Terms of Media II: Actions Conference – Organize – Timon Beyes

Terms of Media II: Actions Conference – Organize – Timon Beyes


Thanks, Bonnie,
for the introduction. Hello, everybody. Thanks a lot to Wendy, and
to Thomas, wherever he is, for so wonderfully
organizing the overall event, which already brings
in the term, in a bit of a blunt way. So my talk is about security and
entertainment organizing media. There is no organization
without media. There is no media
without organization. Or, in Reinhold Martin’s
term from the book already mentioned, in terms of verbs
and actions– media organize, media are organized,
organizing is mediated. Organizing, then, is the
relational, sociotechnical ordering and being ordered of
humans, materials, effects, and techniques. From here, the
world of phenomena and potential investigations
and interventions opens up. With Volkswagen’s
cheating software an obvious but too fresh
point of departure, I here seek to ponder the
layers, or modalities, of media organizing in the
context of what has been called the security
entertainment complex. If there’s a bit of time left
in the interval– I doubt it, actually– I will return
to the broader research landscape of organizing media. At this year’s still
ongoing Venice Biennale one of the most remarkable
works on display is Simon Denny’s Secret Power. Representing New Zealand in
the Biennale’s exhausting mix of centrally-created
show and dozens of national provenance,
the Berlin-based and New Zealand-born Denny
has been called the post-internet artist. In other words, his is
not a media art content with exploring what
media technology can do to artistic production. Schooled in conceptualism,
pop art, an minimalism, Denny rather
investigates and makes present the images, rhetorics,
and mechanisms– or perhaps, the visual clutter, rhetorical
noise, and hidden operations of contemporary netscapes. It is an art the takes
pervasive digitization– or what we might call today’s
post-media condition– for granted, and that uses
all sorts of artistic media to reflect on post-media
constellations, in particular with regard
to the digital economy. I won’t go into his work,
but in recent solo exhibition at MoMA PS1 in New York, some
of his pre-Biennale works were brought together. Among other things,
The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom, a re-creation
and re-imagination of the confiscated items of
the notorious internet entrepreneur. Or New Management, a
study of Samsung manuals, training materials, and
corporate reliquaries. Also, for instance,
Disruptive Berlin, sculptural portraits of
10 young media companies. According to the writer
and critic Chris Kraus, Denny engages in a kind of
anthropology of media culture. He identifies aspects of this
culture and then transplants, remediates, and reorganizes
them into the alien context and the bracketed spaces
of museums and galleries. In his focus on organization
in an entrepreneurial contexts, the artist’s work
manifests a kind of artistic
organizational research. An anthropologist’s
eye is turned to the aesthetics
of organization that shape and that
are shaped by the age of ubiquitous computing
and connectivity after digital media. This way, Denny investigates
the contemporary configurations of what Reinhold
Martin would probably call an “organizational nexus”–
sociotechnical orderings of what can be
perceived and expressed, as well as the agents and the
politics of these orderings. In this sense,
Denny’s work presents an investigation of organization
and organize as terms of media. It challenges media
theory to take the question of organizations
seriously just as much as it challenges the study
of organization– my field, if you want– to face the
entanglements of media technologies and
organized conduct. I therefore attempt to
disentangle different layers of organization at work in
the Secret Power project in order to think about the
contemporary nexus of media and organization. I will first present
a little tour through the exhibition and
its montage and mediation of organization and media. And on this basis, I will dwell
on the notion of the security entertainment complex in
order to outline three modalities of organizing media. And I would like to conclude
with a brief reflection on what I suggest to call the
“undemocratic surround of secret power” as a
ploy of representing organizational forces
that increasingly– and, Wendy mentioned
it already– measure the imperceptible
and configure the insensible. So part 1, Secret Power. As staged in conjunction with
the designer David Bennewith, Secret Power simultaneously
takes place in two venues– the time-honored Biblioteca
Nazionale Marciana, right on tourist infiano San Marco square– you see one
nice image here– and the arrivals lounge of
Venice’s Marco Polo airport on the mainland. And the transit space from non
schengen space, subjected to national law, to
schengen space, subject to European
law– now a lot to be said about that at
this particular moment, but I won’t go into that. Denny basically dragged and
dropped library paintings into the airport,
into the flow, which is a very interesting
way of reflecting on immigration and transit. But let me please zoom
in on the Renaissance Biblioteca at San Marco
square, completed in 1588. Built in another era of
expansionism, empire, and early globalization,
it was designed to celebrate culture, knowledge,
and science in harmony with civil and military duties,
and of course, the church. Its walls are adorned
with paintings by then-famous artists–
Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese among them– depicting
philosophers and thinkers. And its ceilings, with
allegorical images about the acquisition
of knowledge and the role of state,
military, and church. This one is called Government. Celebrating the
medium of the book and of maps, he has Fra
Mauro’s map of the world from circa 1450,
also in that library. The library’s walls
and ceilings serve as both ingenuous backdrop and
iconographic correspondence to how the world is imagined
mapped and organized according to the National
Security Agency and its allies. Assembling what the artist
calls a case study exploring NSA visual culture,
Denny and Bennewith have turned the library into
a contemporary server room. The visitor
encounters an assemble of nine half-empty server
recs in plexiglass enclosures that simultaneously work as
betweens and a workstation. There, thus is an
infrastructural double of hardware and
exhibition architecture. The blinking hard drives
integrated into the recs are apparently at work, processing
data and generating information that the visitors cannot access. We have to make do with what is
made visible in the betweens. Roughly 1/2 of the
server betweens focuses on NSA-related
infographics, tools, and plans, the other half on a montage
of and interpretations of selected material
leaked by Edward Snowden. And importantly, some of the
stuff on display was found, some was developed by
the artist himself based on found materials, such
as sculptural works, and some has been commissioned. Nothing here is
unprocessed, unremediated. The juxtapositions
are impressionistic, circumstantial, and speculated. Relying heavily on
commercial printing and prototyping techniques, the
atmosphere is brash and vulgar, more trade fair than art space,
as if an ethnographic museum would try to display an
intelligence agency culture. There’s not enough time
for a comprehensive look at the wealth of connections,
illusions, speculations, and the play of secrecy and
transparency that Denny stages. But here I would like
at least to offer a few selected impressions
and images that– or so I propose– manifest three
layers of organization and media. The first layer,
not surprisingly, is connected to, in
Peter Galison’s words, the unlimited escalation
of digital surveillance. This is one effect of what
Galloway in Theca have called the new physics
of organization. And its forms of
control and entrainment through protocological
organization. I quote– “That is as real
as pyramidal hierarchy, corporate bureaucracy,
representative democracy, sovereign fiat, or
any other principle of social and
political control.” However, as Denny’s
installation insinuates, the new physics of organization
can be closely intertwined with the sovereign rule
and bureaucratic control. Networks have become a
medium of sovereignty. In this sense, the
exhibition pictures the way the globe is
protocologically organized and policed. This logic of capture is at work
both in state administrations and private corporations,
who often actively cooperate, as Snowden has revealed. One focus is, for
instance, on Treasure Map– the US-British initiative to
map, monitor, and intercept global data traffic,
which seeks to create a kind of comprehensive world
map of connected devices, with many layers of
data and metadata. Denny has turned the skull motif
of the internal Treasure Map presentation leaked by Snowden
into a sculptural piece. Then there are exhibits from
and interpretations of various, by now infamous,
clandestine operations, such as FOXACID, MYSTIC,
and POISON NUT, designed to weaponize technology. Here’s the exhibition’s
take on FOXACID, an operation set up to
infiltrate personal computers through the back door of
commercial internet providers to monitor and record
all online activity, even to allow NSA
operators to ghostwrite mails and social media
postings for their victims, enabling a
technologically-advanced level of smear campaigning. The mix of cartoons
and crude jokes is actually quite unbearable
if you’re in the exhibition. I have to apologize for
some of these images. So the really bad ones I took
myself, and the good ones are from my partner
and from the web. They layer of the new
physics of organization as presented by Secret Power
inverts and turns on its head the popular discourse of
organizational transparency enabled through digital media. Transparency here does not imply
user knowledge of the system, but rather user ignorance. Organizational
transparency is not transparency for the public,
whatever that is today, but transparency of citizens
for state bureaucracies and corporate players, which
themselves operate secretly through means of protocological
control and intervention. While a media history
of organization could be written along different
sociotechnical formations of secrecy and
transparency– for instance, the function of
pyramidal hierarchies might actually lie in
determining and mediating formal points of exchange
and transparency, thereby cloaking the rest
of organizational conduct in informality and
secrecy– today’s technological apparatuses enable
and help to produce, again, Galison’s words,
I quote, “a form of secrecy with no end
date, no limit of scope and a lexus. A new
ontology of hidden knowledge, multiple infinite secrets for
a boundless conflict,” unquote. Arguably, it is this layer
of organization that is, S. Gadlovin wrote after
the NSA scandal broke, has, quote, “dashed to pieces
the values of the internet generation– decentralization,
peer-to-peer resomes, networks,” unquote. As Wendy Chun puts it in
her forthcoming book– I hope I can quote from
a forthcoming book– “the power of networks stem
from how they are imagined and what they imagined to do.” The second layer of
organization and media manifests itself in the visual
aesthetics of internal NSA communication and how a
state bureaucracy imagines and renders visible
their enemies and their own operations. Steeped in geek-gamer
tropes, internet memes, historical fantasies, and
military and animal imagery, the way that
cyberespionage operations are conveyed to NSA
employees and subcontractors is perhaps the viscerally
most shocking experience of Denny’s handling
of this material. As the Treasure Map and
the FOXACID iconography, as well as the maps,
magicians, and soldiers that populate the slides leaked
by Snowden indicate, the myths, memes, and fantasies
of the NSA itself come across as equally
dark and brutal as they are childish, playful,
and colorful– and of course, heavily remediated. It is remarkable–
you can hardly capture it on these photos– how
these figures and objects are parts at odds with
and partly correspond to the allegorical Renaissance
paintings in the library, establishing a strange
iconographic dialogue of power and knowledge. In any case, the tone of some
of the allegorical depictions and all of the NSA
material is unashamedly self-congratulatory,
entrenched in a kind of relentless optimism. Moreover, it should give
orthodox management theory pause– but I’m afraid it
won’t– that the management and leadership models deployed
within the NSA and also the British GHCQ,
as far as I can see, quite faithfully resemble
what students of business and management are
confronted with. Perhaps the agencies
are at the forefront of a certain kind of
instrumental organizational thought, too. Here’s a model presented in the
GHCQ’s “The Art of Deception” program, also leaked by Snowden
and remediated by Denny. Sensemaking, we have
shown, is of course predicated on perception,
attention, and cognition. The sensemaking
approach, I should add, is a rather prominent
wave theorizing how organization works and how
processes of organizing unfold. Yet “The Art of
Deception” bluntly shows what the field of
organization studies, it seems, only recently
discovered– namely, that the making of sense
is aesthetically predicated on what can be sensed. It is prone to effective
and atmospheric modulation that pre- or
subconsciously works on our bodies before
cognition and thought kick in. Their effective forces are
more than ever mediatized, and the forces of
organization increasingly work on the level of what
Kathleen Hales has called the technological
nonconscious, is of course a fairly prominent discussion
in contemporary media theory. Intelligence
agencies– or at least, the five eyes of the US, the
UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, or so we can
surmise from Secret Power– know and work with this
kind of theorizing. By the way, the GHCQ is also
aware of the networked state of the human sciences
interested in networks, and how they might
offer insights for the networked
conditions of deceiving. Apart from the protocological
physics of organization and the internal organizational
processes and their aesthetics, there’s a third layer of
organization and media that I would like to point to. It seems closely related
to Denny’s prior work on the digital economy,
its processes, subjects, and hyperbolic claims. It pertains to the
not-so-secret star of the show, whom Danny
and Bennewith stumbled upon in their research and
subsequently turned into a centerpiece
of the installation. Here’s a self image of designer,
or entrepreneurial artist, as Denny would probably
call him, David Darchicourt. He’s not the one on the wall. Now running his own
firm based in Maryland, Darchicourt was a graphic
designer for the NSA from ’96 to 2001 and
its creative director of defense intelligence
from 2001 to 2012, creating original graphics
for NSA top leadership, according to his
Behance profile. This server recs
assemble work that he has done for and
within the agency, some pieces of his
freelance work, exhibition designs for
the NSA cryptologic museum at its headquarters
in Fort Meade, and his LinkedIn profile. Furthermore, Darchicourt has
been commissioned by Denny to create graphic
representations for what was labeled a New
Zealand history project. The designer responded in style. Based on an iconic
New Zealand reptile, he has, for instance, come up
with this– a grinning cartoon lizard, or perhaps
a lizard eagle, with a camera-shaped
eye apparatus looking for prey,
a kind of cyborg enhancement of the lizard. In the figure of Darchicourt
and through his design and his products, the
exhibition presents a both exhilarating
and disturbing montage of the marriage of military
gamer aesthetics, fantasy culture, disinformation,
and libertarianism– a meeting of
surveillance and business that is conducted
online through platforms such Behance, Freelancer, and
Mechanical Turk– platforms, it should be noted,
that many artists use to commission material. Through the persona of the
designer and his works, the exhibition relates the
dark operations and imageries of state intelligence agencies
to a digital culture’s demand to become entrepreneurial and
apparently deceitful selves. One of the board
games on display is called Positive Press. Darchicourt certainly
is a post-media artist at home in different
genres, if always with full-spectrum colors. As you can perhaps glimpse
here, the board game seeks to lead its young users
from the Down-and-Out Dump to Upbeat City, where you report
the news in a positive way. Positive Press, as
Chris Kraus has written, is a lurid, disturbing
game, simultaneously promoting the libertarian
notion of wellness and happiness as healthy personal choices
and instructing primary school children in the
rewards and production of spin-control disinformation. Also on display
through life skills card games, today’s CryptoKids,
the future code makers and code breakers, learn to dive
into social networking in order to become smart sharks. As Nigel Thrift
remarks, the effects of what he calls the security
entertainment complex are most visible in the
media savvy pedagogy that seeks to, and I quote
Thrift, “prepare the child for a world
in which they will need to be able to present publicly,
seek out data, and produce new kinds of significance about
what it means to be a subject. They need to be not
so much learners of determinant knowledge
as little entrepreneurs of onflow,” unquote. Which brings me to the
second part of my talk about organizing the security
entertainment complex. If the kind of media
organizational nexus that emerges from my experience
in reading of the exhibition would need a speculative,
generalized title, I would indeed employ
Thrift’s notion of security entertainment complex. “It denotes,” writes
Thrift, and I again quote, “an era of
permanent and pervasive war and permanent and pervasive
entertainment, both sharing the linked values of
paranoiac vigilance and the correct identification
of the potential of each moment. And it would constitute,”
he goes on to argue, “the heart of an authoritarian
capitalism that has emerged over the last 20 or 30 years.” Based on the ubiquity
and availability of data as well as the means of
information targeting, Thrift argues, both security
entertainment and sectors share the forms and outcomes
of intelligence gathering as research strategies
and software codes. In this perspective,
it is not a surprise that both sectors show
comparably lofty growth rates. Agencies of state security
and the big players of digital capitalism
are therefore the security
entertainment complex’s main organizational players. Yet the kind of
organizational forces at play here work on different levels. First, the secret generation,
mapping, and analysis of data is part of a new physics of
organization and protocological control. It constitutes a
process of organizing beyond and across the boundaries
of organizational entities and below the threshold
of human perception. The organized world
here is constructed through distributed
networks that continually and autonomously
produce and relate data, put into the informational
forms of observations, classifications, profiles,
evaluations, and predictions according to a
set of parameters, and otherwise largely devoid
of human interference. The corresponding regime of
visibility and intelligibility, and the distribution of what
can be perceived and expressed, takes the form of statistical,
or maybe algorithmic, governance. Second, this does
not imply, though, that conventional organizational
entities disappear or lose influence– not
necessarily, at least. For instance, it has
recently been argued that the performativity of
algorithms has become central for bureaucratic
rule, even a feature of bureaucraticization.
So the bureaucratic apparatuses have themselves adopted the
technologies and imageries of networked organization, which
in the case of NSA and the like takes on a particularly perverse
spin after the deliberate modulation of effective
states and engineering of emotions. Third, the figure of
Darchicourt and the cross over between militaristic
and entertainment styles embodies the role of
organized networks– to use Ned Rossiter’s term–
as new agents of entertainment and entrainment in the
security entertainment complex. Relying on, and also product
of, the comparatively horizontal practices of network
organizing, here a kind of mobile and
entrepreneurial network sociality emerges. In the network information age,
Yochai Benkler has written, there are newfound capacities
to act, in his words, “in loose commonality
with others,” unquote. Relationships can be
organized unconstrained from price mechanisms or
traditional hierarchical models of social and
economic organization. Users are certainly modeled
and then encouraged to act in certain ways. An entrepreneurialized
subject, or, as Denny insinuates, an artist
of commodification, is called forth. Untied of the boundaries
of formal organization as we knew them, he or
she combines work and play and aspires to be both
individualistic and sociable, autonomous and embedded,
responsible and adaptive, perpetually happy,
target-driven, and perhaps deceitful. As a way of putting
these strings together– and I like to think that Denny’s
immersive installation can also be read as an inversion
of what Fred Turner has called the democratic surround. The emergence of
multimedia environments as forms of democratic
communication developed during World War II by
state agencies, intellectuals, and artists in the US. The democratic
surround was designed to usher in the new man
as democratic citizen, who would weather the detrimental
effects of the mass media as could be observed in Germany,
of course, at that time. The democratic
surround would later bleed into the counterculture
and the multimedia utopianism of the 1960s. Secret Power’s
post-media assemblage actualizes the relation
between art, organization, and social transformation. Yet the democratic surround has
become a security entertainment surround, and the new man–
and maybe an entrepreneurial workman, or an
entrepreneurial workwoman. This surround is produced
through different layers or modalities of
organization– processes of invisible protocological
organizing that are built to identify, classify,
and sometimes taint or destroy human beings. Networked organizations
and organized networks, as transformed,
or new forms of organization that
increasingly rely on technical media also as a means
of effective modulation and control, and a networked
horizontal mode of organizing entrepreneurial subjects–
little entrepreneurs of onflow. Finally, the notion
of surround allows me to ponder the thorny issue
of how to research and represent today’s invasive media
and their operations on invisible and
preconscious– or nonconscious, to use Hale’s term– levels. How do we render what
partly seems beyond or before a presentation? How do we write or
perform organization under these conditions? On the one hand, it seems
so commonplace to find out that much of what
was once regarded as the domain of social science,
namely generating and analyzing data, is now in one form
or another available to and carried out by the
security entertainment complex– agencies of
state, and of course, Google, Facebook, and the like. A kind of perverse
success story, actually, of scholarly inventions
that have now bypassed their inventors. In a memorable turn of
phrase, Alexander Galloway has spoken of the
subsequent emergence of low-agency scholars. Low-agency scholars are
de-skilled and proletarianized researchers who are unable
to make valid claims, meaning numerically-valid
statements extracted from adequate measurement
devices and data sets. On the other hand, in a
text titled Are Some Things Unrepresentable?,
Galloway has taken issue with Jacques
Rancier’s doubts about the trope of
unrepresentability in an earlier text likewise
titled Are Some Things Unrepresentable? Since data have
no visual form, it is on the level of information
where deserved visualization takes place. Yet, Galloway argues, depictions
of information networks all look the same. They all adhere to uniform
set of aesthetic codes. There is no proper poetics
of information networks, he argues, and as of today,
societies of control, of the organizational
forces that increasingly measure
the perceptible and configure the insensible. Hence the dilemma of
unrepresentability. For Galloway, there
is only one, which amounts to the same in
the zero-one principle– a form of mediation
between brute data masses and the visualization
of information. I wonder, though, whether
Denny’s Secret Power does not offer a potential response
to both worries, at least from a social-sciencey
point of view. As Enna Munster
has commented, whether my talk is called
protocological organization works imminently or
intensively beyond perception and extensively through
relations with other social and technical elements. The symbolic and
representational level is therefore secondary
or even tertiary. Indeed, it is on this
secondary or tertiary level where Denny’s assemblage
of images, objects, texts, and sculptural renderings work. So these are neither works
of media genealogy or media ecology, nor experiments
in “data undermining” to use Munster’s term. Denny does not engage with
mapping systems or networks, or writing
counter-protocological code. As noted, it is a kind of
anthropology of media culture that assembles,
remediates, and reorganizes aspects of this culture into
the different contexts of art spaces. In this sense, much in
line with Ranciere’s diagnosis of a
general availability of all artistic forms
in media whatsoever. The undemocratic
surround of Secret Power performs an act of
reverse espionage, for instance by constructing
a speculative portrait of Darchicourt through his
work, his traces online, and the leaked material. This way, what
usually circulates unobserved to the
networked sphere takes on a strange visibility,
and perpability is slowed down, open to
processes of association. It is by gathering, alienating,
and juxtaposing material in a different context,
then, that contradictions, visibilities, and perhaps a
critique of invasive media can emerge. It allows us to
think back, as it were, to the new
physics of organization underneath what is given
to the human sensorium. And of course, as
visitors, we are provoked to engage in our
very own pedestrian, perhaps intelligence
agency-like, trolling through data and imagery, trying
to connect dots and recognize patterns. It is a strangely seductive
and uncanny exercise. This kind of artistic
research, therefore, posits a possible case of
what the low-agency scholars of the social sciences, denuded
of access to the data masses and of the tools to
analyze them, can do. Thrift calls this “the
enactment of cultural probes” that, in his words,
“can help people to rework the
world by suggesting new unorientations rather
than correctives– the research labor of suggestion,
curiosity, and wondering. So to come to the end, exploring
the modalities of organizing, the interrelations
and representations offers– or so I hope– a
promising way of tackling “organize” as a term of media. If there is no
organization without media, then the study of
organization needs to embrace the role and
effects of technical mediation on different levels of
relational organizing. And the study of
media– of course, I’m out of my element now–
what do we see and how do we look when we engage
with media through the notion of organization? Well, I hope we see at least
four things, very briefly. First, sociality
appears and social, or sociotechnical
transformation. I have read, and Florian
has mentioned it, that the social would constitute
the blind support of media theory. Well, posing the
question of organization ushers in the social
and its reverberations. Indeed. Second, situatedness appears. Studying the relational,
sociotechnical ordering and being ordered of
humans, materials, effects, and techniques can only be
done site-specifically and context-specifically. And I am, of course,
aware that we’re dealing with distributed sites today. In this sense, it is a
fairly modest endeavor. Third, contemporaneity appears. While I would love to see
more media historical studies of organization, the notion
of organizing as outlined here offers a tool to
investigate and perhaps intervene in contemporary
modes of ordering the social. And this claim to
contemporaneity, it is perhaps a valid
immodest endeavor, then. Four, multiplicity appears– or,
as Lisa mentioned in the talk this morning, heterogeneity,
which is a similar argument, I think. There is no single
logic governing, say, the use of algorithms,
just as there are no single modes of ordering
in organizational settings, as numerous studies of
organization and processes of organizing have shown. Therefore, transmitting
the differential traits of what I’ve presented
as modalities, or layers of media
technologically-enabled organizing, needs to go further. In this sense, I’m afraid
that my narrative here was far too clear-cut. One should not forget,
or I should not forget, that post-digital
societies are not only a feat of
advanced techniques and strategies of manipulation,
surveillance, and control. As Tiziana Terranova
wrote– I must say, yes to the show, textually–
“they still, one hopes, offer plenty of opportunities
for experimentation with political tactics and
forms of organization.” Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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