Monday, December 20, 2010

Flusser Studies: Photography and Beyond

The new issue of Flusser Studies is now online and includes a smart roundtable of invited artists and scholars contributing to "Photography and Beyond: On Vilém Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography."

An excerpt from my section reads:
In my own work, I apply a kind of Flusser "theory filter" to transform the photographer into what I term a digital thoughtographer, one who is using emerging media apparatuses to expand the concept of writing. In this way, the gesture of writing is reconceived as a live, networked performance where the artist morphs into a remixologist who creatively postproduces images that are magically conjured up by playing with their fingers on a computer keyboard. Of course, the questions Flusser asks us to consider are, "How is the envisioning gesture being directed?" and "Where are the fingers pointing?"
Flusser is a fantastic source for those of us searching for philosophy tracks to sample from and remix into a contemporary form of networked theory/poetics. Phrases from his "Into the Universe of Technical Images" are threaded throughout my next publication project, remixthebook, to be published by the University of Minnesota Press next year.

I was very lucky in that while I was in Falmouth (UK) during the production of Immobilité, I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Nancy Roth, who will also publish her translation of "Into the Universe of Technical Images" with the University of Minnesota Press in March 2011. Early access to that "source" was crucial to the storyline and remix theory to follow.

Written as "[a]n examination of the promise and peril of digital communication technologies," Flusser by way of Nancy's translation, totally influenced the creation of my Immobilité now on exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. In fact, micro-samples of his text are remixed into the narrative subtitles that push the Immobilité story to its inevitable conclusion (wherein the voyeur's vision of a double rainbow illuminates the sky like a post-World War II British Abstract Expressionist painting just before they commit information-suicide).

As the UM Press notes about the newly translated Flusser book,
Flusser charts how communication evolved from direct interaction with the world to mediation through various technologies. The invention of writing marked one significant shift; the invention of photography marked another, heralding the current age of the technical image. The automation of the processing of technical images carries both promise and threat: the promise of freeing humans to play and invent and the threat for networks of automation to proceed independently of humans.
In discussing his prior book, "Toward a Philosophy of Photography," I put it another way in my interview with Word Riot:
DH: What book are you reading now?

MA: Vilem Flusser's "Toward A Philosophy of Photography" (for the fourth time). It's a pre-Internet inquiry into the way humans are turning to "ritual magic" in a post-historical context. According to Flusser, images are taking over the world and are controlled by apparatuses that challenge humans to remain human. He envisions a world where writing disappears and the robots take over. At first, the robots are external to human experience. Even though we are the ones responsible for creating them, it's as if we don't see them coming. Slowly but surely, things "progress." Humans program the robots to do things. The robots get better and better at doing them and soon are able to begin programming the humans. The humans start losing their will-to-aestheticize, their innate need to do things intentionally, and eventually become robots themselves. Apparently, Flusser considered his speculations a kind of anti-philosophy and privately referred to them as science-fiction.
Soon I will indicate how all of the above points to current trends in creating practice-based art theories and how the changes taking place in networked and mobile media culture are challenging the by now near-ancient post-structuralist book culture of the theoretical 80s and 90s.

One question the remixthebook project will propose to traditional scholars of 80s-90s styled "contemporary theory" is "What is the future of theory in post-print culture?"

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