Cult of the Techno-Logic

Chiapas, Mexico and Toronto, Canada
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Fig 1. BOT I performance still, photo by Cisco. Galeria Studio Cerrillo, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, 2010.

WHEN I WAS BORN, IN 1963, my father worked for IBM selling mainframe computers throughout Latin America. As IBM moved our family through Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico, I learned about punch cards, data entry, electrical connectivity, transistors, and integrated circuits at a very early age. Over the course of my life, I have watched computing and the broader technology field expand exponentially throughout the private and public sphere. Technology is now ubiquitous at work, at home, and at play in many parts of the world. Since the Internet and World Wide Web became available to the general public in 1991, saturation has reached unimaginable levels. For example, in 1998 Google handled 10,000 searches per day. By 2012, it was handling 3,300,000,000 searches per day, which averages to over 38,000 per second.1 Drawing on my lived experience and subsequent research, my performance and interdisciplinary work are focused on deconstructing positivistic narratives of emerging technologies, so as to glitch the cult of the techno-logic.

While computing, gadgets and twitter battles can be loads of fun, I am aware of the others who pay the price for my pleasure, working in toxic and deadly conditions extracting the materials, manufacturing the products, and recycling the e-waste.2 While cybersex is exciting and liberating for many, there is concrete evidence that online classifieds, social media sites and mobile computing have increased horrific trafficking for sexual exploitation.3 The abstracted language of the ‘cloud’ leaves many entirely ignorant of the C02 footprint of the server farms their technology depends on.4 Though one can be lulled by media reports debating ethics of human/robotic interaction, in actuality, militarized robots are proliferating world-wide. As Noel E. Sharkey writes about lethal autonomous battlefield robots, “We could be moving into the final stages of the industrialization of warfare towards a factory of death and clean-killing where hi-tech countries fight wars without risk to their own forces… more than fifty states have acquired or are developing military robotics technology… The end goal is a network of land, sea, and aerial robots that will operate together autonomously to locate their targets and destroy them without human intervention.”

I am an interdisciplinary artist that creates live art pieces to expose and explore not only these issues, but our complicity and participation in the destructive landscape of globalized neo-liberal capitalist techno-culture. My recent piece BOT I is a performative monologue where I situate myself – through my desire, love and hatred, through my abjection, (ex/in)clusion, my lack and my fill – within the brutal matrix of the cult of the techno-logic. Referencing Beckett’s theatre piece NOT I and elements of Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws” of robotics, I began this project with my own birth story [out into this world… tiny little thing… before its time…], with my own disjointed and (in)coherent participation and alienation.

Below are images and brief descriptions of two iterations of the performance, the video version of the piece and a link to the entire script.

I.  MEXICO PERFORMANCE, SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, 2010.

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Fig 2. BOT I performance still, photo by Cisco. Galeria Studio Cerrillo, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. 2010.

FOR THE 2010 PERFORMANCE AT Galeria Studio Cerrillo in San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico, I staged the piece in conversation with NOT I. The room was small, and I stood in the dark, wearing a covering I had made by breaking apart and removing the keyboard cloth from numerous obsolete keyboards. I translated the monologue into Spanish and spoke into a video camera trained on my mouth which projected an off-kilter live feed of my lips on the wall behind me. The sole lighting was provided by projected images, on my body, of aspects of my techno critical life. Conceptually, I was only visible through my own interpellation – the illumination provided by projected images were of what I critique. Though my body is resistant, the live feed made my red lips visible solely through projection, reflecting the complexity of the construction of subjectivity and interpellation in the electronics era. 

II.  CANADA PERFORMANCE, TORONTO, 2015

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Fig 3. BOT I Performance stills. Left by Patrick Keilty. Right by Leanna Barwick. Feminist Art Conference, OCAD, Toronto, Canada. 2015. 

FOR THE 2015 PERFORMANCE AT THE Feminist Art Conference at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) in Toronto, Canada, I wanted the piece to be more intimate, with no equipment between the audience and me. I also wanted it to be mediatized, to highlight tensions for the audience between watching a moving live body and being drawn to a moving image. I had previously made a video of just my mouth articulating the text of the monologue (video below). In a dirty and informal drawing studio on the fourth floor of OCAD, I stood, visibly pregnant, in front of a wall and spoke of my experiences with technology while stuffing wires into my mouth and down my throat.
I gagged and drooled while shouting what became increasingly muffled and incomprehensible words “mis venas siguen abiertas” (‘my veins remain open,’ a reference to Eduardo Galeano). These actions caused me to go into labor, and I birthed the beloved – computer wiring, tablets, mouses, and gadgets. Addressing the audience, I implored them to utilize their digital devices, as nothing is real if not documented and Instagrammed. I then casually turned on the projector of the video of the mouth and text, and interacted with the projections, kissing the lips on the wall while making love to the wiring, eating wires, or strangling myself and dragging myself along the room by them. As the video ended, I gently knelt and held the broken tablet in my hands while singing Silvio Rodriguez’s song “Te Amare” (“I Will Love You” in English) to it with tears of joy and love in my eyes.

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Fig. 4. BOT I Performance stills. Photos by Patrick Keilty. Feminist Art Conference, OCAD, Toronto, Canada. 2015

III.  THE VIDEO VERSION

I BEGAN WORKING ON BOT I IN 2008 when media artist Adriene Jenik invited me to present a two-minute performance as part of her project Open_borders: Improvisation Across Networks, Distance, Timezones at the Actions of Transfer Conference of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics in the Americas at the University of California at Los Angeles. She was presenting a webbased international performance event wherein performances from around the Americas would be web cast and streamed into a lounge at UCLA on the Saturday night of the conference. All the performances had to be done in front of a webcam. I began with the lines from Not I and told my own story, while stuffing computer wiring into my mouth until the wiring deformed my mouth and I was left uttering incoherently. I decided to develop it into a full-length monologue, something I had never done before as a performer. In 2010 I began writing the monologue, and worked with Nitza Tenenblat on elements of the script and the performance for a presentation at the University of California at Davis. I subsequently restaged the piece, and presented it at the Radical Philosophy Association Conference in Eugene, Oregon in 2010 and in Mexico. In 2014 I worked with interdisciplinary artist Freya Olafson on taping it as a stand-alone video. This is the single channel video of the piece, which is distributed by Video Pool in Winnipeg.

IV.  CONCLUSION

I CASUALLY SURFED ONLINE TO Bloombergs Billionaires6 today, to check in on the finances of a few of the global technology sector’s founders and executives, i.e. the people behind some of the most destructive forces on Earth. On November 6, 2015, this was their financial worth: Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and the world’s richest person, $85.5 Billion. Jeff Bezos, Chairman and largest shareholder of Amazon, $57.9 Billion. Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, $47.5 Billion. Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, $43 Billion. Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet, the holding company that now owns Google, $39.1 Billion. I also checked in on the live counters at Internet Live Stats. The electricity used so far that day for the Internet was 251,572MWh. The C02 emissions that day from the Internet were 231,174 tons.

Andrew Keen’s recent book The Internet is Not the Answer challenges the inventive language that ushered in the Internet, the rhetoric of egalitarian inclusion, radical transparency, pluralistic openness, and disruptive innovation. He instead points out the destructive corporate monopolies, government and corporate surveillance, destruction of labor, creation of a precariat, and of a new privatized network economy that benefits the few on the backs of the many. As he says: “The internet is a perfect global platform for free-market capitalism – a pure, frictionless, borderless economy … ‘And we love it,’ Keen says. ‘We all use Amazon. We strike this Faustian deal. It’s ultra-convenient, fantastic service, great interface, absurdly cheap prices. But what’s the cost? Truly appalling working conditions; we know this. Deep hostility to unions. A massive impact on independent retail; in books, savage bullying of publishers.’”7

Cyberspace is one spectre of the contemporary paradox of emerging technologies. Were this the entirety, humanity would manage. It is not. President Obama’s FY2016 Budget requests USD $585,200,000,000 for the United States Department of Defense.8 The basic and applied research category is for USD $70,000,000,000. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) FY 2016 request is for USD $3,000,000,000.9 The parts of the DARPA budget that are not classified reflect military research and development across a massive spectrum of technologies – information and communications, synthetic biology, genetic engineering, neuroscience, robotics, nanotechnology, surveillance – for better and more effective control, domination and death.

Emerging technologies are in a period of explosive convergence that is – what word can I use to reflect it – perhaps hypersupersonicacceleratedvelocispeed? No. That barely touches it. Instead I choose as my metaphor deadly, neurotoxic methamphetamines, because as we reach the brink of a fatal overdose, we are dangerously interpellated by all sectors into ‘loving it’.

The heart of my work is to challenge the grandiose deluded euphoria of the cult of the techno-logic. The soul of it is to engage deeply in active, community driven, decolonizing resistance. The opportunity is now, with Idle No More, an international non-violent resistance movement founded by Indigenous and non-Indigenous women Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon and Sheelah McLean. Through decolonizing our minds, hearts, bodies, worlds, projects, politics and practices, we may be able to work together to halt further ecocidal destruction of our already damaged planet.

FULL SCRIPT AND WRITING

The full script of BOT I is available in the “Theory Thread In Search of Digital Feminisms” of the Journal of the Cultural Studies Association: Lateral, Issue 2. Spring 2013. Eds. Katherine Behar and Silvia Ruzanka. http://lateral.culturalstudiesassociation.org/issue2/theory/pilar/ 

LINKS

  • For information on the international non-violent resistance movement Idle No More, visit http://www.idlenomore.ca/
  • For real-time live data on the Internet, visit http://www.internetlivestats.com/
  • For the Global Challenges Report, visit http://globalchallenges.org/
  • For information on automated lethal robots, visit the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots: http://www.stopkillerrobots.org
  • For a fantastic feminist guide on internet safety, visit A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity at https://tech.safehubcollective.org/cybersecurity/

FURTHER READING 

Mignolo, Walter. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. (Duke University Press, 2011) This book on the colonial logic underlying the contemporary socio-political sphere offers a decolonizing perspective from the Global South.

Sharkey, Noel. E. “The Evitability Of Autonomous Robot Warfare.” The International Review of the Red Cross. Vol 94, Number 886, Summer 2012. https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/review/2012/irrc-886-sharkey.pdf

1 Internet Live Stats. Web. 3 Nov. 2015. http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/

2 The National Resource Defense Council provides a comprehensive explanation of the mining, resource extraction, and waste generated in computer manufacturing, as well as information on e-waste, at National Resource Defense Council http://www.nrdc.org/living/stuff/your-computers-lifetime-journey.asp Further references can be found in Baldé, C.P., Wang, F., Kuehr, R., Huisman, J. (2015), The global e-waste monitor – 2014, United Nations University, IAS – SCYCLE, Bonn, Germany. Web 2 Nov. 2015. http://i.unu.edu/media/unu.edu/news/52624/UNU-1stGlobal-E-Waste-Monitor-2014-large-optimized.pdf

3 “Human Trafficking Online The Role of Social Networking Sites and Online Classifieds,” by Mark Latonero, Ph.D. Genet Berhane, J.D., Ashley Hernandez, Tala Mohebi, M.A., Lauren Movius, Ph.D. Center on Communication Leadership & Policy Research Series: Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California. September 2011. Web. 5 Nov. 2015. http://technologyandtrafficking.usc.edu/report/

4 Internet Live Stats. Web. 3 Nov. 2015. http://www.internetlivestats.com

5 Sharkey, Noel E. P. “The Evitability of Autonomous Robot Warfare.” The International Review of the Red Cross. Vol. 94, No. 886, Summer 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2015. https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/review/2012/irrc-886-sharkey.pdf

Bloomberg Billionaires. Web. 6 Nov. 2015. http://www.bloomberg.com/billionaires/2015-11-05/cya/adjaa

7 Jon Henley, Jon. “The Great Internet Swindle: Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated?” The Guardian. February 9, 2015. Web. 5 Nov. 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/09/andrew-keen-internet-not-answer-interview

8 Defense Budget. Web. 5 Nov. 2015. http://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/ defbudget/fy2016/FY2016_Budget_Request_Overview Book.pdf and http://comptroller.defense.gov/budgetmaterials/budget2016.aspx

9 DARPA Budget. Web. 5 Nov. 2015. http://www.darpa.mil/attachments/(2G1)%20Global%20Nav%20-%20About%20Us%20-%20Budget%20-%20Budget%20Entries%20-%20FY2016%20(Approved).pdf and

http://www.darpa.mil/our-research