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Daniel Gilfillan (Arizona State University) Knowledge Migration and Nomadic Broadcast: Flusser and Post-1989 Radio Space

Two live broadcasts produced by the ORF Kunstradio programme form the focus of this paper. Each engages conceptually with issues of globalization in the context of the growing European Union. Given Austria’s geopolitical location and Vienna’s imperial history as center of the Austro-Hungarian empire, these broadcasts provide a medial and artistic layer to understanding Austria’s role in contemporary discussions about issues of migration within post-1989 Europe. State of Transition (1994) explores various geographical points and economic sites where human movement occurs (airport transit halls, market squares, border crossings) to diagnose larger questions of asylum, while Horizontal Radio (1995) combines the technical possibilities of radio transmission and the theoretical imagination of its designers to create a networked performance environment where artists from any of the 26 cities involved in the broadcast could collaborate. Radio space combines notions of an immaterial space known as the ether, the physics of electromagnetic frequencies, the clarity of disembodied sound, and the receptiveness of the listening subject to create a space of performance. This performance space transcends the physical limitations of the performing and listening body, blends the notional ideas behind the performance repertoire and the relational powers of the listening experience, and splices these out-of-body interactions onto equally immaterial electromagnetic frequencies to be broadcast by very real devices such as the radio receiver. Transition connotes movement in terms of physical location, state of mind, change in ideological structure, or emotional mien. Often it is associated with a forward progression, a move toward one thing and away from another; and hence it is always in flux and never frozen in stasis, always already retrospective, nostalgic for what was left behind, and anticipatory, expectant of what may lie ahead. The live performances and broadcasts of State of Transition (1994) and Horizontal Radio (1995) serve as aural and peripatetic documentations of these varying moments of transition. The projects are bound together with questions and problems of migration, a contemporaneous geopolitical issue facing much of Europe given the breakup of the former Eastern Bloc, the increased numbers of refugees seeking political and economic asylum, and the Bosnian war taking place in the former Yugoslavia. Each broadcast takes these issues at the forefront of the European mindset and connects them to the relatively unhindered flow of information along various networks associated with the burgeoning global telecommunications infrastructure. At the center of both broadcasts/performances are Vilém Flusser’s communications theories, whose essays on migration, experience, and the telematic society form the basis of a complex process of dialogue and discourse, and assist in opening these broadcasts up to interpretation. This operative notion of dialogue/discourse combines the modes of thought and engagement that comprise our processes of knowledge creation and meaning-making with the networked structures of communication that comprise our contemporary telematic society. At the same time, his theories of experience embrace the ideas of transition and mobility, requiring a constantly itinerant mindset to take advantage of the high-speed data networks reshaping economic, social, political, and cultural practices and use them to create and enhance the full range of collaborative potential that non-networked modes of experience do not attain. This itinerancy seeks to unhouse the mind from the limitations of the physical body in an attempt to replicate the experience of the migrant, whose own sense of displacement and unsettledness offers a unique perspective to guide and shape our application of these network technologies. Flusser’s approach intellectualizes the nature of exile and migration experience; transforming it from the negative sociopolitical connotation of the refugee and asylum seeker looking to beleaguer the social system of the new host country to an idea of the global citizen able to navigate the spaces of experience that accompany the move from emigrant to immigrant and inhabit a space outside individual topographies. Ultimately, the paper will sketch out further the contours of several larger research questions: How does the subtraction of the physical body from within an exchange of ideas lead to changes in information reception? That is, does the removal of the physical body trigger the transformation of intellectual thought into information, and subsequently into commodity? How does knowledge become information for sale? And what role does artistic experimentation play in this intertwining of communication and economics? Finally, do Flusser’s approaches withstand or evade the types of conglomeration and issues of access that have come to characterize the post-hype democratic potentialities of the network, or are they lodged interminably within these tautological constructions? These are viable questions that inform and are informed by these two live performance broadcasts.