* Book and PhD: Networked Disruption: Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking. Tatiana Bazzichelli. PhD Dissertation Department of Aesthetics and Communication. Faculty of Arts Aarhus University. 2013
First published in 2013 by Digital Aesthetics Research Center, Aarhus University, Helsingforsgade 14, DK-8200 Aarhus N, Denmark. www.digital-aestetik.dk PhD Dissertation: Tatiana Bazzichelli – Aarhus University, 2011. Supervisor: Søren Pold, Aarhus University, Denmark. Co-supervisor: Fred Turner, Stanford University, California. Examining committee: Franco Berardi, Geoff Cox, Olga Goriunova.
From the introduction:
"This research reflects on the status of activist, hacker and artistic practices in the new generation of social media (or so-called Web 2.0 technologies) analysing the interferences between networking participation and disruptive business innovation. The main objective is to rethink the meaning of critical practices in art, hacktivism and social networking, analysing them through business instead of in opposition to it. The increasing commercialisation of sharing and networking contexts and the key innovatory role of the open source community in the development of centrally controlled client-server web applications, have changed the scenario of participatory culture and brought hacktivist and artistic strategies into question within the framework of net culture. In the context of both underground artistic movements and that of digital culture, the concept of networking has been used to describe collective practices based on the principles of exchange and equal one-to-one collaboration. Participation, interaction and collaboration have been the conceptual starting points for much art of the 20th century, from Dadaism to Fluxus, from mail art to hacker art. However, since the emergence of Web 2.0, networking has become not only an everyday practice, but also a pervasive business strategy.
The current economical framework of the Internet bubble 2.0 is generating new contradictions and paradoxes, in which on the one hand we find the development of a critical vocabulary and practices highlighting the exploitation of networking and the cooptation of peer2peer culture from Web 2.0 companies; while on the other, we face incremental opportunities for sharing and for social contacts between a large number of Internet users, who are producing a huge mass of Internet content without necessarily being technology experts. Many Web 2.0 start-ups have adopted business strategies for generating revenues, formulating a rhetoric of flexibility, decentralisation, openness, sociability and do-it-yourself. Internet entrepreneurs have adopted in different contexts, and for other purposes, similar values to those which characterised the emergence of hacker culture and net culture over the past decades. Alongside this phenomenon, many hackers and developers who contributed to the rise of the hacker culture and open source movement in the Eighties and Nineties have now been employed by communication technology corporations, especially in the US, and more particularly, in the Bay Area. The opposition to a communications monopoly and capitalist mindset expressed by many members of the underground digital culture over the past few years has now reached a state of paradox whereby those involved in opposition are also those being opposed.
Such coincidentia oppositorum (or unity of oppositions) also mirrors the crisis of encompassing political ideologies and confrontational activist strategies in Western countries. Since, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated, “the road up and the road down are the same thing” (Hippolytus, Refutations 9.10.3), this begs the question as to whether the dualistic conflict between capitalism and anti-capitalism should be considered a path to provoke social change.
The departure point for this dissertation is the assumption that, on the one hand, networking grassroots communities of hackers and artists have served to accelerate capitalism since the emergence of digital culture and cyber-utopias; on the other hand, they have also served to strengthen antagonism against it, by generating critical artistic practices and hacktivist interventions based on technologies and methodologies of sharing and networking. Such mutual disruption and coexisting oppositions between art, business and networking, shows how hackers and artists have been both active agents of business innovation as well as those undermining it. By identifying the emerging contradictions within the current economical and political framework of informational capitalism, the hypothesis of this research is a reformulation of the concept of criticism in art, hacktivism, and in the business of social networking. The purpose of this investigation is to analyse hacker and artistic practices through business, therefore suggesting a coexistence of layers rather than a process of oppositional negations.
The aim is not to create an historical or philosophical analysis of social and artistic practices, but to reflect on different modalities of generating criticism, shedding light on contradictions and ambiguities both in capitalistic logic and in art and hacktivist strategies, while rethinking oppositional practices in the context of social networking.
The notion of disruptive business becomes a means for describing immanent practices of hackers, artists, networkers and entrepreneurs, which will be analysed through specific case studies. Such case studies shed light on two different but related critical scenes: that of Californian tech culture and that of European net culture – with a specific focus on their multiple approaches towards business and political antagonism. Within the framework of this analysis “business” is not analysed from a business school perspective, but as a means towards working consciously on artistic, political and technological practices. The model of analysis as proposed here could be visualised as follows: hackers, activists and artists focus on social networking with a critical dimension, creating an intertwined feedback loop between art, business entrepreneurship and methodologies of disruption;
The phenomenon whereby the development of business proceeds alongside a reformulation of radical practices is nothing new: the rise of cyberculture and hacker culture during the Sixties in California is a clear example of this, as has been described by Fred Turner in his research. Today a new coexistence of oppositions influencing each other is coming to the forece again within the framework of Web 2.0. Artists and hackers use disruptive techniques of networking in the framework of social media and web-based services to generate new modalities for using technology, which, in some cases, are unpredictable and critical; business enterprises apply disruption as a form of innovation to create new markets and network values, which are also often unpredictable. Disruption therefore becomes a two-way strategy in networking contexts: a practice for generating criticism and a methodology for creating business innovation.
The history of cyberculture, and today the phenomenon of Web 2.0 demonstrate that opposites co-substantiate one another and often become a symbiotic necessity for each other’s continued existence: in many cases, hackers, activists and business entrepreneurs are part of the same unity. Is it still meaningful to consider hacktivism as a radical criticism of a system, when hackers have contributed to its creation and its strengthening? And, if capitalism and what was once called “counterculture” now share similar rhetoric and strategies, is it possible to imagine alternatives to the current state of capitalism? My intention is to propose an additional layer to this analysis: to investigate artistic and hacker interventions that create business disruption as an art practice. Since contradictions and dichotomies are nowadays inherent in business logic, the challenge lies in the exploration of symbolic dissolutions of power, where hackers and artists directly perform such contradictions and provoke unexpected consequences as an art form.
The Art of Disruptive Business is a possible path towards investigating the deconstruction of power structures through experiencing them from within, exposing the contradictions of business logic and appropriating it both critically and ironically.
Rather than trying to resolve the overall contradictions in the economical and political framework of the networked economy, the artists and hackers at the core of my analysis empathise with them, their field of experimentation being the mutual disruption between hacking, business and distributed methodologies of networking. The concept of disrupting business in social media sheds light on the practices of artists, activists and hackers who are rethinking critical interventions in the field of art and technology, accepting that they must act inside the market scenario, while also deconstructing it.
Challenging the market does not mean refusing it, but transforming it into a “playground”, both to appropriate it and expose its incongruities. How is disruption in this perspective different from classical methodologies of conflict and antagonism? Starting from the assumption that to understand capitalism today is equivalent to being conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed determinations (for example, hacktivism and business), the goal is not to frontally oppose the adversaries, but to trick them by “becoming them”, embodying disruptive and ironic camouflages. Bypassing the classic power/ contra-power strategy, which often results in aggressive interventions that replicate competitiveness and the violence of capitalism itself, to apply disruption as an art form means to imagine alternative routes based on the art of staging paradoxes and juxtapositions. Disruption becomes a means for a new form of criticism. Beyond the concept of coexistence of oppositions as dualistic tension between two forces, and the idea that one of the opposed conditions will prevail over the other, my analysis focuses on the mutual interference of multiple layers. Instead of dualistic tension, the challenge is to analyse holes in the system in which one-to-one oppositions are loosened up into distributed infiltrations. This does not mean that oppositions disappear completely, but that they become multiple, mutual, viral and distributed – as the many nodes of a network.
The departure point for this dissertation is the following question: what happens when the coexistence of oppositions, in art, hacktivism and the business of social networking, becomes a layer of mutual interferences? The analysis of the mutual feedback loop between hackers, artists and business in the nodes of social networks, implies rethinking cooptation as a process so as to understand social change as well. Analysing artistic practices in the framework of social media implies an acknowledgement of the fascinations of consumerist goods and the consequent strategies of being constructive and destructive at the same time, to innovate business by criticising it. To investigate the progressive commercialisation of sharing and networking platforms, it is necessary to understand business culture from within. Artists become viruses, working empathically with the subject of intervention. They disrupt the machine by performing it.
Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s notion of the dialectical image, I propose to adopt a vision of dialectics in which the oppositions remain open, without generating encompassing synthesis, but are transformed into heterogeneous and distributed practices. The aim is to generate a polyphonic dialectic in which pluralities of approaches coexist. My hypothesis is that the concept of dialectics has to be reframed in the context of disruption, where disruption does not mean rupture, but acting in ways that the market does not expect, generating innovations from within the confines of business logic. The dialectical tension between business and opposition to it therefore shifts in a synergetic opposition where one is part of the other, and they mutually contribute in shaping each other. This does not mean dismissing dialectics altogether, but framing them in a perspective which instead of emphasising the symmetric tension “Either/Or”, shows the contradictory paradoxes of “Both/And” (as Marshall Berman suggests in his 1982 book All That Is Solid Melts into Air).
Furthermore, adopting a perspective of “Both/And” means opening up to possible heterogeneous and distributed interventions, all of which together contribute to a shaping, or at least to an imagining of social change.
The dialectical perspective of Walter Benjamin, which he described as ‘dialectics at a standstill’ (The Arcade Project, p. 463, N3, 1) proposes a construction of history where the past and present interlock (as exemplified by Benjamin’s figure of the Angelus Novus), and where the signs of modernity emerge from a crystallisation of progress which dissipates the illusion of continuity in history. This view of history as an interruption of time, where past, present and future coexist forming a dialectical image, calls for an understating of the present condition as a phase of crystallisation. The concept of dialectical image is used in the present research to imagine processes of de- crystallisation of singularities in a phase of crisis. As a metaphor for a phase of impasse in which the opposites coincide to create a frozen blockade, the de-crystallisation comes from inside, by performing the system’s contradictions and understanding its logic.
In this stage of crystallisation, normalisation tends to embrace disruption and make it a form of stasis, as pointed out by Franco Berardi describing the present era of informational capitalism, where critical ideas are subsumed by repetition, automatism and hyper-velocity, and by Claudia Mongini, describing the precarious crystallisation of critical and creative forces in contemporary society.
As Claudia Mongini points out, trapped in a vortex of acceleration, the collective brain reaches a point of stasis, where the opposites of zero- and hypervelocity meet, preventing the creative formation of any critical idea. Inspired by the analysis of morphogenesis in the book Run: forma, vita, ricombinazione (2008) by Franco Berardi and Alessandro Sarti, where social morphogenesis is seen as a process of de-crystallisation of the financial state of the world, I propose the hypothesis of disruption as an immanent tension that emerges from within the crystallised systems. In my analysis, art intertwines with disruption beyond symmetric oppositions or radical ruptures, leading to a discovery of a subliminal and distributed strategy, which grows from within the capitalistic structure.
A possible path is to adopt business logic to “experience” them, by generating new forms of criticism. The challenge is to create disruption by creating innovation; to create paradoxes, pranks and tricks, and to discover decentralised holes in the system. Morphogenesis is born within the system and by recombining its rules, acting as chameleons which absorb the logic of the system and recombine them by finding the weaknesses within that logic. The suggestion of this thesis is to exit from the scheme of power/contra power, implying that one of the pairs of opposites is stronger or better than the other. Rather, a possible vision implies a process of contamination and interference, where business is performed from within. Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s approach of flânerie – from his writings on Baudelaire – the direct experience of the fascination of goods becomes a method of understanding the consumerist culture from within, and thus of critically performing it.
My research develops through the analysis of different conceptual nodes of a network, connecting together disruptive practices of networked art and hacking in the framework of a network economy. These practices of artists, hackers and activists have been discovered through personal acts of networking; therefore my analysis contains both an internal perspective (since I myself have been part of the network of net and hacker culture since the end of the 1990s) and a meta-reflection on the research subject itself. This method, which in the first chapter I define as ethnography of networks, takes inspiration from a critique of ethnography, and aims to actualise – and to question – the notion of “fieldwork” itself. My methodology proposes to create a montage of transnational practices, a networkscape, adopting the suffix “-scape”, which Arjun Appadurai used in 1996 to describe transnational technological, financial, media, social and political configurations. In the present research, case studies cross space and time, linked by the scope of investigating the mutual tensions between hacktivism, art and business in the context of social networking.
Hackers, activists and artists in California (especially in the Bay Area) are intertwined with European ones, offering different perspectives on the subjects of hacktivism, business and social networking. The method is based on the reformulation of a research approach that works within the subject of research, rather than on the subject of research.
Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s montage method, the anthropologist Massimo Canevacci suggests a polyphonic and experimental mixed- media research approach, underlining that form and contents are strictly intertwined, and that there is a strict correlation between text and fieldwork. Similarly, in the context of this research, by describing the practices of hackers and artists who work within business, I propose to approach the research subject by working within it. While conducting research on distributed networks, I trace a network of actors who directly engage with hacktivism, art and social networking. Inspired by the reflections of Massimo Canevacci on the correspondence between Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno (dated November-December 1938), and in particular by the concept of astonished facticity, in the first chapter I reflect on the role of the researcher who abandons the use of theoretical “mediation” to approach the research subjects by engaging directly with them. The lack of theoretical “mediation”, and “the wide-eyed presentation of mere facts”, was the strong criticism made by Adorno to Benjamin after reading his essay on Baudelaire, which he planned to publish in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung. However, as Massimo Canevacci points out, the “astonished dialectic”, and the concept of empathy (Einfühlung) with the commodities as proposed by Walter Benjamin, rather than the negative dialectic used by Adorno, constitute the basis for a deep methodological change. In the analysis of the modern metropolis – and today of the networked info-sphere – the focus shifts from alienation to empathy, and from production to consumption. The central role of the social factory and the mechanisms of production are substituted by the role of consumerist culture and its simulacra of fascination. And in this context, the concept of “mediation” – and I would add, of cooptation – must be rethought.
In the first chapter I describe the idea of “montage as method”, derived from Benjamin’s writing style of Denkbilder (thought-images), and from its constellation of fragments and archival sources assembled in the Arcades Project.
If a social and cultural critique has to be carried out both theoretically and practically, the analysis of cultural and social practices implies the involvement of the researcher in the practice of research itself. Therefore, the research method has to fill the gap between theory and practice. Drawing on the perspectives of the anthropologists James Clifford and George E. Marcus in Writing Culture (1986) and on much of the experimental ethnographic tradition, it becomes necessary to formulate a research methodology that reflects on techniques and methods of visualisation and narration. Therefore, as Canevacci argues, it is not only necessary to address decentralised and polyphonic viewpoints towards innovative areas of writing, but to extend the lines of research to the mixed-media of visual communication.
Following on from this suggestion, my research proposes a non-linear approach, both in its content and form. The process of investigation led me to link multiple perspectives and practices, crossing national boundaries and disciplines. At the same time, the convergence of business, art and hacktivism became key to unleashing a contradictory phenomenon such as that of social networking. The network of relations behind my research analysis was crucial for developing the research itself. Decentralised and plural viewpoints become both part of the theory and practice, connecting hackers, activists and business entrepreneurs involved in Californian digital culture (especially in the Bay Area) and hackers and artists active in the European network culture. The choice of case studies and the collection of interviews did not follow classical sociological methodologies, but was based on the development of a method, the art of networking, which I had already tested in my previous research on the hacktivist and underground art scene in Italy (which I published in the book: Networking: The Net as Artwork, written in 2006). Some of the people I approached had already collaborated with me in the course of the previous research, and other members involved in the hacker and net culture scene suggested to me new contacts according to my research objectives.
During my visiting scholarship at Stanford University in 2009, I collected a body of audio material by interviewing hackers, artists and free thinkers based around San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. The transcription of the interviews amounted to over a hundred pages. While deciding to quote selectively from the interview material, all of it has been crucial for gaining an understanding of the overall research subject. The result was to experiment with a methodological practice in which the theoretical point of view of the researcher was closely linked with the act of performing the research subject itself, involving the actors directly in the development of the analysis.
To sort out the different effects of networking art and hacking in the business of social media, I examined their development and influence on a cross-national scale, creating a constellation of case studies combining different attitudes and models of disruption between USA and Europe. In the first and in the fourth chapter, I emphasise the fact that in California, a libertarian attitude towards technology does not necessarily clash with business strategies, while the approach of European network culture is usually related to media criticism and political antagonism. However, such a dichotomy is a theoretical simplification. The presence of radical anarchic and libertarian traditions in the American counterculture deeply influenced some of the European underground media and off-media experimental subcultures. The critique of the idea of hegemony has proven a common ground for these practices, and this hypothesis also explains why counterculture and liberal economy in the US have often been intertwined. However, the fact that many Californian hackers and activists refute “the political” does not necessarily imply a lack of political awareness and criticism towards the establishment.
Many underground artistic and hacker communities and networks in California have worked towards the creation of independent contexts for sharing and exchange, both in the artistic and in the technological field of intervention: the role of The Community Memory Project, The Suicide Club, The Cacophony Society, The Church of the SubGenius and of the early Burning Man Festival are clear examples of this. In this respect, the concept of social networking is nothing new. Social networks have existed since the Sixties both in the US and in Europe, both as underground movements and as a decentralised artistic practices, but also in the realm of cyberculture. However, many interesting contradictions arise as I will highlight in the fourth chapter. As Fred Turner points out in his book From Counterculture to Cyberculture (2006), since the rise of cyberculture (and even before that, within the framework of cybernetics), the idea of creating decentralised systems of interaction and mutual feedback, plus the image of an ideal anti-authoritarian society, has been central in the development of information technology and computing in industrial and business laboratories. Today in California corporations like Google are among the main sources of employment for hackers and geeks; Google and Microsoft sponsor newborn hackerspaces, and the renowned Burning Man festival has become a strategic platform to feed new media industries and, nowadays, Web 2.0 media production.
Running in parallel to this, as I claim in the second chapter, the current meaning of openness, and the rhetoric of decentralisation, freedom and exchange in social media, cannot be fully understood without tracing back the practice of networking in the hacker and underground artistic contexts over the past decades. The second chapter proposes to analyse the roots of social networking based on both analogue and digital networked art, showing that the current artistic challenge of the Web 2.0 platforms lies in the invention of new courses of action, new content and new technologies developed by grassroots communities. The objective is to investigate how networking practices in grassroots communities are able to change the model of production for Internet content and artistic creations, connecting the development of hacker ethics with the creation of social media and Web 2.0. With a conscious use of technology, it is possible to activate an open process of creation, producing new models of technological and cultural intervention. The point of departure of the second chapter is to investigate the meaning of social networking over the past decades so as to be able to understand the phenomenon today. In my analysis, social networking is seen as a practice of community creation, towards the imagination of common spaces of intervention – and identity identification – where symbols, myths and memes are shared. To analyse social networking as a practice of collectively developing shared symbols and mythologies, I describe the genesis and the creation of a number of grassroots artistic networks between the Eighties and the Nineties, across both Europe and the US. A common thread connects the network of mail art, Neoism, Luther Blissett, The Church of the SubGenius and more recently, in the era of Web 2.0, the Anna Adamolo experience and the Anonymous entity, which I analyse as case studies in chapters two and three.
Drawing on the concept of moral order in recursive publics formulated in the book Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (2008) by Christopher M. Kelty, I analyse the consequences of disruptive dynamics both in so-called underground artistic networks and in the business context of the digital economy. Inverting the notion proposed by Kelty of moral order in a grassroots community as a cohesive social imaginary, to that of a/moral dis/order, my intention is to highlight how the vulnerability and amorality of networking dynamics in collaborative networks becomes an opportunity for a critical understanding of contemporary info-capitalism. The challenge once again becomes to imagine possible routes for political and artistic intervention which are not based on radical clashes of opposite forces, but on the subliminal, ironic and multi-angled art of disruption. Artists and hackers adopt viral and flexible strategies, as does contemporary networking business, and by provoking contradictions, paradoxes and incongruities, business logic is détourned. Instead of the risk of being trapped in the classic dichotomy of two opposite fronts, which as I claim often feed off each other, artists and hackers generate tonal responses to the ubiquity of capitalism.
In the second, third and fifth chapters, I select specific case studies which work on the concept of disruption rather than opposition. In the anti-hierarchical one-to-one collaboration network of mail art, in the speculation and multiple-perspective of the Neoist network, in Luther Blissett’s multiple use of a single name, in the “conspiracy religion” of The Church of the SubGenius, disruption becomes a challenge for the re-invention of symbolic and expressive codes.
The “openness” of social networking in these cases means to share a practical underground philosophy, which works towards assembling multiple contradicting definitions of itself, operating collaborative pranks, paradoxes, plagiarism and fakes, questioning social and cultural categorisation and bureaucratic systems. I argue that such practices of disruption have been “social networks out of the box”, therefore generating viral practices, strategies of networking and “radical play”, both online and offline.
A similar disruptive attitude can be applied in the business of social networking or in the framework of Web 2.0. The case of the Anna Adamolo fictional identity demonstrates how to conceive of strategies of political and artistic criticism to apply during demonstrations and strikes that are able to represent a heterogeneous multitude of individuals, or better said, of singularities. The fictional identity, built up by a network of people with diverse backgrounds and competences, calls for a reflection on political methodology during conflicts, integrating online and offline practices. Personal and individual experiences are transferred into a collective path, reflecting on the evolution of a multiple-use name as a political practice to use in the context of strikes and demonstrations. Instead of being represented by an organisational structure, Anna Adamolo managed to become a self-representing Italian Minister of Education, University, and Research in the context of the students’ and teachers’ struggles operated by the “Onda Anomala” national movement. From the end of 2008 and during 2009, Anna Adamolo served as a collective name for an unrepresentable movement, which could be adopted in the squares and in the streets by anyone who chose to do so. The use of Facebook as a strategic medium for viral communication and networking was crucial, demonstrating that social media can be manipulated in unpredictable ways by a conscious analysis of their mechanisms and technological architecture. They can be reworked from within, making them functional to political and social criticism.
We find the same idea of the un-representability of unidentified individuals, even if in a different context and through different methods, in the Anonymous entity, which I describe as a strategy to generate disruption through the Internet in chapter three. Building on the analysis of non-hegemonic practices and the logic of affinity by Richard J. F. Day in the book Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements (2005), I propose an analysis of projects that challenge the notion of power and hegemony, and the battle for dominance, generating distributed, decentralised and fluid networking practices. Drawing on Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of “immanence” and the description of the metalsmiths, Deleuze and Guattari use the image of the metalworkers, or the smiths, to link the concepts of “striated spaces”, which are those controlled by society and organisation, and “smooth spaces”, those of the monads without restrictions and directives. The smiths’ lifestyle is somewhere between sedentary and nomad, as hybrid subjectivities.
Richard Day analyses libertarian and itinerant practices of activists and radical social movements which create holey spaces of intervention. To formulate such a concept, he refers to the scene of the silent film Strike (1925) by Sergei M. Eisenstein, previously used as a metaphor by Deleuze and Guattari, where people rise from holes in the ground. Similarly, in this context, I apply the concept of the holey spaces to describe art and hacker interventions, which act from within the economical system, discovering its bugs and holes. They emerge from inside the capitalistic machine, acting through its cracks and interstices.
The “smiths” of the contemporary networked society must therefore be discovered among a distributed network of actors who work towards emphasising the contradictions and paradoxes in the capitalistic economy. These contradictions are described in chapter four, which focuses on the libertarian tradition of American counterculture, and the analysis of the intersection between business and an anti-hegemonic critique of the establishment. This perspective calls for a reformulation of the idea of an encapsulation of radical values by business, highlighting the mutual disruption of the hacker principles of openness and collaboration and the business logic of social networking. Exploring the business strategy of creating a large network of engaged users to produce revenue, I draw on the analysis of the aesthetics of the masses realised by Siegfried Kracauer and of the art in the age of mechanical reproduction by Walter Benjamin. I argue that in the era of social media, we are facing a progressive aesthetisation of networking practices leading to a progressive commercialisation of web-based contexts of sharing and social relationships. Such a process is emphasised by an analysis of crowdsourcing as a networked strategy of revenue, and by the description of the Burning Man festival as a platform designed to legitimate and shape business strategies based on exchange and participation. Inspired by Fred Turner’s paper “Burning Man at Google” (2009), I propose to consider Burning Man as a metaphor of a social network in which all the participants contribute for free in the creation of a shared common, but in which the owner receives the final revenues.
Finally, in chapter five, which is conceptually linked to chapter three in the analysis of disruptive case studies, I propose the notion of the Art of Disruptive Business, suggesting possible strategies for artistic intervention, where incongruities and paradoxes can be experimented with. The challenge is to frame contradictions without resolving them through an encompassing synthesis, describing artistic and hacker projects in which disruption is expressed through the interference with business. It is possible to trace such networked disruption back to the Avant-gardes, in particular analysing the activities of the Surrealist- founded phenomenon of Mass Observation, a social research organisation founded in 1937 in Britain. Here Surrealism inspired the creation of a systematic database containing a wide range of everyday life practices, collected by a mass of observers, documenting human behaviour and social tendencies in Britain from the 1930s to the mid- 1960s. Mass Observation exemplified the tension between wanting to disrupt the system from the inside, but at the same time, managing to serve the system by providing a huge quantity of personal and public data, as will be analysed in the final chapter. Referring to the analysis of the Avant-gardes undertaken by Stevphen Shukaitis in the book Imaginal Machines (2009), and by Franco Berardi in After the Future (2011), I claim that the rise of practices of radical thinking and social change in the experimental art context has been a source of innovation for capitalism, and at the same time, a way of disrupting it. According to Stevphen Shukaitis, it is not possible to discuss subversion as an entity external from that of capital, and for Franco Berardi, the myth of energy (and action) during the past century has provoked a constant accumulation of goods and the acceleration of capitalism. Being aware of these conceptual tensions inherent in business logic, my suggestion is once again to play with this logic, to expose its contradictions and limits. Two case studies described in the last chapter follow this perspective: the Facebook interventions Seppukoo by Les Liens Invisibles (2009) and Face to Facebook by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico (2011).
Both these projects, even while adopting different strategies, are a reflection on the tension between the open and closed nature of social media, stressing the limits of Facebook’s platform, and working on unpredictable consequences generated by a disruptive use of it. Simulating the functionality of the platform itself, and applying its logic to different contexts of networking and interaction, they demonstrate the vulnerability of Web 2.0 technologies – and the consequent enclosure provided by their infrastructures, behind an apparent facade of inclusiveness.
In conclusion, what were once marginal practices of networking in underground hacker and artistic contexts have in recent years become a core business for many Web 2.0 companies. The increasing commercialisation of sharing and networking contexts is transforming the meaning of art and that of business. If business is adopting hacker and artistic strategies of disruption, what is the answer given by artists and hackers working on a critical dimension of networking? The proposal of an alternative to capitalism by working within capitalistic logic is suggested by the notion of Venture Communism developed by Dmytri Kleiner and the Telekommunisten collective.
In the Telekommunist Manifesto (2010), Dmytri Kleiner envisions the creation of a network of enterprises where people produce for the sake of social values and share the results on an equal basis, and in which the collective formulation of a commons remains a goal. To achieve this, decentralised techniques of networking are developed through a process of self-organisation, based on peer production and the distribution of productive assets. This document, which is also an adaptation of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels into a Manifesto for a networked society, transforms power- oriented modalities of conflict and political thinking into distributed, autonomous and decentralised networking strategies.
In 1984, at the first Hackers’ Conference in Marin County, California, Stewart Brand said: “Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine – too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away”. This present research proposes both to expose and to dissipate this tension through a network of multiple, distributed, playful and disruptive practices. The challenge facing the art of disruptive business becomes to rethink oppositional hacktivist and artistic strategies within the framework of social networking."