Distributed Microtopias Exhibition


Curator's Introduction

Sky of Dubai

Distributed Microtopias | FLEFF 2012

Curator’s Introduction by Dale Hudson

If microtopias ask us to imagine a world of cooperation and harmony, free from constraints and limitations, then distributed microtopias facilitate congregation across borders and firewalls.  They reject the centralized power structures of dystopias from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), embracing rhizomatic movements across nodes.

Flash mobs are an immediately recognizable form of distributed microtopias.  Crowds amass via SMS over cellular networks in order to rage against the machine or simply dance Gangnam Style.  Social interaction through distributed networks can lead to social change in the streets, evident in the utopic beginning of Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009 into the pro-democracy and anti-corruption movements the following year in Tunisia and Egypt that spilled over into Libya, Syria, Yemen, India, and the United States.

Distributed microtopias run across distributed networks like the Internet to provoke and educate from remote locations on a sustainable scale, expand knowledge rather than contain it, invite participation and exploration, and unhinge familiar habits of thinking to envision new possibilities for historical and cultural clarity.  Internet memes are an example of distributed microtopias.  Images and texts created on consumer-grade software by nonprofessionals generate spaces that are public-but-not-entirely-public, depending on “privacy settings.”

Groups of like-minded friends share and exchange thoughts and concerns over the contradictions of contemporary life, such as unparalleled proliferation of memes on the political and legal attacks on women’s rights in the United States during its presidential elections, as other groups petition for acknowledgment that women and children die regularly by U.S. drones sent into Pakistan and Afghanistan in the name of “liberating” women.  These leftwing memes are challenged by rightwing ones, and both are astroturfed by Super PACs in a system that is somehow not legally defined as corrupt.

The dystopia of limited political choice in “democratic” elections, however, encourages new ways of thinking about political organization.  If modern states refuse to distribute wealth and knowledge to all their citizens and continue to shirk the responsibility of treating noncitizens fairly, then social networking sites become distributed spaces for inventing a more equitable future that can spill onto the streets and into the squares.  Although wealth is off-shored into secret accounts in massive amounts, knowledge can be distributed even within the highly controlled spaces of corporate platforms like Google and Facebook.  The distributed microtopias of memes might prompt us to think and act as the world prepares for another global recession in the coming years.

This year’s exhibition for FLEFF  reflects a wide array of the ingenious ways that artist-intellectuals are imagining new ways — and new-media ways — of becoming in the world through the structural and aesthetic properties of digitality that can that transform everyday realities into once-in-a-lifetime possibilities.

Amy Szczepanski and Evan Meaney’s Null_Sets was selected for the jury prize. The piece translates user input of digitized text into algorithmically generated digital images when user click on the command “jpegify.”  Whether a Shakespearean sonnet or an X chromosome, the program renders digitized textual data into digital visual data, pointing to potentials for appropriating and reworking information that is made available to anyone with uncensored access to the open-access (or nearly open-access) digital libraries that embody aspects of the cyberutopian dreams of the mid 1990s when military technologies like the internet were opened to civilian use.

Ezra Wube’s Mela and Hidar combine stop-motion animation and live-action footage to reinvent a South African city and a classical Ethiopian novel.  Ali Kadhum’s Under the Microscope considers the Arab Spring as a region divided by geopolitical borders and cultural difference but united by blood, air, and light.

Anne Spalter’s Sky of Dubai reworks footage of the ultramodern city of Dubai through kaleidoscope and color filters to reveal ways that geometric patterns of traditional Islamic art infuse daily life with the colors of the Arabian Gulf and Ramadan.  Comparably, Shambhavi Kaul’s Scene 32 reworks HD video and 16mm film of ostensibly barren salt fields of Gujarat into a landscape rich with color.

Samantha Raut’s Art is Atrocity is a tactical media piece that provokes and educates in FLEFF’s home of central New York State, where budget cuts to arts are increasingly based on neoliberal economic policy decisions.  Nicole Antebi’s Geography of Reclamation: An Essay in Three Parts (2012) engages ways that economic interests shape the very form of the planet and that art and activism can reshape the planet after the trauma of dams.