A play on GPS tracking technology, Strange Positioning Systems (SPS) looks at the aesthetic, cultural and psychological peculiarities of positioning the self and collective enterprises in a fluid, electronically - dislocated environment. The neighborhood or village of old no longer exists in the immediate vicinity. A crossbred community constructed of local and distant relationships, a variety of virtual spaces, and rapidly adjusted identities, ethnicities and even definitions of what constitutes the boundaries of the organism, now replaces it. We approach this exercise with no delusions that a formal solution exists to settle this state of affairs. Space is warping beyond repair. Ethnic identities are cross-breeding with each other and machines. The future will remain strange. Constant adjustment, a sense of permanent tilting, is de rigueur. We are all using SPS today.
SPS had its incubator inception at ArtSPACE in New Haven, CT but as per its mission, evolving as a “strange system” or temporary environment with feeds from various places in the world and led by a different artist or presenter. One space overlaps another creating a new architecture. Live feeds from other locations are inherent in the event. Each evening is dedicated to the work of one artist and will be presented in a multitude of ways----none following the format of the last. Some evenings are focussed on performance, others animation and others filmmaking. Some will plunge into the mix.
Strange Positioning Systems came about, in part, through several discussions with media artist, Ebon Fisher, whose media rituals in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the 1990’s helped to establish vital channels of communication in that distressed and rapidly evolving neighborhood. Fisher explored a variety of unusual strategies for mixing people and communications technologies and documented these community-based rituals in diagrams of information flow. These diagrams gave rise to symbols of network ethics, Zoacodes, which Fisher has floated in a variety of media, including the Internet and television. One of Fisher’s Zoacodes has served as a basis for the SPS project logo. The text component of that Zoacode is “Behold the Unclear,” a humorous celebration of the vital confusion that seems to run through the veins of the information age.
In my own work, I have investigated the idea of culture as an adornment: culture as a penumbra of expression radiating out from individuals and groups. Ritual and perceptual realities give birth to societies, but are our identities flailing about --self flagellating in the hope of an epiphany? The stock market, a reflector of our gummy state. Now that we are slipping and sliding through the portals of a gluttonous information god, do we still have a sense of self? Where is that “self” positioned, personally, physically, economically, ethnically? Throughout history it would seem that the building of the ego is based in part on carefully cultivated gesture and redundant ritual that hypnotizes, intoxicatest, subdues and in a sense, controls information in-take and circulation.
Where can an ego find a decent resting place to incubate? If everything becomes bound by a constantly expanding and demanding architecture of information that is itself, a contradiction of referential reverence in its obsessive quest for the new that ultimately dissolves into a cacophony of ways to not be seen, to disappear into a hive of systems.
“Strange Positioning Systems” conjures the ecstatic, hallucinogenic oeuvre of Hieronymus Bosch, whose gardens of Earthly delights and torment place the human figure in a Holy Fire of strange positioning. Consider his “St. Anthony” triptych. An affliction know as the “Holy Fire” of the 15th Century, “ignus sacer,” swept across northern Europe, killing 50,000 people in Paris one month alone. People suffered massive hallucinations and began losing their limbs due to gangrenous states. The “ignus sacer” came from the ergot mould found in rye and in the baking process (unbeknownst to its ingestors) was transformed into lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD.
f one knows the origin of the hallucination does it change the hallucination? Does GPS imply the losing of a limb of sorts, losing one’s sense of direction, because there is a deity to do it for us? Is GPS a kind of techno-deity? Watching over us in the heavens while we writhe about on Earth? So now we have GPS tracking systems to direct us. Is GPS our new cyborg limb? Is this the part of evolution where people forget to use their own sense of direction, an autonomic organ of sorts joining the appendix, the coccyx and body hair?
Some of what we are constantly coping with are the changes to our perception of space and the systems we create for that space. This passage comes to mind from Georges Bataille’s description of natural growth and pressure in his book on economics, The Accursed Share.
“If the path is paved with asphalt, it is for a long time sheltered from the pressure. This means that the volume of life possible, assuming that the path were abandoned instead of being covered with asphalt, will not be realized, that the additional energy corresponding to this volume is lost, is dissipated in some way. This pressure cannot be compared to that of a closed boiler. If the space is completely occupied, if there is not outlet anywhere, nothing bursts; but the pressure is there. In a sense, life suffocates within limits that are too close; it aspires in manifold ways to an impossible growth; it releases a steady flow of excess resources, possibly involving large squandering of energy. The limit of growth being reached, life, without being in a closed container, at least enters into ebullition: Without exploding, its extreme exuberance pours out in a movement always bordering on explosion.”
Our strange positioning systems also involve a “large squandering” of evolving identities and contorted, ever-adapting bodies. This is not a passive act of casual observation but a call to mindful witnessing-- observing the unfolding, the twisting, the churning as we prepare to enter a place that is more tightly overgrown, darker, older and stranger.