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Date Published: 6/6/1996
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Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

Global Algorithm 1.6: Memetic Flesh in Cyber-City

Arthur and Marilouise Kroker

Memetic flesh? That's the street scene in cyber-city: San Francisco, CA. Not so much an ars electronica, but an Ars California: an art of digital living. Certainly not a sociological rhetoric of evolution or devolution, but something radically different. Memetic flesh as a floating outlaw zone where memes fold into genes, where the delirious spectacle of cyber-culture reconfigures the future of the molecular body. In Ars California, memetic flesh is neither future nor history, but the molecular present. Pure California Gening.

Now we just got off the Net where we experienced data delirium with Gerfried Stocker's manifesto for memetic flesh, the one where he speculates about future memes: stochastic minds, recombinant bodies, infoskin, molecular daydreams. When we read this meme manifesto, our bodies of flesh, bone and blood sagged under the terminal evolutionary weight of it all, but the electronic sensors embedded in our nanoskin just went crazy. Like Alien 3, the electronic worms cruising the blood lanes just below skin surface heard this call of a future technotopia, flipped on their sensor matrix to red alert, whomped through the epidermal bunker, zoomed out into fresh air, and were last seen heading straight for the California coast.

And why? Because in Ars California, words are always too slow: the art of digital life exceeds new programming languages. Java, Perl, C++, awk, C shell - these are always outmoded codes for better client/server relations. Spurning new programming codes and breaking beyond all the debugging barriers, memetic flesh fast-fuses memes and genes, molecularly hardwiring information into the folded vectors of softflesh. In SF, memes have abandoned the art academy, becoming popular culture for the 21st century. Just listen to the street talk: a cool-looking city-wise Chicano in Killer Loop shades plays Tex-Mex blues on his guitar while wearing a T-shirt that boasts: "I'm a Professional Beta-Tester for Microsoft;" a businessman tucked away in an IBM suit in-lines by while dealing mega-futures of Intel chips on his cellular phone; an African-American with a hi-tech futures face gets into the elevator armoured in a red windbreaker listing the brand-name icons for "The Corporate Alliance of America's Leading Cyber-Companies;" a nano-technologist begins to tell prophetic tales of the next human migration, the one where floating slivers of the human species will be carefully wrapped in huge nanofiber skins and allowed to float away into deep space, seeding the future universe.

Or we're walking down a sun-bleached street in San Francisco right under the Bay Bridge, and we see a beat-up Winnebago with a Nevada license plate. It's got a big sign out front advertising bargain basement prices on Java/Sun computer packages. It's a sun-real California scene: an old Winnebago, hi-tech gear, hard-drivin' Silicon Valley type salesmen in a no-tech part of town, with no customers to take their coffee and donuts and hi-tech packages except for some homeless guys and ourselves. After asking us "Which way to multi-media gulch?" they realized the error of their memetic way, and closed up shop just as a couple of street people settled down for some good eatin' and sleepin' inside the chain-link fence. Memetic flesh as daily life in cyber-city, the kind of place where the virus of the tech future digs its way under the skin, like an itch or a sore or a viral meme that just won't go away.

No one knows this better than the memetic artists of SF. Not the corporate art of Silicon Valley, the "house" art of Interval, Xerox, and Oracle with their New Age visions of wetware products for the digital generation nor the subordinated aesthetics of the fine art emporiums in official culture, but unofficial outlaw art that's practiced in hidden warehouses and storefront galleries and ghetto schools and other side of the tracks digital machine shops: an art of dirty memes.

Dirty memes? That's what happens when memetic engineering escapes into the streets of cyber-city, and its scent is picked up by viral artists. Like Elliot Anderson's multimedia algorithm, "The Temptation of St. Anthony," with its brilliant psychopathology of obsessive-compulsive behavior, complete with 3-D ghostly images of emotional discomfort and stuttering gestures, as the key psychic sign of digital culture. Or Matt Hackert's dead horse flesh machines complete with belching flame-throwers and whirring chain saws and rip-snorting drills, and all of this accompanied by the robotic sounds of the mechanical orchestra. Or Lynn Hershman's memetic cinema with its application of object-relations programming to the universe of Hollywood imagery. Or the viral robotics of Chico MacMurtie's "Amorphic Robot Works" that encode in robo-genetics all the ecstasy and catastrophe of the ruling cultural memetics. Neither technotopian nor technophobic, memetic art in the streets of SF is always dirty, always rubbing memes against genes, always clicking into (our) memetic flesh.


See Gerfried Stocker's opening statement for the Ars Electronica 1996 Memesis Symposium, at <http://www.aec.at/meme/symp/>.
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