The world is at the moment as far removed from justice as never before


(A conversation between Peter Weibel and REMOREWORDS about language & digitalism, globalisation & injustice, expanded art territories & global poems.)

REMOTEWORDS: In a spectacular art action in 1973 you encased your tongue in concrete, one of your multiple works at the interface of language, writing, image, and medium. What did attract you to use the concept of REMOTEWORDS, an approach that works with contemporary media and virtual globes, in connection with your linguistic approach? And what is the difference to other linguistic works you have done before?

Peter Weibel: The art action with the tongue is entitled »Raum der Sprache« (The Space of Language). My aim was – with an extremely materialistic approach, more extreme than the physicalism of the philosophy of the Vienna circle – to point out that language is primarily a flow of sound, which can be measured as soundwaves, as vibrating air. Soundwaves expand in space. So language is a medium of space. It defines space by determining the distance in which a person can be heard. So language defines territorial borders. We have invented technologies like microphones, radio, and loudspeakers to overcome the natural borders of language space. At the same time it interested me why humans add so much meaning to the pure expression of a flow of sound, especially by adding meaning to the flow of sound itself, the vowels, consonants, and words.

Humans sit in a hall, be it in parliament, be it at court, and create soundwaves, chains of sounds. But these soundwaves have enormous ontological consequences. A human leaves the hall, the space of language, either free or imprisoned. The parliament decides on laws which threaten the existence of an immense number of people, or even destroy it. The ontological implications of strings of characters are what interested me. In a way I was an early critic of the speech act theory. Language is identifiable as prison, just like the three dimensions of space x,y,z form the bars of the space prison. I wanted to show: the tongue does not speak freely. The speakers does not become free by speaking. The tongue is encapsulated in concrete, captured in language and space. The subject is a prisoner of language and has to find ways to exit language. To me technology always presented a means of leaving the prison bars of time and space, the prison of language, at least for a while. This is why I was interested in the technical medium and the virtual as a contrast to reality, already in my early works and poems.

Words do not only consist of letters, but also form cells, cells of meaning, prison cells, which encapture meaning. This is why many poets spoke of the »Parole in Libertà« (Marinetti, 1912), of the explosion of letters and meanings, of the outbreak from language. At the end of the 19th century (for example Mallarmé and Apollinaire), poets began to spread out words over space, first measures, the beginning of concrete and virtual poetry. The distance between letters began to grow and meaningful.

You have now spread words not on book pages, but across the globe, therefore written a global poem. You have expanded the surface or rather the book page to the surface of the earth. This creates the problem that the page is too large to be register by the human eye. Therefore you need multiple artificial eyes – drone eyes and satellite eyes. It is only their integrated view that makes the sentence visible and recognisable.

RW: Our project REMOTEWORDS is tied to the tradition of land art, as we carry out local, analogue inscriptions on the earth’s surface. For the Globale we suggested you to install a continous sentence with five words on the five continents. Us both often originate in an idea of expansion in our projects. You are one of the pioneers of ‘expanded cinema’, and maybe one could say that with the five roofs on five continents we have made the globe itself into an ‘expanded art territory’. How would you describe the context between language and landscape and their relatively new medial form of presentation as virtual globes in the case of our collaboration?

PW: Language and space are therefore always conveyed medially, be it through soundwaves or lightwaves. By spreading the words all over the globe you have displaced the words, removed them from each other insofar that they are only readable through medial procurement. These words do not mark book pages but landscapes – but not natural ones but industrial landscapes, surfaces created by humans. As there are five continents, five continental surfaces, with the oceans as empty space, it seemed reasonable to find five words to occupy the five continents with. Each single word offers the local observer only a fragmented meaning, the local reader is not able to understand more than the meaning of the word. His level of knowledge remains as isolated as the word itself. Only the readers who are able to occupy all locations with the help of technology, and be that only virtual, are able to combine the meaning of all single words to a full sentence, i.e. a statement. The registration of a statement requires multiple positions. The local inhabitant of a nation sees everything from the perspective of his nation and blanks out the viewpoints of other nations.When faced with the fate of earth, »Facing Gaia« (Bruno Latour), we have to move from a local to a global perspective, to save this globe from destruction by humankind itself. We only have one earth, but many languages, many cultures, many religions, many ethnicities, which would like to inhabit it. Therefore I suggested »ONE EARTH UNITES MANY WORLDS« as sentence with five words for five continents. »ONE EARTH UNITES MANY WORLDS«. Today we again experience how politics and religion cruelly divide people, but that art has the possibility to unite the people – or at least to show with what methods, for example multiple perspectives, humans can be united.

RW: In our opinion, does the indirect reception of language via the medial apparatus (satellite, computer) mean an absurdity or deepening?

PW: As stated previously, the use of the medial apparatus means an expansion and therefore deepening of the linguistic tools and the force of language.

RW: We think that your text ONE EARTH UNITES MANY WORLDS offers many aspects that are important for the contemporary discussions which also affect us. The semantic play with the words EARTH and WORLDS can, in our opinion, be read in a dual sense – on the one hand “earth” is invoked as geographical location, on the other “worlds” as a place of spiritual and virtual imagination. Therefore the sentence for me means an almost haptic image of globalism in its possibilities but also its issues. You have developed that sentence within your considerations towards the “Infosphere” as you called it. Can you outline the references between digitalism, globalism and information sphere in more detail?

PW: Your work actually is a new equation of language and space, which falls back on both visual poetry and land art. In the global age, i.e. in an era when a hull of electromagnetic waves surrounds the globe through which billions of information are spread every second, the globe itself becomes a page. The reader sits in front of multiple book- or image pages at the same time. Even the paralel TV channels have taught the observer to balance between simultaneous options. Through 50 channels he has 50 perspectives of the world, from the news to soap opera. The infosphere has increased the options many times over. The more extensive the infosphere, the more the user can choose between information. Of course there are natural barriers to the ingestion of information, like the »cognitive dissonance« (Leo Festinger, 1957), where humans tend towards only to receive information that confirms their preconceived predjudices instead of correcting them. Nevertheless, the infosphere means the expansion of the informational space from local to global size. This has only been made possible by the progressing mathematisation of the world since 1800 and the rise of wireless radio technology (1886-1888). The result of these two tendencies is called digitalisation. So far we have only given names, images and sounds to things and humans, but now we are capable of transforming things, words, images, and sounds into data. We can then re-transform data into things, words, sounds, and images. This connection between infosphere, globalisation and the digital world means a radical transformation of the relationship between man and nature. Mankind is now responsible for its environment – this is the idea of the Antropocene. A basic law of the Antropocene could be: ONE EARTH UNITES MANY WORLDS.

RW: In a time marked by worldwide agitation, political and religious radicalisation, historico-cultural vandalism, “new barbarism,” separatism, and war, I perceived your message a year ago, when we developed it, as “anticyclical”. And now it seems to me that the phrasing was a surprisingly accurate forecast of contemporary events – the refugee crisis in Europe, the threatening split of Syria, the action of IS. Like a political appeal for more prudence, a reminder that pluralism and diversity are the foundations of social cohabitation. In the “300 Tage / 300 Köpfe” interview you state that “injustice” has always preoccupied you – and that you view its elimination as a highly ambitious goal…

PW: Your message is indeed a global message, not to say a planetary one. You continue the work of Buckminster Fuller, who points out in his book Spaceship Earth (1968) that the spaceship earth is lacking a manual and asked the architects, designer, engineers, and craftsmen to finally get to work. What you call anticyclical I call prophetic. A large portion of my work has prophetic straits, i.e. they are diagonally to the present, but will be confirmed by the future. I’m delighted that you have realised this. The world is at the moment as far removed from justice as never before. The financial wealth of the world is no longer gathered in the hands of some nations, as Adam Smith believed (The Wealth of Nations, ca. 1776), but in the hands of a few. The main work of contemporary capitalism should be called The Wealth of the Few. The gap between north and south is constantly widening through the climate catastrophe, or to be more precise through global warming. The project »global justice« is becoming increasingly difficult.

Please see the RW.28 One…