Michael Braverman portfolio / personal site

A Monument for a Surveillance Democracy: Notes

Model of Tatlin’s tower, 1919.

Abstract

With every evolution, enough reflection must be dedicated to comprehend what has been accomplished. Without good judgement, change and evolution are synonymous, both are entirely dependent on their circumstances. Evolution however, is not just change, it is a process of iteration, evaluation and reflection. Evolution is declared based on what it achieved, not on the assumption of what it can. It also relies on constructive evaluations of its mistakes and does not attempt to skip steps.

Technology is evolving faster than its biological counterpart that created it, namely, mankind. Although this evolution is happening under mankind’s consent, it does not evolve under the same consent for every individual effected by technology. All individuals have an equal capability to use a technology, but not all of them have an equal power to create, understand, and control it. Digital technology has become an infrastructure. Like water, gas, and transport, technology is something that is taken for granted despite its abundant presence.

As digital technology is influencing our lives being abstracted and hidden by us. We assert it to be floating on the cloud but instead, it hides behind building walls, in the air, and even near ourselves. Although we are not as reliant on digital technology as we are on water or food, it is gaining what might be sought as an exaggerated level of importance when compared to these significantly more vital elements.

Before increasing the pace of technologic incorporation in our lives, we must think of it not as a mean to change but a mean to evolution. At this stage, adding more technologies into our lives will lead us nowhere. For evolution in technology to happen we must evaluate and reflect before we make any further changes.

Motivation

Interconnected technology has drastically transformed our lives in the past few decades for the best, but for the worst in not immediately apparent ways. Many of our liberties rely on technologies that we take for granted. Freedom of expression continues to become brought to remote places, and those that need it. All for the technologies’ credit. But technology is a powerful tool to use as much as it is powerful to be used by. Once a technology is taken for granted, it is no longer used in emergencies, it is a passive reality welcoming to be used in all possible circumstances.

The concerns that this project will emphasize are outlined in six manifestations of critique.

  1. Technology is used in an abstract and superficial way.
  2. Technology is not used for purposes that might be more direct if they where to be used without a technology.
  3. Technology is manipulable.
  4. Technology can backlash on freedom.
  5. Since technology is manipulable, it cannot be manifested as a tool for freedom. Unless it is manifested by those who understand its inner functioning.
  6. Those who manipulate technology, understand technology beyond its abstract and superficial realms.

Our surrounding technologic environment welcomes the use of technologies without having a complete apprehension of what happens behind them. Things that we see on screens, functionalities that are served, and destinations we connect to, are all contained on the highest order of superficiality and abstraction. While interacting through these connectivities and interactions, an overwhelming amount of subtle processes happen without our notice.

We manifest the freedoms that technology has given us as much as the freedoms gained from the ideologies that constitute our governments. We value our governments for proclaiming free speech and freedom of expression. We are proud that the ideology that guards our freedoms is superior to the governments of the past and those with current authoritarian ideologies.

But it is important to emphasize that technology is powerful only when it is used as tool. A tool requires full understanding of how it should be used so it can serve a purpose, not impede it. Technology which can mask itself under many levels of abstraction, is not an easy tool to understand how to use. If it cannot be used with complete understanding, then it should not represent something vital to our ideology like our freedoms. We cannot use a tool properly when we are only aware of its superficial functionalities. A blacksmith knows every square inch of an anvil’s surface and how it can be used to his advantage. This type of knowledge relies on knowing the intricate and what is not immediately superficial. One should not use an abstract tool for his own benefit, it might be more functional to use bear hands than risking a backlash from such a tool.

The goal of this project is to convey the absence of manifestation of technology as a mean to our freedom. The tool that is used to proclaim the values in our free society can easily become a tool that is used against us, especially if we can’t grasp the inner functionalities of such a tool. Anyone can use this vulnerability to turn our own technology against us, especially by those who serve and maintain its infrastructure. Technology is meant to be easily manipulated, those who do manipulate it, always have a higher order of understanding about technology than those who they manipulate.

Methods

The physical realization of this model will stand next to utopian projection and serve as an object that juxtaposes with it. The physical piece will be made out of a steal structure that is dark in color and not entirely compelling. It will look like a pieces of steel welded together in an attempt to form a structure that relates to its utopian idea but nevertheless shows a form of brutality which is a consequence of its realization. The tower will be collecting Wi-Fi information that is emitted from surrounding devices illustrating that the proclamation of freedom was also followed with an indirect proclamation of surveillance. This also ties with previous statements: technology can backlash on freedom (4), technology cannot be manifested as a tool for freedom (5), and about “those who manipulate technology” (6).

Findings

For the development of the concept, many sources where used. The influences are listed as follows.

  1. Tega Brain’s - Eccentric Engineering.
  2. John Peter’s - Abstract uses of technology.
  3. Cao Fei’s - Realization of utopia.

Tega Brain manifests a movement called Eccentric Engineering who’s biggest emphasis is on enterstructure as apposed to infrastructure. The difference is in the root of these words where enter emphasizes on openness and infra suggests the hidden and unnoticeable. This relation between these two terms can be witnessed in technology. Including technology everywhere as if it where an infrastructure is a concern that related to this idea. Concepts like surveillance and control especially rely on infrastructure, their served purpose would not longer allow them to function it they where to be converted in an enterstructure.

John Peter’s influences were drawn particularly from his early chapters in Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media, where he discusses the very intricate notions that constitute the abstract realm of modern day technologies. One of the most interesting observations in his second chapter was illustrating Cetacean’s adaptations to their media and how their existence is different from us as a techne driven species.

One of the goals of my project is to juxtapose the idea of utopia with the practical realizations of it. I found it important to look at artists that emphasize on the ideas of utopia and how its undermining can be presented and expressed. Cao Fei’s recent exhibition in MoMa PS1 showed many of her works that emphasize on the changing society in China as it has become the factory of the world. In many of her works, she documents how people in China deal with stress by relying on fictional ideas and environments such as anime characters, virtual life, and even art.

The utopia that I will emphasize on in my project will be the one that people already believe in. Unlike the utopia in Cao Fei’s works where people attempt to reach an idea of utopia under present depressing circumstances, I am seeking to make people realize that the freedom currently manifested in technology - is anti-utopia. The freedom to use technology as mean of expression is believed to be a leverage to the utopian ideal of our current free society. Using technology as tool for leveraging this ideal is its virtue, but the anti-utopia comes when such a tool becomes manipulable and impedes its utopian ideal.

Implications

The initial problems that where needed to be addressed was how to convey the idea of freedom as a manifestation and as a subversion at the same time. If an idea where to be manifested, it has to be pure in order to allow it to be conveyed properly. The subversion of such an idea should only be presented as a separate object.

At first it was important to look at monuments that proclaim their ideological states. Some of these include:

  1. Eiffel Tower - Paris, France
  2. Statue of Liberty - New York, US
  3. Monument to the Third International - Vladimir Tatlin

Since my project’s emphasis is on Liberty and Freedom, Statue of Liberty will serve as a great example to relate my concept to. Statue of Liberty conveys a very similar notion that our modern day society conveys through the use of technology. Being so, the statue becomes a very compelling target to use as a subversion since it is a structure that many are familiar with. For a good subversion to occur, there must be a good comprehension of its original. The structure should first proclaim the idea well, and the subversion should subvert that claim. As it came to a point of eventual realization, the utopia and the subversion of the utopia cannot be presented at once.

To combat this, I decided to use digital technology as a leverage in order to solve this problem. Since utopia is a notion that is meant to be unrealizable, the digital screen is its perfect realm. The physical world is not a place where utopian ideals are meant to exist. Taking this consideration into account, the utopian ideals will be projected in a manner that Cao Fei has presented her utopias. The projection will include a 3D model of the tower rendered as a bright, mirror like structure in a foggy environment suggesting a realization of an utopia in some sort of a remote reality.

Tatlin’s Tower in the 21st Century intention

Looking at the Tatlain’s tower, one can easily get sense of grandiosity of the people’s intentions of that time. Not only was there a unity among the classes, there was a vast amount of optimism for the future. This optimism was definitely more frequently embraced by the Avant-garde artists of that time, rather than being apposed to it. The most predominant idea’s that where adopted during the early years after the Russian revolution, was the idea of futurism heavily influenced by the Italian futurism movement. It was important to adapt technology to the life of the proletariat, and when compared to the life conditions that people where experiencing just a few decade’s ago, there was little reason for the vast majority of people to not be optimistic.

The where the initial ideas that circulated after the Russian revolution. If the first years where seen as the embracement of the unification of people then by the mid 1920s, the utopian visions of an imminent world revolution faded and were replaced by the practical tasks of building “communism in one country”, idealism in art and politics was replaced by a dictatorship more conservative in its social, political, and artistic policies. National interest’s became more important. Due to this, Tatlin’s tower was no longer applicable to ideology of the government following the mid 1920s. By no means would the government of that time choose to represent itself in a form of an open tower that would suggest it’s transparency.

Looking back a the narrowing down of government transparency that curbed the development of such a meaningful monument, one can come to many conclusions of critiquing the general notion of communism. But what this piece is arguing for, is that even among modern free society driven government’s, there are not many that would easily chose to represent themselves under a transparent building, despite the embracement of individual freedom and the right’s of speech.

The same closing down of the Communist government from its originating utopia. Currents of socialism is the same kind of closure that is happening with US from the utopia of its originating ideology.

In our modern society, the idea of individual freedom has become a predominant idea. Although it might indeed be one of the greatest accomplishments for the human rights, society is loosing its grip. Government’s are becoming less and less effectible by their people. Technology has gained more weight in the life of people. But technology can be also seen as a catalyst for government control. One who cannot agree with this should accept two obvious facts; one, technology is becoming more controllable and always has been; two, people are becoming more reliant on it.

The closing down in the freedom of individual might be closing down in the free world society. If the government where to take control, it will first wait until technology will become more powerful than force. Technology is marching towards that direction.

quill

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