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Revista Ausart 4(2):

The Ausart Magazine of the University of the Basque Country, gives us the opportunity of proposing soft technologies as themme of its 4(2) number. Under the title “Artistic Practices, Soft Technologies and Social Machinery” articles by diverse authors and perspectives are compiled and we have the pleasure of presenting them here. Next we reproduce the prologue that we have written for the paper version of Ausart 4(2) where we give a frame to the subject anda a panoramic vision on the texts.

Ausart 4.2.2016:

Artistic practices, soft technologies and social machinery

Introduction: From art-life to the cybernetics of the creation of subjectivities traversed by the soft technologies

Investigación TECNOBLANDAS (Ideatomics y ColaBoraBora)

We live in a hyper-technological world, submerged in complex structures, establishing intricate relationships with other beings and linked simultaneously to multiple contexts. Hyper-technological, not only due to the amount of processors, transmission circuits, sensors, measurement devices, cameras, robots, cell phones, recorders and power sources all around us, with which we coexist and with which we form a whole; but also due to the amount of operations that are performed between all the parts of this amalgam of ourselves. Technical operations (sophisticated procedures that we try to optimize more and more, better, more efficiently) to achieve cohesion, awareness, competition, exclusion, repulsion, prioritization, coordination, identification … between the different elements of the social machinery. These operations make up interactions, behaviors, organizations, communications, intangible relations while making up at the same time the most purely mechanical, visible and palpable, in a simultaneous process of tangible and intangible components in continuous feedback. Techniques that we reflect on while we adapt, and are adapted by this social machinery that we have given ourselves.

Faced with so much complexity we wander through an operating system with a “layer of personalization” in which such complexity comes cushioned, sweetened and presented in “simple mode”. This is a system that only shows us a part, which makes us effective for the job that we have to cover, avoiding us from confrontation with everything that distracts us from this task. Calling technology only the physical technological devices is the strategy of focusing the attention on one thing and diverting it from another: from all that technology developed for the control of the minds, of emotions, of relations and in short of normal life, and which is not only embodied in physical devices but also in the invisible architectures of the powers. Like those hidden folders that are hidden from us to save us from the temptation of modifying any of their files, at the risk of being able to live the excitement and suffer the misery of overloading the stability of the system. Like that unconscious part of the psychic apparatus in which knowledge is deposited that should be hidden from the person themselves as way of self-protection.

Knowing and practicing the code, functions and algorithms of the social apparatus, from the tekné and from the logos, seems to some like a task corresponding more to the social sciences than to art. But why should these techniques and knowledge be considered less appropriate to art, than knowledge on anatomy for drawing, processing of materials for sculpture or programming for the interactive art?

There are many ways of understanding art and artistic practice and each of them is a reflection of a way of understanding and being in the world. Each person chooses to occupy a position and from there they speak. Occupying a position is an act of responsibility, as is explaining from where you talk, avoiding that your vision is interpreted with universalising intentions, and thereby exposing any claim to follow suit.

Committing to art where it crosses with the soft technologies is to occupy a position and name it. Identifying it and communicating it is to generate the possibility of being able to meet other people with similar concerns and be able to build a vision between everyone who considers themselves there, wanting to open “these hidden folders”, those hard-to-find files but that we know decisively affect the operation of the machine.

This issue of the Ausart magazine is precisely that: a search for accomplices with whom to build this possibility: according to the unexpected contributions, leaving space for the different perspectives, and in short making the viewpoint more complex, because who it is said is as important as what is said.

We open the publication with a text from the artivist Alex Carrascosa, which provides the historical context of the art from which this concern to cross the art with the soft technologies is heir: the art-life coordinate. It raises this current in its two aspects: the extension of the artistic field with elements of everyday life and application of art to the construction of a new social model, finishing by proposing as artistic work, the very act of construction of the social body, and putting the “U” process as an example of one of the social technologies that we can use to do this.

In turn Saioa Olmo focuses the theme of the issue providing the definition of soft technologies, including in them the relational technologies and extracting the mechanics and strategies that are included in five participatory art projects which operate as interaction devices. In this way, she tries to visualize these invisible mechanisms that orchestrate the artists and through which she invites us to travel.

Óscar Cornago on the other hand, makes a critical analysis of the concept of artistic device: something that we do, that in turn constructs us and that perhaps we would prefer not to belong to. To explain it he uses the black box of the scenic arts in opposition to the white exhibition cube, to talk of opacity and transparency in relation to the operations that the artist is able to do to show or not the guts of each one of those artifacts, leaving us at times before a mirage of transparency even more tricky and sneaky than opacity itself. In any event, the author puts the role of art in poetic expression, beyond the unmasking of any system.

We continue with a couple of texts that invoke the soft technologies through the photographic mediumGarazi Erdaide focuses on how regulatory imagines are created through the image technologies, giving examples of projects where she complains about the racialized construction of reference values of skin color and advocates inventing new visual methods, which permit interlacing the concept of “cognitive fairness” with photographic reflection. Urtzi Canto wonders about the possible exceedance of the limits of photography due to the intervention of certain factors within the photographic process itself. He is interested in how the artist endorses the means, to become a way of work and therefore goes from being a tool to a constituent element.

Afterwards we have three reflections linked with the narrative. On the one hand Edorta Arana, Libe Mimenza and Bea Narbaiza present “Tirabirak“, a project that based on transmediality, collects and disseminates vignettes of the Basque conflict which appeared in newspapers between 1977 and 2016. They reflect on the new forms of storytelling in which we are immersed through multiple platforms and how these shape us as active users and participants. On the other hand, Luis Urquieta speaks about the sound interactive project “Historias en tránsito” (Stories in transit) on migration processes and the oral stories of the people who suffer them, for which she has used various soft techniques of visual anthropology: the interview and the elicitation photograph.Andreu Belunces picks out collaborative storytelling as soft technology, putting the emphasis on its application in the field of citizen empowerment. An interesting perspective on the powers of storytelling: making us prioritize between thousands of subjective judgments, creating patterns of association, generating cause-effect expectations, facilitating normal responses and memorable experiences, and promoting the adoption of arguments.

Telling ourselves links with the following block through telling ourselves through objects: the collectingNerea de Diego presents the experience of collecting through the project “Foodculture” by the artist Antoni Miralda: an act of connection, participation and making community. A orchestration in which the artist moves part of its centrality to become a “collective research node, a spreading viral community”. In turn, Izaskun Echevarría uses an interview with the artist Rafael Tormo on his project “Implosió Impugnada 22” about the gesture of collecting in order to, going beyond the interest of the collected objects themselves, highlight the acts of collecting, labeling, sorting, material keeping … in other words presenting the type of operations that we do when we bond with things to understand how we interact with the world.

In the last block we find three texts that pose disquisitions on the transformative potential of artAlberto Salcedo commits to artistic practice as a soft technology capable of generating dialogue dynamics with institutions and contribute towards “revitalizing ” the historical memory, in particular, in relation to the obsolete industrial architectural heritage of the Basque Country. To do this he sets out artistic interventions performed in various locations with which he seeks to draw the attention to these spaces, looking for direct contact with the citizens. Following this line, Samuel Gallastegui considers the transformative potential of the game in relation to artistic practices. He deals in particular with the “emersive” game (from inside out), in contrast to the “immersive” game (from outside in), and talks about the concept of “pervasivity” (the actions of the game are inseparable from the actions outside of the game), as well as “gamification”, as soft tools applicable to the artistic field. And from a critical position to understanding art as having capacity to affect the contexts in which it happens through the use of the soft technologies, Natalia Vegas defends a useless art in itself, but with the potential to convene some sense and usefulness.” A defence of the representation and of the separation between art and life, as the “necessary barrier to being with the others”.

Finally the issue is closed by Manuel Cebral, with a reflection on cybernetics proposing going from the vision of being immersed in social machines typical of the disciplinary society, to putting the focus on the control society and the lack of distinction between the technical and the social, making no distinction between software/hardware in a single coupled technical-social machine. That “cybernetics is also a form of wishing and producing subjectivities instead of the way of being analysed/placed according to our connectivity trail”. A suggestive invitation, contained in certain artistic proposals (like the artistic projects presented at the 2016 The Influencers festival) and a path of artistic exploration that will surely increase, as the society in which we live is one of the contexts that affect us and with which we have to interact.

Below we have the index with the articles of this number: