Giaco Schiesser

Connectivity, Heterogeneity and Distortions – Productive Forces for our Times

The xxxxx connective force attack: open way to the public project of
Knowbotic Research +cf (KRcF)

Published in: AUSSENDIENST - Kunstprojekte in öffentlichen Räumen Hamburgs. Deutsch / Englisch. Hrsg. von Achim Könneke und Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen im Auftrag der Kulturbehörde Hamburg. Freiburg: Modo 2002, S. 237-241.

                   It is of crucial importance that one sensitizes oneself to the weaknesses of interfaces and to the potential forces they contain. One goal consists in identifying them and transforming them into tendential forces that can, sooner or later, become effective.
Knowbotic Research, 1998

‘How to crack it!’ was the information and encouragement the computer magazine PC Online offered to readers in issue 10/2000, followed by precise instructions on how to take part in the boldly announced scheme: ‘The CD supplied with this issue contains the password-cracker software you need to participate. After installing the program, dial into the Internet, where you can start to attack the Hamburg server and join in the hacker spectacular.’ Behind the journalistic hype lies xxxxx connective force attack: open way to the public (, the latest project of Knowbotic Research +cf (KRcF), the artists’ group whose highly original and ambitious projects persistently working on and with the unpredictable medium of electronic networks were included in major international exhibitions (such as the Venice Biennale 1999, Austrian pavilion) and won several awards in recent years (ZKM Media Art Award 2000, 1997 Wilhelm-August-Seelig Prize of the Lehmbruck Museum, 1993 and 1998 Golden Nica at the Ars Electronica).

Realized in collaboration with the Hamburg Kunstverein and the Hamburg Transport Authority (HHA), xxxxx connective force attack: open way to the public is – like IO_dencies (1997-99, four projects so far) – an urban system of action designed for working through the various conditions and potentials of a mediatized public domain. The new project (with xxxxx in the title representing a user interface’s standard presentation of an entered password) addresses the issues of insecure data networks, paranoia about hackers, privacy, electronic identities – all themes at present the subject of heated political, cultural and public debate. However, even before the launch of xxxxx connective force attack: open way to the public the issues of security, electronic ID and paranoia about hackers had already caught up with KRcF. The project originally foresaw the mass distribution of free software that would invite Internet users to join forces in cracking (‘brute force attack’) an Internet server in Hamburg in order to infiltrate the city’s public information system 'Infoscreen'. Three times daily via mobile and ISDN networks, the information entered by the trespassers was to be transferred uncensored to the screens of the some thousand monitors installed in Hamburg’s tube trains. Hacking and the controversies surrounding privacy, the public domain and data security would have been brought closer – metaphorically and literally – to some 800,000 passengers a week. In the middle of the planning phase, Infoscreen (the operator of the municipal information system) got cold feet, fearing that neo-Nazis would hack and abuse the system. KRcF and the transport authorities then settled on the project now realized. It foresees the deployment of ‘brute force attacks’ based on algorithmic data-descrambling strategies in order to gain access to an Internet server. The software allows participants to get together in a chat environment and so heighten the efficiency of the attacks. The goal is to infiltrate an information medium and/or territory, to allocate a new password to a purpose-created, password-protected intranet area and occupy it with new content – until the next group cracks the password, alters it, and either adds its own comments to the preceding group’s content, or else deletes it or overwrite it. The available quantity of time and computer power decides whether, how and when a group succeeds in cracking a password. In other words, a brute force attack’s chance of success is directly dependent on the connective efficiency – the number of people who use the Internet to channel and join up their PCs to form a distributed, shared unit of action. Any new content generated is simultaneously displayed in a public location without being censored, namely on the large-scale data display in the ‘Jungfernsteig’ station, where it remains visible round-the-clock.

Connective Interfaces: Power Stations for Collaborative Action

Since embarking on their artistic activities in 1991, Knowbotic Research, who are currently engaged in teaching and research at the Department New Media of the University of Art and Design in Zurich, have been experimenting in exemplary fashion with the complex interfaces made possible by digital technologies and electronic networks. KrcF ‘construct action models in translocal network environments, develop connective interfaces and test their efficiency in various cultural contexts’ (Broeckmann 2000b, p. 62). From IO_dencies onward, KRcF have focused their artistic media practice on the search for potentially new, altered forms of social and political action and on the production of the necessary platforms, namely socially effective interfaces for collaborative action. In the emergent ‘information society’, such connective interfaces are increasingly proving to be crucial strategic locations for generating a new ‘lively public sphere’ (Alexander Kluge). The project xxxxx connective force attack: open way to the public slots into the KrcF tradition thematically as well as conceptually, since from the outset the group have -- partly by intention, partly by intuition -- been working through central strategic fields of ‘digital capitalism’ (Peter Glotz, Dan Schiller) such as connective agency, public spheres and immaterial labour. (1)

Connectivity, connective interfaces and connective action are central to electronic networks. As communication machines characterized by the possibility of translocally and transtemporally linking up individual and group subjects, electronic networks can be seen as ‘a social field of forces in which utterances, actions and strategic movements lead to a constant transformation of the vectors, concentrations and dispersions. Technical apparatus and sociopolitical structures are inscribed in equal measure into this dispositive.’ (Broeckmann 2000a, p. 215). >From the outset, therefore, KRcF examined and made use of connective action (2) as a form of agency within translocal machinic environments. The agency of individuals and groups with and through networks is structurally co-determined by the unpredictability of machinic networks, and in consequence becomes more open, heterogeneous and unstable, yet at the same time more flexible, surprising and situatively precise. Ultimately, this makes such agency today more effective than the conventional individual or collective action we are familiar with from other contexts such as politics or the arts.
In xxxxx connective force attack: open way to the public and the preceding IO-dencies projects, the territory demarcated by the cornerstones of city, public spheres and electronic networks is intended to facilitate collaborative experience in which although the actions of the users are reciprocal (and in the latest project are presented to a wider audience on the tube-train monitors), the primary focus still lies on the resultant actions of subgroups and on the direct effects of their agency on the actions of other subgroups. This brings into the foreground the latest ‘structural transformation of the public sphere’ (Jürgen Habermas), a transformation that could make possible a new type of lively public sphere in, and due to, these electronic networks (3). It is a type that stands in opposition to the public sphere Jürgen Habermas sees as ‘commercialized’ and ‘manipulated’ and ‘power-ridden’, and Alexander Kluge terms ‘bureaucratized’. The connective interfaces taken into account by KRcF are ‘potential sources of friction, fault lines and areas with room for manoeuvre for connective action’, in which ‘the individual [or group, GS] constructions are continuously developed further and re-animated by other participants’ (Broeckmann 2000a, p. 60). For the users, they are temporal ‘identity zones, zones of intense relationships and tensions’ (Broeckmann 2000a, p. 58), the permanent ‘distortions’ (KRcF 2000, p. 71) occurring within these zones prevent any comfortable settling-in of the participants and by way of conflicts, ruptures and separations advance the progress of their activities. The subgroups function as fluid, alternately compacting, rejecting and sub-dividing forces of individual actions. In xxxxx connective force attack: open way to the public it is significant that KRcF for the first time open up to a wider, non-specialized group of recipients the experimental interfaces that in IO_dencies were developed for experts or closed user circles. The project xxxxx connective force attack: open way to the public targets a Net surfing audience such as to be found among the staff of ad agencies, for instance, and specifically not hardcore hackers (4). The new strategy of distributing the crack software on a CD-ROM supplied with PC Online (print run: 60,000), with a further 10,000 free copies being offered in dispensers put up in 20 transport information centres in Hamburg's tube stations, appears to be a logical consequence.

Immaterial Labour and the Wilful Obstinacy of the Subjects

The concept of ‘immaterial labour’ was coined in the circles of the Italian Postoperaists (Maurizio Lazzarato, Toni Negri, et al.) (5). With it, the authors try to comprehend a type of work which, new in economic and cultural terms, is typical of the contemporary post-Fordist regime of accumulation. The core questions relate to the new constitution of labour, for which the ‘informational aspect’ is becoming crucial, along with that of the construction, mentality and self-locatedness of post-Fordist subjects. Contemporary digital capitalism demands for the most part working subjects who are ‘rich in knowledge’ and, as agile ‘active subjects’, are highly capable of ‘initiating or even directing productive cooperations’ (Lazzarato 1998, p.42 et seq.) The ‘commodification’ – the becoming-merchandise of many hitherto uncapitalized areas – observed already in the 1980s by Frederic Jameson and other cultural theorists today also extends to the entire subjectivity of the working individual, to all of his or her creative abilities, and to all of the knowledge acquired by an individual both inside and outside the direct process of work. While the Postoperaists deliver an illuminating analysis of the comprehensive demands made on the new work subjects in the post-Fordist era but are as yet unable to formulate a perspective for action, KRcF have been trying for some time to latch onto the restructuring of the subjects currently in progress, and derive from it an action platform for productive cooperation from the perspective of self-determined, non-local, digitally mediated connective environments (6). In the current political conjuncture, KRcF is concerned with making available to public subareas, by means of ‘constructions of small machines for the engagement with small terrains’ (KRcF 2000, p. 86), action systems for reciprocal interconnection in micro-economies, with creating situatively and temporally limited interfaces that make possible a machinic, conjuncturally defined and gratifying co-action of individuals and groups in always specific and constantly changing compositions (7). From this interconnection of immaterial labour, connective action and individual desire for plural identity thus emerge the outlines of a new, lively public sphere that first becomes possible with, and due to, electronic networks, since the latter’s decisive quality is the ability to ‘bridge the tension between conscious and goal-oriented action and accidental, directionless fields of forces, thus bringing forth new forms of group subjectivization and heterogenization’. As formulated in the KRcF programme of work, the ‘aim would be an open interface that allows a bandwidth of agency between public access, excessive manifestations, connective confrontations and tactical withdrawals’ (KRcF 2000, p. 87). (8)

In Favour of Media Art in Pace with the Times

That such spaces for playing, acting, displaying and participating must be constructed, tested and further developed in a society saturated by power is demonstrated by the project history of xxxxx connective force attack: open way to the public. Let us therefore conclude by considering the experience gathered with the project in Hamburg.
Thanks to the easily operated software, the distribution of the free CD-ROM in a well-known computer magazine and in dispensers in Hamburg’s tube stations, as well as to the direct visual presentation of the program code on the posters of the municipal authorities and in buses and in the booklet supplied with the CD-ROM, KRcF indubitably achieved its goal of reaching a wider audience than that aspired to with the IO-dencies projects. However, two days before the CD-ROM that launched the six-week project (15.9.-28.10.2000) became available, the Info server was cracked by hardcore hackers who filched the protocol, optimized it and then offered it on parallel servers. In compliance with their code of honour, however, they did not lay open their own source codes. These developments might be interpreted as confirmation of the suspicion that advanced action systems of the type supplied by KRcF will in practice be used only by skilled cracks, or alternatively as an indication that networked public subareas can, once established, act with astonishing tactical speed and cunning. Only after the short, intense usage by hackers did the (less plentiful and less prolonged) hacking activities and invasion of the cracking zones by the desired non-professional ‘hackers’ begin. All the same, this finding does not speak against the usage and potential of connective interfaces for wider audiences. On the contrary, it shows how big a step many must take if they want to move forward from the passive membership in a multitude of ‘mass people’, in groups ‘to which one simultaneously belongs’ (Gramsci 1967, p. 130), in order to become situative, temporal and conjuncturally active participants or co-authors.
The hopes of a two-way medium Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin placed in radio in its founding days and, 40 years later, Hans Magnus Enzensberger in television, because technically either medium allowed the recipients to be co-authors and thus enabled a vibrant public sphere, have in retrospect proved to be illusory. To achieve an attitude and public qualities of connective agency solely over the technology of the electronic networks is likely to be possible, in the foreseeable future, only for short periods at a time, and for restricted groups of experts, specialists or targeted participants. The difficulty of achieving even that much is demonstrated by the findings of the IO-dencies projects implemented to date. As an attitude, collaborative cooperation still has little social anchorage. Possibly – and, for those interested in new forms of public qualities, most disturbingly and ironically – precisely Postfordism co-produces en masse these very subjects who recognize for themselves the need for and potential of connective interfaces and collaborative agency, who spot the benefit for their own wilful desires. The converse, however, also applies: without experimental artistic action models that devise, provide and try out connective action in various micro-economies for various subareas of the public, there will be no productive wilful deeds of people (9) in digital capitalism, that most recent of social formations. For media art keeping pace with our times – media art that takes seriously the challenges posed by the medium of ‘electronic networks’ and by the ‘art of life, the greatest of all the arts’ (Brecht) -- the following holds true: Hic Rhodos, hic salta.

Argument, Das, 2000: Immaterielle Arbeit. Nr. 235.
Broeckmann, Andreas, 2000a: Wirksamkeit und konnektives Handeln. Zu den translokalen Konstruktionen von Knowbotic Research +cF. In: Heute ist morgen. Über die Zukunft von Erfahrung und Konstruktion. Hrsg. v. der Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH. Ostfildern: Cantz.
Broeckmann, Andreas, 2000b: Effectiveness and Connective Activity - about the translocal constructions of Konwbotic Research+cF . In: \\international\media\art award 2000. (Abridged English translation of Broeckmann 2000a).
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1) The article by Andreas Broeckmann (abridged English translation Broeckmann 2000b) can be recommended as an introduction to the work of KRcF. It offers a concise description of the group’s artistic work and development as well as of the underlying theoretical framework.
2) The definition of 'action'(Handlung) used in network discourse is derived from the work of the linguist L. S. Vygotsky and the psychologist A. N. Leont'ev in the 1930s. However, the notion of action (‘Handlung’), re-imported into German via the reception of an English readership, narrows by a crucial dimension the notion of ‘Tätigkeit’ (‘activity’) deployed by Leont'ev. Action theory specifically focuses on the object-oriented output of the action, while the comprehensive alteration of the active, acting subject itself that primarily interested Leont’ev as a psychologist is largely unconsidered (cf. Leont’ev 1977). The elaborations on the more comprehensive model of ‘connective activity’ (konnektive Tätigkeit), that replace the model of ‘connective agency’ (konnektive Handlung), must be reserved for a future publication.
3) Initial, more extensive appraisals of this subject are delivered by Maresch 1996 and Fassler and Halbach 1994.
4) Oral information given to the author by Christian Hübler .
5)Negri, who always propagated the term, at the same time criticized it: ‘Naturally, it is nonsense to speak about ”immaterial labour”. Work is always material!’ (quoted after Argument 2000, p. 15). For a differentiating critique of the model of ‘immaterial labour’ and an outline of the political experience that gave rise to the model, see Argument 2000.
6) Explicitly for the first time in IO_Lavoro Immateriale. For a detailed description of this work, see Broeckmann 2000a, p. 228 et seq.
7) Already in the early 1990s, prior to the social breakthrough of electronic networks, Donna Haraway’s feminist experience led her to view the future of political action as consisting in developing relationships and alliances that do not rely on parity in the sense of the actors’ identicalness with themselves and with others but on the creation of networks of ‘conscious coalition, affinities and political affiliations’ (Haraway 1995), that generate collective ability to act, restricted in terms of content and time, ‘situated knowledge’ for ‘eccentric subjects’ (1995, p. 48 and 135).
8) There is no escaping from the dilemma that accordingly – contre coeur – a contribution is being made to the subject constitution and conditioning of post-Fordist working subjects. Michel Foucault and others already demonstrated for the 1968 movement this contradictory process that is simultaneously liberating activity and individual appropriation of skills that are needed for new regimes of accumulation.
9) At this point it would be possible to productively link the connective agency models of KRcF up to the works of Alexander Kluge and Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe.
Working with the different wilful obstinacy of the television medium, Kluge’s analysis of and insistence on ‘history and wilfulness', ‘unheimlichkeit of time’, and ‘learning processes with a deadly outcome' addresses a public-sphere production context similar to that of KRcF. In this context, the recipient becomes a producer possessed of ‘an intellectual tension and a stretching of imaginative activity’ (Kluge, quoted after Deuber-Mankowky and Schiesser 2000, p. 362) and existentially interested in producing ever-new contexts in a process of individual and social change that is uncompletable and always open to the future.
Productive continuations that can be carried out are offered by the discursive ‘theory of the political’ by Laclau and Mouffe, their deliberations on the basic ‘intransparency of society’, on ‘hegemony’ and the associated concepts of the ‘impossibility of society’ and of ‘radical democracy’ (basic information: Laclau 1991; Laclau 1990, Butler, Laclau, Zizek 2000).