third year: 1999 series of lectures: lectures / conversations with lecturers / lecturers

course for curators of contemporary art: course participants / study excursions / program collaborators / exhibition /


Cãlin Dan
Geography of Doom. An Estimate of Possibilities


The Body and its Virtual Dreams

AMEROPA. (Why Is Mighty Mouse Ruling The World?)

My first research for "Happy Doomsday!" was targeting the possibility of visualising history through the dynamics of border shifts in Europe. Installed as we are on top of 5000 years of military conflict and territorial division through peace treaties, I was convinced that chaotic behaviour could be extracted from there. Then I dropped on a piece of software called "Centennia", developed by a Chicago based company whose web site sells the product as ''used in the teaching of European history to the US Navy officers''.

"Centennia" indeed does provide a functional way of looking at the political map of Europe: VCR-type interface for play/fast forward/fast backwards; zoom in and out; and a stripe of text trying to keep up with the graphic events. One could zap through the arcane of European conflicts and come out unscathed by the effort. The flatness of the visuals and the minimal interaction pattern might seem appalling - considering the subject - but they actually build a product with some historical significance. "Centennia" is - at the brink of a new era of militarisation as well as anti-Americanism of Europe - a double mirror, reminding the cross Atlantic parties what makes their marriage so difficult: *imagology*.

\= Americans(1) are simplistic while Europeans are complicated. Americans are insensitive and Europeans hypocrite. Americans are dominant, Europeans weak. Americans arrogant, Europeans cynical. Americans ignorant, Europeans precious. Americans loud, Europeans hidden. Americans take pills, Europeans smoke joints. Americans eat junk, Europeans drink stuffs. =/ This imagological pastiche can be played back-and-forth like "Centennia" plays history - to no resolve. Imagology, as we know by now, is self reflexive, and so is the military enterprise: no matter what kind of propaganda effort wraps &the latest war&, all conflicts are unified by an urge for gratification. That is why military history looks so repetitive, retrospectively speaking of course. And that is why geopolitics (*GP*) was invented: to simplify the logic behind this urge and to offer fast argumentation for its fulfilment. What the "Centennia" cartoon is confronting us all with is a self-centred vision on land= and history= (actually on =matter and =time), which must submit their behaviour to our collective fantasies. And that vision, although it is more explicitly convergent with >>the American dream<<, is relevant also for Europeans, Asians, Antipodeans.

Exercise: Since the Americans' perception of Europe can not be challenged in its simplicity, maybe ||Europeans|| should, for a change, try applying the complicated pattern of their local *GP* to America. The obsessive processes at play among ++the European States++ could be easily translated to ++the United Ones++ as well. Without ignoring the different linguistic context, one should consider maybe that the citizens of Montana and those of (say) Georgia feel further apart from each other than the East Coasters feel from Europe or the West Coasters from Australia, for instance. One should also consider the long list of civil wars feeding the history and the propaganda, but also the daily life in the !!U.S. of A. !!!! (frontier/Mafia/police/gang wars, all categories with countless subdivisions, all opposing groups/segments of society in a consistent stream of violence). Territorial division and intricate conflicts - this is a familiar picture from which Europe can dwell some compassion for its younger and Big(ger) Brother, as well as retrieve some self-esteem(2). //end of Exercise://

Meanwhile America is busy externalising bits of its traumas by polic(e)ing some hot corner of the global entropy: &Civil War& vs. &Civic War&. And #Americano-therapy# vs. %Euro-psychoanalysis%. Those two geo-entities, linked apparently in a confused marriage, seem to be each other's nightmare: whatever one partner loves (envies) in the other is immediately shadowed by something it hates the most. And mutually the other way round. But besides and beyond these couple of dilemmas lies an unexpected harmony:

It is neither the Americans nor the Europeans who rule the world, but @Mighty Mouse@ - the successful bastard of the two!!!! With fairy-tale gear and cartoonish efficiency - this !!!!Ameropean child!!!! spins the globe with his speedy magic, deleting any resistance and clicking into action our infantile dreams about power, lust, and lack of responsibility. Why Does Mighty Mouse RuleThe World? Because we live in a world that just %LOVES% Mighty Mouse.


Portraying Europe. The Euclidean Puzzle.

Software is determinant in shaping visuals. While trying to figure out Europe (as a geographic shape, that is) HD! stepped from the abstract and somehow sad visions of genetic algorithms and fractal waves in the direction of game semiotics, with happier narrative-&-content oriented 3D environments.

The map of the continent remained a crucial element in the project, but its main functionality was confined to the Tactical level of the game. The continental plate was divided into separate entities, each of them following the general outline of a specific country and situated at its respective geographical position (Euro-map of 1998, date of HD! production). The shapes of countries were generated by a process of simplification, in the way puzzles are designed. Then those 2D stereotypes were extruded into 3D boxes, to which the minimal details of a fortress wall and a concrete grey texture were added. The countries are separated from each other by deep trenches; filled with lava and interconnected in a maze they actually reproduce the borderlines of Europe. The whole construction is floating on a deep blue sea.

|Boxes\fortresses\puzzle\maze| -Without even a preliminary calculation, Doomsday(!) Europe was shaped along the fundamentals of modern politics: defensive systems with offensive capabilities; entrenched positions forcing the potential enemies into a cohesive relation. The \geometry of power= and the progressive =disappearance of geography/ under the pressure of political institutions.

The direct model for the HD! map was the design of fortifications as it developed from the 15th Century onwards, under pressure of the increasing use of guns in both siege and defence. The star shaped forts progressively hiding under layers of earth were actually enacting the paradoxes of modernity itself: fractured relations between function and emotion, between symbols and facts, between the integral calculus of artillery and the Euclidean description of con|solid|ated spaces. And they were also enacting a visual model of geopolitical thinking, which also happens to be a by-product of modernism.


What is geopolitics? [1] Sex & Karma

The ultimate reason behind the elaborated speculations of *GP* is ||WAR||. In a positive perception, *GP* helps to point out the obvious - under the many layers {economic, scientific, cultural, emotional etc.} of {any} geo-analysis - a unique engine, where !!!!power and fear!!!! are geared together/chase each other in a stimulus loop. That loop is finally spinning off in ||WAR||. Along the process, *GP* can reduce the geographic prejudices to their essential psycho analytical ground. From there on the individual option (freedom/protection) becomes a matter of will. As with one's own sexuality, the acknowledgement of the dark sides connected to domination and violence could be liberating, if so decided by the patient.

The lesser side of the story comes when *GP* acts as a \substitute of destiny/, reducing therefore the status of societies to a pre-determined pattern. To extend the sexual analogy: in the negative option, when people fall from innocence, they fall both into their death-linked sexuality and into the prison of their geopolitical faith. From here on, no matter what happens to the social tissue, to the individual and to the community is pre-determined, and therefore exempt of any moral (legal?) consequence. Russians belong to a huge & nervous country under continuous threat from the Asian nightmare; USA are a big and lazy power overseeing the globe from a distant position; England is an arrogant island between Europe, the North Pole and America; the Balkans are a mish mash of frustrated identities etc. Belonging to a specific area by birth becomes a karmic thing, containing its own reward or punishment, without any logic.


The vision of Micromégas .

The main function of the HD! tactical map, like the function of any puzzle, is to enhance the details while keeping open the perception of the whole, so that @the zoom-factor@ never deletes @the context-factor@ from the play. Both the user and the interface are huge and small, comprehensive and fragmented, submissive and dominant, in an ever changing relation. The user can keep a holistic vision of the continental maze (the so called satellite prospective), navigate on top of it at middle height (the balloon prospective), or land on the surface of a country, be a part of it (the grass hopper prospective provided by the Ground level).

That is what happened to Gulliver's perception while he travelled from Lilliput to Brobdingnag, with a difference that in HD! the process is simultaneous. That is why Voltaire's hero, Micromégas, is a more appropriate analogy here: a giant for the terrestrians and a dwarf for the inhabitants of other planets, Micromégas is not an innocent observer and a passive commentator who experiences his adventures as they come (Gulliver's case); but an advised explorer of the universe, who KNOWS about and TAKES ADVANTAGE of his ambiguous situation. Unlike Gulliver Micromégas is constantly IN-&-OUT of his story - an essential difference.

Of course there is a trick in HD!. What vectorial design allows to happen is that a number of derivative scenes can be built by scaling an initial module. The scene graph of the Tactical map is different from the scene graphs of the countries as they appear on the Ground level, but the previous provides the modelling units for building the latter. When navigating on the Ground level, the player is actually hosted in a scene graph where only one country appears at a time. Bridges positioned at the respective frontier points provide links to the neighbouring countries/scene graphs. In this way the complete map of Europe can be navigated virtually, but only room by room, space by space, country by country. Due to the consistency in design, the perception loop is closed and the user gets an almost impossible feeling of tactile control over geographic realities.

Generated in order to get around a hardware limitation, this solution is otherwise also meaningful. Countries are a continuum only from the static/vertical perception of GOD; from the horizontal perception of the inhabitant/traveller they are closed spaces, linked only via controlled segments of space. While playing HD! at the Tactical, respectively the Ground level, users participate in two separate processes of identification. The Micromégas-like a priori sense of space helps cumulating them and therefore (hopefully) understanding the emotional essence of *GP*: its reality cannot function out of a fictional convention, where !!!!  the citizen and the user merge!!!!, becoming the owner of a fiction (geography) and the character in a play (politics). In other words, one cannot respond to a *GP* environment but by being simultaneously a controller (the god of interaction) and a symbolic property (the manipulated avatar).


What is geopolitics? [2] The citizen and the user.

*GP* is actually about aesthetics more than about strategy. Mapping the streams of interests in scale politics is a cosmetic operation meant to impress the users with an interface of logic and force. From the first attempts to map the world to the >clean wars< of the 90's, a propaganda machine worked relentlessly to hide the messiness of war through the harmonious logic of $mediated geography$. There is no causal necessity deriving from geographic co-ordinates and characteristics; only the game scenarios imply that, in order to generate participation. We could improvise even further by saying that #conspiracy theories & geopolitics# are con substantial in the implication that there is a superior order in political decision, and also an objective necessity to support that order. While the democratic apparatus denies both domains, it secretly relies on them for arguing the infallibility of the state.
In the follow up of this assessment one could push further the analogy [(geo)politics=gaming] and say that *Citizenship* is an obsolete concept, since it doesn't reflect (!!!!anymore/for a long time already!!!!) the status quo.
*Usership* is more accurate and more comprehensive, describing both the attitude (curious, but distant and self-absorbed), and the positioning of the electorate with respect to the political landscape: >>in for the entertaining/out for the responsibility!<<


L'Etat c'est moi.[1]. The Muscles of the Animal

HD! relies on a physically aggressive interface as well as on conflict oriented virtual geography. Users are asked to assume as avatar an existing country by selecting it on a touch screen; then they are asked to work out on a fitness machine in order to increase their virtual identity by direct muscular force. Generated by an attitude of dada-like cynicism (linking war to muscles and politics to fitness), the overall HD! concept evolved as an expression of the crisis confronting the zoon polytykon which hides in the user.
Since the =political animal= is absorbed by entertainment, the only efficient way to circulate information might be precisely by using entertainment's channels and formats. Moreover, since media acceleration(3) is decreasing exponentially the user's sense of participation while giving h|e|m a fake (over)-awareness, the counter method might be connecting physical exercise to larger topics, crediting the body as a gate for re-accessing attention, (true) awareness, direct participation.


What is geopolitics? [3]. Going Bananas (once)

The problem rising as soon as one tries to attack *GP* as a domain of oppressive prejudices is that it has (at least some) support from the side of facts. To make myself understood, I will use as an example one of the pet metaphors from *GP* discourses involving economic aspects: the BANANA. The wealth belt connecting Milan to London, the crop density in the USA, the traffic of transatlantic cargo, the draught affected areas, the drug production and transportation, the light weaponry distribution in Eurasia, all kind of relevant phenomena seem to organise themselves according to a BANANA pattern. It looks too good to be true, but (social) life seems to organise itself in a pattern reminding of a fruit vulgar by name and obscene by shape: BANANA(4).
Belonging to one BANANA clutter or another can be of immense consequence. Let us consider for instance a country from the opium B., say Afghanistan: what chance is it given by geography (relief, soil, climate, neighbours) and by history in order to reach what are considered to be the Western standards of democracy? None, if I may be blunt; at least not for the foreseeable future. Afghanistan, amongst others, belongs to what Mircea Eliade used to call >>peoples under history<<, with an identity so much oppressed that history itself seems to ignore them.

What #statehood# brings to these areas (where the "peoples" themselves are shifting between ignoring history and waiting for its advent) is usually oppression, tribal hatred, political violence, ideological/religious fundamentalism. What those places are/could be outside of statehood depends very much on their position within the respective banana and on its demographic density. In the <<skinny bananas>> fragmentation can bring survival, while agglomeration (of interests/infrastructure, resulting in statehood) means (almost) certain collapse.


What is geopolitics? [4]. Proteger et Punir

Turning our attention now to the <<fat bananas>> floating on the mainstream of history, what statehood brings there is a diminished place for individualism in exchange for an increased space dedicated to its administration and punishment, protection and service. Numbers of writings (among them Foucault's "Surveiller et Punir" being a reference) emphasise the oppressive functions of the modern state, feeding the idea of adjustments in favour of increased individual freedom [IIF]. In one of those strange paradigm shifts which occur without raising much questioning, the claim for [IIF] started to be spinned into a generic argument for neo-liberal tactics: largely the dissolution of states within the corporate strategies of global control.

Patterns of development along these lines seem to be already at work, and what has been a cold war favourite subject for SF distopias {cyber-punk just adding an edge (and a closure) to the long line of doom visions based on global government} changed significantly during the last decade into scientific analysis and prognosis. Political decisions at the top (Euro currency, NATO policies), uncovering of older surveillance schemes (Echelon), as well as the double aspect of media acceleration (freedom and control) came to feed the debate.
What appears as surprising in the polemics between neo(right)-liberals and (neo)left-intellectuals is the dilemmatic position of the last with regards to the situation, position and faith of the state. Embarrassed on one side by their own anarchist luggage (acquired in order to build a distance from the realpolitik of Communism?) and on the other by the nationalist discourses firing from all directions (republicans, Catholics, royalists, Protestants, "former" communists, etc.) the critics of the corporate offensive are neither able to define a realist alternative to the state nor to defend it as being the lesser evil.
Of course the state has already entered the process of self demolition. But typically for unsolved psychoanalytical conflicts, the relation of the intellectuals with the state remains sensitive, and the present crisis stays un-addressed.


What is geopolitics? [5]. The Aquarius Handicap

Protection/Punishment is a commonly known psychoanalytical couple of concepts associated with parental care. They define the paradoxes of individual development, forever oscillating between two fundamental needs: shelter and freedom. What the }60's{ actually did was translated that dilemma of the family cell into the social theatre. But the symbolic immolation of the father and the sexual revolution did not stop at the level of individual liberation, as it seemed for a while. The psychoanalytic resentment fashioned by the baby boom generation as a social issue in the 60's was promoted by the representatives of the same generation as a political strategy in the 90's. And since politics are now consistent with marketing, the same trends can be followed into the mainstream of consumerism, pop culture, and global policies. The ||forever young|| ideology of the 90's is the marketing version of the \\flower power// from 30 years ago. And the neo-liberal= doctrine is the new face of """power to the people""". A normal (d)evolution, somehow, considering that the inhalers of the }60's{ are the political leaders of this moment.

There lie the reasons why nobody has the instrument to address the crisis of the state: the decision makers are accomplishing an old dream, although a bit reshuffled. The commentators on the margin have family problems: they cannot get back and mourn for something they learned to hate so well.


What is geopolitics? [6]. Going Bananas (twice)

The overall experimental aspect of this decade can be better grasped via the recurrent scheme of the bananas. The political discourse is framing the areas of under historical status quo (skinny bananas) from the point of view of ""classic"" democracy, as if expecting Western-styled statehood to be implemented and function properly where the state was mostly a sour experience.
Symmetrically, those areas precisely where the state model proved to be functional (fat bananas) are reshaped into a direction where tribal fragmentation, regionalism and low intensity chaos might be the retribution for ambitious para-state policies.
It looks like a SWAP method is put at work in order to challenge the potential of adaptation in both types of anomalies (fat & skinny): the very poor will get the diseases of the rich and the rich will get the fears of the poor. Social engineering with a zest of humour.


L'Etat c'est moi [2]. BALKAFRICA

Fouquet: Sire, mais l'Etat...

Louis XIV: l'Etat, c'est moi!

Assuming *the statehood= of one's own =body* is not just an obvious way of moralising on the issue of direct responsibility in politics and war, but also a way of questioning those domains, their dynamics and their borders. The over-present physical interface of HD! was designed as an instrument of doubt, as a teaser of the institutional body through the minimal performances of the physical one. However, a year and a few conflicts after the project was completed, the fitness machine metaphor gets a new edge of significance.

Exercise: If >>Balkanisation<< is the term that made history in political-&-media language with reference to things that turn messy somewhere in the world, what would be then the word for coining the last 10 years of continuous mess in the Balkans proper? AFRICANIZATION is my guess for a good replacement. Not because it points at an area which competes (with very little success, it is true) for the same media attention as @the Appendix of Europe@; but because it stirs in the *user* streams of irrationality that belong actually to its (past) fears as a +citizen+.

Africa is a place to which any AMEROPEAN user has a special relation through colonial guilt, racial difference and/or cultural attraction. Meanwhile, the space of Africa is mentally accessible only with the distant abstraction of a dark fairy tale. It has no geography except on safari areas, and no geopolitical structure beyond the rims of urban density along the coastal line (mainly the Mediterranean and the Cape areas). The obstinate way in which war is waged in Africa makes politics incomprehensible, since not instrumented with familiar tools (of which *GP* is maybe the most important, emotionally speaking). Still, African conflicts are instructive for the Ameropeans precisely because the only familiar reference they get there is the physicality of the body at war. That means mutilation, rape, massacre, displacement. Since the *GP* context is both banal {everybody "knows" that Africa is the back yard where (super)powers play poker with resources and ideologies} and totally obscure, the body is finally the real hero of conflicts, their object, instrument and goal. War in Africa is beyond any glamorous speculation, untouched by literature and film and uninteresting for the prime time media. It is JUST war.

How do the Ameropean users react to this different type of reality? Mainly with frustration: there is !!!!no interaction!!!! possible in the African war game; just masses of people, individualised by cameras only for the few seconds needed to show some maimed limbs. People so unhappy that it makes you angry; so constantly oppressed that you start hating them. It is just too stupid to be one of those victims, to be constantly in the way of violence. Hate+ and +anger are good: they pull the user out of its status of expectation, they almost force h\e\m towards citizenship. Almost.

In the Balkans, like in Africa, human ordeal managed to transcend somehow the geopolitical dimension of war. Over-intricate national conflicts are packed in areas of density impossible to comprehend by the usual standards; military effort is invested in the conquest of barns; orchards become strategic areas; tactical knowledge is deployed in a family vs. family and ÷door-to-door attrition÷. Under the circumstances, war became again irrelevant beyond the direct involvement of the body. Once again war proved to be so ugly and unglamorous that it looked dull, except for the unbearable sufferings of people on all sides. Over-powered media interpretations contributed unexpectedly to the emotional saturation {everybody "suspects" now that ||former Yugoslavia|| is the back yard where (super)powers play poker with resources and ideologies}. And maybe for the first time since la Grande Guerre, war within Europe is perceived as deprived of any objective necessity, historically speaking.
At the end of the decade AMEROPA is looking through the news screens at BALKAFRICA with exhausted anger: victims are there all day long, brought by a media that wants the users to feel guilty, while it conspires to keep them impotent. //end of Exercise://

What should be extracted from this is a total rejection of the political body, as inefficient, selfish, and dishonest. While politics (and war) can function only by compromise, the individual involvement in conflicts is uncompromising, effective and irreversible. When people die, they stay dead, when they lose their house - it is lost, when they kill their neighbours, their environment is damaged for a generation. The AFRICANISATION of the Balkans proved that the community is as unreliable and as dangerous as the state, that geopolitics+ and +village politics obey the same dirty rules, that there is no place for individuality at any level of the social body.
As a consequence, the only way out of this crisis is the self-extraction of the individual from the interfaces of historical determinism. The HD! interface should be understood in the end not as a means for working out the relation with the institutions of war, but as an exercise in dissent and rejection of all institution, as far as they interfere with the integrity of the body.



(1) As stated by Alfredo Jaar already years ago, AMERICA== is an abusive term, wrongly used by many in order to designate the ==USA. For the speed factor and for reasons of style, I do the same here.

(2) For the #rape mentality# underlining the European myth see my text ||Computer Game Europa|| in "Related Issues" (editor Christian Kravagna), published in the framework of the "complexul muzeal" exhibition (1997).

(3) See my essay about ''Media Acceleration'' in "MEDIA REVOLUTION"- an anthology to be published this year by the Bauhaus Dessau Stiftung and Campus Verlag.

(4) From Banana Yoshimoto to the recent USA vs. Europe "Banana War", from the Warholian gallery sign to the obsession of Eastern European immigrants (Romanian and Russian mainly) have with this food, the presence of the banana in our lives takes delirious dimensions. Not to forget the >>Banana republics<< - a cute concept used for describing the Central American democracies in the *GP* of the 70's.



  1. The Body and its Virtual Dreams
  2. An Unespected Issue: going bananas