At the moment I’m giving this blog a rest mainly cos of the awful formatting and small images.
Instead I’ll be using my other blog, at
At the moment I’m giving this blog a rest mainly cos of the awful formatting and small images.
Instead I’ll be using my other blog, at
So, straight in with this one as it’s meant to be a part 2; I left off on the exploding-head, too much stuff, too little time feeling that the limitless flows of cyberspace inflict on our tender, over-worked souls.
It’s not just that our brains strain to compute the rivers of info, but the fear, perhaps, that we too have become bits of digital debris on the stage of social media and are thus liable to get lost in the landfill. As anyone who has advertised on the web knows, stayin’ alive is all about visibility in the attention economy; except this time, the product is you. How do you perform your product for public consumption? And who’s listening?
Attention scarcity, is, as Rob Horning puts it in a fantastic blog post about microfame, “a matter of TMI, which has an obvious connection to some of the more salient practices of microcelebrity: confessional writing, oversharing […] exhibitionism, the New Sincerity, and so on.” In other words, TMI in the sense of gross or overly personal pics, or vomiting your heartbreak all over FB, is linked to the general TMI avalanche the internet represents; there’s just so much crap out there vying for a sliver of our attention, that we must shout louder, or more embarrassingly, than everyone else to be seen, and thus validated as existing, connected beings.
Or as he puts it, these modes of self-display “reflect the possibility of a life lived merely to confess it, to share it on social media”, where intimate, private moments become tangible currency; the more outrageous, the more it gets noticed.
Not that this is anything new; reality TV cultivated- and depended on- this mode of celebrity/ infamy via public debasement (or at least exhibitionism). Except now it’s our friends, peers, family and colleagues whom we both watch and are watched by; we are the ‘microcelebrities’. From famous for 15 minutes, to famous to 15 people, to microfamous to 1500 people, perhaps.
The pursuit of microfame, predicated particularly on self-presentation to those who don’t already know you well, seems particularly pertinent to artists, for whom labour is, as Sven Luttken puts it, ‘marked by the inability to distinguish between labour and leisure, […] working hours and free time, performance and life’. Within social media, the artist’s public profile is manifested not simply through traditional signifiers of ‘work’- their videos, photos, invites to shows, press, etc- but also, crucially, through the status accorded by their connectedness to particular social groupings, i.e. their ‘non-work’ life. Again, IRL, this echoes the casting of artists- not just their work- as cover stars for mags like Art Review, or life-styley photo shoots allowing glimpses of their ‘real’ life.
In a collectively written essay called Club Kids: the social life of artists on Facebook’, the authors suggest that group exhibitions (especially online ones) function to forge publicly-paraded links between artists and curators, who simultaneously promote each other so that “the strongest ties artworks in today’s group shows often share are the Mutual Friends the artists have rather than the work itself”. These connections are further bolstered by the strategic tagging of party pics which are posted on FB for their audiences to digest.
Apart from cynical careerism and supporting the argument that labour and leisure are indistinguishable- no such thing as down-time, every moment can be instrumentalised- what this suggests is that the party-posturing and connectivity is just as important as the ‘real’ work, or that the public performance for a FB audience is the ‘real’ work.
Boris Groys has argued that autopoetics, or ‘the production of one’s own public self’ is key in the age of social media, where every public persona- not limited to politicians, celebs- is also a commodity. What the ‘Club Kids’ are flirting with then, is becoming just profiles, no work; ‘artists without art’, as they put it. Or as John Kelsey suggests, ‘the figure of the artist herself dematerialises, become a profile- her most abstract work being herself or her own connectivity.”
Can artists work with this profile, not just for instrumental ends (fame!), but to destabilise/ critique it…and if so, how will the market commodify this 2.0 version of dematierialisation?
In my last post, over a year ago, I suggested that once you start getting paid to write your personal blog goes up in smoke, which is partly my excuse for shirking. Then again it could have something to do with starting an MRes (in my second year now), reliving my ‘second youth’ (winding down due to the previous point) and leaving the country every five minutes.
A year on, however, and I’m still banging on about the same things, but with some new voices added in for variety. For example, where has Franco Berardi (aka Bifo- yes, even theorists have street names these days) been all my life? His book Soul At Work has had me grinning like a fool, which is ironic given that one of his areas of research is the societal psychopathology of panic and depression, two of my favourite things (evidenced by my Life in AdWords project).
Developing the work of Alan Eherenberg’s wonderfully titled book, The Fatigue of Being Oneself, which outlines depression as a pathology with a strong social content directly linked to pervasive competition, Bifo describes depression as being “deeply connected to the ideology of self-realisation and the happiness imperative”.
Zizek has described this imperative of happiness-first ‘tolerant hedonism’, as emblematic of the what Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s call The New Spirit of Capitalism, a revivified capitalism which ‘triumphantly appropriated (the) anti-hierarchical rhetoric of ‘68, presenting itself as a successful libertarian revolt against the oppressive social organizations of corporate capitalism’.
Fulfillment and self-realization is no longer optional in a post-‘68 capitalism which privileges the paramount importance of being happy; what started out as a countercultural antagonism to the stultifying effects of Taylorist managerial/ corporate culture culminates now in a burden, another ‘thing-to-do’: become ourselves, which is understood as become our happy selves.
It transpires that this chimera of selfhood requires work, effort and persistence (hence the fatigue) and a whole industry is geared towards the never-ending DIY project of discovering, and being oneself.
A panoply of tools, tinctures and instruments promise to fill the cracks in our hearts, blast away unhelpful patterns and gloss over our lackluster surface to deliver the self we could be, the self we truly are, underneath all this crap. It’s a paradoxical quest for self-betterment that promises to deliver the self we already ‘really’ are.
And there is so much work to do on this soul: self-help books for everything from time management to heartbreak, meditation for stress, exercise and raw veg diets for health, therapy for head-fucks, networking for status, and so on and on in a spinning top of endless responsibility for one’s self.
Summed up nicely by the slogan (well, and the existence) of Psychologies magazine, Know More, Grow More, this drive for self-improvement also involves a stupendous amount of knowledge accumulation/ sifting. In an attention economy of ever-diminishing time, and ever-increasing speed and volumes of information, this creates yet more psychic stress: what the hell do you fix first? Moreover, failure to achieve this mythical state of self-realization leads to a drop in motivation, where, as Ehrenberg puts it, the depressive individuals are “not up to the task, they are tired of having to become themselves”.
Naturally the info-overload enabled by ever-increasing speeds of connection info isn’t confined to the self-DIY project; it’s a more wide-spread affliction. As Bifo points out, cybertime is limited to human capabilities, which has only a finite quantity of attention to share out, in contrast to the unbounded space of cyberspace, whose speed can accelerate indefinitely, expanding without limits into galaxies of infodust.
Once the limit of cybertime is breached, a cracking commences, where ‘we collapse under the stress/ pressure of overproduction/ hyper-productivity’, unable to accommodate the assaults from the avalanche of attention-demanding goods. The exploding heads in Cronenberg’s Scanners, borne in the early years of the mediafication of everyday life, seem a presciently fitting visual accompaniment.
Speaking of limits, as usual I’ve reached the word count just as I was starting to get excited (or when my head was about to explode, same thing), so I’ll continue this in a ‘part 2’. Sometime next year, probably…
Scanners head explosion SLO MO
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, so apologies in advance if this is a bit rusty. I remember Mark Fisher saying that depression is a great instigator of the desire to write blogs, a theory I would tend to agree with, though he didn’t explain what urges you to stop. Are we to take his decrease in output to mean ‘good’ mental health has returned? Or just that he’s getting so many gigs these days, he doesn’t need to write for free? (and good on him, obviously, I’m not hating). Maybe being paid now and then helps lift depression as well.
Speaking of depression, the world economy is becoming a very confusing place to live in, particularly if you happen to live in a country currently at the centre (or epicentre, to use a fittingly sensationalist, seismological term) of the trouble, i.e. Greece. That status is confusing enough as it is, since Greece is normally referred to as ‘peripheral’ in terms of the EU economy, but somehow not peripheral enough to be a bit player in the imminent collapse of something, perhaps everything.
Confusion mounts as the situation fluctuates daily- one day everything is fine and the markets are soothed with a dose of rescue packages, next everything is doomed and Greece, along with the whole EURO project, is going straight to Hades (unless its on strike). One of the issues is how to make sense of the deluge of contradictory information that continuously rains down, trying to separate op-eds from ‘facts’, and the inability to have perspective of the bigger picture when drowning in all this crap.
This preamble about parsing information is partly what I had been thinking about following the Kenny Goldsmith and Craig Dworkin talk on Friday at the Whitechapel. Kenny expounded some of his usual ideas around uncreative writing and conceptual poetry, but what caught my attention was the idea of ‘filtering’, whereby, in a world gorged on info-mountains of (mostly useless) stuff, the role of the artist has shifted away from creating and towards filtering.
This is hardly new (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as I’m sure Mssrs G & D would agree) since Bourriaud has sketched a pretty similar job description for today’s artists. The term he coined is semionauts, who traverse the info-plane of corporate logos, media images, urban signs and administrative procedures which populate our everyday lives, and claims that by “making them materials from which they compose their works, artists underscore their arbitrary, conventional and ideological dimension’.
He posits this as a political project, since via this transformation of apparently solid objects/ signs into trembling, fragile constructions, ‘precariousness is introduced into the system of representations’. I wonder what Marx would think. If artists are (cod) philosophers, maybe the point is now to change the world through interpreting it?
Anyway back to Goldsmith and the notion of filtering. As he said, in a world of re-tweets, re-posts, link-sharing and so on, being able to ‘point to’ what’s hot and happening is where value lies now. And the ability to point follows from a capacity to consume and process information efficiently and effectively, as well as having something akin to taste.
Like going shopping at charity shops or TK Maxx, some people can do this better than others (I happen to be a pro at the latter); but either way, this ability to sort, filter and re-communicate efficiently is the skill worth having. As the triumph of Google would attest to, I suppose.
I am now thinking about Baldessari’s ‘Commissioned Paintings’, a response to painter Al Held’s barb: “All conceptual art is just pointing at things.” So maybe its now about pointing at patterns, flows and connections, rather than concrete things and ideas. Fluidity replaces solidity, processes replace objects and verbs become nouns (and vice versa).
Steven Poole cites this interchangeability of verbs for nouns as a variant of ‘Unspeak’ in his blog (see I’m doing it too…) which brilliantly records the abuses of language in the name of ideological agendas, everything from management-speak to political speeches and fashion blogs. To quote Nina Power: ‘nouns, like material products, appear to be out of fashion’.
Last week I was in Folkestone, doing a collaborative micro-residency with artist and writer Sydney Hart at LOW&HIGH interdisciplinary platform. On the last day of the project (called ‘Vacant Value’) we presented some work in progress, showing videos and talking with plenty of interjections from the audience who helped keep things lively and conversational. I showed my video of ‘research’ while explaining some of the ideas behind it, mainly visibility and resolution as value systems and how they relate to Folkestone.
In my video, I capture men – and it was only men- wearing high-vis jackets, while wearing one myself. This alluded to our first presentation (on day one of the residency), which was delivered wearing high vis and touched on the idea of construction, especially of idealised spaces. For example the artist residency as an idealised space for creativity; nature as an idealised space beyond commodification; and regeneration through culture as the idealised mode of urbansiation.
This last one is especially relevant to Folkestone, which appears to be attempting the Hoxton effect on speed, thanks to a local organization, the Creative Foundation, which buys out, does up and rents out spaces on the cheap for creative businesses. This foundation, keen on regenerating the town, is also behind the Triennial- opening this weekend- suggesting they have read the likes of Richard Florida, who asserts that the cities that thrive- economically, culturally and in terms of population- are the ones that can attract and keep what he terms the creative class: ‘a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend’. This all gives Folkestone an air of ‘in construction’- much like an artist ‘emerging’, the town has a feeling of being almost there: full of potential (to put a positive spin on it) or else in limbo, with fully ‘established’ status tantalisingly out of reach.
Magnifying this atmosphere of anticipation was the pre-Triennial buzz, which provided plenty of hi-vis jackets for me to film as there was so much building going on: scaffolds came down; paint went on, a fountain was installed. Wearing the vest I was attempting to perform some of the anxiety around visibility, which is an issue for both artists and towns like Folkestone- how to be, and stay visible, or put differently, how to attract and retain attention. This topic has been hotly debated in recent years, especially through books like The attention economy, by Thomas H. Davenport, John C. Beck. Put simply attention is a commodity, and one that is in scarce supply: everything is vying for your attention, but as its limited, not everyone can get it and those who get maximum attention are at the top of the hierarchy. They quote Georg Frank, writing back in 1999, who claims prominence is what all present-day elites have in common; and prominence is simply the ‘status of being a major earner of attention’. Of course the problem is that everybody’s doing it; just like the high vis jackets, however bright and visible those jackets are, the individual wearers get lost, subsumed into the neon collective.
Again this relates tenuously to places like Folkestone, and its neighbour (ish) Margate (often referred to as the empty shop capital of England)- both towns are banking on culture as a tool of regeneration, with the Turner Contemporary seemingly built for (only?) this reason. If increasing numbers of cities continue to favour culture as a tool for attracting and retaining attention- of high-class tourists, creatives, as well as investors and businesses- and becoming visible on the global scene, won’t the individual cities just disappear? If everywhere has a biennale/ shiny new museum in the future, then any cachet originally conferred upon the town is diminished.
Hou Hanru (original supercurator with 20 biennales under his belt), quoted in a great article questioning the ‘point’ of biennales in the Art Newspaper, doesn’t agree. Instead of saturation leading to biennale-fatigue, he believes that as long as urbanisation continues, so will they: “There are now 300 biennales around the world and everyone is trying to find a new format or new ideas. And this is only the beginning.” You have been warned.
Research video from Folkestone
Having visited my first Literature Festival, in Norway, I’ve been thinking more about value and the different ways in which it accrues in the art and poetry worlds. One thing that struck me was the importance of delivery in poetry. Regardless of content- which I mostly couldn’t understand- it was clear that intonation, timing and projection were desirable attributes, meaning that some performances were riveting even in a foreign language. For example Paal Bjelke Andersen, rapid-firing a list of nouns taken from New Year’s speeches of Scandinavian prime ministers; and Christian BÃ¶k where the delivery was inseparable from the content, at least when reading sound poems (including one by Kurt Schwitters). His performance was exciting, funny and verging on terrifying, and as a viewer I appreciated the effort made to convey the tonal discrepancies and variations in volume and intonation.
Perhaps it’s the question of the importance of the ‘good performance’ that differs in the art and moving-image context, where there is something almost suspect about it, suggesting too much of a desire to please, or to be ‘professional’, or to entertain the audience. While I can’t find any quotes to corroborate the idea, Peter Gidal immediately came to mind; he would probably claim that it’s not the avant-garde filmmakers’ job to entertain and if the viewer wants entertainment, they have Hollywood.
I’m sure some would accuse ‘video art’ as a genre of adhering to the boring = ‘good’, engaging = ‘bad’ formula. This situation was parodied as far back as 1971 by John Baldessari with his video “I will not make any more boring art”, a self-deprecatingly knowing proposition which humorously and intentionally undermines its title. Perhaps its also associated with the idea of performance as fulfilling some sort of neo-liberal agenda- we perform well, we are flexible and adaptable, we are good for the economy. Artists like to resist this idea- or maybe that’s just me.
Another thing is the hoary old question of originality which plagues poetry, it would seem, even more so than it does art. I leafed through Marjorie Perloff’s Unoriginal Genius while at the festival, and read a chapter on poet Kenneth Goldsmith, which points out that the poetry world is still catching up with aesthetic concepts- such as appropriation, cut and paste, plagiarism- formulated in the visual arts decades ago. These aesthetic concepts are championed by a new breed of conceptual poets, like Bok, Caroline Bergvall, who re-use found language, championing what Goldsmith calls ‘uncreative writing’.
Crucially he also name-checks Conceptual Art, and Sol Le Witt, in both the title of his manifesto- Paragraphs on Conceptual Writing- and in its final statement: “the idea is a machine that makes the text”. As with Le Witt’s paragraphs, ‘execution is a perfunctory affair’; and according to him, the reader need not even bother with the actual task of reading a book such as Traffic (2007), which is billed a straight transcription of traffic reports from one of New York’s ‘jam cams’.
Its definitely boring, an attribute normally anathema to poets that Goldsmith gleefully embraces, proclaiming himself the most boring writer working today. Boring, and by his own admission, completely unoriginal. So why is his work valued in a poetry community which is still attached, not just to ‘the word, but My Word’ (as he puts it)?
Perloff argues that on closely reading his work, the ‘straight’ transcription turns out to be a little bent- either through Oulipo-like constraints or by time elisions which help create a vaguely coherent narrative. Does this show that his so-called ‘uncreativity’ nevertheless exhibits some ingeniousness, thereby making him a genius, albeit one who uses/ processes unoriginal texts, as opposed to creating ones? Or maybe what is valued is the decision to undertake a writing project like that in the first place; the sheer mind-numbing boredom, and effort, involved in its execution, which echoes durational performance art strategies.
Or maybe in a nod to Warhol, whom Goldsmith greatly admires, its ingeniousness is precisely in savouring, instead of ignoring or complaining about, the excruciatingly mundane- but unavoidable- aspects of city living. By paying it some attention, traffic and its concomitant ‘unloved’, valueless language is transformed into something worth caring about.
Kenneth Goldsmith reads poetry at White House Poetry Night