Culture of Control

Culture of Control

Jorinde Seijdel

October 12, 2015editorial,

Dattoo by KABK students Christina Yarashevich and Janne van Hooff is a digital mask that provides anonymity through obfuscation.

The theme Culture of Control, which Open! is working on in close collaboration with Stroom Den Haag, is a necessary and logical extension of a particular line of research conducted by Open throughout the years. A brief look back:

The first issue of Open, on which I worked as editor-in-chief, appeared (still in printed form) in 2004 and had as its theme and title, (In)Security. In that editorial, I wrote: Within today’s public domain, the call for more protection, supervision and care dominates on all fronts. The individual and the community are demanding maximum security for the public space and for themselves, and ever more control over the other. There seems to be a veritable obsession with security. The issue explored this obsession from the vantage points of architecture, art, philosophy and politics. It discussed global and local fears, occupation, surveillance, power, control and (in)security, as well as activist and cultural strategies for opposing this. All sorts of things had happened on the world stage in those years: 9 / 11 (2001) and the invasion of Iraq by America and other Western countries (20 March 2003). In the Netherlands, we witnessed the murders of the right-wing populist politician Pim Fortuyn (6 May 2002) and the film director Theo van Gogh (2 November 2004).

In 2010, an issue of Open was devoted to the loss of (our sense of) privacy, seen in light of the political events of previous years, but also in relation to the rise of the Web 2.0 and social networks. The focus was not so much on deploring the loss of privacy, but taking the present situation of ‘post-privacy’ for what it was and trying to gain insight into what was on the horizon in terms of new subjectivities and power constructions. From that editorial:

In the globalized network cultures, visibility, transparency, accessibility and connectivity are what count. These values are at odds with the idea of privacy as ‘secluded from the rest’. Does this imply that ‘everyone belongs to everyone else’ to an increasing extent, as in Huxley’s dystopic Brave New World (1932)? Or, these many years after The Fall of Public Man (Richard Sennett, 1974) are we experiencing ‘the fall of private man’ – from which we could then conclude that the public-private antithesis has lost its force as a signifier of meaning? Are alternative subjectivities and rights emerging that are considered more important in the twenty-first century? Are new strategies and tactics being mobilized to safeguard personal autonomy and to escape forms of institutional biopower?

Spurred on by WikiLeaks (in 2010, WikiLeaks publically disclosed the so-called Collateral Murder video and tens of thousands of documents on the war in Afghanistan, among other things), Open continued its investigation a year later with an issue on transparency and secrecy. From the editorial: This issue… examines transparency as an ideology, the ideal of the free flow of information versus the fight over access to information and the intrinsic connection between publicity and secrecy. Among other things, the issue also discussed the extent to which transparency contains within it aspects of concealment and control.

The present research theme, Culture of Control, continues along this vein. It critically discusses how the primacy of control and security has further developed in recent years – partly under the pressures of a credit crisis, terrorism, revolutions and hordes of refugees – and how it is manifested in public and urban space, in our communities and individual lives. What are our new fears or the new instruments and mechanisms of control? The theme deals with security and control in today’s urban environment, but also with the implications of technology and the digital sphere, and their relation to art and aesthetics. For example, in From Biopolitics to Mindpolitics: Nudging in Safety and Security Management, law philosophers Marc Schuilenburg and Rik Peeters discuss how the ‘neoliberal program seeks to create neither “a disciplinary society” nor a “society of control”, but instead a society that cultivates and optimises differences by using “new techniques of environmental technology or environmental psychology”.’ In Aesthetics of the Secret, against the background of the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Clare Birchall discusses secrets as subject to and the subject of radical politics rather than regulation. She looks at the secret not only as it figures in current affairs but also in artworks by Trevor Paglen and Jill Magid. Michael Seeman, the author of Digital Tailspin. Ten Rules for the Internet After Snowden, describes in his new essay, The Kontrollverlust of the Nation State and The Rise of the Platforms, how the nation states are losing control over their citizens, while digital platforms like Facebook and Google are increasingly getting a grip on them.

In the coming months, these essays will be supplemented with more writings and artists’ contributions by curator Francien van Westrenen, photographer Elian Somers and architect / reseacher Abla Bahrawy, among others.

The Culture of Control project at Stroom Den Haag runs from 3 October to 13 December 2015.

Contributions

Jorinde Seijdel is an independent writer, editor and lecturer on subjects concerning art and media in our changing society and the public sphere. She is editor-in-chief of Open! Platform for Art, Culture & the Public Domain (formerly known as Open. Cahier on Art & the Public Domain). In 2010 she published De waarde van de amateur [The Value of the Amateur] (Fonds BKVB, Amsterdam), about the rise of the amateur in digital culture and the notion of amateurism in contemporary art and culture. Currently, she is theory mentor at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and head of the Studium Generale Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. With Open! she is a partner of the Dutch Art Institute MA Art Praxis in Arnhem.

With thanks to: Stroom Den Haag and its curator Francien van Westrenen for their support.; Translation Dutch-English: Jane Bemont
Open no. 6, (In)Security
(In)Security
Open no. 19, Beyond Privacy
Beyond Privacy

Privacy is a defensive right that protects a person’s private life. However, the ‘right to be left alone’ is not just a legal but also a political and social construction. Therefore, this is a concept that, although established by law, can be experienced and observed differently by individuals and groups, depending upon their position in society and the desires and interests attendant upon that. For instance, privacy can be an urgent topic for civil rights movements, whereas citizens apparently are less bothered about it. And so more and more government measures can be taken and new technologies applied that conflict with the right of privacy but which are used in a relatively unconcerned way or submitted to with hardly a whisper of protest.

Whether this be an endangered basic right, an obsolete concept of the enlightenment, a lost cause or an activists’ obsession, the traditional notion of privacy has largely been undermined in today’s security and information society. This certainly is the result of a preventive government policy that is out to control the comings and goings of citizens, and a commercial sector that, off-line and online, tries to get more and more of a handle on the individual desires and consumption patterns of customers through its clever registration devices. But there is more going on: people are having less and less qualms about voluntarily revealing personal information in the media and on the Internet. The protection of privacy seems to be subordinate to people’s desire to manifest themselves publically in society. In the globalized network cultures, visibility, transparency, accessibility and connectivity are what count. These values are at odds with the idea of privacy as ‘secluded from the rest’. Does this imply that ‘everyone belongs to everyone else’ to an increasing extent, as in Huxley’s dystopic Brave New World (1932)? Or, these many years after The Fall of Public Man (Richard Sennett, 1974) are we experiencing ‘the fall of private man’ – from which we could then conclude that the public-private antithesis has lost its force as a signifier of meaning? Are alternative subjectivities and rights emerging that are considered more important in the twenty-first century? Are new strategies and tactics being mobilized to safeguard personal autonomy and to escape forms of institutional biopower?

In Open 19, the concept of privacy is examined and reconsidered from different perspectives: legal, sociological, media theoretical and activist. Rather than deploring the loss of privacy, the main focus is on the attempt, starting from our present position of ‘post-privacy’, to gain an idea of what is on the horizon in terms of new subjectivities and power constructions. Naturally, this cannot be investigated without paying attention to the sociopolitical and technological violations of privacy that are going on at present.

Daniel Solove, law professor, proposes that privacy be considered as a pluralistic concept with a social significance. A theory on privacy should be directed at the very problems that create a need for privacy, according to Solove. Maurizio Lazzarato, taking Foucault’s concept of ‘pastoral power’ as an example, analyses how the state wields power techniques to control the users of social services, and how it intervenes in the lives of individuals in doing so. Sociologist Rudi Laermans goes into the implications of the ideal of transparent communication for secrecy and personal privacy.

In search of effective strategies against the surveillance regime, Armin Medosch, media artist and researcher, has developed a model in which he couples the historical function of privacy in a free democracy with the overall technopolitical dynamics. Felix Stalder examines today’s ‘post-privacy’ situation, in which a change is taking place in how people achieve autonomy, and how institutions and corporations exercise control over them.

In the column, Joris van Hoboken, member of the board at Bits of Freedom, challengingly states: ‘Privacy is dead. Get over it.’ Oliver Leistert uses a post-Fordian framework in criticizing the German protest movement AK-Vorrat, which focuses on issues concerning data retention and privacy from a liberal democratic standpoint. Martijn de Waal considers the concrete possibilities of using locational data from cellular networks for civil society projects and the questions on privacy that this raises. In the light of contemporary computer paradigms like the Internet of Things, Rob van Kranenburg argues in favour of making concepts of privacy operational from the bottom up in the infrastructure of technologies and networks that connect us with one another in our environment.

Mark Shepard has made a contribution on ‘The Sentient City Survival Kit’, his research project in the area of design, which proposes playful and ironic technosocial artefacts that investigate the consequences that the observing, evermore efficiently and excessively coded city has for privacy and autonomy. Matthijs Bouw, architect and director of One Architecture, investigates privatization and privacy in the context of the Internet platform ‘New Map of Tbilisi’. With photos by Gio Sumbadze and Lucas Zoutendijk, he shows how the ‘wild capitalism’ of the new Georgia has led to a reduction of privacy in Tbilisi.

General
Digital Tailspin

Michael Seemann, Digital Tailspin: Ten Rules for the Internet After Snowden, Network Notebooks 09, Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, 2015, ISBN 9789082234589

Culture of Control
The Kontrollverlust of the Nation-State and the Rise of the Platforms
Culture of Control
From Biopolitics to Mindpolitics
Culture of Control
Aesthetics of the Secret
Culture of Control
One and Another State of Yellow
Culture of Control
The Formula
Open no. 22, Transparency
Transparancy

Taking WikiLeaks as an illustrative example, Open 22 investigates how transparency and secrecy relate to one another, to the public and to publicity in our computerized visual cultures. This issue continues to explore what for Open are fundamental themes such as privatization, mediatization and the demand for the communal. In the more general sense, it examines transparency as an ideology, the ideal of the free flow of information versus the fight over access to information and the intrinsic connection between publicity and secrecy. It also tries to come to grips with the social and political implications of the phenomenon of WikiLeaks, which, with the illustrious Julian Assange as front man, produces an effect on a global scale. While most people would agree that WikiLeaks has started something that is unstoppable; there is hardly any consensus on its morality, effectiveness or strategy, neither in conservative nor in progressive circles.

WikiLeaks, as the counterpart of the ‘transparent’ citizen or consumer, expresses a growing public desire for openness and transparency as regards the state, businesses and administrators – a demand for publicity that is continually fed by floods of sensational social and political revelations. And whereas people often consider secrecy within the public sphere to be inadmissible and clandestine, transparency is associated with democracy, participation and accessibility. But does transparency only work in a liberating way? Can it not equally have a concealing or controlling effect? Aren’t certain forms of transparency actually the manifestation of the banality of the contemporary spectacle, which revolves around pure display and the production of affects?

In any case, with their capacity to immediately reproduce and disseminate information, the media play a crucial role in the social process of displaying and disclosing. But on behalf of whom are they doing this, and for whom? Do they not increasingly form an abstract power?

Two introductory essays explore political and social notions of transparency and secrecy. Media theorist Felix Stalder searches for a form of transparency that is not employed as a means of power and control, such as in neoliberal market thinking, but that can express and strengthen social solidarity. Stefan Nowotny, philosopher, goes into publicity and openness as a modern myth in relation to the production of affects and the exercise of power, and finds that secrecy and publicity are intertwined more than ever.

Other pieces directly examine WikiLeaks and its implications. Philosopher and media theorist Boris Groys argues that WikiLeaks’ democratic universal openness is based on the most absolute secretiveness, and as a matter of fact is a conspiracy. The American political theorist Jodi Dean shows herself to be extremely critical about WikiLeaks, stating that too much information is a greater handicap than too little information in ‘communicative capitalism’ and that Julian Assange, by becoming a star in his own story, takes attention away from the political issues he says he wants to bring to the public’s attention. The interview conducted by Willem van Weelden, researcher-publicist on interactive media, with media theorist Geert Lovink and political scientist/sociologist Merijn Oudenampsen goes into the question of whether and how WikiLeaks brings about social and political change, and what the platform means for contemporary forms of art and activism. In the column, Jorinde Seijdel wonders where WikiLeaks and Facebook converge, seeing as both avow transparency as their ideology but apparently out of very different motives.

Transparency and secrecy are also relevant concepts in art and architecture. The art historian Roel Griffioen posits that, analogous to social developments, the ideal of the glass house in modern and contemporary architecture has made way for the house of one-way glass, in which concealing has become just as important as displaying. Art theorist Sven Lütticken discusses how the structure of the modern art work offers the perfect means of gaining insight into the dialectics of opacity and transparency in this age of public secrets. The work of Amsterdam-based American artist Zachary Formwalt, who also made a special visual contribution to this issue, is one example of this.

This issue features a number of excerpts from Failed States, a manuscript-in-progress by American artist Jill Magid that investigates transparency and secrecy out of Magid’s desire to be an eyewitness to the ‘war on terror’ and the media’s representation of it. British artist Heath Bunting contributed a fold-out flowchart that explores the porous borders between the individual, their ‘data body’ and corporations.

Illustrations of a project by designer Floor Koomen and graphic design students of the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam can be found throughout this issue. The assignment consisted of selecting a leak from the WikiLeaks website and editing and designing it for a print-on-demand publication, thus providing us with a critical look at WikiLeaks as a medium and the current position of journalism. (see: www.orderyourwikileak.org)