Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Alan Sondheim, "Arguably a Corporation Is a Person"

I knew that Alan Sondheim would have something interesting to say about mediation, and sure enough. I knew too that Alan likes to work with various algorithms/recursive strategies to produce these uncanny constructions in nonce/procedural forms. Certainly we’ve been going round and rounder about sculpture, painting, music, theater, and cinema (and, more recently, radio, tv, and various environmental arts) as frameworks of thought and emotion speaking (back) to whatever our own medium is. (And that’s the central question, right? Is our medium “language”? “poetry”? some specific regime of “thought,” or even of “brain”?) But now we have “the digital,” and I don’t mean finger-painting. It is true that I can’t paint a believable foot or sculpt a verisimilitudinous nose; still, I have a very concrete understanding of what paint is, what marble is. I’m incapable of playing a melody on a piano in any way but crudely, but I “get” the piano. In contrast, our interaction with the digital is inherently uncanny in the sense Freud meant that: everyone has it, everyone knows it, everyone is comfortable with its heimlich familiarity, but only a few (who are thus alienated from it?) perfectly grasp the full set of technological events that must transpire every time one touches, say, an “a” on one’s keyboard. Again this reminds me of Freud’s great image of “the dream’s navel . . . the spot where it reaches down into the unknown.” The digital is immediate to us but also occupies an invisible world. (In this, it is like other people, another instrument we all play on without appreciating the depth of that playing.)
And of course, the digital proliferates—it’s spread its seed everywhere on earth—or, at least, everywhere you can get a signal. It is multiform, multi-tropic. It’s the thing we have in our laps, in our palms, and yet “it”—as something we might grasp—is ever more abstracted and distant. We know it through our actions, and through its satisfaction of our desires. In this it is like those hand-held gadgets in Wenders’s Until the End of the World, on which it is possible to view externalized images from dreams (the defining shot: a crane shot of a group of people, each in his/her separate space, each oblivious of the others, each fixated on an individuated dream on the gadget).
I won’t pretend to be able to figure out the algorithm Alan’s messing with here, but I know that the sense of degenerating machines and degenerating language rang a between-media bell (Round Ten!) for me, precisely with its deep alienation of the familiar (and one we all dread—communication with the person who actually does understand the tech). What goes on in those machines, and in those (in any) minds? And doesn’t that “please please reply reply” make your skin crawl? (JM)

Alan Sondheim is a Providence-based new media artist, musician, writer, and performer. He's concerned with issues of virtuality, and the stake that the real world has in the virtual. He has worked with his partner, Azure Carter, and the performer/choreographer Foofwa d'Imobilite.
Sondheim is interested in examining the grounds of the virtual, the way that the virtual inhabits the real body. He performs in virtual, real, and cross-over worlds; his virtual work is known for its highly complex and mobile architectures. He has used altered motion-capture technology extensively for examining and creating new lexicons of behavior.

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