by lucas bambozzi
The recent proliferation of tiny cameras, now embedded in mobile phones have been
leading to massive collections of supposed ‘warm moments’ that one would be likely
to forget, feeding a sort of obsession on intimacy aesthetics. Like camera-enabled
mobile phones, wearable computers, tactile media, location-based devices, instant
messengers and voice over IP technologies (VoIP), they all attempt to offer an idea
of comfort, a sort of ‘everywhere-privacy’ that can also be interpreted as intimacy.
Rather than describing the technological instance (cellular), mobile phones
encapsulate a notion of mobility, described as portable ‘temporary intimate zones’
(TIZ) by Matt Locke.1 The term TIZ borrows references from TAZ (Temporary
Autonomous Zone), coined by Hakim Bey referring to poetic events and actions that
suggest subtle changes in the social reality aiming to a ‘more intense mode of
existence’. But can we still think about intimacy as a terrain of intensity, pleasure,
proximity, fruition or appreciation?
Not only privacy but intimacy spheres are going public. The emergence of the so
called ‘intimate technologies’ has blurred even more the concepts related to intimacy,
privacy and reality. Sara Diamond says: ‘The new technologies we use to enhance
intimacy are also the very same ones being used to open up the social arena of
discovery around once-private affairs’ (2002: 3). The current flood of seductive
gadgets, loaded with promises of eliminating the distances between real life and its
representational possibilities, they all bring in an ‘ideal’ notion of privacy, which would
be the open door for an easy and ‘secure intimacy’. Devices designed for
representation purposes, like cameras, also serve the purpose of attaching to our
memory all those small details and warm moments that we are likely to forget.
A recent announcement by Microsoft emphasizes the extent to which the observation
of the context of mediating technologies implies the focusing on technologies that
affect our notions of intimacy and privacy.
Cool stuff you don’t know you need yet
SenseCam, touted as a visual diary of sorts, is designed to be worn around
the neck. It can take images when there are abrupt movements, temperature
fluctuations, variations of light or even changes in the wearer’s heartbeat,
capturing moments of joy or tension of one’s life. Microsoft suggests that the
diary can also help people to reconstruct scenes, remembering where an
object was forgotten or special moments, such as a nice dinner. The diary is
capable to take about 2.000 pictures automatically and works 12 hours a day.
(USATODAY.com 04/03/2004) 2
Beyond its representation capabilities, the camera, which is still a prototype,
suggests that the boundaries between private and public life really tend to disappear.
The pervasive immersion of the camera in public environments would suggest the
individual as a sentient ‘cyborg’, replacing any active participation in public life with a
passive documentation about ordinary incidents. Is it good or bad?
Since personal information has become a valuable commodity, both privacy and
intimacy turn out to be the most essential and recognizable icons of such value. As
any commodity, intimacy features an aesthetically constructed significance, which
becomes clear when it is connected to the idea of proximity or is a result of
technological mediation processes (instant access to privacy).
Also, intimacy acquires new configurations and meanings according to the
technological systems it is attached to. Distinct levels and shades of intimacy can be
obtained differently by phone, by e-mail, through VoIP devices, by touching sensors
or through webcams.
Such technological communication devices bring together the common aspiration to
interface ‘realities’, not necessarily promoting any true participation or closer touch
regarding the ‘outside’ space, in the sense pointed by Zygmunt Bauman in City of
Fears, City of Hopes. They attempt to introduce the notion that reaching distant and
separated ‘realities’ – often in-between private spheres – is the same of sharing
experiences in public domains.
Nevertheless, far from providing any legitimate experience of involvement in public
life, ‘the capability to connect’, or the feeling of participation suggested by
communication advertisements seem to be what best describes their ideologies
concerning the construction of realities.
As pointed by Maurizio Lazzarato, representation strategies play an important role in
contemporary alienating progression. Thus, intimacy aesthetics are related to how
separated domains are mediated, or as an effect of experiencing ‘reality’ as a mere
aesthetic understanding, an intangible occurrence. Moreover, the representation of
realities by means of its mediation, is already a fabrication, a form of replacement of
a given ‘reality’ with ‘media realities’. To accept fabricated worlds as a real
experience is to fall into the traps of representation, as the overwhelming abundance
of images produced by the media each day may compromise what we deem to be
‘real’. To participate in a fabricated world of signs described by Lazzarato as if
‘constructed through statement-arrangement’ is not as the same as engaging in
shared spaces of a city. Such technologies would not perforate the ‘bubble’ that
separates these different ‘realities’, preventing the private-to-private sphere from
reaching the city’s public spaces.
Bauman sees our current society as a dystopia that has emerged in lieu of a model
anchored somewhere between the totalitarian regimes of Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous
Huxley’s Brave New World. This new dystopia is configured in a world of flow, ‘where
social networks and collective action are irreversibly disintegrated as a side-effect to
the rise of an evasive and slippery kind of power’. Social disintegration is not only a
current condition but a result of such new power techniques.
As Brian Holmes affirms, new forms of power enforcements shape ‘societies that are
deeply sick and which cover their pathological conspiracies with deliberate lies’.3
Aspects once used to describe the end-of-the-century context still serve us to inquire
about our current state of affairs.
Networked lifestyle within a technological society, where time has been compressed
into a state of ‘eternal present’, have been pointed out by Trebor Scholz as
‘instruments of oppression and casualized labour that squeeze every last drop of
energy and creativity out of the worker’.4 A possible antidote against this scenario
would be a commitment for a better analysis of the world around us. We need to
think and feel’5, says Scholz.
A consciously produced work of art offers analysis of the world around, it may lead
us to ‘think and feel’. But how can new media-based art fulfil these tasks without
being compromised by its own increasingly dependent structures on corporate
technologies? Are artists bound to hermetically and endlessly discuss artistic
authority and cultural politics, even when trying to break out of the bubble and inflict
social change with their art?
To which extent the gaps between private-to-private affairs and the need of
participation in public life is a typically socio-cultural syndrome? (related to cities
such as São Paulo, Lima or Johanesburg, where one can not afford raw realities due
to its wildly unequal class relations?) How much is it a typically reactionary position
to consider that real life experiences must necessarily include ‘physical references’?
The shifting boundaries between the private and public spheres, seen as a result of
the spread of pervasive technologies, is not preventing the raise of dichotomies such
as representation and mediation, ‘forged reality’ and social reality. As a challenging
responsibility for artists committed to social reality, can we foresee new networks that
would function as social interfaces, that would encourage individuals to re-enact
participation in the construction of public-life? Can we find in these new systems the
proper tools for producing awareness with regards to intrusive or alienating
procedures? Will it work out to perforate the ‘bubble’ that prevents one to better
grasp the world ‘outside’ of pervasive technologies?
Merging some of these questions it is possible to anticipate a common space for art
and politics,. Rather than drawing them closer or apart, one should explore the
existing hybrid and convergent zone: a politics contaminated by its neighbouring art,
and an art contaminated by its neighbouring politics.
It might be necessary to became aware of the art system’s contradictions and those
in our own artwork. We shall have let ourselves be transformed by convictions
constructed from experiencing the real spaces, mediation technologies and its traps.
Among contradictions and conflicts we must feel the urgency as individuals – in Brazil
or anywhere else – to put our ‘head and heart together’ (thanks Holmes!) in tune with
the other, with the outside space and its ‘raw-realities’ so as to create new
articulations, to generate empowerment, to stimulate actual collaborative and sharing
lucas bambozzi, 2006
1 Matt has referred to TIZ in his speech at Intimate Technologies Conference, held at the Banff Centre in 2002. 2 Source: <http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/techinnovations/2004-03-04-techfest_x.htm> accessed: 06/12/2004 more info at Microsoft: <http://research.microsoft.com/hwsystems>
3 Source: Mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (iDC). Thread: Activism now and <http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2005-December/000106.html>. 4 Downtime. Source <http://collectivate.net/journalisms/2005/11/19/downtime.html>
Diamond, Sara (2002) Quintessence: Mobolized or Immobolized In The Mobile Era
Bauman, Zygmunt (2001) Modernidade Líquida tr. Plinio Dentzien, Rio de Janeiro:
Bauman, Zygmunt (2003) City of Fears, City of Hopes London: Goldsmiths
College/University of London
Lazzarato (2003) Struggle, Event, Media Republicart.net