A link to the following essay was sent to us in response to The Letter to Goldsmiths that I posted last week. I have only included the very beginnings of the post, but you can carry on reading the rest if you follow the link at the end, (before the end notes).
All of human culture competes for our limited attention and resources, evolving and mutating over time. Everyone plays a role in shaping this behavior, although its clear some key players have more control. Each observation and action is an opportunity to contribute to the reproduction or demise of a thing or idea. The observer changes what it observes, and moreso when content producer and consumer are one in the same.
The Internet has accelerated the pace of feedback between creation and response, and one of the results has been a continued embrace of novelty and irony. Capital, currency and power are running rampant without checks and balances from truth, knowledge and beauty. Its time to more fully embrace directness, earnestness and sincerity. This applies to not only what we make and do, but what we support indirectly through our actions.
The following essay is a deconstruction of, and argument against, the post-internet condition. Specifically, I want to address the over use of irony, novelty, attention as currency, persona as product and the embrace of the spectacle of society.
The first four sections are meant as an introduction to the core argument, and offer a broader context which is often overlooked in such discussions of the post-internet condition. Supplemental notes and sources have been included which provide clarification, tangental ideas and some quotes where appropriate.
///Deconstructing the Image-Object ///Wading in the Wake of Symbolization
It’s clear that our time and attention is limited, and thereâ€™s too much going on in the world to pay attention to it all, especially now. Countless people are fighting for our attention and trying to convert this energy into political, social and economic power. Even inanimate things themselves can be thought of as competing for our attentionÂ (1)(2).Â This competition for attention has been turned into a highly skilled craft by plants, animalsÂ (1.5)and culture at large, which is especially evident in the battlefield of consumer products and advertisements.
This competition can be understood in terms of Attention EconomicsÂ (A)Â which describes the finite nature of human attention in contrast to the vast and exponentially growing access to information. However, it may be more accurate to describe this situation as an attention based ecology rather than an economy. This ecology is an evolutionary system of richly complex interactions between limited resources (human attention), competing agents (corporations, other people, algorithms, ideas, aesthetic styles, cultures, objects themselves) and countless internal and external forces. The time between publishing information and audience response has nearly collapsed since the dawn of the Internet, further exacerbating this situation. The rapid feedback loop between production and consumption, when considered as a whole, can be thought of as vast synthetic brain evolving its ability to engage with humans and understand how we thinkÂ (3). (read more)
(1)Â This can be seen in the material-semiotics of Gilles Deleuze and FÃ©lix Guattariâ€™sÂ (B)Â concept of the rhizome, the world as a horizontal networked structure of relations that seeks equilibrium and is constantly shifting. Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway and much of traditional â€˜easternâ€™ philosophy also speak on this subject. The fields of cybernetics and chaos theory are scientific approaches to this subject, and Iâ€™ll address them later on.Â (1.5)Â Iâ€™d also recommend Michael Pollans â€œBotany of Desireâ€ regarding the coevolution of humans and plants.
(2)Also in Bruno Latourâ€™s Anthropological Matrix(C)Â which describes the world existing as a web of hybrid things that are both subject and object, between nature and culture, between agency and raw material. In the Anthropological Matrix all things are both real and imagined, both nature and culture. Latour has also extensively written about Actor-Network-Theory (ANT)Â (D)Â which describes existence as a network of â€˜actorsâ€™ (human or nonhuman, essentially everything) engaged in a series of relationships. ANT disrupts the concept of differentiated individuals acting in the world and states that these things are really the sum of many other actors which reinforce each other.
(3)Â See Kevin Kellyâ€™s inspired book â€œWhat Technology Wantsâ€, and authors like Oliver Reiser, Buckminster Fuller, Dane Rudhayar, Sri aurobindo, N.A. Kozyrev, Teilhard de Chardin, Jose Arguelles, et al.
In my previous post, I have presented a series of scenes which highlight the enmeshment of humans and nonhumans both on theatrical stages and in the world at large. I have also suggested that such interconnectedness calls into question the pursuit of autonomy and emancipation as it was set up by discourses on modernity and modernism. Today, I will start to expand on that topic by trying to show, in a very concise way, how the modern pursuit of autonomy and emancipation from â€œNatureâ€ ended up surrounding humans with mirror-images of themselves, eventually making narcissism a condition for modernity.
According to Kant, the Age of Enlightenment was the moment in history when humankind realised that autonomy from nature and free use of reason were its ultimate destiny. However, because thought had limits, Enlightenment was not only a programme aimed at the progressive liberation of reason but also, because of that, a project of critique, of recognising the barriers which thought mustnâ€™t cross if it is to produce valid knowledge. As a result, Kant eventually claimed that, because things in themselves are outside the mind and are only able to be judged once they have been converted into thoughts, thought is only ever able to think thought and never the things outside thought to which thought itself refers.
Following that, it is possible to identify the formation of a double separation of humans from â€œNatureâ€ in Kantâ€™s project for Enlightenment: not only are humans separated from â€œNatureâ€ once through the development of their exclusive mental faculties, but those mental faculties themselves, due to the conditions that must be in place for their correct operability, end up producing a second separation, this time a separation of through from world in itself.
It is this twice-enforced divide between human and world that can still be seen today as the epistemological paradigm grounding a great amount of work falling under the academic banner of â€˜critical thoughtâ€™ in the Arts and Humanities, a dominant methodology of scholarly work perhaps better represented by Michel Foucaultâ€™s archaeology of knowledge. However, a crucial difference separates Kant from Foucault: whereas the former wanted to map the absolute limits of thought, the latter aimed to demonstrate how knowledge is always indissociable from power in order to then consider the possibility of future epistemological transgressions.
From Feminism to Queer Theory, from Deconstruction to Postcolonial Theory, the critical ethos of the Humanities, much indebted to Foucault’s work, has taken as its job to reflect upon the limits of human knowledge in order to understand how what is taken for granted is in fact produced at the level of discourse through complex articulations of power and knowledge. By focusing on the performative nature of knowledgeâ€”how knowledge does rather than isâ€”the critical project seeks to separate the arbitrary from the necessary in order to reveal how realities previously assumed to be universal are instead historically contingent. However, by falling victim to an uncontrollable suspicion of knowledge, contemporary critique ends up betraying itself as the only certainty it allows, the only truth claim it leaves unturned, is the one upon which critique itself depends for its own survival, i.e. the one that posits the historical contingency and performative nature of all knowledge.
The problem is that whereas the critical enterprise had, following the dawn of Modernity, been rightly concerned with calling into question beliefs such as those advanced by various religious doctrines and replacing them with scientifically validated facts, at the start of the 21st century and there being no beliefs left to disprove, criticality has now started targeting objective facts themselves, often by negating their existence or by turning them into a mere product of their dialectical counterpart, the observing human subject and its usage of language. Today, after the so-called â€˜objective realityâ€™ was found to always be the result of power-knowledge formations, human discourse has become the true cause of the world itself.
The unfortunate outcome of that phenomenon is clear: while scholars spend their time trying to expose the true conditions of (human) knowledge, the arbitrary nature of everything we know, very real phenomena are having rather real consequences: global warming is happening, the Arctic ice cap is melting, natural resources are diminishing, sea levels are rising, and old and new pandemics are still killing millions (unless you can pay to survive). In short, widespread critique has contributed for societyâ€™s inability to act upon issues as pressing as persisting social inequalities or climate change. Furthermore, whereas, in Foucaultâ€™s case, for instance, it was a tool of progressive left wing politics, today it has been taken up by right wing conservatives who use it to deny the reality of ongoing ecological disaster and even by fascists like those who insist Auschwitz never happened. In the 21st century, the only thing humanity seems to be able to do is to argue while hoping that one day the cows will eventually come home by themselves.
What we have ended up with is a species obsessed with itself, unable to grasp anything other than its own reality. In good â€˜ol Kantian fashion, thought is the only certainty; everything outside of it is just a muddy grey area. And so we are left able to look at nothing other than ourselves: our qualities, our capacities, our politics, our beauty (this latter, I hope to develop in my next post). Like Narcissus stuck by the lake orâ€”betterâ€”like Narcissus drown in the lake, drown in itself breathing the water of his own reflection (happily ever after), we keep going until the day comes when, to misquote British poet Peter Reading, after heat waves and after heats deaths we reach absolute zero.
As I mentioned yesterday, there is a great performance festival taking place called IN>TIME. Organized by artist Mark Jeffrey,Â IN>TIME features both international and local artists exhibiting in 14 diverse venues across the city between the months of January and March. Bad at Sports will be posting a mini-series of interviews and essays about this festival, including an upcoming interview with Mark Jeffrey himself. This particular post is dedicated to two concurrent exhibits atÂ threewallsÂ that are also part of Jeffrey’s festival. On January 11th,Â Mary Patten’s performance/sound/video installation,Â PanelÂ opened in the main space.Â Mathew Jinks’ began screening his new 73 minute, single-channel HD video,Â The Unreliable Narrator,Â in the project space. While these artists are distinct from one another, exhibiting independent projects, I was interested in facilitating a conversation between them, particularly as both negotiate film, performance, history and collaboration. These exhibits will be on view until February 23rd, with an artist talk from Jinks on January 31st at 7pm,Â as well asÂ a performance,Â SCHIZO CULTURE: A Collaborative Reading, and publication release of the catalogue associated with PANEL.Â On February 9th, there will be another performance,Â SCHIZO PANEL,Â at 7 PM.
Caroline Picard:Â You both call on speculative fiction in your respective projects. What does it mean for each of you to employ the fantastic?Â
Mathew Jinks: The idea of alternate histories is very resonant for me, not necessarily in the reconstruction of various alternative spaces, but aiding in imagining that sense of an â€˜otherâ€™ space that can be inhabited by a narrative. Fictive narratives do not interest me. They seem too comfortable as a source of abstract inventionÂ in some way,Â which I see as an escape from reality and a dead end street; a more complex and evocative device for me is to sow seeds of doubt, to introduce situations and characters with a set of dynamics which have been loaded from the start and see how they play out. The origination in my practice was at the point of departure from personal histories and the evolution of expansive political histories.
Mary Patten:Â Mathewâ€™s articulation ofÂ alternate histories,Â his desire toÂ â€œsow seeds of doubt,â€ the leaking or trespassing of â€œpersonalâ€ histories into the territory of â€œthe politicalâ€ are all-compelling to meâ€¦ and describe sensibilities or impulses that have shaped my own work for many years. Itâ€™s very difficult, maybe even pointless, to draw an easy divide between â€œfactâ€ and â€œfiction,â€ despite persistent claims of â€œobjective journalismâ€ or â€œscientific truth.â€ This is well-trodden territory: what â€œweâ€ (in the most capacious sense) collectively and cumulatively â€œknowâ€ is subject to constant revision and reconstruction. We understand that â€œfacticityâ€ doesnâ€™tÂ equal truth, and that what passes as fiction is not a series of falsehoods. One of the oldest cultural practices, the oral tradition â€” often taking the form of what we call fables or myths â€” has been a crucial element in constructing â€œhistory.â€ And yet â€œtelling storiesâ€ is still a euphemism for telling lies.
â€œSpeculativeâ€ introduces the possibility of wonder, a wandering imagination, the work of invention to heal or bridge inescapable gaps in any historical record. It is a kind of affective, archaeological process to make empirically un-provable connections between obscure, unknown or little-known histories. â€œSpeculativeâ€ need not connote the fantastical, however â€” at least not in the â€œspectacularâ€ sense. These words are funnyâ€¦ so interconnected, but full of paradoxes.
In the case ofÂ Panel,Â I was drawn to an obscure transcript, photocopied many-times over, given to me by the only participant still living, my friend Judith Clark,Â herself a survivor of a barely-remembered radical history, serving a 75-to-life sentence in Bedford Hills prison in New York State. (Judyâ€™s story deserves its own independent telling; I would ask readers to please check out judithclark.org.)
Judyâ€™s memory of the â€œpanel on prisons and asylumsâ€ at Schizo Culture is that the three men â€“ Foucault, Harp, and Laing â€“ did most of the talking. Thatâ€™s contradicted by the transcript, which is itself very odd, characterized by breaks and ellipses. We know from SylvÃ¨re Lotringerâ€™s accounts that the entire Schizo Culture conference was rife with outbursts and interruptions, including this panel discussion, although thatâ€™s not evident in the transcription.
In attempting to re-stage a little-known but somewhat exotic event, I wanted to resist any impulse to reconstruct or â€œnarrativizeâ€ the episode in any kind of â€œrealisticâ€ way. I didnâ€™t want a performance designed to dissolve the distance between the â€œoriginalâ€ event and its contents, both very marked by that moment of the mid 1970s, and yet eerily (and depressingly) prescient of our current traumas of the â€œsocieties of controlâ€: diagnosis, punishment, imprisonment, and torture. I didnâ€™t want to blend or unify these four amazing characters and social actors, two of whom (Foucault and Laing) possess an iconicity shimmering with all kinds of aura, with the people reading and inhabiting their words now. I am compelled byÂ bothÂ the â€œconnectsâ€ and â€œdisconnects.â€
CP: You share an interest in collaboration, but also work independently.Â How do you negotiate the role of an author who is also dedicated to fostering relationships in your work?Â
MJ: I have always felt uncomfortable in a lonely practice, with the idea of the studio Artist who appears after years of hermetic work with a portfolio under the arm. I began working for other artists in Chicago because I had always been a part of a DIY scene which to me was about skill sharing and enabling others to achieve their goals whilst you achieved yours, doing this I witnessed the evolution of a work through multiple creative minds first hand and this stayed with me. I introduce performers and artists into my works to have them re-interpret my ideas, for them to take the work in directions unknown to myself or to the work. It is quite stressful in many ways to work with others, although I am not precious about my projects I do have creative demands and I like to try to keep the overall affect of the work under my thumb. In return I try hard to become a tool for them to use, whether I am recording sound as I did for Maryâ€™s Piece, working as a Cameraman for Kirsten Leenars, or doing sound for Melika Bass. I simply try to gel with the process at hand.
The most important elements of my practice that I feel need to be under my control I will do myself, The Unreliable Narrator was shot, edited and mixed by myself, with voiceover recordings, studio shoots, post image production all done in my studio. I decided to use a colorist to step up my game a little and he really did a great job, I wanted some animation work for the chapter titles and again I used a great animator Han Han Li â€” the big key for this work was to employ a Producer, Parveer Singh Sohal. Without Parveerâ€™s connections in India the work would not exist, so that was an integral decision. I needed access. But Parveer is not a Producer, he is a Graphic Designer and so there were many discussions about what I needed and what he was bringing to the project.
MP: Mathewâ€™s discomfort with the notion of a lonely, hermetic studio practice and artistic identity is of course very much in sync with my own ideas, feelings, and historyâ€¦ although not without risks â€”Â losing oneself in the collective, for example. A good friend who shares a similar collaborative history once commented that itâ€™s possible that no one will know or remember that her labor and creativity helped form some of these projects, since individual authorship is so often dissolvedâ€¦ Iâ€™m obviously not talking here about the art worldâ€™s current embrace of â€œrelational practicesâ€ and the career building that goes along with that. But as Iâ€™ve said elsewhere, I continue to be drawn to collaborative ways of working, such as the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project, because itâ€™s urgently needed, and impossible to realize by a single or even a handful of authors. Most importantly, collaborations embody the kind of collective labor and passion necessary to any project thatâ€™s trying to makeÂ change.
As you, Caroline, and Mathew make very clear, the project of film and videomaking, like so many art forms, isÂ necessarilyÂ collaborativeâ€¦ Chris Marker makes this point beautifully during the ending credits of â€œGrin without a catâ€ which he dedicates to the anonymous and unnamed artists and technicians without whose clips, shots, sequences, and documents that epic film would have never been realized, seen, or distributed. To that point, I would like to acknowledge the thoughtful labor, participation, and support of performers Darrell Moore, Mikal Shapiro, Matthias Regan, andÂ Mark Jeffery; Directors of Photography Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke; Mathew for such great sound engineering; Alex Brown for assisting with camera; Ilan Gutin for helping with the large prints; and the lovely, hardworking, and brilliant Joey Carr who has worked as producer, compositor, and hardware/software engineer.
CP: You call on various histories, whether philosophical or psychological traditions, fortune telling traditions, Â â€” is it possible to collaborate with disciplines? Or do you think about the way you engage those traditions differently?
MJ: This is a wonderful question; tradition by nature is a stubborn legacy and confronting it head on is an antagonistic strategy. If you lay the threads down together: personal history and its discipline of remembrance, familial oral history, musical traditions as in Jazz, Cheiromancy, Homeopathy, Metallurgy, then these lines will touch and intersect like magnets picking up each other. It is a naÃ¯ve want to reshape these lines to any sort of permanence. I think of Francis Alys work,Â The Collector â€”Â with the magnet on wheels that he pulls behind him collecting metal from the street as he goes â€” the street will fill up once again with shards and paperclips. Francis creates a moment of being present, and itâ€™s this re-presenting and laying down with traditions in new almost aleatoric ways.
MP: I consider myself a visitor, a curious student, an interloper or trespasser in many disciplines, an auto-didact, or rather someone who has learned from many teachers and texts, â€œnegativeâ€ as well as exemplaryâ€¦
CP:Â How do you all think of beginnings and endings? Are those narrative touchstones useful to you?Â
MJ:Â No, I instinctively move away from creating narrative structure, arcs and so forth. I find the idea of conclusion quite arrogant in non-fiction. The episodic device is interesting because it introduces the idea of the â€˜false startâ€™, or the hidden track at the end of an album, or the prologue as in Bergman’s Persona, or â€˜rewindâ€™ in Jamaican dance hall, the stutter. This is why gallery installations are so useful: people enter and leave as they wish; this is a very considered position for my work, the ideal position.
MP:Â There are no real beginnings. Weâ€™re always starting in the middle, picking up someone elseâ€™s traces and tracksâ€¦ For me, in the realm of ideas, relationships, as well as many projects over the years, there are so many interruptions and breaksâ€¦ things are â€œleft for nowâ€ and unfinished or deferred. I find it much more habitual to abandon something, rather than â€œendâ€ it. Like Mathew, I am drawn to the episodic, to â€œfalse startsâ€ and â€œstuttersâ€â€¦ but when Mathew talks about resisting narrative arcs, I think he is perhaps referring to â€œmainstreamâ€ or what we used to call â€œHollywood narrative cinemaâ€â€¦ for me, there are so many wonderful, rich and complicated examples of â€œnarrative fictionâ€ that escape these constraints â€“ the films of Robert Bresson and Chantal Akerman, for example, but also so many more â€“ in cinema and literature, in expanded forms of the essay, in experimental non-fiction and media formsâ€¦
CP:Â How do you conceive of utopia? Is such a thing possible? Is it a condition of being? Or a place?Â
MJ:Â More than a construct, a Modernist ideal, pathological, LSD induced? I never conceive of utopia. Utopia and dystopia to me are devices, but they are not very interesting devices. They suggest spaces of utter happiness or utter sadness and isnâ€™t that a psychological state? Bi-Polar? There is no tension in these extreme spaces and it is too easy to create heroics from such static dynamics. This is exactly what popular culture thrives on. The fine-line-in-betweens, and the slippage that occurs within those minimal gradations is what art production responds to. The Â entertainment industry responds to thoseÂ other extremes. Even in a spiritual sense â€” in Buddhism, for instance, elements are in a balance, whereas in cults, the utopian ideals are offset by the leader sexually prowling its herd for ultimate control. Conceiving of utopia maybe undermines an art making practice? Desire is a more interesting space to work from for me. It has the same goal as utopia â€” the perfect space â€” but it is much more psychologically complex. Desire is fixated on process, and the moment. There is presence in desire without conclusion.
MP:Â Unlike Mathew, I donâ€™t think that utopian impulses can be reduced to mere devices, or that they areÂ necessarilyÂ tied to dangerous heroic narrativesâ€¦ maybe this is just a difference of language, because I find that his conception of desire as a transformative force is very akin to what I would call utopian longings.
Until fairly recently, itâ€™s been fashionable to dismiss â€œutopiaâ€ because of its attachment to so many terrible and failed agendas that promised brave new worlds and then delivered totalitarianisms. We know now that we should dislike and mistrust master narratives, totalities of certainty, and teleological schemes. However, I am drawn to utopian impulses not just because I was formed through my engagement with them â€“ to the point of political lunacy, perhaps â€“ but also perversely because they have been a despised or at best suspect category for so long.
Contemporary social movements and revolts against globalized capital, the fleeting â€œoccupys,â€ the movements of the squares, the queer utopias of so many interesting artists today, all embody what people call â€œprefigurative politicsâ€: â€œBeÂ the change you want to make.â€ The emphasis is on the here and now,Â againstÂ telos, embracing not only possibility, but doubt. Recognizing that we, and all matter, is/are in a constant state of becoming, that small and invisible shifts and changes are always (potentially) occurring, whether or not they are seen or recognizedâ€¦ this is what intrigues and provokes me. Brian Massumi is an extremely useful thinker and writer here.
Paradoxically, thereâ€™s a lot of interest in reclaiming utopian thinking now because of how hopeless and scary the world has become, how reduced and flattened to information, to bits and bytes everything seemsâ€¦ and all the ways that capitalism forecloses the imagination and desire, except as an instrument of and for the commodity, no pleasure outside of consumptionâ€¦ or the deadliness of an actuarial life, with its endless assessment debits and creditsâ€¦
CP:Â What does it mean to come from somewhere? What role does memory play in that reality?
MJ:Â The transition is interesting, to come from somewhere to go to somewhere else, and the translation from one meaning to another. There is a great deal of nostalgia and longing for previous inhabited spaces, especially if you have been formed by them in some way; that complicates memory. A new space can act as a lens from which to view the previous space and this is truly a unique position. You no longer belong to that place but the memories are attached to you, somehow the filtration from one’s current position gives a sober screen. I think it is essential but painful, and again that tension of knowing you need separation while at the same time being in touch with a sense of longing is the drive for this â€˜otherâ€™ space to be imagined in my work.
MP:Â Again, we return to the problem of originsâ€¦Years ago, I made a piece provoked by Courbetâ€™s â€œThe Origin of the World.â€ I was very influenced by Linda Nochlinâ€™s pivotal essay on that infamous painting, and the difficulty, if not impossibility, of locating an originary point â€” whether in relationship to that picture, which existed in several versions, disappeared, and re-surfaced over a long stretch of timeâ€¦ as well as the funny ridiculousness of imagining the universal vulva-cunt as the origin of us all, the Great Motherâ€¦ how much better to use the term â€œbeaverâ€? or just ordinary womenâ€™s names: a succession of beaversâ€¦
A more recent project was instigated by theÂ notes, translated from Arabic into English, allegedly written by Mohammed Atta in preparation for the hijackings and attacks of September 11, 2001.Â When I read these, all sorts of problems immediately presented themselves. Was this an actual document? Were the notes, in fact, â€œfoundâ€? or were they a fiction, invented to â€œproveâ€ a rationale as incomprehensible as the acts that followed? Was this a reliable translation?
The idea that translation is often slippery and inexact, and sometimes impossible, is widely acknowledged. Yet we like to pretend that complete transparency is within our reach, that vast differences of culture, language, and history can be breached, if only the right tools, technologies, and â€œmindsetsâ€ are available. And translation, like everything else, has undergone a renewed politicization in this ever-encapsulated world.
In a lot of my work, I explore spaces and distances between a â€œhereâ€ and a â€œthere,â€ a presumed â€œcenterâ€ and its â€œperiphery,â€ to work off the grid to the point of falling off a map completely. I work with images drawn from public, although possibly ephemeral archives â€“ things like newspapers, outtakes, margins of the marginsÂ â€“ to fictionalize them, at the same time as undermining the authority of â€œauthenticâ€ or alleged autobiography. Like Mathew, Iâ€™m preoccupied with the instability of memory,Â very enamored of the idea, the necessity of the unreliable narratorâ€¦ or the mute, opaque, or invisible one.