ISEA2011 PANEL: Tyrannies of Participation


Chair: Dr. Seeta Peña Gangadharan

Working across the arts, music, and politics, this panel considers the dynamics of power in mediated participation. Borrowing its title from the work of Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari, who questioned the legitimacy of participatory development projects led by the World Bank and other inter-governmental bodies, this panel addresses the unintended consequences of, and the power struggles in, collaborative music platforms, social networks, wireless infrastructures and open government initiatives. The purpose is to explore the construction and valuation of participatory discourses, designs, or experiences and challenge received wisdom of participation’s power. When does the discourse of participation mask power? Who has actual versus perceived authority? How do bottom-up, collaborative-based, leveled social, cultural, and political experiments create new inequalities?
A Brief History of Musical Authority
Jon Leidecker

This presentation focuses on the relationship between recording, authorship and the idea of composition. Working across three different periods, I examine the tensions between individual and collective musical creation and look at music as a living social practice as opposed to an object. Western notation immortalized individual composers and created a musical hierarchy in which music became a less collaborative social practice and more an industrial factory reproducing the composer’s properties. In the early twentieth century, recording technology challenged the individual composer’s authority by granting the same immortality to improvising musicians and other live performers. Since the year 2000, new technologies have enabled collective tools for collaborative composition (e.g., Rocket Music, Indaba). Though these tools promise distributed authorship, they may also be reinforcing individualistic tendencies in musical creation, composition, and recognition.
Cordon Off the Contempt in a Word Compartment (and Other Whispering Moments)
Joshua Kit Clayton

A video-directed group exercise/meditation/conversation by Joshua Kit Clayton, Cordon Off the Contempt in a Word Compartment (and Other Whispering Moments) investigates the uses and values of contempt, hygiene, language and importantly, of whispering, as a means of containment- paradoxically through the process of propagation. The video asks audience members to consider and/or discuss their own relationship to contempt and other topics within the space of the video itself.

Among other topics, this work plays with the notion that given a proposition (for example, a participatory artwork) there is value in one’s contempt for the proposition and its artifacts, as a means of maintaining one’s agency in the face of the proposition. Propositions themselves may be considered authorities and their presentation issues demands to the objects of their “tyranny”, either implicitly or explicitly. This work is an explicit, though humorous, tyrant, and reinforces its authority through the identification, encouragement, and manipulation of the object’s resistance to authority. A question for discussion is whether given such a definition of authority, is it ever possible to eliminate authority, and if so what is the value in our efforts to do so?
Security Gate 26.11
John Kim, Anthony Tran, Vasily Trubetskoy

Security Gate 26.11 is an Arduino-based, interactive, electronic artwork that detects wireless emissions given off by individuals, including cellular and smartphone transmissions, wifi, bluetooth, RFID, and others. Security Gate 26.11 produces individualized audiovisual responses to these transmissions. Our lives are subjected to daily forms of surveillance via mechanisms that are less recognizable to us as such, precisely because they are not visible. Today, wireless transmissions are the corpus of control and repression, as evidenced by sophisticated governmental systems of mass surveillance and snooping (Carnivore and its variants) and corporate monitoring (data-mining and software recommendation systems).

Security Gate 26.11 demonstrates how we voluntarily participate in tyrannies of our own creation. Various critical theorists have commented on how interactive participation is the ideology of capitalist consumerism over information networks. By our participation in informational networks (including cell phone usage, online browsing, email, SMS and others), we actively volunteer information about ourselves to forms of governmental and corporate surveillance. Data are directly and indirectly collected about us in our use of these networks. Security Gate 26.11 renders visible these invisible mechanisms of discipline and control and documents our participation in possible tyrannies of our own creation.
Participating in Participation: Politics and Citizen Power
Seeta Peña Gangadharan

Similar to the cultural zeitgeist in the 1970s, the past several years have been marked by an optimistic discourse about the technologies of political participation in American government. From electronic town hall meetings to President Obama’s Citizen Briefing Book to the Facebook pages of politicians and political institutions, the current political climate is committed to instantiating ideals of participatory democracy in technological tools for citizens. But what power have these tools created?

In this presentation I apply a seminal discussion of participatory politics written in the 1970s in relation to modern day experiences of citizen participation. Written by Sherry Arnstein, A Ladder of Citizen Participation, looks at the palliative effects of participatory projects, citing the problem of “participating in participation”. Seen in relation to current efforts to harness citizen power in political decision making, the problem of “participating in participation” unmasks the superficiality of participatory projects and practices. Examples will be drawn from the Unites States’ premier regulatory body for media, communications, and information policymaking.
Bios of the Participants
Jon Leidecker (aka Wobbly) is a San Francisco-based musician, composer, and lecturer on experimental electronic music. He has released works on Tigerbeat6, Illegal Art, Alku, Phthalo, and others. He has been producing music since 1987 and ongoing studio and live projects involve collaborations with People Like Us, Thomas Dimuzio, Kevin Blechdom, Tim Perkis, Matmos and The Weatherman of Negativland. He is also a member of the Chopping Channel and Sagan. In 2002, Leidecker was responsible for the first montage and final cleanup of the Keep the Dog album, That House We Lived In (2003).

Joshua Kit Clayton is an artist, musician, and computer programmer, living and working in San Francisco. He is a graduate of the Bard College MFA program in Film/Video. He produces dance music for post-rave casualties both on his own and in the band Pigeon Funk. He is responsible for the development of Jitter, a video and 3d graphics extension to Cycling ‘74’s Max visual programming environment. His performance and video based projects explore communication, speculation, value, directive, and the space between artist and audience.

John Kim is an Assistant Professor of New Media Theory and Practice in the department of Media and Cultural Studies at Macalester College. Before arriving at Macalester, John taught at the University of San Francisco, Stanford University and Williams College. In addition to researching new media, he is an artist as well and has exhibited interactive installations at museums and galleries across the United States.

Anthony Tran is a new media artist residing in Minneapolis. His artworks explore and problematize the transition between contemporary humans and future technologies. He is also a student at Macalester College, where his research interests include cognitive resonance, virtual intergroup dynamics and tagging/recommender systems.

Vasily Trubetskoy is a student of physics and mathematics at Macalester College. Past research has focused on crystallization and biomineral systems. His interests span both digital and analog electronics.

Seeta Peña Gangadharan recently completed a Ph.D in the Department of Communication at Stanford University. She is a postdoctoral fellow in the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Her dissertation interrogates conventional theories and designs for public participation in communication policymaking. She has secondary research interests in the cultural history of communication technologies. She has also worked with advocacy and activist groups, including Center for Media Justice, Public Knowledge, Media Alliance, and Prometheus Radio Project.


Posted by:  Ebru Surek