By Dr Nancy Mauro-Flude
…I stood there shivering in my pyjamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
And when it was all over I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to a fire?’…
– Peggy Lee (1969)
Last summer of 2019-20, at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic we (once again) witnessed parts of the country go up in flames. Since then many varied viewpoints in regard to climate change, health, economy, politics and identity and so on whirls amongst the interstices of the planet through vernacular news feeds, word of mouth, graffiti, 5G tower arsonist sabotages and other various forms of internet folklore. Particularly on social media platforms many of us witnessed a prevalence of “blaming the other” through a proliferation of conspiratorial, malevolent and/or humorous memes, manifested in repetition and variation by people “trying to make sense” of an obscured and incomprehensible crisis.
In retrospect it now seems almost uncanny that prior to the global COVID-19 outbreak, the “arts” was removed from the title of the relevant Federal government department (December 2019) partly on the grounds for the need to “improve decision making”. There is a deep irony in the fact that it is artists who typically possess high-level decision making skill sets and agile abilities to grapple with various scenarios through on-the-fly improvisation or salubrious dances with their medium. The wilful exploitation by the Australian Prime Minister, stating “Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision-making and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people” (Scott Morrison 2019), showed a disregard for the socio-cultural, ecological and technological realities of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. The reality on the ground is that as emergent technologies arise as key actors in our public sphere – especially through ubiquitous personal computer and mobile digital culture consumption – unequal access to information and services due to varying levels of digital literacy are increasing in Australia (Thomas 2017).
It is the artist’s oeuvre that provides nuance, insight and potent understandings of a milieu through their ingenious ability to mediate, interpret and probe current affairs that may enable new knowledge to flourish; if they are validated to be as such. Done well, the indeterminate processes of artistic research, can offer compelling innovations like no other field. Artists who possess this tacit knowledge are able to reveal vast imaginaries and knowledge that is less acquiescent to rote learning and automation, because their work is distinctive and often counter intuitive to mechanical substitution.
Veering away from using these tools to accomplish an instrumental chore marks a further shift within the disciplinary field of art, away from conventional modes of production in the quest for an expanded repertoire in a bid to engage more perceptively with more-than-human phenomena. Simultaneously reappraising emergent technologies processes, systems and networks as 21C century art forms, a case study for such claims recently took place at the launch of the Economythologies.network [#EMLX], as a part of the Institute of Network Cultures MoneyLab#X series. The first in the chain to be held in the southern hemisphere. This multisite event livestreamed remote presentations and performances, in collaboration with satellite venues Ainslie+Gorman Arts Centre (Canberra, ACT) and Bett Gallery (Hobart, TAS), November 5-6 2020.
The venture to foster more scalable approaches to digital trade and consumption of artistic assets to positively augment broader understandings of what affects our collective health, our politics and most prominently our culture and in order to develop customs of engaged autonomy. By engaging partners, artists, researchers, curators, collectors, technologists in a profound interrogation and re-imagination of the economic systems, technologies and cultural discourses considering:
How are emergent digital economies of the Indo-Pacific forging new chapters in the history of techno-empires and decentralised communities?
How can Indigenous knowledge systems be more suitably enabled, as sophisticated strategies that resist the settler-colonial impulses of advanced capitalism?
How do the false scarcities, opaque markets, machinery and instable infrastructures of 21st century digital culture demand radical reconfigurations for the on-going transmission and interruption of community mythos?
Co-conveners Denise Thwaites, and I in collaboration with our crew, will now embark on an asynchronous artistic program rolling out through 2021 and beyond. In order to explore collective distribution methods such as blockchain (digital public ledger record-keeping technology) built on low impact infrastructure driven by wind and solar power as potential mediums to create with and simultaneously support, present, fund, sustain, and archive 21C art practice.
At present we have an overwhelming opportunity for a deep-seated coming together of diverse viewpoints to advance robust discussion to embrace real world problems many of us share. Not only am I stressing the need to push for transdisciplinary happenings in localised public forums, but I’m calling for us to create, or at least be able to become aware and accustomed of these infrastructures. To reclaim the micro-mobility of the apparatus and lobby, be climate friendly and situated in its ubiquity. This appeal is not at all related to cultural affinities with luddites or, pragmatic eco-conformists who seem to step over the people in the street to save the whales, whose ocean they pollute with the microfibres of their “Kathmandu” uniform. But is more akin to the free culture spirit and politics born out of the assemblages of the 20C Dada movement. Risk taking eclectic artists whose cut up and chance based works were able to comprehend the unforeseen impacts of the parthenogenetic multispecies cabaret of which we are in the midst, a century before. Such an experiential approach carries a compelling pathway, arousing public literacy (somatic, visceral, digital, social, aesthetic) more broadly. Thus to stimulate mindfulness of alternative applications we can reimagine the role of public communication infrastructure through shared conversations, multi-faceted platforms for symposia, online performances, exhibition(s), and experimental digital publication(s) in the pursuit of cultivating for new knowledge production that responds to the specific challenges of our 21st Century.
In an epoch of endless “strategic plans” and alien “business models” we are asking how can artists and creative professionals continue to subvert capitalistic logics to support and stimulate diverse creative livelihoods and communities? To reenvisage and curate spaces for public debate and critical reflection upon this creative knowhow. Despite recent international and national level investments in securing digital heritage – exemplified by infrastructure audits of Australian Galleries Libraries Art Museum (GLAM) peak bodies, UNESCO Digital Preservation charters, Pandora Web Archive, Australia Council for the Arts digital strategies the actual practices on the ground, subcultures and local small businesses that sustain our creative digital ecologies are increasingly stifled by rent-hikes, bureaucratic red-tape, designed in obsolescence, the homogonies and exorbitant lure of “blockbuster” programming.
Many of us promptly need to listen carefully to our senses and then act in a scrupulous dance with 21C mediums to summon a requiem for a more poetic future. Conjuring new (and very old) networks of interrelated entities that inhabit humans and non-humans alike, resound through the boundless affordances of our cultural lives and wellbeing. Because if we so choose to disregard the insidious magnitude of the fourth industrial automation, in our contemplation of aesthetics, we will be continually plagued.
Fragments this text were written in collaboration with Denise Thwaites co-convener in the press release and preface for Economythologies MoneyLab#X http://economythologs.network And been previously published in an opinion piece.
Mauro-Flude, Nancy (2020) ‘Artistic Way to Tackle a Thorny Issue’ The Mercury, p.23 https://www.pressreader.com/australia/mercury-hobart/20200213/page/23.
Morrison, Scott (2019) Prime Minister E&OE, Press Conference Transcript- Parliament House, ACT 05 Dec https://www.pm.gov.au/media/press-conference-parliament-house-act-2
Mouffe, Chantal (2009) “Democracy in a Multipolar World.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies. 37 (3): 549–561 DOI: 10.1177/0305829809103232
Thomas, Julian (2017) Australia’s Digital Divide, https://exchange.telstra.com.au/digital-inclusion-understanding-australias-digital-divide
VNS Matrix (1991) The Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century https://vnsmatrix.net/projects/the-cyberfeminist-manifesto-for-the-21st-century
Dr Nancy Mauro-Flude is an artist and theorist based in Tasmania. Her research contributes to the transdisciplinary space of performance art, somatic literacy and feminist science and technology studies. Nancy has extensive experience in devising experiential international symposiums in a bid to bring forward contested and unsettled bases of knowledges. From 2016-8 she was director of the Curatorial and Cultural Leadership program National University of Singapore in collaboration with ArtScience Museum. In 2019 she represented Australia at the 2nd Beijing Media Arts Biennale, exhibiting Divination: A romantic Mutiny in a Maelstrom of Data. Founder of Despoinas Media Coven homebrewed in 2008, she currently leads the Computational Aesthetics studio, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.