"globalization critique" is mentioned today,
an implicit agreement is usually presupposed, and it is
presupposed in several respects: in reference to what is
precisely meant by globalization and its critique; in
reference to the point, where this critique is supposed
to begin; and finally in reference to how a political
movement could build on this critique (or has already
started to do so). Yet, what is presupposed here is
usually not only an overly hasty understanding of terms,
but also a very specific visual code, through
which globalization and its critique apparently "naturally"
this code and the exact nature of it are to be addressed
in the following. The central question here is how a
conceptual definitiveness may be achieved at the levels
of communicating and understanding, given that "globalization"
is communicated - for most critical subjects - primarily
through very specific texts and media reports and images,
although it is obviously also inscribed into the life
of every individual in a very real way. In this respect,
it may be succinctly stated that there should be a certain
unanimity to the criticism and protests at least with
regard to the targets, if not at the level of
the issues of the criticism of globalization.
as far as this buzz word can even be used in a general
sense, is visually expressed in a series of images,
particularly media images, which seem highly incompatible
at first glance. In all the roughly five years that
this topos has been circulating in popular media, and
in the at least ten years that this has been the case
in the field of theory, there has yet to be a unanimous
agreement reached on the definition of the term. On
the contrary: glancing at the media landscape of recent
months and years, one notices on one side the protests
in Seattle, Washington, Prague, Göteborg, Genoa and
so forth, largely quelled with violence, whose "power
of infection" (Klaus Theweleit) is only surpassed
by the images that the events of September 11, 2001
have left in the memory of the world public. Virtually
diametrically opposed to these are views of the entertainment
industry complex, which represent an equally contemporary
expression of "globalization": theme parks,
malls, fast food and franchise chains, megaplex cinemas,
and so forth, which all arouse the seductive appearance
of a "post-historical, eternal peace".
Or to use a different example: the image of a Brazilian
favela with a sparse infrastructural connection in contrast
to a gated community that is linked to the outside world
primarily through wireless telecommunication.
of this kind are meanwhile circulating in the field
of art as well: the painter Dierk Schmidt, for instance,
picks up in his most recent works from a passage from
Peter Weiss' "Aesthetics of Resistance" to
speculate on the artistic furnishings of an (interior)
ministerial salon in keeping with our times. In a series
of three oil/acrylic paintings, he reinterprets Delacroix'
painting "Liberty" and Gèricault's
"The Raft of Medusa" for the global capitalist
present: the well known Nike spot for the Soccer World
Championship 1998 is superimposed on "Liberty",
as the Brazilian team playfully overcomes the security
checkpoints at an airport; "The Raft of Medusa",
on the other hand, becomes a refugee boat shipwrecked
off the coast of Australia, and the contemporary form
of subjectification that comes into effect in this is
literally shrunken to "bare life" (Giorgio
Agamben). At least here - as Schmidt's portrayal option
may be contrasted with Agamben - the damaged sovereignty
of the stranded subjects is still recognizable as a
Although it is reduced to a minimum, it is still there.
the images mentioned so far seem to express highly contradictory
tendencies and, most of all, local effects of "globalization",
but hardly a universal regularity. Auxiliary expressions
are dominant and, not least of all, makeshift images
everywhere you look: visual crutches like the Nike logo
(or the subsequent "No Logo" demand), exploited
workers in an Indonesian Nike factory (which are, in
fact, hardly to be seen, but may be recalled mentally
at any time), masked freedom fighters, the universal
communication tool (the "hand-held communicator"),
business class passengers and, to an ever greater extent,
also economy class passengers, and not to be forgotten:
the traveling intellectual or "experts flown in",
as it was recently succinctly formulated.
In fact, it seems that the immaterial labor of contemporary
production conditions is much harder to grasp in vivid
images than was the case with the majority of manual
laborers in industrial capitalism.
Or is there anyone, who does not immediately call to
mind the countlessly reproduced photographs of a Lewis
Hine, Walker Evans or August Sander at the mention of
the key words "capitalist exploitation", "pauperization"
there is no lack of impressive single emblems for "global
capitalist exploitation", it seems that every single
one only ever indicates partial or symbolic sides of
what it is that makes up a greater and less easily portrayable
conjunction. These are partial aspects that each have
a certain significance by themselves, but which do not
put us in a position to be able to comprehend the "reality-producing"
processes that are in effect today in a larger context
and, most of all, in their multi-dimensionality. With
respect to all this, transnational flows of capital
or even "flows of ideas" (so-called "idea-scapes")
remain captive in a strange invisibility. Global
"flows", which contribute substantially to
the formation of the aforementioned contradictions,
seem to persistently elude the conventional forms of
visualization - whether in mass media or in art. What
we can see are usually just the effects of something,
for which no binding view exists.
it would be good to focus on the constitutive lacunas
in the concept of globalization itself - which are sometimes
very concisely brought to a head in art projects: in
an audio project by the group Global Dustbowl
Ballads (consisting of Clemens Krümmel, Rupert Huber,
vocals Alice Creischer), this kind of "necessary
failing" is transposed into sound. Texts by Woodie
Guthrie are first fed into an Internet translation engine,
and the output - deformed machine-German that still
has some traces of a utopian American working classes
socialism - is newly sung to melodious minimalist techno
loops. What results is exactly what one would expect
in light of the principal problems of translation in
relation to the most diverse concerns of globalization
critique: "The man workin gamblin man is rich and
is poor and I no house in this world will more receive."
No house in this world more? How many migrants and displaced
workers around the world could sing that song?
then, it is precisely these kinds of cultural productions
that are needed, for if there are no concepts, then
they may produce images (visual, acoustic, etc.) of
the processes that produce reality and contradictions,
which are generally reduced to the formula "globalization".
Perhaps this is even where a primary function of the
artistic cultural field (and, of course, I only speak
of a tiny portion and marginal area of this field) may
be found today, specifically in imbuing these processes
with a visibility that is not only a superficial one,
namely as a precondition for even being able to imagine
forms of "resistive networking",
regardless of whether this is given a more cultural
or more political emphasis. Just as "globalization
- in contrast to "corporate globalization"
that is seemingly ordained from above - is becoming
an increasingly explosive research subject, a globalization-critical
visual culture would be encouraged to produce images
of these contradictory currents and tendencies, particularly
those "from below".
at this kind of visualization are meanwhile found in
the most diverse artistic media, from film, video and
video installation - for instance, there is Chantal
Akerman's multiperspectival work on the American-Mexican
border region ("From the Other Side", 2002),
to photography - such as Allan Sekula's extensive series
"Fish Story" (1990-95) and "Dead Letter
Office" (1997) - all the way to multimedia cartographies
of transnational economic and political conjunctions.
The latter has been compiled, for instance, by the Strasbourg
project group Bureau d'études, based on French corporations and their international branches.
Another successful example was on display at Documenta
11 in the form of a multimedia installation "A
Journey Through a Solid Sea" (2002) by the Milanese
group Multiplicity, which attempted to portray the Mediterranean
area as a migratory, economic, but also biological and
criminological correlation. How the life of individuals
at the lower end of the "globalization chain"
is to be imagined today, is shown, for instance, in
the reportages - also shown at Documenta 11 - by the
Indian photographer Ravi Agarwal (laborers in South
Gujarat in India) or in the photo essays by Olumuyiwa
Olamide Osifuye from Nigeria on street life in Lagos,
Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber address the architectonic
and urban development dimension of this "chain"
in their photo and video project "Live like this!"
(2000), depicting a residential complex in Rio de Janeiro
as a - slowly decaying - symbol of a globalized modernity.
It is also the kind of theme that Florian Pumhösl presents
in an exemplary and reflexive way in several video installation
on individual "modernist ruins" in Madagascar,
Uganda and Tanzania.
designed and politically interpreted "world maps"
have been in existence partly since the early seventies,
by such artists, for example, as Öyvind Fahlström or
Aligieri e Boetti, who (literally) sewed a world map
together from national flags in the shape of the countries
This is supplemented today by an artistic hybrid form,
which could be called neoliberalism sketches trimmed
by the media, or graphical sculptural translations of
what Patti Smith once sung of as the "WTO Blues".
Apt examples of this are Andreas Siekmann's contribution
to the exhibition "du bist die welt" (Künstlerhaus
Vienna, 2001), where a DIY-self-assembly sculpture made
of small plastic toy figures depicts a world economic
summit somewhere in the Swiss Alps, or Thomas Hirschhorn's
installation "Wirtschaftslandschaft Davos"
["Economic Landscape Davos"] (2001), pursuing
a similar concern, just in larger and more plastic dimensions.
Siekmann most recently put yet another log on the fire
in his exhibition "Die Exklusive: Zur Politik des
ausgeschlossenen Vierten" ["The Exclusive:
On the Politics of the Excluded Fourth"] (Salzburger
Kunstverein, 2002): the exhibition stages the drastic
policies of exclusion and evacuation that are meanwhile
employed by security forces around the world against
demonstrations and assemblies at so-called "globalization
summits". And finally Lisl Ponger's photo series
"Sommer in Italien" (2001) - also presented
at Documenta 11 - is devoted to the concrete security
policy and police force notches carved into the urban
landscape at the G7 summit in Genoa in July 2001.
the question remains as to how adequately these visualizations
can ever portray the aforementioned larger contexts;
how comprehensive an overall cartography of "globalization"
would have to be, in order to be able to portray not
only partial effects - as drastic as these may be in
individual cases - but rather the interweaving of causes
and effects at very different levels. Back to what is
visible at one glance and local, then? Or rather to
the question of which dimensions an exemplary image
of "globalization" would have to comprise,
or would realistically be able to comprise. As
we know, the scope ranges from the wholly concrete and
local to that which is very broad-ranging and world-wide,
and the crucial strategic trick probably consists of
linking one extreme with the other in such a way that
the numerous mediating steps or different "scales"
in between still remain comprehensible. In this context,
Alexander Kluge once remarked that "globalization"
begins for him at the point where a German factory worker
shows a Chinese factory worker how to screw a bolt into
a metal part correctly.
This ultimately brings us back to very concrete scenarios
or sites of exchange, to which certain contradictions
and countermovements inhere, which can in turn be read
in a roundabout way as products of "globalization".
fact, the scale of the local is often presumed
as the determining framework of cultural, economic and
social ways of production and reproduction.
At the same time, a special expressiveness is attributed
to this scale with respect to transregional, transnational,
even transcontinental processes. And perhaps by meticulously
covering every single one of these local constellations
- which would, of course, imply a virtually endless
task - it might actually be possible to gradually arrive
at something like a "planetary view" or a
"global consciousness". This is a fantasy
that is echoed in constructions of the Internet as a
dematerialized "Weltgeist" - "world spirit"
- as well, but it is only a fantasy there, too.
any case, a view of this kind, which would have a more
mosaic-like than phantasmal composition, would have
to evince a strong patchwork character. All the aforementioned
visualizations would have to be included in it democratically,
so that the actual conceptual extent of "globalization"
could be revealed: images of Brazilian favelas along
with those of Californian suburbias; McDonalds in Teheran
along with the anonymous Persian grocery shop in some
western city. This would have to be supplemented with
the aforementioned "mappings", with the multimedia
inclusion of flows of money, capital, labor and ideas
(as difficult as this might be), and with film documentation
of concrete living conditions under neoliberal economic
and political conditions. And all of this would have
to be related not only to the "typical" or
well known sites of "globalization", but also
to the most "untypical" and "hidden"
ones - all the localities that are constantly being
newly produced or newly "formatted" by the
contrary processes of "globalization".
In this way, it might be possible to slowly arrive
at a multipart, heterogeneous and - in the positive
sense - disparate "image of globalization",
which could form the epistemic foundation for the political
mobilizations that build on it.
single images of the local could only claim a certain
"validity" or "expressiveness" to
the extent that they participate in reflecting on the
superordinated, often temporary spheres of influence
and the forces that the places represented are exposed
to. An example from a seemingly remote area: one of
the most interesting and paradoxical aspects of recent
electronic culture is that it appears to participate
in producing new forms of localization, or even in establishing
a strong tie to a certain location. The reason why this
is paradoxical is that this culture - starting from
techno, for instance, and its widely proliferating subgenres
- was initially strongly associated with a very specific
non-locatedness. Impelled by the "spirit"
of utopian unboundedness or the overcoming of material
(and thus also local) restrictions in the here and now
with an orientation to the future, this music was sustained
from the start by an ominous, amorphous global consciousness.
This consciousness could be coded in a manner that was
esoteric (in the form of a holistic world spirit), romantically
inclusive (as a rejection of all ideas of exclusion)
or simply pragmatic (as an accompanying sound to the
unstoppable process of "globalization"). In
comparison now, though, "recursive geographical
ties" can be observed in this music in many places,
even if only as attributions of certain "sound
signatures". In short, the continuously expanding
electronica culture is exposed to an inherently contrary
process: on the one hand, the local differences, from
which "global culture" substantially draws
(at least at the level of consumption), play an increasingly
important role, i.e. local differences entering into
the so-called global; on the other hand, the economic
gears behind the surface of this seemingly unified "global
culture" are constantly producing new inequalities.
In other words, the global is inescapably embodied in
the local, too.
more comprehensive view (and visualization) of "globalization"
starting from the local thus has no choice but to expand
the frequently cited site specificity and to see
it as a more complex interplay of superordinated forces.
Or in the words of the geographer David Harvey, to regard
globalization as a "process of the production of
dissimilar temporal and geographical development".
The notorious images of a cage, trap or prison are not
sufficient. A more adequate way of making "globalization"
comprehensible - which would still be far removed from
a more binding definition of the term - would
consequently have to start from its productive, processual
character and attempt to demonstrate this "productivity"
on the basis of the many small asynchronicities and
dissimilarities in the present fabric of society (regardless
of where). As a differentiating - and specifically not
homogenizing - force, "globalization" inscribes
increasingly drastic differences into geographies and
temporalities, such as the differences between "tourists"
and "vagabonds", as Zygmunt Bauman has said;
or the differences between asylum-seekers and a new
"debating class", which is usually only marginally
concerned with such commonplace but fundamental problems
as residence rights; finally between (us) "free
people" and the "evil-doers" somewhere
out there, as we have been hearing lately. "Keep
on rockin' in the free world," is what Neil Young
sang in 1989, the year of change, only to state self-reflectively
then in the same breath: "Don't feel like Satan,
but I am to them." In 2002, Young has done a "patriotic"
turnaround in light of the events, and it may be - in
a longer-term perspective - that his words apply to
no one better than to himself: "Let's roll for
Freedom / Let's roll for Love / We're goin' after Satan
/ On the wings of a Dove."
this last opposition, there is already a new visual
and conceptual code at work - one in which "globalization"
is given its most topical expression in the formula
freedom vs. terror. This is a code that must be ceaselessly
opposed, if we are to one day arrive at a more adequate
image and perhaps even a suitable concept of "globalization".
Translated by Aileen Derieg