Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking.
By Tatiana Bazzichelli
Table of Contents
The Introduction presents the main topics and problems. What the book reflects about is described, as well as the main objectives and theoretical standpoints.
The departure point for this book is the following question: what happens when the coexistence of oppositions, in art, hacktivism and the business of social networking, becomes a layer of mutual interferences? The analysis of the mutual feedback loop between hackers, artists and business in the nodes of social networks, implies rethinking cooptation as a process so as to understand social change as well.
CHAPTER 1: Disrupting Business
The departure point of this chapter is the assumption that, on the one hand, networking grassroots communities of hackers and artists have served to accelerate capitalism since the emergence of digital culture and cyber-utopias; on the other hand, they have also served to strengthen antagonism against it, by generating critical artistic practices and hacktivist interventions based on technologies and methodologies of sharing and networking. Such mutual disruption and coexisting oppositions between art, business and networking, shows how hackers and artists have been both active agents of business innovation as well as those undermining it. In this chapter the analysis of disruption as a critical framework, and disruptive business as an artistic strategy, become a means for introducing immanent practices of hackers, artists, networkers and entrepreneurs. The concept of business is questioned by its etymology, and from an ethical point of view. The aim is not to create an historical or philosophical analysis of social and artistic practices, but to reflect on different modalities of generating criticism, shedding light on contradictions and ambiguities both in capitalistic logic and in art and hacktivist strategies, while rethinking oppositional practices in the context of social networking. A reflection on the meaning of disruption in the framework of Web 2.0, becomes a challenge to discuss a new perspective on art and criticism. In Bazzichelli’s analysis, art intertwines with disruption beyond symmetric oppositions or radical ruptures, leading to a discovery of a subliminal and distributed strategy, which grows from within the capitalistic structure. By describing the practices of hackers and artists who work within business, Bazzichelli proposes to approach the research subject by working within it. While conducting research on distributed networks, she traces a network of actors who directly engage with hacktivism, art and social networking. Such network highlights the mutual interferences and disruptive loops, which exist between art and business, and by exposing such contradictions, it hijacks the logic of business itself, by operating disruption from within.
CHAPTER 2: Social Networking Out of the Box
The current meaning of openness, and the rhetoric of decentralisation, freedom and exchange in social media, cannot be fully understood without tracing back the practice of networking in the hacker and underground artistic contexts over the past decades. The second chapter proposes to analyse the roots of social networking based on both analogue and digital networked art, showing that the current artistic challenge of the Web 2.0 platforms lies in the invention of new courses of action, new content and new technologies developed by grassroots communities. The point of departure is to investigate the meaning of social networking over the past decades so as to be able to understand the phenomenon today. In Bazzichelli’s analysis, social networking is seen as a practice of community creation, towards the imagination of common spaces of intervention – and identity identification – where symbols, myths and memes are shared. To analyse social networking as a practice of collectively developing shared symbols and mythologies, Bazzichelli describes the genesis and the creation of a number of grassroots artistic networks between the Eighties and the Nineties, across both Europe and the US. A common thread connects the network of mail art, Neoism, Luther Blissett, The Church of the SubGenius and more recently, in the era of Web 2.0, the Anna Adamolo experience and the Anonymous entity, which Bazzichelli analyses as case studies in chapters two and three. The challenge once again becomes to imagine possible routes for political and artistic intervention which are not based on radical clashes of opposite forces, but on the subliminal, ironic and multi-angled art of disruption. Artists and hackers adopt viral and flexible strategies, as does contemporary networking business, and by provoking contradictions, paradoxes and incongruities, business logic is détourned. Bazzichelli argues that such practices of disruption have been “social networks out of the box”, therefore generating viral practices, strategies of networking and “radical play”, both online and offline.
CHAPTER 3: When Art Goes Disruptive
Second, third and fifth chapters are connected by selecting specific case studies which work on the concept of disruption rather than opposition. The “openness” of social networking in these cases means to share a practical underground philosophy, which works towards assembling multiple contradicting definitions of itself, operating collaborative pranks, paradoxes, plagiarism and fakes, questioning social and cultural categorisation and bureaucratic systems. A similar disruptive attitude can be applied in the business of social networking or in the framework of Web 2.0. The case of the Anna Adamolo fictional identity (Italy, 2008-2009) demonstrates how to conceive of strategies of political and artistic criticism to apply during demonstrations and strikes; we find the same idea of the un-representability of unidentified individuals, even if in a different context and through different methods, in the Anonymous entity, which Bazzichelli describes as a strategy to generate disruption through the Internet in this chapter. They emerge from inside the capitalistic machine, acting through its cracks and interstices. This perspective calls for a reformulation of the idea of an encapsulation of radical values by business, highlighting the mutual disruption of the hacker principles of openness and collaboration and the business logic of social networking. Building on the analysis of non-hegemonic practices and the logic of affinity by Richard J. F. Day in the book Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements (2005), Bazzichelli proposes an analysis of projects that challenge the notion of power and hegemony, and the battle for dominance, generating distributed, decentralised and fluid networking practices.
CHAPTER 4: Common Participation and Networking Enterprises
Chapter 4 focuses on the libertarian tradition of American counterculture, and the analysis of the intersection between business and an anti-hegemonic critique of the establishment. This perspective calls for a reformulation of the idea of an encapsulation of radical values by business, highlighting the mutual disruption of the hacker principles of openness and collaboration and the business logic of social networking. Exploring the business strategy of creating a large network of engaged users to produce revenue, Bazzichelli draws on the analysis of the aesthetics of the masses realised by Siegfried Kracauer and of the art in the age of mechanical reproduction by Walter Benjamin. She argues that in the era of social media, we are facing a progressive aesthetisation of networking practices leading to a progressive commercialisation of web-based contexts of sharing and social relationships. Such a process is emphasised by an analysis of crowdsourcing as a networked strategy of revenue, and by the description of the Burning Man festival as a platform designed to legitimate and shape business strategies based on exchange and participation. Inspired by Fred Turner’s paper “Burning Man at Google” (2009), Bazzichelli proposes to consider Burning Man as a metaphor of a social network in which all the participants contribute for free in the creation of a shared common, but in which the owners receive the final revenues.
CHAPTER 5: The Art of Disruptive Business
Chapter five is conceptually linked to chapter three in the analysis of disruptive case studies. Here, Tatiana Bazzichelli proposes the notion of the Art of Disruptive Business, suggesting possible strategies for artistic intervention, where incongruities and paradoxes can be experimented. The challenge is to frame contradictions without resolving them through an encompassing synthesis, describing artistic and hacker projects in which disruption is expressed through the interference with business. Referring to the analysis of the Avant-gardes undertaken by Stevphen Shukaitis in the book Imaginal Machines (2009), and by Franco Berardi in After the Future (2011), Bazzichelli claims that the rise of practices of radical thinking and social change in the experimental art context has been a source of innovation for capitalism, and at the same time, a way of disrupting it. Being aware of these conceptual tensions inherent in business logic, my suggestion is once again to play with this logic, to expose its contradictions and limits. Two case studies described in the last chapter follow this perspective: the Facebook interventions Seppukoo by Les Liens Invisibles (2009) and Face to Facebook by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico (2011). Both these projects, even while adopting different strategies, are a reflection on the tension between the open and closed nature of social media, stressing the limits of Facebook’s platform, and working on unpredictable consequences generated by a disruptive use of it. Finally, the proposal of an alternative to capitalism by working within capitalistic logic is suggested by the notion of Venture Communism developed by Dmytri Kleiner and the Telekommunisten collective.
In conclusion, what were once marginal practices of networking in underground hacker and artistic contexts have in recent years become a core business for many Web 2.0 companies. The increasing commercialisation of sharing and networking contexts is transforming the meaning of art and that of business. This book proposes both to expose and to dissipate this tension through a network of multiple, distributed, playful and disruptive practices. The challenge facing the art of disruptive business becomes to rethink oppositional hacktivist and artistic strategies within the framework of social networking.