Emerging Territories and Reticular Production

José Pérez de Lama



The war of dreams

Let’s squat the air and drown the Geneva summits into Wifi-clouds! Let’s civilize the sky and occupy the satellites for community media! Let’s flood the fiber networks with contributions from all over the world! Let’s turn the ngo talkfests into jam sessions of liberated technologies! Let’s spread the virus of tactical media and circulate the images and narratives of a global movement of movements! Let’s celebrate the freedom of independent communications with a festival of conferences and workshops, local and remote events, parties and parades! Let’s open a thousand media bazaars and celebrate the untamed channels! Let’s cast the night away and corroboree [1] in Geneva, December 2003. Escrito y desarrollado por Dee Dee Halleck, Michael Hardt, Jamie King, Hagen Kopp, Susanne Lang, Geert Lovink, Florian Schneider, Pit Schultz, Alan Toner y muchos otros activistas de Indymedia Centers en Ginebra y Suiza, así como Francia, Italia, y Alemania (Schneider, 2003).

This was the final paragraph of the call to the global counter-summit of the Information Society held in Geneva (Switzerland) in 2003. The corroboree, a meeting about dreams, did not turn out to be as extraordinary as the text promised; the police evacuated the activist’s medialabs, dislodging them from consecutive locations, and the activities themselves had relatively little influence on the hegemonic agents meeting at the official summit, or on public opinion. All the same, it was an interesting moment in the fast-moving (intra)history of social movements intent on promoting agitation in new media spaces. The main internal debate on that occasion concerned the relation between free knowledge and information and freedom of movement. It was a tough debate. It helped some participants to intuit or perhaps confirm the hybrid character of new territories where a mix and intimate connection of silicon and carbon, bodies and bits is occurring.

We recently witnessed another historic event in the reticular production of territory, the connection of atoms and bits, although its orientation was quite different. I am speaking of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, especially the Olympic machine/stadium: the inaugural ceremony, an event that the press says included four billion viewers. The elements employed were very similar to those mentioned by the activists in Geneva in 2003: electronic flows, communications networks, satellites and so on. But now they served to project an image of the new China to the entire world: efficiency, contemporariness, economic power, and organizational and creative capacity. The procedure was also different; instead of the bazaar of European media activists, the production was like something from Raymond Carver’s Cathedral: strongly hierarchical and highly planned. The atmosphere of the inauguration—and as I understand it, that was the main product, above and beyond the show’s narrative content—was the result of a complex assemblage involving the building by Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron, the performers and audience, and the flow of bits (light, sound, electromagnetic waves), whose main receivers were not so much the 90,000 physically present spectators as the four billion television viewers. Physically, the event took place in Beijing, but it was also occurring on the global media networks. That would be nothing especially new were it not for the dimensions of the audience, which leads us to suppose that perhaps a qualitatively different reality has been produced. The fact that, as the press also pointed out, the event was being edited in real time, not only for television viewers but also for the physically-present spectators, makes us think that the main product was the post-produced or edited one, rather than what, until recently, we would have called “the real event.” (Pérez de Lama, 2008).

Anyway, the atmosphere was a mix of science fiction and rock concert. It is significant that those most responsible for this reticular territory in which we were submerged on a planetary scale on 08/08/08 were not the star architects, but rather a movie director, Zhang Yimou, and the artistic director of the Rolling Stones, Mark Fisher.

One World, one dream—like in the corroboree—was the slogan for this edition of the Olympic Games. Territories that mingle and are interwoven with dreams? Of course it is already clear that the two sets of dreams have very different characters indeed.

The Space of Flows

Perhaps a few antecedents will help us put the question in context: in 1996, Manuel Castells published his encyclopedic research work called The Information Age (Economy, Society and Culture). It the first volume, titled “The Rise of the Network Society,” he offers his interpretation of spatial transformations:

Our society is built around flows: flows of capital, flows of information, flows of technology, flows of organizational interaction, flows of images, sounds and symbols. The flows are not only an element of social organization; they are the expression of the processes that “dominate” our economic, political and symbolic life. If that is the case, the material support for our society’s dominant processes will be the set of elements that sustain those flows and make their articulation materially possible at the same time. I therefore propose the idea that there is a new spatial form characteristic of the social practices that dominate and shape network society: the space of flows. The space of flows is the material organization of social practices in shared time that work through flows [Castells, 1999].

The space of flows opposes, and imposes its own logic on the traditional space that Castells calls the space of places. “The global city is not a place but rather a process,” he writes. For Castells, as for many other authors—including Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 2001—those social agents capable of operating in the space of flows will be the ones who reach a dominant position in the new context. One consequence of this argument is that an intervention to transform contemporary territories requires operating in the new context of flows. While in 1996 Castells associated this new spatiality with global capitalism, in recent years we have seen that this is not an exclusive relation, and that would be the first hypothesis of the present text: it is possible to imagine other diagrams for the space of flows, other uses between globalization and information that differ from those of reticular capitalism: uses that, from the standpoint of urban planning, we have come to call geographies of the connected multitude (Pérez de Lama, 2004).

Spatially Extended Cyborgs

William Mitchell, of M.I.T., offers additional arguments (2003):

We would do better to define our unit of subjectivity and survival as the biological individual “plus” his extensions and interconnections […]. I am not the Vitruvian individual enclosed in a unique and perfect circle, looking out at the world from the perspective of my personal coordinates while simultaneously taking the measure of all things […]. I build and am built in a mutually recursive process that continually involves my fluid and permeable limits and my endlessly branching networks. I am a spatially extended cyborg.

Echoing authors such as John MacHale, Guattari (2000) and Bruno Latour (2003), Mitchell proposes that we conceive of 21st-century architecture and urban space as a territory being build in a dynamic way through the reticular interaction of moving bodies, electronic flows and physical spaces. Mitchell points out how, on the horizon of the network era, our technological-spatial extensions continually interact with those of other individuals and tend to merge with the territory. We may already be reaching that horizon. As Bateson intuited, cyborg territory and spatially extended cyborg communities tend to be more and more difficult to tell apart.

In order to explain this, which may seem alarming or exaggerated to some, I would like to recall Bateson’s famous syllogism:

Men die.

Grass dies.

Men are grass.

As in this syllogism, the affirmation relates not so much to being (subject) as to becoming (predicate). We said that we men and women are spatially extended cyborgs in the same way that Bateson affirms that men are grass. It seems opportune to think of ourselves as such in order to understand and thus be able to transform the relations between technology, society and space. And this would be the second hypothesis.

Geographies of Science Fiction

In order to explore these hypotheses, for some years now, has been carrying out experiments that recombine science fiction, technologies—especially free software—and new social movements. Hackitectures is one of the names we use to describe these recombinations.

Around 2003, along with other collectives from Andalusia and North Africa, we participated in the conceptualization and launching of Indymedia Estrecho (http://estrecho.indymedia.org) . The project arose at a moment when the global community was debating the crisis of the indymedia model.

After constructing networks and debates, our community decided to take on the development of a new type of indymedia. The first innovation consisted of approaching indymedia as the basis for producing “another territory.” Spread across the border of the Straits of Gibraltar, our proposal was to participate in the creation of a new cartography, a cyborg territory that we actually saw emerging along the banks of Europe and Africa. For us, the communications space of Indymedia Straits was not only an additional layer placed on top of the territory, it was a tool for recreating a bio-political space in order to produce hybrids of physical and digital between immigrants and technologists, activists and communicators.

Looking back at what has happened between 2003 and today, we must point out that not all the objectives have been met. From a territorial standpoint, it has worked better on the Andalusian side. From the bio-political standpoint, it has worked, though modestly—especially between 2003 and 2006—as a catalyst for the creation of networks and new real events. From the standpoint of collective enunciation and information, it continues to work, at least at particular moments, such as the 2005 crisis of Ceuta and Melilla, as a relevant point of reference in questions concerning this territory.

Fadaiat, Deterritorializing Lightening

Another experiment connected with Indymedia Estrecho was Fadait, in which participated from the viewpoint of territorial intervention. This was a meeting-action that we carried out between Tarifa and Tangiers in the summers of 2004 and 2005 (Soto and Montsell, 2006). We took the name, Fadaiat, from an interview in which Moroccan sociologist Fátima Mernissi explained that this Arabic term that traditionally meant “space” had come to be used colloquially to refer to all sorts of devices related to electromagnetic communication, such as satellites, or the parabolic television antennas that are so ubiquitous in Morocco. Freedom of movement, freedom of knowledge was the subtitle of this event that brought together immigration activists, artists, architects and communications activists, using technology to try to construct a shared future. For us, it was a matter of exploring other uses for fixed communications technologies. A parabolic antenna connected the castle of Saint George and Tarifa beach to Internet via satellite, demonstrating the viability of a mobile connection managed with limited resources. In the castle itself a second antenna was aimed across the Straits of Gibraltar. It had been brought in for the occasion by a group of hackers from Alicante (Global Telesat). That antenna saw a third one on a terrace in Tangiers, establishing a wifi bridge between the two shores. Near the antenna on each shore, we set up a temporary medialab, so that the whole installation worked as a laboratory spread between the two continents, allowing cooperative work across the border. From that territorial device, we streamed video on the Internet, making it visible to webusers anywhere in the world. At the same time, this temporary public space received various real-time connections from other geo-locations involved in producing the event. Projected on the walls of the castle patio, they made those participants present in a social and involving way.

Perhaps the main interest of this device is that it was produced in a cooperative manner, with the knowledge and capacities of networks of friendly social movements. The communications setup functioned completely with free software, that is, with the product of social cooperation and collective intelligence, which, as we all know, is the same as with the indymedia network. The GISS (Global Independent Stream Support) network on which streaming occurred is also an autonomous network of syndicated servers around the globe, set up during in recent years using the same networks as were involved in Fadaiat. The economic capacity and sophistication of resources shared by GISS competes advantageously with any similar project in the capitalist sector.

Technologically and territorially, Fadaiat was a distorting mirror of SIVE (Integrated System of Exterior Vigilance), the electronic barrier against migratory flows across the southern border that the Spanish state and European Union have been installing since the year 2002 (Soto, 2006).

From an “Android Body.”

One aspect of the construction of the “cyborg metropolis” also has a link to the production of subjectivity, an idea I will support by referring to the work of Japanese architect, Toyo Ito. Ito had the following to say about his experience in Tokyo in the early 1990s:

At nightfall, the thickness and weight of the existence of things as material objects begins to blur; urban space begins to float, covered only by the phenomena cased by lights and images. That is the most attractive moment for a city like Tokyo. It is the moment when the body becomes inebriated and dissolves into the city as a phenomenon…, a city without time or place. That type of space is characterized by homogeneity, transparency, fluidity, relativity and fragmentation […], rarified and transparent space in which you do not feel the thickness or weight of things [Ito, 2000].

Though somewhat dazzled by the arrival of digital technologies and cyberspace, these first intuitions have been nuanced by Ito himself in recent years, taking on a form that is more interesting for us. In “Architecture of Diffuse Limits,” an article published in 1999 (republished in 2006 in Spain), Ito proposes the emergence of desire for what he calls the “body of the modern electronic movement”. In the author’s brief genealogy, this body succeeds the “body of the modern movement,” which represented the desire to leave pre-industrial society’s “body of lived experience” behind. According to Ito, the “body of the modern electronic movement” incorporates modernity’s desire for homogeneity and transparency while simultaneously aspiring to a doubly “floating” character: floating in the flows of nature—we could call this an ecological paradigm—and floating in the networks and electronic flows—this would be a cyborg paradigm, or a paradigm of the extended body. We, in turn, overlap Ito’s floating body with other transformations of a more sociopolitical character that we also consider characteristic of the new metropolitan subjects. These would include cognitary, migrant and precarious transformations (Hard and Negri, 2004), as well as all transformations related to the central dimension of cities in our reticular existence. Thus, we would be speaking of a rebel floating body, as in the new smoothness of Suely Rolnik (2006).

Wikiplaza. Indymedia-plaza

In late 2005, an opportunity arose to apply the theoretical hypotheses and practical experiments presented in the previous paragraphs to the design of a permanent public space in the city of Seville. This was a contest of ideas for the rehabilitation of a park with installations across from Santa Justa Station, one of the main entries to that Andalusian city. In collaboration with Morales de Giles Architects and Esther Pizarro, we won the contest to build what came to be called Plaza de las Libertades (Freedom Plaza).

Beginning with a generic discussion of new freedoms in the global metropolis—mobility, flexibility, cyborg transformations, ecology and participation—our contribution to the project consisted of a series of diagrams that proposed turning the plaza into a citizenship laboratory in the framework of network society. Concepts and tools drawn from digital networks—especially from the communities of free software—were applied to the social construction of an open and participative public space that would favor use by its inhabitants. On this occasion, the digital project was applied to the design of the Freedom Plaza in Seville, but it has an autonomous character that would allow it to be applied to other places in different versions, leading to a network of connected urban laboratories. The concepts developed therein recombine ideas and practices most of which are already present on the web. The idea is that, in the construction of a permanent institutional space, we can attempt to bring into play the creative and organizational experiences of social movements over the last decade, including indymedia, hackmeetings, Wikipedia, Fadaiat and Mayday, as well as the more commercial ones from the so-called web 2.0, including Google, Blogger, Flickr, Myspace, Facebook and Youtube, to name but a few of the most outstanding. Continually redrawn from the first stages of work, the conceptual diagrams we seek to apply in the wikiplaza are as follows:

a) The Plaza as Operating System

This diagram proposes designing public space as an analogy of computer operating systems. That is, as a combination of architecture and software that functions with a reticular, infrastructural character, allowing the management of different interfaces, the modular connection of different devices and peripherals, and the functioning of different programs. Devices and programs can be connected and disconnected in time, allowing flexible transformation of the overall system. This idea implies designing the space and its installations with a reticular character based on straightforward protocols for the connection and disconnection of architectural-spatial devices and urban activities.

b) The Plaza as an Active Node on the Network of Networks Designing urban space as a node that participates in the construction of flow spaces, allowing itself to be crossed by different flows taking place in the metropolis as well as generating flows itself. This involved creating an element active in the production of new hybrid geographies. The plaza’s installations would allow social networks linked to the plaza to generate their own productions: communication, databases and distributed productive communities. The new modalities of tele-presence and of temporality would also be researched in the new public space using real-time or delayed connections with other geo-locations.

c) The Plaza as Interface

From the standpoint of flows of information, images and knowledge, the plaza’s installations—urban screens, interactive installations, media lab—will help bring visibility to what some call the invisible city. We propose to explore the end2end principle that has ruled the web since its beginning. This signifies that there is no limitation to what we send over the Internet as long as it meets the regulatory protocols and is technically feasible. Here, that would signify building a plaza as an interface with a social character that would also implicate bodies—as opposed to the markedly individual and mental model of our customary relation to the web. Moreover, it would be possible to carry this experience over to other places. One aspect of its character as a network interface would be the idea of a public space that, like a computer CPU, would explicitly change moods—through its lighting and sound, or the layout of its mobile elements—depending on whether it is in idle mode (at rest), processing (that is, producing in an internal manner), or active (when it houses activities or public events).

d) Citizens’ Electromagnetic Space

Electromagnetic space is a new dimension in urban space; some authors call it the most expensive real estate on the planet. Most of the electromagnetic spectrum is restricted to military or commercial use. Only a small part of it, often called the trash spectrum, is free for use by citizens (Dunne and Raby, 2001). That is the part of the spectrum used by free radios, wifi communication and other lesser uses such as television remote controls. The new public space will have to be constructed in this setting as well, with free wifi networks, telephone with VOIP and other uses yet to be defined. It should also make visible the hegemonic uses of the spectrum.

e) Citizen’s Media Ecology

As Guattari explained, the world of media constitutes a fundamental dimension of contemporary ecologies. Beatriz Colomina (2007) describes our lifestyles as “wrapped in images.” The plaza can function as a support for the production and distribution of autonomous communications media. The image of the plaza as “A Thousand Plateaus” proposes the idea of a system of cameras connected to the web for automatically transmitting Internet-TV of what occurs in the public space—both audiovisual productions and everyday situations. The system will question the ubiquitous presence of video surveillance in public spaces, making it transparent and putting the use of cameras and the distribution of their images in the hands of the citizenry.

We like to refer to the nocturnal landscape of neons and LED that characterizes the metropolis described by Toyo Ito as loglo (“the glow of the logos,” Denari, 1999). The plaza would produce a “citizens’ loglo generated in a participative manner with a logic independent of commerce.

f) Microchip Garden

Following Toyo Ito’s suggestion, the plaza will harmonize natural and electronic flows rather than opposing the artificial and the natural.

g) Hyperplaza

This diagram organizes public space according to a multilayered logic in which the physical is enriched and broadened by the digital. Although the idea of “layer” is efficient as an explanation of the concept, it actually constitutes a more complex relation in which physical spaces, electronic and social networks are hybridized in continually variable relations for the production of a territory in a process of constant reconfiguration. This is a situation that William Mitchell (2003) described as “camps of electronic nomads.”

h) Wikiplaza

The last diagram posits the construction of public space as if it were a wiki. The goal is to apply social web or web 2.0 models to the production of a territory with a physical support. The fluid character of the space proposed in the previous concepts, the management of the operating system and of urban interfaces, the production of an electromagnetic space and of media ecology will be carried out in an open, cooperative way, as was done in the production of the Wikipedia or Barrapunto, to mention but a few. A combination of open social protocols (Galloway, 2006), algorithms of consensual self-organization and systems for syndicating contents will configure the new public space as an emerging geography with the potential to be the materialization of life and the expression of action by the multitude that lives there.

An Emancipating Project for the Post-Metropolis

These ideas about the public space and cyborg transformation of the multitude are part of a broader research project that explores the need for a project to emancipate the post-metropolis, that is, the metropolis of globalization and network society. Just as the experiments of the social and artistic avant-garde of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were able to create a project for industrial metropolises in massive need of living space and urban installations and a transparent, egalitarian public space, so, current conditions call for the conception of a new and emancipating territorial project that considers the questions of mobility, flexibility, digitalization and ecology. Even though the new metropolis will not be the result of designs by architects or urban theorists but rather of experimental practices and social struggles, it does seem necessary to us to produce other narratives and images that can be the object of desire in the face of the apparently ineluctable present. Because, as Deleuze and Guattari put it, desire is what is difficult.


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[1] A corroboree is a ceremonial meeting of Australian Aborigines. The word was coined by European colonists in Australia who imitated the Aborigine word, caribberie. At a corroboree, aborigines interact with the time of dreams through dance, music and costume. Many of the ceremonies represent acts that took place in dreams. ( < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corroboree > ).