In this piece we are going to discuss Post Fail, which is a mode of thinking about and making art that was theorised after participation in a residency programme with TAJ and SKE gallery in Bangalore, India. Our thoughts about the city and our own involvement in it have already been collected in a publication that came out a few months ago (IOCOSE, 2015). In this text, we will further reflect on our own experience and link it more directly to what we have named Post Fail. More generally, with Post Fail we would like to raise questions about the relationship between art and the narratives surrounding information and communication technologies.
Many go to India to ‘find themselves’, and in our case this has been particularly true. However, our self-discovery has been literal, and not strictly spiritual. We work across three different European countries, and at the moment each one of us is living in a different city (Brescia, Italy; Berlin, Germany; London and York, United Kingdom). In Bangalore we had the unique opportunity, after almost ten years of artistic work as a collective, to be in the same place at the same time. And not just for the time of an opening, a lecture or workshop, but for the entire duration of a residency. We found ourselves in India, and this is for us already a remarkable event.
Furthermore, during our time in Bangalore we had the opportunity to look at how IT companies are reshaping the area of the Indian metropolis. Bangalore is considered by many to be the Indian Silicon Valley. Western companies such IBM, Intel and many others have been establishing new headquarters in Bangalore in the last two decades. For many of these companies the Indian offices are not just subaltern to those in Europe or the USA, but as involved in research and development as their Western counterparts.
The arrival of IT companies has generated the so-called Electronic City of Bangalore, also known as E-city. The E-city appears as a gated area, where access is strictly forbidden to anyone, with the exception of those who work in there. The E-city appears as a copy-and-pasted section of Western world. Immersed in a jungle of traffic and dust, the E-city looks instead as a clean, tidy area, with skyscrapers and glass walled offices. The E-city has no connection with the outside, most notably its architecture explicitly reminds of the business centres of any major American or European city.
During our residency in Bangalore we visited both the city and the E-city, guided by our host, curator Marialaura Ghidini. What we found to be most striking was the neat geographical, economic and social separation generated by the arrival of internet-based companies. It was quite clear to us during our period of work that the city of Bangalore and its citizens were not particularly influenced by the presence of so many IT companies. Internet, as a technology, is shaping one part of the city, but leaving the rest behind.
Our first thought went to theories around Post Internet art. Before going to Bangalore we were discussing texts such as The Image Object Post-Internet (Vierkant, 2010) and After Art (Joselit, 2013). These two texts never really caught our full consensus. When in Bangalore, we realised that what we found to be quite disturbing in those readings was the assumption that the world now lives in a post condition in regards to Internet as a technology. In Bangalore, Internet was not simply yet to come, but was (and still is) shaping the economy and architecture of the city in peculiar ways, framing new social divisions and inequalities. The effects of Internet were clearly visible. Bangalore is a city which lives during the Internet, and with dramatic effects.
These thoughts led us to postulate the first meaning of the expression Post Fail. Post-something theories assume a teleological scenario of global development. Post-internet, in particular, offers an understanding of the relation between art and the Internet that is difficult to maintain in light of the many contradictory conditions in which information technologies are developing and are experienced throughout the world. Indeed, we are aware that art theory should not be evaluated for its statements around global politics and economics. But it is the post- part of it that we cannot be happy with, because it is based on the assumption that we can and do understand what art and technologies were before, and what these are now. In contrast, we find ourselves much more at ease with the misunderstandings: the uncertainties and surprising moments when the realisation of what art and technologies mean are put into question.
This is the first meaning we gave to Post Fail: the failure of all things post-, or rather the disappointment we feel in regards to post-something theories and narratives. However, after accepting that failure, we need to move beyond and do something. We need to make ‘art after failure’. In this other meaning of Post Fail, we see our own artistic work as happening after the moment of our understanding of the world fail.
For example, in the NoTube series we have investigated what could be done after acknowledging that the promise given by Google’s video sharing service is unlikely to be fulfilled. The promise of YouTube is that we will be able to ‘broadcast ourselves’, promoting and showing whatever we want and with no filters in terms of both content and quality. Indeed, as could have been imagined earlier on, we now know that YouTube is mostly an agglomerate of useless videos. Many of these have no views, and no real reason to be watched, or even to be published.
The NoTube series is made of several separate interventions, each exploring the after failure condition in which YouTube can be considered to be. The NoTube Contest (2009-ongoing), for instance, is a competition where we ask participants to find the most valueless videos on YouTube. Each year, participants are invited to find videos that have no reason to exist, do not really show anything meaningful, and ultimately could have just not been published. This excludes funny videos and memes: the NoTube Contest is about the large quantity of videos with no significance that are uploaded every minute on YouTube, and which are preserved on the database of the online service for several years.
Another work that we have been working at in recent years is the First-Viewer Television (2012). In this work we have set up an online streaming of videos with zero views. The playlist updates automatically every two hours and draws on YouTube to find video material that no one has ever watched. Whatever you see on First-Viewer Television is being shown to you for the very first time.
Both projects can be seen as ways of taking care of that side of YouTube which is usually forgotten, but which constitutes great part of the content available on the site. The countless attempts to ‘broadcast oneself’ usually do not result in anything particularly remarkable. Doing art on and about YouTube after its failure is a challenge because it forces us to question how YouTube (and Web 2.0, more broadly) is commonly understood, and how differently it could be (mis)understood.
The third and final meaning given to Post Fail, which we confronted ourselves with while working from Bangalore, is the perennial condition of postal failure that we have forced ourselves to work with. Living in different cities, we have always been organising our work around VOIP technologies, email and file sharing. Not only we have often been working on online based projects, but also none of our works has ever been conceptualised and produced without using Internet technologies. Internet, for our collective, is more than a tool: it is our natural environment.
However, the Internet is, for us, also a disgrace. It never happened in an entire decade of collective work to have one single fluid Skype call. We very often lose, or accidentally delete, shared files. Email threads are filled with redundant information. The Internet often slows down our work, but it is this failure that we, once again, like to dwell on. As noted by Federica Frabetti (2014), software is intrinsically linked with its own unexpected outcomes. The unexpected, in software, is necessarily a failure, but a failure which is also hope, as it can surprise us positively, and shed light on unseen relations between humans and technologies.
The residency programme we spent in Bangalore, as written at the beginning of this text, has been an occasion to find ourselves. And we found ourselves in a Post Fail momentum: disappointed, but still curious, about how the future tends to fail.
IOCOSE are a collective of four artists and have been working as a group since 2006. IOCOSE’s art investigates the after-failure moment of the teleological narratives of technological and cultural development, in regards to both their enthusiastic and pessimistic visions. They have been exhibiting internationally at several art institutions and festivals, including Venice Biennale (2011, 2013), Tate Modern (London, 2011), Science Gallery (Dublin, 2012) Jeu de Paume (Paris, 2011), FACT (Liverpool, 2012), Transmediale (Berlin, 2013, 2015), and featured in publications such as Wired magazine, The Creators Project, Flash Art, Neural, Liberation, Der Spiegel, El Pais.
Frabetti, F. (2014) Software Theory: A Cultural and Philosophical Study, London: Rowman and Littlefield
IOCOSE (2015), ‘Art After Failure: an artistic manifesto from the city of Bangalore’, in Ghidini, M. and Kelton, T. (2015), Silicon Plateau Vol-1, T.A.J. Residency and SKE Projects, Bangalore: India, available at http://iocose.org/art-after-failure/index.html
Joselit, D. (2013) After Art, Princeton University Press
Vierkant, A. (2010) ‘The Image Object Post-Internet’, available at artievierkant.com/writing.php