A Single Swing of the Shovel: Former West Proxies / Boaz Levin and Vera Tollmann

On 28 March 2011, a 75-year-old Georgian woman named Haystam Shakardian set out into the forest near her home to scavenge for copper to sell as scrap. While digging, she accidentally severed an underground fiber-optic cable. In an emphatic reminder of the Internet’s visceral vulnerability, she had cut off most of the Internet service to Georgia—as well as 90 percent of the traffic of neighboring Armenia. Dubbed the Trans-Asia-Europe connection, this particular cable, stretching 21,000 kilometers and connecting Frankfurt with Shanghai, was first laid in 1998—7 years after Georgian independence and 9 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the introduction of the World Wide Web.1 The Internet has since become key to the acceleration of global capitalism, enabling the emergence and spread of industries operating under the premises of just-in-time delivery, start-up entrepreneurialism, and seemingly limitless growth in the computational power and storage of the cloud. Despite its reputation as immaterial, placeless, and irrefutably virtual, the digging incident has once again made it evident that the Internet has a body, and that a blunt spade could be as effective a tool of media critique as a line of code. Where the supposed victory narratives of post-1989 globalized capitalism have seemed, at points, to intersect with a belief in the Internet’s inherent democratizing potential and resistance to control, Shakardian’s inadvertent “hack” quite literally undermines the prevalent portrayal of the net as a more or less invincible, decentralized, and ether-like medium 2 This intervention and its effects are also echoed in a growing theoretical and artistic interest in the nature of global infrastructure and its—often local—discontents, as well as the fluid relation between the virtual and the real, online and offline. With a single swing of the shovel the cloud had burst, and, from behind it, one could barely discern the outline of a vast network of cables traversing the depth of the sea, crossing continents, and connecting nondescript networking hubs in strategic locations.

The Internet—by way of one of its many portable emissaries: phones, tablets, laptops, things—is nowadays often the first entity many people see when they wake up, and the last they squint toward before falling asleep. It is near omnipresent in most urban lives, and increasingly so in rural ones too, facilitating an unprecedented amount of communication between humans, as well as between things. The Internet cables that traverse and link these spaces are the veins of the globalized capitalist system, pumping capital as far as they reach, but they are also the descendants of the modern channel system—distributing goods across the globe.3 Still, despite the ever-growing role the Internet plays in modern society, it is becoming ever less visible. Cables gradually disappear, machines become lighter, storage facilities retreat out of sight, and thin client technologies to serve information back to computers without hard drives are gaining popularity. Yet,  this  increasing  invisibility  isn’t only a product of its infrastructure or its popular portrayal as a misty cloud: the Internet’s size and complexity render it  essentially ungraspable—a fitting technology for a world system that remains hidden in plain view,      too big to scale, as it were, beyond our cognitive mapping capabilities. Political theorist Fredric Jameson, writing in 1992 at the cusp of the age  of the World Wide Web, is as pertinent as ever: “Since the world system  of late capitalism (or post-modernity) is however inconceivable without the computerized media technology which  eclipses  its  former  spaces and faxes an unheard of simultaneity across its branches, information technology will become virtually the representational solution as well as the representational problem of this world system’s cognitive apping.”4 In other words, information technologies, and particularly the web, are both emblematic of, and foundational to, late capitalism. Giving   these technologies an aesthetic  form—despite  their  abstraction  and even invisibility—is a fundamental challenge for artistic and theoretical practices attempting to grapple with the antinomies of our present age.


Sovereignty by Proxy

In the western world, areas with no Internet connection are increasingly rare. The web’s ubiquity lends it an elemental quality and, by becoming all-encompassing, it disappears into the background, like air or light or clouds 5 This transformation to invisibility, as architect Keller Easterling  and geographer Deborah Cowen have recently  demonstrated,  is  not without political consequence. Infrastructure inscribes  political  power, often circumventing legislative processes and exploiting the murky waters of international jurisdiction, in order to police such fragmented space: “In a site of multiple, overlapping, or nested forms of sovereignty, where domestic and transnational jurisdictions collide, infrastructure space  becomes a medium of what might be called extrastatecraft—a portmanteau describing the often undisclosed activities outside of, in addition to, and sometimes even in partnership  with  statecraft.”A most  present  example of this massive surveillance amalgam or “system of systems”7 is Eurosur, operated by Frontex (or the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders), which, when complete, aims to allow “the frictionless circulation of identity data within a single globalised market of information” across “the entire European common border and beyond.”8 Likewise, Cowen describes how transnational corporations, nation-states, and supranational governing  bodies  have worked in concert to secure commodity flows via global maritime trade    and against the threat of piracy—often rewriting international law to their advantage in the process.But the effects of digital security infrastructure  are often far more visceral than we might imagine. In a desperate bid to escape the dragnet of this “frictionless” circulation of biometric identity data, migrants have been driven not only to burn their passports, but also to erase any physical biometric markers by mutilating their fingertips: burning them, cutting them with a razor, or using acid—giving a final, dreadful twist to the Latin etymology of “digital” in digitus: finger.

Processes of globalization have thus led to the creation of “transversally bordered spaces that not only cut across national borders  but also generate new types of formal and informal jurisdictions… deep inside the tissue of national sovereign territory.”10 And while  national sovereignty is questioned from without by the increasing power of infrastructure and logistics, the relinquishing of power to business lobbies and nongovernmental organizations has  hollowed  any  vestiges of representational democracy from within. As a corollary to the rise of neoliberalism, the vision of an autonomous, potent political subject  is devastated by the growing power of privileged elites standing at the nexus of transnational corporations, extra-juridical zones, infrastructural authorities, nongovernmental organizations, and covert rule.

In his book Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy philosopher Jacques Rancière termes this condition “postdemocratic,” which is exemplified by “the paradox that, in the name of democracy, emphasizes the consensual practice of effacing the forms of democratic action. Postdemocracy is… a democracy that has eliminated the appearance, miscount, and dispute of the people, and is thereby reducible to the sole interplay of state mechanisms and combinations of social energies and interests.”1 Similarly, political theorists have recently described the rise within the United States of a mode of “double governance,” according to which political power is split between elected government officials and a network of institutions constituting a “disguised republic.”12 At the same time, the notion of a “deep state” has been evoked to describe forms of opaque sovereignty prevalent in Turkey, Egypt, Yemen,  and Syria, in which  a nexus of police, intelligence services, politicians, and organized crime are allegedly responsible for the exertion of violence and covert rule.13

This postdemocratic condition, these opaque or disguised forms of governance, could also be termed “proxy politics.”14 A proxy is a decoy or a surrogate. The word derives from the Latin procurator meaning someone responsible for representing someone else in a court     of law. These days, the word proxy is often used to designate a computer server acting as an intermediary for client requests. These servers afford indirect connections to a network, thus providing users with anonymity. However, in this intermediary capacity, proxy servers can also be set   up for the opposite task: to monitor traffic. Proxy politics––defined by artist, writer, and Research Center for Proxy Politics member Hito Steyerl as the “politics of the stand-in”––is characterized by fraudulent contracts, chimerical sovereignties, and void authorities.15 In place of “smooth” democratic functioning, proxy politics suggests instead diversion, mediation, subterfuge, and bifurcation.

Where disembodiment, invisible politics, and the increasing subordination of politics to economic interests has become the norm, for individuals, on the contrary, the digital and the body become entangled, with fingerprints and face-recognition being the most literal reminders  that bodies are identifiers. The science historian Lorraine Daston has recently asked whether the value of transparency has mutated before our eyes. Whereas it used to be a demand put forth by “enlightened citizens”  to their governments, today it is secretive governments powered by new technologies that demand transparency of their citizens.16

It is thus precisely within this ambiguous political framework that proxy politics can be understood as both a symptom of the crisis in representational politics, as well as a counter-strategy aiming to critically engage with, and challenge, the existing mechanisms of security and control.


Art Tales and Artistic Territory

How, then, should artists confront this technology? Like earlier generations, whose moniker “net art” outlines a direct and  often  activist  engagement with the mechanisms and materiality of the et?17 Should they cut cables? Map the web? Learn to code? In his video It’s  Just a Single Swing of a Shovel 2015, Berlin-based Georgian artist Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze relays the story of Shakardian as a parable of sorts: the Internet becomes conspicuous when it is unusable, its worldly character comes to the fore once it appears damaged. A visit to a network operations center gives digital media theorist Nicole Starosielski a similar impression: “At first glance, it seems to be a place of mere supervision, where the humans     sit around and watch machines do the work of international connection, waiting only for a moment of crisis.”18 Crisis is a key condition of networks, which are highly dependent on constant supervision. We, as users, only become aware of the infrastructure’s existence in moments of breakdown, malfunction, or glitch.19 During these rare moments, the web draws attention to its hardware, its materiality, its invisible visibility.

In his short documentary animation, Gagoshidze carefully considers Shakardian’s individual and social circumstances, while at the same time mapping, somewhat humorously, the grave effects such a local incident has had upon Georgia and Armenia. This disproportionate dimension describes our current technological condition. Gagoshidze appropriates Shakardian’s story, while asking whether the energetic woman could be considered a contemporary Luddite, attacking cables rather than assembly lines. Did she hack the networks with the hope that people would briefly lift their heads from behind their screens, or give a second thought to the cloud that looms above them? Of course not. As Gagoshidze is clearly aware, it was nothing more than human error, an accident  with  unforeseeable  repercussions. At the end of the day, what this parable seems to emphasize is the durability of these networks, but it also explicates their potential frailty.

 

Post

We live in an age, it has been said, which takes the ubiquitous presence  of the Internet for granted. It has been dubbed post-Internet (post-net), or post-digital,20 and is concomitant with postcapitalism, postdemocracy, post-cinema, post-concept, and, of course, the ineffable postmodernism. All of these “posts” are attempts to grasp diffuse liminal states, new constellations, and media convergences, as well as the commercial permeation of the on- and offline universes. The so-called “Internet of things,” guided by purely practical and commercial interests, effaces this delineation even further. The Internet of things “describes a world embedded with so many digital devices that the space between them consists not of dark circuitry but rather the space of the city itself.”2

A world where “data turn[s] into things and things into data,” in which anybody could potentially build a proxy front-end with a Raspberry Pi,   a readily available single-board computer as small as a cash card.22

However, the Internet of things’ mastermind and Xerox PARC scientist Mark Weiser has advocated for the “calming” effects of computers becoming invisible, receding into the background.23  “Just as   a good, well-balanced hammer ‘disappears’ in the hand of a carpenter and allows him to concentrate on the big picture, we hope that computers can participate in a similar magic disappearing act.”24 As media historian Florian Sprenger notes, Weiser  stops halfway in his earnest utilization  of Heideggerian thinking.25 It is the defiant failure of a tool that reveals

the world, Sprenger argues. Weiser turns the philosopher’s thoughts upside down. While things become invisible by using them, Weiser aims at making things invisible by design. Considering that both post-net artists and  computer engineers work on breaking down boundaries between digital and physical worlds, post-net art might somehow be operating on the fringes of the Internet of things project—both create a constant back-and-forth between objects and databases. Yet post-net art is about high visibility, it is full of surfaces and signs, prompting the viewer to encounter digital objects outside their digital habitat, namely in an art gallery.

Postism––often introduced apologetically, parenthetically, “for lack of better word,” within a dizzying realm of (post-conceptual) empty signifiers––carries with it an air of self-congratulatory disenchantment. A blasé pat on the back. Yet, however theoretically questionable and epistemologically limiting these terms may be, it is  difficult  to  ignore their discursive lure. So-called post-net art filters the mainstream visual surface of the web, sometimes indistinguishably from start-up culture and its corporate aesthetics, sticking to the familiar and highly visible end of the Internet: stock-images, Google Earth glitches, Hollywood movie streams, memes, icons of prosumer culture, and so on. Whereas 1990s    net art introduced the studio into the virtual sphere or digital interface, further advancing both the movement toward the dematerialization of art and, by stressing the means of that virtuality, emphasizing the Internet as an object-category in itself, post-net art, in turn, comes to displace the work of art from the browser and puts it back into the gallery. In “an act of deterritorialization—a violent reification, it forces a commodity value upon   a product with a use value confined to a particular context.”26 With post-net artists themselves acting as filters, as “knowing participants in a system of circulating data in which the line between artist-made, user-generated, and commercial content is decidedly  blurred,”27  post-net  art  could  essentially be considered a successor of Pop Art, working in line with the Pictures Generation. At its best, it successfully and knowingly intervenes into the modes of circulation and value production that derive from and spin out of  the so-called platformification of social interactions in web 2.0, subverting their meaning or short-circuiting their reception. At its worst, post-net art is   a display of a predominantly western, affluent, youth culture, with “post” designating little more than everything goes, a cultural coming-of-age.

Within an age of algorithmic hegemony and data-driven proxy-governance, and backgrounding this  twofold  characterization of post-net art, visuality is increasingly reliant on this participation in code, and increasingly subjected to its logic. Belief in the agency of representation, in governance as in the aesthetic realm, is undermined, however, by the transferability of code  and  its  propensity  toward simulation and modeling rather than indexicality. Why is it that artistic data visualization mostly ends up as image disturbance, visual noise, colorful abstraction? The answer seems to hark back once again to the notion that tools reveal their worldliness when damaged or misplaced.28  In 2003, the artist Cory Arcangel discovered a bug in the video playback program QuickTime on Apple computers: the program could  be  tricked  into playing all data from the RAM of the hard drive as “video” files. While current versions of QuickTime no longer allow this misinterpretation due   to software changes in the decoding process, Arcangel’s resulting Data Diaries look like versions of old TV test patterns and come with an 8-bit soundtrack 29 Though it opens up this apparent failure in the computer’s hermetic processing, does this aesthetic simply adhere to our expectation that data is abstract and mathematical, and therefore logically corresponds  to geometric color fields? Or has this notion of what data might look like become antiquated in the meantime? In the northern summer of 2015, Google offered a glimpse into how computers might “see” the world. The company launched an image recognition research project called Deep Dream, which has purported to teach “computers how to see, understand, and appreciate our world”30 by way of a neural network, but seems rather to conjure some sort of technological unconscious. This creepy experiment  in computer vision has been dubbed inceptionism and is inspired by Mandelbrot sets,3 whereby an image reveals “progressively ever-finer recursive detail at increasing magnifications” so that fractal self-similarity applies to the entire set, rather than only parts.32 Every image presented is first abstracted, and then becomes an entry point to a pluriverse of figures, which are, in turn, abstracted, only to reveal more figures. It is an infinite plunge into patterns becoming figures, becoming patterns, and so on and     so forth: “Even a relatively simple neural network can be used to over- interpret an image, just like as children we enjoyed watching clouds and interpreting the random shapes.”33  It is curious to see machines reverting     to interpreting clouds. As media historian and social theorist John Durham Peters has noted, humans have been searching for signs in clouds from time immemorial and the cloud can be seen as a form of elemental media 34 Have machines now adopted the human tendency  toward  apophenia, actively seeking out patterns in “meaningless” data? Or, thinking of it as an extension of our human point of view, as media theorist David M. Berry speculates, “apophenia would be the norm in a highly digital computational society, perhaps even a significant benefit to one’s life chances and well-being if finding patterns become increasingly  lucrative.  Here  we might consider the growth of computational high-frequency trading and financial systems that are trained  and  programmed  to  identify  patterns very quickly.”35 A posthuman machine-vision that is simply all too human?

In this context, artist Cécile B. Evans presents what she calls two “artificial intelligences” from previous artistic projects, which are now in stasis. The first, “AGNES,” is a spambot Evans has created in a digital commission,36 the second, “PHIL,” is a CGI representation of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Evans states, “these two intelligences have gone into storage, or ‘sleep mode’ waiting for better times that can accommodate the knowledge and experiences (ultimately consciousness) they have acquired.”37 AGNES has two well-groomed hands, and her name might, or might not, refer to an episode of The Twilight Zone TV series, in which a computer named Mark 502-741, “commonly known as Agnes,”   is the world’s most advanced electronic  computer.  Relatedly,  throughout the 1940s, the first IBM-funded electronic computers developed at Harvard University were called Mark.38 Physicist and computing pioneer Howard H. Aiken, who programmed four iterations of Mark, was married to a woman called Agnes Montgomery. This might lead us too far off, but following philosopher Sadie Plant’s concern in her 1997 book Zeros and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture to inscribe women into computer history, giving the bot a short, female name like Ada or Eliza might well be the artist’s hidden intention. Or,  perhaps, when a spambot   is presumably the messiest of all online agents, it is an ironic reference to the original Greek meaning of the name Agnes—pure holy. In any case, together with the homage to the recently  deceased  actor,  Hoffman,  the two characters are emphatic, if ambiguous, emblems for cybernetics and singularity.39 Evans’s installation Black Box (Server Sleep), 2015, which hosts the two avatars on disassembled tablet screens and microcomputers, offers a tongue-in-cheek comment on efforts in developing artificial intelligence research and striving for immortality of the sort inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil’s “singularity” research at Google is dedicated toward. Where Kurzweil’s aim is to elevate humans into god-like positions, literally invoking a Kurzweilian longue durée, by being able to prolong life beyond its biological designation, Evans’s creatures loiter absurdly in a sort of creen-limbo, running on DIY/Internet of things/Raspberry Pi technology, waiting for this promised future to happen. Within the installation, the tablet functions as a communication device, through which PHIL and AGNES interface with the outside world, sending text messages and status updates. Both “black boxes” are peculiar substitutes, or doubles, framed by an empty screen-case containing a data circuit constructed from a tablet, a hard drive, and “wet” pictures that make reference to the previous life of the portrayed actor-cum-avatar. Looking at the hidden backside of the screen-cases of PHIL and AGNES, holding their digital surfaces in suspension, one can sneak a peek of an unorganized clutch     of printed photographs referring to the realness of a former life and an unfragmented body.

Today, we know that skin is not skin deep. Offering a different answer to the question of how the relation between physical traces and imagery changes when it comes to identification, in 2015, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg created a 3D portrait of incarcerated whistleblower Chelsea Manning from a DNA probe. As Manning has recently stated, “our society’s dependence on imagery says a lot about our values. Unfortunately, prisons try very hard to make us inhuman and unreal    by denying our image, and thus our existence, to the rest of the world. Imagery has become a kind of proof of existence.”40 Dewey-Hagborg’s previous portraits in the series Stranger Visions  have  stemmed  from DNA analyses of chewing gum and hair found in the streets, which she arduously developed in her local Manhattan bio-hacking lab.4 In another example, her research into DNA has resulted in a product called Invisible, where she spreads DNA-noise that can blur one’s own traces, creating what she calls “genetic insecurities.”42 When biometric registry has enabled the codification of human skin so that it is legible to the powers that be, a medium of control, could the resulting 3D portraits of anonymous people perform as proxies, as doppelgängers of the biopolitical kind, waiting to show up in Frontex surveillance systems?

 

Territories

For Berry, “the postdigital can be said to constitute the pattern, the asterism, that is distinctive of our age.”43 He compares what he calls “the postdigital constellation” with aerial photography, “in that it does not emerge out of the interior of the given conditions, but, rather appears above them—granting a distant reading of culture, society and everyday life.”In the context of Evans’s work, does the postdigital constellation describe a mode of observation, a way to step out of the networked perspective and its structural settings? Is it really a perspective from above? Or is it rather one from below, the typical perspective for star-gazing, where searching  for patterns and correlations in pools of data is like tracing shapes and finding meaning in celestial bodies? The artworks mentioned so far, such  as Dewey-Hagborg’s demonstration of the logic of biological surveillance and DNA databases in all their corporeal materiality, observe from within that corporeality, shedding light on lesser-known technological conditions and histories from down among them.

Aleksandra Domanović, a Berlin-based artist born in former Yugoslavia, develops this shifted point of reference  in  her  essayistic video documentary From yu to me, 2014.44 The video looks into the past  of the artist’s native country to explore how changes to domain name severs (DNS) have coincided with the new geopolitical constellation at   the end of the Soviet Union. A DNS is the part of an Internet address that indicates where the data the website refers to is located and registered; as media theorist Alexander R. Galloway writes, it is the only map that   has a 1:1 relationship with the territory it refers to. This linkage between where a website is “from” and what (or where) its representation addresses has not always been so stable. Domanović’s video describes how, if only for a short time before the socialist country collapsed, websites in Yugoslavia were indicated by the top domain name .yu, and how the domain was hosted by the University of California, Berkeley in a time when the Internet was—at least outside the military—still conceived as a transnational project without borders. From time to time during the video, a robotic hand intervenes, the hand as a medium in itself, in the front layer of the moving images. As well as possibly being a visualization of the invisible hand of the market, and of covert power relations, the hand—which appears elsewhere in Domanović’s humanoid sculptures as a reference to mediating the technological history of former Yugoslavia— also refers to the “Belgrade Hand,” a robotic prosthetic, apparently the first  of its kind with five fingers, developed in Novi Sad and Belgrade in 1964. Domanović’s video counts, in her use of these physical and figurative hybrids, as an instance of post-representational cognitive mapping, or what writer Michael Connor has called a kind of “internet realism: an approach    to the problem of representing the internet that foregrounds its status as a material infrastructure and a site of human labor, one that is best narrated from the eye-level, open-ended point of view of the artist-documentarian rather than the god’s-eye view of the cartographer.”45

 

Proxy Powers

The art projects we have discussed boil down to faces, hands, and clouds   as media; they dwell at the threshold of post-net  art  and  mark  where proxy politics, in part, begins. Following a process of dematerialization,   are these essential objects, which physically mediate the networked condition, not the more telling and significant media of our time? Is the understanding of a medium changing once again? As Easterling observes, “infrastructure space becomes a medium,” and physical matter transforms into a medium for an abstract global constellation otherwise invisible and

intangible. We  argue that the proxy is also a new kind of medium, whether   in the disguise of a reverse-engineered DNA portrait, which manifests itself in 3D space, an avatar on a screen, or a robotic hand that intervenes in moving image space. The medium of proxy politics takes the detachment between material components and power relations to  the  next  level, equaling out any kind of power play between old and new, large and small, public and private. “Those proxies tear up territories by creating netscapes that are partly unlinked from geography and national jurisdiction,”46  netscapes that are also unlinked from local infrastructures. Following philosopher Joseph Vogl, these particular proxy media should be conceived  as a temporary constellation, like “Galileo’s telescope, which is no longer a simple object but a complex formation comprising material, discursive, practical, and theoretical elements.”47 Before becoming media, proxies presuppose a contextual analysis.

Any proxy causes a mess: that is the rule. It destabilizes existing orders and dichotomies, if only to open a door for individuals to pass through. It creates its own temporary world of intervention—how else are slices of a fractured reality to be visualized? How does one lend them an aesthetic form, and overcome their abstraction? Cognitive mapping points  at the visible invisible, but where do we stand with regards to Jamesonian cognitive mapping in times of post-representation and postdemocracy? as jameson wisely realized in 1992, the dilemma of late capitalism and computer technologies lies in the fact that the two systems are inseparably tied together. Yet, as historian Frances Stonor Saunders suggests in her depiction of Europe’s border technologies, if  “[c]ognitive mapping     is the way we mobilize a definition of who we are . . . borders are the    way we protect this definition.”48 Perhaps, then, a radical demand for cognitive mapping “has become incorporated into the system of global capitalism,” writes systems and language theorist Wendy Hui Kyong  Chun, commenting on Jameson’s idea, “could it be that rather than resort to maps, we need to immerse ourselves in networked flows?”49 To gear ourselves as proxies, one might add. Post-net art does not solve the problem of visualizing post-representational power structures. “The point   of unrepresentability is the point of power. And the point of power today    is not in the image. The point of power resides in networks, computers, algorithms.”50  In this sense, freezing the virtual in materiality, as post-net  art does, means taking digital objects out of context and out of circulation, so we can disidentify with familiar things, in order to reconsider and interrupt our habits.

The cloud is just one manifestation of a growing opacity— epistemological, political, and aesthetic—and the proxy is its ambivalent counterpart, its spearhead and nemesis. Where such images burst into the material realm is also where their wholeness is challenged. In the wake of 1989—as both a geopolitical and technological watershed—the rise of proxy politics offers a counter-narrative to that of the seamless global- capitalist triumphalism that perfumes the cloud. But while the rise of the proxy marks a shift in strategy away from representational politics, the supposed smoothness of digital circulation, the famed borderlessness of  “the web,” is brought to a grinding, emphatic halt by the stringent, though differential, rule of biometric borders that fix it in place.

Certainly, it is hard to get a grip on this complex reality we live in, but go try a robotic hand, an avatar, or a DNA vaporizer for a change.

 

 

  1. See World Wide Web Foundation, “History of the Web,” online at: http://webfoundation.org/about/vision/history-of-the-web/.
  2. See Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The Californian Ideology,” Mute, 1 September 1995, online at: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/californian-ideology. For discussion on the promotion of radical individualism, libertarianism, and neoliberal economics in 1990s Silicon Valley industries; or, on the other hand, see these ideas reflected in the supposed freedoms of networks, indicated by Geert Lovink’s suggestion to the nettime mailing list in 2004 that it is “[n]ot internet protocols that are ruling the world… [but] in the end, G. W. Bush,” as cited in Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007). The latter is a book that examines exactly the relationships of power between networks, their protocols, and sovereignty.
  3. See Armand Mattelart, Networking the World, 1794–2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). See also Roland Wenzlhuemer, Connecting the Nineteenth-Century World: The Telegraph and Globalization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
  4. Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992), p.10.
  5. John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 34.
  6. Keller Easterling, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (London: Verso, 2014), p. 15.
  7. Frances Stonor Saunders, “Where on Earth are you?,” London Review of Books, vol. 38, no. 5, 3 March 2016, online at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n05/frances-stonorsaunders/where-on-earth-are-you.
  8. Deborah Cowen, The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), p. 130.
  9. Saskia Sassen, “When Territory Deborders Territoriality,” Territory, Politics, Governance, vol. 1, no. 1 (2013), p. 23.
  10. Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), pp. 101–102.
  11. See Michael J. Glennon, National Security and Double Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
  12. Hugh Roberts, “The Hijackers,” London Review of Books, vol. 37, no. 14, 16 July 2015, pp. 5–10.
  13. Boaz Levin and Vera Tollmann, “Proxy-Politik,” Springerin, no. 3 (July 2015), pp. 8–9.
  14. See Hito Steyerl, “Proxy Politics: Signal and Noise,” e-flux journal, no. 60 (December 2014), online at: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/proxy-politics/.
  15. As argued in Lorraine Daston’s introduction to Peter Galison’s lecture “Secrecy, Surveillance, and the Self” (Mosse Lectures program, Humboldt University, Berlin, 5 November 2015).
  16. See Natalie Bookchin and Alexei Shulgin, “Introduction to net.art (1994–1999),” Easylife.org (March/April 1999), online at: http://www.easylife.org/netart/.
  17. Nicole Starosielski, “Undersea Cable Network Operates in a State of Alarm [Excerpt],” Scientific American, 27 March 2015, online at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/undersea-cable-network-operates-in-a-state-of-alarm-excerpt/.
  18. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008), p. 102.
  19. Florian Cramer, “What is ‘Post-digital’?” ARPJA, vol. 3, issue 1 (2014), online at: http://www.aprja.net/?p=1318.
  20. Keller Easterling, “An Internet of Things,” e-flux journal, no. 31 (January 2012), online at: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/an-internet-of-things/.
  21. Neil Gershenfeld, “How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 91, no. 6 (Nov/Dec 2012), p. 44.
  22. See Mark Weiser, “Ubiquitous Computing,” 17 March 1996, online at: http://www.ubiq.com/hypertext/weiser/UbiHome.html.
  23. Mark Weiser, “The world is not a desktop,” Interactions, vol. 1, no. 1 (January 1994), pp. 7–8.
  24. See Florian Sprenger, “Die Vergangenheit der Zukunft: Kommentar zu ‘Das kommende Zeitalter der Calm Technology,’” in Internet der Dinge: Über smarte Objekte, intelligente Umgebungen und die technische Durchdringung der Welt, Christoph Engemann and Florian Sprenger, eds. (Bielefeld: transcript, 2015), p.84.
  25. Jesse Darling, “Post-Whatever: #usermilitia,” in You Are Here: Art After the Internet, ed. Omar Kholeif (Manchester: Cornerhouse, 2014), p. 139.
  26. Michael Connor, “Post-Internet: What It Is and What It Was,” in You are Here: Art After the Internet, ed. Omar Kholeif (Manchester: Cornerhouse, 2014), p. 61.
  27. See Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays (New York: Garland Publishing, 1977).
  28. Cory Arcangel, Data Diaries, 2003, online at: http://turbulence.org/project/data-diaries/.
  29. See Deep Dream Generator, “About Deep Dream Generator,” online at: http://deepdreamgenerator.com.
  30. Named after Polish-born, French mathematician and pioneer of fractal geometry Benoit Mandelbrot, this is a particular set of complex numbers that has a highly convoluted fractal boundary when plotted. According to Oxford English Dictionary Online: “When represented graphically on the complex plane, the Mandelbrot set has a distinctive, highly convoluted fractal boundary which can only be drawn accurately by a computer. Its basic shape (to the naked eye) is that of a cardioid with one large and two smaller circular shapes attached symmetrically to the boundary. Each of these shapes has more, smaller shapes attached, and so on, so that no matter how much a portion of the boundary is magnified, further magnification always reveals more detail,” online at:  https://en.oxforddictionaries. com/definition/mandelbrot_set.
  31. Alexander Mordvintsev, Christopher Olah, and Mike Tyka, “Inceptionism: Going Deeper into Neural Networks,” Google Research Blog, 17 June 2015, online at: http://googleresearch.blogspot.de/2015/06/inceptionism-going-deeper-into-neural.html.
  32. Peters, The Marvelous Clouds. See also Cory Arcangel, Super Mario Movie, 2005, which presents a video of the puffy clouds from the Super Mario video game, online at: http://www.coryarcangel.com/things-i-made/2005-001-super-mario-movie.
  33. David M. Berry, “The Postdigital Constellation,” Postdigital Aesthetics: Art, Computation and Design, David M. Berry and Michael Dieter, eds. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), p. 56.
  34. Ada O’Higgins, “Not your average bot: DISmiss presents AGNES,” DIS, 7 October 2014, online at: http://dismagazine.com/blog/66584/not-your-average-bot-dismiss-presents-agnes.
  35. Cécile B. Evans, “Software, Hard Problem,” exhibition press release, Cubitt, London, 8 October–15 November 2015.
  36. “Mark I worked around the clock on military projects, calculating massive mathematical tables. Principally it helped the Navy by computing tables for the design of equipment such as torpedoes and underwater detection systems. Other branches of the military sought its help in calculating the design of surveillance camera lenses, radar, and implosion devices for the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project [sic].” See Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, “Use,” The Mark I at Harvard, online at http://sites.harvard. edu/~chsi/markone/use.html.
  37. Significantly, it has been reported after Hoffman’s death in February 2014 that the actor (notably famed for his role in Synecdoche, New York, directed by Charlie Kaufman, 2008, in which he plays a theater director who creates a life-size replica of New York) would be digitally rendered for the completion of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, 2015. Its director, Francis Lawrence, would later call this proposal “a horrible, horrible thing,” as cited in Matthew McLean, “Cécile B. Evans: Hyperactive links,” frieze d/e, issue 18 (March/April 2015), online at: https://frieze.com/article/cécile-b-evans.
  38. Cory Doctorow, “Chelsea Manning interview: DNA, big data, official secrecy, and citizenship,” Boing Boing, 25 January 2016, online at: https://boingboing. net/2016/01/25/chelsea-manning-interview-dna.html.
  39. Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Stranger Visions, 2012–2013, online at: http://deweyhagborg.com/projects/stranger-visions.
  40. Heather Dewey-Hagborg, “Genetic Insecurities” (lecture, IAPP, Navigate, Toronto, 2013), online at: https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=cSBGloXzzxw.
  41. Berry, “The Postdigital Constellation,” p.53.
  42. Aleksandra Domanovic´, From yu to me, 2014, online at: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/may/22/unfinished-business-yugoslav-internet.
  43. Michael Connor, “Aleksandra Domanovic´’s Internet Realism,” Rhizome, 21 May 2014, online at: https://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/may/21/yu-me-aleksandra-domanovics-internet-realism/.
  44. Steyerl, “Proxy Politics.”
  45. Joseph Vogl, “Becoming-media: Galileo’s Telescope,” Grey Room, no. 29 (Fall 2007), p.23.
  46. Stonor Saunders, “Where on Earth are you?”
  47. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011), p. 75.
  48. Alexander R. Galloway, The Interface Effect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), p.92. Though certainly there is power in the ownership of vast image databanks like Getty Images, which recently have started distributing Corbis images (previously owned by Bill Gates) via a Chinese proxy, Visual China Group, with whom they have a long-lasting partnership. Getty now holds a monopoly on image distribution. See “Getty Images and Visual China Group Partner in Exclusive Global Distribution Partnership for Extensive Visual Content Collection of Corbis Images,” Getty Images Press Room, 22 January 2016, online at: http://press.gettyimages.com/getty-and-corbis/.

 

 

This text has benefitted from conversations with our colleagues at the Research Center for Proxy Politics, Hito Steyerl and Maximilian Schmoetzer, as well as numerous guests at the center. We would like to thank Zach Blas, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Paul Feigelfeld, Brian Holmes, Oleksiy Radynski, and Tiziana Terranova.