Sandi Abram: THE ZENITH OF KNOWLEDGE-FEUDALISM THROUGH CREATIVITY: ON PROPERTY, CYBERSPACE AND ART
By the time the clock had struck the mid-20th century, there had already been a gradual and irreversible string pulling at and reinforcing its stroke in the production of goods. To simplify, the majority of fabrication in real socialism was (pre)occupied with the production of material goods, whereas certain occurrences altered the course of the river as in the era of neoliberal capitalism. Indicatively enough, the cognitive processes gained more and more merit, while still being confined in the undertones of the factory. Consequently, as the duo Negri/Hardt and Berardi taught us, the proletariat (manual labour) shifted to the cognitariat (immaterial labour); in other words, white collars substituted the blue ones until the final renunciation of collars altogether – thus, as we shall very clearly see, “non-collars.” Invisible suffocation incited taming liberal ideas to be sought in the public and other spheres, while simultaneously dictating its profitable dogmas (as if they were held leashed). Benevolently masking itself under the coat of profitability, profit-maximization, consumerism and competition, a new name has been launched: creativity. Slowly, and as well simultaneously, another space has been generated anew – cyberspace, or the World Wide Web, in which appropriation is plagiarized accordingly to the new context. Juggling with the question of creativity nowadays seems to be more than just a mere indifferent activity, but rather a moment that again corresponds to the omnipresent neoliberal capitalistic machinery and its topsy-turvy political boundaries. To take look at “creativity” from the hegemonic position of political and economic, and yes, from cultural and academic establishments, too, we should rather ask ourselves, what the potential of this concept really is. For creativity was driven offshore from its primordial essence, where, in a sensu strictu, it was now seen as a trigger for a transformation of the existent social order; as a creative liberatory activity, as suggested by Deleuze and Guattari.
To give you an example of a fresh neologism that oozes through the upper layers, adopting the steam of creativity, we see that the newspeak has a mouth full of “creative” directors, “creative” managers and “creative” workers merged into a “creative” class,1 which, henceforth, compiles a “creative” economy,2 consequently founding a “creative” city and “creative” infrastructure.3 As a pinch, the EU declared 2009 as being the “European Year of Creativity and Innovation,” and on the official webpage, the inauguration reads “Imagine. Create. Innovate”. Hence, that there is something rotten with creativeness becomes more and more evident. As prosperity is seen in indicators of economic growth that are consequently derived out from “creativity” understood strictly in financial terms that are simultaneously giving meaning and stroke to it by opening up a trilogy – that departs from the notion of property, continues in the field of education and ends up in cyberspace – we can see clearly the centripetal tendencies with which creativity is fed. It is not even necessary to look far away to see the consequences.
A textbook example of how to restrain the political amplitude using the terminology of creativity (and inherently art plus architecture combined with the obvious notion of property) is the Rog factory in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The Rog factory operated until 1991, then stayed closed and abandoned until 2006, when an informal group named TEMP reclaimed (and occupied as well) the factory space for temporary use. The factory is located centrally, in downtown Ljubljana. From 2010 onwards, in regard to Rog, the re-appropriation of the commons was claimed and the space presents a cultural and social centre that gives shelter to many activist realities; among others, to the Invisible Workers of the World (IWW), student initiatives, a movement of asylum seekers “World for everyone,” as well as for a broad range of artists.
In 2006, after 15 long years of stagnation, Rog – the Fordist Frankenstein – was brought back to life, and has been kicking with new impulses ever since. The resurrection has since been accompanied by the municipality’s administration structure (in Slovenian language known as MOL) trying to discourage realities and subjectivities in the Rog centre. Evidently, and symptomatically skyward, MOL’s endeavor to castrate Rog has been wrapped inside a benevolent cellophane where, in reality, through a private-public (!) collaboration, first, the current buildings are to be leveled to the ground, and second, on the cleaned up ruins, a Center of Modern Art (!) is to be erected on top.
To complement this grotesque picture, the previous 7,000 square meters are to be split – according to the “black print” – into private (80.69%) and public (19.31%) ownership, whereby the private “content” will comprise a hotel, apartments and commercial branches, while the public centers are to be exclusively reserved for creative industries (!), visual arts, exhibition surfaces and garages.
Let me now problematize all the exclamation points and accentuations.
Firstly, the dimensions do not just open questions regarding gentrification processes (a juxtaposition of “illegal” overnighters in an “illegal” squat against a “legal” apartment owner/hotel guest), but about an even more intertwined collaboration, labeled as gentrification via art, or more precisely, via “creativity.” Those sectors co-opted in the connotation of culture are unfolding themselves, as we are able to detect in Rog’s case. Secondly, while the resonances of private-public collaboration are still echoing, the political tides cannot be overseen in the debate over property. Despite a perpetual division line being presumed that is equivalent to the question “private versus public” , we nevertheless think that what we have here is primarily a melting together of both (“private with public” and “public with private”) that shapes its dialectical reconfiguration into a phantom-like figure. In other words, the everyday life parcelization into two categories (private and public) seems only to be valid to a certain magnitude. Instead, I can speak of, say, the “intraterrestriality” affixed in the topology of urbanscapes (its further positioning within several “diapazones” will be found later on). The co-opted space (I would suggest speaking rather of a liberated than of an “occupied” space) resigns from the ontology of (private) property, evoking a gap – a yawn, fold or crack in the terrain; these gray zones (in our case, the Rog factory) are thus “intraterrestrial” interventions par excellence. Moreover, to borrow Arendt’s thought, the privatization of the public (and I would add, the commons) is intimately connected to the privatization of the political. Without reinventing the wheel, I will lean instead on Gregorčič’s thoughts, which resume the exact reason d’être of what is presented above, saying, “[t]herefore new communities that swarm in Rog, are not dangerous for MOL because of the revitalization of fifteen-year-old abandoned spaces, but because of the swarming of new and different forms of social activities, connections and collaboration.”4 In sum, if I stir the components presented so far, we are able to track down an explosive and rolling conglomeration: creativity has become not the Deleuzian becoming, but an ideological superstructure of labour and therefore exploitation. “The higher the buildings, the lower the morals” was once a shrill spit out in the country of raising Money.
Secondly, such (occupied-liberated) terrains and “in-your-face” political projects are compounding at least two other instances that I will give space to. Liberation from the autocratic chain, its possibility and its magnitude, was seen recently – again, not so far away from Rog. To magnify just a triad, hovering between material and immaterial production: the workers of Prenova, Prevent and Gorenje, three companies from Slovenia, the University of Vienna’s occupation and their comrades in Zagreb, Croatia (as well as similar cases worldwide), all together rearticulated a momentum that stopped the quotidian machinery, freezing subjugation with un-free-zing direct-democratic principles, autonomy and with (the tendency of) claiming back life as whole. Contemplations over the New School occupation-liberation noted that “[o]ccupation is the seizure and transformation of space. Whether as the takeover of a building, roadway or vacant lot, it manifests itself as an interruption, as the subversion of capitalist normality.”5 Thereafter, in the rearview mirror of Time, economic turbulences brought up alluviums previously hardly seen, or at least submitted to a neglected amnesty: sporadic and spontaneous reluctant moments against subjection of all colors and shapes – from self-organized strikes without parasitic syndicates (including bosses’ “kidnappings,” well, their detainment), across the necessary reclamation of public space, to the revival of autonomous students struggles. How then to attach the space/time component of such vibrations to the evasion from anchored mental frames? Evidently enough, the neologism “knowledge factories” (a lengthening of factories as such) is more than indicative here; just add spices of the Bologna University reform – valorization through credit (!) points (ECTS), Darwinist competition, shortening of study years, constitution of an imagined European student community, budget cuts, fragmentation of classes, usability of the learned, constant (re)evaluations – and you will get a perfect picture of the logic complementary to that of the neoliberal market that is intoxicating education (and, finally, creativity as the driver and a prerequisite of the latter); the sight at universities becomes the best example of where we are turning blind(folded).
Bernardi and Ghelfi6 concisely stated, “knowledge has become a central commodity of production and the most important source of contemporary capitalistic valorization.” These processes have been observable in circumstances of the facultative (under)ground, seeing that occupations-liberations have brought up an archetype of temporary inclination yet to be constituted in sense of place (permanent residence) and time (a longitudinal movement). A conformation of the transition from the Fordist factory model to a post-Fordist knowledge factory model and the drift backwards can be easily found. Platitudes and nebulous promises that the Slovenian Council for Science and Technology proposed as a “new deal” are cynical enough. The “new economy” would rise in a Slovenian Silicon Valley driven by biotechnology and the Internet.
Thirdly, if I dare to take another completely different matrix introduced partly with the example above, compounded out of creativity, knowledge, squatting, place/space and feudalistic tendencies, then the collision with cyberspace (so, a “new” terrain) is indeed inevitable, since it allows looking at the saturation of these convergences. I tend to illustrate this by bringing back to life the case in the 1990s of net.art, which in its beginnings had at its disposal all the potential of the cyberspace, continuing with more sophisticated aesthetical transformations of the binary code in the second millennia.
Alongside the emergence of Internet, a “new” type of art was “born,” addressed simply under the name net.art (or www art, internet art, web art, net art). Authors and theoreticians suggested that the main constitutive elements of net.art would be accessibility, inter-textuality, interactivity, multimediacy, relativization of the dichotomy author-original, hyperlinks, networking, etc.7 On the other hand, net.art initially shook off the baggage that (neo)avant-gardes had dragged through history, or even better, it did not have the liability of commodity-aesthetical incorporations. Wherefrom (neo)avant-gardes skated on thin ice, either because of representation as such or because of penetration into representational spaces/places, these artistic movements were being consequently drowned in the art-cold water. Referring to Marco Deseriis’s (a.k.a. snafu) lecture, in the net.art beginnings, its operators were not labeled as artists, since the primal material was code and code manipulation, therefore they dealt with aesthetics of the machinery, whereby the subject and the outcome was anonymous and dislocated. I would add that with(in) holistic aspects of visual, subversive and political self-sustainability on the Internet’s tabula rasa, they can be seen as thus being creative in the full sense of the wor(l)d(s).
An important and rather discussible emphasis in brackets has been used above: net.art as “new” art. Beyond this camouflaged remark, a greater debate is hidden, questioning what is the new essence that could be found in net.art, or, generally speaking, what systems underlie the idea of art itself nowadays? This line of reasoning coincides with the idea of institutionalization, commercialization and, finally again, commodification of art; the Art world stands as a vampirical entity: absorbing fresh visual impulses into the authoritative art field, as Dickie, Danto, Groys and others would ponder. Such incorporation processes might indeed best be denounced as “ratification,” whereby not just cultural dispositives, but also the pleadings of others found in society or in the market ambushes, are elevating (un)materialized creative inputs, taking possession of mean(ings) and grounding them in reserved coordinates. Processes of which I am talking about include an entire spectrum, not solely of the symbolic or financial (ex)change, but moreover, they deal with the autocratic floating signifier, with the parasitism of which is provided within the horizon of the state and/or corporativism, and that accumulates finally in the neoliberal capitalistic doctrine. But lets see how.
If, in the 1990s, the hype was dedicated to net.art, nowadays, parallels can be seen in the more refined visual emergence in virtual worlds.8 Among others, the name Second Life (SL)9 burns the eye. This three-dimensional virtual world accessible through the Internet (launched in 2003) simultaneously provides the most illustrative example where the tendency to adopt arts in virtual worlds can be detected, as well as the agenda behind it.10 To magnify one romanticized avatar-artist (resident): Gazira Babeli embraces and tries to personalize a “homo virtualis”; she11 virtually materialized in the spring of 2006, and shortly thereafter caught attention with her so-called “non authorized [sic!] performances.”12 For instance, among her first performances was “Second Jesus”, whereupon she was contacted by Linden Labs, who thought she was trying to offend Christian beliefs. More attention-grabbing was the “Grey Goo” performance, which incorporated the idea of self-replicating objects. Another cross-breed between Baudrillard’s simulacra and Benjamin’s reproducibility was personified by the intervention “Buy Gaz 4 One Linden Dollar,” where the entire appearance was sold for couple of cents.
If I close my eyes to the fact that Gazira (and, consequently, SL) might somehow be a present-day psychosis, the simultaneous presentation of Gazira as “subverting traditional conceptions regarding place, time, body, identity and behavior that we are acquiring from everyday life,”13 stands out too boldly to ignore. Although it shall be acknowledged the intention of confronting conformist art customs, the phenomenon of Gazira is still watered down when co-opted and contextualized. What do I mean by that? To awake the term artivism, where the basic motive is not to create an aesthetic, but rather a political effect. “[A]n activist is not an artist, but he/she is still not without a ‘knack for art;’ an activist is an artist as much as is inevitable, no more and no less; the artisanship is a side effect of a political act.”14 Having said that, are performances of an anonymous avatar within SL consequently subversive, political or activist? The last emphasis is crucial; could a critical (artistic?) position be achieved by acting in a hermetic and privately owned space? In addition, could it be subversive if it turns a spectator into a performer (or even a spectacle)? The answer is simple: no. Even though unconventional statements may be recognized through Gazira’s actions, the issue, however, remains the same: performances seem to be a supplementary, so to speak, “artification”: an aesthetical (and ideological) incorporation in the (art) machinery (and, further, in the logic of the Real) where its Fata Morganic “radicalism” evaporates along with them. Therefore, one cannot ignore the SL totality – the narration of a phenomenological indisputable “pure” virtual reality. It is a fact that SL is privately owned; inherently, consumption between residents is desired and regulation then becomes ordinary. In other words, a resident is, in fact, a volunteer producing contents and mean(ing)s (or surplus values) in SL and pushing even further the concentric of this cyber-land. The relation resident-art-creativity, as we see above, twists with accumulation/benefit – not of everyone in SL15 – but of Linden Labs especially (as the owner), which makes a profit from it. The misleading of the Internet’s liberatorial potential cannot be more ironic than when we, in 2010, remember Bay’s words from 1985: “The banalization of TV, the yuppification of computers & the militarization of space suggest that these technologies in themselves provide no determined guarantee of their liberatory use.”16
Again, I am dealing here with the platform’s terms, code and parameters, which, originating far away from the unbound individual imaginary, are rather patronizing, conformist, regulated and authorized. Drahos and Braithwaite,17 analyzing the drift of the liberational technological pathos, speak of “informational feudalism.” If we add to this the exemplary slogans on SL’s official webpage (causing hiccups, if we remember the EU diction), “Second Life is a playground for your imagination. Design, build, code, perform and collaborate. Expand the boundaries of your creativity,” then I suggest rather that we expand the field; indeed, as we are subjected to the lobotomization wherein “knowledge society” should be the frenetic imperative and drive of each and every one of us, then it is more appropriate to speak of “knowledge-feudalism.” Among the hallmarks of cognition, as we have already clearly seen, again bursting out is the undisputed category of creativity, even through operating with a double combination; the new (old?) terrain and immaterial production (performance?) flows into a pervasive “creative”; a voluntary “creative” class that is voluntarily producing profit and rent in a semi-illusionary space, in a latent matrix that is benevolently dominant – therefore, it is possible to say that SL is, in fact, the largest user-generated virtual economy in the world.18 Berardi19 is right in arguing that the cognitariat, forming a non-existing virtual class, is indeed explaining the post-Fordist (net)economy, while I tried to put forward very clearly that the (en)throne(ment) in the era of knowledge-feudalism is for the time being reserved for Creativity.
Creativity out of the box
The shared feature of the decolonization of knowledge, where imaginary machines (cf. Shukaitis) (communally) weave together, rearticulate and make visible the neglected, consequently means stepping out of the shadow, out of the installed social, political and economical claustrophobia contained in private and (partly) public spaces (here, 9/11 is surely a milestone). Concerns regarding terrestrial nodes, privatization of education, domestification of cyberspace, problematization of the art world, precarity of work conditions and the commodification of the quotidian are to be juxtaposed indeed to petrified goings on, the ones reproducing conditions by their own measures and visions. The hypochondria of human rights (cf. Močnik) and the reduction to the subject’s mimic are perfectly installed into the genealogy of knowledge-feudalism, whereupon the noise caused masks alternative frames. Saying that, just stumbling across the approximately 15,000 empty apartments in Ljubljana and their vertiginous price per square meter, causes us to think outside the predisposed frames. To re-appropriate knowledge, creativity and spaces means (re)creating a parallel self-sufficient imaginary, acting in accordance to it, and having the option to contemplate over its surrounding circumstances.
To call a spade a spade: if immigrant workers in Slovenia are pushed into (neo)slavery (surrounded by all of its gruesome consequences) for “our” own “well-being,” building in -10 degree temperatures, while slogging through meter-thick snow, sports-entertainment-festival-commercial-business (ergo, “creative” in the full, twisted and dictated meaning of the word) complexes a la Sport Park Stožice in Ljubljana (182,000 square meters that integrates a football stadium and a multi-purpose sports hall with a big shopping centre, covered by the artificial landscape of a recreational park), we must not only rearticulate such regimes and their normalization, but also the pervasion of this logic into the quotidian normative – its capacity for internalization of neo-colonial norms of capitalism without sanctions.
An example of this situation is the non-provided health security for migrant seasonal workers in Slovenia. Because of this, an uninsured Macedonian migrant worker seeking urgent medical assistance was left dying on the steps of the Ljubljana central hospital facility for urgent cases. He did not receive any response whatsoever from the arrogant-ignorant medical staff (and, consequently, neither from the medical profession altogether) but was forced to leave the facility, which resulted in his death at its threshold. Ferid Saiti (and many others like him) died in agony. Yes, victims indeed have names and families. However shocking and illustrative such an ending is, it is at the same time a beginning for a demand to sharpen creativity and knowledge.
Sandi Abram is enrolled in a Master Program of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, and currently living in Barcelona.
1 Cf. Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure and Everyday Life, Basic Books, New York, 2002.
2 Cf. John Howkins, The Creative Economy: How People Make Money From Ideas, Penguin Global, London, 2001.
3 Cf. Charles Landry, The Creative City: A Toolkit For Urban Innovators, Earthscan, London, 2000.
4 Marta Gregorčič, “Rog – presenečanja iz katerih rojijo multitude,” Časopis za kritiko znanosti, 34 (223), Ljubljana 2006, p. 10.
5 Jenny and Wayne, “SEVEN POINTS ON OCCUPATION,” in “The New School Occupation: perspectives on the takeover of a building or, why do student organizers bother to get out of bed in the morning?”, 2009, p. 22. http://reoccupied.files.wordpress.com
6 Claudia Bernardi and Andrea Ghelfi, “We Won’t Pay for Your Crisis, We Will Create Institutions of the Common!,” EduFactory webjournal, 0 issue, 2010, p. 108.
7 See, for example, Janez Strehovec, Virtualni svetovi: K estetiki kibernetične umetnosti, Ljubljana, 1994, and Umetnost interneta: umetniško besedilo in besedilo v času medmrežja, Ljubljana, 2003.
8 See Tom Boellstorff, Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2008, for a debate over the terminological accuracy of using “virtual worlds.”
9 SL, through a free client program, enables its users, called Residents, to interact with each other through avatars, who can explore, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another, or travel throughout the SL. Its Terms of Service ensure that users retain copyright for any content they create, and the server and client provide simple digital rights management functions. Extract from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_life .
10 In this consideration, Steinbeck (2009), for instance, listed 652 Second Life “art galleries” in Second Life while this paper was being composed.
11 At least that is the officially “identified” gender. I do not exclude the assumption that there might be even several persons controlling Gaz’s avatar.
12 See http://gazirababeli.com/GAZ.php
13 The text was written on the leaflet from the performance Acting as Aliens in Gallery Kapelica, Ljubljana on November 3, 2009.
14 Aldo Milohnić, “Artivism,” Maska, 90-91, Ljubljana 2005, p. 12.
15 A generalization might be present: to a resident who invented something and then sells his/her creations, this remark is not fully suitable.
16 Hakim Bey aka Peter Lamborn Wilson, “T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism,” 1985. http://theanarchistlibrary.org/taz-temporary-autonomous-zone-ontological-anarchy-poetic-terrorism.
17 Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite, Information Feudalism. Who Owns the Knowledge Economy?, Earthscan, London, 2002.
18 According to Linden Labs, residents in 2009 spend more than 481 million hours in Second Life (a 21% growth over 2008) while user-to-user transactions totaled US$567 million (a growth of 65% over 2008). http://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2010/01/19/2009-end-of-year-second-life-economy-wrap-up-including-q4-economy-in-detail
19 Franco »Bifo« Berardi, “Cognitariat and Semiokapital,” interview by Matt Fuller & email@example.com, 2001. http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors0/bifotext.html.