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← Vera Tollmann, Boaz Levin: Plunge into Proxy Politics

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Showing Revision 23 created 01/24/2016 by PattaFeuFeu.

  1. preroll music

  2. Herald: And now, a warm welcome
    for Vera Tollmann.
  3. She is from the research center
    for proxy politics.
  4. For those ones from Berlin,
    as far as I know,
  5. there is still a very exciting exhibition
  6. in the Museum of Photography.
  7. So a warm welcome for Vera Tollmann.
  8. (Vera) Thanks.
  9. applause
  10. Thank you very much for inviting me.
  11. First of all, it's just me.
    Boaz Levin, my colleague,
  12. who is also the co-author of this text
    that I'm going to present today,
  13. didn't make it in the end.
  14. It was also very kind of last minute
    invitation, that we received a week ago.
  15. I am going to present a text,
    which is entitled:
  16. “The Body of the Web” or
    “Proud to relay flesh”
  17. It's a text where we want to
    install the proxy as a figure of thought.
  18. And continue an argument,
    that Hito Steyerl, the artist,
  19. started in her text
    “Proxy Politics: Signal and Noise”
  20. which you can find online.
  21. In this co-authored text
    we are going to pick up
  22. her trope of the proxy and test it in
    relation to different cases of protest.
  23. So, from our understanding the
    notion of proxy politics can be understood
  24. as both a symptom of crisis in current
    representational political structures
  25. as well as a counter strategy aiming to
    critically engage and challenge
  26. the existing mechanisms of
    security and control,
  27. which leads to a series of questions.
  28. What forms of resistance might fit this vague
    technopolitical economic condition?
  29. Mass protesters become image makers.
  30. Do resistance movements
    need to employ PR consultants?
  31. How does one protest
    in public space,
  32. if there is no public space left?
  33. And in what way does this
  34. virtuality and duplicity challenge
    both public space and human bodies?
  35. Actually the latter is
    the most important
  36. that we are trying to answer
    or follow through with this text.
  37. Can you hear me well?
    Yeah? Good!
  38. Ah, there’s … yes?
  39. No … okay …
    I just thought there is a comment.
  40. Since July 2015,
  41. protesting in public space in Spain
    has become an expensive affair.
  42. I don't know, if you remember from media
    reports in July, there was a huge protest
  43. where they used the hologram as a medium.
  44. So protesters are now threatened
    by hefty fines
  45. and authoritarian reaction to
  46. the anti-austerity protests
    three years earlier.
  47. The citizen safety law,
    otherwise known as the gag law,
  48. criminalises protests,
    that interfere with public infrastructure.
  49. Under the new law which was passed by the
    governing People’s Party in December 2014
  50. protesters are liable
    to fines up to 600.000 EUR,
  51. for marching in front of congress,
    blocking road, or occupying a square.
  52. The law, criticised as a severe attack
    on Spaniards’ right of assembly and speech,
  53. is the most recent attempt by the government
    to curb a wave of popular protests,
  54. that has swept the country since 2011.
  55. With the unemployment rate exceeding 25%
    and one half of Spaniards under 25 jobless,
  56. hundreds of thousands of
    outraged citizens took the streets,
  57. occupying squares and universities.
  58. In response to a discredited political class,
    tarnished by years of political scandal
  59. and corruption, the Indigñados,
    Spanish for “The outraged”,
  60. sought to mobilise citizens in a series of
    grassroots demonstrations across the city
  61. by reclaiming their right to public space.
  62. Another flashback to 2011,
    where protests using
  63. similar occupation strategies
    were taking place across the world:
  64. in Tunesia, Egypt, Greece, Israel,
    and the United States.
  65. Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, home to
    the headquarters of Israel's largest banks,
  66. became a kilometre-long encampment,
    dubbed “the Tent Republic”.
  67. I have some pictures here.
  68. Lasting for almost three months,
    this protest called the tent republic.
  69. Syntagma Square in Athens too was filled
    with tents and make shift dwelling places
  70. and became a site of
    lasting popular assemblies
  71. and daily clashes with the local authorities.
  72. In Zuccotti Park, New York, activists
    tapped into the electricity grid
  73. via lantern posts and set up
  74. semi-autonomous mesh networks
    for the benefit of the protesters.
  75. Though numerous commentators pointed out
    the role played by new technologies such as
  76. social networks and smart phones,
  77. in facilitating the protests it was
    the city's square
  78. as old as political thought,
    which was the true common denominator.
  79. Our understanding of the rights of free speech
    and assembly as well as the concept of
  80. participatory democracy are deeply indebted
    to the development of the Greek city state,
  81. the Polis, and later
    the Roman public square.
  82. In nearly every protest occurring
    around this time,
  83. the spatial dimension of political action
    was once again affirmed.
  84. Might this significance be altered by the
    emergence of new technologies of control
  85. and new modes of resistance?
  86. As Hannah Arendt pointed out,
    the idea of Polis,
  87. which for her denoted the public realm
    of a political community,
  88. does not necessarily designate
    the physical location of the Greek city state,
  89. rather this form of public realm
    as the organisation of the people, quote:
  90. "as it raises out of acting and
    speaking together", end of quote.
  91. Thus it's all the more fitting that when
  92. the People’s Party of Spain passed
    its draconic law,
  93. demonstrators were quick to
  94. seek an alternative to bodily presence
    and physical space.
  95. Their solution was a hologram protest,
    the first ever.
  96. The first ever, as media outlets
    were quick to point out,
  97. skillfully choreographed and artfully projected
    in front of the gates of congress in Madrid.
  98. The Independent, the newspaper reported:
  99. “Spanish activists have staged the world's
    first ever virtual political demonstration.”
  100. The Daily Mails headline read:
    “The world's first hologram protest.”
  101. And News India asked and answered:
  102. “Ghosts on Spain's street?
    No it's world's first virtual protest.”
  103. In an interview, Cristina Flesher Fominaya,
    spokeperson for the activist group,
  104. that organised the hologram intervention,
  105. "No somos delito" –
    in English "We are not a crime"
  106. explained how it all came together.
  107. A group of creative professionals,
    who decided to remain anonymous,
  108. provided the needed technical support
    prior to the outdoor projection,
  109. which lasted for the course of an hour.
  110. The campaign was developed online.
  111. A webpage with the slightly lofty title
    "Holograms for Freedom",
  112. in which anyone can leave their hologram,
    a written message, or a shoutout,
  113. was where it started.
  114. Finally these composite images were screened
    across a transparent screen and looped.
  115. By representing people as holograms,
    which appear in a particular cool blueish tone
  116. reminiscent of surveillance camera footage,
  117. the protest organiser seem to elude to the
    popular depiction of a dystopian totalitarian state.
  118. Spectors, for once quite literally,
    haunted the sterile streets
  119. voicing the grievance
    of those barred from assembling there
  120. The event had been rehearsed, performed, and
    recorded in a nearby city and the equipment
  121. had been installed in Madrid by a
    PR company in a clandestine operation.
  122. A tech savvy, [unwittingly] absurd way
    to demonstrate without violating the new law.
  123. Instead of public space,
    the demonstrators inhabited a new medium.
  124. After all, bodies in public space
    pose a problem in contemporary politics.
  125. The natural corporal vulnerability of protesting
    was now intensified by the threat
  126. of disproportionate financial penalisation.
  127. This was a proxy protest fit
    for the age of proxy politics.
  128. So, what is a proxy then,
    like the way we understand it?
  129. A proxy is a decoy or a surrogate.
  130. The word derives from the Latin procurator
    (Prokurator), meaning someone responsible
  131. for representing someone else
    in a court of law.
  132. These days, the word proxy is often used
    to designate a computer server
  133. acting as an intermediary
    for request from clients.
  134. These servers afford
    indirect connections to a network,
  135. thus providing users with anonymity.
  136. However, proxy servers
    are not distinct technology
  137. to hide users but can also be set up
    for the opposite task: to monitor traffic.
  138. Proxy politics, as defined by Hito Steyerl,
    as the politics of the stand-in and the decoy,
  139. is characterised by fraudulent contracts,
    calmarical sovereignties, and void authorities.
  140. The concept of the proxy is emblematic
    of our post representational,
  141. post democratic political age.
  142. Disembodyment and invisibility of politics
    and its increasing subordination
  143. to economic interests.
  144. So, this political age is one
    increasingly populated by bot militias,
  145. puppet states, ghostwriters,
    and communication relays.
  146. So now one paragraph on post democracy,
    or the post representational,
  147. what it actually means.
  148. There is a book by Colin Crouch.
    It's entitled “Post Democracy”.
  149. And there he describes the
    current political condition
  150. as one in which power is
    increasingly relinquish to business lobbies
  151. and non-governmental organisations.
  152. As a result, he argues, quote:
  153. "There is little hope for an agenda
    of strong egalitarian policies
  154. for the redistribution of power and wealth
    or for the restraint of powerful interests."
  155. As a corollary to the rise of neo-liberalism,
  156. the vision of an autonomous potent
    political subject is devastated
  157. by the growing power of privileged elites,
    standing at the nexus of transnational
  158. corporations, extra juridical zones,
    infrastructural authorities,
  159. non governmental organisations,
    and covert rule.
  160. Similarly, Jacques Rancière,
    in his book entitled "Post Democracy",
  161. he refers to democratic action,
    post-democracy in the government practice,
  162. and conceptual legitimisation
    of a democracy after the demos,
  163. a democracy that has eliminated
    the appearance, miscount,
  164. and dispute of the energies and interests.
  165. At the heart of this condition
    lies an ontology of deception,
  166. where the public realm is conceived
    as a series of smoke screens,
  167. false flags, and simulations.
  168. The democratic appearance of the people
    is strictly opposed by its simulated reality.
  169. One, which is set up by the conjunction
    of media proliferation of whatever is visible
  170. and the endless count of opinions polled
    and votes simulated.
  171. With this concept of double government,
    policital scientist Michael Glennen
  172. has introduced a vision of US political power,
    split between elected government officials,
  173. and a network of institutions constituting a disguised republic.
  174. Glennan traces this phenomenon back to
  175. World War II and president Truman's signing
    of the national security act of 1947,
  176. which established, among others,
    the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA.
  177. Since then, he argues, the United Staates
    has moved toward a double government,
  178. wherein even the president exercises
  179. little substantive over the overall direction
    of US national security policy.
  180. Similarly, in Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria,
  181. political commentators have used
    the notion of the deep state
  182. to describe the nexus of police,
    intelligence services, politicians,
  183. and organised crime.
  184. Surely, secrecy, or discretion,
    to use its diplomatic euphemism,
  185. is as old as politics itself.
  186. But its recent resurgence
    under the guise of democratic rule
  187. reveals “arcana imperii”,
    the secrets of governance,
  188. to be all but arcane.
  189. So the age of proxy politics is thus one
    in which power is displaced
  190. into the hands of
    extra juridical unchecked authorities.
  191. Whether by way of covered institutions
    that it builds in classified budgets,
  192. organised crimes, and grey markets,
    or no less disturbingly
  193. through gross privatisation
    and the rise of transnational corporations.
  194. According to Sheldon Wallin,
    the paradox of our current regime
  195. is that the more open to the
    pressures of organised interests,
  196. the more opaque even
    mysterious politics becomes.
  197. Consequently, responsibility becomes
    virtually untraceable.
  198. In her “Lying in politics”,
    a text published in 1972,
  199. written in response to the revelation
    of the Pentagon Papers,
  200. Hannah Arendt lamented the beginning
    of an age, in which image making has become
  201. the core value of American global policy.
  202. When image makers govern,
  203. the institutions of representational democracy
    are destined to become a mere semblance.
  204. The recent example came as the house of
    representatives voted in May 2015
  205. to end bulk surveillance by the NSA.
  206. Rather than bringing
    all bulk surveillance to an end,
  207. the vote merely took the government
    out of the collection business.
  208. It would not deny its access to the information,
    it would be in the hands of the private sector.
  209. Almost certainly telecommunications companies
    like ATT, Verizon, and Sprint.
  210. In other words, even after
    seemingly successful governmental reform,
  211. it was revealed that the corridors of power
    lay elsewhere between politics
  212. and the private sector.
  213. So popular protests in one country
  214. are often convicts for the
    expansion of power in another.
  215. In the aftermath of a successful,
    non violent-regime change in Belgrade,
  216. activits behind the Otpor movement
    relayed their experiences into
  217. tutorials and training camps,
  218. teaching activists in numerous countries
    how to ignite and lead a revolution.
  219. What's more,
  220. Srđa Popović and Slobodan Đinović,
    both former Otpor activists,
  221. founded CANVAS, which is the Center for
    Applied Non-Violent Actions and Strategies.
  222. With the aim of educating
    pro-democracy activists around the world
  223. in what they regard as the “universal principles
    for success in non violent struggle”.
  224. CANVAS has trained activists
    in more than 50 countries,
  225. including Iran, Ukraine, Palestine, and recently
    Tunisia and Egypt, to name but a few.
  226. By late November 2000, an article in the
    New York Times had revealed
  227. that prior to the revolution,
    Otpor had received funds
  228. from US government affiliated organisations,
    such as the National Endowment for Democracy.
  229. In addition, their ties to the private
    global intelligence company “Stratfor”,
  230. also know as the “shadow CIA”,
    prompted questions concerning
  231. activists’ involvement in
    global American covert foreign policy.
  232. So how might proxy politics be more
    than just a condition,
  233. the name of a political regime that thrives
    an obscurity, opaqueness, and decoys?
  234. How might it also designate
    a corresponding mode of resistance?
  235. Ideally, proxy politics would encompass
    myriad modes of withdrawal,
  236. both technical and metaphorical.
  237. Its tools could be a VPN, a holographic
    surrogate, a stock image, or a double.
  238. Its outcome is always concealment,
    evasion, subterfuge.
  239. The hope is that strategies
    such as these
  240. might be effective during our
    current interim phase,
  241. the period in which the difference between
    real virtuality and virtual reality,
  242. the tangible and the digital is
    increasingly difficult to discern.
  243. At the same time, it is becoming
  244. increasingly evident, how severely
    controlled both spheres are.
  245. The world wide web, by
    way of its architecture and protocols,
  246. and public space by
    increasing privatisations.
  247. As Alexander Galloway has observed,
    instead of a [politicisation] of time or space,
  248. we are witnessing a rise in the
  249. [politicisation] of absence- and presence-oriented
    themes, such as invisibility, opacity, and anonymity.
  250. Or the relationship between
    identification and legibility,
  251. or the tactics of
    non-existence and disappearance.
  252. New struggles around prevention,
    therapeutics of the body, piracy on contagion,
  253. information capture and the
    making present of data via data mining.
  254. According to Galloway,
    recent protest movements' refusal
  255. to make clear demands is
    a form of black boxing.
  256. A conscious withdrawal from political
    representation and collective bargaining.
  257. The choice is for relations, relays and links,
    in the words of Édouard Glissant.
  258. All qualities associated with the proxy.
  259. This politicisation upholds the right to opacity,
    also a quote from Glissant.
  260. Rather than reverting once again
    to the age-old demand for transparency.
  261. For Glissant, opacity is the force
    that drives every community,
  262. the thing that would bring us together forever
    and makes us permanently distinctive.
  263. Recently in Paris,
  264. where the state of emergency, declared in
    the wake of recent terror attacks,
  265. prevented climate change activists from
    assembling in public spaces
  266. during the climate change summit,
    protesters installed over 10.000 pairs of shoes
  267. at Place de la République,
  268. theatrically standing in place
    of the absent bodies.
  269. Images of the square circulated
    widely in the media,
  270. emphasising the inherent mediatisation
    of contemporary protest
  271. and the need for effective images,
    not necessarily real bodies.
  272. Holograms and shoes function as
    placeholders, making it all the more possible
  273. for images of absent bodies to
    communicate large scale discontent.
  274. So in reference to the
    wave of protest in 2011,
  275. Judith Butler has suggested that
    protest in public space has, quote:
  276. "become politically potent only
    when and if we have a visual and audible
  277. version of the scene communicated in
    live time, so that the media
  278. does not merely report the scene,
    but is part of the scene and the action;
  279. indeed, the media is the scene or the space
    in its extended and replicable
  280. visual and audible dimension."
  281. In Madrid, the shadow-like figures
    in the hologram embodied a double movement,
  282. a process of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation.
  283. Slogans and shouts were
    crowdsourced online
  284. and synced with holographic images
    filmed in a nearby city.
  285. Then, the resulting image was meticulously
    reworked to match the
  286. distances and angles of the scene
    in front of congress.
  287. So in recent years, there has been a
    growing interest in the reterritorialisation
  288. of the internet.
  289. The artist Trevor Paglen and theoreticians,
    such as Tung Hui Hu and Keller Easterling,
  290. have drawn attention to the
    materiality of the Internet,
  291. data centres, undersea cables,
    and routers, which in turn
  292. rely on hydro-electric power stations
    and dams for electricity, as well as
  293. railway tracks and telegraph lines
    for communication routes.
  294. The web, until recently associated with
    immateriality, virtually and spacelessness
  295. as exemplified by the
    popularity of the term “cyberspace”,
  296. clearly has a body,
    a sprawling physical infrastructure
  297. and ever-growing ecological footprint.
  298. The benign-sounding “cloud” is nothing less
    than a publicity ploy for a vast campaign
  299. to centralise digital data, and to turn
    software and hardware into a black box.
  300. As our computers have become thinner and sleeker,
    the weight of the cloud has only grown greater.
  301. So the body politic is now
    intertwined with the body of the web,
  302. and the web, the world wide,
    is constrained by
  303. national policies and geographical realities.
  304. In October 2015,
  305. citizens in Thailand protested against
    their military government's plan to
  306. channel Internet traffic to international
    servers through a single network gateway,
  307. with the intention of perfecting
    state surveillance and censorship.
  308. This political move was dubbed
    “The Great Firewall of Thailand”.
  309. As in Madrid, the choice of protest space
    corresponded with the space,
  310. the new law was tailored for.
  311. The military government's websites were
    targeted and downed for several hours by
  312. denial of service attacks.
  313. The online action was reported beyond
    activist platforms and international media,
  314. however, it lacked images that could
    represent the bodies of those who would
  315. literally be barred from leaving Thailand
  316. where the government was
    following through on its plans
  317. for greater surveillance and censorship.
  318. In the meantime, the
    hacker collective “Anonymous”
  319. declared cyberwar on the Thai government.
  320. Operation “Single Gateway” targeted
    Thai police servers in an effort to
  321. demonstrate the actual vulnerability
    of virtual state institutions.
  322. So, how can one possibly grasp the current
    relation between the digital and its outside,
  323. back when the Internet was still thought of
    as synonymous with cyberspace?
  324. Both were clearly defined as separate.
  325. A quote from Wendy Chun:
  326. "Cyberspace as a virtual non-place made
    the Internet so much more
  327. than a network of networks:
  328. It became a place in which things happened,
    in which users’ actions separated from their bodies,
  329. and in which local standards became
    impossible to determine.
  330. It thus freed users from their locations."
  331. So in the 1990s, the Internet was
    imagined to be a perfect frontier
  332. science fiction dream come true,
  333. where users could navigate as powerful agents,
    invisible and free of physical constraints.
  334. Yet, as Wendy Chun in her book
    “Control and Freedom”, published in 2006,
  335. as she has demonstrated,
    the world wide web was designed
  336. as a technology of control from the start,
  337. geographically rooted and constantly
    monitoring its users via protocols such as TCP/IP.
  338. So in what way does virtuality challenge
    our conception of public space
  339. and the mobilisation of human bodies?
  340. As we have seen, the digital and the real
    coalesce in ever new forms and devices.
  341. And despite the gaming industry's
    recent success in
  342. bringing early visions of virtual reality
    to technical perfection,
  343. think of Oculus Rift, or something
    like the body snap app,
  344. prior myth of virtual reality are slowly,
    but certainly eroding.
  345. The old demarcations between
    the human body in physical space
  346. and the so called “immateriality of the
    digital sphere” are superseded.
  347. Attempts to conceptualise the
    effect of the synthetic face-to-screen situation
  348. either one that this is downfall
    of the sovereign subject or
  349. extricate emancipatory potential from
    the entanglement of humans and technology.
  350. How then might a proxy give way to
    different bodily modes and morphologies
  351. a body both present and absent?
  352. Whereas Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti
    have attempted to destabilise the subject
  353. as it was conceived during the 20th century,
    exploring notions as the cyborg
  354. in conceptualising a feminist post humanism.
  355. Might the proxy antagonistically restabilise
    a very concrete subject in a synthetic situation,
  356. is a proxy a techno body,
    does it have flesh after all?
  357. Might it serve as the object other of the
    high tech clean and efficient bodies
  358. endorsed by contemporary culture
    as Haraway envisions?
  359. Or rather as a nomadic device
    that enables people to become
  360. post human subjects in Braidotti's
    line of thought?
  361. Braidotti warns of a fatal nostalgia for
    either, humanist past or the cold war cyborg.
  362. And instead proposes that we embraced
    vulnerability, take pride in being flesh.
  363. Her post-human theory aims at
    shaping and shifting new subjectivities
  364. against modern humanism,
    a school of thought she criticises
  365. for its wide male supremacy,
    eurocentric normativity, imperial past,
  366. and inhuman consequences.
  367. So proxies permit human bodies
    to step out of the line of fire
  368. to evade forensics,
    the lack of a human silhouette,
  369. face, or fixed physiognomy
    and can be associated with numerous
  370. individuals wherever they are.
  371. Rather than the avatar, a creatively designed
    porn in the network gaming environment,
  372. they assume either a transformative
    shape and form, or none at all.
  373. Last two sentences. chuckles
  374. Proxies are necessary in
    contemporary political struggle,
  375. they're counter figures to
    capitalist self improvement
  376. or a [???] opaque other.
  377. So proxies provide an escape route
    from a schizophrenic situation,
  378. which denies or limits bodies to being
    mere vessels of biotechnological information.
  379. Proxies offer a path toward a new,
    a fleeting relation as sovereign bodies.
  380. Thank you.
  381. applause
  382. Herald: Thank you very much for the
    spontaneity and the talk
  383. and I think there might be time
    for questions outside.
  384. Thank you.
  385. postroll music