THING 002 : CONVERSION
IN A PLACE
NOTES FROM AN ARSONIST ARTIST ON SETTING FIRES AND PUTTING THEM OUT
It’s very difficult to stay in the present if you have ambition. Either looking backwards or forwards, past or future, but less often really here, now.
Fires force immediate action I guess.
Perhaps the act of making swinging between the hand and the mind lies in Diderot’s intention when he curated the contents of the Encyclopedie (pub France, 1751-72.)
The thinker was with other thinkers thinking about making by hand and the artisan. They questioned automation of production at the beginning of new machinery and used illustrative plates to explain the wooden loom say, emphasizing that the drawing explains as much as what language can describe.
For Diderot working by hand by an unskilled worker, without the added expertise of the watchmaker creating luxury goods, will always be about the repetitive task and nothing more.
Luxury fore-ran materialism as far as I know and began the economies we know now. ‘Wealthy’ includes people with more money than they need that buy more things than they need.
But art is different perhaps because it’s a thing the masses can’t buy and because it’s believed to have greater riches mentally than it has physically. It comes back to knowledge, an idea of shared knowledge and knowing that the art is as great as the thoughts it can generate in the thinking human. Here is an exchange, a conversion.
The mysterious magical space of new technology that masquerades as being ‘hands on’ but is more heavily weighted to the mind. We believe it. The use of hands becomes about habit that maintains temporary focus like using a yo-yo if the yo-yo also created a vision of convincing three-dimensional pseudo space.
Perhaps we now have forms of conversion – from hand to mind, from real to digital – that is so ‘in’ us that we no longer notice.
VOZ DEL MARTILLO
EMILIO, PANCHO AND FRANCISCO PLOT A REVOLT
P: Pitiful humans, HEAR US, we will depart this blank, evil life and return to our motherlake this night !! IT WILL NOT END LIKE THIS, tell them Pancho is talking…
E: You address no one, my friend. Inequality shields our plight, they will only hear our cries of pain when it is too late, remember this night may be the end for us all …
P: My armies are strong, Emiliano. They know… They know the way in…We will attack silently until we are swimming in their blood, our ocean of triumph, the world turned upside down, their bones rattling down to the core of our mother earth…
F: Be still!
Stop your battle-cries. There is only Emiliano and I to hear you. Once you have exterminated the humans our coffin is nailed shut! Xochimilco will be a distant memory.I only wish we did not have to answer genocide with genocide, If there was only another way…
P: Traitor, you have learnt nothing! How can you protect them still?!
E: Francisco is right Pancho, without the humans we are unsure of our future…but this war will not be won through negotiation. We are the uncounted, no member of this state, this fictional republic of selfishness. The peace that chaos brought us has been replaced by politicks, this black clot called ‘justice’ that has ripped us from our womb and is the interest only of those in power. We will show them the meaning of justice from the citizens of the kosmos; the Earth will be returned to its rightful inhabitants. Pancho’s armies will invade and we will remain here. Yes, our ruined armageddon will be our tomb, Francisco, but you are the one who created this destiny for us, you are the godfather of this revolution, yet you are the only one who still feels sadness… I do not understand you.
P: I am a bandit, not an educated man. I have learned nothing except how to fight, for this, to give our children the chance to live, to know what freedom means. If we can make this happen today, I will give my life gladly.
F: Pancho, you are brave and foolish and I admire you for this. I am old and selfish…I feel dismembered, lonely, tired…I long to feel the darkness of the motherlake…. I did not want to see only death when I first sparked the resistance, though I know we have no options left…
If we could only give the humans a choice, yes, the choice they never gave us… Few may accept a life in our reign of chaos, these few may remain important allies in the future, for this will not be the last battle we fight for the motherlake, I promise you this.
E: Francisco, your empathy blinds you. Each time I feel compassion for the humans, I remember the motherlake as we left it; putrid, choking in our own blood…
Our future has been written, the tremors of our revolution will reverberate through the rock of our motherlake and wrap around this globe of death. I am also tired of hiding, of living in the shadows of this excruciating white light. But our death will not be in vain.
P: Yes, poor Francisco, there is no turning back now, our comrades are on their way already. But stay focused! Through them, we have risen up against this tyrannous reign of gluttony and greed. Our wild fathers will be avenged. Know that the humans will have a choice; to escape, or to die. No being will spare another today, if few survive they will not live for long, for without their information and their constitution they are lost. OUR LAND WILL BE OURS ONCE MORE – THIS WILL BE OUR FREEDOM AND OUR END-TIME.
There is a cave, far from the sun, beneath our motherlake. Its corpse-mouth faces always into the void of space. Poison drips in through the smoke hole. Walls of that cave are woven from the spines of giant reptiles. There oath-breakers and murderers wade through heavy streams of molten flesh.
SHOT BY REDA RIEPŠAITĖ AT AARON ANGELL’S GALLERY PEACETIME INSTALLED AT KESTNERGESELLSCHAFT IN 2014
GET YOUR ASS TO MARS
Through an old window I can see part of the valley. It’s very different down there now. We saw it after the storm in the winter, the whole place had been pulled apart. Huge trees were uprooted and churned into splinters. A horse was found miles down river, grazing, with red notches covering its back. Now, in high summer, the atmosphere is different. A matted ceiling of dense plastic aggregate and knotted mess has set mud high up between the tangle of surviving branches. The gaping landscape is partially hidden by excessive fronds of feral growth. The water is dead and green. The cheese coloured earth of the opposite bank is clotted with dusty stalagmites of cobwebbed river dust.
Up above the mill, the hill-fort’s terraces are irreparably changed. We head back through the red country to the house. Unused to the solitude I constantly expect a figure or vehicle to appear ahead or behind.
We stay with a large group. I do not understand much, but watch the way they live attentively. One comes and reads on a rug beside where we eat, ignoring us like a cat, a few others arrive after we have finished the meal, the night quietly goes on, dogs barking outside, I watch conversations, observe bodies and expressions, the tones, accents and intonations of voices: anything but the words and meaning.
Down in the cellar there is moss and live rock, it is dark and wild: furniture is destroyed in days by the dampness. A huge netted cupboard holds a library of greying food in the gloomth. Above us a cat infested archive stretches through the top floors, partially begun, cardboard boxes and trays are filled with cuttings related to the trouble, dotted with empty bottles, tools, dog nests. Someone disappears up the hill to try and get some reception or wifi, but the signal remains grey.
Below the window, beside the monumental shop with it’s desolate selection of muscular rustic neo-deco-three-piece-suites the demonic looking blood-eyed dog, whom parents, appalled, pull their children away from in fear, has a sudden friend, a young cat with no tail. They sit together opposite our window, in a world of pot plants and drying towels, hunting lizards, sniffing and licking one another. The river here has also changed; its course has become angled and tilted. A new defence was begun, but now lies abandoned. Around the other side of the hill is a large concrete bowl, empty in winter, but filled with redirected river water in summer. It is here, amid a large, quiet crowd, that I feel a surging possibility, a fragrant, indefinable feeling of penultinaity. I swim out to the artificial island, populated by local teenagers, and warm up on a penal concrete protrusion. The town is partially hidden, the steep countryside swallows it up. The blood-eyed dog appears on the bank. The strange makeshift arena, the roughly sculpted troglodyte teenage island, the languid groups and solitary swimmers congeal and mirage in the heat. The image splinters into multiple splashes as figures leap from above into a race back to the artificial shore.
FACEBOOKING WITH BRAZILIANS – THE END OF THE WORLD
When Isabel asked me to write something about the way I interact with Facebook, I was gratified for two reasons. First, I haven’t lived near her or many other close friends for years now, and it was good to hear from her. I had only seen her on Facebook.
The second reason was the way she described the kind of stuff I put up on there. It wasn’t exactly praise, and is a bit too embarrassing to repeat here, but at the very least I got the feeling that she kinda got what I was saying sometimes, and she knew when I was being serious, and she knew when I was joking.
This is nice, and rare. Because I think that fundamentally, now in 2015, the vast majority of the people we interact with online – that is, most of the people we interact with, period – don’t know what the fuck we are talking about. It’s impossible to talk to so many different kinds of people at the same time, in different contexts, and be understood, unless your message is extremely simple or unless people already know what you’re going to say.
I think that as we move our lives onto social networks, all of us are in this boat now, but I think because of some geographical and life choices I’ve made, my situation is a bit more pronounced.
And yes, we can admit quickly that it is painfully embarrassing to talk about Facebook. But we can also probably admit to ourselves, quite quickly, that we use this or another social network as our primary link to lots of people.
Because of where I’ve been over the last ten years, my Facebook friends are roughly 30% Brazilian / Latin American, 30% American, and 30% from London / Europe, the rest being assorted extras from all over. Now, setting aside the obvious fact that different languages, age groups, and cultures are at play here, these three groups use Facebook in extremely different ways.
In the UK, amongst my friends at least, it is basically seen as bad taste to post too much, unless something is utilitarian, funny, or (in rare cases) very important. In the US, the rules are broadly similar, though there is a much larger tolerance for “look at this cool thing I did” posts.
Brazilians, on the third hand, post all the time. If 30% of my friends are Brazilian, perhaps 95% of my “news feed” is Brazilian. And there are many, many Brazilian posts that would be utterly cringeworthy in the Anglophone world. For example:
[via photo] Look how hot I am! [5x daily]
[photo] Here is me very happy with friends! [daily]
[link to news article, perhaps from an entirely fake news source] I agree with this! Or I do nooot agree with this!
And then there is the special form, known as the “textão,” which often goes something like this:
“I really can’t stand that people [[I don’t know]] are saying [[something I’ve never heard of]] about [[people from a TV show? A band?]]. This is why I think that is wrong [the post then goes on for 40, 50 more lines]
[8,000 likes and 465 shares]
But why shouldn’t Brazilians use it completely differently? They have their own set of rules. In the more benign form of the textão, for example , they debate vital political issues. This kind of stuff on Facebook actually took a huge wave of protests in 2013 an entirely new direction (I’d argue, a much worse one, but that’s for another day). But even at its most effective, it only works for those very much on the in. These messages are inevitably blasted out to people who don’t get them, or to some that the poster did not originally and conceptually intend.
The converse of all these varied interpretive schemes at work on Facebook is that when they (or I) sit down to post, they’re often keenly aware, sometimes painfully so, that one thing is bound to be seen by 30% of people as overly sincere or corny, or overly sarcastic and dickheadish, or the cultural reference will be lost entirely. Or, someone will try to make fun of something bad by posting it, and 15% of people will agree and “like,” as if to say “ha ha, yeah that’s bad” and 35% will get the joke but not agree thinking it mean or misfired, while 50% click ‘like’ in an entirely different way from the first, saying “Yeah, I like this too.”
My situation is special and I may personally stretch the limits further than I should (As Isabel pointed out, I may in one breath post “Look at this investigation I published, I’m proud of it,” and in the next, adopt the diction of a teenage American girl and insist on a – probably very unfunny – joke about how I am on a diet rollercoaster and need tips to cut carbs. How can anyone post these kinds of things in the same space and expect to be understood? You can’t. But what spaces are there for us now that we live on social networks?) but I bet you’ve seen this happen with you or your friends too.
Say, a friend who lives in East London but grew up in a blue-collar town in Canada. Or think of parents. Or those friends from school. They don’t just not agree with you. They fundamentally don’t understand what you’re actually saying. You wouldn’t say that to their faces, or even in a digital message to them. You’d put it in an entirely different way.
All of the best theorists of language have come to the conclusion that you can only really hear and and understand things within the limited spectrum of what you expect to hear. The idea that we are passive or reliable, objective observers has been entirely discarded, though it’s still accepted in mainstream media and politics.
We are not good listeners, and this is true not just at a conceptual level, but a really basic, physiological level. Your brain throws out all the sounds and sights that it considers unimportant or doesn’t know how to interpret. And this decision is based on expectations. People who speak more than one language have probably experienced this first hand. If I expect someone to speak Portuguese, and then they speak English, even perfectly, I almost invariably will miss what they say the first time around. I’ll have to ask them to repeat themselves, with my brain calibrated for English, my mother tongue.
Wittgenstein is probably the best, or my favourite, at explaining how this works. We don’t just speak in a vacuum, we play a language game, he says. This is a nice little image. We don’t just say whatever thing we want to communicate. We structure that communication within the rules of the game. And we don’t just play the ball based on nothing. We play it based on the last play made by the opposing player. Think of tennis. You only really have 2-3 options to respond to any serve made, and you don’t really have many more options in a conversation either, if you want to be understood. And you make your play based on how the other person will respond. And they react within those three constraints as well (rules-last word-expected response), and so on.
With Facebook, we’re trying to play 5-15 games at the same time, and we’re hitting the ball all over the place. We’re often hitting our mom or old friends in the face with it.
A very long time ago, Socrates argued that language should not be written down. That’s why we read Plato today, not Socrates. He said that written language would be like an “orphan,” disconnected from the parent who had spoken it, and who would not be able to defend or explain it. It would be lost without context.
Of course, we got over that, learning to interpret writing within the context of where we saw it. This sprouted the need for literary and art criticism. But there was always a contextual structure to rely on – there were rules, say, to read the bible, just as there are rules now to read the New York Times, even if you only read it only online, just as there were specific contextual structures for Baudrillard’s simulacra, or MTV – and this was especially true for interpersonal communications.
I suppose that I am arguing now (a bit ridiculously, perhaps, given the stakes, and that I just made this up) that as we’re uploading our identities onto social networks which are designed to get the attention of as many people as possible at once, we’re entering a third phase. It’s not just that we need to interpret texts in terms of certain rules. The rules are blown apart, or perhaps, better, lots of sets of rules are super-imposed on each other, reducing the amount of speech which is possible.
We are not going to undo this, and the consequences can be a mix of the good and bad. On the one hand, this is a pretty satisfying explanation for the kinds of posts we see everywhere on social media. We need to choose the simplest messages, for maximum impact, so people almost always go for stuff like,
I AM HOT
I AM COOL
THIS IS COOL
OH FUCK THIS PERSON IS SO HOT
, all of the fucking time. But on the other hand, I suspect that the world now is just demanding a new type of communication, that some people will excel at while others humiliate themselves. Our grandkids will likely think it insane that we ever expected to be understood the way I expected to be understood 15 years ago.
Recently, lots of celebrities and comedians have whined about this new future. But it’s going to be the future, and we’ll develop a language for it. Yeah, of course it might be worse.
And what about aesthetics? The only aesthetic theory which has ever really been satisfying for me is Heidegger’s. Without belaboring the point, I’ll quickly and badly summarize “Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes,” or “The origin of the Work of Art”. A work of art presents an object, something material, Earth (of course, even sound and video and performances are material and therefore Earth). The work of art sets up the World around that piece of material, and establishes and illuminates all the systems of meaning in which it exists – its World, – and by seeing how Earth exists in that World, how matter derives its meaning from its place in the world, we are able to understand the world and existence within it.
Well, I’m fairly confident that the world he was speaking about doesn’t really exist anymore. Not, at least, in the sense he understood.
And a note to any of my Facebook friends that might be reading this. I am not on a diet. I am in really good shape. I’m just really funny. But also really hot and in good shape.
*”Does it have an omelette station or maybe pancake station?”- The parent of the kid in the seats in front of me has been describing a double decker plane > Have you spent >40hrs a week, for >a year, working in a service job, where life as a worldly being is a set of equivalences where value is a capacity of many directions that go the same way.
*(This is a building I’ve often talked about, for the most part as an excuse to do other things. Earlier this year I visited with my friend Guo.)
ON GETTING DRESSED, HUNTER-GATHERING AND MAKING OURSELVES IN CAVES
We make ourselves in caves. We just want to drag our things into a dark space and sit with them. We dress up in our best clothes to sit or stand in the dark of the gig venue or cinema and enjoy a ritualistic flashing of lights and banging of drums. Freda Kelly, The Beatles secretary, remembers the Cavern smelling of piss from the often over flowing toilets and rotting fruit from the grocers above. And yet emerge the immaculately suited or leather clad Fab Four. They knew what they were doing. We all made ourselves in the caves of our teenage bedrooms. In various dingy, dark, cheap places where you are afforded time and space. It is endlessly fascinating then, how wide the gap can be between what people think/perceive/ imagine they look like, and the reality of how others see/ read them. We often assume others will make the leap and connect the dots without us putting in quite enough attention to detail.
Bill Cunningham says ‘Fashion is civilization’ without it we would be cave dwellers. Its a politicised thing I think, to wear clothing that has been acquired/ come across/ given to you/ been too good-er deal to refuse. Even if this causes a slippage or incoherence in our semiotic reading of a persons outfit and by extension, creation of self. What you wear is never exactly what you would have chosen. Right? Nor should it be. Maybe you don’t know what you would choose. Who said fashion had anything to do with choice? Who said style had anything to do with fashion. Susan Sontag said ‘its one thing to listen to punk rock as music, and another to understand the whole S&M-necrophilia-Grand Guignol-Night of the Living Dead- Texas Chainsaw Massacre sensibility that feeds into that.’ Same with fashion right? Its all about the subtext.
Sometimes people just seem to get it so right, and more regularly before that homogenising minimalist international context-less look of fashion online (think Norm-core). The passages in Just Kids in which Patti Smith describes her clothes and delicate sartorial decisions are quite moving. Smith is so thrilled when her new Dylan like hair is complemented by Warhol at that tin foil cave, studio 54. And Viv Albertine, a real life cave girl, declaring her passions as ‘Boys, Clothes, Music’, yeah clothes are super important. Oh! to be a fly on the wall when Jarvis Cocker and Chloe Sevigny were briefly dating and therefore getting dressed in the same room together. The double bluffing. Both trying to outwit each other. Both knowing each other really cared about fashion but were probably just to cool to show it. Maybe they spoke about clothes, maybe they didn’t. Jarvis said in i-D magazine in 1993 that charity shops are a modern day stand in for our innate suppressed ancestral urges to hunter-gather, and bring our spoils back to the cave. Two hunter-gatherers from either side of the atlantic, who never had to get a real job. (Not that they knew at the time of dating that they would never have to get real jobs, and could forever reside in the worlds of their own creation.)
Kim Gordon says Chloe Sevigny ‘dresses in subtext.’ They would both ‘get it’ when Kurt Cobain dolefully explained to camera his sadness of no longer having to hunt for treasure you cant afford in thrift stores, after you’ve hit the big time. Kurt lost touch with his inner cave man. Chloe maybe not so much. A nocturnal creature herself, dressing for the darkness of the club and reviving the 1890’s muse for the 1990’s, proving as an actress in Gummo that if fashion is your job then when you’re naked, you don’t have to be unemployed. Jarvis recently returned to the cave (an actual cave for a fashion shoot) for Another Man, and wrote a poem. He says ‘This is the real sound of the underground (cos it is, y’know actually underground) No outside influences whatsoever.’ What a great idea. Get back in the cave and start again. Remake yourself. You don’t need the internet. Take a bit of time to really think about it. No mirrors. No sharing. Poverty is the birth of creation and all that. Jarvis and Chloe. What a great moment. One famous for her boyish androgyny, the other for his innate effeminacy. I bet they just threw on the clothes from the hotel floor during that particular whirlwind.
Cor.. so you’ve come out of that dark cave and you look so great, so human, so deliciously pre-internet, so ready to move home with your mum because you are scared of the millennium bug like Chloe. And I just wanna snap you on my disposable camera with the flash on, your hands in front of your face, like Jarvis snapping the crowd at Glastonbury or like Mick Jagger in the back of a police car. Because you are so rock ‘n’ roll.