A project of listening, including with our ears, to some materials that seem to not touch us directly, but make up our "environment". The question is how to "tune into" this environment, in ways that the mainstream media has not motivation to do, and where the data themselves are typically vast and not easy to assimilate.
(a related text, in the New Museum catalog for the show Unngovernables, 2012)
How to Feel a Leak?
Niira Radia: Thereby he had fixed the system to get a post facto decision done . . . for a natural resource. Coal is a natural resource, right?
Manish: Yeah, yeah.
Niira Radia: OK, the second thing was spectrum . . .
—The Radia Tapes, # 066, June 9, 2009
The question, then, is not so much that of how to get people worked up and engaged, but rather how to perturb an operationally closed system in such a way that the perturbation is not registered as mere noise but rather generates information that leads to the selection of different system states.
—Levi Bryant, “Depression and Capitalism,” June 2, 2010 [http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/depression-and-capitalism/]
All systems, including so-called “open systems,” revel in a kind of tunnel vision. In systems theory, this tunnel vision is called operational closure.  Which means that a system only “sees” other parts of itself, and is open only to those external events it at least partly anticipates, or can organizationally process. The rest is noise, or blackness, or worse. (We could remind ourselves that human-body systems did not “expect” nuclear radiation, and cannot process mains electricity or crude oil.)
Water flowing into Mumbai from distant reservoirs has no way to “feel” the people walking on or living next to its pipelines. The water distribution system only sees pumping stations, bends, pressures, and consumers; it hears very faintly, and cannot recognize, the protestations coming from neighborhoods and farms that it bypasses or even, tragically, the rain that falls down all over its “network.” Systems simply translate all external influences into their own internal terms. So that dharnas (protests) create only the most insignificant of ripples inside a water pipe. Operational closure appears then as a horrifying dystopia: How do we ever connect a water system to a people or a society? How can people ever care for or influence a water system? If the axiom of operational closure holds, then it is not possible to do this directly; we need governments, councillors, plumber mafias, money, and other powerful chains of mediators in order to make any connection at all. Is this just the price to be paid for modern life? Or can such an ontology also lead to other consequences, other tones, especially if horror and dystopia are not one's favorite genres? Are we ultimately looking for "systemic reforms", or are there other possibilities entirely?
Water leaks, all the time.
A leaking pipe casts some doubt on its own systematicity. How open can an “open system” be?
(How much material and energy can really be exchanged with the environment, while
still maintaining oneself as a system?) Leaks are the exact opposite of a
system's ability to translate everything into its own terms. It is when
something internal escapes such terms altogether, and can produce unforeseen
relations and operations, that it is said to leak. If an incoming flood into a
basement is unassimilable, disastrous, does this mean that the system has
changed state, or is it a new ecosystem altogether, with marine life and new
electrical dangers? Leaks, in the willful and ideological sense in which,
say, Wikileaks operates, or as the metaphorical and astructural phenomenon that
Raqs Media Collective calls “seepage,” or as an actual battleground for
infrastructural control across the physical, chemical, wasteful, or managerial
aspects of the supply chains of any city, all perturb a “systemic”
understanding of reality. Leaks possess timing tricks and sideways moves that
often surprise and overwhelm systems.
Leaks cannot operate in a vacuum. So their defense, on the one hand, relies on a relationship with existing structures, usually an implied one of critique, which is only the first step in imagining what to build next. On the other hand, the promises that leaks make are necessarily vague, pointing toward an infinite, suspended potentiality. A cloud that fills the sky but never rains . . . is a fog. More leaks, mean more fog. To say that leaks themselves are a form of freedom is too much like saying that information is “out there,” or that clouds have enough water for everyone on earth. In this situation, what we may need is what in the Peruvian mountains is called a “fog catcher”: the art and science of luring a cloud and making it rain a bit, for you. And ideally, for everyone else in your village, too.
Let’s be more concrete. Leaks are somewhat inevitable, as electricity providers, ship engineers, and book publishers have found out. In each case, there have been ways to feed leaks back into adjoining systems of management and control. Ships have bilge pumps but also ballast tanks. Electricity providers “farm” leaks by bringing them into billing regimes, even if the recipients themselves are illegal and without identity papers. Book publishers deploy legal threats while hastily building their own e-book platforms, hoping that some people would rather pay a dollar than commit a crime. The water mafia has a keen understanding of, and hunger for, leaks. The limits of a critique of structure are clear. In such cybernetic loops, leaks and structures become indistinguishable. Another approach is needed. Our fog-catcher image suggests that it is not only a matter of catching or releasing leaks. It is also a matter of how to tune into them, using specially made antennas and a collective sensibility. Ultimately, to turn them into something else—a fog into a hot soup, a TV transmission leaking from across the border into a VHS birthday present.  This seemingly magical project is also one of art: of small humans trying to seduce and transform something large, unformatted, and unruly.
This cannot be done with one's “bare hands.” Digital leaks, for example, tend to produce a volume of material that cannot be understood easily. One is awash in it, and yet unable to grasp anything. The situation suggests new aesthetic categories and new craft. It need not mean that search replaces thinking or that all data has to be “visualized” but that new modes engage in new struggles. The project of apprehending leaks will recognize that this feeling may not be produced in a direct way. It may involve machines, collaborations, and durations. It will require experimentation.
To embrace the leak as a cogent cultural force of our times, we need to create more levels, more senses between the celebration of leakiness as such, its critiques of structure, the bite-sized voyeurisms that mainstream media offers, the lengthy analyses produced by academics and analysts, and the vast dump of information that leaks really are. In other words, we have to figure out how to feel a leak.
1. See Humberto Maturana on operational closure, autopoesis and self-organisation, Niklas Luhmann's subsequent and unliked-by-Maturana use of it in sociology and Levi Bryant's recent evocation of Luhmann's work in his book The Democracy of Objects (Open Humanities Press, 2011).
2. Fog catchers are meshes stretched like volleyball nets often on high mountain ridges in arid Peru, causing the condensation of passing clouds into a water supply.
3. A 1980s practice involving Pakistani plays, a VCR, and a Punjabi family we knew.
Act II (Hum Logos) is a 45-minute audio film spliced from the Pad.ma collection of the Radia Tapes. It covers two months after the Indian general elections of 2009, with the new cabinet in power. The film asks: if debate around these tapes was about whether they are edited or not, or as Justice Mukhopadhay put it, "splice has been added", then what can further editing do?
A screenplay in Courier 12pt melodramatic format, spanning the first three days of lobbying for cabinet spots, in the wake of the Indian general elections of 2009. The dialogue is entirely from phone taps made by the government. The screenplay slows them down and asks: what kinds of environments and scenes may lie behind them, and how are they connected?
Printed screenplay and IVR-based phone line, audience can type in scene numbers to hear dialogue in the original voices. Also performed as a reading.
September 23, 2011 - December 8, 2011
This exhibition proposes an after-form and before-form for two of art's (and our own) usual objects. The first is a film that was shot over last year on the English Channel that is now re-installed in Kolkata, making a certain claim for its universality. The second is a "not-yet-film" treatment of the Radia leaks as a screenplay, with an audio guide as its soundtrack. Both these are moments lit up by separate alignments of, broadly, government, technology, and opportunity...
The Radia Tap(e)s:
Act I Swearing-in Whispers
Act II Hum Logos
at Museum of Interruptions
Opening November 10, 6pm
With a reading of the screenplay
Act I: Swearing-in Whispers followed by a screening of
Act-II: Hum Logos
Corruption: Everybody Knows curated by Natasha Ginwala, continues through December 19, 2015 at E-flux, NY
February 14, 2012 to April 22, 2012
New Museum, New York
Act I: Swearing In Whispers, 2012
screenplay, phone lines.
Act II: Hum Logos, 2012
phone audio, projected subtitles and text.
Based on the Radia Phone Tap(e)s
The lobbyist is a rhetorician-in-private, group persuader and network player. When her government-tapped phone conversations leak (the Radia Tapes, 2009-) they undergo multiple "phase shifts", becoming TV sound-bytes, scam proofs, lengthy transcripts with short urls.
Swearing-in Whispers: A screenplay based on the Radia Tap(e)s
Join us for a reading at
New Museum Theater
Thursday April 19 2012
as part of "The Ungovernables,"2012 New Museum Triennial
The Radia Tap(e)s
Act I: Swearing-in Whispers
Screenplay 95 pages and IVR
Act II: Hum Logos
text and phone audio, 45 mins
Citizen-Artist: Forms of Address
Curated by Geeta Kapur
Chemould Prescott Road
14-10-2013 to 14-11-2013
A roof-top venue that has been active since 2007, in this location since 2009.
The New Medium was a curated programme for the Mumbai International Film Festival for three consecutive years (2016-2018). The inaugural program - in a twisted art-historical mode - framed cinema as a new medium (125 years old, when compared to the other arts), and scoured the century of cinema chronologically...
A never-ending project housed at CAMP around peoples histories of Bombay-Mumbai.
A space we built and run with others, located in the R and R colony of Lallubhai Compound, Mumbai.
Saturday or Sunday evening screenings through winter, exploring footage both within and outside the usual capsule of "the film". An experience that could be similar to watching films, or at other times harder to digest, or slower to release, closer to the moment of shooting, less censorious, and less fearful of finitude. Another life, another world of viewing and listening experiences is always possible.
CAMP is involved in a 2-year "print-from-web" project, linked to its own investigations of the infrastructures of commerce and pleasure in this part of London. As part of the first "block study", we looked at several buildings and their ownership and use histories, and produced a series of tablemats.
The web-based part of the project resides at http://edgwareroad.org. ( now at Print.with.camp ) This website collects materials from various such "studies", conducted by us and others, which then are collaboratively edited and published in a number of physical forms: volumes, pamphlets and placemats. This is an ongoing project, as part of the Serpentine Gallery's Public Program.
Ashok and Azeer spent some time thinking about and building the CAMP terrace roof structure, built in late 2009. Some of the designs that were sketched out are further below: a big requirement was some retractability, i.e. the ability to have a shading roof in the day but to have it open/ partially open at night, for things like screenings under the stars.
At first, a project on the creek in Sharjah in 2009, from where a large number of ships leave for Somali ports.