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Machinima, The Block, Creative Industries, Brisbane Australia.

Flashbacks, 2009 «back next»

Balmoral Room, City Hall, Brisbane, Australia

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Balmoral Room Photofeature| All photography courtesy of Brock Yates

Pages: 2 | 3

When thinking about how to address the complex political, social and aesthetic implications of Chris Howlett's exhibitions,

I had something of a flashback of my own and was drawn to revisit Andrew Feenberg's Critical Theory of Technology (1991). As I recalled, this was one of the first books I had read that specifically engaged capitalist, socialist, economic and cultural viewpoints in order to hypothesise on the role and functions of technology in our near future. In what turned out to be a key text on the subject, Feenberg provided an ambitious and challenging scenario for developing a democratically driven, and politically responsible approach to how advanced technologies like computing might be harnessed for egalitarian purposes. I was curious to see how Feenberg's ambitions from nearly two decades ago might have manifested themselves in Howlett's own explorations into the complicated interface between technology, art, and social and political practices in the early 21st Century.

The Long Con: DVD video still, 2003-2009

All photographic documentation courtesy of Brock Yates

Feenberg believed technology to be the defining issue of modernity. As a major component of contemporary society it was intimately connected to politics, economics, culture, to all aspects of social and personal life. And although he argued that the processes of labour, science and technology were constituted as forms of domination to both nature and human beings, he advocated that these processes could be democratically transformed as part of a broader program of radical social transformation.

To achieve this goal of a more democratic and egalitarian society he argued against the prevailing opinions of the time that either slavishly celebrated technology's modernising features, or blamed it for the crisis of Western civilization.

Feenberg argued for a rethinking of these simple binaries, to demonstrate how technology can be part of a process of societal democratisation. He believed that there could be no genuinely democratic and progressive political change without the reconstruction of technology, and, vice-versa, no radical change of technology without democratic political change.1.

Michael Jackson 4 ways, Part 2: DVD video still, 2009

In making his case for change Feenberg also identified how postindustrial technologies had so dramatically redefined fundamental social and economic relations that it affected the way that notions of identity and subjectivity were considered. In doing this he invoked the social historian Christopher Lasch's notion of 'cultural narcissism' to discuss how these concepts of self become equally redefined. Lasch argued that since the beginnings of the 20th century in the west, there has been a collapse of public and family life, a gradual diminution of traditional relationships in communities along with an increase in the atomisation of the individual. This in turn led to a culture of competitive individualism, and to the "intensified pursuit of personal pleasure by individuals who have less identity than ever before."

Lasch further claimed that this new narcissism, thoroughly mediated via everyday technologies, established the conditions for the creation of artificial, invented communities in which the "individual becomes a discontented spectator on his or her own life, engaged in strategies of manipulation and control directed toward the self and others alike."

Feenberg added his own observations about this redefinition of identity, "The computerisation of the human self-image places the subject now in the position of programmed device, now in the position of programmer."2. Written over two decades ago, these observations from Lasch and Feenberg appear eerily prescient when it comes to viewing how Chris Howlett utilises the ubiquitous technologies of everyday life to reflect on their role in shaping our social, political and cultural lives.

Certainly the potential of the Internet to open up new potentials for political and social discourse would seem to part of the 'reconstruction and democratisation of technology 'that Feenberg hoped for. However on another level, the unprecedented reach of technological connectedness that on-line life and instant communication delivers into all aspects of social, family and work environments has also further reconfigured the boundaries between those relationships. The pressure is on to be available 24/7, to be constantly connected, to not be outside of the loop. Work becomes play becomes work, private and public lives become conflated and confused into a complex array of real and virtual spaces. Yet our desire for even more advanced levels of connectivity to the noise of the world appears unabated.

Boxcopy Multimedia Art Asia Pacific aass