Issue 4/2011

»Good« Friendship


»Like«. This label, which is spreading like wildfire nowadays, has come to epitomise a new culture of friendship and friendliness. Liking or enjoying something is increasingly not a matter of subjective aesthetic taste, but has instead become a central interface of commonality transmitted through media channels. In this context friendship is not so much an extension of the individual ego into the social realm but instead, conversely, a kind of relay by means of which the cultural (and everything pertaining to the culture industry) connects its subjects to each other. In this respect the figure of over 800 million active users of the social network Facebook sends a clear message – even if there is still much racking of brains as to the kind of friendship that is now being implemented all over the world.
In any event this syndrome does appear to be spreading, permeating right through the most distinct social contexts – and this in an era characterised more than ever by differences and irreconcilable points of view. The spread of peer-to-peer networks linked through the new media, the emergence of distinctly demarcated circles of users sharing the same interests, and finally the advent of more fan and »sharity« activities – all this provides at least some grounds to conclude that new communitarian structures are appearing. What though is the actual character of friendship within these networks? How do such networks relate to the conflict-ridden fragmentation of global multi-cultures? What kind of objectification, indeed even market-inspired »commoditisation«, exerts its influence on this new form of socialising? And, last but not least: how does today’s network culturality leave its mark on contemporary developments in the world of art?
Questions such as these lie at the heart of the autumn edition, which explores the topic from the perspective of developments in a broad range of different arenas. In a discussion with Byung-Chul Han, the philosopher and media theoretician draws a distinction between inflationary use of the term friendship and »friendliness« that is really worthy of the name. He takes the view that only the latter provides a viable basis to do justice to phenomena of the Other and the Alien in a globally converging culture. Jan Verwoert’s approach is complementary to this: he advocates a notion of friendship that rejects any form of exploitation and control. Friendliness, in Verwoert’s view, functions like a horizon that opens up around something shared, rather than as a product manufactured by means of technology or the media; it cannot be manufactured intentionally, nor generated in a spirit of value creation.

The essays by Alessandro Ludovico and Daphne Dragona explore social networks in the narrower sense of the term: Ludovico examines the issue of how identity is formatted anew in these networks, how the forms of self-presentation practiced there impinge on identity – whether the effect is reinforcing, undermining or corrupting. Like Ludovico, Daphne Dragona takes various Facebook-critical art projects as her point of departure in order to delineate the contours of a widespread phenomenon that seeks to make capital out of friendships: this is the process of »gamification«, in other words, the way in which social relationships, as practiced in media-based networks, are increasingly turned into a game (or assume a ludic quality). Jana Herwig underscores in her paper that it is certainly possible to conceive of alternatives to the practices pursued by the major social media service providers, and picks up inter alia on the question of the extent to which subjectivity and personal profiles can be managed. The best way to counteract this frequently voiced objection is to returning control over personal data to users – irrespective of how this is actually achieved.

The discussion with Ulf Wuggenig offers a broader focus as he runs through the emergence and relevance of the notion of the network in the art realm. It is not just that euphemisms like »networking« and »connecting« serve to disguise what could still be described as neo-feudal relationship structures even today: this is also emblematic of the way in which it is possible to capitalise on social relationships within a particular shared realm. Conversely, the example of the Polish art and theory collective, Krytyka Polityczna, which Herwig G. Höller explores, reveals the productive impact a concentrated, rapidly expanding alliance of interests can have over and above the artistic realm. In conjunction with other features, examining, for example, a Norwegian archive project that concentrates on aspects of friendliness and approachability of archives, along with a guest contribution by the Conzepte media project, this edition has one key aim: to explore the residual traces of community and friendship models that escape the influence of commoditisation, and which can generate liking and enjoyment beyond any notion of possibilities to instrumentalise these models.