transmediale 2019

31 Jan.-3 Feb., 2019

Public session of the study group “Uneasy Alliances: A Discussion on Action, Solidarity and Care” for transmediale 2019 in Berlin (31 Jan.-3 Feb., 2019).

The first question I had within the group, was uneasy alliances to what? I think our notion of ‘alliance’ needs to be grasped in the broadest way possible, in that thinking ‘uneasy alliances’ cannot be strictly bound to relations between humans, but needs to also include uneasy alliances to concepts, world-models, geography, objects, materials, human self-understanding and so on. What I’m getting at is, in an everyday sense, we navigate the world in alliance with certain conceptual models and pictures we have (pre)conceived of it. Those, in turn, become patterns or habits of thought, infusing all manner of relations and behavior; so the idea being is that in order to substantially change those patterns of activity (in thought, gesture, relationships and materials) we need to construct uneasy alliances to alien concepts that can give us different perspectival frameworks from which to understand the world and our activity within it.

I think the potential transformability of the world, and our relations therein, is contingent on forging uneasy alliances to otherworldly concepts. I’m not trying to suggest that constructing ‘uneasy alliances’ is purely a conceptual problem, since we also have deeply difficult questions that cascade from this, like the translation of ideas into gesture, into doings and their subsequent articulation as technology, that are anything but straightforward or obvious. Concept creation on its own is not enough, but it strikes me as important to highlight the mutual dependencies between concepts and materiality and why this uneasy alliance building may also include the forging of relationships to other models of the world (concepts) and the consequences those new perspectives entail. What I’m basically suggesting here, is that ‘uneasy alliances’ is also an epistemological problem, in the way we build accounts for reality, that then set the stage for being accountable for it. The premise being that we cannot be adequately accountable in a world, without possessing adequate accounts of it – and it is a very Big, Complex world irreducible to our personal experience of it. Like we talked about yesterday in our workshop, if we want to imagine a world predicated on relations of care rather than competition, knowing how to care is not self-evident. We may have pretty good intuitions at enacting care at an intimate scale with our friends, neighbours and loved ones, but extending ‘care’ to a planetary scale, must extend to the biospheric conditions that sustain us all in the first place. As Nina Power has noted, emotionality linked to compassion and reasoned thought are “not mortal enemies.”[1] We cannot adequately care if we do not possess better accounts of reality[2] that guide us on how to care. We cannot directly care for everyone or everything, but we ought to care they are cared for.

My second question on uneasy alliances concerns scale. This question is tricky, since on the one hand it seems clear that we need to construct alliances at scales that are proportionate with the problems, crises and structural injustices governing cohabitation today – alliances that will definitively be uneasy ones, in the sense that they cannot be strictly predicated on relations of self-similarity or proximity. Yet on the other hand, how can we imagine constructing such scalar alliances that do not cancel, flatten or homogenize differences at a local level, since it’s at a local scale where the impacts of (unilateral) global governance are acutely and deeply unevenly felt? The question of scale with regards to uneasy alliances brings with it the importance of abstraction. This suggestion is not to undermine the concrete and realm of direct experience, but simply to note that we require abstraction in order to better understand the systemic interconnections in operation today that coproduce our reality, if we are to aim at their transformation. As the infamous euphemism goes: we cannot experience the climate, merely its localized residues as weather, so too we cannot experience a derivative or the ‘economy’, just the effects of finance logic in residual form as lived precarity or poverty in many cases. The point is that to intervene otherwise in such systemic processes, it seems necessary to better understand these abstractions, their dynamics and modes of causation that cannot be sensed in their systemic dimension.

And lastly, as an extension from the scale question, is a temporal one. Alliances are necessary for immediate, urgent situations – situations that are present in time and space now, and the people and ecosystems suffering from those acute situations. Yet, there is also a need for uneasy alliances to temporal orders that are both longer and shorter than those measurable on human terms, that ultimately concern liveability on the earth for generations of species, and not just our own. How can such uneasy alliances be forged to bring these divergent temporal orders into relation?