Sunday, October 28, 2012


The oil rush precipitated by the lowest levels of Arctic ice-fields on record: you might as well warm up the bathtub by slitting your wrists. Except it is our wrists that are bleeding to warm the jacuzzis of the mega-wealthy.

The Hour of the Great refusal

from a talk at the Digital Aesthetics 3 event held in Preston earlier in October 2012. The talk was an angry rant about waste in digtial media which gradually turned into a meditation on the intense, poetic essay that is John Akomfrah's film The Nine Muses.

Digital media, and perhaps especially digital visual media, are time-based arts. The shutter opens, light pours in, but from that moment on the CCD and CMOS chips organise light by sampling and sub-sampling, organising the emitted electrons in channels before applying the clock-function to drain them into store. Like the scanned display, the electronic image is already temporal; but unlike older tube cameras, the Red One and similar HD digital cameras operate like film in the first instance – the open shutter, the chemical reaction to the presence of photons – and like film has its moment of latency when the tiny electrochemical response is amplified. But then the new internal temporality of the frame distinguishes them: there is no complete image in electronic media.

This incompleteness is beautiful. It denies the wholeness of the unified commodity, embracing the unstable movements of demand. The ancestors inhabiting the machine crowd out wholeness. As In his recent book on What Cinema Is, Dudley Andrew approvingly cites Serge Daney: 'The Cahiers axiom is this: the cinema has a rapport with the real, and that the real is not what is represented. And that's final'. Unlike some film scholars, he does not distinguish on the basis of digitality, but on the ambition to capture realia that do not give themselves to vision, like the holocausts haunting Resnais' Night and Fog and Hiroshima Mon Amour. Electronic images are incomplete so that they can escape the universal: they must inhabit time.

. . .

The intimate ecology of everything which I call mediation had to be ripped apart to constitute communication. Communication at this first moment is the means by which domination and expropriation are secured. At the same time, communication makes explicit, precisely by separating, the interdependence of people, albeit to the exclusion of things and world (techne and physis). As automation expands from the factory organisation of humans and ancestors to the internet of things and the ubiquitous surveillance of natural processes, it begins to reopen the world closed by the universality of the commodity form and probabilistic management of populations. The vast statistical warehouse of indifferent data begins to yield to the specificity – irreducible and im-mense (immeasurable) – of the anecdote. The new crowd is no longer population as indifferent mass but peer-to-peer mutuality of singularities, particles aligned by the magnetism of their shared desires.

The Nine Muses never suggests that “the immigrant” is a viable category of knowledge or experience: each fragment opens onto another world, another story. The specificity of each is maintained, but without sacrificing what is common to them. To stand in a world that refuses, and yet which is home; to travel hopefully.