(introductory essay of the DEAF04 publication Feelings Are Always Local)
by Joke Brouwer and Arjen Mulder
There are two methods of investigating the present while it is taking place. The first is to consciously embrace a limited method - for example, economics, biology or media theory - and describe and explain as many phenomena as possible using the tools of that discipline. Provided it is applied consistently, this one-sided way of working can uncover connections that would have slipped through the net of a nuanced methodology. The second method is to choose one complex phenomenon to study - for example, urbanization, globalization or the Internet - and examine and interpret it through as many disciplines as possible. This approach yields knowledge about the phenomenon's functioning that would have eluded a more limited framework. In Feelings Are Always Local, both ways of working are applied to the fact that we all know and feel that we are connected to and part of global networks, but always in the context of daily life at the concrete, local level. This anthology, which also functions as the catalogue of DEAF04 (the Dutch Electronic Art Festival 2004), contains essays by scientists and theorists, and by and about artists and works of art, which individually and together gauge the state of the world and how it feels to live at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Open SystemsJust as we experience the activation of the neural networks in our brains in terms of feelings, in a similar way the global networks of urban life are translated into emotions, drives and ambitions. Every political and social system in the world is being broken open in the globalization process. At the same time, new relationships and systems are arising in the networks, and older systems are metamorphosing into unprecedented new forms and relationships. A striking example is the self-organizing slums in and around Third World cities, where the majority of the local population often lives, neglected by the government and at odds with every economic, ecological, sociological and psychological prediction about the likelihood of human survival under such extreme circumstances. Resilience and imagination play as important a role here as violence and crime.
It is in the first place important to understand how networks organize themselves from the inside out and expand, join together and rearrange themselves - whether they are neurological networks in our brains, evolutionary networks in ecosystems, computer networks or economic networks. With the help of such "thinking-in-the-network," then using concrete examples we can investigate how people live in networks, and how possibilities are created, opportunities seized and escape routes chosen. The first question is scientific in nature: How do networks work? The second is political: How are the networks made manageable at the concrete, everyday level?
The term "network" has replaced the term "system." If a system is an entity whose coherence is preserved through interaction among its parts, networks are pluralities that shoot off in all directions and can lose their coherence without perishing. Despite this distinction, we see local systems arising again and again in networks: these are not kept together by any outside force, but rather consist of spontaneously developing relationships that arise from interaction among the horizontally organized participants rather than the influence of a leader or "editor" (from blogs to neighborhoods). To find form or to see form arise, seek the systems in the network.
Affective TurbulenceThe twentieth-century struggle for autonomy in art - for an art that is complete in itself, which the public can only admire and internalize - can be considered as an attempt to make works of art into closed systems. Interactive art is by definition, through its interactivity, non-autonomous. Interactivity works on the network model and exchanges information, energy and/or matter - an interaction characteristic of open systems. Interactive art is art whose autonomy must be disturbed by the visitor for it to be art at all. An interactive work of art is a system that seeks to become a network (or vice versa).
Recent neurobiology has shown us that no act is strictly rational. One cannot make a decision without relying on feelings or intuition. Interactive art strives to generate emotional effects in its viewers, but at the same time it creates a space for reflecting on the irrationality of every spontaneous act (unlike most games, which only allow reflection afterward). Interactive art is the art of conscious "feeling-in-the-network" The order is: act, feel, think, act.
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