Archive for October, 2008

Liebe. Eine Übung – Niklas Luhmann (1969)

My Blueberry Nights – Cat Power – The Greatest

Love is not just an anomaly but a complete improbability

Liebe. Eine Übung” emerged in 1969 as a seminar presentation for one of the first seminars Niklas Luhmann taught during the summer semester at the newly founded University of Bielefeld, where he was appointed full professor of Sociology. In it one can already find the core ideas that would result in his extensive eponymous book of 1982 “Love as Passion”, in which he defines love as follows: “liebe übermittelt Selektionsleistungen durch Orientierung an dem individuellen Selbstverständnis und der besonderen Weltsicht eines anderen oder einiger anderer Mensche”.

The author understands love as “a symbolically generalized communication medium”, a code, in everything similar to money or power. In this sense, love is a culturally produced – not a natural – concept and therefore changes historically even though its terminology may remain unchanged (Christoph Wulf 8 quoted by Karin A. Wurst). The idea that love is a code which has been evolving throughout History and may come to embody something different of what we understand it to be today is a very important one. Already in the nineteenth century Flaubert intended with Madame Bovary, that our conception of love is forged by our mediums and therefore a historically determined and evolving one. Cinema is the greatest responsable today in shaping what we understand as love.

In his book and recurring to literary texts, Luhmann argues that marriage life corresponds to a bourgeois epoch which has come about with the French Revolution, in which the notions of love and intimacy turned out to be essential components of married life for the first time. Before it was accepted and unproblematic that passionate love were to take place exclusively outside of the marriage.

Günter Saße, quoted by Karin A. Wurst (cited above), has resumed the historical paradigms in the relation between love and marriage. In the early Enlightment the “vernünftige Liebe” demanded a close and deliberate examination of the qualities of a potential marriage partner. Later with the disappearance of arranged marriages, the “zärtliche Liebe” bases marriage on emotional erotic attraction and friendship. This revealed central in the creation of modern subjectivity, but since it demands highly exclusive relationships finding a suitable soul-mate becomes unlikely and the possibility for the desiring subject to remain without response is very high. Finally the “romantische Liebe”, in which the fusion between emotion, sensuality and sexuality occurs and is not restricted to marriage.
A great contradiction in basing marriage in the erotic desire occurs from the fact that we desire what is forbidden or separated to us, by eliminating the obstacles which fuel desire, it is impossible for marriage to maintain desire over the course of a lifetime. Furthermore, the necessary basic condition for erotic love is equality, condition which given the social structure and gender-specific behaviour patters and value systems couldn´t be fulfilled before the XX century. Thus we come to understand how our notions of intimacy, love and marriage are a construction of modernity, historically determined and deeply influenced by the mediums available.

October 19, 2008 at 11:51 pm 3 comments

Key Ideas on New Media and Self-Reflexivity- in short

1. Self-reflexivity is by no means exclusive to the field of the arts but a common preoccupation of different disciplines in the XX century
2. Whenever a new medium appears it must struggle to define its own field of actuation and pertinence against all existing mediums
3. Different mediums borrow from and influence avidly each other
4. New media ontologically favour manipulation and experimentation
5. Media specificity must be found in the medium’s structure and technological premise
6. This strategy and belief is not exactly new but was mimed from painting
7. New media – and not just video – took on a critical position against television and what it represented

October 18, 2008 at 9:51 pm Leave a comment

Key Ideas on New Media and Self-Reflexivity


Nam June Paik, Budha TV, 1974

Whenever a new medium appears it must struggle to define its own field of actuation and pertinence against all existing mediums. This contributes to the development of a speech of self-specificity, as the struggle between painting and photography – when photography first appeared – testifies.
„As with the introduction of every new medium, video encompasses a process of development from a technical novelty to the formation of media-specific forms of expression, which reflect the basic technical conditions governing the apparatus aesthetically and, finally, culminate in the cultural connotations of a new medium, which can assert its singularity in setting itself apart from other media”.(Yvonne Spielmann, Video The Reflexive Media, MIT, 2008)

Opposing already existing mediums doesn´t completely describe this process, for each new medium also wants to achieve recognition from the others and even share some of their features. The emergence of the photographic in different media – in the computer for instance – is only but one example of this.
“The desire for immediacy leads digital media to borrow avidly from each other as well as from their analog predecessors such as film, television and photography. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media”. (Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation, Understanding New Media, MIT Press, 2000)

In this sense, it seems that „all a new technology can do is to define itself in relationship to earlier technologies of representation“ (Bolter & Grusin, 2000)

As tools, and artists always seem to be the first ones to experiment with them -, and due to their inherent manipulative character new media possess an ontological feature which favours experimentation. This also leads to the development of a speech of self-specificity.

This self-specificity has erroneously been attributed. Nor the aesthetic dimension, nor the presentation dimension suffice as criteria for defining media specificity. This is easy to understand if we think of video. Ultimately its raw material is noise, which denote electronic signals, but these can be presented also as a sculpture or an installation. In this sense, nor the technical manipulation of the signals processes (its technical self-reflexion – Paik operating with magnets for instance), nor its presentation possibilities (single channel to multi video installations) are specific enough criteria to define the ontology of video.
According to Yvonne Spielmann, this must be found in video’s structure technological premise. She argues that “both Media (video and film) are concerned with visualizing an aesthetic-analytical discourse on picturiality, which brings into view structural phenomena from the medium in question”. (Yvonne Spielmann, 2008)


Morris Lewis, Alpha-phi, 1961
This strategy and belief is not exactly new, in fact it already occurred in painting. Formalism has always belived that everything necessary in a work of art is contained within it.
Clement Greenberg, who ambitioned using the characteristic method of a discipline (painting) to criticize the discipline (painting) itself, „not in order to subvert it but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence“, thought Maurice Denis’ early statement that a painting was ‘essentially a flat surface covered in colours arranged in a certain order’ through and through.
After his inquiry to painting Greenberg comes to determine that flatness and bi-dimensionality represent painting´s ontological qualities. Greenberg admitted that every medium incorporated conventions which had been borrowed from another art (narrative in history painting for instance), and which had to be necessarily expurgated so painting could be reduced to its absolutely unique characteristic(s). In this realm, „art“ became art’s only acceptable subject – art for art’s sake.
This notion of the arts as self-justifying (purily concerned with itself, striving to find its purity) was understood by Greenberg as a form of materialistic objectivity – in parallel to what contemporary science was doing. To Greenberg’s mind, this was being fulfilled by hard edge and color field painting.

Not only has New Media Art been concerned in exploring the medium’s structural characteristics but also its effects in general. In this way, the reflection about the use and meaning of images becomes very important and should perhaps be included as a part of the chapter on new media and self-reflexivity.
Images were always felt to be dangerous – we must only think of the Iconoclasm polemic – but technological apparatuses producing images do leave us the feeling that “it is out of control”. This fear is perhaps one more reason why new media are interested not only in exploring self-reflexive issues but also its effects, as if a way to get a hold on something which cannot be stopped.

From early on, new media – and not just video – took on a critical position against television and its system. Throughout History this critique was performed in different ways: the critique to Television as an instrument dictated and in service of corporate power; television as a flux of images which assumes the viewer as a passive subject; and whose only choice is the ability to change channel continuously (zapping).
Since there is no privileged image but a multiplicity of images in Television, our attention becomes slightly indifferent to content for it keeps changing very fast and no image is more important than the next. Susan Sontag sees in the type of image Television conveys, one of the reasons why we’ve become indifferent to horror images.

But more than opposing Television from minute one, Video has also adopted some of its features. In both mediums, image arises from its signal transmission technology and they both register rays of light onto a surface (in this miming Film, their historical precedent).

October 18, 2008 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

Half a Live for One Kiss

The Whitest Boy Alive – Inflation

October 18, 2008 at 12:58 pm Leave a comment

Man is a god when he dreams and a beggar when he thinks. Hölderlin

October 11, 2008 at 12:54 pm Leave a comment

BIRDS (left) by Niklas Goldbach

BIRDS (left)
Video Loop, 3:00 min, DV PAL, Stereo, 2008

BIRDS (left), 2008 by Niklas Goldbach

“BIRDS (left) was filmed in the ruins of the former outdoor disco club ‘Amnesia’ on the island Corsica. The disco, owned by American investors, got bombed in 2001”. With these rather factual sentences Niklas Goldbach introduces us to his film “Birds (left)”. Not accidentally, the film was inspired by the real occurrence of chaos and rebellion against an homogenised world, in this way perfectly miming Goldbach´s own artistic mission.
Birds (Left) shows a mesmerizing group of people all alike, seating or standing as if in an amphitheatre and doing nothing except (apparently) staring back at us. As the film evolves, we realize that these figures slowly move, minimally repeating the same gestures at times. The whole scene achieves a nightmarish and completely fictional state for we do not know what to make out of these “horrifying gracious and calm creatures”, as someone already described them, nor are we able to attribute a narrative to the film.

Through digital means and diligent post-production work, Niklas Goldbach builds here a post-apocalyptical homogenised vision in which human beings are to be seen but in which, strangely enough, the “Human Being” is excluded from. Devoid of free will, these figures are not real people for they project nothing but their own emptiness their solitary minimal gestures as if one last residue of humanity before its complete dissolution. This fleeting quality is also mirrored in the birds which quickly move through the scene just before flying away. In this horrifying scenario the individual has lost its sovereignty, reduced in its weakness to a decorative role amidst a chaotic landscape of haunting loneliness.

“Birds (left)” explores some of Goldbach´s typical questions; how an (apparently) real image slowly changes into a ghostly and a rather disturbing one as a way to inquire how utopia always seems to unnoticed give place to dystopia. And how our subjective experience in this process is characterized by feelings of disorientation, melancholy and increasing a-sociality.

In the end we are left with the uncomfortable question: how far can we trust ourselves and our reasons? What will become of the individual in a world which we seem to have sentenced to dystopia? And which role do we play as individuals in this marching state of things?

Niklas Goldbach was born 1973 in Witten, Germany. He studied photography at the University of Bielefeld and ‘Experimental Media Arts’ at the University of the Arts Berlin where he graduated with honours in 2004. In 2005 he majored in the MFA program ‘Integrated Media Arts’ at Hunter College, City University of New York and postgraduated with a “Meisterschüler” degree of the University of the Arts Berlin.
Since 2001 his work has been exhibited throughout Europe, the United States and Asia. From November 2007 until June 2008 Niklas Goldbach was artist in residency at “Palais de Tokyo” and “Cité Internationale des Arts”, Paris.

October 6, 2008 at 10:18 pm Leave a comment

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag (II)

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Barbara Kruger, You Substantiate Your Horror
Photo: Mendel, flickr

Could one then oppose war just by looking at an image? Can an image change the world or at least us?

Photographing the pain of others leads us to recognize their suffering, but how is protesting against suffering different from recognizing it only? – Sontag asks. „To nominate a hell is definitely not the same thing as to say anything on how to take people out of that hell“. Images seem to tell us only what horrible things people can do to each other and with pleasure, all over the world.
So Sontag righteously asks: „what is the point in showing such images? Make us feel indignation? Cause sadness and consternation? Help us to mourn? Do we become better by watching them? Do they teach us something? Or do they confirm what we already knew?“

It has been repeatedly pointed out that we are living in a society of spectacle, in which people also aim to transform themselves in spectacle. There seems to be nothing but representations, media representations more precisely. In this state of over stimulation, the hunt for dramatic images which drives the photographic enterprise is, according to Sontag, a mere reflex of a culture in which shock has become the main stimulus for consumption and a source of value.
One of the functions of photography is to improve how things look, and this tends to diminish a moral response to what is showed. Perhaps this is why people often react against images of war and suffering, specially if they are beautiful. And when showed in a museum or art gallery, we often ask ourselves if that isn´t just unecessary exploration of the suffering of others?
It seems that in order to provoke an active response images must shock. But how long does the shock last, Sontag strikingly asks. If we are able to get used to horror in our real life we’re also able to get use to the horror of certain images, the author refers. People often criticize news´ photographers for proffiting commercially from images drawn in scenarios in which they did nothing to help, critics contemptuously call them “war tourists” often forgetting how they´ve risked their life to give us testimony.

It seems thought that our attention is being driven by the attention of the media, of the images, that in a world full with them, the ones which should interest us have hardly any effect on us and that our insensitivity to them is somehow deeply related to the way television works. Sontag sustains, that the multiplicity of images showed in TV favours a light, mobile, slightly indifference to content, for the flux of images in television excludes a privileged one. What matters in television is that we may always change the channel. Sontag also believes that people simply turn off not because they’ve become indifferent to those images but because they are scared. It is because we have the feeling that war, any war, cannot be stopped (even pacifists no longer believe war can be stopped) that people have become less sensitive to its horrors. Symptoms of apathy, moral or emotional numbness are, in Sontag´s view, nothing but full of feelings of rage and frustration.

It is not an unsufficiency that we are not touched enough or that we do not suffer enough with those images, for the way Sontad sees it, it is not photography’s job to repair our ignorance on history or the cause of pain of others which it selects and frames. For the author, those images are but an invitation to reflect, try to learn, examine, etc. in order to finally ask ourselves: is there a state of things which we’ve accepted so far and should be questioned now?

October 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm 1 comment

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