Augmentology"...is a concise manual of reality for our digital age."

Mark Hancock,_Augmentology: Interfaccia Tra Due Mondi_

[Sponsored by The Ars Virtua Foundation/CADRE Laboratory for New Media]


…(a Tojolabal, two and a half years old, born during the first Intergalactic) is playing with a little car with no wheels or body. In fact, it appears to me that what Pedrito is playing with is a piece of that wood they call “cork”, but he has told me very decisively that it is a little car and that it is going to Margaritas to pick up passengers…The plane makes a pass over Pedrito’s hut, and he raises the stick and waves it furiously at the war plane. The plane then changes its course and leaves in the direction of its base. Pedrito says “There now” and starts playing once more with his piece of cork, pardon, with his little car. The Sea and I look at each other in silence. We slowly move towards the stick which Pedrito left behind, and we pick it up carefully. We analyze it in great detail. “It’s a stick,” I say. “It is,” the Sea says.

- A story from Subcommandante Marcos retold by Ricardo Dominguez

One of my recent attempts at exploring and establishing liberating spaces between realities is a series of performances called technésexual. In technésexual, myself and Elle Mehrmand (my partner/collaborator) perform erotic acts simultaneously in a geophysical space and virtually in Second Life. Using electrocardiogram heart monitor chest straps, Lilypad temperature sensors and Arduino/Freeduinos, we capture heart rate and body temperature data to transmitt to our avatars in Second Life. These transmissions act to bridge the physical space and the virtual environment via the use of audio. This type of linking is often experienced when having a conversation that involves different, yet connected, physical locations. Technésexual provokes questions concerning the representation of sexualities that lie outside restrictive LGBT/homo/hetero categories: such categories are rooted in binary gender assumptions. The mixing of realities in this project are a way of queering new media which parallels our own experiences of mixing genders and sexualities.

Virtual/Synthetic worlds like Second Life facilitate the development of new identities which allow for (as yet) unimagined relations and relationships. Technésexual looks closely at these new relationships and the potential they embody. There is a flipside to the potentialities inherent in the subversive use of Second Life, one that acknowledges that Linden Labs – the creators of Second Life – are attempting to create a walled garden and permanently lock in users. Similarly, the university is beginning to reveal itself as a self-perpetuating obsolescent institution as sites like aaaaarg.org provide instantly searchable digital texts. Any exclusive expertise involved in pinpointing particular topics becomes obsolete when the process is as simple as using a “find” command. If we can begin to understand the university as “managed death[, ] a machine for administering death, for the proliferation of technologies of death”, the need to remove or modify such institutions becomes urgent.

In a recent panel conversation concerning Alex Rivera (the director of Sleep Dealer), Cauleen Smith noted how science fiction is a genre that promotes critique of extant systems of oppression (including class, race and gender).

Mixed and Augmented Reality could likewise be employed subversively to modify Capitalism through the infiltration of entertainment – this would, in turn, present deep critiques of extant systems of power. In Protocol, Alexander Galloway discusses the need for protocological resistance under global Capitalism, where practical implementations are shown in the occupations of universities and virtual worlds. Second Life creates a desire for a free metaverse. Free Software (such as Open Sim) begins to offer a space beyond Second Life and its tightly controlled reality.

Aimee Mullins proposed in a recent article that:

…the generation of children growing up today has a distinct advantage in this realm of identity, thanks to their daily interaction with the internet and video games. It’s commonplace for them to create avatars and parallel representations of themselves, and they see their ability to change, transform, and augment those bodies to best suit their surroundings as beneficial.”

I would, however, suggest caution rather than pure optimism regarding choices available in identity creation: many of these selections can just as easily reinforce forces of social control as offer an alternatives to them. There is no inherent freedom implied in Reality shifting. In her recent book Simulation and its Discontents, Sherry Turkle describes a 13 year old girl who informed her interacting within SimCity taught her that “raising taxes leads to riots”. What lesson did the girl learn – how to be a better ruler or how to take part in a riot? It isn’t clear. What is clear are the reality cracks opening up in front of us every day. As we proceed to navigate (within) these cracks, we must be prepared to imagine, create and bridge these new realities.

“Yes, the university is a graveyard, but it is also a factory: a
factory of meaning which produces civic life and at the same time
produces social death. A factory which produces the illusion that
meaning and reality can be separated; which everywhere reproduces the
empty reactionary behavior of students based on the values of life
(identity), liberty (electoral politics), and happiness (private
property).”

- Anti-Capital Projects, The Necrosocial

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.
And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will –
we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study
too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . .
and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
- Presidental Aide to George Bush, New York Times

Institutionalized Reality is currently cracking, splitting and multiplying. In the last few days, students across California appear to have transformed from apathetic alienated youth (seemingly in search of a grade and an exit) into a powerful force occupying university buildings cross the state. A few months ago, the University of California seemed an unlikely avenue for genuine social upheaval. The geophysical actions of many in the last few days have substantially altered that.

The student unrest presently occuring at the University of California prompts the question: can the gaps between geophysical and virtual realities actualize as spaces of liberation and transformation? If Augmented Reality is going to manifest simply as a better way to find real estate, then I would say no. However, if people can create uses for Augmented Technologies that move beyond the demands of capital and corporate interests, then maybe so. Projects such as Can You See Me Now (Blast Theory) illustrate how Mixed Reality can unleash latent potential found in urban spaces, as well as operating as distracting forms of entertainment.

Ricardo Dominguez describes some of my recent collaborations as Minor Simulation. One such collaboration between myself, Ricardo Dominguez and Elle Mehrmand is http://ucop.cc, a project that presents hacktivist-modified website copy of the University of California Office of the President. The ucop.cc project was created as a protest against the recent University budget cuts, layoffs and tuition increases (totaling 44 percent this year alone). The main difference between the hacktivist and original websites is that in our version, President Mark Yudof announces a new $0 Tuition program with the tagline “A return to core values – a fresh start”. In an interview with the UCSD Guardian, Dominguez comments on the ucop.cc project: “For at least a moment, the circuit was disrupted. It allowed another possibility to occur — and that’s to reimagine what the university can be.”

The goal of the ucop.cc project was to create a space of disruptive possibility and to use cracks in mainstream understanding of net protocols to present a truly free University of California. Perhaps this can be seen as a way of using the space between “traditional” reality versions, between truth and fiction, and as a way of inspiring action and imagination. Part 3 will offer conclusions regarding using Mixed/Augmented Reality as a strategy for finding and creating liberating spaces.

http://occupyca.wordpress.com/