Knitting and Luddism: a review of Xurban's Knit++
"The textile industry is where capitalism began; it was the industry the brought the industrial revolution from England to America - and it is the means by which capitalism is gradually conquering such places as Pakistan, to the eternal regrets of Luddites like Bin Laden."
"Equipped with networks and arguments, backed up by decades of research, a hybrid movement - wrongly labeled by the mainstream media as "anti-globalisation" - gained momentum. One of the particular features of this movement lies in its apparent inability and unwillingness to answer the question that is typical of any kind of movement on the rise or any generation on the move: what's to be done?"
After recently connecting to the xurban collective's online portion of _Knit++_ a few relationships between "global" social/protest movements and the rise of networked art and culture presented themselves as interesting for discussion. Or at least I imagined these connections within the context of other projects and discussions on New Media, tactical media, US aggression, and cyberfeminist practice. Not that any of this would be new, or form a consolidated theory, but – maybe suffering from the inability to answer "the question" as Lovink and Schneider argue of new social movements - the asking of questions can be as serious a project as answering them, even if those questions may seem redundant.
_Knit++_ presents an interface that allows visitors to navigate through narrative, pictorial, and animated information that, when seen in the context of the project, makes connections between textiles, computer and social networks, and institutional power. While the composition of the interface is fairly familiar, with a screen-like field for changing information above a control panel of sorts, the conceptual links created are not. The control panel symbolically replicates the group's proposition of _entanglement as opposed to intertwining_ (artists' statement), which is what occurs conceptually when one moves through the project's space. Various projects incorporating sewing, issues of women's work, and global locality can be moved through by selecting from the tangled map of virtual locations in the control panel.
Drawing connections between textile production and the WWW, especially in terms of work, has been explored in other projects, most recently Helen Whitehead's _Web, Warp, and Weft_ . As has the Neo/Luddite connection, though perhaps, not always adequately. The original textile worker Luddites of 19th Century England fought to destroy the machines that were replacing them, not just out of fear of the machines, but because they knew (at this early stage of industrialism) that the machinery was the evolving capital class's method for dealing with the problem of labor. Looking at the questions and attempts at solutions raised by _Knit++_ through the historical and contemporary rhetoric that forms the narratives of the Neo/Luddite movement can be useful and interesting for those interested/involved in continuing social movements and networked communication.
The work of the xurban collective takes, what many would call an oppositional position toward the global expansion of capital and state sponsored culture:
"Civil society should be constructed outside the State and the Capitalist sponsors network. Non-profit organizations are traps."
Statements like this would place Xurbanites into a new catagory of Luddite for many technocrats and economists that represent libertarian interests like Forbes or other, authoritarian yearnings. Many such technocratic pundits find it ironic that groups of people (like the Carbon Defense League ) are using high tech to fight so-called "progress." But there is also irony in the rhetorical use of _Luddite_ to describe someone like Bin Laden, someone who has profited from modernization and construction and whose terrorist organization isn't exactly an international labor movement. Of course, I feel ridiculous even having Al Queda and arts/activist groups like the CDL and Xurban in the same paragraph, for obvious reasons, but, after looking at US Congressional hearings on "cyber protests" and DdoS attacks, I'm not sure the authorities would feel the same . Terrorism and attempts to form networks that operate in opposition to undemocratic institutions are apparently the same, and it doesn't matter if the virus is of the biological or computer variety. The line between email from Electronic Disturbance Theater participants and envelope bombs from the Unabomber is a fine one according to the US Congress and its business leaders, who seem to want to draft another Frame Breaking Act-like law governing digital information (where the DMCA doesn't).
But all this throwing around of loaded historical terms like "Luddite" seems to fit nicely into the, by now well-worn, discourse of "the Other," allowing us to easily create shells of identity based on irrational fear and aggressive desire. While most discussion of "the Other" (academic or not) has focused on gender, ethnicity, and race, the model is equally useful when looking at contemporary incidents that have a history in the ongoing treatment of labor in the West in general.
But this nice fit is not so comfortable. As modern Western/Northern capital is more globally expansive than ever, the models for personal and labor relations seem to be homogenizing, so "the Other" is adapting to the needs of capital. Race and ethnicity become problematic as locations of fear and anxiety in a global economy ruled by capital, but class - and many argue gender – is multicultural as far as economics is concerned. At least it could seem multicultural by masking lingering racial/ethnic fear – since overt class oppression is apparently acceptable (in the US anyway) while other forms aren't. The rhetorical power of terms and concepts like "Luddite" to simplify both history and the present is not easily dismissed. Such concepts may become the mask for older fears that will allow for the popular repression of future resistance to domination by capital, especially in a so-called global setting.
While _Knit++_ appears to primarily function as an interactive, if fairly static and by now conventional, artwork, one can also view it as a document and solicitation for something else. It's obvious, as one goes through the project that you're only getting a remnant of what's going on - and I don't just mean the coinciding physical installation, though that's a part too. Visualizing relationships, like that between the struggles of women, labor, and geography can be a tool that helps us allow for difference while forming working networks.
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