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Thursday, December 04, 2003

Critical Art Ensemble Answers YOUR stupid Questions

So I'm writing in, through or around an interview with Critical Art Ensemble, whose work I consider relevant because of increased venture capital and cultural interest in the vaguely defined districts of "biotechnology", as well as pharmeceuticals and nanotechnology. ( I really don't "get" nanotechnology and refuse to even discuss it as anything but a brand.) Because I'll have to mold this into a ridiculous angle to fit the novelty theme of my class's online magazine, I thought I'd throw this up here and see what happens to it.

YT:What is the CAE's main goal as far as bringing awareness to those who are
uninformed about the futures of biotechnology; do you think that warnings about
systems of control are in order, or do you believe that much technology-art
is, in a John The Baptist style, merely intended to mentally prepare its
audience and tease their imaginations regarding the new reality they will inhabit?

CAE: Generally speaking, the future is not a very interesting category for
CAE. The only time we really address it is to debunk all the rubbish we are told
by corporate advertizers and futurologists. Knowing how technology will
evolve is a near impossibility—one would do better playing roulette. Our concern is
with the present. To aid people in understanding what is actually out there
(not the myths, rumors and simulations), and what their relationship is to new
techno-elements in emergent/recombinant culture (what works in their interest
and what doesn’t).

-When did your work begin to focus on the potentials of biotechnology?

CAE: We took an interest in biotech in 1996.

--Did your work develop along these lines due to any specific developments in
the field?

CAE: Not really. As with most tactical media practitioners it became a matter
of opportunity. In this case, we had the opportunity to appropriate resources
regarding repro-tech and did. We also thought that the euphoria of the
virtual was over, and were looking for other frontier areas to explore.

-What potentials within biotechnology in the next ten years do you believe
are the most relevant, the most destabalizing and the most ripe for cultural
artists to bring into their work and arguments?

CAE: While repro-tech may have significant impact on social structure, the
real party will be transgenics in combination with advancements in genomics and
proteomics. In fact, it already has.

- What do you see as the relationship, if any, between the enthusiasm over
the internet/communications technology and the enthusiasm over biotechnology?

CAE: Not too much. The important intersection is between computational
information technology and biotech. The internet and communications are much less
relevant. This coming together is a matter of code, not lines of communication.
Bioinfomatics will deliver the modeling methods for new recombinant phenomena.

Is it possible that the latter is beginning to wax as the former wanes, or is
their relationship more complex? CAE has suggested in interviews before that
both are part of the "digital age", that the two are reconciled through
bioinformatics. But the dot com burst has lead some investors to pour much money
into biotechnology and nanotechnology in recent years: Do you think this
signifies a cultural shift of some kind, from communication to self-preservation, from
interaction to physical integration?

CAE: Far too much is made of the dot com burst. Computers do so much more
than deliver products through the internet and keep people connected. We don’t
see IBM, Sun, Microsoft, etc hurting for money. There may be less speculative
cash about, but the heart of the beast is beating strong. Is there perhaps more
room for venture capital in biotech? CAE don’t know, we haven’t seen the
data. The dot com burst and the drop in the stock market in general has made these
investors more cautious about any opportunity. The value of many biotech
companies dropped as well. Even Craig Venter’s company dropped the ball at the
cost of millions of dollars. Investment in our opinion is really about little
more than profit, and there are more aggressive times and less aggressive times.
The targets fluctuate with the hype on the potential for profit.

-Do you see strands of utopianism in eugenics or biotechnology?

CAE: Authoritarian utopias, of course. Visions of essentialist social
structures and solidarity through biology abound. Aren’t the right the only ones who
would entertain such ideas? Utopia is lost concept for the left; there is only
a hope for an approximation of social justice.

—do you believe there is trend towards imagining the cyborg body as liquid,
protean, autonomous and liberated or that many people see the cyborg body as
"inscripted", interfacing with a set of predermined cultural codes in which its
technology is structured?

CAE: There is nothing utopian about the cyborg in pancapitalism. Cyborgs only
exist as another means to push production to a new a level. Whether it is the
hyperproduction of death or the hyperproduction of excess, the cyborg is
little more than testing field to find a way around the limits of the organic
human body.

Some Thoughts:

-Yeah, the future is of no interest to CAE. It seems Kurtz is up on the controversy over the Hope Cristol article in the 11.12.03 WIRED, "Futurism is Dead". It's a scathing column deriding "Futurism",(Not the art-historical Futurism, more like the sociologist as trend-predicter Futurism. "Futurologist" is interchangeable and probably more coherent in this context.) And yes, he then goes on to predict that "The breaking of the species barrier in combination with genetic
manipulation will lead to some real surprises in the military, public health,
resource management, etc." And that's probably the most inciting part of the entire article..."Species Barrier"? It's like the sound barrier, only with animals.

I really think that some of their work is very much about Futurist fantasy, and if they think that aren't trying to evoke the sense of futurity behind some of these groundbreaking technologies, they are lying.

-I've read interviews with CAE, so if I had time to volley back through a few more rounds of e-mail, (and i don't, because it took him a week to get me this one) I'd go for some of the buzzords these guys tend to use: "pancapitalism", for instance, is their eternal return. It's a Jamesonian view, (as usually, I bite my tongue rather than use the word "postmodern". I should really just say it: do I think I'm going to disapear in a puff of smoke and reappear as Max Ernst?) and not one I totally agree with: a culture whose "logic" is governed by its economy is centered around a discourse: it has a polarity, a balance, a centripetal dialect swirling its views into place. That isn't homologous with linguistic deconstruction, which has no center, just fleeting atemporal context, context, context. Maybe its just the earnestness with which they return to this term to explain every enterprise. It's a crutch.

-Alternately claiming to "debunk" and themselves putting together futurist fantasies, I can't get a grip on what they represent, which is the most frustrating part about the CAE. I don't think PoMo is a logical agency, but I do think it's very real and material as a politics of plurality and multivocality, which is what this is. CAE wants to mean everything at once; debunkers, prophets, traditionalists, futurists, as long as you remember they're "tactical media practitioners".

-He got me on the Dot Com bubble burst, thing. People DO make a big brewhaha over it when maybe they shouldn't:it's as if one day people stopped using computers or something.

-Am I just imagining this or did he just say the right is bad and the left is good? That's so lame.


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