The machinic city investigates the role of performance art to help us reflect on contemporary urban living, as human and machine agency become increasingly intermingled and digital media is overlaid onto the urban fabric. This is illustrated by several case studies on performance art interventions from artists such as Blast Theory, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Rimini Protokoll, which draw from a rich history of avant-garde art movements to create spaces for deliberation and reflection on urban life and to speculate on its future. As cities are increasingly controlled by autonomous processes mediated by technical machines, the performative potential of the aesthetic machine is analysed, as it assembles with media, Capitalist, human and urban machines. The aesthetic machine of performance art in urban space is analysed through its different – design, city and technology actants. This unveils the unpredictable nature and emerging potential of performance art as it unfolds in the machinic city, which consists of assemblages of efficient and not-so-efficient machines. The machinic city pays particular attention to participation, describing how digitally mediated performance art interventions in urban space foreground different modes of subjectivity emerging from human and machine hybrids. This highlights the importance of dissensus as a constitutive factor of urban life and as a means of countering machinist determinism in present and future conceptualisations of city life.
mysterious. From this point onwards, you are engaged in a narrative that will challenge your perception of the city and how you interact with it (and within it) through a digitally mediated narrative conveyed to your mobile phone. The following section is a description of my experience as a participant in BlastTheory’s performance art project A Machine To See With , which took place during the Brighton Digital Festival in September 2011. The extracts that follow are part of the script (BlastTheory, 2011a ) that was specifically adapted for Brighton’s urban space and
, performance art projects have to avoid futuristic clichés, technologically deterministic narratives and prescriptive outcomes. They must also take into account all the machines that, assembled together, define the current urban landscape but also hint at how this landscape might evolve in the future.
The aesthetic machine of performance art is particularly efficient as a testbed for forthcoming technological assemblages and to speculate on their future agency, foregrounding technical issues and their participatory outcomes. For example, after BlastTheory encountered
cinema commission awarded to BlastTheory from three cultural institutions across the United States and Canada: ZERO1: The Art and Technology Network (San Jose, United States), the Banff New Media Institute at the Banff Centre (Banff, Canada) and the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Initiative (Park City, United States). The commission organised an international competition with an open call for submissions in 2009, which aimed to ‘[bring] attention to narratives of place and space and [seek] new forms of description and experience’ (ZERO1 San Jose Biennial, 2010
subjective interpretation of participants.
In Chapter 2 I described how A Machine To See With emerged from a locative cinema commission, and how BlastTheory realised at an early stage that the cinematic experience that the commission sought could be achieved without a screen. This in turn enabled participants to perform the role of the cinematographer and the editor, filming with their own eyes while simultaneously interpreting the narrative and the surrounding urban environment as they participated in the event. As in Vertov’s device of the kino-eye in Man With
performance art as an approach to reflecting on urban life is to present case studies upfront, and subsequently analyse them through a theoretical framework that combines philosophy, performance, media and urban studies. Some of the case studies that I present have been the subject of my ethnographic research described above, but I also include other relevant projects that I was unable to experience in person. In Chapter 1 , I describe my experience as a participant in BlastTheory’s A Machine To See With , to reflect on the participatory potential of performance art. My
machine (including BlastTheory’s custom state machine, remote servers and the participants’ mobile phones); and the human-machine (including artists, participants and bystanders). In this chapter I analyse these machines towards understanding how they assemble with each other and with the aesthetic machine. In this assemblage, the aim is to understand how the rhythms of the technical machine can cater to the non-mechanical and unstable rhythms of human social interaction, as Mumford ( 1934 : 367) states: ‘The problem of integrating the machine in society is not merely
, playful, and so on. For example, as I discussed earlier, participants in A Machine To See With engaged with the narrative in many different ways, by playing it as a game, emotionally engaging with its narrative or simply through a more critical and detached form of participation while trying to understand the mechanics and objectives of the performance. Regardless of BlastTheory’s aim to generate reflection on the main themes behind A Machine To See With (tyranny of consumption, financial crisis and cinema), the level of participant awareness of these themes varied
Representation and the real in the twentieth-century avant-gardes
‘simulated’ where the self ’s identity might
be found’ (Tomlin, 2004: 500). From BlastTheory’s performance of
Something American (1996) to Mark Ravenhill’s dramatic playtext, Faust:
Faust is Dead (1997) theatre was repositioning ‘the real’ as a subjective
and self-constructed fiction.
The scepticism of the real that was prevalent up to and throughout
the period of this study does hold real problems for the question of
legitimation. Compounding the implications of Baudrillard’s theories for
new work in the 1980s, 1990s and beyond was the steadily rising influence