The question as to what enables us to resist—meaning what enables us to protect ourselves from oppressive logic—is at the heart of the investigation led by Thomas Guillemet and Laurent Lacotte in their “It is urgent that pro_gress pro_grams” exhibit, curated by Indira Béraud. It currently runs at the artistic urban laboratory, as part of the project “50 years later and what?”, organized by Catherine Bay and Svetlana Montua.
Thomas Guillemet’s work questions the impetuous relationship between the body and the digital world. His gaze notably focuses on ways of emancipating ourselves from technology’s grip. On the other hand, Laurent Lacotte strides along cities and the countryside to imbue them with his poetry — a strident echo of current political news but also contemporary solitude. He ambles down the street looking for Hope, he protests alone in public, covers the Statue of Liberty in Nice with a survival blanket. At first, their method might seems dissonant, too far from one another to be united. But the exhibit is at the crossroad of their respective research, as it explores the porous relationship between these two apparent public spheres, the Internet and the street. The artistic intervention aims to exacerbate the duality between the use of these two spheres by political forces and by civil resistance.
Slogans are displayed. They are unavoidable, incisive and are shown in public space (1). They accumulate in the gallery and colonize the mind. Their construction is familiar — they are devoid of meaning and resemble political discourse stuck on repeat. But these words do not belong to politicians. The aforementioned artistic duo has created an algorithm that generates sentences that fit the mood of the spectator. A CCTV at the entrance of the exhibit analyzes the facial expression of visitors: joy, surprise, fear, disgust and anger are the five detectable emotions. Determining the feelings of individuals is crucial in a world where the need for control grows insidiously. “Emotional marketing” is one example that speaks for itself: using tools that belong to the field of neuroscience, the consumer’s expressions are decrypted in order to encourage purchasing. This tool can be transposed to other spheres. For example, we remember the concept of “thought crime” in George Orwell’s 1984 — where any individual can be judged for simply feeling doubt towards the party in power.
This dynamic of surveillance is based on what the body conveys: facial expressions, heart rate, movement and dilation of pupils… A process which could ultimately enable people to determine what affects an individual, what catches his attention and influences his mind. The theorist Yves Citton puts “emotions at the jointure of two precious domains […] attention and memory. (2)” In our current era of information overload, the contained relationship we have with time results in a struggle to capture the attention potential of our mind. The slogans—halfway between political billboards and advertisements—invade the gallery in order to overwhelm the spectator. The slogans fill the space and represent order and discipline.
And so the words are aligned — incoherent but structured. This writing style, which is subject to certain constraints like particular arrangements of linguistic elements and choice of words, is inscribed in the OuLiPo approach. It also uses Cut-up as an inspiration, a fragmenting technique which was tested out by William S. Burroughs. The artificial breaks that punctuate the writing form an inopportune poetry; the ambivalence of language is in the spotlight. What results are sermons with narcotic lyricism, tainted with some humor. Narcotic but efficient. The slogans are composed of carefully chosen language elements — which are borrowed from political discourse. They are efficient because they are objective — or more accurately, because they pretend to be objective. The choice of using Arial, a neutral font, is not trivial. It was installed by default on Windows and was the world’s most used font for a long time. It’s under the mask of anonymity that propaganda works best. And the managerial jargon becomes the core of discourse and establishes itself as evident truth. The use of this vocabulary—which is both a cause and symptom of capital—by public authorities seals its affiliation to the dominating liberal ideology. The advent of companies as management models showcases the powerlessness—but also the complacency—of states faced with the growing power of sprawling multinational corporations. As a consequence to this type of governance and its structural weaknesses, civil forms of resistance are organized.
At the center of the gallery, besieged by this domineering discourse, black masks take center stage, proudly standing. Using salvaged material—baseball helmets, teddy bears stuffing, cables, straps and other things from hardware stores—they are conceived to evade recognition, to hide away from the mechanical eyes that are always open. The metallic armature that surrounds the face hides away the facial expressions and enables the wearer to foil the algorithm. The hidden, deformed and masked faces echo back to the BDSM universe — where submission and domination are at the heart of pleasure. The aesthetics of violence are enhanced, hierarchies are turned upside down and the mask becomes the symbol of the defense of basic freedoms. Used as a protection against tear gas during protests, it is also the accessory used by the activists of Anonymous. Even if the Internet imposed itself in the 90s as a new social space, it hasn’t been able to escape from the current liberal system. This liberating and reformative network—which at first was an anonymous sharing system—has fundamentally changed the way protests are organized. But the most popular platforms today, structured around a “restrained ecology of attention (3)”, are private corporations whose purpose is to gather and exploit every form of singular expression to serve their financial interests. The use of this network nevertheless remains a guarantor of massive mobilization — illustrating the ambiguity of this space. The standing anthropomorphic art pieces seem to encourage an uprising.
— Indira Béraud
Translated by Thomas Alden
(1) The posters were put up in the 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 20th arrondissements of Paris.
(2) Citton, Yves. « Esquisse d’une économie politique des affects » in Yves Citton et Frédéric Lordon, Spinoza et les sciences sociales : de la puissance de la multitude à l’économie des affects, Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, 2008, p. 59.
(3) Stiegler, Bernard. « Chapitre 6. L'attention, entre économie restreinte et individuation collective » in Yves Citton, L'économie de l'attention. Nouvel horizon du capitalisme ?, Paris : Éditions La Découverte, 2014, pp. 121-135.