"Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with landsurveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come."
"The Conditions of Possibility" (2016) by Ian Alan Paul
is a cryptodocumentary that explores and theorizes the January 25th Revolution of 2011, the July 3rd Coup of 2013, and the period of military rule that has followed in Cairo, Egypt. Equal parts critical ethnography, aphoristic reflection, political philosophy, essayistic autobiography, and experimental documentary, the project examines the political, ontological, and affective conditions of possibility in the city. Based on fieldwork undertaken between 2013 and 2015 in Cairo, the project draws upon myriad conversations with revolutionaries, artists, writers, activists, and others, as well as on tactical explorations through the streets of Cairo. The project is organized into drifts that reflect upon particular historical con/disjunctures following the revolution while elaborating on concepts that help orient within their dynamics.
The project makes use of cryptographic practices and can be thought of as a form of cryptodocumentary. Etymologically, a "crypto"
(lesson/evidence) is a form of hiding that instructs, or is evidence that counterintuitively reveals through the way that it hides. All of the photographs featured in this project were captured clandestinely using a cell phone attached to the front strap of my backpack that automatically shot images on a timer as I explored the city. Using cryptographic algorithms, the photographs were encrypted as they were captured, and were only decrypted after I left the country. Due to the escalating forms of repression in Egypt, the conversations that are included in the project have all had their images abstracted beyond visual and technical recognition, and their content has been mixed together and has had identifying details removed or altered. Additionally, each time the project is viewed online, different conversation videos are randomly rearranged and shuffled around, erasing the subject-in-particular in favor of a collective-in-general. Several people that were interviewed for this project are now in Egyptian jails, and the others remain at risk of arrest. As a result, this project hides away information as a means of allowing their experiences and insights to have expression without increasing their vulnerability. Similar cryptographic approaches are also practiced by the communities that this project documents, that continue to find ways to endure together by obscuring their relations in various fashions in forms of cryptographic and obscure collectivities.
"The Conditions of Possibility" is transdisciplinary in thought and approach, and draws from a large range of philosophers and theorists which typically aren't brought within a singular project. The diversity of thinkers, and of their approaches, would under other circumstances require a kind of reckoning between their genealogical and conceptual differences, but I've chosen not to undertake that form of work here. Instead, what you'll find is a "thinking with"
diverse bodies of thought rather than an explicit "thinking about"
them, an attempt to experimentally produce conjunctive resonances between distinct fields, disciplinary and otherwise, by favoring inclusion and connection over exclusion or contradiction, the "and"
over the "or."
In other words, I mean to practice a maximal amount of generosity and flexibility in my mobilization and deployment of concepts from different traditions, while also recognizing that frictions and dissonances will necessarily persist and remain as part of any transdisciplinary approach.
The project exists here as a website, but is also in the process of being prepared as an exhibition
and book manuscript. All of the project's materials, including its photography, videos, texts, and website, were produced and designed as part of a research-creation / practice-based dissertation project in UC Santa Cruz’s Film and Digital Media PhD program. I hope that it will contribute to and encourage the exploration of new and experimental forms of knowledge production in the academy.
About Ian Alan Paul
I'm a transdisciplinary artist, theorist, and curator currently living between Oakland, Barcelona, and Cairo. My work uses diverse media to produce experimental and speculative documentary, aiming to both complicate and defamiliarize our shared sense of politics, ethics, and aesthetics.
I've lectured, exhibited, and published internationally, and an overview of my work can be found online at www.ianalanpaul.com
. I received my dual-degree MFA and MA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2011 and my PhD from UC Santa Cruz’s Film and Digital Media program in 2016.
For gallery and media requests, or if you would like to converse about the project more generally, please send messages to firstname.lastname@example.org . I also can be reached on twitter at @ianalanpaul
There are many people without whom this project would not have been possible. First and foremost, I would like to thank my partner Susana for the tireless assistance, profound care, and brilliant insight that she generously and continuously lent to me. In addition, I would like to thank my family who have all incessantly and unquestionably done so much in ways that exceed description. Without their thoughtful kindness and encouragement, I simply wouldn't have been able to finish this project.
I would like to thank Sharon Daniel, the chair of my dissertation committee, for the unwavering support and generative critical feedback that she provided throughout the long process of researching, documenting, and crafting this project. I would also like to thank the other members of my committee, Karen Barad, Ricardo Dominguez, and Dean Mathiowetz, who were all a pleasure to think with and who each provided generous suggestions, attentive acuity, and moving solidarity that carried the dissertation to places it otherwise could not have gone. My thinking and practice are deeply indebted to prolonged engagements with my committee as well as with other intellectual and creative communities, and I would like to stress the importance of the collective relations and forms of exchange that cultivate the grounds of support for thinking, creating, and imagining the otherwise.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge all of the people who participated in or helped with this project who must remain anonymous because of the repression currently unfolding in Egypt. My time in Cairo was filled with the undeserved generosity and kindness of many, and for this I will forever be thankful. The stamina and persistence of those that continue to struggle is an inspiration for all who hope for better worlds, and their courage and determination helps to proliferate the conditions of possibility within which those better worlds may yet arrive.
This project is dedicated to the memory of the January 25th Revolution, a memory that still finds life in the lives of those that carry it with them.