Arif Kornweitz, 2019

Sleepwalking in a Haze

I read this the other day:
you must fight something
in order to understand it.

Invisibility is not a stable condition. Yet critical practices frequently offer invisibility as a tactic in response to violent, excluding visibilities. This lecture-performance considered invisibility vs non-visibility tactics in the face of violent regimes of representation. Youtube videos of the B-2 stealth bomber were screened with custom soundtracks and modified titles. A two-part talk followed, first describing the B-2’s design and recent missions. Consequently, invisibility and uncertainty were juxtaposed with non-visibility and indeterminacy. A document-karaoke session concluded the performance, delivering remarks on the earlier considerations.

Lecture-performance (sound piece, modified youtube videos, talk, karaoke.)
Presented at the ‘Uncertainty Seminar: Not Getting It’ at Stroom in The Hague.

Below is summary of the second part of the talk. The sound piece is at the bottom of the page.

Invisibility is not a stable condition. Yet critical practices frequently offer invisibility as a possible tactic in response to violent, excluding visibilities. In order to evaluate these tactics, invisibility can be read as a realisation of uncertainty.

Often presented as a counterpoint to certainty, uncertainty is more similar to certainty than it is made to appear. Both points are arranged on a scale of sharpness. Determining their position on that scale involves trade-offs. Measuring one variable exactly means not measuring another one exactly. The process of measurement defines not only what is certain but also what is uncertain.

Similarly, invisibility is defined by visibility, one doesn’t mean that much without the other. It is not so much visible vs invisible, certain vs uncertain, as it is visible and invisible, certain and uncertain. These opposites define each others conditions by way of contrast. What matters is neither invisibility nor visibility, but the regime that controls that difference.

The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber illustrates the violent dynamics involved in defining in/visibility. Designed to be near-invisible to radar, the flat plane delivers nuclear and conventional visibility in the form of bombs. The B-2 bomber’s traces in the world violently change from invisible to visible, effectively using uncertainty to deal radical certainty.

After this, how can one trust invisibility to be a stable condition? Or even one that could provide us with agency? And what could be an alternative?

In “Notes from Selma: On Non-Visibility”, Our Literal Speed point to non-visibility as potential tactic. (Earlier on, Tony Cokes “Evil.27 Notes On Selma”, which samples this text, had been screened). In activism, what if images actually “slow down transformation”? What if the lack of an incorporative picture, non-visibility, produces “the most revolutionary visibilities of all, [one] we will never see coming”?

Non-visibility appears to be a form of indeterminacy: a wild, endless state of not being perceived, of being non distinguishable. Indeterminacy denies determination, classification and categorisation.

Indeterminate entities are neither visible nor invisible, they are also not both at the same time. They are not yet decided. Understanding non-visibility means understanding the conditions that enable the becoming of phenomena,
rather than classifying the representation of an entity (as invisible or visible).

While we cannot see an invisible object, we do not to know how to look for a non-visible phenomenon. Non-visibility tactics require a shift from object to field. They require peripheral awareness.

Rather than trying to refocus on a world that perpetually blurs itself, using non-visibility would mean denying imaging to the world. It would mean retracting into indeterminacy, to regroup, reform.

Could non-visibility be a feasible tactic that opens up windows for agency? How to realise or access it? How to measure its success and against what? How to find a tactic, name a tactic, determine a tactic, if that pulls it out of indeterminacy?

Who can afford to engage in all of this? Already rendered invisible, can one retract into non-visible indeterminacy? Will a shift from object to field just leave one with objectless melancholia?

I read this the other day: “You must fight something in order to understand it.”

Does that mean: you must not understand something if you need to fight it?


Unsurprisingly, non-visibility is a tactic employed by the US military in order to protect future invisible weapon systems.
Recently, the Air Force orderered two hundred B-21 Raider, the follow up of the B-2, named in reference to the warplanes that attacked Japan in World War Two. There are currently no images of the B-21, only a render, and almost no information about it. As Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, puts it:

“Strategic ambiguity is important. The technology is important. So I don't foresee that you're going to know, for years, very much more about the technology. This is a balancing act. This is a desire to share information with the public, but also protect that information, and not to put out so much information that a possible adversary can connect dots in ways that we don't wish those dots to be connected.”

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