Digital Territories - The Symposium

Short essay by Andreas Broeckmann about the DEAF96 symposium.

The DEAF96 Symposium takes the thematic triangle of architecture, urban culture, and electronic networks indicated by the title, "Digital Territories", and investigates their mutual relationships and the impact they have on each other. This field is still very much a myth of the future, yet, it is becoming possible to describe its emerging matrix and the real effects that the meshing of the virtual and the actual are producing. These effects reshape the material world surrounding us as well as the mediated forms of communication and behaviour, which are relayed by electronic media.

The ambivalence of the notion of the "digital territories" may serve as a reminder that what we are talking about can be open fields of unstructured forces and closed off, regulated and controlled areas, that they are trans-geographical network structures as much as heterogeneous and contradictory utopias, places that are shaping up to become the sites of old and new forms of social agency that remain impossible to map conclusively.

The symposium is set within the context of DEAF96 as a site of theoretical reflexion where artists and architects represented in the festival enter into discussion with critics, urban planners and theoreticians. It includes a series of analyses combining economics, politics and sociology with critical discussions of art, architecture and design. The symposium raises the question what the relations are between electronic and non-electronic spaces and how social and economic formations are articulated in networked environments. In this context, Saskia Sassen looks at how the digital is embedded in the real world and shows how power relations are reconfigured in new forms of territorial behaviour and social stratification: "cybersegmentation".

The task of designing 3D virtual environments as spaces for working, trading and living is crucial for the future shape of human relations in networked societies. Edouard Bannwart presents examples of the development of interfaces between real and virtual environments and discusses their potential for organising forms of interaction that are increasingly extended, accelerated, and translocal. In response, Carlos H. Betancourth talks about the social and work relations that emerge in such networked environments and raises the question of how distributed working processes give shape to new relations of power and control in virtual companies.

What will the future culture of networked communities and networked communication be? Will it be possible to use network culture for improving social relations on a translocal level and in virtual public spaces? Martin Pawley describes how the civic and urban centres have given way to touristic ersatz cities and transurban zones without cultural identity. For him, electronic media facilitate a process in which the achieved functions of urban centres are carved out and exported into translocal interzones, leaving the city centres as sites of a consumable reality, a "stealth" reality, mere facades of a culture that has disappeared for good

The "digital territories" crucially frame the construction of new forms of identity. Will these be consumer lemmings or decentred subjects who can act without predetermination and who are open to unassimilated otherness? McKenzie Wark theorises subjectivity in mediated communities as a vector, a process performed in culturally expanding territories. He describes a networked world in which mediated reality and mediated selves are the only reference points we have: "We no longer have roots, we have aerials".

Such scenarios offer a great challenge to contemporary artists, architects and designers who are trying to get to grips with the new forms of "collective creativity", of "independent machine agency" and of "networked communication". Pierre Lévy's text that is included in this section of the catalogue as an introduction, investigates the parameters of interfacing virtual worlds and real cities and makes suggestion for the creative development of digital territories as fields of representation, of articulation and of interaction.

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