Understanding phenomena and facticity, creating an art-object for subjects within constellations of agential-realism.
There are two absolutes we can never attain. One is freedom and the other is authenticity. These have simultaneously been promised as absolutes; logos, hegemonic since the commodification of identity made it less of a thing, more of an attitude. If this is the case, how is it possible that, in the apparently end-times of socialism – where we are reckoned to feel that there is no option but to comply with hyper-resilient networks – the futurity of being a free and authentic subject still applies as an ideal?
If these ‘absolutes’ are unattainable, contingently emerging abstracts, why is the best art that which fluxes desperately in a carry-on struggle to reach both?
Ultimate freedom would inherently be one of an anarchist individualist position perhaps – following from Erich Fromm, negative freedom, freedom from, in purity is a myopic libertarianism – at the same time authoritarian as it is conformist and destructive.
Power relations, governed by notions of freedom, inflect not only policy, but also Californian Ideologues. Freedom slides through the rationalist and individualist liberalism that “forecloses the acknowledging the nature of collective identities” (Mouffe, 2005, 10) beyond the free markets of financial capital.
Authenticity, another unattainable absolute, is presumed to be that essence of a ‘natural state.’ Indeed Rousseau, in his work describing the different formations of authentic and inauthentic, claimed that the authentic is that of the natural self (prior to or outside of external factors, like society). Heidegger (the Nazi) said that it is one’s choosing of identity that makes one authentic, that and the awareness of mortality, that incredible human gift of knowing we are all going to die. That’s fucking real.
The authentic is specifically right, judged against a universalised rightfulness. Being both total and individual like this, authenticity speaks of a de-evolutionary perspective: of attempting to gain freedom from the responsibility of societal development and therefore destructively compliant (in Fromm’s terms) with liberal agendas.
Ultimate authenticity cannot really be described; it is as such a useless paradox. It supports the falsity of freedom – of a natural, or proper, state that freedom can be measured against. Its existence is dependent on its polarity with the non-free. In this it becomes paradoxical. The authentic, ‘the natural’, continues to lay claim to this condition of authenticity within its enclosures of Globalised primitive accumulation.
The ‘necessary’ freedom of markets, the imperative towards the unbridled production of specific and hyper-channelled accumulation, is a freedom that can only be met by the same markets (Steerk, 2012, 38), and too presents an equally myopic freedom. This is discernable when thinking about a freedom from subjugation, via a complete rejection of subjecthood. The myopia here is in the denial of the becoming of a subject by those whose lives-as-objects are predetermined and biopolitically enforced (Bromberg, 2013). It is here that artists examine re-definitions: an escape from subjugation via an apparently autonomous creation of an object: an object bound with traces and fabrics of woven subjectivities. As put by Katrina Palmer (as Hegel) in her novella The Dark Object “in order to be realised as a subject you must first negate the object - this negative action is becoming through negotiation”. Artists modelling affect do not so much negate the object, but rather, imbue it.
This autonomy of injecting life, of re-centring the subject in negotiation with the art object brings us back to the confusion of freedom, of Fromm’s negative freedom – what subjectivities are re-written through the object’s life, whose are not?
Angelo Plessas’ artwork Re-Twittering Machine (2012), used a programming code to collect tweets hashtagging #freedom. This was a perfect visual example of the idea of freedom under collapse. Amongst reams of pro war, anti abortion, and bible belt fundamentalist tweets, there were some left wing hopes, some liberal hippy whimsies, and various forms of #freedom that could all be argued as violent in their opposition to the rights of other humans desires of certain types of #freedom, or freedom of individuals. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Do we believe in the idea that freedom (the word, the idea), that #freedom is enough to combat the non-free, the controlling ways by which we experience it or its opposite.
“When the terms ‘power’ and ‘control’ are used in this context, this is really a shorthand for the material effects of media-systems — the materiality of the media is, we are told, determinant of power relations, not the reverse.” (Galloway, Thacker, 2007, 9)
Equally, can we really say that by extending #freedom outwards, among and across ubiquitous networks, its symbolic weight makes it real? Galloway and Thacker go on to describe how al-Qaeda typify this problem in the contemporary moment: at once we are told that “the new enemy is networked and distributed to such a degree that it cannot be named” — so we have an increasingly abstract war on ‘terror’ — “And yet there continues to be to be the persistent naming of the entity-that-cannot-be named”(Ibid, 11). What is free must be corralled by the specificity of the non-free
As Plessas’ work makes clear, the projection of freedom into momentary communities hashed together, is the collapse of its unnameable form, through its name.
For Satre, authenticity is bound with angst, emanating from one’s apparently ingrained personal freedom to act. Satre moved past ‘natural essence’, or choosing of essence, and into a notion of authenticity that acknowledges and incorporates the responsibilities of an individual, within society. This version of authenticity is the easiest to believe. It is an authenticity that understands existence before essence, and ‘individual’ as one that continually self-forms (or becomes) via the grabbing of responsibility of one’s actions. Angst is then what becomes from the realisation of this taking (of responsibility), that we are to blame ourselves, that we are the forces of our own nature; yet, thankfully, Satre acknowledges that this is constrained by context, structure, or ‘facticity’.
Someone said recently of their work, made using CGI, that they liked the way that it appeared to be self-produced – imitating a departure from the angst around ‘freedom to act’, free from the ardours of subjective production. 3D thing dancing on infinite black (for example). This proposition of self-reproduction (or non-facticity) resounds in the weak image of Groys which ‘are able to originate, multiply and distribute themselves through the open fields of contemporary communication without any curatorial control ’: similarly in Steyerl’s poor image: “the poor image is a rag or a rip, a lumpen proletariat in the class society of appearances, liberated from the vaults of cinemas and thrust into digital uncertainty”. Yet, it is striking that this propensity to read self-production in the floating CGI image is thoroughly compromised by even a passing glance at the exploitation involved in its display as well as the dependence on these technologies in this aesthetic mode. (Sanderson, 2013). While pointing to the inherent construction of the digital image through capital, Steyerl’s proposition must be metered against the ideological fluidity, mutability and fungibility of the digital file, which simultaneously enacts the opposite on bodies.
This type of subjecthood amongst globalisation — and the need to presume that things merely self-reproduce – is only the latest feint in a long history of Capital’s capacity for exploiting free labour. Free in its true iteration – free for one, chains for another. Similar to the idea of self-production of the digital, is the idea of the self-reproduction of the worker against which Silvia Federici (with many others) has battled since the 1970s. This focus on the end-user (of labour-power / visual technologies) experience, like much current incorporation of self-production into ‘critical’ aesthetic production, has coloured historical resistance to capital: “...the only relevant agents [Marx] recognises in this process [of reproduction of labour power] are the male, self-reproducing workers, their wages and means of subsistence” (Federici, 94, 2012), as such this misses in its analysis of the effects and methodology of Capital, the free or enclosed labour of “...women, domestic labour, sexuality and procreation.” (Ibid). As Federici goes on to explain, this disinterest in continued production (or reproduction) in spite of labour shifts can be extended into the globalised exploitation of the practically free labour both caused, and needed, by the open market.
 Groys, Boris, “From Image to Image File and Back”; “Art Power”; MIT Press (2008)
Federici’s critique of Marx’s technological determinism, in which he “remained wedded to a technologistic concept of revolution, where freedom comes through a machine” (Federici, 95, 2012), figures heavily in contemporary offerings of digital freedom: it is at odds with the fact that global industrialisation has only led to further enclosures of, for example, subsistence farming and non-proletarian modes of existence (Ibid, 77). Seen from afar this is the primitive authenticity that supports the bogus freedom of self-production / self-reproduction and, if reproduction (of bodies and ideologies) is continued to be taken for granted, that which now supports our current user-generated digital experience.
The hegemonies, against which Federici has fought, are not simply a case of structural conditioning, but of affective coercement too. Echoing Federici in her many writings on Wages for Housework, Elizabeth Gumport describes how, when women's domestic labour was supposedly paid for by love, similarly, representation of women in public was assumed through influence they might be able to have on their men - "private relationships constituted, or compensated for, public recognition" (n+1 Anthology, 2012, 228) or, “freedom”. Gumport goes on: “Historically, privacy has not defended the rights of women, but perpetuated the lie that they are already free” what is instead claimed is that privacy (like forms of representation, or visbility, or authenticity) protects from reality (or structural subjugation), that private space is somehow a free domain, as opposed to also being predicated on a structure that controls via affective coercement, and more.
Kraus picked up on this in Video Green, in her critique of the MFA system’s flattening and homgenising of all difference, but especially the diaristic. “There is no problem with the female confession so long as it is made within a repentant theraputic narrative.” (Kraus, 2004). The representation of person, the confessional, the self-diagnosed as sick, is fine, but those (artists) “who refuse to stop there – who move from confession, which describes a situation, to analysis, which seeks to explain it” (Gumport, 2013, 215) is too confrontational, too representational of a non-free structural context, facticity. Once experience moves beyond the private, into the space of social determinancy, and experienced by some who is “sane and lucid and doesn’t want to get well – who will not even identify as sick” (ibid) then the privacy can no longer act to conceal problems surrounding ‘freedom’ behind closed doors, or, the apparent freedom of individualism.
Kraus picks this up – via her experience as editor of Native Agents and of teaching on L.A. MFA programmes of a pre-emptive, neo-conceptual, emptiness that forecloses the biography of the artist (for example) – as an invocation towards an expansion of the personal and private to addressing it, and its problems at a universal and public level.
“To be female still means being trapped with the purely psychological…Because emotion’s just so terrifying the world refuses to believe that it can be pursued as a discipline, as form… If woman have failed to make ‘universal’ art because we’re trapped within the ‘personal,’ why not universalize the ‘personal’ and make it the subject of our art?’ (Kraus, 1997)
This was 1997, now as visibility and transparency take precedence over the delineation between public and private that once characterised the diaristic versus the universal, the same structural distinctions must be examined as to their implication of freedom and authenticity.
Both the physical structure, for example the industrial grid of electricity up and down, left to right, and all directions in between, which run across the country; and the affect that is spun into our relations through intercourse, history, language, ‘culture’, et al., are, as explained by Karen Barad: material realities. One of the best ways for visualising and conferring these simulations, these affects-as-material, as opposed to as-representations, is to understand them as being intrinsic to the body. Not only in a semi-Satrean sense of the body intersected with facticity, but also the body as a historicised locus for matter. Barad terms this as agential realism.
These collections of material realities, memories, histories inscribed onto a gendered, raced, classed body, love letters sent through your wifi to the swoosh sound effect of Apple Mail, is phenomenological, as Barad herself describes it, “a relationality between specific material (re)configurings of the world through which boundaries, properties, and meanings are differentially enacted”. This causal relationship between the apparatuses of bodily production and the phenomena produced is one she names “agential intra-action”.
Using ubiquitous networks, and unnameable forms, agential intra-action, to address the conflicting relationship of ‘freedoms’, is being attempted by cultural producers, such as the artist Ann Hirsch – striving for something honest within the paradigm of the inauthentic, via a sundry of performative operations/materials.
The yarn is neither metaphorical or literal, but quite simply material, a gathering of threads which twist and turn through the history of computing, technology, the sciences and arts. (Sadie Plant, 1997)
Good artists’ use of phenomena, yarn, as material, frequently seems to place them into a ‘post-irony’ bracket, operating in inauthenticity to become always, the lived-out unsuccessful grasping of freedom and authenticity.
After the happening, yet their lives fully part of the performance-spectacle of their own art production, skewered from Phelan’s understanding of performance (as only in the present), and instead attempting a pre-failed feat, only through the representational as relational qualities that inform their practice, and its distribution (as practice). By this I am thinking of artists such as Amalia Ulman, Bunny Rogers, Megan Rooney, Holly White and Steve Roggenbuck. The consumable presence of their everyday life folded into their practice in its entirety. Some are artist-poets, others just one or the other, narrative cutting through their practices as object. All have various research interests, and different ways of conducting their practices; what is concurrent between them, however, is the embedded relationship between discursive and non-discursive practices. The representational and relational, arched into one, as a holistic endeavour, as material that continuously builds upon the object.
This relationship between discursive and non-discursive practices that mesh together the quotidian as well as the imagined relies on a now prosaic semiotic flexibility: the juncture between the signifier and signified is not freely floating but stretched and wilfully distorted, amongst the lived nodes and hard relations of a socially reproductive system.
Irony is the dissolution of authenticity via the collapsing of temporal, geographic and ‘historical’ symbolic reference, and has proved itself in many ways to be a zero sum. Karen Barad’s understanding of the historicity that is firmly material, and materialises in the body refuses the collapse demanded by irony. Under neoliberal structural adjustment (of everything), irony has morphed, through cynicism, or perhaps the disappointments of experienced policy et al, into post-irony. On the one hand dealing with it, on the other, just dealing with it. The closest to authenticity we have become. For Bifo:
[T]he ironist simply refuses the game and recreates the world as an effect of linguistic enunciation. [. . .] In the second part of the 1970s, the Italian autonomous movement practiced irony as a critique of power and dogmatism. A historical catastrophe occurred due to the confusion between the ironic and cynical modes: Autonomia was overwhelmed and erased by the wave of cynicism that coincided with the media dictatorship under which we still labor.
Drawing on Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason, Bifo distinguishes irony and after-’68 cynicism (of lost faith and complicit scepticism). The cynicist, more often than not, slips back into the ironic gesture from which they are attempting escape. According to Bifo and Sloterdijk, cynicism encapsulates the recognition something is failing, or wrong, such as a power structure, yet remains on the side of said power structure. Cynicism plays nice with power, as it stems from its own self-effacing fear (or even just knowledge) of ruin by the power it maintains. Post-irony on the other hand has left this behind, but it does not return to a symbolism flexible beyond its materiality, history, or relations – its context.
As a practice, this is agential realism: all forms of material making up the art object, which is distributed through its documentation just as much as its contextual language and physical presence. Holly White’s fanfics, first person shot YouTube videos and printed out celebrities sellotaped together to be life size and strung up in a space, all disseminate through her blog, Twitter, YouTube, website, all made up of matter in conversation and embroiled with each other. Rosi Braidotti’s nomadism (of practice): existential condition of the art object.
Returning to Irony – distinct to a contemporary cynicism – as creating the linguistic conditions for a contingent, anti-hegemonic art of agential realism; it is worth returning to this distinction: “Ironic discourse never presupposes the existence of a truth that will be fulfilled or realized. Irony implies the infinite process of interpretation, whereas cynicism results from a (lost) faith.” (Bifo, 2012, 166) And so, while Bifo proposes a return to Irony, the approaches to practice by White, Rooney, Rogers, Ulman or Roggenbuck (loosely located in post-irony), provide our constellation of affect, and are submerged with experienced biopower. They crystallise the interwoven narrative across sites, as art object. They know we are mining the Earth and on the edge of the stack. Hybrid life. This is the artwork rehearsing – knowing and saying that which is unnamed; yet doing so by binding the threads together instead of unravelling them further.
The move by artists to both understand and present their distribution and narrative as, or a part of, the art object – and this an object of life, simulation as reality, representation as matter (as opposed to representation), is a move in coherence with Barad’s understanding that:
Representationalism separates the world into the ontologically disjoint domains of words and things, leaving itself with the dilemma of their linkage such that knowledge is possible. If words are untethered from the material world, how do representations gain a foothold? [. . .] representationalism never seems to be able to get any closer to solving the problem it poses because it is caught in the impossibility of stepping outward from its metaphysical starting place.
Language cannot be representation, a way to describe an ontological state, to mediate between us; our relations are not clung together by words. Words appear under our skin as effecting objects. As phenomena – described as ‘comforting’ by Theresa M. Senft, permeating her stack of reality way ahead of us: “I can't see any bodies here, online. Yet words, seemingly attached to bodies in some way, fly past me on this screen.” Barad’s posthuman performativity is far from a Senft-style 90’s posthumanism, as in, it is not grouped together with TAZ dotcom dreams. It doesn’t look to an existential condition, but rather the inauthentic, our performativity, as part of the conditions of power that construct material reality in all its forms.
The value of an authentic work is based on some fantasy of the artist’s touch or presence in the object that’s still there, that we still yearn for, or that we monetize, I’m not sure which. (Amy Adler, 2013)
The high-res digital-cinema image — bound within a communicative chain of machines talking, and information relaying over vast distances — is carried as coded information data-packets, then wrapped by an index that renders the content eventually recoupable, but not infallible to errors. These convolutions index the thin economic divide between itself and the ‘poor’ cousin it consistently seeks to differentiate itself from.
The cinema image’s ontology is dictated by a securely mono-directional distribution system. Built to prevent premature spilling of the moving image’s decipherable code into the public sphere and turning into a broadly accessible image, the digital-image file travels, physically packaged in a hard drive, through the sequential channels of digital distribution, Its value returns back again as loaned equipment and experience-based goods to media creditors back down the chain of post-production. This circulation is facilitated by robust 'Digital Cinema Packages' (RAID drives that hold the current optimum of image quality, 2k - 4k digital images), housed in foam-cushioned suitcases that traverse the globe and act as a (albeit less) weighted substitute for the can of rolled film that once carried with it a similar expectation of financial return.
"Every movement put forward on the ledger book of film sends back to something else, and is valuable because it returns to something else, because it is thus potential profit and return… such a process is not sterile but productive; it is production in the widest sense".
In his essay “Acinema”, Jean-Francois Lyotard describes the cinema in terms of the ordering principles of sequencing in the moving image. Alongside this he describes the ordering principles of the economy that perpetuate its distribution; modelling its efficiency to create value and profit on the insurance of return. The transaction of return has always regarded as not only profit made by distributors and cinemas but the physical return of bodies to the multiplex each week and their relationship with the screen. The transition to digital cinema systems elevates the guarantee of return even further; positing the overall circulation of the cinema industry on a persistent relocation and trade of physical assets, bodies and kit, among a digital economy. No component of the cinematic apparatus expires in this economy because nothing is allowed to settle. The savings made by a distribution company like Deluxe ltd, for example, (the leading digital distributor worldwide, who deliver 10,000 packages of immaterial data to franchise cinemas every day) are recouped by cinemas in the ‘Virtual Print Fee’. The Virtual Print Fee redistributes the balance in savings a distributor makes by loaning lightweight and much more cheaply reproducible DCP packages (rather than heavy 35mm film releases). In the balancing action of the VPF the distributor subsidises the costs associated with digital projection equipment — which cinemas are still switching over to — in exchange for the significant gains distributors obtain from a digital image-based economy.~~
Why watch film?
Boris Groys describes digital images as ‘strong images’images that ‘are able to originate, multiply and
1edcf.net /edcf_docs /vpf_q-a_200710 .pdf
2 Groys, Boris, “From Image to Image File and Back”; “Art Power”; MIT Press (2008)
~~distribute themselves through the open fields of contemporary communication without any curatorial control’. The large capital of multiplexed cinema distorts this distributive self-governance. Cinemas increasingly sell back simple media playback to digital natives in a service premised on providing ever-higher resolutions via ever more complicated means. The playback service offered by cinema appeals to spectators to return to the multiplex, and attempts to rescue itself from the immanent dispersal of running time (pre-scribed duration)beyond its walls and the benefits of the return. In direct replication of the cinema model, home theatres, boutique screening facilities and high-end galleries strive to offer this running-time uninterrupted, subverting an ideal of the digital images’s strength in representing itself proposed by Groys. The need for seamlessness, pixel-dissolution and the ocular experiences of space, in high-end display – and its emulation in private spaces and independent screenings – merely perpetuates the perverse idea of an image without origin rather than its actual independence. Found here:
avsforum.com /t /66519 /active- noise -reduction -for -projector -fan -noise; is a forum post on troubleshooting methods to completely reduce the noise of equipment in a homemade cinema. Moving away from the more conventional practice of soundproofing, this post marks a more extreme urge to reduce the equipment’s potential for deviation by silencing any non-diagetic noise, positing a nihilistic relationship between spectator and image: the spectator is sold, in both the cinema and the home-cinema, their own capacity to obliterate the potential for an unembellished encounter of total seamlessness.
Spectator as Entrepreneur
In “Film and the Public Sphere”, Alexander Kluge posits the idea of “The Spectator as Entrepreneur” whereby the spectator inherits the anxiety of the financial backers that expect enormous profit from the worldwide distribution of cinema. Kluge likens the spectator to the manager of a department store, “nervous about objects in the storeroom that do not sell immediately,” looking to savour all elements of the moving image like ‘gnawing a bone thoroughly’. Playing the role of store manager the spectator contributes unpaid emotional and participatory labour to the corporations, engaging in the selling of movie real-estate by an imposed awareness of the precious time in the screening room. It is as if, were it not for fear of emaciation, we might continue to recompense the cinema screen and the expanse of networked capitalism that protrudes behind it by clinging to every minute that we occupy the screening room. The digital system deepens this notion of a quantitative viewing process, whereby the moving image’s transition into coded information qualifies the spectator's position as entrepreneur further. The notion of a quantitative cinema is fully realized by digital cinema, its effects passed from distributor to spectator, imitating the ontologically quantitative logic of coded information.
In the wake of new open platforms for viewing audio-visual content , an EU commissioned report on the ‘multi-territorial licensing of AV work’, refers to audience demographics as ‘fine-grained’. In developing a new cinema model, the rhetoric used by investors refers to viewers much like the high resolution image itself; as if the conglomerate desires and attention spans of the audience could be pulled into a gapless image using ‘sophisticated distribution techniques to efficiently distinguish between consumers’ preferences~~
3keanet.eu /docs /mtl -fullreporten .pdf pg.3, para. 5
~~and to capture their willingness to pay’. In this environment, is it not up to the industry that has emerged around the digital cinema image to compensate its freeware analogue for its unpaid labour, having self-produced invaluable market research on the viewing desires and habits of spectators around the globe? At lower resolutions, moving image content can be screened anywhere. Retrieved online;directly transferred to a hard drive; played back on a device. In her essay “In Defense of the Poor Image”, Hito Steyerl posits the poor image as the freely accessible counterpart to the high-end moving images carted across the globe in DCP suitcases. Like the ‘strong image’, the poor image is an idealistic empowerment of the digital image; “the poor image is a rag or a rip, a lumpen proletariat in the class society of appearances, liberated from the vaults of cinemas and thrust into digital uncertainty”. The poor image is also, conversely, a retrograde ancestor of the high-resolution image. Thrust forward from digital uncertainty as an out-of-date emblem for early digital video, the slow bit-rates and un-dithered colour patterns evoke the appearance of demo .mpegs on the Windows 95 install CD. Embedded like this within the origins in the development of pixelated video, a break is made evident between the genealogy of the moving image and the genealogy of the cinema by the poor image’s insertion into both.
Development towards viewing high-end moving images in the digital cinema started as an appropriation of digital technology through joint ventures between the cinema industry and western government.. With the introduction of Quicktime and Windows Media Player, developed in the late 90s and in the early 00s by freeware projects such as VideoLAN, GOM and Xine ‘Digital Cinema Initiatives’ across the EU and US were quick to utilize multimedia frameworks pioneered for home computers in the early 90s.. This flatly convoluted the process of ‘showing according to vitality and strength’ approached by Groys, instead aiding unyielding security and maximum profit gain within the single-market economy of the cinema. In recent years, the public idea of ‘turning digital’, promoted by governments to cinema franchises and movie production in the EU has been characterised by incentives, initiatives and state rewards endorsing the continuation of fewer and more singularized markets.
Frozen on a single sentence, imparting its obfuscated wisdom on each succeeding image for an awkwardly distended interval, a digital screening of "Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry" I attended recently, was cancelled due to malfunctioning subtitles. In a prolonged hijack of the film’s rapidly altering montage, the verbal narrative of Wei Wei’s plight was rendered indecipherable and subsequently unwatchable by a fault passed-over through post-production and only made manifest a short way through the copy’s first screening. To rectify a dismantled transaction between audience and image, the management team of the cinema offered a refund or the chance to wait for the problem to be corrected; those of us who chose the~~
4 Steyerl, Hito “Wretched of the Screen”, Sternberg Press (2012)
5mediafire.com /view /9miyu5per41kyff /DCI _DCSS _v12 _with _errata _2012 -1010 .pdf
6futureplan.bfi.org.uk /launch.aspx?pbid=62b10d3a -080b -4234 -93d6 -5fffb70b4509
7ukfilmcouncil.org.uk /media /pdf /6 /r /Common_declaration _on _Digital _Cinema .pdf
~~latter were made privy to an awkward process repeatedly drawing up codec error messages more familiar to consumers of user-generated, or pirated media at home. The interruption was provided by the composition of the RAID data itself. Being read at phenomenal speeds from discreet locations on the drive so that, in the aid of data security the moving image file, never fully constituted or fully wrapped. In the screening of ‘Never Sorry’ this architecture undermined its own function to be plainly viewable; it instead rendered itself as a disruption in the potential for return which guarantees — and is guaranteed by — the stability of the cinema system.
What remained was the question, should we, the charged spectators, have been more embarrassed by the furtive encounter with the workings of high-end digital display? More incisively than this, did the conflation of public and private space in fact reveal to us the cinema’s coy appropriation of our own tech-savvy bedrooms play back? Serge Daney locates the experience of viewing moving images at the cinema, “somewhere between the carelessness of a spoiled energy and the economy of a time that one can’t afford to waste”. This disposition is overhauled by widely available screening technology, as private spaces emerge as locations where moving image time can be experienced as alterable – broken up by the buffer wheel spinning, or tabbed browsing– rather than prescribed as an economic event. Comparatively, the screening event in high-end cinemas is microscopically time-managed in a run-time environment; each moment of duration is counted by the computer hub that connects digital screening rooms — voyeuristically, flat screen surveillance monitors are set up on lobby walls, physically monitored by staff to deter the illegal free circulation of bodies between screenings, outside of time paid for. Hence when an aberration occurs in digital cinema such as one that might halt a screening through mistranslation or image paralysis — or the pursuit of ever-more definition or emersion as a mutation of the guarantee on the return cinemas as well as spectator-consumers are depending on — what is revealed is an ongoing instability in the transaction between spectator and industry, rather than its salvation through transformation. Although seemingly resolved by the illusion of the computerised screening, paid for upfront — as if the delivery of a service and reciprocal feedback is guaranteed from the beginning of the event of screening, in fact at each continuous moment of viewing high-end digital displays, the image remains prone, unpackaged, and the entrepreneurial contribution of the spectator remains, consistently, unfulfilled.
8 Daney, Serge “Postcards from the Cinema”, Berg Publishers; Tra Edition (2007)
9 Automated software is sold to both digital cinemas and digital production companies micro-manage the accounting for the screening of digital content in theatres: maccs.com /maccs-software /maccs /theatrical -distribution -system/, how are faulty screenings and loss logged into rational logic of this software?
This is an edited version, of a longer interview, upcoming in Arcadia Missa's second print anthology (early 2014).
You just completed a diverse project entitled New Lavoro, which culminated in the hosting of a fully functioning bar at the Venice Biennale. I was lucky enough to watch the video output of the project, which pivots between satirising reality TV and the contemporary art world. Essentially you put 13 budding artists to work competing against each other, very much in the guise of The Apprentice, with the winner receiving an access-all-areas ticket to the Biennale. The project made me wonder about your own identity as artist worker, subjugated by an apparatus you yourself had set in motion. What did you learn whilst undertaking New Lavoro?
With New Lavoro I didn't want to make a project consisting of intertwining parts, I wanted to create what is in branding referred to as a lifestyle, or in mathematics as a system. That was the reason why I wanted to have so many different parts which would remake themselves (i.e. interviews from the show become the soundtrack, costumes become working uniforms, the reality show becomes a promotional video for the bar, artworks are 'updated' and turned into recipes to be recreated…) When engaging with artistic labour, I am interested in the backend and performative aspect of it; how it operates and which parts get lost or translated between the initial idea and the final product.
Existing reality shows on mainstream networks like Art21 or PBS give a similar presentation of artistic practice. One can see artists walking around their studios, engaging in the physical production of works, overseeing assistants making models and fabricating, getting inspired by visiting places or gathering site-specific materials. My show was more about setting up a system of obstructions (happening in limited spatial/temporal circumstances, using low or non-existent budgets; assignments that take place in spaces in which you are not allowed to perform or document, often requiring the use of found, free or borrowed materials); and the idea was to see how the cast participants would react to it. It was not supposed to be satirical version of the art world but more of a realistic one.
My input takes place at the beginning and end of the production cycle; from giving the participants instructions to perform, to selective editing and what is in TV jargon called Frankenbiting (splicing together non-linear pieces of dialogue to create a complete thought or story) in order to create a narrative that I wanted to tell, one which is not about those characters at that specific moment but rather about what they aspire to become.
I find solace in thinking of the art world as an autopoietic system, a self-generating machine with rules that can be bent or turned against themselves. But New Lavoro made me consider another, slightly terrifying, art world metaphor: the reality TV mantra “I’m not here to make friends” writ large. Is the ‘aspirational lifestyle’ something like Frankenbiting? A post-produced narrative constructed in retrospect?
The reality TV show mantra, “I’m not here to make friends” is a statement that encompasses a certain cut-throat attitude of being willing to engage and risk whatever it takes to become successful. Part of the nature of any competition-based TV show is that there has to be a certain wish to succeed and be better than the rest, but I don’t think that was the focus of my show. What I was more interested in was the determination, desires and presumptions of the participants as to how they envision their next step or what their ideal future will look like. Translation or subjectivization occurs on several levels; how they formulate their characters based on modes of presentation from other shows and also how it conforms with the “real artworld” stereotypes - will they decide to frame their artist character as a know-it-all sociopathic and extroverted genius or INFJ  sensitive type?
Your work is often realised as a series of ‘versions’, multiple formats for single works that highlight their conditions of production, dissemination and rhetoricisation. Does your background in design have any influence on this? I was particularly struck by the way the artists in New Lavoro had to remould themselves with each new task. Drafted into reproducing, and then rebranding their identity as artist, game show participant and caricature.
When Claire Bishop speaks about the contemporary cultural producer in “Artificial Hells”, she addresses the idea of “the virtuosic contemporary artist (who) has become the role model for the flexible, mobile, non-specialized laborer who can creatively adapt to multiple situations, and become his/her own brand". I think that quote pretty well describes the characters on New Lavoro.
What I have always been interested in is a subjective interpretation of mainstream media; What do we as consumers have to say as a response, interpretation or emotion?
I would say that versions grant the possibility to see a work from different angles, similar to how films will often have a workprint version, sneak preview version, theatrical version, unrated version, director’s cut, etc.
In the New Lavoro magazine you talk with Courtney Malick about ‘versions’ in terms of the circulation and visibility of online images. You also refer to “the operational procedures and daily activities that run in the background of art-making” as a kind of ‘Invisible Industry’ - a mechanism I think your work foregrounds and attempts to reclaim. Oliver Laric and Hito Steyerl might argue that we are living in a new era of visibility, not predicated on verisimilitude or clarity but on compression, mutability and speed. Is this what the title of New Lavoro (New Labour) is referring to, mutation as methodology, or am I pushing the metaphor too far?
The era of new visibility, which is based on speed and the possibility to mutate, be copied and redistributed as fast and as widely as possible, as proposed by Laric, Steyerl and many others has definitely influenced the work, although in a different manner. For example, Steyerl refers to economical and intellectual value of the poor image as being truer, or more representative of contemporary society’s affective condition, and when speaking of cinema points towards “For an Imperfect Cinema” by Juan García Espinosa, saying that “The imperfect cinema is one that strives to overcome the divisions of labor within class society. It merges art with life and science, blurring the distinction between consumer and producer, audience and author. It insists upon its own imperfection, is popular but not consumerist, committed without becoming bureaucratic.”(Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen.)
My decision to merge the high production value of the show (ie. shooting on RED camera in 4k, using green screen, professional lightning, motion graphics) with intentional film-making errors (inserting footage from ‘behind the scenes’ into footage ‘in front of the camera’, narrative jumps, characters coming in or disappearing from the show without explanation, disruption of temporal-spatial continuity, the use of unconventional frames and crops) is a mutated version which equalizes the value of low and high production, operational procedures and actual work, and product and performer.
What are you working on next?
I will be shooting two videos in Berlin, one called “Action Paintings”, where I hire another artist (Helga Wretman) to act as my double, and act out a series of stunts typical for any contemporary action movie. Throughout the making of these videos she will create marks and gestures on canvases with falls, crashes and accidents. In hiring her to act as my double, and I am also employing her as an expert, someone who has a physical skill-set which I would not be able to perform. Violence and destruction as a driving force embedded in Hollywood action movies compared to artistic process as representation, therapy and phenomenon. The other movie is called “Invisible Industry”, where I will collaborate with 8 Berlin-based artists, asking them to provide security webcam footage of their daily practice, and then work with them to choreograph their movements and daily actions into a video using elements of fashion films (ie. cK Obsession, Armani’s fashion films), that have taken stylistic inspiration from film noir. In an attempt to make a cinematic narrative out of 'leftovers' of artistic daily practice, invisible creative industry becomes a brand, a proposal for a social structure, a labour made into lifestyle. Thanks Dora!
 INFJ (introversion, intuition, feeling, judging) is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to refer to one of the sixteen personality types.
This is an edited version, of a longer interview, upcoming in Arcadia Missa's second print anthology (early 2014).
Having just spent some time with your ‘Performance GIF’ for Rhizome.org, I wanted to start by talking about images. Recently you finished a project for DIS Magazine entitled ‘Laughing Alone With Salad’ where you reinterpreted an infamous breed of stock image known by that name.
I was invited by DIS Magazine to do a project for their fully functional stock image library DisImages.com. They commissioned 20 artists to explore the stock genre, and I decided to do a series of photographs that referenced the "Woman laughing alone with salad;" a Meme that identifies codes in stock images that are not true to our experience - false representations of happiness, health, gender and pleasure. I think of these images when someone says “health,” at the same time I know that the image has absolutely no connection with the feeling of being healthy. There is an extensive labour behind manufacturing the ideal image of health, from aggressive teeth-whitening techniques; extensive “work-outs;” to the lobbying for manipulation of information architecture on ingredient labels.
‘Hanging from the 8th floor of south side of the 40 Wall Street’ was shown as a part of series of performance GIFs curated by Jesse Darling on Rhizome.org. The GIF was made by deleting some of the frames in a video work of mine. This video work was made from two separate videos, the first video I shot was of a model laying on a kitchen table in front of the greenscreen, moving her legs in the air; and the other video was shot from a hand-held camera over the south side window in Trump Building on Wall street.
The unavailability, yet proximity, of power structures and chance, make this location so interesting. The Apprentice was shot in this building, I feel like these kind of TV shows became a success because they allow and encourage a negative response. It’s a perfect description on how duality has no influence on structures of power.
Both these works play with iconography - perhaps even the manufacture of archetypes - but I also know that their production involved a lot of human-centric working practices.
With the medium I work in, film and photography, production starts with a script, setting the positions for camera, and a shooting plan; in my practice these film techniques are a research phase. The models I worked with for DIS images have very different attitudes to their body, a Tina Turner double; bodybuilders who work as strippers; a curator.
I’m not aware beforehand of the acting possibilities of the performers I work with, their group dynamics and relation to the space, and the situation that is constructed are much more interesting.
Looking through ‘Laughing Alone With Salad’ one is confronted by a series of hyperreal subjects. In a work you did with Dora Budor, BodySurfing (2012-2013), you engage in the production of a series of human objects, twisting Walter Benjamin’s notion of the aura into a performative gesture. Could you tell us more about this subject/object split in your work?
Emancipation was considered to be a process of acquiring autonomy - a desire of object to become a subject through exposure, to gain a place in a power structure, so that it can be approached from different standpoints: expanding, mutating, but not disappearing. To see the object as a separate entity obtaining power is not exciting enough, things are more interconnected. For example, the gay rights movement had influence on the idea of love and pleasure in heterosexual relationships, gentrification and the immigration law. I just got a notification that My Klout score went up. In the BodySurfing video models were repeating gestures they remember seeing in Hollister or A&F ads. We were interested in identifying how far reaching these influences are. The performers were hired from a modeling agency, and were exposing the way they experience their body in relation to the images: it is the same process as making an actual ad. The decision to work with male models was intentional, it is less politically ghettoized than when with female models, and there was more room to create a vulnerability of image.
Each frame of BodySurfing is a type of selfie. Walter Benjamin’s notion of aura, as I understand it, was an argument of the film image not being unique and lacking this quality of aura in comparison with unique objects or hand-crafted items, that are perceived to have a quality of being one of a kind. I can’t even imagine how to apply this concept today. In Iran, aura is called “glory” (wikipedia). The one-take video, “Yosemitebear Mountain Giant Double Rainbow 1-8-10”, shot as POV, lasting 3 minutes and shot in 3 minutes, has thirty-seven million, nine hundred twelve thousand, six hundred sixty-five views on Youtube, gaining more aura with each new view. I feel like video, of all media, has the biggest aura.
While in ‘BodySurfing” we were trying to type-cast models, in ‘Laughing Alone With Salad’ I was doing the opposite. The models I worked with are very unlikely to be cast for these types of images, they were not transparent enough, there was too much to identify. I don’t believe in the ideal image or superiority that is biologically determined. The archetype is a cultural construct and reflects the cultural dominance and social-power structures. Repetition or imitation, from the standpoint of human evolution, is a safe way to secure entities from stepping into any danger caused by uncertainty, and create interactions, for example the effect of contagious laughter in a group. The starting point for DIS when they made a fully functional stock image site was to return images back to commercial circulation, and to question visual literacy. The successful stock photo is invisible, exploited, uncontrolled and untitled. It’s transparent.
The Russian word glasnost, has a meaning of something being loud enough to be publicly visible. Paradoxically the word is directly translated as transparency. It has been used since the 18th century in law books, but it became a metaphor in the 80s when it was used by Mikail Gorbachev as an emancipatory policy in attempts to restructure The Soviet Union, moderating the abuse of administrative power and a greater freedom of information. In doing so, it exposed the hardship and problems of previous systems.
Your definition of the word ‘glasnost’ as a kind of loudness is fascinating. We desire transparency, openness, but perhaps too much transparency and the truth is drowned out?
In an attention economy transparency is interpreted as constant attentive sharing in real time, but that sometimes doesn’t include much or any truthful information. It can become nostalgic, boring, anachronistic, drowned out. Each revelation that is truthful is taking into consideration so many negative aspects of one object, and more importantly, making these negative aspects visible and functional.
The idea of transparency on the Internet is associated with the power of being able to “see the whole picture”, like the cover of the The Whole Earth Catalog. A film scene in which an evil character zooms from that whole earth image to the tiny activated missile in the desert; then showing the shoe of the person standing next to the missile; cross cut with all the layers of his memory foam soles; from waffle sole to flyknit body in macro.
Transparency is a not a natural occurrence, it’s a political decision and ideological tool, to uncover just certain things. It’s a metaphor for control, security and power.
For the recent Venice Biennale you worked with a choir singing a medley inspired by The Merchant of Venice. Could you tell us more about the project?
I was working with assistants who worked for the national pavilions in Giardini during Venice Biennale, I did interviews with them about the work they do. The interviews were made into lyrics, and the participants sang the song as a group in front of an audience. I did the same piece working with artist assistants in New York on the Randall Island during Frieze Art Fair (2013). In the documentation video the song lyrics are subtitled, but the reactions from the audience are added to the lyrics as well.
The Merchant of Venice is a play by Shakespeare written in 1596, set in Venice. The financial systems that operate today are based on the system of double-entry bookkeeping: this debit/credit system was first codified and published by the Venetian monk Luca Pacioli in the late 15th Century. There was this idea of a new mathematical language that changed the notion of distance, quantity and perspective. The system is an abstract idea, I wanted to identify this exchange of the dual registering of debit and credit in the creation of cultural capital. And I wanted to identify the currencies of cultural capital that made both these performances possible.
The choir piece exposes a whole series of work strata, from the invisible labour behind the Biennale, all the way up to the pleasurable, jovial effort involved in performing a song. It feels significant that by foregrounding the labour of the Biennale assistants, in the lyrics and performance of the choir, you pushed your own labour into the background.
Yes, I was thinking about this a lot, and wrote two songs about the production process I did and promises made in order to get participants to be in both shows. While making the video of both performances I decided to leave in all the material that should be cut-out. The video shot in New York shows 3 rehearsals of the choir before doing the whole song (including the comments from people in the choir). The Venice version has subtitles of comments coming from the audience during, and after, the performance. I consider these videos to be the final work.
While trying to get the performers in Venice to take a part in the choir I was taking photos of them and adding them to ArtStack. 60% of the performers that originally signed-up didn’t come for the final performance. I’ve got a txt msg from a curator saying the performance was good but needs to be rehearsed more.
Since I’ve started working solo, I knew that I only want to make work in relation and interaction with other people: staging film sets, working with performers and bringing audiences into the process is now naturally becoming part of my practice. I don’t want to produce work in isolated space, and engaging in online exchange is a form of participation, but is perhaps too predictable to construct the experiences I’m interested in.
HD Video, w.sound, 2'34''
2013, New York
HD Video, loop, 18''
2013, New York
/ Performer: Marlous Borm,
/ Location: 40 Wall Street Trump Tower
Images 12 & 13
Attraction Continues 2
HD video, 3'
http://vimeo.com/user389069> Play 1 > Play 2
I Feel Love - Donna Summer (Version Produced and Arranged by Chris Cunningham for Gucci Flora commercial)> Play
How to Sleep Faster E3
3rd Episode of Arcadia Missa's Ejournal.
Featuring contributions from:
Daniel Rourke - Interviewing Maja Cule and Dora Budor
Arcadia Missa (Editorial)
Andrew Norman Wilson
Designed and built by Joseph Waller / Textcursor
Edited by Arcadia Missa (Rózsa Farkas and Tom Clark)
The first two issues of HTSF E are now offline and available as a CD-archive from: www.arcadiamissa.tictail.com