DIOGENES ON-LINE 2.0: Gestures against the Virtual Republic

Ricardo Dominguez

Our digital condition often embarks the ship of dematerialization, always seeking that final perfect Orphic state of transmigration. The final upload of all realities into an endless ethernet of the extropic dream. Plato was always already on-line clicking out the Socratic agenda of our future state: the Virtual Republic. A Republic of geometric perfection, immortal mind children, and the rational discourse of dialectics. Anything that fails to de-link from the world will be attacked as an immoral act against Truth, Beauty, and The Law. Anything that smells of the body, of piss, of shit, of farts, of flesh fucking flesh for no reason other than pleasure will have no place in this Republic. In the Virtual Republic there will be no music, no theater, no painting, all email from Dionysus will be filtered out from the listserves. Who and what can piss against this hegemonic code?

Perhaps the only tactical gestures capable of disturbing the total emergence of the incorporeal state can come from the performative matrix of Diogenes on-line. To heed his call for public actions in the middle of the marketplace that break open the Virtual Republic with somatic-networks. With code that embodies the base materialism of the tongue, the eyes, the anus, the cock and cunt. Diogenes on-line refuses to be reduced to physiognomic silence before the endless onslaught of digital perfection. We must become dogs that dig holes between the holy trinity of code, connectivity and networks.


[Interuptus Somatica: that which is more me than I am, or becoming woman]

In the 1980s, in the cultural frontier of Tallahassee, Florida, while drifting and inter-linking with the parts of what later became Critical Art Ensemble, I worked in a lesbian bookstore, Ruby Fruit Books. Sharing the lesbian body, feeling what it meant to be living within an engine of difference everyday, being and becoming were suspended under the constant invasion of the gender system. Within lesbian culture, I awakened to the process of creating access flows to the (de)-cunt-structions of everyday life. In the 1990s, the impossible trajectory of becoming woman brought me into contact with a number of cyberfeminist ports. gashgirl, alias dollyoko, would be the first to open her knife-sharp lips and allow me to speak within her metamorphosis from one data-flesh to another. My need to be a ghost in the under-nets was entangled in her diogenetic materialism of becoming a new other.


Breton seeking to insult Bataille once wrote, "Marx, in his Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, reveals how, in every epoch, thus are born hair-philosophers, fingernail-philosophers, big toe-philosophers, excrement- philosophers, etc." He forgot to add "cunt-philosophers." These philosophers think the way the vagina would think if it were at liberty to speak and demand. During the early nineties VNS Matrix, a cyberfeminist group in Australia began to use MOO (Multi-Object-Oriented realtime virtual world based on MUD; Multi-User-Dungeon) space as a staging area for performances. They used this undefined zone to engender cunt-critiques of the masculine vectors and their digital ideologies via the diachronic performativity of the technology itself.

Simple text sets the digital stage area for a continuous series of improvisations. Their "CorpusFantasticaMOO!" opens with this stage direction: The Limen You are at the threshold of the corpusfantastica. Seemingly infinite and infinitely small, neither here nor there, with half remembered snatches of your life or is it? It is darkly seductive here, and you could stay, but you could also choose to slide through the Cartesian reality grid and enter the spaciousness of the CorpusFantastica. Sociopathic cyberslut offers you a hookah Take hookah. At this point the networked actors begin the performance with only the MOO Stage as the frame of presentation. Each actor enters the MOO Stage and starts to improvise with the other actors:

sociopathic cyberslut says "There's been a lot of flaming on the Net about the contents of Circuit Boy's sizeable tool. They say it packs a digi but it keeps crashing. Not enough RAM where it counts You say "I'm not surprised. Boy's a retro technonerd who hasn't heard that the future is unmanned"

The event then builds on micro-narratives and gestures: both false and real conversations, rehearsed statements and answers, random questions, and also pragmatic answers to technical problems. VNS Matrix's specific use of the MOO frame allowed the cyberfeminist critique to shudder as an involution of "The Big Daddy Mainframe". They set the stage for a specific somatic gesture of the cunt covering the hard lines of power with spasms of impossible activities organized beneath, around and between the privileged pathologies of "MaleCode," The female body becomes the site of a new form of pantomimic materialism that reorganizes technology as a somatic-network, a network that is no longer bound by Platonic protocols. They signal the emergence of the "lower functions" as the site of a grassroots empowerment on-line. VNS matrix rejected the super-idealism of Plato Republic and its prison house of ideas, duties, redemptions, immoralities, and endless power grids. They let loose a deep cunt without shame on the pure order of code.


[Interuptus Somatica: that which is more me than I am, or becoming a Body with Organs]

My first fake-encounters, as a subreal body, occurred in the always already space of Genet, where everything is "a true image, born of a false spectacle." Genet hung the real beneath the signs of the fake. My search for the artificial as a tactic for re-zoning the real, by injecting the organic into the VR engines, happened as a perverse sinthome - a staging of Genet's "The Balcony" and "The Screens." Genet's phantasmatic theater, which mapped the virtual condition of power, allowed me to understand the force of fake actions. Fake actions had the counter-power to spread flesh across the Virtual Republic, like an unspeakable Virus. The possibility of attempting this in practical manner, as an in-human event, materialized through my accidental encounter with Floating Point Unit (FPU) in New York City in 1995. FPU, the early mutation space for what would then become Fakeshop.com, was playing with different platforms for staging the real body within the fake, the real (body-with-organs) outside of the BwO (body-without-organs), as spasms of networked-somatic-realities.


The staging of the tableau vivant at the end of the last century was brought on by a need to see the shades that haunt the edge of our vision. The same need to reconstitute and repeat a past work in order to see another scene has emerged on the digital stage. Fakeshop.com suspends-in-repetition sections from such films like "THX 1138" and "Coma," miming the suspended scene both on- and off-line as a fragment of a future remembered. Fakeshop.com's digital tableaus are interstaged between several digital platforms--networked actors, CUseeme, synchronous chat, realaudio/video, HTML and javascript based presentations--within a massive old bunker that serves as the off-line staging area. Each platform reiterates the moment that is looping between the various staging zones.

Fakeshop.com remade Plato's cave with shadows that no longer represent bodies without organs, but the base truth of real bodies. Fakeshop takes the dream state of the traditional Tableau Vivant, countering the virtual figure with real breasts, real cocks, real desire and sending them out to be re-embodied elsewhere on another platform. Platonic Truth is deposed by the gesture of real flesh crossing between artificial boundaries. The work convokes the aura of a future realized in an untimely present of skin.

"Multiple Dwellings," a 1998 tableau vivant of "Coma," staged a two-story installation of wires, pipes, and bodies alluding to the scene in the film of the endless row of floating bodies ready to be organ harvested. The bodies within the bunker were scanned with CUseeme cameras and the images transmitted in real time to the other network actors who were buying and selling the organs they were seeing. Fakeshop has used networked images and sound exchange software like realaudio/video to add another plane of repetition to the phantasmagoria of the already-seen segment. In one of the multiple CUseeme windows, a remote actor in Tokyo sends sounds and images in response to the scene. Individuals who know nothing about the performance drift in and out of the reflector site Fakeshop has squatted for the night's performance. Some of the Cuseeme audience participate, others just drift on or pay no attention to the actors or the scene. On the Chat window, statements are rolling by:

If you can see it
it's already dead
vision machines cut the body
distributing the harvest
across bio-markets
each organ
hijacked into the 'Gene Rush'
each body a site of profit
who has access to the body

This interstaging of segments from sci-fi films of the past allows for strange and productive mappings of our current collective condition. Each platform reassembles the somatic spasms before the endless pornographic technologies at hand and restores a possible kernel of the real body lurking at the edge of these fantasies. Each segment becomes greater than the sum of the narrative that it was removed from. An individual cell may speak more about the total condition of the body than the body can speak for itself. Fakeshop tableaus are a vibrant space for the contemplation of our remembered future as a lost body, and of the counter force of the always already present erotic body.

[Interuptus Somatica: that which is more me than I am, or becoming Zapatista]

Trained in the traditions of Western classical somatic-engagement--the ontology of theater as public discourse and public illusion-I began seeking a parallel sub-program of visceral disturbance gestures, of somatic revolt. One day, I left the theater, walked out into the street, and became an anti-performer. The double twists of subreal political performance emerged from the chaosmosis of the CAE collaborative grouping in Florida. In the 1990s, as I connected with the early adapters in the network-art nodes in New York City--Thing.net, Blast.org, artnetweb.com--the line of flight of on-line electronic civil disobedience, as it had been theorized by CAE in Tallahassee, came into focus and materialized as mass direct-action networks. The streets of the Lower East Side became the ground for linking to digital Zapatismo. I was living on Rivington and Clinton, right around the corner from ABC No Rio. On the dawn of the new year 1994, I received, as an email message, the Declaration of the Lacandona by the EZLN (Zapatista Army for National Liberation), pronouncing Chiapas an autonomous Mayan community and declaring war against the all powerful dictatorship of the PRI Party (Revolutionary Party of Independence). Later that afternoon I saw a yellow post-it note on a telephone pole asking anyone with any information about the Zapatistas to meet in the basement of ABC No Rio.

That night we started the New York Committee for Democracy in Mexico and immediately began street actions in front of the Mexican Consulate in Manhattan. Chiapas had side-loaded itself into the networks--in hours it became an intercontinental struggle, in days it became a flood of bodies on the streets. In twelve days, the EZLN mutated from a traditional guerilla body to a network of cyberwar, adapting itself to the new configuration of inhabiting digital networks. For me, Zapatismo connected data bodies to real bodies; virtual Chiapas and real Chiapas became one; digital direct-action and the arena of the streets began to work as a shared platform.


Electronic Disturbance Theater re-circuits agit-prop actions, mobilizing micro-networks to act in solidarity with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, one of the waste zones of the Virtual Republic--by staging virtual sit-ins on-line and allowing the emergence of a collective presence in direct digital actions. These actions clog the pipelines of power with an overabundance of humanity. To stage virtual sit-ins, we developed a HTML and Java based tool called FloodNet that reloads a URL several times a minute; this slows the site down, but only if a critical mass of bodies join the sit-in. The masses, the media, and the site on which the virtual sit-in will take place are hailed via e-mail postings on multiple listserves.

This reconfiguration of street theater has facilitated direct access between macro-networks and non-digital networks. EDT has been able to re-route the conduits of information surrounding the strange attractor of electronic civil disobedience among both minor and dominant media filters to focus on the issue of Chiapas. The strategy has been to push the mythology of CyberZapatistas to a new level of activity in order to counter the rise of the Mexican Goverment's "low intensity warfare" after the Acteal Massacre at the end 1997. These impossible actions have caused not only the Mexican Goverment to respond, both on-line and off-line, but the U.S Department of Defense on one occasion counter-attacked by using browser based code. The digital pipes have now become the site for a new mode of non-violent actions for Human Rights, mutating into a space for the waste zones of the first world to speak and overflow the purity of the networks.

EDT has recently become the arena for the heated debate about electronic civil disobedience and hacktivism. Many on the Left and the Right join into an unholy alliance that jointly construe virtual sit-ins as digitally incorrect actions that block bandwidth. The representatives of the Virtual Republic believe that clogging communication pipelines with so much human waste is not only immoral, but an act of cyberterrorism. Politically concerned network actors must only put up signs of protest and never walk out into the middle of the highway. Individuals and groups who lack the exact knowledge to hack a into a system should remain good netcitizens by just pointing and clicking. They must never take a dump in the middle of the sacred caves of Power and Truth. Against such self-evident truths, the digital agit-prop actions of EDT call for the right to block data in the struggle for the development of democracy and human rights.

EDT networked performances have opened access and communication between three unlikely micro-networks: net.art, net.activism, and net.hackers. What will arise from this trash pile is still impossible to foresee.


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