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Perturbed Globalism: Between film Noir and Silicon Valley

Roxana Marcoci

(excerpt from the essay "Here Tomorrow", exhibition catalogue 2002)

As already argued. Fukuyama's concept of the "end of history' involves the defacto end of the geographical world, as a result of the global impact of cybernetic and informational revolutions. It is not surprising that urbanists and philosophers like Paul Virilio also assert that the geophysical environment hitherto synchronic with the time and space of Newtonian era is presently configured in accord with the speed of light of Einsteinian law. Such changes in the world's coordinates can be explained by the fact that the virtual space of interactive technologies, otherwise known as telematics, doubles the real space which once separated nations from one another. With the advent of the camera, the computer, and the satellite dish, we have entered into the circuit of simulation and fast speed information, and imminently into a new condition of neighborliness. Going back to 1964, Marshall McLuhan postulated in his notorious book, Understanding media, that technology has succeeded to extend the human body electrically and that consequently the networking media became the major catalyst connecting the world into a global village. Distance, frontiers, any other territorial and spatial coordinates have dissolved. In other words, the culture of the television and computer screen involved a paradigm shift from explosion to implosion, from physical dispersal to virtual inclusiveness. Instead of isolating individuals, the technosphere had the power to create communities; or, as one historian notes, its power consisted in "retribalizing" the world via the television or the computer net, the contemporary doppelgangers of the tribal drum. With his book selling well over 100.000 copies, McLuhan's theory became an instant media cult.
Shortly afterwards, the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard developed his theory of simulation, replacing McLuhan's positive views about the effects of electronic communication with a dystopic vision concerning the death of every reference, including the real. In Simulations, published in 1989 by Semiotexte(e) J. Baudrillard argued that the code (devised in computerization and digitalization) bypasses the real, opening up the field of the hyperreal. In short his concept of hyperrealism designated an experience in which signs and simulations found in the quotidian world were taken for real, in which the map preceded the territory, and in which the reading of the message was only a perpetual examination of the code. Notwithstanding the difference in approach between McLuhan and Baudrillard, both asserted that the medium is the (coded) message.

Using the binary code intrinsic to global technology, Dalibor Martinis, whose first experimental video works date back to the late 1960s, produced in the last three years a new corpus of multimedia installations and video films, known as the Binary Series, which probe the vagaries of perception and communication. The Binary Series includes images, objects, and situations with encoded messages -often political- based on the Morse alphabet or the digital code system of 1 and 0. Discussing this device. Martinis notes, "it's like spy images imbedded with a second layer questioning the first one to create an unstable relation". In To America I Say of 2001 Martinis edited the title of the 1933 Hollywood release King Kong so that identical frames concatenate at varying paces. King Kong is a pioneering science fiction film involving the discovery of a fantastic creature, a colossal gorilla that overshadowed the skyline of New York. Martinis' 1 minute long version of King Kong's opening title encodes the notorious message that Osama Bin Laden sent in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center: "There will be no peace and security in the United States as long as there is no peace and security in Palestine." Utterly punning, Martinis' piece not only alters an America icon by interpolating the message of Bin Laden (King Kong's nemesis), but also plays with the suspicion of American intelligence that Bin Ladin's dispatch contained within its lines hidden information, or messages within the Message. Here is where the tautology of the code -its hyperrealism- lies.
Inside the Maltese Falcon, of 2002, is a full-length 90-minutes video film whose conceptual engineering involves the reediting of the first film noir in the history of cinema, Huston's directorial debut of 1941 based on Dash ell Hammett's story The Maltese Falcon. As in the Third cinema of "pleasure and instruction", Martinis version encodes in the original film's narrative the revolutionary text "Chiapas the Southeast in Two winds a Storm and a Prophecy,' written in 1992 by the Insurgent sub commander Marcos, the main spokesperson of the Zapatista National Liberation Army. On a visual reading, the stroboscopic flicker that disrupts the flow of images on screen results from the coded text in which 0 digits are deployed in the form of black squares and 1 digits constitute the rest of the film. This flickering effect intensifies the dark, cold, and detached view of the world characteristic to film noir, a genre that emerged in the early 1940's during World War II while the afterimages produced in the viewer's eye -the only clue that the film is coded- nod to the experimental flicker pictures of Isidore Isou of the l950's and of Peter Kabala and Bruce Conner of the 1960's. On a structural reading, the film consists of a layering between the espionage story of the recovery of the Maltese Falcon, a highly valuable ornament sent by the Knights of Rhodes on Malta as a tribute to King Charles of Spain, and the message against global capitalism issued by the Mexican armed revolutionary movement known as the Zapatistas.

In 1996 the Zapatistas organized an international meeting in La Realidad, Chiapas, one of the poorest states in Mexico, to promulgate a declaration against globalism and centralized power. Their declaration calls for a network of resistance for humanity: "This intercontinental network of resistance recognizing differences and acknowledging similarities, will search to find itself with other resistances around the world. This intercontinental network of resistance is not an organizing structure; it does not have a central head or decision maker: it has no central command or hierarchies. We are the networks, all of us who resist." As this declaration signals, the resistance movement is none other than the global network itself, turned inside out. Indeed, the world we live in now is oddly not just closed and global, but also rhizomic and transnational, calling for theories of rootlessness, dislocation, and postcolonial migration on one hand, and for electronic adjacency on the other. The growing number of diasporic communities, as well as multinational and subnational groupings, could be seen as ways of fostering links with more than one place or political structure, of inventing new geographical matrices and noncentralized orders, of declining to settle in a circumscribed territory, or, to paraphrase James Clifford, of declining absolutist forms of citizenship. What is key to the formation of a post-Cold War global order is the abolition of any coercive autocratic systems of representation whether territorial, religious, racial, or ethnic which refuse to make room for interventions on the part of those represented. This is also true of cultural systems. Therefore, global culture should not be confused with earlier forms of imperial culture. While the culture of the empire was by definition exclusionary, seeking to totally efface and dispossess the indigenous society it colonized, global culture is a site inscribed by diverse constituencies, each with its own agenda and set of values, a site whose borders are always in flux. Then, globalization could be turned around instead of acting as a homogenizing melting pot (the Americanization effect) in which smaller polities are absorbed by larger ones, it could function as a platform for contestation, disjuncture among the multiplicity of bodies inhabiting it, and continuous border crossings.