An exhibition at ZKM Karslruhe Fall 2004
(Title and dates are provisional)
Curators: Peter Weibel & Bruno Latour; commissioned contributors: list to be defined;
First proposition: call for ideas
Contact: at ZKM: Sabine Himmelsbach (head of exhibition department), Margit Rosen; in Paris: Valérie Pihet. Send all e-mail correspondance to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
‘Democracy’, as Winston Churchill, famously said: “is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. It would of course be much better if we, ordinary myopic citizens, would delegate our lives to the care of our betters and elders. But these super-lucid caretakers seem to have disappeared in the turmoil of the last century, together with the dream of a superior caste, superior avant-garde, superior science of history.Recently, even confidence in the benevolent invisible hand of superhumanly wise market forces has waned somewhat. Of course, it would be much more comfortable if we could still confide our biology, our ecology, our industry, our computers, our economies and our politics to scientists and engineers who know better and see farther. But the sciences that were part of the solution have become, one after the other, part of the problem. The objects of science and technology have become so controversial and so entangled that the delegation of power to experts appears no easier than the older delegation of power to members of parliament. This is has been diagnosed as the ‘crisis of representation’.
So where does that leave us? From now on, the blind are leading the blind. Good. At least we are freed from the nightmare scenarios concocted for us by the know-it-alls. And yet we have to be led; we have to come to some sort of agreement about controversial states of affairs. Although the crisis of representation is everywhere in science, in law, in ethics, in art, in politics, it has to be somehow overcome. Democracy has to be extended, it seems, to things of science and technology, even though it will certainly prove to be politically dire ? but, here again, less dire than all the others. Another constitutional arrangement has become necessary ? provided we somewhat extend what is usually meant by a Constitution.
Classical questions of politics were usually solved by theories of representation – leading finally to the institution of the Parliament as hortus sublimus of the Constitution. We wish to extend the search for solution by including many other technologies of representation, modeling, simulation, delegation, manipulation, influencing, selecting. The dynamics of science cannot be conceived without politics nor the dynamics of politics without science. The social, the scientific, the technological, the theoretical and the practical blend together. We want to make an exhibition where politics, science and technology explore a new future based on a diagnosis of present practices illuminated through the perspective of material history.
Hence the format of this proposed exhibition: allowing the comparison to be made not at the grandiose level of theories of representation in science, politics and art, but through the humble back door of how collective representation of things is made practically possible. For example, the invention of voting machines will interest us more than Rousseau’s sublime ‘general will’; the African palabre tree more than the extension of the State of Law; the scholastic disputatio techniques more than the question of religion in general; the 3D datascape of some new scientific instruments more than the question of knowing whether science offers a true representation of the world or not.
In politics, we will not be interested in the whole debate about representative democracy, but only in the intersection of those debates with the question of bringing in the public space the technical issues that have to be collectively disputed and on which conditions are the parties, lobbies, partisans, special interest group able to change their minds.
In science, it is not the entire epistemological question of accurate representation and instrumentation that interests us, but only the innovations that allow for data space of various kinds to be brought to the attention of other, less expert, stakeholders (as in what is called ‘performative science’).
In art, we are not interested in yet another critique of representation ? which has been the topic of a former ZKM exhibition called Iconoclash ? but in inventing new procedures, forms, shapes, and sites to dramatize the public space to literally, re-present them anew.
In economics, we are not interested in the critique of capitalism and of the ‘reign of commodity’, but in how different innovations in accounting, cost-evaluation, planning, business plans, banking, budget voting, etc. could make a small but sizeable difference in the various expression of people’s preferences around ‘model worlds’.
In law we are not interested in the whole history of Constitutions but only in those legal aspects that intersects with the questions raised by the new public space that deal as much with things than with people. How are the voiceless given a voice, what are the limits and possible extensions of the notion of citizenship?
In religion, we are not interested in the grandiose question of secularization and fundamentalisms, but how practical solutions have been found to render religions comparable, disputable, to have them cohabit.
In the media, particularly the web, we are not interested in reviewing all the dreams of cyberpolitics, but in the particular innovations – web crawlers, sites, displays, hyperlinks – which provide new ideas for endowing the agents with new competences inside ‘shared cyberspace’.
This exhibit will mix three different genres, which have never cohabited together:
The first is a somewhat classical Exhibit about the history and anthropology of the mechanisms invented to make things publicly visible and accountable. We will of course do our best to propose to the visitors many lesser known sites. But even when revisiting traditional sites ? like the Athenian agora, the Icelandic ‘Thing’, the ‘palazzo della Ragione’ in Padova, the new Berlin Reichstag as well as the Royal Academy of Science, the Wonder Cabinets, the Stock Exchange floor, or the Tokyo protocol, etc. ? every time, we will try to highlight the new interpretations and revisions of history which have been provided of these topoï.
The second genre is a Fair, accessible ? after some sort of selection ? to all the institutions, activists, teachers, political parties, artists who would have a wish to present, not so much their views on contested topics, but the practical mechanisms they have imagined to try to solve them. The selected groups will be able, through poster sessions, booths, installations, experiments to create a vast comparative space allowing for the question of democracy to be tackled through its most humble and grass root practice. (They don’t need to be all physically present in Karlsruhe of course since we hope to make the best of new technologies to distribute in space and time this parliament of parliaments).
The third type of event, much more risky and difficult to express but indispensable, is a Simulation at various scales of real debates on pending issues to present to the public the various possible solutions of what could be due process in matters of scientific democracy, or what Sheila Jasanoff has proposed calling civic epistemology. For instance, the very divisive and highly technical question of how to manage European fisheries could be tried out with different types of assemblies. (And here again the events could be ‘dis-located’ in time and space).
The three genres ? Exhibit, Fair and Simulation ? will complement one another since the mechanisms and procedures will become visible and thus comparable in space. Visitors, participants, experts should be able to get new practical ideas from the past as well as from the other domains about the little innovations which could make their effort at technical democracy more successful. The newest possibilities of presenting data and ideas by computer based simulations are central for the show, not only as new tools of democracy, but to revisit the history of decision making.
How can this extension of democracy be carried out while the illusion of super-human knowledge has floundered? By comparing the mechanisms, the little tricks, the clever solutions, which have allowed people to convene around disputed state of affairs. None of these procedures by itself looks very promising, but all of them taken together might go some way toward overcoming the crisis of representation. Ask visually impaired persons what a huge difference the little invention of the white cane makes for them. Similarly, if there is no alternative ? and there is no alternative ? every single little invention in what could allow ignorant, little persons (that is, all of us) to see a tiny bit further and faster, will have to be cherished. When the blinding lights of the Enlightenment have finally dimmed, even the smallest light bulb may offer a precious source of comfort.
Since the domains to be covered appear immense and given that we don’t want to enter into an encyclopedic undertaking, we have to be somewhat selective about our focus of interest. For the three aspects of the exhibition, the general selective principle is the following:
Is it ? or was it ? an innovation?
Does it lie at the intersection of information gathering and opinion making?
Does it make a difference, no matter how small, to the question of democracy?
Can it be exported or at least rendered comparable with other innovations in very different domains present in the project?
Two references might be useful to locate the scope and the ambition of the exhibition.
The first is the magnificent ambiguity of the word Thing that, in all the European language signifies simultaneously ‘the object out there’ and ‘the assembly for a quasi-political and judiciary dispute’. For a few centuries, it was thought possible to distinguish radically the things out there, which were left to experts and the political assemblies, which dealt only with human interests and passions. Now, the ‘things’ of science and technology are back where they should always have remained: inside the political process. In the word Republic, the word ‘res’ is outlined again. Things, so to speak, have become ‘things’ again, that is disputed assemblies. The problem is that nobody has very clear ideas about the shape those assemblies should possess.
The second reference is to John Dewey who asked the essential question in his book ‘the Public and its Problems’: the public for Dewey is not what exists out of the general will by suddenly converting citizens to altruism or by confiding their life to the wisdom of experts. The public is made by what affects everybody but that no one knows ? especially not the experts since the unexpected consequences and causes of our collective action are just that: unexpected. Thus, to become visible to the eyes, the web of unexpected connections has to be slowly explored and frequently represented through a myriad of small inventions and little tricks. Some would find those assemblages too humble and mundane, but assembling and comparing those procedures might be the only way if we wish to still pursue the Enlightenment without its powerful searchlight.
The aim is to participate, in a very humble and material way, to the writing of an efficient Constitution for Europe, where the word ‘constitution’ extends not only to the usual questions of what is called ‘representative democracy’ but includes the complete chains of representation of which parties are only a tiny part.
Send copies of all suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com and adress all correspondance in English, German or French to Valérie Pihet
CSI-Ecole des Mines, 60 Bld St Michel, 75006 PARIS
or to Margrit Rosen
ZKM, Center for Art and Media, Ausstellungen P.O box 6909, KARLSRUHE 76049, RFA.