Mediamatic Magazine vol 6 #1 Arthur Kroker, Marilouise Kroker 1 Jan 1991

The Virtual World

April 8, 1991, the ICA in London: it is the beginning of a two-day conference on culture and technology. When we enter the hall, Madonna-sounds come rolling towards us. This would seem to be Arthur and Marilouise Kroker’s opening speech. Together, they form the theorist couple, known, among other things, for publications such as The Postmodern Scene, Panic Encyclopaedia and The Hysterical Male .


The Virtual World - Artikel Mediamatic Magazine vol. 6 # 1

It soon becomes apparent that this is not your usual academic lecture being dished up here, but genuine rap. The Krokers present us with an act which literally makes the notions dance. The entire vocabulary of contemporary philosophy is being shaken up, so that subject and presentation melt together beautifully. Panic is not only the issue – the post – thinkers also resort to creating some. Are we talking about the era of simulation? Then now’s the time to start parroting ourselves! Kroker & Kroker play a sound tape of their discourse, trying to keep up, in the hall, with the murderous pace of their studio voices spouting the hysterical notes of their theory. The sampled knowledge baffles the audience. Reflection is being intensified. From now on, Contemplation can also have physical effects, and reach our brains through bass drones.

From the 12-inch version made available to Mediamatic , We present the following sample on art becoming virtual.

Maybe not just sampler music, and the sampler self, but the transformation of the world into a sampler machine: a digital world of flashing memory impulses which take up no space because they are only empty quanta of memory residues. The cold chill of the screen with back-lit personalities. Here there is no politics and no culture either, but only the suddenly dispersed flow of cybernetic pulses. A strange new world populated by chip personalities where power mutates into information, and information seeks its own moment of exterminism. Not a violent world, but cold and seductive. And not a speeded-up world, but deeply inertial, and slowed down, as everything moves past the speed of light to the ecstatic implosion of the exterminism of information.

Like George Bush's virtual world: his 'new world order' which as Paul Virilio says in Pure War organizes life into a permanent preparation for war -
a threefold logic of strategy, tactics and logistics. A war machine. which like in the Gulf war, speaks in the name of biology: cutting off the barin (Baghdad) from the nerve endings (Kuwait) or as one General said: First we cut it off, then we kill it. Here, just as Foucault predicted in The History of Sexuality , technology no longer speaks in the language of mechanics, but inscribes itself in the language of the preservation of the species: a teleonomic language which has finally acquired organicity: presenting itself in the therapeutic terms of 'cleansing the Mideast of contaminants'.

Not a hot war either, but a new form of cold war. A virtual war fought, almost in its entirety, with cruise missiles which are heat seeking, but which themselves give off no traces of heat; seen not with normal ocular vision, but with optical scanners which magnify star light from the cold depths of outer space; filled with surgically green images of laser guided missiles with fighter pilots themselves telematic spectators to their own acts of destruction. A scopophiliac war fought without depth, but always on the surfaces of the screen and the network, and always under the sign of the ecstasy of catastrophe. Or as Nietzsche has said: Truth is dead; everything is permitted.

And not a war of association, but something radically different. What the American psychologist, Robert Jay Lifton, has said is the first war typified by the generalized neurosis of disassociation - radical distancing - between the anachronic TV viewers and the material consequences of all those bombing runs. The mental disassociation of weapons from their virtual operations, jet fighter pilots who were reported flying into combat listening to heavy metal music,
with Van Halen as the band of choice. Second, the disassociation of the dark and missing matter of the TV audience from the materiaI history of the war: an informational war which is presented as one of no political history, no casualties, only fascinating video games of laser- guided bombs. An image disassociation between war and history which can be so complete that even cruised missiles are now boring: 3 MACH is too slow, the army has to think up new media ruses to reawaken interest in always censored media reports. The big semiological problem, then, of reenchanting the seduction of the simulacrum in the desert.

The worlds first purely designer war: a promotional war machine which scripts the whole metastasis of violence as an advertising campaign for the technological invincibility, and thus political necessity, of the new world disorder. Here, technology and art combine in what the leaders of the war machine call the 'operational arts': that is, the war machine as a spectacular production of pure aesthetics . A 'logistics of perception' to such a degree of intensity and violence, that the virtual language of the war machine becomes the culture of everyday life. Not just the operational arts, but also operational subjects, operational thought, operational bodies and operational culture. The violent totality of virtual reality, which also has a dark and missing side: the side of disappeared subjects, disappeared art, disappeared negative thought. Becoming virtual, then, as the dominant language of hyper- modernism.

How should virtual art, which resists colonization by the society of operations, maintain a critical perspective. That’s easy. By becoming counterfeit. Becoming counterfeit? That's a cultural strategy for understanding technology where art actually becomes its object of critique to such a degree of intensity that technology implodes, thereby revealing its inner semiurgical rules. To understand the mediascape as simulation, art must be a simulacrum. To understand virtual reality, art must be virtual. To understand cultural icons, art must be iconic. To understand aesthetics, art must be purely technological. An operational art with a memory of a human possibility that does not yet exist. To tell the truth, virtual art has always been a simulacrum, a perfect counterfeit. That is the secret of its fatal destiny, and the promise of its aesthetic seduction. Here, virtual art only succeeds to the extent that it compels the disappearing order of the real- real subjects, real sex, real space – to vanish into a virtual world of perspectival simulacra. Virtual Art, then, as an enchanted simulation of trompe-I’oeil.

To speak of virtual art as becoming counterfeit is to tease out the hidden meaning of the seduction of art. For at the centre of art is a fatal sign-slide, a violent principle of imminent reversibility, where the opposing poles - figuration/ simulation, territorialization of the code/ reterritorialization of the referent - flip into one another, and suddenly vanish. An alchemy of sign mutations. Not so much any longer art authenticity/art forgery as competitors in a great modernist tableau, but as key signs of hyper-modern art. A virtual art which is lived at the edge of a proto-surrealistic tension between the real counterfeit (that’s the vanishing reality - principle) and the counterfeit (art as a second and third order of simulation). Just like Deleuze and Guattari said in A Thousand Plateaus, that at the centre of things is a seductive space of sacrificial violence - breakdowns/breakthroughs, paranoiac investments/ schizoid flows. A degree-zero point of
sacrificial violence where the counterfeit in art only
works to obscure the function of virtual art today as a
desperate way of reenchanting the dying energies of
counterfeit reality. The strategy of art as counterfeit, then, as a faithful aesthetic reproduction of already
second-order simulacra as if to indicate that in virtual
reality only mimesis counts. Consequently, becoming counterfeit as a perfect act of cultural critique -
artistic mimesis - for a society where serial reproduction is the basis strategy of the counterfeit real.

But anyway, as one theorist has put it: Why should we talk when we communicatie so well. Art can know virtual reality so well because art has always been virtual. Art has always been about an aesthetic remapping of experience. That’s why art today is neither about technology as predator nor technology as victim, but as a minotaur-figure: simultaneously the aesthetic language of the 'operational arts' of the war machine, but also the language of the 'counterfeit arts' - sampler music, scratch video - which liberate us. Art, then, as a degree- zero point of struggle between two opposing tendencies of the virtual world of cyber-technology: the operational arts against the counterfeit arts. The counterfeit arts? That’s art as a critical probe of technological society. Art as all about:

Becoming virtual so as to undermine the operational arts.
Becoming scratch so as to rupture the smooth and unbroken surface of simulation.
Becoming digital to as to overwhelm the modernist recite of sound by laying down 400 tracks of music.
Becoming sampler so as to colonize from within the dominant Icons of culture, and then to distort them.
Becoming authentic, then, by becoming virtual: a shamanistic art which wears the mask of technology in order to to dispel its demonic presence as an operational art.