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As the title of the book explicates, Creating Insecurity: Art and Culture in the Age of Security takes as its guiding line the

Creating Insecurity: Art and Culture in the Age of Security

by Wolfgang Sützl & Geoff Cox, Editors
Autonomedia, Brooklyn, NY, 2009
208 pp.  Paper, $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-57027-205-9.

Reviewed by Jussi Parikka
CoDE: Cultures of the Digital Economy Institute
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK


Creating Insecurity: Art and Culture in the Age of Security takes as its guiding idea that security and insecurity are fabricated constellations. Any lack of security is as much constructed as the supposed guarding mechanisms, which guarantee the predictability of the future. Security is a time-loop of a sort that is to make the future seem present as a possibility that is going to actualise whether in the hoped for scenario of avoiding catastrophes and continuing with business as well usual, or then in the sense of being prepared for the emergency-predicted-to come. Recent theoretical insights into the security state/state of insecurity such as Greg Elmer and Andy Opel’s take on “pre-emption” and the soon forthcoming Richard Grusin’s book on premediation are good examples of such temporal approaches.

Security as a focus on the passages of bodies across boundaries, and the management, filtering and surveillance of such entanglements where organic human bodies meet up with cameras, databases, transport vehicles and other emblematic technologies of security of post-9/11 culture could not be a more timely topic. The DATA Browser 04 volume edited by Wolfgang Sützl and Geoff Cox joins a list of other takes on the discourses and practices of security, emergency and control but specifically through an analysis of various artistic practices through which to articulate the paradigm of security.

Sützl’s introduction does a good job in explicating some key contexts for the debate, and the texts are enjoyable in their quite dynamic short format.  Sützl outlines Johan Galtung’s three level understanding of the direct, structural and cultural modes of violence, which support each other in rhythmic refrains. Violence is more than just violent when it is distributed across institutions and industries. “Dispositives such as anti-terror legislation, IP regimes, restrictive communication structures, perhaps capitalism itself would be found on this level of violence”, writes Sützl.

This is also why security differs from discipline.  Foucault’s late lectures on biopolitics and security have found a new audience that has produced outstanding ideas concerning the recent regimes of security using such tools. In this volume, for example Giorgio Agamben’s short text that is reprinted from 2001 and Tiziana Terranova’s elaboration of the infamous Steve Kurtz-case are good examples of this line of thinking. Consider Agamben: “In short, discipline wants to produce order, security wants to govern disorder.”

In general, the editors have succeeded in collating important texts from theorists and artists. Key themes emerge during the book:

1.  Is security itself an engine of insecurity?
2.  What is the role of the changing state apparatus in exhibiting and demanding security?
3.  How do security and related themes such as accidents work in software environments?
4.  Are there specific art methodologies that work through and with security, such as using surveillance camera footage (see the Manifesto for CCTV Filmmakers)?

Hyperbolic, excessive, recursive forms of software from spam to viruses are one such form of art methods in software culture in a manner in which Florian Cramer maps a short media archaeological connection of poetic code and overflowing as a technique of interruption. Art methods expose and interrupt, but also act as cartographies of power in code cultures. Geoff Cox and Martin Knahl’s Critique of Software Security chapter works in this direction analysing the ideological underpinnings of software and connectivity as a threat. The arguments they make are apt, even if they could have easily extended the discourse of security in software cultures to the 1980s and even the 1970s.

Several of the chapters show how well cultural theoretical insights such as Foucault’s can be turned into medium-specific analyses relevant for technical media culture. Terranova’s way of moving from Foucault to new database software which were able to develop a pre-emptive patterning profile of Steve Kurtz is a good example of such leading modes of media theory. Her way of picking up Foucault’s insistence that the Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” should be understood to point towards the “radical obscurity of the causes of economic processes” is an important clue to understand the tensions between visibilities and obscurities, control and dependency, and entanglement of markets with security concerns. It could as much extended to a wider ontological way of seeing digital culture as based on obscurity, obfuscation of processes.

These are the “black worlds” which are the focus of Brian Holmes’ chapter that stems from Jack Burnham’s art systems approach. Extended to recent developments the work of art in the age of networks becomes systematic, parasitic tapping into the possibilities of variation in any system. He mentions the TXTmob Application (2004) which facilitates the use of mobile phone networks to share important information in the midst of demonstrations, as well as GWEI – Google Will Eat Itself that uses the logic of Google Ads to buy out Google-shares in self-cannibalistic fashion. Mapping the potentials of systems aesthetics, Holmes writes:

“The lessons of recent years are clear: the security obsessions of contemporary societies inevitably give rise to proliferating zones of secrecy, both at the heart of the increasingly militarised states and in the dispersed and labyrinthine worlds of the transnational corporations. […] Artistic interventions are one way to probe these ‘black worlds’, in order to extract information and to offer tangible aesthetic images of what can no longer be seen. Public art institutions should support and distribute such projects as part of their civic mandate. But critical artists and activists will always have to work far in advance of the institutional mainstream, adopting formats and guises that allow them to grapple with the invisible.”

For art methods as well as guerrilla tactics, invisibility and methods of working in and with obscurity become of key importance.

To return to the book in general, as the texts come from a variety of backgrounds it remains quite heterogeneous in its take. Yet Creating Insecurity does offer useful ways to organize ones mind regarding security in network cultures. Hopefully it’s something that would spur more discussion concerning artistic methods of and within security cultures as that is an exciting future for developments of art/theory collaborations.

Last Updated 4 January, 2010

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