[Reader-list] X Notes on Practice

Monica Narula monica at sarai.net
Fri Dec 10 11:14:12 IST 2004

Dear all

Here is an essay we wrote a few months ago, meant to be published in: 
Immaterial Labour:  Work, Research & Art, ed. Marina Vishmidt, 
Melanie Gilligan, Black Dog Publishing, London/New York, 2004. This 
is our day for sending in our essays, so there is another one next 
which extends some of the ideas raised in this .



X notes on Practice
Stubborn Structures and Insistent Seepage in a Networked World
Raqs Media Collective

The Figure of the Artisan

The artisan stands at the outer threshold of early modernity, 
fashioning a new age, ushering in a new spirit with movable type, 
plumb line, chisel, paper, new inks, dyes and lenses, and a 
sensibility that has room for curiosity, exploration, co-operation, 
elegance, economy, utility and a respect for the labour of the hand, 
the eye and the mind. The artisan is the typesetter, seamstress, 
block-maker, carpenter, weaver, computer, oculist, scribe, baker, 
dyer, pharmacist, mason, midwife, mechanic and cook - the ancestor of 
every modern trade. The artisan gestures towards a new age but is not 
quite sure of a place in it.

The figure of the artisan anticipates both the worker and the artist, 
in that it lays the foundations of the transformation of occupations 
(things that occupy us) into professions (institutionalized, 
structural locations within an economy). It mediates the 
transfiguration of people into skills, of lives into working lives, 
into variable capital. The artisan is the vehicle that carried us all 
into the contemporary world. She is the patient midwife of our notion 
of an autonomous creative and reflective self, waiting out the still 
births, nursing the prematurely born, weighing the infant and cutting 
the cords that tie it to an older patrimony. The artisan makes us who 
we are.

Yet, the artisan has neither the anonymity of the worker drone, not 
the hyper-individuated solipsism of the artist genius. The artisan is 
neither faceless, nor a celebrity; she belongs neither in the 
factory, nor in the salon, but functions best in the atelier, the 
workshop and the street, with apprentices and other artisans, making 
and trading things and knowledge. The artisan fashions neither the 
mass produced inventories of warehouses, nor the precious, unique 
objects that must only be seen in galleries, museums and auction 
houses. The objects and services that pass through her hands into the 
world are neither ubiquitous nor rare, nor do they seek value in 
ubiquity or rarity. They trade on the basis of their usage, within 
densely networked communities that the artisan is party to, not on 
the impetus of rival global speculations based on the volumes and 
volatility of stocks, or the price of a signature. As warehouses and 
auction houses proliferate, squeezing out the atelier and the 
workshop, the artisan loses her way. At the margins of an early 
industrial capitalism, the artisan seemingly transacts herself out of 
history, making way for the drone and the genius, for the polarities 
of drudgery and creativity, work and art.

Immaterial Labour

Due to the emergence of a new economy of intellectual property based 
on the fruits of immaterial labour, the distinction between the roles 
of the worker and the artist in strictly functional terms is once 
again becoming difficult to sustain. To understand why this is so we 
need to take a cursory look at the new ways in which value is 
increasingly being produced in the world today.

The combination of widespread cybernetic processes, increased 
economies of scale, agile management practices that adjust production 
to demand, and inventory status reports in a dispersed global 
assembly line, has made the mere manufacture of things a truly global 
fact. Cars, shoes, clothes, and medicines, or any commodity for that 
matter, are produced by more or less the same processes, anywhere. 
The manufacture of components, the research and design process, the 
final assembly and the marketing infrastructure no longer need to be 
circumscribed within one factory, or even one nation state or 
regional economic entity. The networked nature of contemporary 
industrial production frees the finished good from a fidelity to any 
one location. This also results in a corollary condition - a 
multiplication of renditions, or editions, (both authorized as well 
as counterfeit) of any product line at a global scale. Often, 
originals and their imitations are made in the same out-sourced 
sweatshop. The more things multiply, the more they tend towards 
similarity, in form and appearance, if not in function.

Thus, when capital becomes more successful than ever before at 
fashioning the material surface of the world after its own image, it 
also has more need than ever before for a sense of variety, a 
classificatory engine that could help order the mass that it 
generates, so that things do not cancel each other out by their 
generative equivalence. Hence the more things become the same the 
more need there is for distinguishing signs, to enable their 
purchase. The importance given to the notions of 'brand equity' from 
which we get derivatives from which we get derivatives like 'brand 
velocity', 'brand loyalty' and a host of other usages are prefixed by 
the term 'brand' indicative of this reality.

Today, the value of a good lies not only in what makes it a thing 
desirable enough to consume as a perishable capsule of (deferred) 
satisfaction. The value of a good lies especially in that aspect of 
it which makes it imperishable, eternally reproducible, and 
ubiquitously available. Information, which distils the imperishable, 
the reproducible, the ubiquitous in a condensed set of signs, is the 
true capital of this age. A commodity is no longer only an object 
that can be bought and sold; it is also that thing in it which can be 
read, interpreted and deciphered in such a way that every instance of 
decryption or encryption can also be bought and sold. Money lies in 
the meaning that lies hidden in a good. A good to eat must also be a 
good to think with, or to experiment with in a laboratory. This 
encryption of value, the codification and concentration of capital to 
its densest and most agile form is what we understand to be 
intellectual property.

How valuable is intellectual property?

How valuable is intellectual property? In attempting to find an 
answer to a question such as this, it is always instructive to look 
at the knowledge base that capitalism produces to assess and 
understand itself. In a recent paper titled "Evaluating IP Rights: In 
Search of Brand Value in the New Economy" a brand management 
consultant, Tony Samuel of PricewaterhouseCoopers' Intellectual Asset 
Management Group says:

"This change in the nature of competition and the dynamics of the new 
world economy have resulted in a change in the key value drivers for 
a company from tangible assets (such as plant and machinery) to 
intangible assets (such as brands, patents, copyright and know how). 
In particular, companies have taken advantage of more open trade 
opportunities by using the competitive advantage provided by brands 
and technology to access distant markets. This is reflected in the 
growth in the ratio of market-capitalised value to book value of 
listed companies. In the US, this ratio has increased from 1:1 to 5:1 
over the last twenty years.

In the UK, the ratio is similar, with less than 30% of the 
capitalised value of FTSE 350 companies appearing on the balance 
sheet. We would argue that the remaining 70% of unallocated value 
resides largely in intellectual property and certainly in 
intellectual assets. Noticeably, the sectors with the highest ratio 
of market capitalisation to book value are heavily reliant on 
copyright (such as the media sector), patents (such as technology and 
pharmaceutical) and brands (such as pharmaceutical, food and drink, 
media and financial services)."1

The paper goes on to quote Alan Shepard, sometime chairman of Grand 
Metropolitan plc, an international group specializing in branded 
food, drinks and retailing which merged with Guinness in 1997 to form 
Diageo, a corporation which today controls brands as diverse as 
Smirnoff and Burger King.

"Brands are the core of our business. We could, if we so wished, 
subcontract all of the production, distribution, sales and service 
functions and, provided that we retained ownership of our brands, we 
would continue to be successful and profitable. It is our brands that 
provide the profits of today and guarantee the profits of the future."

We have considered brands here at some length, because of the way in 
which brands populate our visual landscape. Were a born again 
landscape painter to try and represent a stretch of urban landscape, 
it would be advisable for him or her to have privileged access to a 
smart intellectual property lawyer. But what is true of brands is 
equally true of other forms of intangible assets, or intellectual 
property, ranging from music, to images to software.

The legal regime of intellectual property is in the process of 
encompassing as much as possible of all cultural transactions and 
production processes. All efforts to create or even understand art 
will have to come to terms, sooner or later, with the implications of 
this pervasive control, and intellectual property attorneys will no 
doubt exert considerable 'curatorial' influence as art events, 
museums and galleries clear artists projects, proposals and 
acquisitions as a matter of routine. These 'attorney-curators' will 
no doubt ensure that art institutions and events do not become liable 
for possible and potential 'intellectual property violations' that 
the artist, curator, theorist, writer or practitioner may or may not 
be aware of as being inscribed into their work.

The Worker as Artist

What are the implications of this scenario? The worker of the twenty 
first century, who has to survive in a marker that places the utmost 
value on the making of signs, finds that her tools, her labour, her 
skills are all to do with varying degrees of creative, interpretative 
and performative agency. She makes brands shine, she sculpts data, 
she mines meaning, she hews code. The real global factory is a 
network of neural processes, no less material than the blast furnaces 
and chimneys of manufacturing and industrial capitalism. The worker 
of the twenty first century is also a performer, a creator of value 
from meaning. She creates, researches and interprets, in the ordinary 
course of a working day to the order that would merit her being 
considered an artist or a researcher, if by 'artist' or 'researcher' 
we understand a person to be a figure who creates meaning or produces 

Nothing illustrates this better than the condition of workers in 
Information technology enabled industries like Call Centre and Remote 
Data Outsourcing, which have paved the way for a new international 
matrix of labour, and a given a sudden performative twist to the 
realities of what is called Globalization. In a recent installation, 
called A/S/L (Age/Sex/Location)2, we looked at the performative 
dimension in the lives of call centre workers.

The Call Centre Worker and her world3

A call centre worker in the suburb of Delhi, the city where we live, 
performs a Californian accent as she pursues a loan defaulter in a 
poor Los Angeles neighbourhood on the telephone. She threatens and 
cajoles him. She scares him, gets underneath his skin, because she is 
scared that he won't agree to pay, and that this will translate as a 
cut in her salary. Latitudes away from him, she has a window open on 
her computer telling her about the weather in his backyard, his 
credit history, his employment record, his prison record. Her skin is 
darker than his, but her voice is trained to be whiter on the phone. 
Her night is his day. She is a remote agent with a talent for 
impersonation in the IT enabled industry in India. She never gets 
paid extra for the long hours she puts in. He was laid off a few 
months ago, and hasn't been able to sort himself out. Which is why 
she is calling him for the company she works for. He lives in a third 
world neighbourhood in a first world city, she works in a free trade 
zone in a third world country. Neither knows the other as anything 
other than as 'case' and 'agent'. The conversation between them is a 
denial of their realities and an assertion of many identities, each 
with their truths, all at once.

Central to this kind of work is a process of imagining, understanding 
and invoking a world, mimesis, projection and verisimilitude as well 
as the skilful deployment of a combination of reality and 
representation. Elsewhere, we have written of the critical necessity 
of this artifice to work, (in terms of creating an impression of 
proximity that elides the actuality of distance) in order for a 
networked global capitalism to sustain itself on an everyday basis, 
but here, what we would like to emphasize is the crucial role that a 
certain amount of 'imaginative' skill, and   a  combination of 
knowledge, command over language, articulateness, technological 
dexterity and performativity plays in making this form of labour 
productive and efficient on a global scale.


Sometimes, the most significant heuristic openings are hidden away on 
the margins of the contemporary world. While the meta-narratives of 
war, globalization, disasters, pandemics and technological spectacles 
grab headlines, the world may be changing in significant but 
unrecognized directions at the margins, like an incipient glacier 
inching its way across a forsaken moraine. These realities may have 
to with the simple facts of people being on the move, of the 
improvised mechanisms of survival that suddenly open out new 
possibilities, and the ways in which a few basic facts and 
conceptions to do with the everyday acts of coping with the world 
pass between continents.

Here, margin is not so much a fact of location (as in something 
peripheral to an assumed centre) as it is a figure denoting a 
specific kind or degree of attentiveness. In this sense, a figure may 
be located at the very core of the reality that we are talking about, 
and still be marginal, because it does not cross a certain 
low-visibility, low-attention threshold, or because it is seen as 
being residual to the primary processes of reality. The call centre 
worker may be at the heart of the present global economy, but she is 
barely visible as an actor or an agent. In this sense, to be marginal 
is not necessary to be 'far from the action' or to be 'remote' or in 
any way distant from the very hub of the world as we find it today.

The Margin has its own image-field. And it is to this image-field 
that we turn to excavate or improvise a few resources for practice.

A minor artisanal specialization pertaining to medieval manuscript 
illumination was the drawing and inscription of what has been called 
"marginalia"4. "Marginalists" (generally apprentices to scribes) 
would inscribe figures, often illustrating profane wisdom, popular 
proverbs, burlesque figures and fantastical or allegorical allusions 
that occasionally constructed a counter-narrative to the main body of 
the master text, while often acting as what was known as "exempla": 
aids to conception and thought (and sometimes as inadvertent 
provocations for heretic meditations). It is here, in these marginal 
illuminations, that ordinary people - ploughmen, peasants, beggars, 
prostitutes and thieves would often make their appearances, 
constructing a parallel universe to that populated by kings, 
aristocrats, heroes, monsters, angels, prophets and divines. Much of 
our knowledge of what people looked like in the medieval world comes 
from the details that we find in manuscript marginalia. They index 
the real, even as they inscribe the nominally invisible. It would be 
interesting to think for instance of the incredible wealth of details 
of dress, attitude, social types and behaviours that we find in the 
paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, or Pierre Breughel as marginalia writ 
large. It is with some fidelity to this artisanal ideal of using 
marginalia as exemplars that we would like to offer a small gallery 
of contemporary marginal figures.

Five Figures to Consider

As significant annotations to the text of present realities, and as 
ways out for the dilemmas that we have faced in our own apprehensions 
of the world, we find ourselves coming back repeatedly to them in our 
practice - as images, as datums and as figures of thought, as 
somewhat profane icons for meditation. We feel that these figures, 
each in their own way, speak to the predicament of the contemporary 

Figure One: The Alien Navigates a Boat at Sea

A boat changes course at sea, dipping temporarily out of the radar of 
a nearby coast guard vessel. A cargo of contraband people in the 
hold, fleeing war, or the aftermath of war, or the fifth bad harvest 
in a row, or a dam that flooded their valley, or the absence of 
social security in the face of unemployment, or a government that 
suddenly took offence at the way they spelt their names - study the 
contours of an unknown coastline in their minds, experiment with the 
pronunciations of harbour names unfamiliar to their tongues. Their 
map of the world is contoured with safe havens and dangerous border 
posts, places for landing, transit and refuge, anywhere and 
everywhere, encircled and annotated in blue ink. A geography lesson 
learnt in the International University of Exile.

Figure Two: The Squatter builds a Tarpaulin Shelter

Tarpaulin, rope, a few large plastic drums, crates, long poles of 
seasoned bamboo, and quick eyes and skilled hands, create a new home. 
A migrant claims a patch of fallow land, marked "property of the 
state" in the city. Then comes the tough part: the search for papers, 
the guerrilla war with the Master Plan for a little bit of 
electricity, a little bit of water, a delay in the date of 
demolition, for a few scraps of legality, a few loose threads of 
citizenship.  The learning of a new accent, the taking on of a new 
name, the invention of one or several new histories that might get 
one a ration card, or a postponed eviction notice. The squat grows 
incrementally, in Rio de Janeiro, in Delhi, in Baghdad, creating a 
shadow global republic of not-quite citizens, with not-yet passports, 
and not-there addresses.

Figure Three: The Electronic Pirate burns a CD

A fifteen square-yard shack in a working-class suburb of northeast 
Delhi is a hub of the global entertainment industry. Here, a few 
assembled computers, a knock-down Korean CD writer, and some Chinese 
pirated software in the hands of a few formerly unemployed, or 
unemployable young people turned media entrepreneurs, transform the 
latest Hollywood, or Bollywood blockbuster into the stuff that you 
can watch in a tea shop on your way to work. Here, the media meets 
its extended public. It dies a quick death as one high-end commodity 
form, and is resurrected as another. And then, like the Holy Spirit, 
does not charge an exorbitant fee to deliver a little grace unto 
those who seek its fleeting favours. Electronic piracy is the flow of 
energy between chained product and liberated pixel that makes for a 
new communion, a samizdat of the song and dance spectacular.

Figure Four: The Hacker Network liberates Software

A community of programmers dispersed across the globe sustains a 
growing body of software and knowledge - a digital commons that is 
not fenced in by proprietary controls. A network of hackers, armed 
with nothing other than their phone lines, modems, internet accounts 
and personal computers inaugurate a quiet global insubordination by 
refusing to let code, music, texts, math and images be anything but 
freely available for download, transformation and distribution. The 
freedom is nurtured through the sharing of time, computing resources 
and knowledge in a way that works out to the advantage of those 
working to create the software, as well as to a larger public, that 
begins swapping music and sharing media files to an extent that makes 
large infotainment corporations look nervously at their balance 
sheets. The corporations throw their lawyers at the hackers, and the 
Intellectual Property Shock Troops are out on parade, but nothing can 
turn the steady erosion of the copyright.

Figure Five: Workers Protect Machines in an Occupied Factory

Seamstresses at the Brukman Garment Factory in Buenos Aires5 shield 
their machines against a crowd of policemen intent on smashing them. 
The power of the Argentine state provokes a perverse neo Luddite 
incident, in which the workers are attacked while they try to defend 
their machines from destruction.  The Brukman Factory is a "fabrica 
ocupada", a factory occupied by its workers, one of many that have 
sustained a new parallel social and economic structure based on self 
regulation and the free exchange of goods and services outside or 
tangential to the failed money economy - a regular feature of the way 
in which working people in Argentina cope with the ongoing economic 
crisis. Turning the rhetoric and tactics of working class protest on 
its head, the seamstresses of the Brukman factory fight not to 
withdraw their labour from the circuit of production, but to protect 
what they produce, and to defend their capacity to be producers, 
albeit outside the circuit desired by capital.

Significant Transgressions

These five transgressors, a pentacle of marginalia, can help us to 
think about what the practitioner might need to understand if she 
wants to recuperate a sense of agency. In very simple terms, she 
would need to take a lesson in breaking borders and moving on from 
the migrant, in standing her ground and staying located from the 
squatter, in placing herself as a link in an agile network of 
reproduction, distribution and exchange from the pirate, in sharing 
knowledge and enlarging a commons of ideas from the hacker, and in 
continuing to be autonomously productive from the workers occupying 
the factory.

The first imperative, that of crossing borders, translates as 
scepticism of the rhetoric of bounded identities, and relates to the 
role of the practitioner as a 'journeyman', as the peripatetic who 
maps an alternative world by her journey through it.  The second, of 
building a shelter against the odds of the law, insists however on a 
practice that is located in space, and rooted in experience, that 
houses itself in a concrete 'somewhere' on its own terms, not of the 
powers that govern spaces. It is this fragile insistence on 
provisional stability, which allows for journeys to be made to and 
from destinations, and for the mapping of routes with resting places 
in between. The third imperative, that of creating a fertile network 
of reproduction of cultural materials, is a recognition of the 
strength of ubiquity, or spreading ideas and information like a virus 
through a system. The fourth imperative, of insisting on the freedom 
of knowledge from proprietary control, is a statement about the 
purpose of production - to ensure greater pleasure and understanding 
without creating divisions based on property, and is tied in to the 
fifth imperative - a commitment to keep producing with autonomy and 

Taken together, these five exempla constitute an ethic of radical 
alterity to prevailing norms without being burdened by the rhetorical 
overload that a term like 'resistance' invariably seems to carry. 
They also map a different reality of 'globalization' - not the 
incessant, rapacious, expansion of capitalism, but the equally 
incessant imperative that makes people move across the lines that 
they are supposed to be circumscribed by, and enact the everyday acts 
of insubordination that have become necessary for their survival. It 
is important to look at this subaltern globalization from below, 
which is taking place everywhere, and which is perhaps far less 
understood than the age-old expansionist drive of capitalism, which 
is what the term 'globalization' is now generally used to refer to. 
It embodies different wills to globality and a plethora of global 
imaginaries that are often at cross-purposes with the dominant 
rhetoric of corporate globalization.

The illegal emigrant, the urban encroacher, electronic pirate, the 
hacker and the seamstresses of the Brukman Factory of Buenos Aires 
are not really the most glamorous images of embodied resistance. They 
act, if anything, out of a calculus of survival and self-interest 
that has little to do with a desire to 'resist' or transform the 
world. And yet, in their own way, they unsettle, undermine and 
destabilize the established structures of borders and boundaries, 
metropolitan master plans and the apparatus of intellectual property 
relations and a mechanism of production that robs the producer of 
agency. If we examine the architecture of the contemporary moment, 
and the figures that we have described, it does not take long to see 
five giant, important pillars:
(5)The consolidation, redrawing and protection of boundaries
(6)The grand projects of urban planning and renewal and
(7)The desire to protect information as the last great resource left 
for capitalism to mine - which is what Intellectual Property is all 
(8)Control over the production of knowledge and culture and
(9)The denial of agency to the producer.

Illegal emigration, urban encroachment, the assault on intellectual 
property regimes by any means, hacking and the occupation of sites of 
production by producers, each of which involve the accumulation of 
the acts of millions of people across the world on a daily, 
unorganized and voluntary basis, often at great risk to themselves, 
are the underbelly of this present reality.

But how might we begin to consider and understand the global figures 
of the alien, the encroacher, the pirate, the hacker and the worker 
defending her machine?

Capital and its Residue

The first thing to consider is the fact that most of these acts of 
transgression are inscribed into the very heart of established 
structures by people located at the extreme margins. The marginality 
of some of these figures is a function of their status as the 
'residue' of the global capitalist juggernaut. By 'residue', we mean 
those elements of the world that are engulfed by the processes of 
Capital, turned into 'waste' or 'leftovers', left behind, even thrown 

Capital transforms older forms of labour and ways of life into those 
that are either useful for it at present, or those that have no 
function and so must be made redundant. Thus you have the paradox of 
a new factory, which instead of creating new jobs often renders the 
people who live around 'unemployable'; A new dam, that instead of 
providing irrigation, renders a million displaced, a new highway that 
destroys common paths, making movement more, not less difficult for 
the people and the communities it cuts through. On the other hand 
sometimes, like a sportsman with an injury who no longer has a place 
on the team, a factory that closes down ensures that the place it was 
located in ceases to be a destination. And so, the workers have to 
ensure that it stays open, and working in order for them to have a 
place under the sun.

What happens to the people in the places that fall off the map? Where 
do they go? They are forced, of course, to go in search of the map 
that has abandoned them. But when they leave everything behind and 
venture into a new life they do not do so entirely alone.  They go 
with the networked histories of other voyages and transgressions, and 
are able at any point to deploy the insistent, ubiquitous insider 
knowledge of today's networked world.

Seepage in the Network

How does this network act, and how does it make itself known in our 
consciousness? We like to think about this in terms of Seepage. By 
seepage, we mean the action of many currents of fluid material 
leaching on to a stable structure, entering and spreading through it 
by way of pores. Until, it becomes a part of the structure, both in 
terms of its surface, and at the same time continues to act on its 
core, to gradually disaggregate its solidity. To crumble it over time 
with moisture.

In a wider sense, seepage can be conceived as those acts that ooze 
through the pores of the outer surfaces of structures into available 
pores within the structure, and result in a weakening of the 
structure itself. Initially the process is invisible, and then it 
slowly starts causing mould and settles into a disfiguration - and 
this produces an anxiety about the strength and durability of the 

By itself seepage is not an alternative form; it even needs the 
structure to become what it is - but it creates new conditions in 
which structures become fragile and are rendered difficult to 
sustain. It enables the play of an alternative imagination, and so we 
begin seeing faces and patterns on the wall that change as the 
seepage ebbs and flows.

In a networked world, there are many acts of seepage, some of which 
we have already described. They destabilize the structure, without 
making any claims. So the encroacher redefines the city, even as she 
needs the city to survive. The trespasser alters the border by 
crossing it, rendering it meaningless and yet making it present 
everywhere - even in the heart of the capital city - so that every 
citizen becomes a suspect alien and the compact of citizenship that 
sustains the state is quietly eroded. The pirate renders impossible 
the difference between the authorised and the unauthorised copy, 
spreading information and culture, and devaluing intellectual 
property at the same time. Seepage complicates the norm by inducing 
invisible structural changes that accumulate over time.

It is crucial to the concept of seepage that individual acts of 
insubordination not be uprooted from the original experience. They 
have to remain embedded in the wider context to make any sense. And 
this wider context is a networked context, a context in which 
incessant movement between nodes is critical.

A Problem for the History of the Network

But how is this network's history to be understood? To a large 
measure, this is made difficult by the fact of an "asymmetry of 
ignorance" about the world. We are all ignorant of the world in 
different ways and to different degrees. And that is one of the 
reasons why the "Network" often shades off into darkness, at some or 
the other point. This is what leads to global networks that 
nevertheless ignore the realities of large parts of the world, 
because no one has the means to speak of those parts, and no one 
knows, whether people exist in those parts that can even speak to the 
world in the language of the network. Thus the language of the 
network often remains at best only a mobile local dialect.

A media practitioner or cultural worker from India, e.g., is in all 
likelihood more knowledgeable about the history of Europe than could 
be the case for the European vis-a-vis India. This is a fact 
engendered by colonialism that has left some societies impoverished 
in all but an apprehension of reality that is necessarily global. The 
historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has reminded us,

"Insofar as the academic discourse of history is concerned, 'Europe' 
remains the sovereign, theoretical subject of all histories, 
including the ones we call 'Indian', 'Chinese', 'Kenyan', and so on. 
There is a peculiar way in which all these other histories tend to 
become variations on a master narrative that could be called 'the 
history of Europe'."6

But this very same fact, when looked at from a European standpoint, 
may lead to a myopia, an inability to see anything other than the 
representational master narrative of European history moulding the 
world. The rest of the world is thus often a copy seeking to 
approximate this original.

All this to say: not merely that we have incomplete perspectives, but 
that this asymmetry induces an inability to see the face in the wall, 
the interesting pattern, produced by the seepage. We may inhabit the 
anxiety, even be the source and locus of the destabilization and 
recognize the disfiguration, but the envisioning of possible 
alternative imaginaries may still continue to elude us.

Towards an Enactive Model of Practice

Recently in a book on neuropolitics7, we came across an experiment 
which is now considered classic in studies of perception, (The Held 
and Heims Experiment) which might give us an interesting direction to 
follow now.

Two litters of kittens are raised in the dark for some time and then 
exposed to light under two different sets of conditions.  The first 
group is allowed to move around in the visual field and interact with 
it as kittens do - smelling things, touching them, trying out what 
can be climbed and where the best places to sleep are.  The kittens 
in the second group, (though they are placed in the same environment) 
are carried around in baskets rather than allowed to explore the 
space themselves, and thus are unable to interact with it with all 
their senses and of their own volition.

The two groups of kittens develop in very different ways. When the 
animals are released after a few weeks of this treatment, the first 
group of kittens behaves normally, but those who have been carried 
around behave as if they were blind; they bump into objects and fell 
over edges. It is clear that the first group's freedom to experience 
the environment in a holistic way is fundamental to its ability to 
perceive it at all.
What is the significance of this? Within neuroscience, such 
experiments have served to draw neuroscientists and cognitive 
scientists away from representational models of mind towards an 
"enactive" model of perception in which objects are not perceived 
simply as visual abstractions but rather through an experiential 
process in which information received from this one sense is 
"networked" with that from every other.  Vision, in other words, is 
deeply embedded in the processes of life, and it is crucial to our 
ability to see that we offset the representations that we process, 
with the results of the experiences that we enter into. We need to 
know what happens when we take a step, bump into someone, be startled 
by a loud noise, come across a stranger, an angry or a friendly face, 
a gun or a jar of milk.

In a sense this implies a three-stage encounter that we are ascribing 
between the practitioner and her world.  First, a recognition of the 
fact that instances of art practices can be seen as contiguous to a 
'neighbourhood' of marginal practices embodied by the figures of the 
five transgressors. Secondly, that 'seeing' oneself as a 
practitioner, and understanding the latent potentialities of one's 
practice, might also involve listening to the ways in which each of 
the five transgressive figures encounters the world. Finally, that 
what one gleans from each instance of transgression can then be 
integrated into a practice which constitutes itself as an ensemble of 
attitudes, ways of thinking, doing and embodying (or recuperating) 
creative agency in a networked world.

For us here, this helps in thinking about the importance of 
recognizing the particularity of each encounter that the practitioner 
witnesses or enters into, without losing sight of the extended 
network, of the 'neighbourhood' of practices.

It is only when we see particularities that we are also able to see 
how two or more particular instances connect to each other. As 
residues, that search for meaning in other residual experiences; or 
as acts of seepage, in which the flow of materials from one pore to 
another ends up connecting two nodes in the network, by sheer force 
of gravity. Here it is the gradients of the flow, the surface tension 
that the flow encounters and the distance that the flow traverses, 
that become important, not the intention to flow itself. Intentions, 
resistances, may be imputed, but in the end they have little to do 
with the actual movements that transpire within the network.

Art practice and protocols of networked conversation

What does art and artistic practice have to do with all this? What 
can the practitioner take from an understanding of interactive 
embeddedness in a networked world? We would argue that the diverse 
practices that now inhabit art spaces need to be able to recognize 
the patterns in the seepage, to see connections between different 
aspects of a networked reality.

To do this, the practitioner probably has to invent, or discover, 
protocols of conversation across sites, across different histories of 
locatedness in the network; to invent protocols of resource building 
and sharing, create structures within structures and networks within 
networks. Mechanisms of flexible agreements about how different 
instances of enactment can share a contiguous semantic space will 
have to be arrived at. And as we discover these 'protocols', their 
different ethical, affective and cognitive resonances will 
immediately enter the equation. We can then also begin to think of 
art practice as enactment, as process, as elements in an interaction 
or conversation within a network.

For the acts of seepage to connect to form new patterns, many new 
conversations will have to be opened, and mobile dialects will have 
to rub shoulders with each other to create new, networked Creoles. 
Perhaps art practice in a networked reality can itself aspire to 
create the disfigurations on the wall, to induce some anxieties in 
the structure, even while making possible the reading of the face in 
the spreading stain, the serendipitous discovery of an interesting 
pattern or cluster of patterns, and possible alterities.

This text draws from a presentation by Monica Narula (Raqs Media 
Collective) at Globalica - a symposium on "conceptual and artistic 
tensions in the new global disorder", held at the WRO Center for 
Media Art, Wroclaw, Poland in May 2003.

The images are from A/S/L, an installation by Raqs Media Collective.
A/S/L support: Editing: Parvati Sharma, Sound Design: Vipin Bhati, 
Production Assistance: Ashish Mahajan, T.Meyarivan, Produced at Sarai 
Media Lab, Sarai/CSDS, Delhi.


1. Tony Samuel, PricewaterhouseCoopers' Intellectual Asset Management 
Group, Evaluating IP Rights: In Search of Brand Value in the New 

2. A/S/L: A video, text and sound installation by Raqs Media 
Collective that juxtaposes the protocols of interpersonal 
communication, online labour, data outsourcing, and the 
making/unmaking of remote agency in the 'new' economy. Presented at 
the Geography and the Politics of Mobility exhibition, curated by 
Ursula Biemann for the Generali Foundation, Vienna, (January - April 

3. Raqs Media Collective, "Call Centre Calling: Technology, Network 
and Location", Sarai Reader 03: Shaping Technologies, February 2003.

for more on the call center industry in India, see -
Mark Landler, "Hi I'm in Bangalore (But I Dare Not Tell)", New York 
Times (Technology Section) March 21, 2001.

India Calling - A Report on the Call Centre Industry in India

4. Andrew Otwell, Medieval Manuscript Marginalia and Proverbs, 1995.

5. Naomi Klein, Argentina's Luddite Rulers: Workers in the Occupied 
Factories Have a Different Vision: Smash the Logic, Not the Machines, 
Dissident Voice, April 25, 2003

6. Dipesh Chakravarty, "Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: 
Who Speaks for 'Indian' Pasts", Representations, 37 (Winter, 1992)

7. William E. Connolly, "Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed", 
Theory Out of Bounds, Number 23, Univ. of Minnesota, 2002

Monica Narula [Raqs Media Collective]
29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 054

Monica Narula [Raqs Media Collective]
29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 054

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