Taylor, Claire, and Thea. Pitman. Latin American Identity in Online Cultural Production. Vol. v. 11. Routledge Studies in New Media and Cyberculture ; New York: Routledge, 2013.
Miguel Sicart, Play Matters (MIT Press, 2014), 26.
Franco Berardi, Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility (Verso Books, 2017), 36.
Brown, Wendy. Undoing the demos: Neoliberalism's stealth revolution. Mit Press, 2015.
“A User’s Guide to Detournement (Guy Debord & Gil Wolman).” Accessed January 8, 2019.
“Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation (Situationist International).” Accessed February 5, 2019.
Bogost, Ian. Persuasive games. Vol. 5. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
Campeones de la WWW
This project examines Latin American net.art and its use of playfulness, arguing that at the intersection of Latin America, the art world, and the early internet, playful irrationality undermined the rational-choice, everyone-as-market-actors ideology that underpins neoliberalism. Net.art was a turn-of-the-millennium art movement that took the internet as its primary subject matter and often as its medium. In Latin America, net.artistas grappled with topics ranging from neoliberalism and globalization to developmentalism and mestizaje. While Taylor and Pitman argue that Latin American net.art represents a 'postregional practice', they do not address the radical playfulness of the art or its political significance. The quality of playfulness is not unique to Latin American net.art, but in that context it took on new meaning, becoming a mode of expression for their 'postregional' politics. For now, I'll define playfulness as Miguel Sicart does briefly: an attitude that "projects some of the characteristics of play into the world"– a general disregard for the rules of spaces not intended for play. In the cases examined here, playfulness manifested as twisted irrationality that appropriated and disrupted the spaces in which it operated. Disregard for norms of the internet and of rationality challenged the rational-choice paradigm that underlies neoliberal ideology. Because play is always somewhat autotelic (i.e. exists for its own sake), playfulness contains an implicit critique of market determination of value. Play never exists only for the market, and its use in these works demands that the viewer recognize forms of reason, value decoupled from the market and market rationality.
Berardi claims that the internet emerged into a world defined by chaos, in which "the social organism is behaving like a beheaded body that still retains its physical energies but no longer possesses the ability to steer them in a reasonable direction". This state of irrationality manifested strikingly in the events of 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008, and the election of Trump in 2016, but Berardi argues it began with the onset of neoliberalism, circa 1977. As Brown argues, neoliberalism seeks to subsume all human activity, every aspect of life under "the market". "The market is generalized as a form of reason," she asserts, and rational-choice-theory erases all alternatives to economic rationality. Neoliberalism can not conceive of any logic other than that of the market. This subsumption of humanity to economic reason actually produced a world of increasing instability and irrationality (for us humans at least): looser regulations resulted in increased bubbles and market fluctuations. Parallel to this animating myth of the "homo economicus" and the chaos it created, early tech-capitalists were promising an internet-delivered global utopia. But at the turn of the millennium, Latin America faced the simultaneous (and sometimes contradictory) pressures of neoliberal trade agreements, developmentalism, dot-com capitalism, increasing border security, and so on. The disconnect between rational, utopian public rhetoric and a messy, unstable world was the terrain of the net artist's politics. I see two possible readings of the irrational chaotic net.art I examine: either these are works of documentary that simply record the affective experience of an irrational world, or they are a rhetorical tool undermining neoliberal rationality. I focus on the latter, but I think both readings have merit and are even mutually compatible.
Debord argues that to disrupt rationalist rhetoric, art must go beyond rationality and towards play (though he wrote these before the rise of neoliberalism). The disruptive potential of playfulness allows art to reject economic rationality and render other forms of reason visible. In our contemporary world, none of the aforementioned crises have been resolved; most have arguably worsened. Thus, a study of how net.art undermined market rationality with a playful, global outlook can inform how a future politics might do the same. If Berardi is right and democracy is dead and only a revolutionary mass culture, produced by an ethical awakening of artists and scientists can save us, then perhaps some part of this new mass culture could be informed by these findings. In this thesis I use close-readings of several online artifacts of Latin American net.art to demonstrate that through disruptive playfulness, these works subvert the view of the market as ultimate arbiter of value and ultimate form of reason.
Ian Bogost's theory of procedural rhetoric posits that interactive systems and mechanics (like net.art) can advance a political rhetoric. In addition to Bogost, Miguel Sicart's theories of play and playfulness provide a jumping off point for my close-readings. These cases are presented here in order of increasing closeness to play, but are intended to be read in any order. I begin with an early work by Brian Mackern, error#2, which represents a critical deployment of playful irrationality. It appropriates internet protocol imagery and disrupts the rational browser window to make a direct critique of borders, both physical and cultural. I then turn to the Net.Art Certification Office, an online performance by Mario Garcia Torres and Arcangel Constantini (among others). N.A.C.O. was a sort of dark play– it subverted the already-playful space of the nettime listserv by satirically institutionalizing net.art. The participating artists released a set of rules that they said they would use to "certify" net.artworks. This rationalization of the playful, irrational net.art space exposed the contradictions of increasingly-corporate net.art institutions. Like error#2, it critiqued exclusion, but went a step further by re-rationalizing irrationality as critique where error#2 wielded irrationality as critique. Where error#2 played with the browser, naco played with net.art itself- turning playfulness back on the movement. The final performances I discuss are Arcangel Constantini's cyberwrestling championships. Rather than intentionally presenting a clever critique (as the other two cases), cyberwrestling represents play for its own sake. It subverts neoliberal rationality without any sort of directly legible critique by embracing pure, irrational play. In playing for play itself, it implies an alternative to market rationality: a form of reason grounded in play.
Together these cases demonstrate how different modes of playfulness built on each other to create a distinctly Latin American politics of the online. Furthermore, they illustrate the potential for a politics that refuses to validate market rationality. Neoliberalism derides all forms of rationality other than that of the market as irrational. Reasoned argument about human rights or cultural exclusion means nothing– if an idea can't prove its value in the market, it has none. This is why rational opposition to neoliberalism in art feels so impotent. Such art vocalizes widely agreed-upon criticisms of the dominant economic system without attacking its underlying logic. Only through an abandonment of rationality and an embrace of play can art start to undo the myth of the rational-actor homo economicus and thus open up the potential for other forms of political imagination that are not bound to the market. In the following cases, this destabilization of rationality incorporates local and global experiences of neoliberalism to embody a 'post-regional practice' rooted in play.