Spike x YCW
Still from Jol Thomson, G24|0vßß (2016).
Courtesy the artist and MERU Art Foundation.
This past autumn, thirteen participants from around the world took part in the Young Curators Workshop, organised under the aegis of the 9th Berlin Biennale. Conceived by Armen Avanessian, the program involved workshops, seminars and discussions circling around the idea of post-contemporary art. As part of its partnership with the YCW, Spike here presents the second group of texts, interviews and projects that emerged from the program.
1. The Retrocausal Laboratory: Some Diffracted Fieldnotes
Jol Thomson and Dan Meththananda
2. Critical Virtues
Rachel Dedman and Kabelo Malatsie
3. PDP: Public Display of Professionalism
Patricia Margarita Hernandez
4. The Exhibition Whisperer
Mahan Moalemi in conversation with Theo Cook
1. The Retrocausal Laboratory: Some Diffracted Fieldnotes
Jol Thomson and Dan Meththananda
Since October 2016, the coldest object in the observable universe can be found under L’Aquila mountain in the Abruzzo region of Italy. A copper and tellurium vessel one cubic metre in volume has been cooled to a temperature of 6 milliKelvin, closer to absolute zero (0 Kelvin) than the furthest reaches of the cosmos. This vessel is an integral part of a complex experiment to detect neutrinos – neutral subatomic particles with a mass close to zero.
The post-contemporary envisages a reconfiguration of time such that it flows from the future to the present, but the detection of neutrinos requires thinking outside of time altogether. By design, CUORE sinks below the thermal level of the cosmos, leaving timespace as we know it.
In the summer preceding the launch of the neutrino detector inside a mountain at Gran Sasso, artist and cultural researcher Jol Thomson travelled to the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events (CUORE) to shoot a film, G24|0vßß. Here, Dan Meththananda re-assembles fragments of Thomson’s diffracted fieldnotes in hopes of finding an alternative pattern of meaning in the overlapping relationships between time time, dream, reality and a neutrino detector.
It’s easy to remove cause from the past to fit an agenda. We should consider how manipulative it can be to dislocate causal logic from its traditional flows, to divert accountability from ourselves towards a precarious future.
“The pendulum swings the other way,” she said. “Retro-causality is a symptom of a much more acute condition. We all get signals we don’t necessarily pick up, but this is something altogether different.”
II. The post-contemporary is not merely post-factual, it’s post-evident.
One might generally assume that time always only proceeds in the way we describe as “forwards”. However, since the 1940s, scientists such as Richard Feynman have recognized that causal waves also propagate “backwards”. These have been referred to as “advanced waves” and they can be detected in social and biological systems where negative entropy occurs, or syntropy.
As in other schemas of progress, in quantum mechanics, a cause is placed in the future and multiple handshakes are performed.
Neutrinos are irreverent. These subatomic particles do not follow the rules of physics -– remapping the sky and upsetting science’s best models. They render that great cosmic veil of background microwave radiation permeable and transparent. Their flavours oscillate, they do not maintain a stable identity in the way that all other matter we know of does. They’re both a fossil from a great outdoors, and, true to Quentin Meillassoux’s description of the arche-fossil, they are also the means of sensing that outdoors.
Neutrinos rarely interact with this world, but when they do, they bring change and trouble.
IV. “To be limited to understanding only that which is understood – this is shallow indeed!” Chuang Tzu XXII
Ursula K. Le Guin opens chapters of her 1971 sci-fi novel Lathe of Heaven with quotations from ancient Chinese philosophy. The novel follows George Orr, whose dreams actually change reality, including past events. Finding this burden unbearable, he attempts to stop dreaming by way of drug-induced sleep deprivation. A psychologist realizes Orr is telling him the truth about his dreams and plots to change the real for the better.
Good intentions can lead to ever-worsening consequences.
The search is for a very weak theoretical decay, known as 0vßß (neutrinoless double beta decay). If the process is successfully discovered, it would demonstrate that neutrinos are simultaneously their own antiparticles, helping to describe, “why there is something rather than nothing”.
An ancient philosophical question has been remodelled in contemporary nuclear physics.
VI. The future reaches back millennia to preserve itself
988 Tellurium crystals are both the source and the detector of CUORE’s experiment.
Protecting these crystals from the hyperchaotic noise of the universe are slabs of archaeological lead. The official records state that the lead was carried by an ancient ship from Spain to Rome though was sunk during a civil war between 80 & 50 BCE. One theory is that the ship was intentionally submerged by the captain so that the enemy would not get their hands on the precious cargo.
VII. Holocene, Chtulucene, Deathcene
“I prefer Marker’s benevolence to Gilliam’s self-preservation”, she said. “Anyway, we can be sure to predict that the past, as we understand it, will most certainly be changed, rearranged. And accountability will shift according to the will of those in power. Liberal ideals of human rights themselves are currently undergoing an attack, the far-right is casting them as weak and irresponsible.”
Maybe we’ve all had those Möbius-like dreams like the nameless protagonist at the end of Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Time-travelling to return to a terrestrial future in the death throes of World War III annihilation. This both will be and was the total degradation of ecosophy, Guattari’s Three Ecologies: environmental, mental, social.
We too have become witnesses to our own temporally protracted deathcene.
VIII. An interruption
A flickering thought distracts: The world is already XSF type II anyways - but can we even reach Kardashev type I? This seems more pressing given the circumstances. Perhaps it’s just a hiccup.
By way of temperature, a mind removes its selves from the vast regions of the cosmos.
XI. Initial conditions
It is not necessarily self-contradictory to have energy and information in the quantum realm retrocausally propagate.
Indeed, it could be that the contemporary is already “happened” in the future and is propagating backwards into our shared worldline.
JOL THOMSON is an artist based in Berlin. His film G24|0vßß was on view at the Galleria d’Arte Moderne e Contemporanea (GAMeC) in Bergamo from Oct 7 – Nov 13 2016.
DAN METHTHANANDA is a writer and curator based in London and Berlin.
Rachel Dedman and Kabelo Malatsie
Trump. Brexit. Protracted international conflict. Advancing right-wing populism. Post-truth journalism…. Power remains inescapable, but its form is being radically reconfigured. In hopeless times, might the once-taboo subject of faith re-emerge? Curators Rachel Dedman and Kabelo Malatsie, based in Beirut and Johannesburg respectively, share their thoughts on the way ahead and the potential of a faith-led future.
Rachel Dedman: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's newly-appointed chief strategist, gave a speech to the Vatican in 2014 in which he linked the contemporary crisis of capitalism and a crisis of faith, beginning with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the “great war” (by which he apparently meant World War II) of a “Judeo-Christian West against atheists”. What would save civilization from this, Bannon argued, was wealth-generating capitalism; today, the enemies of Bannon's “enlightened capitalism” are secularism, on the one hand, and “jihadist Islamic fascism”, on the other. There is nothing new about the connection between the religious right and control of the White House, but the imbrication of religion, capitalism and politics in the upcoming administration looks to be particularly acute. It also seems clear that faith – not just religious fervour – can be operationalised in the service of collective political action: the Vote Leave campaign in the UK and Trump’s political rallies identified discontent and actualised change from it.
Kabelo Malatsie: But faith is too uncool for the left. When the right mobilises faith the left harshly dismisses it. And now there is Trump!
RD: Totally. But what interests me is whether we can think of faith as a way of rallying to counter this political paradigm, outside a religious context. How can faith be actualised as a tool of solidarity and resistance? Can it be an antidote to cynicism? How do we constitute feelings of trust, security and confidence? And in what systems might we have belief?
KM: Trump, Brexit, and discrimination against Muslim people continue a narrative where faith/religion is used to rally a conservative mindset into violent action against those presumed to be ungodly. But during Apartheid the church was also a space used by freedom fighters to organise and fight. Perhaps spaces that operate under divine law can also be used to regroup, reorganise and reimagine the community in post-Brexit/Trump times?
RD: In Lebanon, religious inheritance is simplistically treated as the defining principle of individual and national identity, which undermines the possibility of collectivity and so maintains the disfunctional equilibirum that characterises Lebanese politics. But despite being subject to politicisation, faith is at its heart inherently individual, abstract and subjective. And since it doesn’t have a basis in empirical sense-data, faith structurally requires vulnerability. The leap of faith implies a void beneath; faith shares with the present moment a sense of precarity, while also offering resolution, security, hope for the future. Faith sits between hope and fear, a dialectic of both states. What can collective faith look like when it is not straightforwardly consolidated by a narrative of divine intervention or ancient authority?
KM: I am most interested in the visionary aspect of faith: the future rewards for present virtuous action: a heaven with endless singing, nirvana or a thousand virgins.
RD: Yes, there is a relation to both the future and the now. Organised religion codifies behavioural practices, sets moral imperatives and creates social communities in the present. And yet most religious faith is also indelibly tied to an abstract, unknown future, as a way of securing an eternal afterlife and perpetuating familial, generational and cultural security beyond the span of one's own lifetime.
In English, faith is a noun, something you have, an object to be given, taken, held. It is not bound to a specific timeframe, the immediate time-span of a verb's action, but rather it contains a sense of the future, held taut in the present. Faith satisfies our desire to hinge the vagaries of our present existence upon a future less unstable and messy than the now, upon a narrative or plan that may never be realised or revealed to us, but which we need to believe exists in order to tolerate the present.
KM: These non-empirical knowledge systems, and ways of doing and thinking, easily sound like something from a fantastic fictitious world, but mostly I am fascinated by the nonchalance with which such stories are shared, how they can be mobilised, and to what end. Recently the Johannesburg-based NTU collective, consisting of Nolan Oswald Dennis, Tabita Rezaire and Bogosi Sekhukhuni, followed a Facebook thread that led them to Zimbabwean innovator and entrepreneur Sangulani Maxwell Chikumbutso of Saith Technologies. Chikumbutso, who, as NTU have noted, “has no formal training in engineering, received the blueprints of his free energy device, helicopter, electric car, drone and many more inventions, in visions from God”. God has been given credit for the innovations Saith Technologies has realised. This is one example where a godly vision has not been used to justify atrocity, but production. I would like to claim, however, that this is similar for most innovations in technology. The drive for, or promise of, heavenly rewards enables groups to act in the present to realise these visions.
RD: In the case of business or scientific innovation, perhaps the “heavenly rewards” are financial profit, or knowledge production?
KM: I imagine it might sound something like GOD LOVES PROFIT. NTU made a short documentary with Sangulani Maxwell Chikumbutso, which they plan to expand into a longer video in which they also speak to other experts on free energy. The planned documentary tests out some possibilities for introducing non-empirical knowledge systems and art’s intervention in a form of labour that goes beyond exhibition presentation. Exhibitions currently show research on a particular theme or idea. However, these visions (if one may use this word), unlike those of car manufacturers, are mainly not meant to be realised: they remain research. Concept cars, on the other hand, can be considered “visions” that lead to real objects.
RD: Suhail Malik and Armen Avanessian argue that time now operates differently – coming from the future, impacting on the present. They cite examples such as the pre-emptive strike, Amazon’s psychic algorithms, and speculative investment markets.
KB: Yes. What faith/belief would a step such as actualisation of ideas entail and to what end? What actions would artistic labour envisage? If one imagines an exit from experiential art, what role can art play beyond experience, what function would it serve?
RD: The experiential nature of contemporary art, as well as the cult-like operation of the contemporary-art industrial complex, has something in common with faith as we’ve been describing it – individual, intangible, structured by the future. In Traction (2016), Tirdad Zolghadr writes that a characteristic of contemporary art is the ability to make a viewer “feel complicit in art’s critical virtue. To feel privy to the transgressions at play, and to gain a conspiratorial sense of being on the right side of history” – all things a belief in scripture also offers.
Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art.” To my mind, collective political action is frequently undermined or fragmented by the problematics and immediate realities of the present; perhaps faith’s attachment or weddedness to the long-term future (and goals that are not tangible or necessarily empirically possible) might be activated within the sphere of art in order to structure collective change.
RACHEL DEDMAN is a curator and writer based in Beirut, Lebanon. KABELO MALATSIE is a curator based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
PDP: Public Display of Professionalism
Patricia Margarita Hernandez
These gifs are part of an ad campaign for PDP (Public Display of Professionalism), a transdisciplinary think tank a think tank run by Patricia Margarita Hernandez, Domingo Castillo, Natalia Zuluaga, and Alan Gutierrez. Embedded in Miami’s Design District, it is a site for collective thought, discourse, knowledge exchange, and production. The projects that PDP undertakes question the ways in which Miami’s image, financial capital, and information flows generate new “creative” business models, neighborhood redevelopments, and high-end retail centers, all of which exploit a particular mode of relaxed tropicality.
PATRICIA MARGARITA HERNANDEZ is a curator, researcher, and producer of contemporary art based in Miami.
THE EXHIBITION WHISPERER
Mahan Moalemi in conversation with Theo Cook
As contemporary art’s affair with image-sharing technologies and its desire to emulate the image-driven ecology of fashion become more and more evident, technology is rapidly and radically changing what it means both to see art and to put on exhibitions. Mahan Moalemi talks to Theo Cook – the invisible hand behind the artist-run project space Auto Italia South East in London, about what goes on behind the scenes, from preplanning to postproduction.
After a foundation course in lens-based media, Theo Cook enrolled in Camberwell College of Arts to study fine art photography. At the end of his second year at school, he started working as an assistant with commercial and still life photographers, and decided not to go back to complete his degree. Barely a decade later, he has a portfolio of commercial work for Loewe, Valentino, Prada and David Morris, and has worked on Hollywood film productions and British TV commercials.
Alongside such projects, Theo also works at Auto Italia South East alongside the team of Kate Cooper, Marianne Forrest, Marleen Boschen and Edward Gillman, where his remit includes producing a representative body of images to document an exhibition or project. The most basic unit of such images is the installation shot, but Theo says: “this whole idea of installation shot is kind of boring.” A fundamental question has become “whether and how an image truthfully represents an exhibition is important at all”. Instead, Theo sees his work as both a translation and expansion of the act of exhibition – consciously mapping “the trajectory of a … project by how it’s represented in images.”
At the packed opening of Metahaven’s “Information Skies” at Auto Italia’s new location in East London this past October, Theo shared an anecdote about Pascal Dangin, the photo-retoucher of choice for fashion photographer royalty. He is known as “the photo whisperer”, and, Theo tells me, anticipated the emergent interrelation between camera and computer in the 90s, when he showed his work to clients on colour- and contrast-calibrated monitors rather than photographic proofs. Part of the new landscape of contemporary art is that exhibition spaces themselves exist within and form part of a networked ecology of images.
Today, Theo’s trading of art studies for technical training a decade ago seems a wise anticipatory move that has coincided with macro-shifts and the restructuring of hierarchies within the creative industries over the last decade. Tech-sector work practices have infiltrated the creative sphere, and the visionary authority of the singular artist-creative has been overshadowed by a range of collaborative technical functions, from the administrative to the algorithmic.
An installation shot may appear as if abruptly captured in the flick of a shutter, but there are calculated considerations lying under the surface. “I usually take a few hundred shots and bring them down to one or two,” he says. “The more that you shoot the more elements you have to work with in postproduction, as some of the images are heavily retouched after… if you can’t get everything in one frame, you need to stitch lots of images and fake a wide angle. Also if you’re shooting a projection in the room, you need multiple exposures to balance the different elements afterwards.” For Theo, such images should not serve as a proxy for a visitor wanting to move through a space on an optical journey. Instead he “thinks not of a flipbook but a single image to create a successful representative image for a project, it has to stand as singular.”
Images thus give exhibitions a parallel yet distinct life in a different experiential economy. It is hard to tell which aspect of an exhibition complex is hosting the other and which is living off the other, symbiotically or parasitically. The exhibition that inaugurated Auto Italia’s new space in June 2016, “Hailweed”, revolved around the notions of parasite and host, with contributions from the Research Center for Proxy Politics, Aimar Arriola, Syria Mobile Film Festival, Suzanne Treister.
Theo produced bespoke images of the show that were featured in a profile of Auto Italia in i-D magazine. Responding to the aesthetic language of the fashion almanac, he contrasted a few straightforward exhibition views with close-ups of the walls on which highly graphic vinyl marks were layered. These shots illustrate the contiguous materiality of clean-cut digital line drawings, while revealing the institutional flesh in surgical detail. The surfaces that are usually rendered so silky and subtle by installation shots are exposed as imperfect up-close, with uneven surfaces and slapdash painted corners.
This was not Theo’s first attempt at subverting the documentary purpose of the image through the graphic and the digital. Auto Italia’s 2015 show “On Coping” started out from the shape of a billboard in Johannesburg to become a shape-shifting durational project. It became a two-minute animation for a show in Bologna, then a group exhibition in Liverpool, a performative lecture series in Nottingham, and finally a sixteen-page piece with eight images in Sleek magazine, for which Theo worked exclusively in CGI.
Over his career, as the technology of image production has shifted, Theo’s technical expertise too has shifted from 2D image retouching to 3D rendering. What does this industrial shift from 2D retouching to 3D generation offer beyond a more purely graphic visuality? The effects are twofold. First is an expansion of space into parallel spaces. In the run up to Metahaven’s exhibition, Theo made digital models of Auto Italia’s space so that placements and lighting configurations for “Information Skies” could be tested out without the artists and curators needing to be physically in the space.
Second is a reconfiguring of time itself. While documentation used to happen after the fact, it can now pre-empt an event through 3D simulations. Given that the exhibitions are based on these image-plans, such optimized renders can themselves serve as better documentation than actual photographs (search for the results via #autoitalia and #metahaven). “SketchUp models can help because they do get very sophisticated, so then it’s not really that much work to stick in some lighting and texture and produce a fully rendered image of a show. I don’t know whether that is necessary, if it is a case of faking or something like that, but what is certain is that it’s totally possible.” Following Theo’s logic, it is thus already feasible to generate and distribute images of an exhibition that may never take place. Perfectly incorporating the spectral space between the no longer and the not yet, exhibition views might soon not only haunt us from the past but arrive from the future too – whispers detached from the trajectories of a voice.
MAHAN MOALEMI studies Curatorial/Knowledge at Goldsmiths, University of London. He recently started blogging on runovers.blogspot.com
The Young Curators Workshop was organised by Maurin Dietrich and Krisztina Hunya. The projects published as part of Spike X YCW were co-edited by Dan Meththananda.
Click here for part 1.