CirculationismDiscussion with Hito Steyerl
For the occasion of Hito Steyerl’s major mid career retrospective, the Van Abbemuseum will host a panel discussion on the expanded theme of Circulationism.
Location: Auditorium. Language: English.
Auditorium is fully booked, registration is closed. However, there is a possibility to follow the conversation in the Studio of the Van Abbemuseum via a live video stream.
Imagine a factory made of light – and darkness. It is nowhere and anywhere, making its way through global sewers and seas, logical to the degree of utter incomprehensibility. This is where circulation takes place. Imagine an image as light moving through fibre glass cables. As it is shared, boosted and circulated, tiny sparks of light start hustling between continents. Imagine sparks of light, moving like swarms of deep sea creatures or suburban patterns of illumination. Imagine the darkness of secrecy too, as being intensely productive.
An image in circulation is less about its content then about its charge, its drive, its directions. It is about being intensely quantifiable and trackable, too. It is about love encoded as numbers, and production doubling as dispersion. One could measure image energy in joule and watt, passion or eyeballs, in spin as entrancement, in withdrawal by deep encryption.
But circulation is not only about surface access. It is about deep inequality too. It is an imbalance about who has the keys and who privatises the commons contributions. Circulation is about conformism, affirmation and voluntary servitude. It is the petting zoo of rising plutotechnocracies. Enthusiastic contribution to one´s own surveillance and exploitation is by now hardwired into corporate infrastructure. Light doesn’t only flow: it is tightly channelled and contained, too.
If the early age of the internet somewhat resembled the techno-euphoria around 20th century electrification and mass production, its current age resembles 20th century paranoia and surveillance bureaucracy. It conjures up the spectre of not too distant algorythmic Stalinisms, in which oligarchs/art collectors/secret courts are dispatching bot armies to fight proxy wars, track attention spans or gentrify ever new neighbourhoods. What used to be called productivism by the Soviet avant-garde of the 20th century – the claim for art to enter production and the factory – could now be replaced by circulationism. Circulationism is not about the art of making an image, but of post-producing, launching and accelerating it. It is about public relations of images in social networks, about advertisement and alienation, conformism and quantified spread and velocity.
But crucially circulationism, if reinvented, could also be about short-circuiting existing networks, circumventing and bypassing corporate „friendship“ and hardware monopolies. It could become the art of recoding or rewiring the system by exposing state scopophilia, popular compliance and wholesale surveillance. Of course, it might also just go as wrong as its predecessor, by aligning itself with a Stalinist cult of productivity, acceleration and heroic exhaustion. Historic productivism was – let’s face it – totally ineffective and defeated by an overwhelming bureaucratic apparatus of surveillance/workfare early on. And it is quite likely that circulationism – instead of restructuring circulation – will just end up as ornament to an Internet that is finally dead enough to make it into contemporary art.
Will circulationism alter reality’s hard- and software; its affects, drives and processes? While productivism left little traces in a dictatorship sustained by the cult of labor, could circulationism change a condition, in which heart bleed, insomnia and exposure are an algorithmic factory? Are circulationisms Stakhanovites working on Bangladeshi like-farms, or mining virtual gold in Chinese prison camps, churning out corporate consent on digital conveyor belts? Does light leak? And what is a leak of darkness?