RESEARCH SERIES #31
The 17th edition of Sonic Acts Festival took place in February. Under the title The Noise of Being, the festival revolved around the exploration of what it means to be human in the present time. This Research Series edition is a collection of lectures and panel discussions that were recorded during the third day of the conference programme of the festival. You can also read about the first and second days of the conference.
On Sunday, the conference examined potential forms of resistance, as advancements in technology and surveillance bring about new forms of totalitarian control. Contributors included Zach Blas, Pinar Yoldas, Daniel Rourke, Laurie Penny, Ytasha L. Womack, Jamon Van Den Hoek, Ingrid Burrington and Eyal Weizman.
The day began with a performative lecture by artist Zach Blas, who discussed ‘bio-exemption’ as a form of biopolitical control. While the UK Home Office defines ‘bio-exempt’ as those not required to submit biometric data to the government, such as children, amputees with one or no fingers, and diplomats, Blas attempted to understand the term as a paradigmatic descriptor for today’s global security regime, in that it describes who is forced to be marked and indexed and who is not.
'Bio-exemption could be another name for biometric governance in that it describes who is forced to be marked and indexed and who is not.' – Zach Blas
Pinar Yoldas also emphasised the entanglement of biology and politics with her talk #SPECULATIVEBIOLOGIES
. Yoldas proposed that certain forces, such as ‘slow violence’, are imperceptible to us; she then upheld the capacity of art to glue back together the causality that is broken by imperceptibility, i.e., the quality of things that fall beyond the ‘umwelt’ of the organism, and argued that art can help make violence more perceptible.
The first panel of the day discussed the capacity of speculative fiction, by glimpsing at futures beyond our imagination, to offer impressions of new potential forms of resistance. Speakers argued that the kind of storytelling afforded by the genre can be an important space for experimentation, where characters and their connected tropes take the form of radical agents for social change.
Daniel Rourke refigured the sci-fi horror monster The Thing – a creature of endless mimetic transformations; Laurie Penny argued that feminism, like many political movements, is intrinsically science fictional by nature; while Ytasha Womack proposed that the use of the imagination for self-development and social change is one of the greatest tenets of Afrofuturism.
‘The most enduring quality of The Thing is its ability to perform self-effacement and subsequent renewal at every moment, a quality we must embrace and mimic ourselves if we are to outmanoeuvre the monsters that harangue us.' – Daniel Rourke
‘When we talk about the world of the imagination, when we’re talking about speculative fiction, when we’re talking about some of the realms of the creative arts, it’s not just pure expression, it’s not just a mode of inspiration, it does ultimately create levels of agency, where people feel like they can shape the world around them.’ – Ytasha Womack
The final panel explored strategies of counter-mapping. The panel was grounded on the basis that the creation of a map, in framing a subject and applying a specific scope or scale, is a powerful political act; creating a map means carving out a particular point of view. The panel argued that we often forget the politics that lie at the bedrock of our maps and asked: what perspectives stay hidden underneath their folds and what maps are missing entirely?
Jamon Van Den Hoek argued that mainstream approaches to mapping violent conflict cannot capture a conflict’s tempo, geographic diffusion, or long-term effects. Van Den Hoek presented results of using repeat satellite measurements to chronicle immediate and cascading effects of conflict in Aleppo and Pakistan. Similarly, Ingrid Burrington argued that the accessibility of satellite imagery from online platforms like Google and Bing has become so commonplace that the aerial perspective it affords is easily taken for granted. Burrington examined the composite nature of these images by breaking them down using analogue sleight of hand.
‘The base map provided by Google Earth is artificial; it’s a composite of aesthetically idealised but out-of-date images, and while it’s updated with fresh imagery from time to time, it remains static.’ – Jamon Van Den Hoek
Finally, Eyal Weizman used historical aerial photographs, contemporary remote sensing data, state plans, court testimonies and 19th century travellers’ accounts to explore the threshold of the Negev desert. In the ongoing ‘battle over the Negev’ (an Israeli state campaign to uproot Palestinian Bedouins from the northern boxer of the desert), the frontier is not demarcated by fences and walls but by shifting climatic conditions; it’s a shifting ‘shoreline’, along which climate change and political conflict are deeply and dangerously entangled.