- Incumbent upon Recombinant HopeEDT's Strike a Site, Strike a Pose
It is midnight in a night of specters. Both the new reign of Empire and the new immaterial and cooperative creativity of the multitude move in shadows [...]. Is it possible in this dark night to theorize positively and define a practice of the event?—Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (2000:386)
Sometimes hope acquires form: In September 1998, theU.S. Department of Defense launched a hostile applet against Electronic Disturbance Theater's FloodNet server. While it may seem odd, even presumptuous, to present the D.O.D.'s response as hope incarnate, I want to place this singular event within a makeshift context—the rest, as they say, becoming—"history"...where the expanding circumference of rememory spells the shape of a contemporary aesthetic and political experiment in the radical rearrangement of the technologically social's deck furniture: "the inherent civility of electronic disobedience [...the] distinction [...] between trespass with political intent and trespass with criminal intent" (CAE 2001:33), the paradoxical proposition of "utopianism after the end of utopia" (Jameson 1991), an individual/collective dialectic (upgraded to "the poetic"), a history of the future in a hybridized sentiment as hackneyed, but contagious, as h-o-p-e.
Despite the indispensability of Carmen Karasic, Brett Stalbaum, and Stefan Wray to Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) as a project, in public presentations, Ricardo Dominguez functions as the group's default drive. Trained as an actor, Dominguez enacts a principle from another group of which he was a member, Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). CAE maintains the philosophy that when working in a collective, "each member's set of skills (must be) unique to the cell" (65). Consequently, Dominguez performs EDT, personalizing the history of the collective. For the time being, I will bracket a discussion of the significance of Dominguez's idiosyncratic narrative to focus more abstractly upon two strands of its composition—the influences of CAE and the Zapatista uprising (1994) on [End Page 145] EDT's formation. Put differently, in what follows, I will tell a story, motivated by a desire to find the knot of EDT's recombinant hope and "muttering spells, untie it" (Chiapas95 1995).
Of Prescience and Preparation
Between 1987 and 1995, Ricardo Dominguez participated in Critical Art Ensemble, a "cultural worker" collective, founded upon and utilizing "a dialectics of negation" (Dominguez 2002). CAE, according to Dominguez, represented a group of people,
bounded by antagonism toward [their] respective endeavors and forms of art [...:] a filmmaker who hated above all things film, a photographer who hated above all things photography, a bookmaker who hated books above all things [...] a computer person who hated computers above all things, a poet who hated poetry above all things, and I [Dominguez...] an actor who hated theatre.(2001b)
A product of theoretical speculation and a 1980s decentering of selves (in the U.S.), CAE questioned both the location(s) of activism and of cultural production in an effort to (re)imagine aesthetic media in critical response to the new genetic economy, nanotechnology, and the (discursive) proliferation of identity and difference.
AE's dissatisfaction with available aesthetic and activist imaginings moves from repertoire to archive (to borrow Diana Taylor's distinction [forthcoming]) in their volumes of writing. In The Electronic Disturbance (1994) and Electronic Civil Disobedience (1996), CAE repeatedly revisits questions of performative (aesthetic and beyond) agency as if these questions were loose teeth in the mouth of contemporary cultural production. Declaring the "streets in particular and public spaces in general are in ruins" (1994:24), "performance resources must go beyond the organic body, which at present acts as the master link in performative models of representation" (69), and "public art does not exist as there is no public space" (1996:40), CAE would appear to offer little visible hope in the face of "the cultural logic of late capitalism" (Jameson 1991). Locating hope in their work, however, has more to do with time than space (despite rumors to the contrary regarding postmodernism), i.e., beyond the will to culturally vaccinate, CAE's exercises in speculation posit hope in the dodging of a future tense, separate, but intimate with, power...