preface / Knowbotic Research:Room for Manoeuvre
/ credits

Exhibition View:

Research Room for Manoeuvre vehicles:
white_sovereign, passion_cleaner, tiger_stealth, blackbenz

how to exhibit the "visible invisible"?

In the spaces of Škuc Gallery (Ljubljana), Knowbotic Research (KR) present four vehicles which are part of KR's current project assemblages ("naked_bandit/here, not here/ white_sovereign", "Passion 5", "be prepared! tiger!" and "BlackBenz Race"). These vehicles carry the evocative names of white_sovereign - an autonomous flying robot; tiger_stealth - a boat that is invisible for radar; blackbenz - a black car from the context of Albanian migration; and passion_cleaner - a machine for road works, equipped with a sound installation.1 The vehicles are physically present while their manoeuvres in real spaces are shown in video projections.

doubling the paradox?
KR have removed the vehicles from their normal networks and contexts of application, or rebuilt them on the basis of extensive research. In a second step, the vehicles are put to use in what appear to be similar contexts of effect ('Wirkungszusammenhänge') by means of refined, subtle shifts (manoeuvres). Thus KR generate iterative processes of transcoding, i.e. the translation of abstract social facts and conditions which are removed from the classical public sphere, into situations that can temporarily be observed and negotiated ('sicht- und verhandelbar').

wiping out the line?
In a third step and like an agency, Knowbotic Research exhibit their vehicles and the already conceptualised applications/manoeuvres in order to encourage the audience to imagine new applications and new translations of the vehicles.

installing a backdoor?
The notion of the manoeuvre points to newly opened spaces of potential agency ('Handlungsspielräume') which result from tactical actions and moves. The exhibition in Ljubljana shows an autonomous flying robot that hovers through the laboratory in an academic research institution, looking for technologically coded forms of sovereignty; a machine for road constructions emitting the petrified political slogans and passions of a May 1st demonstration; a car race in which a caravan of black Mercedes cars traverse the translocal conditions of the Albanian space of migration; and an amateur boat, invisible for radar, passing through the barely navigable waters of a marsh landscape.

noticing the camouflage?
The tactics of the KR vehicles are characterised by pretences, ruses, and attempts at diversion: the flying robot, a blimp with its filigree structure and shining, silvery surface, originally built for the surveillance of interior public spaces, is ironically reinserted into a hermetically closed high-tech laboratory where it autonomously navigates through the space of a nuclear fusion reactor, scanning and surveilling the movements of the scientists who work there. The monstrous construction machine which has been hybridised by means of a set of rave-loudspeakers, makes its way, like a streetparade vehicle, dysfunctionally moving its shovel and blaring out the pre-recorded multi-lingual slogans of a Labour Day demonstration. Several black cars, coded as racing cars, clumsily move into starting position for an illegal race outside the UNMIK headquaters (United Nations Mission in Kosovo), before setting off on their uncertain trip. The fourth projection shows the irritatingly slow cruise through idyllic, green marches, of an unknown motor boat which has been reconstructed to replicate a boat used by the Tamil Tiger rebels, and which might be decoded as a military weapon.

misinforming the in-between?
The movements of the vehicles shown in the videos are looped like an incantation, accompanied by multiple intersecting audio sequences. One audio level processes loops from the original recordings of the staged actions (slogans of the May demonstration, commands from the Tamil Tiger propaganda video, directions to the flying robot, car racing sounds) and shifts onto a second level where a female voice translates these sound materials into her own specific sonic register by means of free improvisations. On both audio levels, a computer-controlled coding intervenes into the temporal structure, creating shifts, overlays, rhythmical structures and loops.

suspending the loop?
Besides the video projections, additional conceptual levels of the vehicles are made available in the gallery space. Printed materials, 'manuals', show visual documentations, plans, instructions and scenarios of the past and future applications of the vehicles.

hiding within a test case?
All of the flying objects, the street vehicles and boats, which KR place into physical spaces, operate as attractors for various networked chains of communication and action. In these chains, multi-layered and intersecting world pictures and opinions, political decisions, economic effects and social relations are being worked on and processed. The aim is to elucidate commonalities both in the conceptualisations, and in the different realisations of the projects. The individual scenario for each vehicle is of less interest than the relations between them created by the artistic positions and interventions.

how to interfere in "fiction and faction"?
The availability of such vehicles and their materials (KR was able to appropriate the necessary knowhow for building them by quite simple means) shows that such knowledge (e.g. about stealth technology), which until the 1990s was still shielded off from the general public, is becoming increasingly available in networks, and less and less controllable. At the same time the vague legibility of KR's vehicles and their scenarios point to the fact that an appropriate set of signs and symbols for communicating about and acting in such intersecting scenarios between physical spaces, virtual networks and imaginary spaces, are lacking. The actions of the vehicles cannot be communicated and made available by simple representations in a clearly described, locally limited field of reception.

designating power?
These continuous modifications require a different notion of the sign, one which goes beyond one-dimensional relations of representation. Signs are thus subject to continuous, non-linear processes of translation which are available as potentials for further articulations of the vehicles. In order not to fall into the trap of complete arbitrariness with their own actions, it is important for KR that their transcodings are always translated back into materialities (building a stealth boat and a flying robot, organising a car race, simulating a May 1st demonstration), in order to gain insights into the processes into which KR intervene, and to explore their potentials for resistance. These construction processes also show that in the chains of references in which signs and materials circulate, no clear border can be drawn between the signs and the materials of the vehicles.

informing material?
KR have designed a project which deals with the problem of insufficient coding. Transcoding is a proposal for elucidating the impossibility of unambiguous codes which would be a necessary requirement of a functioning communication. Coding as understood by KR diverts from the functionalistic understanding of code as a set of rules in a specific semiotic system and as a condition of sign-based communication. In contrast, KR see code as the potential of sign-based communication which can activate pragmatic, performative, and action-oriented contexts. The social and cultural conditions which have an impact on the meanings of signs are negotiated in particular situations in the form of translations between proximity and distance, between materiality and information/sign, between visibility and invisibility.

supervising the rules?
So what happens when you intervene into such performative flows of signs and code processes? A May demonstration, a car race, the construction and sale of a military weapon, or the experiment in a high-tech laboratory, are situations whose functionality and procedures only appear to be clearly defined by sets of rules, because all of these are interwoven with the most diverse networks. KR's stealth boat, tiger_stealth, is only conceivable in connection with the American and Tamil stealth technology and propaganda; blackbenz travels different medial and cultural spaces and publics; the flying robot, white_sovereign, traverses the visibilities and the logics of different technical, political and scientific systems; passion_cleaner permeates and redefines the relationship of political, economic and urban passions.

displacing the centre?
By means of their vehicles, Knowbotic Research explore the processes of transcoding at the boundaries of networks (new public spheres) and traditional public spheres - in scientific laboratories, in military security zones, in shopping malls, in corridors of migration. KR effect barely noticeable diversions, deceptions, confusions of the coding of these situations. The actions with the vehicles are re-enactments, manoeuvres, play-acting, thus becoming test cases for the visibility and negotiability of and knowledge about the respective situations. Albanians driving in a (semi-fictitious) car race along their migration corridor, scientists being surveilled by their own laboratory equipment, a cleaning van that normally comes at the end of a political demonstration and removes the leftovers, becomes a demonstrating agent itself, the military weapon which guarantees invisibility is conspicuously offered for sale in public boat auctions.

staying in limbo?
how to act in "inclusive exclusions"?
./restart the gambit

Footnote 1
Earlier versions of the "Passion 5" project used a municipal cleaning van.