Persuasive Games p.43
Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics: the Distribution of the Sensible, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Continuum, 2004) 13 (2004). pgs. 32, 41, 107
Latin American Identity in Online Cultural Production p.21
Campeones de la WWW
Methods + Theoretical Background
My argument consists largely of an application of the theories of Sicart, Bogost to the aesthetic analyses proposed by Ranciere, Taylor and Pitman. Though Sicart and Bogost are more often applied in the field of video game studies, their writings on how systems of play represent political forms are invaluable for studying playful, interactive works like net.art.
In Play Matters, Sicart summarizes playfulness:
"Playfulness is a way of engaging with particular contexts and objects that is similar to play but respects the purposes and goals of that object or context"
Sicart goes on to define play as an act of expression that is totally appropriative and self-driven. It interacts with the world outside of the play-space, but maintains its own goals. Consider sports– events rife with political and social signification, but within the specific context of play, those broader implications take a backseat to the actual act of play and the rules that govern it. For example, El Clásico is much more than just a sporting event, but the players themselves are not making arguments for or against Catalonian independence with how they play the game. The game still operates according to the specific rules of soccer– its political significance is held apart from the play itself.
Unlike play, playfulness is not autotelic, it consciously maintains the original purpose of the activity into which it is projected. That is to say, the net.artistas' politics is intentional and integral to the work. For my analysis, I take the internet as the space in which the playfulness manifests. The playfulness in these works maintains the original goal of the internet: communication. So, even though these artworks may seem completely illegible, I argue that their playfulness only alters how the communication unfolds, not whether it occurs. The artists do not ignore politics to play the game, they play with politics in mind.
Bogost's concept of procedural rhetoric provides the language for evaluating systems of interaction can advance certain rhetorical goals. Though I utilize more traditional modes like formal or historical analysis, playfulness often emerges through procedural rhetoric. For each case in my argument, I examine which "rules" (procedures) the piece transgresses or which systems of interaction it implies, and how both construct a political rhetoric.
I argue that these works' emergent political rhetoric represents a 'Rancierian' rupture of predominant modes of interpreting the world that occurs within Taylor and Pitman's 'post-regional' practice. In Distribution of the Sensible, Ranciere argues, "Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it." Art is a mode of doing or making that intervenes in the "general distribution" of ways of doing and making, relationships that govern those, and the (in)visibilities of those various forms. Whatever subversiveness art can claim rests on the intervention it makes in that "general distribution" of the sensible. For these cases, I regard neoliberal rationalization as the distribution of forms that is central to net.art's politics. Net.art represents an attempt at "recasting" those forms, approaching Ranciere's ideal "double-effect" that melds legible political signification with that which refuses signification – "the uncanny". The net.artistas accomplished this effect through playing with the online: consciously breaking conventions of online behavior and creating autotelic modes of interaction. By refusing to take seriously certain ways of speaking or being in the world (i.e. refusing to operate as rational market actors) but presenting (mostly) legible critiques, they created an aesthetic politics that was at once disruptive, legible and irrational. Net.art constructed its own terrain of engagement outside of the normative, rational-choice-informed "ways of doing and making" recognized by neoliberalism.
Taylor and Pitman argue that Latin American net.art works to dismantle conventional (colonial) conceptions of Latin America while engaging with and refiguring ideas of 'Latin-American-ness'. Underscoring the validity of this theory, the artworks discussed here challenge the neoliberal, developmentalist view of Latin America and utopian views of the internet and net.art. One of their foremost goals is to reposition Latin American net.art within its various spheres of influence (i.e. Latin American art, net.art, the art world, etc.). Since the marginalization of Latin American net.art occurred at the confluence of larger forces– marginalization of Latin American art and of net.art itself, internet utopianism, neoliberalism, developmentalism– the art necessarily addressed more than just its own marginalization. Art infused with these overlapping political goals represents what Taylor and Pitman call a 'post-regional' practice. To grapple with the heterogeneous and asymmetrical effects of neoliberalism, the art had to function on multiple geographic scales. This multi-valenced politics has been referred to by net artists (and others) as "glocal"-ness. I apply these theories of post-regionalism and glocality beyond their original scope by examining how and why the "glocal" nature of the work is enabled and shaped by playfulness.
The artworks error#2 and the Net.Art Certification Office are overtly playful– they are political critiques infused with ironic appropriation. They maintain a clear intent to communicate while using playfulness as a rhetorical strategy. On the other hand, Arcangel Constantini's cyberwrestling championships are closer to pure play– they abandon any pretense at communication in favor of wild HTML battles. They blur the line between play and playfulness, creating a critique that is more procedural than the other two. Even though they seem to eschew communication, the battles' total irrationality is still political. The commitment to pure play forces its audience to engage with a form of reason totally decoupled from market rationality. This politics is enacted through the art's production and observation (i.e. its procedures) rather than through its content.
Sicart and Bogost provide the language to discuss the different modes of playfulness present in these works while Ranciere, Taylor and Pitman inform my analysis of the different respective effects the works produce.