Round table discussion co-hosted by Modern Art Oxford, Urbanomic, The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, and University of Oxford, July 2012. The event will take place at the Old Power Station in Oxford, site of the installation of John Gerrard's commission Exercise (Djibouti) 2012, on 11 July.
Participants: Antoine Bousquet (Birkbeck, London), Shane Brighton (University of Sussex), James Der Derian (Brown University), Mark Fisher (Goldsmiths University of London), Mark Hansen (Duke University), Stepan Kment (Bohemia Interactive), Robin Mackay (Urbanomic) [Chair], Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths), Eivind Røssaak (National Library of Norway), Anne-Fran¨oise Schmid (École des Mines de Paris), Donna de Salvo (Whitney), McKenzie Wark (New School, NY). As space is limited, attendance is by invitation only. Proceedings of the round table discussion will be transcribed and made available on-site, and will form a part of a future publication.
In Simulations (1983), Jean Baudrillard proposed that we had entered into a 'third era of the simulacrum': No longer the Renaissance paradigm in which the simulacrum was understood as a counterfeit version of the real; nor the Industrial paradigm, whose endless series of simulacra threatened the original with redundancy; but the age of the model or simulation, as a simulacra that precedes the real, and ultimately renders the distinction between real and simulation untenable. This era heralds 'the generation by models of a real without origin or reality ... henceforth, it is the map that engenders the territory ... no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance ... it is nothing more than operational.'
The most acute examples of such developments are found in the military sphere, where technological simulation has become an integral part of training and operations; and where, at the same time, media spectacle - often enabled by the same technologies - has become integrated with military power. Trained in virtual environments, military personnel are increasingly enhanced by augmented reality technologies that bring combat into conformity with its simulation. And the seductions of media and entertainment have become such crucial weapons that a country's skill in self-representation and 'information dominance' can determine its status as a global power. At the same time as the infosphere demands that war takes on 'the properties of a game, with high production values, mythic narratives, easy victories and few bodies.' [James Der Derian], hyper-realistic videogames evolved from military technology become a kind of virtual distributed training camp (as evidenced in Anders Breivik's chilling testimony), military intelligence is 'crowdsourced' from social media, and the lines between simulation and action, combatant and civilian, become blurred.
Working across multiple media and using cutting-edge technologies, artist John Gerrard's recent series of work crystallizes, in the concept of 'exercise', the nature of contemporary violence, as it operates through the optimisation, technologisation and mediatisation of the human body, in simulations integrated into global networks of power and control. The hybrid vocabulary of parades, exercises, training and display explored in Live Fire Exercise (Djibouti) , Infinite Freedom Exercise (Near Abadan, Iran) , and Exercise (Djibouti) 2012  - at the crossroads of violence and control, spectatorship and universality, real and simulation - is the inspiration behind this round table discussion.
Military applications are only the 'sharp end' of a general transformation of contemporary life. Activities performed in simulated spaces are increasingly shaping our reality. The ubiquity of modelling, algorithms, and automated prediction continues to displace the boundary between simulation and the real. Our self-representations in social media, and the multiple data avatars that we deposit in systems to be mined for data, are of increasing social and political consequence; as are the effects of our access to quasi-military-grade resources for the virtual planning of real life.
And yet we still struggle to find a theoretical register in which to address these hybrid objects. How can the displays, exercises and simulations called forth by new communications and imaging be reconceptualised no longer as dissimulations, representations or reproductions, but as real operations? And how can we assess the ways in which they serve, or can disrupt, power?
Such questions call for a strongly interdisciplinary approach. To discuss the constellation of issues clustered around the concept of 'exercise', our round table brings together participants from many different disciplines and perspectives:
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