The Conditions of Possibility /// 2016

The Conditions of Possibility (2016) is an online documentary by Ian Alan Paul 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.

Photos from the project.

The project makes use of cryptographic practices and can be thought of as a form of cryptodocumentary. Etymologically, a “crypto” (hidden) “document” (lesson/evidence) is a form of hiding that instructs, or is evidence that counterintuitively reveals through the way it hides. All of the photographs featured in this project were captured clandestinely using a cell phone that automatically shot images on a timer during situationist-inspires explorations of the city. Using cryptographic algorithms, the photographs were encrypted as they were captured, and were only decrypted after the artist had left the country. Due to the escalating forms of repression in Egypt, images of the conversations that were included in the project are abstracted (using lossy compression) beyond visual and technical recognition, and have had their content mixed together and altered to obscure potentially identifying details. Additionally, the online platform has been programmed so that each time the project is viewed, different conversation videos are algorithmically 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. This approach emulates similar cryptographic practices developed/adopted by the documented communities, which continue to find ways to endure together by obscuring their relations in various fashions.

A screenshot of the project’s website.

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 together within a singular project. The mobilization of such disparate thinkers would under other circumstances require a reckoning between their genealogical and conceptual differences, but I’ve chosen not to undertake that form of work. Instead, the project proposes a “thinking with” diverse bodies of thought rather than an explicit “thinking about” them, an attempt to experimentally produce conjunctive resonances and syntheses between distinct fields, disciplinary and otherwise, by favoring inclusion and connection over exclusion or contradiction, the “and” over the “or.” In other words, the project practices a maximal amount of generosity and flexibility in its mobilization and deployment of concepts from different traditions, while also recognizing that frictions and dissonances necessarily persist and remain as part of any transdisciplinary approach.

The project exists as a website, but is also presented as an exhibition and is currently in the process of being prepared as a 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.

The project can be viewed online at: