The Urban as a Field of Action

Interview with Knowbotic Research by Andreas Broeckmann, Cologne, 24th January 1997, published in 'TechnoMorphica'.

The Urban as a Field of Action

TechnoMorphica 1997

Andreas Broeckman: In contrast to earlier projects by Knowbotic Research in which the data space as a space of action played a central role, your recent works ("Anonymous Muttering," 1996; "IO_dencies," 1997) are dealing more with the intermediary field between the urban and the digital. As connecting concept you are using the notion of the machinic which refers not only to technical hardware, but which embraces the entire social, technical and cultural dispositive of the urban field of action.

Knowbotic Research: The urban consists of many parts, movements, modifications, rampant growth, the inability to bridge certain rifts. It consists of hamperings, congestions and violent eruptions in different directions. These dynamic layers are increasingly imbued with technological interventions, shifts, and mediatic determinations.

In dealing with such dynamic machines we work with several co-operating components:
- experts, such as, in the current projects, architects and urban planners, or scientists, as in some of the earlier works;
- specific localizations, i.e. at the moment particular quarters of mega-cities;
- certain rules and possibilities of the digital machines;
- and finally the discontinuities of systems which cannot be represented by the computer. All these are parts of the dispositives which constitute what we call a "machine."

In our current work with urban machines we confront collective forms of agency with individual ones. We ask whether there still is such a thing as construction, or constructing, in a situation where social and urban systems seem to be in a state of disintegration and dissolution. We think that the concept of construction will remain relevant for as long as we are dealing with machines. However, this is no longer a machine which has a particular aim or function, but a machine in an extended sense, where different demands and aims can be defined as they emerge. That is why we like to use the notion of the "machinic." It is our aim not to have the investigations of the urban take place in an independent, virtual space. Rather than the submersion in a distinct and detached environment, we are trying consciously to enhance the oscillation between the fields of action of the real urban space, and those of the data space.

The aspect of resistance in a machinic field of action plays an important role in these investigations. Resistance is not something that the machine can produce by itself, although it can accelerate and channel it. The resistance potential only emerges from changing one's positions within different systems. What we are interested in is not so much the border between electronic and non-electronic fields, but the overlapping areas in and between them which demand new forms of agency and work.

We realize that there is a question as to whether it makes sense to distinguish between the world of humans and the world of machines. We are trying to address this question through our work, because it seems impossible to solve it theoretically. In any case we see machines as tools whose relation with humans is one of tension, friction or resistance. The machine in itself produces little that is genuinely new, it does not develop its own form of intelligence, it makes no unexpected discoveries or conclusions, and it makes no unrequested offers. But its potential allows us to test our own possibilities of agency and interventions within existing social relations.



AB: The notion of the machinic implies, in a sense, the import of a biological connotation into the technological field. Aspects such as uncontrollability, aimlessness or imprecision are made part of the technological formation. Perhaps it is generally necessary to approach technology as a machine that is too complex to be mastered and controlled, and in which it is only possible to move by acting locally.

KR: We understand the biological as a form of movement which is characterized by tendencies leading in one or several specific directions. Instead of attempting to control these tendencies from the outside by trying to determine the laws underlying them, or by assessing them otherwise, one should develop forms of agency which are based on the realization that one is oneself part of the machinic assemblage. On the basis of that realization it is possible to determine whether you want to co-operate or resist, whether you want to pick up, enhance or divert the tendential forces.

Obviously you don't have full control over the situation but always act in relation to things happening in other parts of the machinic assemblage. You are part of the formation and can sometimes put up resistance, but if the other forces prevail, you will get carried away. You don't master the system and will never be in a position from where you can have an overview over the entire system. Similarly, the possibilities of co-operation with others are always limited. In the new projects related to the urban there is no complete whole, but only people who come together in certain places where fragments of operational fields can develop.

We are interested in finding out whether there are possibilities to approach the current changes of the urban environments through interfacing them with the data space, in order to introduce forms of doubt and resistance. We are no longer so much concerned with the processing and handling of given data, but with strategies of dealing with imprecisions and uncertainty between experiential space and data space, between technology, perception and action.

These movements may be part of a "biologization of technology," which is no longer conceived as a system that follows certain fixed rules. Applied to technology, the principle of the machinic means that technology is furrowed by the tendential, by uncontrollability, and that it only exists in relation to other elements of the formation.


KR: There are very specific economic and cultural forces which create the desire for certain forms of activities. We are addressing the question whether it might be possible, with the help of technological machines, to develop another way of dealing with one's desires, to be conscious of them in a different way. As a movement, the machinic shows that one does not guide one's desire, but that it is set out in a field where one deals with the forces of desire in a non-linear way.

Beside the economic interests and advantages which new technological tools serve, there should also be social interests which these tools fulfill, or which they at least promise to fulfill. On the subjective level the result is a multi-layered form of desire which cannot simply be implemented and forced upon from the outside. Desires have neither become completely dependent on CNN and Microsoft, nor are they fully unguided and uncontrolled. They are still driven by a personal will and by forces which are juxtaposed and paralleled by clear hierarchical structures. It is possible to intervene at that point and to deal with these multi layered desires artistically, generating operative fields where it is possible to investigate their interrelations together with others.

AB: Do you think that it makes sense to introduce the notion of "becoming machine" in this context? By "becoming" I mean a form of subjectification which is caught in a constant process, a continuous "becoming different," liquefying the subject position. What would it mean to bring this concept of subjectification together with the concept of the machinic? What would be the consequence of reading the self as part of machinic assemblages?

KR: The critical question for us would be, what does "becoming machine" mean as an intuitive process? In a certain sense our concept of the machine might have precisely this effect. Reworking the digital material and entering the formalizations of the machinic in our real space/data space installations implies the temporary merging with the assemblage. The schizophrenia of that situation is very important to us: on the one hand, the merging with the situation, and on the other hand the realization that the relation between user and machine is mediated and full of tension and friction. Complete dissolution or merging, no longer knowing where I am, only makes sense if this condition alternates with phases where I am aware of this process. As one moves back and forth in this intermediary field, as the personal appears and disappears, specific processes of subjectification, perhaps of machinic subjectifications, may be possible.

The possibilities of agency and experience which our works offer are, on the whole, intuitive rather than self-reflexive. The subject always constitutes itself with regard to an already existing consistency, yet, it is also always in a state of becoming, defining itself in relation to new machinic contextualizations of actions which always have new, particular subjectifying effects.

© 1997 Andreas Broeckmann / V2_

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