Connective Tools - workshop: report

Report by Lisa Haskel about the Connective Tools workshop

With the three Knowbotics, Angela Melitopoulos, Maurizio Lazzarato, Hans Ulrich Reck and Siegried Zielinski around the table, the primary question was the relationships between the "group subject" (Guattari) and co-operation. This relationship between co-operation and an aggregate of individuals, with all the values that are implied such as responsibility and collaboration, was the motif of the discussion, together with a set of debates locating the conditions of such forms of work.

 

Maurizio Lazzarato opened the discussion with a reiteration of his arguments from the lecture the night before: inside the big capitalistic system, you can find processes of autonomous co-operation, and artistic production is one such category. Zielinski and Reck immediately interjected with questions and arguments about authorship, asking for clarification on the relationship between the individual and the collective. Is some notion of "strong authorship" within the collective necessary in order for it to be effective? Does the model of co-operation simply shift the argument of the autonomous subject onto different terrain, rather than offer a new analysis? Reck asked for clarification specifically on co-operation between subjectivities, and the specific social conditions that can accomodate these methods of work. Lazzarato emphasised that there are a multiplicity of subjectifications, and a multiplicity of social conditions.

 

Zielinski brought up the notion of "responsibility" - not a moral category, but a question of artistic authorship. Artists are all too willing to give up responsibility in collaborative practice, and this is linked to a critique of interactivity. Interactive media projects, he argues, too often suffer from weak texts, weak work with image and sound: "weak singularities" leading to "artistic disasters".

 

Lazzarato introduced a critique of power into the discussion, citing Foucault and describing a contemporary condition in which relationships of power are tolerated, and co-operation is strategic. The crucial point is how to become active inside the co-operation. This is responsibility, and with it come problems of ethics and sensitivity to the "micro" and the "macro" in politics.

 

Zielinski re-introduced the division between "inside" and "outside": a key problematic in all disciplines from physics and life sciences to philosophy and art. The potential surely lies in the points "in between"; a place of tension and paradox which, also following Foucault's thought, one must be able to live within. Reck doubted that co-operation constitutes that in-between position, and wanted to start some thinking about what such a space might mean in relation to media technologies. How does co-operation work within such invisible structures?

 

Lazzarato re-emphasised multiplicity in forms of co-operation: invisible co-operation is virtually existing. Inside co-operation there are singularities, and inside singularities, multiplicities. The point is the bringing into co-operation of those multiplicities. This is a permanent "becoming" process of all group and individual subjects.

 

Zielinski pressed for a closer examination of what this subject might be. As individuals, the major thinkers we are all citing were eccentric, extreme figures. Foucault, Barthes, Deleuze, Wittgenstein. Why is our culture so intent upon rejecting the contribution of strong individuals exploring the borderlines and boundaries in their work and in life? Is it a case that the power structures that made such strong subjects are now so diffuse that subjects cannot be produced as strong resistors anymore? Do we need to locate these new forms of power in order to discuss new forms of subjectivity?

 

Christian Huebler interjected to press Lazzarato, but by implication the whole group, and perhaps the whole discipline of philosophy, to explain their own everyday practices of co-operation and the impact of their own biographies on their ideas. What happened in Paris in the late 1960s? he asked Lazzarato; how does that experience impact on your thinking now? What is the strategy? Oosterling, it seems, does not believe in resistance anymore; Hardt suggests creating an outside... what do we do?

 

Lazzarato explained that there is indeed now a different form of power: there is no "other side" against which to organise struggle: the struggle itself is therefore in crisis. The same forms of struggle as the 1970s are not relevant in the 90s, the fast constitution and dissolution of political movements in France serve only to show how mobile power has become, how fluid are the forms of subjectification, how difficult it has become to define a collective subject. As an example of his own practice, he described collaborative work he is doing on a political magazine. The magazine has an editorial board with a mixture of people from a number of political movements and academic disciplines. However, he qualified his example by underlining that this project to locate power and to form co-operative resistances are widespread and diverse. A new exhibition organised by artists groups in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, for example, deals with just this question both in its organisation and in much of the work itself.

 

Zielinski agreed that the identifiable power structures have been dissolving over the past 10 to 15 years. Perhaps a response, prompted by Lazzarato's practical example, is to substitute the model of "co-operation", so much bound up with the old notions of solidarity, with the model of friendship - a model that is suffused with the qualities of reliability, responsibility and trust. These are qualities that capitalism can never develop, or value. Reck pointed out that this could be an important new quality for artistic production; all other art movements having been founded on conflict and competition.

 

A conversation followed about the degree to which relationships of friendship necessarily become functionalised and organised when they develop goals of artistic production or other specific processes. Angela Melitopoulos raised the necessity to study these modes of functionalisation, and recognise their own internal processes of power and patterns of inclusion and exclusion, gender being a good example of a field of difference that acts both inside and outside of such a group. The group was divided on issues of value. At what point should relationships of trust be formally recognised and materially rewarded? Lazzarato insisted upon the necessity for legitimation and material reward. Zielinski implied that to systematise is to overdetermine. With reward come issues of possession, and the contradictions become unbearable. The site of authentic, collaborative, anarchic, creativity would simply migrate elsewhere. Andreas Broeckmann emphasised that the necessary interdependence of institutionalised forms of cultural production and the network of friendship that contribute so much toward practice and discourse. People need a means of existence and through individuals that bridge the gaps, resources get re-distributed. This is a pragmatic strategy, but also one which implicates relations of power.

 

The paradoxes inherent in voluntary associations and materially unrewarded work were explored in a discussion about the development of Linux. Are people creating a genuine alternative product through a resistant practice, or are they actually, efficiently and with great sophistication, developing a lucrative, related, market elsewhere in the form of services? Can friendship ever be institutionalised in this way or should it always be part of an "economy of squandering" (Bataille)? Zielinski explained the overriding need to refuse the fantasy of power, to refuse the aspiration to take over power and instead to remain within a "niche". Should we, therefore, hide our creativity? or is it enough to constantly renew and review our terms of reference and the "in-between" sites in which we work? how do you create an open field of enquiry that cannot be instrumentalised, and what might be the contract that supports creating "dramatics of difference" rather than "digital darwinism"?

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