A Minimal Manifesto
1. Arts and theories that possess an affinity to advanced thinking and advanced technologies demand maximum moveability. This moveability is not the same as the mobility that is demanded of us day in, day out, and proclaimed as an inherent necessity. Moveability does not offer itself for exploitation and, in turn, it does not exploit. Our moveability gets by with a minimum of possessions albeit carefully selected ones. It cultivates a life of wandering and attempts to orient itself in the world without prescribed disciplines. It is in the best sense undisciplined. It cannot be disciplined. This is a plea for theory and practice situated in the in-between of disciplines, between staked-out territories, between the dispositifs of power, which Michel Foucault identified above all as sexuality, truth, and knowledge. To this we can add the network.
2. And this is a mini-discourse on in/compatibility:
Globalisation is a concept that is profoundly bound up with economic, cultural, and political power. The word originates from a vocabulary that has nothing to do with art. Our justifiable concern is to communicate our work on a worldwide basis, and to carry this through without falling into the trap of such (pre)determinations, therefore we need other concepts and other orientations. Poets and philosophers, like Édouard Glissant from Martinique, may be able to provide them. Glissant operates with the concept of mondialité. Jacques Derrida also regarded this concept very highly. With mondialité both thinkers describe a quality of worldwide relationships, which are not defined in terms of their rational purposiveness, but as the “poetry of relations”. Art and theory that are created with the aid of advanced ideas and media could in this sense become “mondiale” theory and practice.
3. In case of doubt and with the option of choosing alternatives, a risky decision in favour of the possible is more appropriate than a pragmatic decision in favour of reality. Modern science, technology, and art have expended their energies for over 400 years on making the invisible visible and the imperceptible perceptible. Through translating nature into binary data and rendering social relations, including their fine structures, systematic, this process is now far advanced. The more that the technological world is programmed to make the impossible possible — that means, to make it function — it is worthwhile to undertake the attempt to confront the possible with its own impossibilities. This would be an alternative programme to establishing cybernetics as a cultural and social technology.
4. In the most advanced societies we live in a permanent testing situation. Our environment is set up as a test department, which was also the name of a great band (Test. Dept.) in the 1980s from Glasgow in Scotland. Ideas and concepts that have barely seen the light of day are subjected to trials to test their viability on the market. By contrast, in elaborate artistic processes the experiment takes precedence over the test. As a matter of principle experiments are free and failure is always possible. Tests, on the other hand, are tied to clearly defined purposes and pre-ordained objectives that have to be met. Tests serve to create products. In a test, input and expected output are connected as closely as possible.
5. In the early modern era the attraction of the alchemist’s laboratory was not primarily to turn base metals into shining gold. Rather, the fascination was that they were places where it was possible to gather profound experience of active processes for changing something less than perfect into something more perfect. This process consisted mainly of research. And the transformation of the transformers was just as important as the transformation of matter.
6. Theory and practice of the arts that are realised by media, amongst other things, should not waste their energy on renovating and restoring the world, but rather on the never-ending experiment, which is never in vain, to create a different world to the one that exists. Because the media-based arts are all time-based — that is, arts realised in a space–time continuum — one thing is of prime importance: to give back to those who are supposed to look at and enjoy the works some of the time that life has stolen from them (Godard).
7. The enormous amount of effort and energy, which is required to occupy the centre of technological and cultural power, is not worth it. Movements at the periphery have greater freedom, give more enjoyment, and hold more surprises in store. Such movements do not preclude the occasional excursion through the centre to reach other places on the periphery. On the contrary: living permanently on the periphery is only to be recommended if one knows the centre’s special qualities and if one has an idea of how it works. Only then can one enjoy the movements at the periphery.
8. In more ways than one dual identities at very least are a basic requirement for activists on the terrain of the arts, the apparatuses, and the theories associated with them. In economic terms this means to master the tactics of the guerrilla, and to know how the businessman thinks and acts (Pesoa). For those who have to deal with complex equipment it is not enough to be a poet and a thinker. In the long term they will not be able to get by without experience of adapting and directing.
9. Imagination and mathematics have never been irreconcilable opposites and will not be so in the future. One can use them as two different, complementary possibilities of understanding, analysing, or constructing the world. The highest levels of pure mathematics can anyway only be attained via the imagination. Vice versa, imagination does well not to discard computing and calculating needlessly. There is no place for soft options in the theory and practice of arts that are realised through media.
10. To produce exciting and inspirational things and processes using devices one does not necessarily have to be an engineer or a programmer. It is, however, a great advantage to know how engineers and programmers think and work. Without respect for the work and working methods of the others, complex projects are not possible.
11. For artists who have taken the decision to engage rigorously with advanced technology, it is not sufficient to be merely an operator or a magician. An experimental approach to the world demands acts of intervention as well as actors who are prepared to follow a hands-on approach. The best is: magical operator or operative magician. It is high time to cease regarding as an antagonism what Walter Benjamin formulated over seventy years ago for “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproduction” for art processes in the age of their limitless simulability.
12. The social and political macrocosm, just like the microcosm of the individual brain, is determined by a high tension, which time and again threatens to rend the one or the other. One does not have to be a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst to engage with the theory and practice of art generated by advanced ideas and technologies. However, it is good to know in what ways they act within the field of tension constrained by systems of censorship and the open regions dedicated to the imagination. This is one of the reasons why the psychiatrist and philosopher Hinderk Emrich has become one of my most important teachers.
13. The dream is the most powerful mental machine that we cannot regulate but from which we can profit enormously. Cultivation of one’s own dreams is just as important as constant practice of organising everyday life. Care of others’ dreams we should leave to others. The act of interpreting dreams and the act of controlling dreams are closely related. That is the reason why we mistrust people who want to know what we have dreamed in order to interpret it.
14. Art produced by advanced ideas and technologies does not necessarily have to increase the mysteriousness of the world. But it also does not necessarily have to increase the amount of what is obvious or customary. There is quite enough of this already, without artists and theorists contributing more.
15. The difficult balancing act for the visual arts is to enable expression of the invisible using the resources of the visible. This applies similarly to the acoustic world and the world of poetry: to make what is tonally not imaginable accessible to hearing, and to formulate what is not expressible in language in a formal arrangement that possesses the greatest degree of freedom. The most important task is to sensibilise, or maintain people’s sensibility, for the Other, that which is not identical to us, that which is as a principle and in its essence alien, utilising the means and instruments of aesthetics. This task of art will not change regardless of what media we use to express ourselves.
16. When the various levels of artificial reality (analogue instruments, recording devices, computers, programs, digital tools) are mixed together so closely in aesthetic productions that they are indistinguishable, the necessity of signalising the technical structure of the various levels — as the classic avant-garde did — recedes into the background. At last all of the design parameters can be brought together in a relationship that plays out in freedom.
17. Perpetually dancing on plateaus that are above volcanoes misleads people into professional dilettantism and, currently, to veneration of the impassionate amateur as the guiding model of aesthetic action. The courage to ascend vertical heights helps such people to avoid slipping on the seductively smooth plateaus. However, we need both of these movements, the vertical and the horizontal — as well as an elegant finish to the jump off the cross-formed by these two lines. (In memoriam Dietmar Kamper, who died ten years ago.)
18. To be permanently connected and perpetually wired rapidly tires the mind and the body. (My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired, sang Bob Dylan in “Love Sick”.) This state is comparable to a prolonged artificial paradise, the stretching of time that only drugs can induce but machines can simulate. The Long Now is an obscene project that was developed by engineers and programmers who want to play God.
19. To avoid an existence that is caught up too much within time and is therefore paranoid, and to avoid being too little within time and therefore thinking one is at home on the rings of Saturn in melancholy and bitterness, it is helpful as a principle to cultivate the conscious split. We work, organise, publish, and amuse ourselves in networks. We rhapsodise, meditate, enjoy, believe, and trust in autonomous, separate situations, each to his/her own and sometimes with other individuals. This adds up to a balancing act: in a single lifetime we have to learn to exist online and be offline. If we don’t succeed in this, we shall become mere appendages of the world that we have created, merely its technical functions. We should not allow cybernetics, the science of optimal control and predictability, this triumph.
20. As the young Wittgenstein wrote in Tractatus logico philosophicus “The subject doesn’t belong to the world, but it is a limit of the world” (Proposition 5.632). This has not changed. Not even after the sovereign individual subject of the European modern age was declared variously as dead. On the contrary. Only the boundaries have shifted. The fact that such limits exist is not affected.
21. Like heaven and hell, the Internet has no location. However, body and mind can only be in one place at a time. To militate against the sacralisation of the networks it is useful to develop a profane relationship to them. This can only be done from somewhere located outside of them.
22. The Internet is one of the non-locations where physical and mental being dissipates itself. The subjects, however strong or weak they are conceived to be, should not give up their willingness to squander gratuitously. However, it is time to think about who profits by this squandering.
23. The greatest impossibility that one can work on at the moment is the relations of individuals with each other and, as a consequence, the relations between the many. Michel de Montaigne defines friendship (following Aristotle) as a constellation where one soul lives in two different bodies so that neither giving nor taking is an issue. “To the company at table I would rather invite someone witty than thoughtful; to bed rather beauty than goodliness; to social occasions the quick-witted […]”Relationships between friends are characterised by the absence of any such determination of aims and intent. This absence is not a lack but a reflection of the greatest possible richness of experience.