META. tracing unknown knowns
Developed by Mario de Vega, Victor Mazon Gardoqui, Daniela Silvestrin
Published by ñ, Mexico City & Berlin (forthcoming)
Designed by Dicey Studios (Martin Müller)
368 pp., English & Spanish
With contributions by Sandra Braman, Jaya Klara Brekke, Nicolas Bullot, Magda Havas, Nina Janich, Rebekka Kiesewetter, Selena Savic, and Nishant Shah.

META. An Introduction (excerpt)
by Daniela Silvestrin

Reading this book is a bit of a challenge. A challenge that confronts the reader with difficulties, or necessary measures and equipment out of the ordinary, as it is printed with a special fluorescent ink that remains invisible under normal light conditions and only appears when illuminated with ultraviolet light, more commonly known as black light. This ink is normally used to imprint hidden signs on a document or object, which later can serve as proof for its validity, authenticity, origin, or source — banknotes being the most familiar application of UV ink. UV ink is also a technology to encrypt and hide information, its roots going back to about 300 BCE and a long tradition and science of using organic and inorganic liquids to write secret messages that would remain hidden until made visible through mechanical or chemical reactions.

More than just providing theoretical reflection and analysis by way of what is written, the aim of using invisible ink in META is to render these critical questions at the essence of the human relationship to information, at the core of this project, tangible. As not just an editorial but an artistic project, META is a response to a contemporary moment in which the conditions by which knowledge and information are produced, distributed and published, accessed and consumed are changing. While people have more frequent and easier access to news and sources of information than ever before, the reliability of them being “true” and based on “facts” vanishes with the increasing awareness of how news and information can be subject to manipulation, biased reporting, low or no fact checking, and so forth. Being spammed and flooded with news and information constantly and everywhere, our attention span, patience, and interest in reading much more than the headlines or a few paragraphs of an article, has diminished decisively, not to mention the concommitant decline in the dedication and thoroughness to check several sources and compare what and how information is being provided, justified and traced back to its source. We are trapped in the conflict between wanting to stay informed, and being overwhelmed by too much information and too many, often contradicting sources. We seem to have lost ground, as we have lost the confidence and faith in formerly established institutions and methods to find information, and to know when and why to trust our received information sources. The declaration of the words “post-truth” and “post-factual” as words of the year 2016 (the former by the Oxford Dictionary, the latter by the Society for German Language) officially transformed a personal feeling into a general condition.

Questions of what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is evil, what is true or a lie, fact or fiction, have been subject to changing paradigms and conditions throughout history. Science and technology have been a major driving force and reason for most of these changes, as have been the fights, struggles and efforts of people who have suffered injustice through the paradigms shaping the context and society they were born into. So, what does it mean to live in an era marked by “post-truth” politics? What is our responsibility in shaping it, and how to respond to it? The two terms “post-truth” and “post-factual” seem so alike as to be interchangeable, but might fact and truth have different implications? What parameters are used to identify truth and deception, and what factual architectures are they capable of building? How can an artistic project make the changes we are experiencing more tangible and comprehensible, taking them into account in all their complexity and intricacy?
These and more were the questions driving the development of META as an attempt to trace, grasp and respond to the changes in the contemporary regimes of knowledge production and dissemination of information, whose bases most often lie in ideology and power. META is not just a printed book, but also a technical device and an online platform, all of the three parts belonging together and depending upon each other in function and conceptual development. META combines and entangles different carriers of meaning and information, and different technologies of inscription, translation and encryption. Production, distribution, access and appreciation of knowledge and information are bound to material, formal, economic conditions and ideological dispositions — and engage with texts and other materials in META. Through the conjunction of a portable server, special print materials and a website, META switches between screen and paper, digital and analog, networked and confined, visible and non-apparent, tangible and withdrawn, private and public, commodity and commons. The device at the core of the project, a custom-designed and programmed micro-controller integrated in the special aluminium case containing the book both receives wireless signals and also provides wireless internet connection as an open access point, thereby granting access to the META online platform and archive. At the same time, an algorithm-controlled UV light mounted on top of the device lights up the special ink and gives access to the texts in the book.

For the book, eight authors from a wide range of backgrounds — scholars and researchers from science of communication, linguistics, economics, architecture, digital culture and digital media studies, environmental studies, philosophy, art history and artistic publishing — were invited to contribute texts for META. The texts approach the project through different lenses and from different perspectives, as well as reflect on the endeavor of such an artistic and publishing project itself. In conjunction with the materials provided on the online platform, these texts in the book build the core and starting point for a growing platform of reflection, as an attempt to address the complexity and manifold aspects and arguments that need to be taken into consideration when confronted with what could be called a “wicked problem,” without the aspiration to be complete or all-encompassing.
By way of presenting very specific arguments within an approach that combines theoretical and tangible information and experience, the project is located at a meta-level of reflection. The title META makes reference to the Greek prefix, in English epistemologically used to indicate a discussion or reflection about its own category, “an X about an X,” a concept that creates distance to the subject itself by zooming out and providing the possibility to reflect on the bigger picture and the relations and connections in which the subject is embedded. In Spanish, the title META plays with the double meaning of “meta,” which also means “goal” or “aim,” referring to the goals and aims behind the how, why and when information is given, revealed, manipulated or suppressed.

The project is funded by The National Council for Culture and Arts (Conaculta), Mexico.