Martina Leeker: Obstacology with Trickster, Owlglass Pranks and Disabled Things.

What’s going on? Dispositif of Technospheres

The current situation of discourses on digital cultures can be described as a “dispositif of technospheres”, which is formed from e. g. discourse-on-things and techno-ecology, and the so-called “new materialism”. The departure point is a model according to which human agents and technical things should no longer be in an instrumental relationship, but are instead bound in a symmetrical agency. Technological environments are seen as a power of affecting that can no longer cognitively be grasped or controlled by humans. The dispositif of technospheres thus aims for human agents that are swinging with the technological environment, selling this existential involvement as a solution for dealing with current challenges as climate catastrophes and capitalist crises, proclaimed with the Anthropocene. In doing so, they forget the politics of the technospheres, because they are so enchanted with this that the concealed modes of data collection and analysis, as well as the interests of major players (Amazon, Google, Facebook) are happily supported.

The great challenge is now to develop new descriptions, what is absolutely required by the constitution of digital cultures, without overlooking their politics and governmental aspects.

How to Do Critique? Performing Obstacles with Discourse-Analytic Aesthetic

To carry out analysis and reflection, a form of examination is required that allows under the discursively generated situation a reflective distance and at the same time takes into account that there is neither a stable “beyond digital cultures,” nor the possibility of understanding in the traditional hermeneutic sense.

An example for critique under these conditions is the exhibition-performance “Disabled Things” (Versehrte Dinge), which originated at Leuphana University in Lüneburg with students in the winter semester, 2015/16. It started from the following consideration: If things and technological environments now have their own rights and capacity to act, can we then, for example, simply dispose of those that are malfunctioning? If that is now inappropriate, what would it mean for humans to be surrounded by disabled technical things?

The hypothesis was the idea that it is easy to develop theories. How seriously they can be taken can be seen only when they are embodied. An important point is that embodying and performing should become an epistemological machine, as in this process, relevance, consequences, and governmentality of theoretical constructs become recognizable when obtained through experience.

Owlglass, Disabled Things and Trickster

The “Betreuungszentrum für grenzüberschreitende Geräte” (BGG) (Care Center for Cross-Border Devices) was one of the projects within the exhibition.

(Fig. 1) Exhibition: Disabled Things. Project: Betreuungszentrum für grenzüberschreitende Geräte (Care Center for Cross-Border Devices): Julie Heitmann, Nadine Teichmann, Franziska Debey, Lüneburg 2016.

Here, disabled things could be put into care so that they wouldn’t cause damage left home alone and unattended. At the BGG, a completely unique educational and behavioral culture ensued that ranged from psychological training with device-co-operators for appropriate contact with technical things, to new courses in electropedagogy, for example.

In the artificial world of disabled things, the “Market for Disabled Smart Phones” marked the station that congenially spelled out the economic side of the new world of things and data. Owners of disabled smart phones could offer them for purchase to the new company via the Internet. The enterprising business could then accept payment from the former owner to appropriately store the device on their behalf.

(Fig. 2) Exhibition: Disabled Things. Project: Markt für versehrte Smartphones: Laila Walter. Photography: Martina Leeker, Lüneburg 2016.

Data rights have become a very important topic in the exhibition, because smart things are technical devices controlled by algorithms collecting and processing data.

(Fig. 3) Exhibition: Disabled Things. Project: Magna Carta der Datenrechte: Martina Keup. Photography: Martina Leeker & Laila Walter, Lüneburg 2016.

In data rights now, as based on human rights, the right to the protection of life, to freedom of movement, and to assembly (compatibility) have been conceded to data. One consequence of these rights is, for example, that because of freedom of movement human agents should no longer be allowed to use methods of data protection.

The trickstery became thus a form of action and thinking that could influence digital cultures by intervening with exaggerated affirmation and contradictions.

How to go on? Practice of Critique, Obstacles, and Alien World

In the “Disabled Things” a critique from aesthetic experience and an aesthetic experience of critique were enabled through the embodiment of theories. Instead of stepping outside of techno-cultural conditions, in the project a stepping in to them was experimented, with which it should be possible to find a position of critique in the interior.

These forms and methods of productive critique can be integrated within the concept of “in-/forming cultures.” This is proposed as a contribution to critique in the specific, techno-logical, epistemological and discursive conditions of digital cultures outlined here. What is meant by this is that (a) a separate, artificial, e.g., excessive, strange, and unfamiliar culture is created, performed, and made accessible. This culture formation (b) “in-/forms” existing cultures in terms of their education by reflecting them. From this double formation arises (c) in small-scope, meaning local, temporary, case-specific displacements in the see- and say-able.

It is entirely a matter of repeated “obstacling”, as: questioning, reconsidering, and rethinking in digital cultures, in order to open and colonize a space of reflection and knowledge between technology and discourse. Much could, in fact, be quite different because digital cultures are in large part created discursively and as such are politically useful.

Martina Leeker is Professor of Methods in Digital Cultures and Senior Researcher at the Digital Cultures Research Lab, Leuphana University Lüneburg. Her research interests include art and technology, critique in digital cultures, systems engineering and infrastructures, theater and media, and artistic research.