Report From Hypernation

Date: Fri, 17 May 1996 20:32:14 +0200

From: (Hank Bull)

Report From Hypernation

Hank Bull

"Sovereign nations' politicos will find that trying to arrest networking is like trying to arrest the waves of the ocean." R. Buckminster Fuller, 1983.

Commissioned by OBORO in Montreal, with the assistance of the Western Front in Vancouver, Hypernation is a project in art and telecommunications that was initiated by Daniel Dion and Hank Bull through telephone and e-mail exchanges during the last referendum in Quebec on October 30th 1995. Currently coordinated and conducted by Hank Bull, with the assistance of many artists across Canada, it is intended to address the impact of network technologies on the identity of nation states in general, and on the future of Canada and Quebec in particular.

An Internet discussion list was begun at the end of February, 1996. This group and its debate keeps expanding and 80 people are currently participating. Excerpts of the discussions and more information about the project is available by consulting the Western Front Web site at

Between May 27th and June 21st 1996, a number of live communications events will take place, employing IRC, CUSeeMe, fax, mini-FM, videophones and ISDN teleconferencing. At Oboro in Montreal (May 27-31), At S=E9quence in Chicoutimi (June 5th), at Inter/Access in Toronto (June 18th) and at the Annual Meeting of the Film and Video Alliance in Winnipeg (June 20th).

"The nation state, as defined by borders, passports, central governments and economic policies, is chronically dysfunctional, destabilized by trans-national capitalism, information technology, and the aspirations of indigenous peoples and communities defined over the centuries by language, religion, and art. Nation is henceforth defined by culture. What nation are you? Maybe you are several nations." From the opening statement.

The discussion takes off from the context of Canada and Quebec, and moves quickly onto international terrain. DER SPIEGEL runs an interview with the German Minister of Justice, Edzard Schmidt- Jortzig. "The internet has no borders. What is illegal in one state will simply be served to the net elsewhere... I think the internet with its unlimited possibilites of communication and its anarchistic structure is one of the most amazing challenges the state currently has to face. Faster than we would have thought, the traditional national state will prove obsolete." The idea of the global citizen in the internet, who no longer has to cope with national ideas, is a nice vision, he says, but still very unrealistic. For some time, national states would remain authoritative and defend their function. "But I am afraid that this stuggle will eventually fail."

Leaking through the borders of nation states, are nomads, networks, diasporas, genders, triads, refugees. The nation state, construct of a patriarchal imagination, is circumvented, if not rejected outright, by many who prefer to define themselves as First Nations, Queer Nation and now Netland, not unlike the independent black nation in America proposed by Malcom X.

Images of community, based on shared interest, gender, sexuality-are they enough to define a nation? Yes, if their members say so. The Slovenian industrial band, Laibach, starts its own nation, the NSK State, issuing passports (that people have actually used successfully), postage stamps and currency, "based on the principles of no borders, no nationality and so on." Faced with the urgency and compromise of Slovenia's transformation, they "only feel comfortable in the Utopian states that we can create ourselves." The semi-detached parody of political realities. "Territoires Nomades", a project of le lieu, a group from Quebec City, also involves handing out passports and inscribing citizens.

The Hypernation discussion rejects the trope of staking a claim to some virtual territory, of recreating the nation, or finding its 'equivalent' in cyberspace. "I do not want to participate in the creation of a nation in cyberspace. It is an oxymoron. I propose that we ask: what is culture in cyberspace?" Peter Sandmark. "Communities I can dig," says Pam Hall, "collectives I can ralate to, but 'nations' seem like board games of the male god... In cyberspace, perhaps there is an opportunity to meet the 'curious other' and bond/build/bridge on the basis of consensual

participation... I find those things more present in 'neighbourhood', regional terrains of commonality, and little groupings, not in big ideas about the nation state.

All nations are imaginary constructions. They are a collective fantasy, depend on a border, and the creation of an outside, an alien unknown. How to resolve the frontiers. It's a framing problem really: how can you have two works of art inside a single frame? There must be a way. But Hypernation also rejects the idea of "one planet one nation" (complete with space aliens as foreigners.) Difference is important, a wealth of cultural diversity, ideally ensured on the net by the difference of languages. Will English, with a California accent, become the lingua france of the net?

"I agree with cybercitizen Peter, were it not that I am left hanging desperately to the notion of nation as the last stand against American consumer culture." Ken Anderlini, writing from Vancouver.

Corporate powers rule. "As capital becomes more and more mobile the worker, the citizen, the definable by place culture and the nation state itself becomes a side show of the transit and speed of power." Oliver Hockenhull.

"Ethnic cleansing is done by accountants according to IMF sanctioned economic models. Clean. Unplug the old and sick." Ken O'Heskin.

"Am I paranoid to feel that there's astonishing parallels between Germany pre-WWII and the US now?" Ardelle Lister.

"To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it 'the way it really was'. It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger... Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if the enemy wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious." Walter Benjamin. (Yes, the compiler of citations himself returns, on a listserv.)

An oscillation between skeptical and optimistic, between uptopian and dystopian visions of the the future, affects this list as it does many. There is nothing approaching consensus, but the discussion is at least willing to dream of a new democracy.

"Synarchy, or synchronous, synthetic anarchy, involves individuals linked technologically, socially, collaboratively, and professionally in organic spontaneous relationship webs instead of linearly defined or institutionally directed roles. Synarchy is an non-organizational non-structure (network) based on the principles of a responsible, synchronous, creative, caring, coordinated anarchistic and artistic involvement. Making this anti-system possible is computer assisted community networking, facilitating intercommunications within the nomadic virtual tribe. Not a collectivist or industrial model cooperative, there are no meetings, no dues, no qualifications except the self-declaration of participatory engagement. I network therefore I am." Derek Dowden.

It is difficult putting words to something only now coming into being. The image of a spiral, or helix, is invoked to describe this evolutionary movement, this new nation. The spiral metaphor leads

through poetry, fiction and eventually to Bronze Age Gaelic culture initiates crawling naked through a spiral tunnel dug into a barrow, or some such earthworks. Net spelunking. At one point even the

name destabilizes, morphing into Hybernation, Hemponation, Ruination, Slow Sedation, Fast Sedition -- as if the very act of fixing a name to something is a capitulation that our distributed identity can no longer support.

"It's the connection between the world and knowledge, between ideas and things, that is really at stake here, for it is our structures of knowledge that are most radically shifting as a result of massively networked culture." Michael Century.

The world and knowledge. Here in Hypernation, world means Land. As identity becomes hybrid, and distributed over the net, how does that change our ecology, the relationship of human community to the land and to other beings? In April, signatures, copyright, the ownership of words become an issue.

"Who tills the land owns the land," said Emiliano Zapata. Does anybody really own the land, or is it all usurped? Nationalism is really a local response to imperial oppression. Zapata's, like all agrarian revolutions had the removal of a coercive landlord class as

its chief agenda item. It sounds like the contemporary Zapatistas want to move it ahead a notch. The current principle of Aboriginal Title could function as a pointer. It resists ownership of the land. It

says rather, "We are the custodians of the land." Can Aboriginal Title permit the possibility of several nations living together on the same territory. Can it recognize nations in motion, nomadic, traversing the land.

"I agree that the land is not owned but would add that we are the land; we exist because of the natural process of transforming one life form into another; from rock comes soil comes plant comes animal comes human" Bob Ewing.

"Here [on the net] is the mind-world of the people. An abstract world where material objects are replaced by ideas. An anarchical everyone's world with an ethos based on sharing. Long may it stay

so. It is the revolution." Samela Harris.

Meanwhile, copyright tightens its grip on the planet. Nationalist institutions and the real powers behind them (real power is oil, electricity, coal, nuclear) are still masters on the net. The hierarchies are stronger than ever. Just look at the way your computer handles files and algorithms. Far from decentralizing things, electronic communications, on cables that run along the old railway and

automobile rights of way, have concentrated power like never before.

At this point there is a sense of melancholy longing about Hypernation. Where is home? Are we exiles in this space? Or is this indeed the site of some great upheaval, a huge turning point in human history, like the invention of agriculture? The net transcends borders, escapes all attempts to control it, deals a post-money economy, and functions, finally, as a massive, entirely innocent, and even unconscious subversion of the existing organization of power.

It is easy, and irresistibly tempting, to dream. Geert Lovink calls it a "universal mirror of collective wish production." The net is a desiring machine. What's needed is a "fusion of collective desire and revolutionary organization" Felix Guattari.

Tonight, finishing this report, I check for new messages: "All kinds of wonderful things and ideas happen in dreams ... and the net is as close to a dreamscape as I can imagine. I have been sitting in front of a machine like this for as long as I can remember and dreaming my dream across the planet with whomsoever happened by. It is the dream of the ham radio freak, the hacker, the artist ... There was a time when I expected a networked utopia -- a time when we would ALL be "connected" in digital Valhalla ... connected by our fingertips on the keyboard. The remarks above show that I expect that dream to remain a dream ... it was the dream of a "white, middleclass, reasonably educated English speaker" (who does not happen to live in California).... The ~desire~ remains." Robert Adrian.

"Politics is the science that teaches the people of a country to care for each other." William Lyon Mackenzie, Canada, 1836

These notes are compiled in Vancouver by list moderator, Hank Bull <>

Information about Hypernation may be found at

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Hypernation Zone autonome de recherche, de création et d' échange. What is a nation in cyberspace?