Offshore Havens and Supra-Jurisdictional Space

Robin Lynch
The representation of geopolitics is a site of theoretical and artistic tension and, at times, contradiction. There are numerous parallels between the debate around the murky ownership and power of telecommunications and debates around the unregulated circulation of art. In this essay, I consider the entanglement of art and telecommunications in order to pose some vital questions about art’s struggle with its own use as a tool for manipulation on a geopolitical scale. By observing the emergence of supra-jurisdictional zones that bypass exclusive regulation and control by state power, including offshore havens for art, I will attend to the embeddedness of art — a largely unregulated sphere — in a broader geopolitical process.

The theory and design collective Metahaven has produced much of its work around data: their transparency or lack thereof, their ownership, their use by states and corporations, and their power. In its two-part article “Captives of the Cloud” (2012), Metahaven uses the term “supra-jurisdiction” to describe how, under the Patriot Act, the United States government has the authority to access information hosted by any data centre owned by a company registered in the U.S.1 1 - Metahaven, “Captives of the Cloud: Part 2,” e-flux Journal 38 (October 2012), The Patriot Act extends the government’s authority beyond its own territory and citizens, granting it power over some of the largest search engines in the world, including Google. In a similar vein, Benjamin Bratton describes how conventional models of map and territory have been reworked on a planetary scale, and he calls this new political formation a stack: a “vast software/hardware formation, a proto-megastructure of both bits and atoms, literally circumscribing the planet, which, as said, not only perforates and distorts Westphalian models of State territory, it also produces new spaces in its own image: clouds, networks, zones, social graphs, ecologies, megacities, formal and informal violences, weird theologies, each superimposed on the other.”2 2 - Benjamin Bratton, “On the Nomos of the Cloud: The Stack, Deep Address, Integral Geography” (2011), The stack structure of physical and telecommunications infrastructures folds every transnational corporation into a tangled web of jurisdictional entities. It would not be doing the power dynamics justice to place the power solely in the hands of the United States, as Metahaven implies. Indeed, representing it as such risks negating many crucial bodies that are implicated in this vast infrastructure, as well as glossing over the pivotal understanding that this formation shifts depending on the other jurisdictional and corporate interests with which it overlaps. For example, if the United States wanted to shut down a data centre outside of its borders, it would require the consent of the government of the nation in which these data centres are located, and of the various corporate and private stakeholders involved. Therefore, although the United States may exert a significant pressure point, it does not have sole discretion in the matter.

You must have a valid Digital or Premium subscription to access this content

Subscribe to Esse now to read the full text!

This article also appears in the issue 86 – Geopolitics - Géopolitique

Suggested Reading

From Dance to Performance

When one thinks of the relationship between dance and the visual arts, the figures of Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, and Trisha Brown immediately come to mind. The standard bearers of postmodern American dance, these choreographers created works that were in some ways reminiscent of Kaprow’s “happenings,” during an effervescent period in the 1950s and 1960s when the visual and performing arts intersected around the hybrid, hard-to-define notion of performance. Although artists, dancers, and choreographers shared the similarly vague yet persistent intention of bringing art and life together from the early twentieth century on, they had each arrived at this stage of their creative thinking from very different places, and this had a decisive influence on the way they used “performance” to critique the boundaries of their respective disciplines. Laurent Goumarre’s characterization of performance seems particularly apt in this regard: “Whatever forms it has taken, performance has, throughout its history, periodically returned in order to point to an aesthetic and political crisis.”1 1 - Laurent Goumarre, “Tu n’as rien vu à Fontenay-aux-Roses,” Art Press 2, no. 7 (Nov. – Jan., 2008): 90 (Own translation). This statement concurs with that of RoseLee Goldberg, a well-known historian of performance art, who insists on its subversive or even provocative function inasmuch as it often emerges in reaction to an oppressive milieu and aims to surpass the limits of more established art forms.2 2 - RoseLee Goldberg, Performance: Live Art Since 1960 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998), 13.

For dance, this involved rejecting anything even remotely associated with representation. By refusing to submit to the dictates of narrative or emotion, by denying the illusion of facility and beauty created by technical virtuosity, and by trying to rethink the context in which works were to be presented, these choreographers and dancers wanted to make their mark beyond the codes of classical ballet. The work of redefining dance had already begun in the 1920s and 1930s by choreographers like Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, who believed that the purpose of dance was to inform audiences and spark reflection by addressing contemporary concerns, rather than simply seeking to entertain. This goal of bringing art and life closer together, which was initially conveyed through the content of the works, was much more evident in the form of choreographies starting in the 1950s, where daily gestures such as walking, breathing, and ­standing upright — gestures characterized as “found” à la Duchamp3 3 - Susan Au, Ballet and Modern Dance (London: Thames & Hudson, 1988), 161. — became the building blocks of increasingly abstract choreographies. This position was radicalized with the trend of postmodern American dance, which in eschewing all forms of expression in movement, ironically came much closer to the theories of modernism and art for art’s sake in the visual arts, focusing the entire dance experience on a study of form.4 4 - Sally Banes, “Introduction to the Wesleyan Paperback Edition,” in Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), xiv-xv. Thus, by distancing itself from everything related to representation, dance seemed to be moving closer to the visual arts. Yet to probe the connections between dance and performance in Julie Favreau’s work, it would seem more appropriate to think in opposite terms. While the choreographic gesture is the starting point for all of her work, she is interested in movement as much for its expressive potential as for its visual quality.

When Favreau talks about her work and approach, she spontaneously refers to the worlds of dance and film, and less to that of performance, with which she is nonetheless associated. Thus, it is the names of “non-dance” French choreographers such as Jérôme Bel and Boris Charmatz, places like the Ménagerie de verre and the Friche la Belle de Mai, or filmmakers like Roy Andersson and Andrei Tarkovsky that excite her most. One might assume that she does not see herself as part of the performance tradition — which conjures up the idea of the artist herself testing the limits of the body — but her position is, of course, far more nuanced. In truth, her approach is less a rejection of performance than a fascination with the expressiveness of a gesture and the body’s ability to convey a state of mind, a story, or to flesh out a character. It is a fascination that brings her approach closer to worlds traditionally associated with fiction and “live” representation: dance, film, and theatre.

Julie Favreau, projet Ernest Ferdik,
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 2011.
Photo : Guy L’Heureux, permission de l’artiste | courtesy of the artist

Julie Favreau : a Choreographic Approach

In watching “live art” shows during repeated stays in France in 2005 and 2006, including Christian Rizzo’s …/…(b) rencontre improvisée, Romeo Castellucci’s Hey Girl! and Loïc Touzé’s Love, Favreau discovered artistic productions on stage that could just as easily have been presented in an exhibition venue. That led her to envisage the exhibition space as a stage that could upset the codes of the “show” — notably the frontal aspect of the fourth wall, and the fixed time, place, and duration — while using familiar parameters (a set, a performer, and a “story”). How do the artist’s work and creative approach evoke or question the world of dance and the rules of the stage? I would suggest that Favreau’s is a hybrid approach that interrogates the conventions of both dance and performance. This approach has evolved through a series of projects: 8 personnages engagés pour peupler scénario de drame psychologique (Centre Clark, 2007), presented by Favreau as a “staging of performances in a gallery setting”; Leur cinéma (La Centrale, 2010) and Le manoir (Axenéo7, 2010), where the performers engage in “choreographic conversations with the objects around them”; Ernest Ferdik (MACM, 2011), which problematizes the installation by using it to present what was off-stage during the filmed performance;5 5 - or descriptions of Favreau’s projects: and, finally, Antonel (Monument-National, 2012), part of Tangente’s IN LIMBO project initiated by choreographer Lynda Gaudreau, aimed at encouraging fundamental research in choreography.6 6 - Tangente: option=com_content&view=article& id=41.

Julie Favreau, 8 personnages engagés pour peupler scénario de drame psychologique (Médéric Boudreault), Centre Clark, Montréal, 2007.
Photo : Alexis Bellavance, permission de l’artiste | courtesy of the artist

All of the works mentioned above involve a collaboration with dancers, actors, or performers. For each of her projects, Favreau carefully chooses the artists with whom she wants to work, according to their specific physical characteristics, in order to convey the movements and tensions she has in mind for the piece. Over the years, she has formed ties with collaborators who are familiar with her world and comfortable with the way she works. Her initial sources of inspiration are literary texts or films, which determine the narrative plot and suggest images, characters, movements, and objects able to convey the energy of a scene. Next comes the creation or choice of a set, a costume, and the arrangement of objects which are not simply accessories but are deliberately chosen for the movements they will be able to generate. (For Favreau, an object is never sufficient in and of itself: it always needs a gesture to release its narrative potential, becoming an artefact that is charged with the energy of the prior encounter.) Finally, there is the performance in the studio of previously imagined choreographic gestures, imbued with the idiosyncrasies of each performer. For example, for the Antonel project, dancer David Albert-Toth was an obvious choice. His physical strength, flexibility, and breakdancing skills allowed her to create a scene that would unfold beneath a large sheet of fabric. Albert-Toth produced sculptural forms as he moved, revealing an arm, a leg, or a foot in unexpected and unlikely places, given the shapes suggested by his movements. Here the dancer was both the object — an artistic device — and the subject — a physical agent who was actively participating, by virtue of who he is, in the creative act. All choreographic creations must grapple with this dual role.7 7 - Geisha Fontaine, “Objets de danse. Objets en tous genres,” La Part de l’Œil, no. 24 (2009): 104-105.

Julie Favreau, projet Antonel, IN LIMBO, Tangente, Monument-National, 2012.
Photo : permission de l’artiste | courtesy of the artist

The issues of representation and expressiveness are also key to the artist’s practice, since she is always seeking to create characters whose psychological complexity is conveyed through the movements of the body as it interacts with objects in a given space. In this sense, her approach is reminiscent of the way Boris Charmatz envisages the dancer’s role as one that involves “rediscovering all of the psychological, lustful, sociological, political, and ethical nuances contained within a gesture.”8 8 - Boris Charmatz, “Extraits de trois conversations avec Isabelle Launay”: (Own translation). Although the notion of presence, often discussed in theories of performance, is important for Favreau, she approaches it in a different way in her projects. Her goal is less to have spectators experience the here and now through the performer’s focus than to have them discover, in the freshness of a seemingly never-repeated gesture, the truth of an instant experienced in the present by the dancer. Thus, the idea of presence is tied to the intensity of gesture. In his or her performance, the dancer must move away from acting in order to more closely embody the true sensations of the present moment in dance. All of the tension in Favreau’s works lies in this uneasy relationship between representation and reality. By seeking to avoid the appearance of acting, she comes closer to performance and its desire to focus on the present moment. However, this moment is never original, since it is written and rehearsed in the studio. Whether it is filmed or performed live, the choreographic performance systematically complexifies this idea of a direct connection to the real, always experienced after the fact, since the choreography was constructed prior to the performance. Moreover, the artist ponders the connections between videographic ­writing, writing for an exhibition venue, and writing for the stage. In all three cases, rhythm is a key part of the editing process. The stage is like a video in the sense that both offer a single, frontal perspective, and changes in rhythm are planned. It is not the spectator’s movement in space that changes this rhythm. Video and stage performance are both closed and resolved propositions, whereas in an exhibition venue, works are more open and the rhythm more chaotic, as none of these parameters are entirely fixed.

Finally, Favreau’s works explore the stage as a malleable device that opens up a different physical and mental space — a fact tacitly accepted by the spectator who is accustomed to the codes of a “show” (dance or theatre). Her works blend two types of expectations, proposing a give-and-take between two traditions. Whereas in 8 personnages and Antonel, she maintains the fourth wall, and with it the frontal view and the distance it creates, in her immersive installations Le manoir and Ernest Ferdik, spectators are completely drawn into the setting and are free to walk around it. The context in which the performance is presented has a direct impact on the way in which time is envisaged, a variable that is taken into account during the writing of the choreography. While works such as 8 personnages and Antonel are scheduled at a specific time for a set duration, in the case of the installation, spectators can come and go as they please.

In short, it is perhaps in the process rather than the result that the connections between “live art,” dance and performance are best appreciated in Favreau’s work. Her position as a choreographer is different from that of a stage or film director, since her primary material continues to be the gesture and movement of the body in space, not the text. It is therefore less the result than the point of departure — her relationship to the act of creating — that makes a difference. Performance is an attitude of the present; dance, a writing of gesture, and the choreographic performance a skilful combination of the two.

[Translated from the French by Vanessa Nicolai]

This article also appears in the issue 78 - Hybrid Dance

Suggested Reading

What is it about the idea of a “public” that appears so central to certain forms of creative production? It would seem that relegating a public (or many publics) to a place alongside an art-making apparatus (a group, a collective, an object, a concept) without first defining what or who ­constitutes that public is somewhat misleading, and signals a kind of groundlessness. Such a concern pervades recent writing on art and ­architecture.1 1 - See for example Brian Massumi’s forthcoming Architectures of the Unforeseen (MIT Press) and work by Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas. Yet somehow grounding a definition in either geographic proximity or demographic specificity (or even in terms of collective ­sensibilities and judgment) continually falls short of satisfactory. In his recent book, Publics and Counterpublics, Michael Warner sets out to ­theorize the ways in which “counterpublics” are formed by the ­marking of difference in relation to a larger public, especially through a self-­awareness of difference or subordination by such groups (­counterpublics) themselves. Still, Warner begins with a decidedly (and deceptively) ­simple question: what is a public?2 2 - Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005).

In 2004-05, a small group of artists, musicians, and designers in Baltimore, Maryland, formed a creative collective—Creative Capitalism—with the aim of producing and disseminating art and music. Working in Baltimore’s fertile musical environment, the collective has since released several albums by Ponytail, Low Moda, History at Our Disposal, The Tall Grass and Noble Lake. The collective stands as more than a glorified record label, however, as the artists involved focus on modes of creative ­production that rely not solely on either the gallery system or music industry for exposure and distribution. More importantly, the specificity of what or who is included in the collective is completely shaped ­stylistically and ­aesthetically by a wide (socially and geographically) network of friends and friends of friends. For instance, Jon Brumit, a some-time contributor to the collective, invited Creative Capitalism to be involved in the art/­concept/guerrilla “Neighborhood Public Radio” broadcast project at the 2008 Whitney Biennial. While actions or works carry an individual signature, as a methodology they become folded into situations of mutual creativity; the idea is to provide the conditions for a creative public, wherein this public can be constantly invented and reinvented along lines it sets out for itself, at points that are initially undetermined. Creative Capitalism attempts to occupy a space somewhere between an event and a technology.

The first project undertaken by the collective was a 192-page book/CD entitled Friends and Friends of Friends (2005), composed of art ­contributed through a call-out to artists and musicians in Baltimore, their friends, and their friends’ friends, which eventually included contributors from New York, Texas, California, France, England, Scotland, Singapore and ­elsewhere. The curatorial experiment allowed the network to move out from the ­centre, and to touch on unexpected nodes; for example, after ­asking why so many packages were arriving around the time of ­submission, ­co-founder Peter Quinn’s postal carrier took it upon himself to submit his own work: detailed Afro-centric paintings of semi-erotic female-animal hybrids with future-world backgrounds. Chance “­friendships” between artists established the project’s experimental curatorial method—but at the same time, the process erased evidence of the centre from which the network began in the final product. The concept driving the volume was co-operation, but a kind of co-operation that does not necessarily require a directing authority. There is a strong theoretical point (though one that falls short of being over-determined) linking these forms of ­co-operation to the types Marx describes, where a large number of activities (production) can be carried out over an extended space, thereby ­resulting in an equivalence of production.3 3 - Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 3 (New York: Penguin Classics, 1993). Here, however, the result is not so much Marxist as it is Deleuzian: the apparatus under-girding production is ­nothing more (and nothing less) than a threshold, one ballasted by the network itself.4 4 - Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1987). (It is worth noting that the otherwise “proletarian” ­reading of the collective can easily be eschewed by the fact that one of the bands produced, Low Moda, was featured in the most recent runway show by Yves Saint-Laurent in Paris.)

Creative Capitalism, Creative Capitalism Carries Capitalism from Wall Street to the Whitney Biennial, 2007.
photo : John Ellsberry, permission | courtesy Creative Capitalism

The second project, Notebook (2006), used the same ­curatorial ­method as Friends, but focused on random notations, sketches, and notebook entries on paper, reproduced in a black and white book, and it included a DVD of short videos. The publication and launch of Notebook clarified the nomadic, “spectator-less” ethos of the group. The books themselves were printed with plain cardboard covers and rubber-stamps forged with the title, the publisher, and the ISBN number were used to mark the books. In the gallery, long tables were installed and workstations were designated to carry out the assemblage. Contact-microphones were attached to the tables and a basic PA system was positioned in front of the tables. Then, as contributors, members, and an interested public filtered through the door, all were put to “work” in the performance of the book’s production. Passed from station to station, the covers were hand-stamped with the necessary information; the microphones amplified the industrial rhythm of the performance, with a member of the collective joining in on viola for “melody.” Anyone in the gallery could stamp, uniquely marking the finished products that were then put on sale during the show. All of these actions were necessary in bringing forth the “product”: therein lies the paradox of an audience-less performance—the performance of an audience that is liquidated in the assemblage of the object itself.

Audience-less performance illustrates the deeply transformed ­concept of “the public” that drives the work of Creative Capitalism. The standard presumption that art or performance must “reach the audience” is largely absent because the initiatives of the collective do not presume a public that is already there, passively awaiting identification or activation. Creative Capitalism is not a model for reaching “the people”; it is a ­structure of becoming that, through creative expression (art as detonator), seeks to constantly reinvent itself through an impossible engagement with a ­public that consists of people who are missing.

This is not to say that Creative Capitalism has no concern with “being popular.” In fact, the collective openly seeks to circulate the works it ­generates as widely as possible. It may not presume a ­public, but the ­collective certainly invokes an engagement that brings real people ­together to produce and/or experience particular forms of ­creative ­expression. Entering into the shifting space of the collective, ­participants become fabulists, visionary mythmakers with the power (fleeting, ­contingent) to pluralize engagements typically understood to be ­singular.5 5 - Fabulation is a concept developed by Henri Bergson in Chapter 2 of The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977). Creative Capitalism’s paradoxical desire to be popular is rooted not in “­finding” ­audiences or markets but rather in strategies of overflowing itself, ­inventing and reinventing publics and the collective itself as it flows.6 6 - Gilles Deleuze, “Whitman,” Essays Critical and Clinical (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1977). See also Daniel W. Smith’s introduction to the same ­volume, “‘A Life of Pure Immanence’: Deleuze’s ‘Critique et Clinique’ Project.”

In an age when headless networks and asymmetrical organization structures evoke images and unending rhetoric regarding terrorist cells, foreign and domestic threats to particular visions of democracy, etc., Creative Capitalism can be read as a crank provocation. What is “­capital” in this context? The group plays on the habits of thought and action ­connected to “capitalism,” while never quite defining its relation to the term, other than each member containing all the capacities of “capital” to be wilfully bartered for a larger creative gain. While the mysticism of capitalism is explicitly mocked by the group (giant papier-mâché heads serve as the group’s “corporate heads,” a silent board of directors), the structures of a capitalist enterprise remain firmly in place. The group does not aspire to inflict a condescending “people’s art” on the world and, for all of its aspirations to be “popular,” Creative Capitalism does not seek out “the people” to educate, convert, or speak for. Returning to and ­modifying Michael Warner’s question, in this context, “what are the limits of a ­public?”—here, a definition would have to incorporate circumstance as much as circumvention. In a sense, it is difficult to describe something so disperse, so simultaneously theorized and under-theorized, so wilfully and passively inclusive. It feels appropriate to end with a question from the collective’s manifesto: “What is your function?”

This article also appears in the issue 63 - Mutual Actions

Suggested Reading