RESEARCH SERIES #29
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 conference programme of the festival. More recordings will be published in the weeks ahead.
On the grounds that old notions of individualism and the supposed privileged status of humanity are no longer sustainable, the dominant assertion was that humanity must reassess its self-image. This was put forward and discussed by internationally renowned speakers from various disciplines. Contributors to the first day of the conference included Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, Metahaven, Nina Power, Peter Frase, Erica Scourti, Nick Axel, Natasha Ginwala, John Palmesino and Isabell Lorey.
Maryam Monalisa Gharavi looked firstly at the image itself of the human, by concentrating on the most aesthetically potent organ: the face. Indeed, the face is the means by which we show our outward appearance. Monalisa Gharavi surveyed the simulacra and surveillance of the face, showing that it’s also the most politically persuasive part of the body, for it affords evidence of a singular human self; without it, the human is considered abhuman (or ‘inhuman’, with its connotations of ethical separation).
'...the jarring contrast between the normalcy of an afternoon tea and the sudden appearance of a dissapppearance: her covered face.' – Maryam Monalisa Gharavi
Under this suspicion, how do we perceive the human if the face is impaired? The question was posed by Metahaven as they continued their own study
of geopolitics, propaganda and perception, by presenting the case that digital as well as physical totalitarianism is increasingly a reality. They argued that an online litany of facts and false-hoods is contributing to a normalisation of injustices. In such circumstances, they asked: ‘What does it mean to be human under the influence of an algorithmically induced digital blindfold?’
'The strategic objective of propaganda is to demoralise and weaken an opponent so that her or his possibilities for action become limited by second thoughts, fear and doubt.' – Metahaven
Erica Scourti furthered this question with a performative presentation entitled Hot Readings
, which alluded to the entanglement of the physical and digital face. In the performance, Scourti grappled with the contention of mediated and bodily presence, as she presented her public YouTube record intercut with her private viewing history and automatically generated subtitles.
In the second part of the day, topics moved to the outlook of the human and its future prospects, from ‘saving face’ in defiance of capitalism to registering change in ourselves.
Touching on examples such as Black Live Matter and the 2011 UK riots, Nina Power's presentation reviewed various means of regaining what the ruling class has stolen from the people. Using the image of beheading to illustrate a particular conception of toppling capitalism, Power presented the idea of ‘decapitalism’ as an alternative politics to anti-capitalism and post-capitalism, and a theoretical response to the Accelerationist
project. Rather than going through
capitalism, Power’s proposition involves decapitating
capitalism. Peter Frase also conceived of the end of capitalism in his talk Socialisms and Barbarisms: Speculative Fiction and Post-Capitalist Imaginaries
, drawing on his recent book Four Futures
to imagine possible scenarios of a world of automated labour, ecolgocial crises and class struggles.
'Right now we're in a period of increased automation anxiety, which in fact reflects an underlying dynamic central to capitalism: the tension between technology as a potential source of emancipation – of liberation from drudgery – and technology as a source of exploitation and domination.' – Peter Frase
The panel Tipping Points
, moderated by Nick Axel, reflected on how we conceptualise the events that contribute to our understanding of progression. Such events include the places (or territories) and actions that ground our conception of time and in turn project an anticipation of the future. John Palmesino professed that the Anthropocene marks a departure from pre-existing forms of territorial organisation as technological advancements bring about new sets of relations, while Natasha Ginwala began with the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise to launch her enquiry into how to engage with the constant mutation of the strong and the weak in regard to justice.
'The question here is one of understanding the logics of the other, the xenologics, the possibilities of being a guest everywhere...' – John Palmesino