellation territories: on the one hand, the impulse to set bounds to the social space to analyze its strategies, the impulse to adopt an attitude with regard to its dynamics and to act confrontly in it; on the other hand, the unavoidable variability to which this very aim itself remains exposed, the meaning, necessarily restricted and partial, implicit in any kind of boundary mark. In this context, the proposals Individual Citizen Republic Project™: El Sistema and Lo viejo y lo nuevo. ¿Qué hay de nuevo, viejo? Conceived by Daniel García Andújar and Pedro G. Romero, respectively, are two independent and specific approximations to the paradox underlined by the title of the cycle, two different approaches but that, however, are characterized by the fact of building particular spaces of critical resistance, areas that can hardly be tamed, marked by an ironical positioning and by the will to restore new dimensions, variable dimensions, to the shape of the social environment. Individual Citizen Republic Project™: El Sistema After the creation of several web sites conceived as platforms of citizen debate about specific cultural policies and several art events – e-manifesta.org, e-toulouse.org, e-arco.org, e-valencia.org and e-barcelona.org -, Daniel García Andújar takes up again, with the project proposed for the art room ZERO1 of the Museu Comarcal de la Garrotxa, the expansion of the “product catalogue” of Technologies To The People’s, a firm devoted to the development of proposals to facilitate the access to technologies and that has sponsored several works of the artist. Before, and also under the sponsorship of this same corporation, he had already created The Body Research Machine (1997), a machine that made it possible to scan the genetic structures of the human body and process them as a database, and Street Access Machine (1999), a device that could be used 24 hours a day for the electronic donation of money to people or groups with economic difficulties – beggars, alcoholics, immigrants, etc. Individual Citizen Republic Project™: El Sistema is again created as a critical reflection on the sovereignty of the great technology corporations and their symbolic values of persuasion and representation. With this aim in view, two antagonistic imaginaries are metaphorically related: an archetypical one, static and corporative, with slogans that publicize the positive aspects of the

52 (1)

technological advances; and a decoded one, which is the parodic reverse of the previous image and that is, in the same way, a place where information and work processes are shared. At the entrance area of the exhibition, within the corporative environment of Technologies To The People’s, the launching of the x-devian product is presented, an operating system that can be very easily installed in any computer, that does not interfere with the pre-existing software and that allows the user to work with the freeware Linux, which is free from any kind of business protocol but which, however, offers identical performance qualities as other paying software existing in the market. Hidden behind this first ambit by means of a barricade made of used furniture, but in a central place of the installation, there is a workshop-space equipped with abundant documentary material that informs about technical questions related to the alternative use of technology, as well as a network of recycled computers where the Linux software was previously installed. In this space there are going to take place formative workshops on non-commercial computerrelated training, presentations of organizations and communities of the area, such as Olot Wireless, and conferences devoted to reflect on safety and identity on the Internet. Apart from all these activities, this place acts as a medialab or club open to the participation of those who want to use it both for a public purpose – work sessions, associative meetings, etc. – and for a strictly personal use – navigating the Internet, sending e-mails, etc. Finally, in the room devoted to conferences, the visitor can access a thematic the net and broadcast them using a video-projector, as if he were a generic lecturer, before a hypothetic audience.
English

anthology of private presentations made using PowerPoint and rescued from

Valentín Roma David Santaeulària

53 (1)

Neofeudalism and return of the Inquisition Domingo Mestre

The worst thing about the American left-wing is that it betrayed to save its swimming pools. And there was no American right-wing in my generation. It did not intellectually exist. There were only left-wingers who betrayed each other. Because the left-wings were not destroyed by Mac Carthy; they destroyed themselves making way for a new generation of nihilists. Orson Welles I Business ‘nobility’ The bad times are a coming, but not only for poetry, as the old song says, but also for the rest of the subjective production and individual freedom. The development of the information technology society is contributing to a deep social transformation which already affects practically all areas of our lives. The new global society, also known as the “capital empire”1, is not so much based on the production of goods as on their consumption, especially of information2, and on speculation. In this ‘new world’, which is permanently evolving, it is easy to detect the return of certain neofeudal3 features which are being combined, more or less turbulently, with the unrealised enlightened dream of social emancipation and with the neo-liberal dogma to search for profit at all costs. Despite the survival of the old Nation-States and their monopoly on legal violence – although not the real power to exercise it –, it is true that, because of its peculiar features, this imperial reorganisation can only be administrated efficiently with the collaboration of those who Echeverría named the new “Air Lords”4; a small group of private companies and semi-public corporations who are the owners and administrators of the virtual space whose job is to channel the information flows. Along with the old War Lords (arms manufacturers) and the Speculation Lords5 (the owners of banks and financiers) they make up a new money-based aristocracy which has been redesigned in practice, always according to its strategic needs, by the universe in which we live. Naturally, this decisive pre-legislative – and even pre-executive – function which is carried out by the big economic lobbies must remain in the shadows, as always, given that it would not be the done thing to continue talking to the people about freedom and democracy if they knew that the basic guidelines are imposed by a small group of moneyed ‘gentlemen’.
55 (1)

Neofeudalism and Return of the Inquisition

It is important bear in mind that, in its current context, the resolution of antagonist conflicts is developed, mainly, in the symbolic environment of media space. This explains the importance which its control has acquired, because not only do the results of the next elections depend on it but also the prices on the world markets of the new nobility’s relative values. And this also leads to a company’s interest to make over their public image using patronage and sponsoring of all types of philanthropic and cultural activities. In this respect, Rodríguez Casanueva, businessman and president of Philantropos, affirmed a few days ago that 2003 is the year of Company Social Responsibility (CSR) in our country (...) company patronage is essentially a game in which all the parties involved can and must obtain clear profits6. An unfair game, of course, in which the supposed social benefit for the needy does not have to be linked to their real needs, but it does have to be subordinated to the interests of those who promote it. The slang of the instabilisation The lucid intuition from the different resistance groups who believe that the constructed situation demands local responses for global problems and that the system’s weak point can be found, mainly, in the symbolic sabotage in the great sacred ceremonies of capital globalisation (WTO, IMF, WB meetings) has achieved unexpected media victories in the unstoppable fight between those that rule and the multitude of those that obey. It has been an unquestionable success which has filled the cup with new hope. However, it has also created a strong spatial and temporary dependency regarding this pageantry, which is remains independent of movement and makes neutralisation easier by allowing their actions to depend on the meetings of the ‘Lords’. It also demands making a spectacle of the forms which have not always been well planned or adequately counteracted by the provision of specific contents and different ways of doing things; something which has had an effect, to a certain respect, on the current limitations of the formula. However, the positive side of all this adventure is the practical demonstration that other forms of heterorganisation really are possible. In fact, it is no longer the parties who call themselves left-wing or trade unions who call the shots in social conflicts but the different approved collectives, those of no bread and no land, no home and no job, no work papers and no culture, meaning the unstable in one sense who continually take the initiative and manage their own support networks and (dis)organised defence, thanks, in many cases, to the capacities which are now offered by new technologies.

56 (1)

Domingo Mestre

Without a doubt, in the near future it will be respecting plurality and differences which will mark the guidelines to making up the backbone of a true “civil society from below”7. The only way to mange to slow down the runaway ambitions of those who are always ‘above’ in some way. For this reason, I believe that the collective challenge would pass by recovering initiative, freeing it from servitude regarding the great global lords to expand its field of action down to mediumsized and even small events (especially cultural events), which are those which are now legalising the policies which affect us most directly as the far-reaching clergy of yesteryear did with feudal decisions. Equally, it seems desirable to try and construct some type of macro-formula of anti-system resistance between all the social groups which are victims of the current system. A collective company in which communication technicians and professionals (engineers, computer experts, journalists, theorists, artists, etc.) have much to contribute and of which we only really know that, out of necessity, will have to sustain itself in a structure which is different from that of current society built for the bourgeoisie, which, let us not forget, is that which sustains the current unquestionable capital class. The cultural clergy In this new imperial order, the only unquestionable god is Money, as respected and adored by the Lords as by its slaves. Its official religion is no longer economics, as might be imagined, but culture, which awards the first order dictates with the category of unquestionable. Intellectuals and artists make up a relevant part of the new evangelising clergy – and mendicant in many cases – with the particularity, moreover, that heterodoxy, which is consubstantial for free-thinkers, now forms part of ecclesiastical orthodoxy. A cruel paradox which, frequently, converts artistic dissent into submission – and the uncritical representation of the conflicts into the true sleepy stupor of the parishioner. Just as in the Middle Ages, the current co-habitation between the ‘nobility’ and the ‘clergy’ is almost total, limiting itself to divergences in questions regarding quantities mainly. In these conditions we should not be surprised that art is successfully dying, exhausted by the needs of institutional cultural marketing and company patronage, and that culture should be the object of desire even for the most coarse and uncultured gentlemen. Given that this use of art as propaganda – or, in the best cases, as lenitive – contributes little to the common cause, the survival of the old emancipatory spirit which used to accompany the Utopian project of modern art is shown to be an absolutely necessary contradiction which takes refuge nowadays, with difficulty, in very few heterotopias in progress, almost always virtual, which still maintain certain independent management.
57 (1)

Neofeudalism and Return of the Inquisition

In any case, it is comforting to know of the existence of corporate artistic fictions such as Technologies To The People (TTTP), a leading company8 in the field of private patronage, which has made an agnostic declaration of faith revealing occult contradictions in the system. Its original range of symbolic products, always ironically intended for ‘public’ use, and its campaigns of mass digital literacy make up small necessary counter-points compared with the multiple populist measures which continually try to put it under the yoke of the promise of salvation. Along with them, the sponsoring and maintenance of informative and communicational participation tools on the web, such as the site e-valencia.org, mark a qualitative difference compared with other similar companies or projects which, also from the artistic environment – but without managing to escape from it –, are trying to shed some kind of light on the fog of the new system. This latter project is especially interesting for different reasons. Originally, it made up part of The Power of Security9 exhibition and was devised as a website housed in the server of the Museum of the University of Alicante (MUA). The site, developed in the same way as all the TTTP projects using free software, contains a press magazine which is updated daily and a news archive relating to cultural events in Valencia. All its contents can be freely accessed and it is characterised by ease of user participation. This is something which has permitted the more than 2500 ‘anonymous’ users who visit it everyday to expressed the well-argued opinions, publicly and without going through any other system, over the past two years10. The intelligent use of the possibilities of anonymity has allowed us, despite the polemics which have arisen11, to explore unknown fields of collaboration including those who possess privileged information and the desire to make it public (but they cannot identify themselves for risk of losing their jobs), and those who possess the intelligence to interpret it appropriately, without holding a public name which opens doors for them into media visibility. The continuous transfer of information in both directions has caused a permanent feed back which translates into an exponential increase in the quality of the information, a phenomenon which has allowed us to discern an enormous hidden potential of those provocatively labelled “mass intellectuality”12. The particular spell of this project comes from the exceptional reception which it obtained from an extremely necessary social ferment of this type of tools and who has never cared a jot about their possible artist character. Its more than 750 000 visits, over the last few years, have generated a real ‘public art’ without meaning to and, in time, they have collaborated actively in order to unmask the networks which are hidden behind the cultural policies of the Community of
58 (1)

Domingo Mestre

Valencia. Using this tool, citizens’ resistance was organised against the closing of the IVAM Carmen Centre, against the II World Arts Meeting and against the II Valencia Biennial Exhibition. From there, there have been continual complaints lodged against the shortfalls of public education such as incoherence of a cultural policy involved in the creation infrastructures without content, making easier lines of investigation which later have been developed for the traditional media. From the synergies brought up on the forum emerged the critical collective ex Amics de l’IVAM (ex-friends of IVAM) which has managed to bring together a whole kaleidoscope of different artistic stances, which have been able to come together, at specific moments, to give their demands more weight13. And from this embryo of wills the Ciutadans per una Cultura Democrática i Participativa (Citizens for a Democratic and participatory Culture)14 association was born, which, at the same time, was integrated in a platform of civic associations and citizens (1+1+1) which is exploring new formula for citizen participation in public matters. It is all a rhizome of flexible social fabric which, with minimal and seemingly bearable organisation, is continually changing itself following the rhythm of event and the flow of collective wishes. II The crusade against (in) security The tragic slaughter of 11th September, transformed into the most impacting media event in history for its capacity to deeply affect practically the whole planet simultaneously and in real time, has tipped the imperial balance, at least for the moment, towards the most radically reactionary aspect of the conservative theorem. From then on, an epic of security has taken over the discourse which emanates from the hard centre of the empire and, under the cover of the preventative and permanent war against terrorism, espionage and censorship have stopping being practised in the semi-darkness in order to turn itself into ‘popular’ measures of preventative hygiene. New prohibitions and restrictions of acquired rights which are sold to us as essential, but whose real use is more than questionable given that its main virtue lies far more in the sensation of insecurity and lack of protection which they generate than in their true efficiency. These measures are generating repressive paranoia which converts all dissidence in dangerous antagonism. A deliberate distortion of the principles of social dialogue using many of the instruments which before had served to protect civil liberties are now turning into dangerous weapons at the hands of those who want to exercise political domination.
59 (1)

Neofeudalism and Return of the Inquisition

And it is happening like this, not only with the fetishes of the latest generation such as Internet, whose mystified democratising power of knowledge is being reconverted under pressure into an efficient tool for espionage (the former Echelon network and the new Carnivore programme)15 and for control (the controversial LSSICE law)16, if not also with other classic stratum such as North American public libraries, which were, until recently, exemplary focuses of free circulation of culture, whose workers have been obliged today, following the new anti-terrorist law USA Patriot Act, to turn themselves into unpaid spies who must inform the authorities immediately about people who are reading what is considered potentially dangerous material – and also about what individuals who are considered a priori to be suspicious are reading –. Repressive madness has reached such a point that, right now, North American librarians17 can be taken to court for merely contacting a lawyer for information about the real reach of their professional obligations. Something similar has occurred with the right to free information, which, having been submitted to previous self-censuring during the war with Iraq, has been transformed into a parody of journalistic communication whose climax could be situated in the recent prohibition from president Bush to photograph the coffins which return North American victims of the occupation. Bloody tragic-comedy interpreted masterfully not only by his country’s press but also by practically all televisions in our environment18. It is a shameful sight which, despite not totally convincing anybody, has however achieved a real manipulation of the global perception of the collective reality judging by the latest election results. The return of the Inquisition Propaganda and censorship are both activities which have been going on for many years. However, freedom of expression is a recent conquest, parallel to the bourgeois revolutions, which only began to be generalised, in the ‘democratic’ countries, after World War II. It seems that, this expansion was speeded up by the allied coalition as a preventative antidote to the dangerous efficiency of the combination of repression and propaganda developed by Minister Goebbels in Nazi Germany – the famous “Exhibition of Degenerate Art” was a risky bet of his which fulfilled all its expectations and opened the door to later political manipulation of the antagonist art –. In a very short time, the ever-growing freedom of creation became, especially through the Berlin Cultural Freedom Congress – patronised in secret by the CIA19 –, under the flag of the so-called ‘free world’ and the symbol of democratic faith which should have marked its difference from the ‘dictatorships’ during the whole development of the cold
60 (1)

Domingo Mestre

war. A difference which was more symbolic than real given that, as a parallel corrective to this expansion of freedom, this time also saw the appearance of the “witch hunt” by the Anti-American Activities Committee whose most outstanding legacy consisted of the profound interiorisation of the self-censoring in this country. In any case, the arts have always had a double function: on the one hand, they have served to promote the greatness of those who control them; on the other hand, they have behaved as a catalyst for the individual and collective dreams of those who enjoy them – or those who suffer them –. On the margin of these specific functions, the most outstanding is not its supposed importance, something which nobody really believes in these days, but the fact that they house the potential capacity to open cracks and fissures in the watertight fields of what in every moment seemed thinkable. Because of these functions, fragments of knowledge which were inaccessible by other means have sprung up, historically – despite its traditional use for subjugation – and from there comes the idea that its special need for freedom is a subject of real general interest. If, as Ramonet affirms20, the post-modern censor of the 21st century should be based more in the informative saturation than in the suppression of information21 – even though it might only be for the mere question of rationalising resources –, the return to the compulsory silencing of the dissidence is an anachronism which recalls the methods described in the Inquisitor’s Manual (13th Century) where the God-fearing are averted to: “Any people, any nation which allows the bud of heresy into its heart, cultivates it and does not remove it in time, is perverted, falls into subversion and could even disappear”22. Victims of the current practices of these antiquated principles, the Dixie Chicks, a popular feminine North American country trio who dared to publicly criticise the occupation of Iraq, have seen how their music went, in the space of a few days, from nº 1 in the hit parade to disappearing completely from the radio stations, whilst their ranches were looted and they received death threats: “It has been shown that it was a manoeuvre orchestrated by the republican rightwing. The party is very well organised. They called and sent emails to the radio stations requesting that they should not play our songs (...) Honest radio workers began to investigate the origin of the tens of thousands of calls and mails. They discovered that the majority of the protests came from the central headquarters of the Republican Party”23. State-wide, the situation is not particularly different as, after a short parenthesis of pro-European normality, in the past few months we are seeing more and more cases of abuses of power from the cultural institutions. In August of last
61 (1)

Neofeudalism and Return of the Inquisition

year, at the peak of the Spanish-Moroccan crisis over ‘Isla Perejil’, the management of Cajastur Social Events decided to cancel the Fez, inner city exhibition by Toni Serra in the Revillagigedo Palace in Gijón. During the latest San Sebastian film festival, the Culture Minister triggered a furious discrediting campaign against the film by Julio Médem, “La pelota vasca” which was qualified, with no exaggerations, as ‘counter-reformist. Already bordering on the puritan, the fundamentalist association e-cristians have used the mass e-mailing to put pressure on those in charge of the Culture Institute of Barcelona (ICUB) and managed to change the title of an exhibition by the artist Jaume Alcalde entitled Mecagum Déu. Home videos about nationalism. But the straw that broke the camel’s back for this regression (at least for the moment) is the unpunished disconnection of the webpage e-valencia.org from the server of the Museum of the University of Alicante (MUA), a decision, induced by hidden pressure from high authorities of the administration in Valencia, which is above the strict scope of censorship: by treating e-valencia as a project of art in progress, its interruption is equivalent to the deliberate destruction of a work of art. III A ray of light in the fog and the dark As the Catalonia Association of Visual Artists (AAVC) affirms, at this moment: “There is a clear retreat in the freedom of expression and creation in the Spanish State”24. A phenomenon which is worrying not for the fact of the specific censoring in itself25 (although the current IVAM director, Cosme de Barañano, deserves a special mention for his witch hunter role), but for the foreseeable future self-censorship which this dark repressive environment could manage to induce. And, above all, the uneasiness caused when we find out that institutions with independent management such as the University of Alicante are being submitted so easily to these atrocious manoeuvres. These are not good times, like the prince said, but the troubadours know that the dark night is always followed by the dawn. The positive side to all these repressive manoeuvres could be extracted from the clarification which is obtained when the pressure of the facts obliges people in culture to position themselves publicly; but even if we try to learn a little from recent history: “Intellectuals, as a collective, were not in favour of the witch hunts, but nor were they prepared to stand up against them, limiting themselves to assuming a golden marginalisation from the conflict. It was enough: for decades, the American culture would also be globally docile”26.
62 (1)

Domingo Mestre

In this sense, collecting signatures against a flagrant abuse of power as is the unjustified closing of e-valencia.org has turned out to be the most revealing. And not only because of the comments which accompany the support, some of them very tasty, but also for the outlandish arguments used in order to not do it by those belonging to the new cultural monasticism boasting about their liberal mood and their antagonist commitment to freedom. No dogmatisms no raucousness, this text is dedicated to all of them.

1 HARDT, M. and NEGRI, A.: Empire (Imperio). Piados. Barcelona 2002. 2 And as consumers, from the birth of “productive consumption”, we are the main merchandise which, at the moment, is being speculated with. 3 ECO, U., COLOMBO, F., ALBERONI, F. y SACCO, G.: The new middle ages(La nueva edad media). Alianza Editorial. Madrid 1990. This publication covers other aspects related to the issue which it is impossible for us to deal with adequately here. 4 ECHEVERRÍA, J.: Los señores del aire: Telépolis y el tercer entorno. Destino. Barcelona 1999. 5 It should be noted as a differential fact the enormous power in our State of the Brick Lords, with the capacity to sabotage local elections in the Community of Madrid and instate the candidate who looks after their interests as president. 6 RODRÍGUEZ CASANUEVA, F.: “Playing for eveyone to win” “Jugar a que todos ganen”, El País, 23-10-2003, p. 69. 7 HOUTART, F.: “Civil Society and public spaces”, in FORO SOCIAL MUNDIAL (MONEREO, M. and RIERA, M., ed.), Porto Alegre, Another world is possible (Otro mundo es posible). El Viejo Topo. Barcelona 2001. 8 Take the title quite literally given that the whole company concentrates on that. It emerged from the title of an exhibition by Daniel García Andújar, and since then has served to promote different initiatives, more or less subversive, from the respectable backing which it is awarded from its simulated belonging to these new ‘gentlemen’ of money making up the multinationals. 9 Galería Visor, Valencia 2001. 10 The public’s great acceptance brought about the setting up of other sites with the same basic principle such as e-barcelona, e-arco or e-toulouse. 11 Interview with Daniel G. Andujar. “The project deals with the limits of freedom and how the use of new technologies can affect our society, how our society can self-regulate formally in as specific a context as that created for e-valencia”. http://somiatruites.blogalia.com/historias/12561. 12 VIRNO, P.: Virtuosism and Revolution. (Virtuosismo y Revolución). Dealers in dreams. Madrid 2003. 13 Whose political efficiency can be valued according to the hysterical reactions which it provoked: the IVAM pedagogic department recently edited a comic in which the evil Doctor Hipnos, a “former friend of the offended IVAM”, tried to hypnotise the public in the Museum avenge his lack of recognition. Finally, he is beaten by the management personnel knocked down by a sculpture by Julio González! An incredible strategy in child manipulation which, however, recalls the ideological links of Disney films with senator McCarthy’s “witch hunt”. 14 In which citizens and professionals are integrated coming from very different culture fields who were the organisers of the “Realitats de la Ciutat” days coinciding with the celebration of the II Valencia Biennial Exhibition. 15 GARCÍA ANDÚJAR, D.: “Freedom versus security” (Libertad versus seguridad) in FONTCUBERTA, J.: Securitas. Gustavo Gili. Barcelona 2001. “Echelon is a spying system designed to operate on civil objectives which acts by

63 (1)

Neofeudalism and Return of the Inquisition

intercepting enormous quantities of communications indiscriminately and randomly and then selecting what is of vallue using artifical intelligence”. Carnivore, “This is a computer system designed to allow the FBI, in collaboration with an Internet provider, to pass the judicial order which demands the collection of certain information relating to e-mail or other types of electronic communication from a specific user who is being investigated”. 16 Spanish law which regulates communications in Internet and whose confused wording allows it to be the Administration, and not the Law Courts, who impose restrictions on the free circulation of Internet contents, as well as establishing the possibility that the webmasters are considered responsible for their pages’ hyperlinks. Its latest modification has consisted of... legalising spam! Another victory for the Air Lords over the most basic interests of the rest of the community. 17 In spite of this, it was these very professionals whose pressure has managed to raise the censorship maintained in the press for a year on Michael Moore’s latest book, Stupid White Men (Ediciones B. Barcelona 2003), which related the manoeuvres and conspiracies which allowed President Bush to take imperial power. 18 A special mention must be given to the coverage of this war carried out by the channel Tele 5 in the atmosphere of our State, nerve which cost the life of the cameraman José Couso in an unclear incident which our incompetant government has been incapable of clearing up. 19 STONOR SAUNDERS, F.: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (La CIA y la Guerra fría cultural). Debate. Madrid 2001. 20 RAMONET, I.: The tyrany of communication (La tiranía de la comunicación). Debate. Madrid 1998. 21 Which does not mean, in the least, that clasic censoring has ever totally disappeared, but on the whole it has adopted other forms which are more sibylline and appropriate to the situation. In this respect, The File Room project which was started by Muntadas, collected updated information from most of the cases which still happen http://www.thefileroom.org. 22 EIMERIC N. y PEÑA F.: The inquisitor’s manual (El manual de los inquisidores) . Muchnik. Barcelona 1983, quoted by ALCARAZ RAMOS, M.: Op. cit. p. 37. 23 GÓMEZ L.: “Combative ‘country’” in El País [Semanal], 26-10-2003, p. 25 24 http://www.e-barcelona.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=2226. 25 By the time these lines are printed, the page e-valencia.org is probably active again, returning from forced exile, and we hope that it is not too battered by the multilations of inactivity. 26 ALCARAZ RAMOS, M.: Op. cit. p. 228-229.

64 (1)

Criticism on the simulation of freedom Álvaro dels Ángeles

The quotation at the beginning of Comments on Entertainment Society (Comentarios sobre la Sociedad del Espectáculo), by Guy Debord, could well be taken as key in the resistance strategy, whatever type it might have been and it would be activated against the political system occurring at a precise historical moment. Taken from The Art of War, by Sun Tse, the short paragraph begins: “Even though the situation and the circumstances you find yourself in may be critical, do not despair.”, and concludes “when you are without resources, you must count on all resources; when you have been surprised, you must surprise the enemy”1. It is often written or decreed that “the art of war is the art of living” and, actually, the book by the Chinese general Sun Tse, indoctrinates so well on the ways in which an attack should be planned, a rearguard prepared, on how to analyse one’s own weak points and those of others before facing the enemy or on studying the features of the terrain where the battle will take place, among a lot of other data given as advice, that it also provides a great metaphor for an intelligent way of surviving (or affronting) certain circumstances in life, be they personal, professional, political or ideological. Of course, this quotation (and by extension the complete text, which arrived in Europe during the French revolution) is easy to analyse from a very specific perspective, precisely because in this case it anticipates or introduces another work (that of Debord) which bases its philosophy in painstakingly analysing the opponent in order to attack him with his own weapons or, at least, in order to try and disarm him with his own arguments. The opponent of Debord and of the whole situationism was precisely the spectacular use of culture, its political manipulation and instrumentation by those in charge of managing it, producing it or broadcasting it, its main task being an unreserved, openly critical, condemnation which was always backed up by the solidity of a discourse which is rich in nuances and elaborated in detail. This stance, which has already become a classic of wellreasoned criticism, being as it is, fully valid, has now been reduced, however, to a frugal aperitif of delicacies which, nowadays, have driven us to savage entertainment bulimia. Given as the conception of entertainment has continually worsened within the cultural policies which have been developed or have

65 (1)

Criticism on the simulation of freedom

emerged since then, the situationalist texts (albeit with logical temporary limitations) acquire a power which is almost prophetic. Are there still theoretic approaches or practical actions which could be viable? Are we capable of trying, if not to stop then, to raise the alarm about certain culturally absolutist politic behaviours? Is it possible to separate culture, or try to make it independent from, arbitrary political decisions which are picked up and put down without prior warning? There are as many replies to the first question as there are actions which could be taken; small gestures which, though scarce, manage to stir up doubts regarding the general monopoly. As far as the second question is concerned, it seems that there are more and more technical resources to develop spaces (physical or virtual) which are dedicated to culture or independently committed to culture, but at the same time they seem evermore reduced to a greater ostracism and increasingly minority impact, when they are not “obliged” to disappear altogether. Sun Tse advised us to face the opponent having already studied him closely, understand his modus operandi, analyse his weak points and those where he will not lose, survey his actions and do not be taken in by his propaganda, acting like a corrected and amplified version of the ancestral behaviour of provocation and confrontation. And, in a certain way, in order to be able to maintain this vigilant and inquisitive attitude, it is necessary to act, at specific moments, in exactly the same way as your opponent(s), like a figure reflected, inversely, in an imaginary mirror. Analysis apart, it is worthwhile to consider the option, along with the doubts and contradictions its development provokes, of confrontation from within, proposing a possible independence of approaches in the very intestine of the cultural industry; valid study cases would not be hard to find. So in this way, faced with limitation of movements, there is room for more dynamic activism; compared with the supersonic speed of the power propaganda machines which cancel out the previous missive immediately after having presented the new one (like an endless version of the “perpetual present”), it would be advisable to impose a calm and peaceful rhythm which evokes the pursuer as well as the pursued, the watcher as well as the watched; in response to the cheek of the public to create many-forked discourse, the sobriety to investigate in one single direction, no detours and no concessions, just in a straight line; against the happy faces of the protagonists of the deceiving adverts, the poker-faced reception which shows that nothing is what it seems, nor must it admit that what it shows as real could even manage to be so.

66 (1)

Álvaro dels Ángeles

These direct attitudes are openly criticised by a large part of society, as well as by those who, obviously, raise the reactionary spirit of their policies. The generalised external opinion of these event is that the mood used does not “encourage” others to join them, inflamed, they say, by a total sense of humour failure or, to use other words, without any frivolous holds to hang on to; which definitively clarifies that it would be necessary to employ the same aesthetic and friendly, yet deceitful, weapons of propaganda with the aim of gaining more followers. And that is what is going on; although arguing over the homologation or not of different senses of humour and taking sides on whether a performance is entertaining or not, will always depend on from where and how those involved are reflected. In fact, the same criticisms which sound the alarm on sobriety and boredom, even unjustified anger, in the form of making formal complaints or throwing certain criticisms, do not hesitate to dismiss the small acts or events which are carried out as an escape valve as frivolous, although they do not necessarily compromise coherence in their discourse. In this way then, what happens when kindness and friendliness, or even respect, are put aside in the discourse developed by power in order for these things to be substituted by constant imposition and negation when faced with any attempt to bring the two opposing positions closer together? Is there still room for the use of friendly methods to confront others, which are launched and, therefore, imposed, as supreme and unchangeable truths and affirmations? Nowadays we live in the ruins of a spectacular society where there is no room for discrepancy; where debate is allowed abiding by rules which are so limited and which so clearly favour those in power that they turn out to be, from the beginning, inadmissible for this reason. It is more outrageous to consider the obsessive determination, or psychosis, with which the bigwigs laud any old bum note which breaks forth from their institutionalised philharmonic works, which are generally badly put together or poorly focussed and easily interchangeable for other equally mediocre efforts. All that is left us to report on (very briefly, as Domingo Mestre’s text which appears in this same publication analyses in greater depth) is the case of Daniel G. Andujar’s artistic project ‘e-valencia.org’, housed in the server of the Museum of the University of Alicante-MUA and provoking serious cultural pressure from the Comunitat Valenciana until this university organisation was forced to close, convincing us that power attacks its critics and refuses to debate. And not only political power, but also its cultural technicians who, listening to themselves in their role as expert, also reject criticism or debate with the same absolutist

67 (1)

Criticism on the simulation of freedom

arguments, considering the discrepancy of the dissent as a familiar old tale or as a product of competitive pursuits in the professional or even personal environment. e-valencia.org was an oasis which it was necessary to reject and the methods used (putting pressure on some; admitting the pressure and giving in to others) seem to indicate something much more serious than we first believed which continues to happen today, attitudes which, without a doubt, have risen from the darkest and most moth eaten ashes. I. What it seems to be Any magic trick is part-truth and part-illusion. A sword goes through a box, but what is true? The box which already has holes in it and the sword which softened or bends back on itself in order not to hurt anyone, or the fact that everything seems real and we believe that it is going through the body of the person lying in the box?; the assistant is suspended in the air, her dress hiding something more than just her body: the contraption which keeps her in this gravity defying position; the card in which we concentrate always appears on the opposite side from where it should be or where we expected it to be, or better still, the magician makes us look the other way, diverts our glances and other attention whilst he performs the trick. We see what we are induced to see by his expert, agile hands which are faster that our capacity to assimilate the trick itself. We want to find this small detail which makes our pragmatic conscience swing to the side of the pervious experience, although we still experience the wish to believe that the impossible can this time really become possible. Advertising and propaganda work in a very similar way. They show us a perfectly produced image, and then evoke the main part of its function, but without essentially showing it. They display and hide in equal measure, like a perfectly performed magic trick. You are shown what you want to become, not what you really are, and the different levels of this representation are those which finally swing the balance to the broadcasts of some opinions or others, paying attention to the loyalty of the message, to the possibility of fulfilling what has been shown, to the exact use of the lie or to direct manipulation, starting off with premises which are hard to check up on. Walter Benjamin came to the conclusion, in the Epilogue of Works of art in the time of their technical reproducibility (1936), that “fascism tends, in consequence, towards an aesthetisation of political life” and he concluded his work with a precise analysis of his time: “Humanity, which in the times of Homer was an

68 (1)

Álvaro dels Ángeles

object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now fulfils the same role for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a level that it can experiment with its own annihilation as a top class aesthetic pleasure. This is the type of aesthetisation of politics which fascism follows. The response of communism is to politicize art”2. It would be simpler to call things by their names, if they still respond to their definitions. But not even fascism appears with its former appearance and behaviour, nor does communism now that it can hardly try to recover what it lost for itself. If the “concentrated spectacular” in relation with the “vague spectacular” gave way to the “integrated spectacular” (Debord) – as much as we can glimpse at new trends in what is concentrated in the current vague and integrated magma, especially since 9-11 – the power machine seems so vast and some of its passwords so indecipherable that we can only perish after confrontation. Perish, or claim to be like it, in a form of alliance between enemies. So it is power which has approached the aesthetic, not in order to dignify it but to use it for its advertising benefit, the aesthetic can only defend its depleted territory by trying to appropriate the part which is not theirs, or belonging to politics. Attacking from a different side whenever it is admitted of part of what is lost cannot be recovered. Politic art (and/or its social aspect), therefore, far from being a mere label which usually scandalises its own and others and which makes the very artists themselves run terrified for the door, should be understood as the only way in which it can present itself and acquire a full sense. In this way not all art must be political art, nor it is to say that that which is not political is not art. By political, of course, we do not necessarily mean the assignation of a politically correct trend, but the sincere and committed approach with which is produced, on how it is broadcast and with the heart of the argument into which we try to bring data, renew theories and, quite simply, disqualify History itself. Individual Citizen Republic Project: The System, the project by Daniel G. Andújar carried out for Sala ZERO1 of the ‘Museu Comarcal de la Garrotxa’, can be interpreted from several perspectives. Firstly, it acts as a micro cosmos of power organism functioning, or that of some of them, where the first part would coincide with the device used for its propaganda, its external side, what is visible. The second and intermediate perspective would correspond to the idea laboratory which generates ideas and room for approach, action and manipulation which also has internal repercussions, where the black walls relate it, symbolically, with the dark side and the occult or that which is kept secret but, deep down, is the most enthusiastically participated space, which generates an interesting paradox. The third and final perspective presents the work carried out, emerging from this

69 (1)

Criticism on the simulation of freedom

intermediary free access space which captures the users, only that those who end up learning are the spectators themselves, the public, who after visiting the first two stages find themselves available, maybe not to give an opinion on what they have seen (self-reflection) in relation with the mechanisms of the System in force outside, but they can talk, in front of a real or figurative audience, about widely varying topics: the spectator as an expert spectator. Another interpretation is that which quickly relates two irreconcilable, openly opposed, worlds: outside-inside, public-private, white-black, true-lies or realfigurative, shop-stock-room or gallery-storeroom, classroom-laboratory… The intention is to create a conflict between the antagonisms, so that taking one side or the other implies getting involved not only in its particularities but also in what they might have in common, in their necessary frictions or in some of its blurred margins. Another interpretation can be seen (without a doubt from a more subjective and personal key) as the possible similarities between the three differentiated parts of the project and the three types of capitalism which Vicente Verdú reviews in his practical sociological essay The style of the world (El estilo del mundo). Whilst “production capitalism became established in the frames and the heavy black objects”, which would make it equivalent to the second space, with the objects resting on and supporting the panel like a barricade, “consumer capitalism chose shiny surfaces, aluminium and stainless steel and metallic paint”, which means, the use of advertising and marketing in order to sell more, as in the first space where an advertising billboard and packaging offer a new operating system or a new product. “In our era, finally, with fiction capitalism, the surrounding vision is made transparent in computer frames, in buildings, in watches…3”, or equally, the virtual-qualities of the presentations edited in Power Point or the computer product or the company -which does not exist fiscally – come to equal, in the third part, that which is not felt but which, undeniably, can be seen, counts and finally exists, although its appearance reveals itself almost until the mimesis. II. What everything shows it to be So, the first part of our analysis was centred in what it seems to be, which is a necessary and essential link in order to decipher what it really is, or to a lesser extent, that which everything shows it to be, although possibly we will never know what it is really like. Even though the first part can emerge at the same time as the second or even be thought of previously, it is very frequent that it

70 (1)

Álvaro dels Ángeles

is created and launched afterwards. Advertising is as much used to announce something which exists and needs to be promoted, as it is used to invent what is not being made, as well as being extremely useful to exaggerate what has been made (always in the least measure of what is promoted) or to divert our attention from what they are really making. In any of these aspects, propaganda is a loaded weapon from the dark, reactionary past in a present where we are only interested in the future seen from its technological side. What is produced in this second free access space will be carried out with the previously advertised product (the x-devian system, The New TTTP System by knoppix) and will act as a link between the advertising of its previous state and the marketing of the third and last link. Whilst we are watching the impeccable surface of the mechanism, other machinery, which is equally resolute, is carrying out the real work. In this clearly participatory aspect within “The System” there is the possibility of working for and by counter-information, with specific free software and far from computer dominance, which avoids the continuing need for advertising and its image to sell its virtual-qualities and accessibility. By playing with identical weapons and employing similar cunning, the mechanism of power does not now feel so disrespected (“Bite the hand that feeds you”) or watched (”Watch the Watcher”) if not ridiculed in its banal reflection, in the misappropriation of its lies, in the propaganda of its own interests. And given that it has no sense of humour, it cannot admire the criticism, just as it cannot make direct confrontations in debate as it would show up its falsity. Adorno and Horkheimer ventured in their Dialectic of illustration that “all mass culture under a monopoly is identical, and its framework–the conceptual body manufactured for that – starts to be drawn. The leaders are no longer at all interested in hiding this framework; their power is reinforced when it is declared more brutally”4. This assertion has been fulfilled down to its last consequences and, possibly now or very soon, will reach every corner of the world. In spite of all this however, a second or third level of reading is still used to divert our eyes to where we cannot see the trick and so some cultural experts and media gurus are dedicated to throwing smoke bombs at an increasingly confused audience, making it is difficult to tell whether what we read and see is one thing or its opposite. In an article entitled “For the immense minority” published in EL PAÍS (11/10/2003), José Vidal-Beneyto reviews the development of cultural policies from the 1950s up to the present day and its capacity or incapacity to “democratise culture”, its worldwide successes and its failures. Of the three columns which make up

71 (1)

Criticism on the simulation of freedom

the editorial, the first two are dedicated to this didactic function and are well detailed and explained for those, no doubt, who have made up part of some great political-cultural decisions and whose opinion should be taken into account. The third column however, which claims to aim at a possible solution for the endemic wrongs of our culture, namely, where the fracture between “a majority held captive by the television, carefully anaesthetised and culturally degraded by its daily televised muck whose destiny seems to be dictated consumption” and a minority who are “threatened everyday but also more convinced that culture is not meant to be consumed en masse, but it should be lived as one’s own experience” is shown to be insurmountable, proposed and defended the existence of the World Arts Council, of which he is President. This organism, made up of 44 experts in six different disciplines (Plastic Arts, Architecture and Design, Cinema, Theatre, Dance and Music) sets out the solution to this worldwide problem as the celebration of the Worldwide Arts Meeting, the awarding of the World Arts Prize and the support for the ‘Bienal’ in Valencia. Three flagships of a cultural policy based precisely on the aspects which he himself criticised in the first two columns5. The crux of the question seems to be, therefore, in the interested use of certain concepts and ideologies which marry perfectly with progressive trends and even clearly left wing trends and its proclamation, in order to end up consuming the contrary or other which, of course, comes excessively and suspiciously unstuck from his original discourse. Because, if Sr. Vidal-Beneyto really thinks the great challenge of democratisation can be solved with the celebration of such innocuous competitions, which are disproportionate in every aspect except debate, discussion and searching for real specific solutions, it is certain that the intellectual crisis is a vast black hole which, those involved such as him, strive to enlarge. III. What we say and what they let us say we are Immersed, then, within a system which heralds and sells what is proposed, which more or less surreptitiously avoids the criticisms and resulting debate of its functioning and which distinguishes or undermines the authority of one or another according to chance and the specific historical moment, it is appropriate to remember who we are and where we are. Better said, we should be allowed to say what we are or what we can say ourselves about where we find ourselves. The use of Internet has made meetings, mergers and joint developments possible without the need for physical presence in coinciding time and space. It has

72 (1)

Álvaro dels Ángeles

brought about struggles, signature collections, denouncements, debate and discussion whilst each person keeps their own living and working space, without the slightest deviation from their daily tasks like a pawn which is perfectly integrated in the system. It has brought positions closer together, has made distances immaterial, it has made certain hierarchies disappear, and has converted our society into a sprawl city of ridiculous proportions which is reminiscent of the perfect map evoked by Borges and quoted by Baudrillard in Culture and pretence; the plan on a scale of 1:1, the ideal sham. And, once again, nothing is appears, or not, to be at least what we are told is. So, whilst the political parties and Governments add the importance of technology in our society and our lives to their electoral programmes, as more one line within their hypothetical global fulfilment, laws are emerging which limit freedom of expression and confidentiality, which rake through our archives to, for the sake of euphemism, ensure our security. This is all in the name of a world peace which can only exist prior to bombing, territorial and intimate invasion and abuse of power. Vicenç Navarro, in his splendid analysis Insufficient welfare, incomplete democracy. All about what we don’t talk about in this country makes a particularly accurate review of dialectic policies and practical policies, on what we are told and what is hidden from us, regarding basic aspects of our society which affect freedom, welfare and our capacity to choose within it. Also, light seems to be shed on the “repercussion” given to certain “constitutional issues” which, however, do not respond to those which most worry the citizens, who are most concerned about issues that affect the directly (employment, housing, health, safety, pensions), “issues which do not have the visibility which they deserve”6. The whole text is an argument of this forked custom of power in order to display an idea which, either awards it with over-exaggerated importance, or attracts attention to aspects which interest power which therefore overshadow those which are usually important to public opinion. As Navarro shows, “the need for a democratic radicalisation which allows the citizen to see the State as his servant and not vice versa”7 is imposed. This attitude also occurs in the cultural environment and is developed within its cultural policies. Meetings of experts (sic) (World Arts Meeting and others) are used organised around unquestionably important theoretical issues which, curiously, always skirt around concepts related to sensitive social matters such as public-spiritedness, participation, city and/or citizenship, democracy, transversality, interdisciplinarism…, when in reality participation is nearly always reduced to those few experts who attend. What conclusions can be drawn and

73 (1)

Criticism on the simulation of freedom

where or how can they be put into practice? Will the great cultural events, stamped a spectacular, affect the citizens who live in the cities which host them for the mere fact that they were held? Or is it the tone which is used to make them happen which will give their celebration sense, or not? It is difficult to resist quoting the function that the expert fulfils for Debord: “the most useful expert is, of course, the expert who lies”8. From this perspective, the third part of “The System” encourages us to become experts in information of which we have no knowledge, free lecturers to give our opinion, with a ready audience, on the issue or issues of our choice, whether we know anything about it or not, whether or not we want to be listened to, whether we wish to be followed or not in our discourse or our silence. The final phase of this project ridicules the function of press conferences, formal presentations and conferences destined for a select public. Everything which is necessary is offered for everyone to decide what to do, what to say, how to do it …, freedom presented like an endless catalogue of choices and decisions which need to be taken. Therefore, the route that we take goes from expectation (advertising of a product, ideology or system) to individual experimentation of its proposals and from here to the public presentation of what has been assimilated, its defence and once again its advertising. Perfect learning synthesis, where all the sociopolitical aspects gather coming from the power of information, disinformation, the given and the obtained as symmetrical margins of the same official document. It is only between the lines that we find the surprise, the spaces of freedom and the illusion of what might still be possible. Just like knowledge, like ideas and putting into them practice, the same as counter-information, well-reasoned criticism or the control of those who control us, as citizens, finally, we are part of a continuous process. And we won’t regret the trouble which it causes.

1 In DEBORD, G.: Comments on the entertainment society (Comentarios sobre la sociedad del espectáculo). Anagrama, Col. Argumentos. Barcelona 1990-1999. The content of The Art of War by SUN TSE varies depending on the translation. An integral version can be found on www.weblioteca.com.ar/oriental/artwar.htm. 2 BENJAMIN, W.: Works of art in the time of their technical reproducibility. From this version, on Photography Archives, Volume III, number 2, Autumn-Winter 1997. Edited by Argazki Euskal Museoa Photomuseum, Zarautz. 3 VERDÚ, V.: The style of the world. Life in fiction capitalism, ch ”Transparency and vigilance”, pp. 159 and ss., Anagrama, Col. Argumentos. Barcelona 2003.

74 (1)

Álvaro dels Ángeles

4 HORKHEIMER, M. and ADORNO, T. W.: Dialect of illustration (Dialéctica de la ilustración). Philosophical fragments1944, 1947, 1969. Spanish edition: Trota, Col. Structures and processes, Philosophy series. Introduction and translation by Juan José Sánchez. Madrid 2003. 5 A more detailed analysis of this text can be found in the article “Final discourse. On what is said that is done and on what is really done in current cultural policies”. Álvaro de los Ángeles. Mono Magazine nº3, November 2003, Valencia. 6 NAVARRO, V.: Insufficient welfare, incomplete democracy. All about what we don’t talk about in our country, (Bienestar insuficiente, democracia incompleta. Sobre lo que no se habla en nuestro país) pp. 78-79. Anagrama, Col. Argumentos. Barcelona 2002. 7 Ibidem. 8 DEBORD, G.: Comments on the entertainment society (Comentarios sobre la sociedad del espectácul), p. 29. Anagrama, Col. Argumentos. Barcelona 1990-1999.

75 (1)

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.