[-empyre-] pigeons and speed

Timothy Conway Murray tcm1 at cornell.edu
Sat Mar 2 05:24:00 EST 2013

As we wrap up February's discussion of Shani's impact on new media art, I thought I'd share a mention of her that I just came across in an unpublished talk I gave for a City Light Books forum on Paul Virilio a number of years ago.  It's a tribute to the power of her art that these remarks remain so fitting today.  

"What I find curious, if not disheartening, is how the idea of technological culture developed by Virilio bears far too many traces of media paranoia.  This is particularly the case when Virilio discusses information culture, which has developed the sorts of technologies that have been crucial to the kinds of activist interventions made, say, by  Ricardo Dominguez and his Electronic Disturbance Theatre.   .   In speaking with James Der Derian in 1997, Virilio warned that “I think that the infosphere—the sphere of information—is going to impose itself on the geosphere.  We’re going to be living in a reduced world.  The capacity of interactivity is going to reduce the world, real space to nearly nothing.. . . In fact, there is already a speed pollution which reduces the world to nothing.”   

While it is not surprising that Virilio expresses concern about “speed pollution,” we could take the lead from many artists, such as Irvine’s Beatriz da Costa, who has profited from the speed of technological interfaces to map the air pollution streams traced by slow flying pigeons carrying miniature monitoring devices.  In this case, speed pollution itself ends up helping to counter the degrading conditions of the inefficient technologies that pollute the air.  To be fair, it is important to note that Virilio moderates the pessimism of his account of interactive media by acknowledging the importance of tracking its future.  In an interview with me and Gaëten Lamarche Vadel in Sites, the journal of 20th century French Studies, he marvels how “programmed situations make images appear that we wouldn’t have imagined, because they themselves have been subject to modifications linked to the environment that one has created around them.  There you rediscover the accident.  I am an amateur of accident.  I think that the accident is the future form of art.” If accident is the future form of art, it’s ultimate expression will take place, he suggested in the same interview, in the form of passage through which the environment of events consists of an environment of passage."

Thanks so much to everyone who has joined in the conversation this month.

Director, Society for the Humanities
Curator, Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
A. D. White House
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York. 14853

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