Thuistezien 238 — 17.04.2021

Simone Osthoff
Vilém Flusser Symposium

In the essay ‘Natural: mente’, first published in 1979 in São Paulo, Brazil, Vilém Flusser investigates the paradoxical meaning of the word ‘natural’ as a concept that both posits the cultural form of nature as well as a model of the natural form of culture. It is unclear which is an expression of which, and rather taking culture as a natural phenomenon might embrace the ambiguity and propose a dialogical and utopian perspective to deal with authenticity on the one hand, and artificiality on the other.

In this talk, Simone Osthoff presents seven artists whom she finds to capture this paradoxical relation that is particularly present in the 21st Century, raising questions on the relationship between (longstanding) social issues and the potential or limits of technology. With regards to Flusser, it becomes apparent that his views on the technical imagination might be an ideal future perspective to be picked up by artists, where images are not merely mimetic anymore, i.e used to project an existing understanding or translating of the world, and rather are stimulated to communicate and build a new world. How do we relate to images today and engage with the virtual and physical landscape? The play on the word ‘natural’ already shows that it is redundant to speak in terms of truth/fiction, kitsch/beauty, banal/sublime. The mentioned artists all try to go beyond these categories in order to construct a social space, where the dialectics is… hip hop, or dj-ing. Where software is engaged as a medium and invisible dimensions of visual culture are explored, to create a new future of ‘digital fiction’. Osthoff relates it to the term ‘techno-cannibalism’; the metaphor of eating flesh of the enemy you admire, incorporating their strength into your body. This is not necessarily dystopian, it is rather a phenomenological observation. It is already going on, in the micropolitical effects of technology, citizenship, technology on the streets, and other practices of consumption. Perhaps the emergence of techno-cannibalism actually gives way to a possibility of technological disobedience. Somewhere in between we can pick and choose our esthetic attitude. Artworks that pair construction with destruction, this cannibalistic love/hate relationship, evoke questions in us not only on technology, but also on empathy for the other and the distribution of social privileges among classes and spaces. Can we skip certain stages of ‘literacy’ and education of understanding how the technological apparatus is functioning, keeping in mind the speed in which people had to form new relationships to culture and technology has accelerated? Can people within a network of contradictions still be critical and feel independent from the system, so as to ‘hack it’? And, what is after this space of programmes of technical apparatuses, among the ruins, in terms of communication?

Simone Osthoff is Professor of Critical Studies in the School of Visual Arts at the Pennsylvania State University, where she is also the co-director of the S3A Studio for Sustainability and Social Action. A Brazilian-born and US-based artist and writer, her research questions canonical histories and archives, and it ranges from Brazilian women working with media art to in-depth inquiries into the works of Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Paulo Bruscky, and Eduardo Kac, as well as the philosopher Vilém Flusser.

Text: Yael Keijzer