Setting Fire to the Sun

What does it take to be functional everyday, over and over again: low salaries, exhaustive, work-hours, apathy in the place of functional governance. An exhaustive neurosis ensures a repetitive inertia. A chance encounter with anxiety ridden fish and many conversations later (also on anxiety – some recorded and some not), Dubai seemed like a place an exploding sun would only prompt more work until its inevitable demise.

projected video, 6 min, immersive

Dark Sun Black Light

In dystopic popular culture we see the tendency to towards the absurd. There is the sense of doing again what has been done before, but not quite. Mostly books and movies change small details within them – sometimes the setting is in an outer-space station, at other times in a post-apocalyptic land, or when The Machine has turned against us. If only we weren’t so cynical. Why is there a tragic disdain for the human? While a self-mocking apocalyptic scenario gets re-instated over and over again, we somehow don’t really believe in the apocalypse (imagine humans without hope; we are incapable of resignation). Someone said that it in its highest order dark humour obliterates laughter altogether, or rather transmutes it into despair. When it comes to the real however, it is the refusal to treat tragic materials as tragic that is the greatest strength we currently possess.

mage 4 lighter

The many books/movies objectifying the human: people using people as furniture, films depicting some kind of eventual demise, unreal extensions of the body, debasement of world order etc…coupled with an unimaginatively shocking perceptions. It is steeped with the intention of eliciting a sense of disorientation, absurd, grotesque and a form of self-parody. It is also one hundred percent what we do not need. It is, according to some, the ‘natural’ aesthetic expression of estrangement and alienation which grips humankind when belief in an apparently perfect natural order is weakened or destroyed.

I am instead interested in a situation spanning across time spheres and geographies,  repeatedly scratching on the surface of terrestrial skin; the almost instinctive need to dig beneath that which is topsoil towards a hidden underneath. The situation is infallibly comic; try once, fail. Try again. Fail. Ad infinitum. But always repeat. If not me, someone else. It is like a nag; earnest but without innocence. The meeting point between what we thought was fiction and the out-there, the inhuman and the human, the finite and the other potential. Rather than function almost entirely on exaggerations it is to use finely hone weapons, and sly understatement, counter by surprise rather than insinuation.

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The technological image is present in almost all societies in different forms. It is perhaps for this reason that it is hard to define, for often we don’t recognise it. We instead define points of similarity across territories. This representation is essentially theatrical –  it is human but without humanisms; it cannot be destroyed. It has no ideology per say, its ideology is derived from its relationship to objects around it and itself. The representation (of the recognition of technology) carries within it an eternally unrealized and unfulfilled project. It has agency but is unashamed by failure; for there is always a better version of itself. It is constantly performing itself.

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Multiple representations of technology form a network of relations, through which information passes and is distilled. Networks occupy all of the space behind and in front a translucent object (the terrestrial). The network forms holes in light, and as the light source or illumination increases, the network grows. The opacity of the network is never constant: it sometimes feels impenetrable, sometimes very faint but never completely disappears. A kind of imagination may find ourselves engulfed in an entanglement of cables and circuit boards. Black and its opacity instead are absorptive and relentless; everything pales in comparison.

Landscape is the invisible + visible infrastructure of earth: If technology has the capacity to reveal shifts in how the human understands itself, we should have already come to the conclusion that we are not the protagonists of the planetary story: Natural contingencies, intelligence as an inherent property of matter and cumulative effects way beyond our grasp (and idea of time) are only some of the ways to prove that.

Further, we have encountered models that have distorted the traditional models of nation-state geography and this has produced new territories in its technology’s own image. What is the topography of this relatively new political geography?It is an image that hinges on the lack of authentic segregation of terrestrial (places of economic congregation, of political memory etc…). Can we think of an image as some kind of map that encompasses the analogue, the virtual and the digital?

Where do we fit in? We are users and we can be only understood in relation to something else – the thing it comes from, the thing it is adjacent to, the thing that is its counter, the thing it is going towards; a user- silhouette exists in addition to the physical object that is mediated by the opacity of the network; the background is lit such that identifying details cannot be seen; a generic shape is revealed.

Can A Body Hold A Collapsed Name

kanishkas headless statue.jpgKanishka’s statue in Mathura; Not much information can be found on the missing head. This statue has piqued historical and literary interest for precisely this reason, nobody knows anything about it.

 

Dr announced that he would be performing a head transplant on Name. Name was told that her head would be carefully severed from her body along with her spine. The doctors would then have one hour only to reinstate her head in another body, merging the two spines. Dr explained that he would induce hypothermia in her so that there would be no neuronal damage. The operation would take a hundred surgeons and would last approximately 36 hours. It was going to be an expensive affair. Name wasn’t sure why she signed up for this ridiculous operation, but she had and Dr had convinced her it was the right move to make. She was hoping for an overhaul in how she understood the nature of being and thought that this was the best way to forcibly induce it. Finally, we were medically capable for the inevitable; it has been a long long, long wait. The last someone tried something like this was decades and decades ago in 2018. It was certain that if Name survived many many others would soon follow suit – everything was meant to change very soon.

After a few days ago Dr. told me that it’s all just going to be alright; the operation was a success! I can go home but going home going is not going to help me; I need to stay in the hospital and get treatment. The therapist said I should go to a psychiatrist and after that I decided I should completely trust all of them because what have I got left? It’s a success, I’m sure of it, I’m a success. What they have been consistently saying over the past few days is that it is a success. I think I have a headache but I’m not sure. You’re my doctor so I should listen to you. What will pills do apart from put me to sleep and postpone all this that is happening.

I should go to another room and that maybe what you’ve been consistently saying to me. This room is not good. It’s like before the operation and after the operation. Two rooms, two kinds of me. My reality and my brain and everything else must be true and based on everything that I have been told. As long as it’s consistent, I know I’m ok. Dr. says I’m consistent. But he said I am negative about my recovery and that I should not be negative about my recovery because whatever I think will happen, will happen. It’s all in the head. It’s not a sick joke. So I’ve decided to change me reality and listen to Dr.

chinns.jpgThe self-decapitating goddess, Chinnamatsa who is said to have embraced death of her identifiable ‘self’ before actually dying

 

Dr. said his dignity and respect feels violated and hurt by being called fake and a liar and a selfish person by all the journalists in the whole world. He told me it’s not my fault but it’s not his fault because it’s the journalists fault for showing him wrong and not being treated a special. Right? But my headache is not going away doctor. IS THIS THE WORLD HE WANTS? The things he said about my success are not slight things. They’re grand, and grand, and it’s the future. It’s not tripping over itself like you are. Your suspicions are yours, not mine. My behaviour and my emotions are new. They’ve never been had before. But even saying that is selfish no?

Rejection is physically over-powering. It contains the very contradictory urgency that spans days, weeks, months and even years. The question then becomes how to mediate this space in a way that is not retributive. A very open-ended addiction is at play here: to what extent does the object of desire actually matter after a certain point? It suddenly becomes sufficient to merely feel feelings; the addiction to which fuels itself constantly as if in inertia. No, not almost, it is precisely that. A self-indulgent altered state of mind is carefully being nursed as an end in itself.

Name saw that this was where faltered: She was unable to stay true to her language; Name saw that she chose to not be accountable; she refused to mean her words the next day.

I also said that I want a new life and in my old life I was so uncomfortable… whenever i came to the therapist over the last few days with my truth of my new self openly hating my old self. Dr said I’m not calm anymore and tried to trust my deep down feelings. Dr. has made it my problem that I am aching and my mind is dreadful even though I told him I don’t want to kill him. I told him I still I trust you completely. I’ll go with your reality, Dr., but I need more medication and more professional help and I want to kill my earlier self. I can’t co-operate otherwise, maybe the therapist is right about my brain (whose brain do I have?) perceptions and heads and more brain and mind and reality and negativity and professional help because if I have to succeed more than I am now, then I have to WORK HARD. Okay, I said, you’re human and you’ve changed over the past couple of days. Someone died, then someone else died and someone totally new came into life… it is too late to undo so many deaths I have let go of all that. If only all the pain would stop because it’s a little difficult to go back in time and destroy everything.

Can Name see distinctly? That is, can Name and her being Named be seen as a clinical object? Can an object be seen if it is not seen as distinct? The object of thought (in this case experience) is certainly seen, but perhaps there is a dire need for its qualification. It is not to say that experience is misconstrued, for to say it would mean that it is sufficient to feel something as long as it is merely perceived as a feeling. I.e. if I feel like I am Name (a full person), then as long as I allow it merely remain within the ephemeral constraints of feelings, it is fine. But it is not simple.

She wondered if it is possible to think about (and experience) the subjective without getting lost within it, but at the same time remain true to it. Where was the line that divided indulgence from inquiry? Was there even a division or does thought not really distinguish the two, but only allows them to exist as different conditions of thought itself? How could she even begin to consider what was in store for her? Name had to ground within anticipation that experience of tomorrow may not follow the same orbits of constraint that it does today.

 

DSC_1789Watching the first episode of Vikram aur Betaal on Youtube where two men get decapitated and the wrong head gets attached to the wrong body; who is who now?

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Every Meaning Happens For A Reason

Shown at curated_by Vienna, curated by Luigi Fassi 2016

In collaboration with Misha Stroj, this work took the form of a sculpture with embedded sound.

We were interested in assuming reason as thought as non-geographical at the outset (why must we always go back to colonisation when talking about reason?) to build an argument from there on:

Taking generic and positive sayings such as ‘happiness is a state of mind, a choice, a way of living; it is not something to be achieved, it is something to be experienced’, we crafted a dialogue between two forms of thinking: one centered on a desperate positivity, and the other centered on enquiry, but not all that different from each other.

We formulated our questions in the following manner: What happens when the generic form of thought and the yearning for subjective agency come together? The melting of a singular uniqueness (first as agency and only now slowly as idea) and the simultaneous creation of a digital identity has perhaps created in us a peculiar sense of power (in thought, action and being): a generally anonymous but highly subjective digital being persistently looking for a positive form of engagement with itself; looking for creating meaning using itself. Is there a techno-thought-plateau that we are fast approaching?

The sculpture was an abstraction of the message in the fortune cookie.

image of scupltre.jpg

Unfold

unfold

 

My contribution:

Have you heard of Israel? Please, let’s not take ourselves too seriously. They know a little English so it means they’re a little educated atleast. It’s so amazing how we are all so much the same. Ha, ha let’s not even pretend we’re the same. Other. India? People are so sweet here. It’s not amusing for me if she is laughing, it’s our culture. Everything here is dirt cheap. What does it mean to become a student of a socio-political movement? How to start a revolution in 10 steps. Pakistan? We are all so connected. If you want to emancipate me, then you better start now and now wait until in 45-50 years old. Isn’t this (NAM) all just exotic? What does decolonising the mind mean? Other. Ethnography. It’s interesting (and revealing) how we all so badly want to be the same. India?  Other. Other.Other. How To Read Donald Duck. 60-70 years ago it was a very backward place… there was not even one hotel. Oh, people are so nice here! I cannot believe we are discussing the basic definition of what the Other is. We should have done it 6 months ago. India? We’ve read Fanon – why doesn’t that mean anything? Oh, we’re just fantasising about the weekend! So, when’s the deadline again? So, when’s the deadline again? Other. I have clearly under-estimated the extent of colonialism. We all need to lock ourselves in a room and just read. We need to distinguish our point of view, from our world views. India? India? Rome? Pakistan? Please, let us do ourselves a favour and read more. It’s not their fault they hold such views. Sexual liberation is a crucial aspect of decolonisation. Other. Anthropology.

Obituary for a Sunset (in India)

In the final few moments of the movie Otokoppi, set in pre-technodermy earth around the year 2018, we see five characters organising townspeople to stand in unison against Vedanta Sterlite. The corporation had severely contaminated ground water and was responsible for leaking extremely poisonous gases into Thoothukudi Town. We see the characters brave through torture, run from militia, goondas and organised crime as the five finally run into the town-square to meet the newly organised townspeople to finally take down the corporation, they stop abruptly and stare with opened-jaws. The suspense is at its hightest as the perplexed audience waits for the camera to slowly pan and reveal to us what the characters see, we are struck in terror, in awe: this was only the start to a long and painful history – the square is emptied of protestors.

While the characters in the movie had no idea of what is in store for them, the audience knew only too well. In reality Otokoppi’s attempt at forecasting techno-colonialism hadn’t been reserved for Thoothukudi, but had for other parts of the India. If only the poorest in Assam had been warned about ethno-nationalist techno-states; roughly fifty years later technodermy took over governance.

For now, however, Sterlite Copper had to count their days.[1]

May 22nd was slated to be a day for massive protest against the Thoothukudi Collectorate and Vedanta (Sterlite Copper’s parent company). Anticipating the inability to adequately control the enormous sea of protestors, Section 144[2] was imposed in Thoothukudi. And when the protestors did not abide the rule, the crowds were lathi charged and finally shot at by army snipers. A total of seven people lay dead. In the face of this brutality Vedanta had to shut down Sterlite Copper and conduct an undignified exit from Tamil Nadu.

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The biggest merger of all time has taken place in India: an overtly centralised ethno-national state that has embraced techno-colonialism now aims to provide Access (user access to information, vendor access to user-data) and Surveillance[3] in over people for the sake of its own dubious cultural financial supremacy. While religion has always been a close confidante of finance, market logic has most often superseded it. For the time since India’s independence, a ruling partly has found ingenious ways to convert cultural war-cries into the magical sound of fresh 2000 rupee notes being printed.[4]

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Developing surveillance technology and biophysical tools were amongst the most important aims of the present version of the nation state, for it was seen as the only way to achieve the goal of gaining authority. Coupled with the mission toward digitising financial exchange, tools such as surveillance, access had to be trademarked and used to gain sovereignty over peoples governed by analogic capital and socialism. A two-fold updating programme was required: some places on Earth (mainly economic non-centers such as land between metropolitan mega-cities) had to still be integrated successfully and linked to centrally operated governing machinery. Further sovereignty situated outside the geographical domain that went beyond the standard nation-state structure required consolidation.[5]

Though this was a logistical nightmare, the cloud needed to travel.

Market rational has been characterised as knowledge which is obliged to oppose the shared and common resources whenever the latter has presumed to speak about things on this earth. Within the nation state-corporate nexus socialism is understood within the realm of the irrational, coercive, and altruistic. The impetus to increase shareholder value in the free market is considered constructive; charming citizens use impartial tools and to engage in entrepreneurial growth. Citizens require identification through biometrics first and only then, maybe, the state recognition will follow.[6]

The terrestrial, the bodily, the cloud and the user are inextricably linked; one cannot exist without the other. The need and ability to cognitively and practically manipulate environments had to be inculcated and ideologised as inevitable first, and then as fact. There would first be data gathering systems, then a data organising systems and finally a data trading systems. Attempts to digitise the country and formalise informal markets is underway, but bad planning, incomplete software and tendencies towards non democratic means of coercing people to embrace ‘access’ (a stand in for precision surveillance) are seen as ‘necessary side-effects’. While the problem with Aadhar and Digital India initiative are plenty, they have given us an idea of how cloud-based infrastructure directly affects physical infrastructure – the experience of it and the conversation around digital privacy (India drafted its first privacy bill in 2017 and are yet to draft an anti-troll bill) and control have only just begun.

With collection and dissemination systems partially in place, data collection and storage platforms are slowly being already de-regulated, and the authority of the digital order along with it.[7]

*

Meaning assumes different roles: prior to the advent of surveillance-governing, meaning found its origins in understanding human conditions and/or the decline of nature. Prior to that religion was paramount and everything was ‘pre-decided’. While this idea still persists, financial rational had to separate itself from reason and allow for alternative meanings to emerge. While this very new information system proposed an equal techno utopia for everyone, it founded its spatial dominion through premeditated and systematic surveillance.[8]

People ended up trading a digital commodity they didn’t even know existed via social media platforms and self-quantifying apps. Some believed the trade was justified, others not. And for whole hoard of people, it didn’t matter. But the playground for money has already moved towards immateriality.

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Time’s arrow has no direction, and in that lack of definitive direction is to be found all the significance of contingency, process and history. Post-modern sciences initially inherited this lack from older technologies (such as the natural world) and turned it into a method for the study of humanity. This non-linearity has been the undercurrent mode of thinking of technoscience and the subsequent theory of human growth. But this non-linearity has little to do with sequence, cause, duration and chronology of temporality. It does however require spatial dominion of its implementation. What also got exported out of the network, the cloud and to land with little access to the internet were their struggles and contradictions connected people could not resolve, such as the battle between State and access, the struggle between private property and various versions of collective ownership, surveillance and anonymity, the tension between the rule of code and the rule of the human desire. Terrestrial problems follow us to the cloud and get amplified there. Digital cosmopolitism (or the idea of the cloud as a unifier) was not primarily an effort to impose some consensus on the rest of the world; it was an effort to find consensus by the staging of unresolved terrestrial debates in a network – comprising the humans and its personal and impersonal cloud, and the projection of a flattened atmosphere.

The question of techno-science’s interface with the wider population is no longer of interest to philosophers and theorists alone, the fate of human existence coupled with the question of the future has assumed an intensity like never before. The dialogue between coders, biophysicists, non-human digital users and society is to understand what it means to be human as well as the responsibility for the natural world that we share with other sentient beings.

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In 2018 a group of farmers from Kanchipuram district met with a team of world renowned biophysics’ engineers to solve a peculiar problem: the farmers claimed something was wrong with the air leading to crop failure, while their own bodies were emitting a strange smell. While their collaboration did not yield results, this is hardly surprising. That the conversation took place at all points to the increased understanding that the modern sciences simply could not keep up with the changes taking place due to algorithmic governing systems. This included partial and sometimes total algorithmic high speed trading without human interference; this also included the creation of AI systems whose sophistication was not completely understood by their creators. For one the biophysicists could not fathom how air, a non-liquid substance, could contain a pH number. The farmers were dismissed.

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Since then, studies have shown that the atmosphere did receive a pH number due to certain chemical changes in the human epidermal layer. In a bid to have a robust workable surveillance system that could account for every human, excessive technologies employed to do that job have changed the nature of human skin upon interaction with it. Changes in the epidermal layer were exteriorised though emission of certain gases that later condensed into tiny liquid molecules suspended in the air. Air indeed now has a pH of -13. (The movie Otokoppi mentioned in the beginning of this text attempted to capitalise on this period of change, where nanotechnologies began its movement of getting imbibed into the human epidermis.)

The tendency to now treat skin as geography is rife with national cartographic initiatives, spatial data infrastructures, and the development of epidermal geographic information systems (EGIS). Remote sensing has now taken on an entirely new agenda; knowledge gathering and production have never been so tightly interwoven.

A newer epidermal politics will be born out of skin-based technology. What we have now is the site where big data meets our largest sensorium (the epidermal layer), codifying the senses. Preservation here is in the form of live taxidermy, which is tech’s ability to map living skin in real time from one codification to the other: thermodynamic skin allows for specimens to be located through the understory of think urban cover, while computer vision places great importance of skin recognition for facial and body surveillance tools.

The economy is also shifting: Skinscaping is now a service industry comprising architects, designers and construction companies, and provide high quality workmanship in calibrating invisible and the visible infrastructure that operates on human-skin. Since physical infrastructure, where natural (humans and ecology) gathering is constructed partly forms the armature of society; its non-physical element (digital and cloud based technologies) is actively shaping this armature. Smartness is the computational glue binding the physical and the non-physical.

While it is still early to understand what the effects of such a mutation, we have to recalibrate what we term identity politics. How we are experiencing this landscape has now become tantamount, especially when it enters our bodies, operating in and through our epidermis? And more importantly, if this a monetary exercise, can skin now be considered property? If so, whose is it?

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[1] For 20 years the residents of Thoothukudi along with activists from Tamil Nadu and all over the country had been sporadically fighting Sterlite Copper. Following a gas leak the company appealed to the central National Green Tribunal and had a state closure-order overturned. In 2018 the plant closed citing a 15 day scheduled maintenance. Sterlite Copper was made to pay the state government a 100 crore fine for the environmental damage caused, for residents’ compensation and medical expense. However the state has since distributed only 7 crores.

[2] Refers to intent of deliberate disturbance of peace and prohibits assemblies of more than four people in public.

[3] Surveillance is of two types: first is a one-on-one policing where individuals are confronted by the state. Autonomy reflects the individual’s fragile and tumultuous relationship with the state.
A second kind of surveillance is a more global one where surveillance is actually reducing (at a rapid pace) individual autonomy. Government and corporate actors need data (as per the platform economy). People here are not people, but data sets. Individuals are ‘users’ whose decisions can (and most often is) recorded and are fed into prediction algorithms for state and corporate ends.

[4] In 2016 the Indian government decided to ban two currencies, the 500 and 1000 rupee notes, overnight in a highly publicised move to weed out hoarding cash and counterfeits that funded illegal and terror activities. The repercussions of this move have been layered and far reaching: The enormous informal market and small-scale middle-men are alleged to have borne the brunt of demonitisation; It is widely speculated that large businesses families were told of this move beforehand; The government soon rolled out new 2000 rupees notes: it seems hoarding just got easier.

[5] though facebook’s offices are within the jurisdiction of US territory, the company’s real operation follows no geographic constraints or nation-state laws

[6] In July this year, a staggering 40 lakh people were left out of the Nation Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. The govt. proposed that in the event those omitted were to be branded illegal immigrants, keeping record of their biometric details would help control their movements. These people, largely Muslim, will not be forced to take part in the optional Aadhaar ID process.

[7] The railways ministry is considering disinvesting of IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) data though at the moment it has been put on hold while the govt decides what to do with the data.

[8] The internet was proposed as the great unifier, cutting class and caste lines by assuring everyone similar if not the same content. Platforms, too: as intermediaries connecting vendors and users, platforms enable groups to interact at a fraction of the cost physical infrastructures demand. Technically anyone with the means and access to the net can avail these platforms. Concomitantly, a relatively newer raw material as data has emerged with the means of wealth generation moving from production of information to ownership of this information. In short, the health of platforms hinge on data collection.