Mohammad Salemy, What were you doing on 9/11? 2010-2015, multichannel video
September 11, 2016

9/11 & the Temporality of Televisual Intersubjectivity

The work reconstructs from video archives of the September 11th attacks the televisual unfolding of the event on CNN, Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC news networks. The synchronic and uninterrupted footage which is playing on a continuous loop starts with the networks’ mundane morning shows on September 11, 2001 minutes before the global media landscape was punctured with an enormous historical event of a military nature. The videos continue on for over an hour and half until a few minutes after the second tower is pulverized and fallen to the ground.

The multiplicity of the video channels emphasizes a few things. First the multiple ontology of the towers as described by Jean Baudrillard as a thing that already came with its own identical double[1], second the multiplicity of the attacks in New York and elsewhere and their tragic consequence, and lastly the more relevant multiplicity that pertains to the relationship between an actual physical event and the reception of its “live” media coverage by different audiences. As impossible as it is to think that the attacks were coordinated by the American Government (suggested by thousands of different senseless conspiracy theories), it is also impossible to imagine that the networks’ unanimous suspension or regular programming and live broadcasting of a spectacular military attack on the country was not a decision taken without consulting with the American government and its military branch which itself was under attack in Washington DC.

9/11 was the literal manifestation of a tectonic shift in the relationship between capital state and the media or the tertiary state of the economic, political and media regimes. I borrow this term from Gilles Chatelet who in the late 1990s predicted a world in which these three entities become increasingly co-integrated and indistinguishable from each other.[2] Thus, 9/11 marks the sudden manifestation of longer, if not also subtler shifts which were rooted in the end of the Cold War a decade earlier: the emergence of the cybernetic governance of planetary affairs by what we can describe as the global neoliberal northern alliance.

During this decade Europe and North America experienced the acceleration of the welfare states’ metamorphosis into full-blown market democracies. Today, considering what we already know and identify as neoliberalism, it is not far fetch to see the post 9/11 world as the geopolitical ramification of the global economic order’s hypermilitarization.

As an spontaneous media ritual, the 9/11 attacks’ broadcast acted as the world’s televisual entrance into a new geopolitical climate of international lawlessness and chaos whose contours today even threatens the “sanctity” of Europe. After the attacks, the United States which for the largest part of the 20st century was actively engaged in the establishment of institutions and laws for the cooperative governance of international relations, suddenly began to undermine these very processes, upgrading its long held classical military doctrines with various components of what the exhibition title calls asymmetrical warfare.

9/11 took place at the threshold of humanity’s migration from the televisual to telecomputational networks. Every media paradigm ushers a particular way for how individuals and groups pay attention and inadvertently collect, sort and use memory. This temporal process plays the most significant role in the formation of both subjectivity and intersubjectivity. The dominant televisual mode of seeing and relating to the world, which, one can argue, saw 9/11 both as its apex and the start of its sudden decline, was itself at the same time a link between the pre television cinematic paradigm and the internet’s networked mode. In other words, the live coverage of 9/11 on news television was as much about the dramatic narrative of the event in the style of a movie as it was about its live and simultaneous spread in fragments over several networks like viral content on the Internet.

As a form of media studies, the television footage in this work probes the transformational properties of live broadcast events. It shows how they intervene in the formation of history by self inserting as a virtual reality into the unfolding lives of the members of a large collective, bootstrapping to the very fabric of their individual lives in order to give meaning or significance to the passage of important moments. This transformation is depicted in the beginning of the footage as the broadcasting of the live event takes over the mundane TV programming of a quotidian Tuesday morning in America, transforming it into a global live media event.

Non-live coverage of events, due to their clear representational nature cased by temporal delay, differ from the live ones which tend to have an obscure ontology due to being simultaneous with the actual event. What people saw on television on 9/11 wasn’t the live unfolding of the event nor was it its mere televisual representation. We might wrongly assume an exclusively representational function for the media but the media’s function from the standpoint of history is more constructive than reflective. Therefore it ought to be common sense to suggest that at the same time that the real towers were collapsing, they were being resurrected as symbols of a new geopolitical condition.[3] Similar to how Heidegger describes the differences between a tool and a thing, the physical destruction of the buildings as utility was the starting point for the construction of the towers or their destruction and lack as a particular concept. The media footage was as much about the ending of an old world as it was about the beginning of a new one in the future. The towers destruction as the most spectacular component of the terrorist attacks gave context to many legal political and psychological battles in America and can safely be said to have transformed the nation’s character both domestically and as a leading global power. The witnessing of the attacks facilitated a sudden shift in geopolitical economy and substantiated in real time the physicality of a new global enemy called Islamic terrorism.*

* The original version of this text was published in 2015 by Witte de With Center for Contemporary art as part of the exhibition titled Art In The Age Of… Asymmetrical Warfare. To purchase the catalogue, please visit WDW Website.

  1. 1- http://www.versobooks.com/books/1197-the-spirit-of-terrorism
  2. 2- http://urbanomic.com/pub_toliveandthinklikepigs.php
  3. 3- As Baudrillard notes, “Although the towers have disappeared, they have not been annihilated. Even in their pulverized state, they have left behind an intense awareness of their presence. No one who knew them can cease imagining them and the imprint they made on the skyline from all points of the city. Their end in material space has borne them off into a definitive space.”, ibid.

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