Sonae Media Art 2019: Diogo Tudela

Diogo Tudela, finalist of this year´s Sonae Media Art Prize, spoke to Umbigo Magazine about his work Collisions & Render Engines currently on show at Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado.

In Collisions & Render Engines Tudela seeks to discuss the intersections between media, entertainment and military complexes and the pervasion of these complexes, alongside technology into the psyche of the individual. Tudela explores the notion of a new neural economy in which synthetic stimuli become assimilated with our own memory and consciousness. Such technologies that allow for this co-option are already in use and have caught interest of digital monoliths such as Facebook, being so a dystopian future is no longer the stuff of science fiction.


Myles Francis Browne – What motivated you to discuss these ideas pertaining to the media / entertainment / military complexes, a new neural economy and cognitive capitalism? 

Diogo Tudela – My personal interest on the matter arose while developing an experimental video game entitled FM/FTT, a first person shooter that tried to bring into narrative the inadequacy and frustration felt by U.S. Marines during the Gulf War, as they were confronted with a kind of technological automation and accuracy that rendered them redundant. The final scene from Jarhead exemplifies this beautifully, as our main character, a sharp shooter, experiences a kind of coitus interruptus when, at the last second, he is ordered to stand down and watch the first, and only, target assigned to him being destroyed by an air strike. The asynchronicity of this scene was a trigger to explore the presence of media and technology in war scenarios, and to address the idea of media at a material level, one that precedes notions of broadcasting or social communication.

Entertainment borrows most of its apparatuses from the military, in fact, some academic discourses, like Kittler’s, argue that the entertainment industry is built entirely on the systematic abuse of warfare technologies. The overlap generated between technologies deployed by entertainment and by the military establishes a chain of materials that allows for a flux of procedures and methodologies between these two realms. This dynamic is pushed and molded by the circumscribing hyper-structure of neural capitalism, where the archetypal warfare character is no longer the soldier, but the analyst, a sort of pre-cog. In that sense, media, even media art — whatever this category may define or include —, provides plastic terminals for a network that established thought as its main currency, imprinting new operational roles into the aesthetic experience. As such, although this can be quite meta-referential, these conjunctions are impending questions in media art as the field produces, invariably, new alliances and solutions between engineering — however amateurish it may be — and aesthetics.

MFB – As is mentioned in the essay on your work, the interrelation between technology and intelligences, both artificial and natural, is being interconnected beyond perceptibility. What do you consider the cause and consequences of such developments within society?

DT – Warren Neidich’s essay on the work explores the update of the military-industrial-media-entertainment complex within his ongoing investigation on the bio-politics at work in the global transition from noopower to neuralpower. To put it simply, Warren re-materializes the brain as a terrain of political action, and conflict, by addressing neuralplasticity as a feedback protocol and analyzing the neurologic implications of a hermeneutic circle that connects the brain to enclosing technical apparatuses.

With that being said, its understandable that such events happen at the threshold of perceptibility since, although this transition leaves behind the immateriality of cognitive capitalism, they take place in an arena that is, at least in a Western perspective, the main core of the self, thus annihilating the distance to gain perspective on the matter and space for any counter-maneuver. The result is the corruption of the notion of agency in itself.

MFB – The work discusses the idea of a new neural economy. How do you conceive of the modes of operation of this neural economy? How might we avoid this state of perpetual labour?

DT – Like I said, the economy we’re talking about describes a certain return to materiality. It’s the result of a generalized shift in investment from noopower, understood as the latent power produced by the psychic mass of memories, information and attention that constitute the noosphere; to neuropower, as the direct instrumentalization of the material potencies found in the brain through the manipulation of neuralplasticity. This alteration involves, from the beginning, a transition in scale, subject-matter and workings; from the focus on a planetary sphere of reason to intra-cranial tactics of re-assemblage. So, we’re discussing the actual breach of the cranium as a final frontier, since the mode of operation of such economy is precisely the endo-colonisation of the brain through the capitalization of interfacing apparatuses. And it seems that, after the co-opting of play, entertainment and free time in cognitive capitalism through contemporary constructions such as playbour, the synaptic transmissions of the individual will fuel this new economy.

It’s interesting that you use the term “perpetual labour” as, if you think about it, under cognitive capitalism, or even, neural capitalism, perpetual labour implies a perpetual play, or perpetual thinking. Stopping the labour entails stop thinking. And the merge of this actions, as well as the exercise of trying to separate them, reveals the ever-changing cryptography of capitalism.

Suggestions of resistance often imply the disruption and hay wiring of cognitive architectures through art or psychotropic substances, since events promoted by these objects seem to be able disarrange and reconfigure our neural networks. It’s like blowing infrastructures as a last resort in military resistance. The question remains as how far you can retreat before you instigate an ontological crisis, keeping in mind that, if you don’t retreat, a crisis is inevitable.  When it comes to art, as some sort of resistance arsenal, I must admit that such strategy resembles an updated version of the neo-marxist discourse, and that already proved to be rather quixotic. I’m afraid that, at this point, it’s either acceleration or derailment.

MFB – It is interesting that new virtual/simulator technologies have so quickly been commodified for these entertainment and military complexes, something present even in the work with the presence of this ‘rave culture lexicon’. What can be said of this paralleled commodification?

DT – Commodification can be something pressed in by developers or financiers, by design and materials, or it can be a trait inherited by previous versions or iterations of certain piece of equipment. I believe that, historically, a certain intention of commodification has always been embedded in the development of simulation technologies. Sports and games have always been a platform where, in terms of experience, entertainment precedes warfare. This occurs because both sports and games are modelled after, and serve, an opposing vector, one that describes the extrusion of the military into entertainment. One just have to picture Simo Häyhä or Manfred von Richtoffen hunting deer as teenagers.

However, the conflation of simulation and computation — and we can even discuss if they are not one and the same thing — brings into play notions of automation, ubiquitousness and world building that potentiate the apparently innocuous traits of board games and hunting. If we think about the iconic claxons and sirens used in raves through the lens of neural capitalism, focusing specifically on their iteration during the 1990’s hardcore/jungle wave in the UK, it’s hard to ignore the historical affect that these sonic objects have in that context, since they seem to be the most stressed aural element in the descriptions of the WWII episodes that took place in that same country. Consequently, although these sirens have a history that can be traced back to dub and sound system culture, one can speculate on the fact that a token taken from a sound ecology of warfare has been collectively put back into circulation as counter-culture entertainment, eventually normalizing a soundscape of violence.

MFB – The work seems to view the propagation of these technologies as something insidious, as do many of the conversations centred around this subject. Must it be this way? How do you conceive a positive application of the technology?

DT – Personally, I don’t see the promiscuity between the military and entertainment as something clearly insidious. Or at least, I’m not well educated enough on the matter to utter a discourse that can negligently evaluate, and eventually condemn, something that can be described as a result of human traits. Nor can I impose an ethical view on the civilizational role of violence, both as a mechanism of self-preservation and object of desire. It would be like skipping the second part of Clockwork Orange. Therefore, if there’s any kind of moral assessment in the work, that’s the result of a miscalculation on my part. My objective was to perform an ontological mapping exercise through technological synthesis, and to be as reckless as possible while navigating the topics that we’ve been discussing.

Myles Francis is an arts journalist & writer, originally from London, now based in Lisbon. He has worked with such publications as Nicotine, TANK, Vogue Portugal, and now currently writes at Umbigo magazine.

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