How do different flows and different forms of power intersect on the Muntplein? For five days, Alex Zakkas and Kurt Tichy from the collective Constant joined the ranks of various human and machinic agents already watching over the square. Starting from their observations, Constant hosted an evening discussing surveillance methodologies and the ways in which they change as a result of technological developments. What is the relationship between preemption, prehension, and prediction? In what way are public data streams manipulated in order to prevent/stimulate/anticipate certain courses of events? With guests Dennis Pohl and Inigo Wilkins, Zakkas and Tichy reflected on the problems of the neoliberal politics of surveillance and, more generally, on the notions of control, randomness, and unpredictability and how they differ across physical, biological, cognitive, and social systems.
The intervention of Zakkas and Tichy, titled “Now I want a straight line crossing the square from north to south” is an observatory at pedestrian level, inspired by different observation methodologies from the past century, such as Whyte’s 1971 Street Life project on New York plazas, or the Mass Observation of Everyday Life project (1930–70) in the UK. It set out to rethink the observation and interpretation of the ubiquitous type of square, namely the Muntplein, taking into account the recent intensification of mapping, modeling, and monitoring taking place there. Urban spaces are now constantly marked by these activities, dictated by the urge for customer tracking and general surveillance and accelerated by expedient discourses on security and public order. As observers, Zakkas and Tichy joined a broad range of human and machinic agents already watching over the square to question the different prediction and prescription agendas. Whose perspectives produce what modes for describing, evaluating, projecting, nudging, and preventing possible courses of events? How do different perspectives interact, mask, or distort each other? What other types of behaviors are ignored by these types of observation, and what types of behaviors are influenced by being observable? How does observation relate to a practice of exercising control and of complying with control?
Dennis Pohl investigates how infrastructural conditions and architectural designs have influenced the development of the European institutions in Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg. As a contribution to Rhythmic Contingencies, he brought in the perspective of (digital) infrastructure as a technology of power and the material and semiotic conditions of network narratives. Inigo Wilkins’s research focuses on (in)determinacy in noise music and the way in which this relates to information theory and cybernetics, arguing that constrained randomness is intrinsic to the functional organization of complex, hierarchically nested systems, and that the navigation of noise is a necessary condition of reason and consequently of freedom.
Artist Ola Hassanain joined the discussion, taking her own practice as a point of departure for a reflection on the disruption of (temporal) patterns and experiences. The evening was moderated by Femke Snelting from Constant.