Nostalgic Technologies: Multitasking with Clouds

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Vilem Flusser, an exemplary twentieth-century philosopher of photography, wrote that a photographer is not a “Homo Faber” but a “Homo Ludens,” and a trickster.

In his words, the photographer’s freedom lies in “playing against the camera”. This might be “the only form of revolution left to us”.

“Communication error!” screams the disgruntled voice of my used and abused computer. For me, not only the act of photographing but also of making individual prints has to be a mini-performance of intervention and imperfection. I interrupt my printer, all its prerecorded lamentations notwithstanding, and pull the photographs prematurely, leaving the lines of passages and blotches of transgressive colours. This “human error” makes each print unrepeatable and uniquely imperfect. A disruptive touch defies the understanding of photography as an art of mechanical or digital reproduction. The process is not Luddite but ludic, not destructive but experimental. Each work is a fragment. An error has an aura.

My project, Nostalgic Technologies, mobilises the tension between those two words. While I might have grown up in the dark ages of the Cold War, known now as “the culture of analogue,” I am not homesick for the off-red colours of the GDR Kodak film of 1970s and 80s. If there is a longing for anything, it is not for the analogic mode of picture-taking but for the critique of the technological apparatus that accompanied it. In our age of digital techno-utopianism a playful and occasionally revolutionary technique of reflective judgment is often treated as if it were an obsolete technological function.

Techne, after all, once referred to arts, crafts and techniques. Both art and technology were imagined as the forms of human prosthesis, the missing limbs, imaginary or physical extensions of the human space. Avant-garde artists and critics used the word ‘technique’ to mean an estranging device of art that lay bare the medium and made us see the world anew. If artistic technique revealed the mechanisms of conscience, the technological special effect domesticates the illusions and manipulations. Artistic techniques follow zigzag movements between dreams and hopes of the improbable future, and of the unexplored potentials of the past. Perhaps we don’t have to throw out the baby of critical play together with the basket of analogue technology. We can smuggle it into the digital culture with a magic touch and a sly of the hand.

During my art practice of “playing with the camera” and occasionally with my printer as well, I came up with the conception of the off-modern as a third-way of thinking about technology, technique, trace and error. It focuses on the anxieties, as well as the unforeseen potentials of the present, rather than the clear oppositions between analogical and digital technologies. Instead of fast-changing prepositions—“post”, “anti”, “neo”, “trans”, and “sub”—that suggest an implacable movement forward, against or beyond, in my art practice I propose to go off: “Off” as in “off quilter”, “off Broadway”, “off the path”, or “way off”, “off-brand”, “off the wall” and occasionally ‘off-colour’. Off-modern is a detour into the unexplored potentials of the modern project. It proposes to brush history against the grain, to quote Walter Benjamin, and venture into the side-alleys of technology, while at the same time engaging with chance encounters in our decaying material world.

My global photographic errands go together with technological errors that capture a manual labor of memory and a “personal” touch that imprints on the images like a disruptive signature. Modern architecture in partial ruins coming mostly from the boundaries of Europe—East and West reveals uneven modernities and histories out of synch. While working in the former war zones in the former Yugoslavia, I didn’t want to be another “disaster tourist” (as the locals call the traumaphilic foreign visitors). Instead of focusing on the spectacle of destruction, I reflected on the art of everyday survival. A once-shelled building in Sarajevo with wounds and scratches on its façade has been inhabited again and now the satellite dishes spread out of its ruined balconies like desert flowers.

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