But Is It Art?

6bd67e94[1]Last week, a group of people scaled the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced the American flags with bleached out white ones.  Many people have many theories about who did this and why.  Certainly, some kind of terrorist explanation comes to mind – a dry run to expose security protocols perhaps.  But also among the many speculative explanations was that this was in some way art.

Deputy Police Commissioner John Miller said the incident had “no particular nexus” to terrorism or politics.

“This may be somebody’s art project or an attempt to make some sort of statement, but at this time it’s not clear what that statement is,” Miller told a packed news briefing at police headquarters.  NYPD Sees Art, Not Terror, in Brooklyn Bridge Flag Swap Bloomberg 7-25-14

Of course this would be of the Conceptual or Post-Conceptual variety that I discussed in my previous post.

Even so, how can art be indistinguishable from terrorism?  Even in the throes of Dada, the avant-garde, the Theater of Cruelty starting almost 100 years ago, the audience knew it was an audience and the artist knew she was an artist.  Certainly the creators of these productions meant to break down the barriers between audience and artist, but the barriers were there to be broken down.

By the time we get to 1966, John Cage says to Stanely Kauffmann,

What is happening in this century, whether you accept it or not, is that more and more there is no gap between art and life.

Art is famously impossible to define.  It is the institutions of art that clue viewers, listeners, smellers, tasters, touchers that the experience before them should be understood as art.  Heidegger describes the function of both art and technology  as the revealing of Being. But just as technology is “nothing technological”, art is nothing artistic.  Both are a function of the revealing Heidegger discussed, each dependent on a different understanding of Being.

This increasing invisibility of art recalls for me, in this context, the projects Stranger Vision and Invisible by Heather Dewey-Hagborg I discussed in my last post.  In the first she constructs “family resemblance” sculptures from DNA she acquired in random places.  In the second, she developed a pair of aerosol sprays to eliminate and mask any remaining DNA from a surface.

Indeed, news reports indicate that DNA Evidence Found At Scene Of Brooklyn Bridge White Flag Stunt Gothamist 7-25.

Perhaps the NYPD could find Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Vision technology useful.  Perhaps the artists/perpetrators could have benefited from her Invisible technology.

There is no Luminol spray to show trace evidence of art.  Perhaps that could be Dewey-Hagborg’s next project.

The Findable Cyborg Part 3

It [Buddhist logic]  admitted nothing but the transient flow of evanescent events and their final eternal quiescence in Nirvana.  Reality according to Buddhists is kinetic, not static, but logic, on the other hand, imagines a reality stabilized in concept and names.  The ultimate aim of Buddhist logic is to explain the relation between a moving reality and the static constructions of thought.

Buddhist Logic T.H. Stcherbatsky*

In The Findable Cyborg, I suggested that findability is the quality uniting staticness and movement  in Heidegger’s Standing Reserve/Enframing.  This findability might perhaps be thought of not as a framed photograph, but rather as the movies or videos Cyborgs view on framed screens, silver or electronic.   Screens though are needed only as the framing device.  The kineograh (flip book) embodies the principle.

We can view the  pages or frames either as a series of discrete images or as fluid unified experience.  In both cases, the image(s) are a set, a Standing Reserve, placed in a perceptual frame.  The frame though is only a device to facilitate perception.   Every time a Cyborg views the kineograph, the order of the pages is different.

An important feature of this static movement, this findability, is the flexibility, dynamism of the assessment of objects, persons and process. Their relative importance changes over time with no particular assessment definative.  What is found changes.  What was previously found is not lost or forgotten, but rather no longer selected, viewed, or spoken.

It is as if the order of the pages of the kineograph had no importance at all.  Pages can be reordered, eliminated, added, or replaced by something different.  Any narrative of the images viewed in motion arises only as an epiphenonoma of this constant updating.  Only the findability of each element is important.

The technological understanding of Being encounters the revealing of Being as a challenge.  Responding to this, it seeks to make everything findable, available to, in Harraway’s phrase, the “unhindered instrumental power” of the Cyborg.

*T.H. Stcherbatsky (1866-1942), a Russian Indologist, is important in the development of Buddhist Studies in the West.

The Unfindable Cyborg

Identifying an object, person or process requires some kind of framework, classification system, however intuitive or basic.   In The Findable Cyborg , I suggested that this, in the context of a pervasively coded world, means that everything is findable.  At the same time, this radical findability depends on dynamic, permeable, evolving classification systems.  While the objects, persons and processes become pervasively findable, they also manifest a lack of essential identity.

That is to say, what makes the Cyborg (the aggregation of object, person and process) findable as a functional commodity, part of the Heidegger’s Standing Reserve, also makes the Cyborg unfindable as a specific, essentially determined phenomena.

The Seventh Century Buddhist scholar and reputed bodhisattva, Chandrakirti*, deconstructed a chariot in various ways in his Sevenfold Reasoning..  He showed that no matter how one regards the relationship of parts to the whole, in the end, no inherently existing thing “chariot” is to be found.  He summaries his extensive analysis with the following and extends it past a critique of technology to how the self exists.

A chariot is neither asserted to be other than its parts
Nor non-other; it is not asserted to possess them.
It is not in the parts nor are the parts in it.
It is not the mere collection [of the parts] nor is it [their] shape.

Just so [should a yogi understand a person and its aggregates].
It is like a cart, which is not other than its parts,
Not non-other, and does not possess them.
It is not within its parts, and its parts are not within it
It is not the mere collection, and it is not the shape..

For Chandrakirti, the unfindability of the essentially determined chariot  is the same as the unfindability of the essentially determined self-aware self.  For my purposes, this is the same as the unfindability of technology, of the self-aware self and of the Cyborg (the combination of the two), as anything other than objects, persons and processes defined by their function.

This is at the heart, dare I say, the essence, of my continued use of the word Cyborg.  It is to stress the functional nature of an always changing collection of techno-bio aggregates experienced as wholeness.

*Chandrakirti (600-650 CE) was Indian Buddhist scholar whose works are central to the development of the  Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka view of Emptiness.  Hagiographies of Chandrakirti relate instances of him walking thorough walls to “demonstrate in a concrete and dramatic form the Madhyamaka position that things have no immutable nature of their own.”   Four Illusions Karen C. Lang