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DEAF96: architecture, urban culture, and electronic networks

DEAF96 Symposium - Digital Territories
19 September 1996, 10.00 - 18.00 hrs
Rotterdam, Lantaren/Venster Theatre

The DEAF96 Symposium takes the thematic triangle of architecture, urban
culture, and electronic networks indicated by the title, 'Digital
Territories', and investigates their mutual relationships and the impact
they have on each other. This field is still very much a myth of the
future, yet, it is becoming possible to describe its emerging matrix and
the real effects that the meshing of the virtual and the actual are
producing. These effects reshape the material world surrounding us as well
as the mediated forms of communication and behaviour, which are relayed by
electronic media.

The ambivalence of the notion of the 'digital territories' may serve as a
reminder that what we are talking about can be open fields of unstructured
forces and closed off, regulated and controlled areas, that they are
trans-geographical network structures as much as heterogeneous and
contradictory utopias, places that are shaping up to become the sites of
old and new forms of social agency and that remain impossible to map
conclusively.

The Symposium is set within the context of DEAF96 as a site of theoretical
reflexion where artists and architects represented in the festival enter
into discussion with critics, urban planners and theoreticians. It includes
a series of analyses combining economics, politics and sociology with
critical discussions of art, architecture and design. The Symposium raises
the question what the relations are between electronic and non-electronic
spaces and how social and economic formations are articulated in networked
environments. In this context, Saskia Sassen looks at the embeddedness of
the digital in the real world. She shows how power relations are
reconfigured in new forms of territorial behaviour and social
stratification: 'cybersegmentation'.

The task of designing 3D virtual environments as spaces for working,
trading and living is crucial for the future shape of human relations in
networked societies. Edouard Bannwart presents examples of the development
of interfaces between real and virtual environments and discusses their
potential for organising forms of interaction that are increasingly
extended, accelerated, and translocal. In response, Carlos H. Betancourth
talks about the social and work relations that emerge in such networked
environments and raises the question of how distributed working processes
give shape to new relations of power and control in virtual companies.

What will the future culture of networked communities and networked
communication be? Will it be possible to use network culture for improving
social relations on a translocal level and in virtual public spaces? Martin
Pawley describes how the civic and urban centres have given way to
touristic ersatz cities and transurban zones without cultural identity. For
him, electronic media facilitate a process in which the achieved functions
of urban centres are carved out and exported into translocal interzones,
leaving the city centres as sites of a consumable reality, a 'stealth'
reality, mere facades of a culture that has disappeared for good.

The 'digital territories' crucially frame the construction of new forms of
identity. Will these be consumer lemmings or decentred subjects who can act
without predetermination and who are open to unassimilated otherness?
McKenzie Wark theorises subjectivity in mediated communities as a vector, a
process performed in culturally expanding territories. He describes a
networked world in which mediated reality and mediated selves are the only
reference points we have: 'We no longer have roots, we have aerials.'

Such scenarios offer a great challenge to contemporary artists, architects
and designers who are trying to get to grips with the new forms of
collective creativity, of independent machine agency and of networked
communication. Pierre L

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