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activism

Bedford square

Bedford sq is fascinating at the moment; on one corner there is a pro-life protest outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, on the neighbouring corner there’s a counter protest by a pro-choice campaign. A couple of weeks ago I was on the square with Herbie. He ran up to the pro-life people, to be greeted with pious scowls, he soon ran off towards the pro-choice desk. He was met with smiles and warmth / laughter and conversation. Ignoring my political position on the matter, I find it ironic that those stood on the corner, fighting for ‘life’, didn’t seem to see the joy of it. It’s was quite sad.

Pro-life protest

Beyond that, I find the spatialised aspect of the protest intriguing. Both camps ignoring each other, creating a geography of decision making. As you move around the square you encounter different ethical positions, it’s an argument in spatial terms. You move to locate yourself in the debate.

This is spatial politics at its most explicit. The thing that struck me, was that the process of understanding and navigating the ideas was far easier when physicalised. The contradictions and aesthetics of the philosophy involved was unmasked. The agendas were exposed for all to see.

This is something that gets lost on the internet, the abstraction and reliance of language means that complex debates spiral into rhetorical and circular debates… forget the internet of things, I want the space of networked political debate… this is a lot harder to do, when faced with a man and a toddler.

Herbie is pro-choice

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The Kony 2012 campaign and video has been discussed a lot. This is inevitable after a video has received over a 100 million views. Thoughtful and intelligent analysis has highlighted some of its geo-political over-simplifications and Invisible Children has had its fair share of critics. The hospitalisation of Jason Russell highlighted the overwhelming nature, impact and popularity of the message.

What I’d like to focus on is how perfect a contemporary ‘media artefact’ the video is. I believe it’s an important point in our visual history and I’d argue that it typifies (or maybe expands) James Bridle‘s concept of the New Aesthetic.

What we see with Kony 2012 is the visual, organisational and philosophic language of the network being used in both form and message. The video is made for the internet and is constructed for the facebook generation. Every cut, faux click and zoom utilizes the visual and aesthetic language of our familar digital lives. We watch ‘the internet’ animate before our eyes, with a message that is produced to a point of sentimental perfection.

The facebook timeline becomes the structural device to move us through history, zipping through time we pause at different points in Russell’s life and enter his atemporal reality. We stop, gaze voyeuristically and move on to another vignette.

Google maps is another device used to move us through the space of the narrative. At one point we descend from heaven, into the heart of Africa in a move that reminds me of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten.

In many ways this typifies James’ idea of digital ‘ways of seeing’, but it is the collision of both the aesthetic and the political that gives Kony2012 its power. It is using the aesthetic language of the network to mobilise its masses, it’s harnessing the structural formation of digital telecommunications to highlight and change the realities it supports. It is the product and producer of a digital age.