“Engaging Ambivalence” deals with the issues of the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) policies of engaging academics to research with civilian and military applications. The author feels that DARPA’s methods are disingenuous and often obfuscate the actual motives for the research it buys; while DARPA purports humanitarian applications of such research, these pursuits actually have primarily martial purposes.
The author points to several interesting projects that invert/subvert the nature of DARPA’s ambiguous research objectives, ‘The Tactical Mobile Robotics program is developing robotics technologies
and platforms designed to revolutionize dismounted operations by projecting
operational influence and situational awareness into previously denied areas’’ becomes a mechatronic spray painting apparatus. These projects interpret the vague intent of the research verbiage in favor of human empowerment, creating devices and processes that ease one’s burden when rioting, or facilitate expedient graffiti tagging.
While I often enjoy subversive technology, I don’t consider it art. The output of these tools might be possibly be art, but the sheer act of creating a tool does not endow the creator with the title of “fine artist”. I am not arguing any of the classical definitions of fine art: that it should be merely contemplative, elicit emotion or poetically describe some phenomenon of life.
In the same sense, subversion and activism are no more art forms than is war itself. If some enterprising young artist began and successfully waged a war on some political entity, would he be nominated for a Golden Nica? If not, why then do we find activist, subversive projects now hand in hand with computer animation? But it’s ok that subversion and activism are not fine art forms--they are necessary tools of patriotism. However, if the trend toward subversion and activism being included in academic arts continues (e.g. the title, “Andy Bichlbaum, assistant professor in Subversion at Parsons”), then the door is opened for all acts that have previously been excluded from “high” art (for good or ill).