How theorists and non-fiction writers are affecting my current practice and modes of thinking

With a lot of reflection over the summer months I have started to identify what it is that I want to create and be apart of. During this period I have found more joy in reading and writing than in looking and making, potentially highlighting my area of interest to pursue after this BA course. Several books which have been particularly influential on my current thought have been; David Abrams’ The Spell of the Sensuous (1996),Franco Bifo Beradi’s After the Future (2011) , Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), Richard Dawkin’s The Blind Watchmaker (1986), Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama (1973), Kurt Vonneguts’ The sirens of Titan and Alex Garlands’ The Beach (1996).

Abram’s recollection of his experiences with natural phenomena penned alongside analysis of Western cultures relationship with nature, and our reliance on understanding it through science, echoes my own thoughts exactly. It is this emotional way of receiving the world that I want to explore in my own work whilst also reflecting on how the current climate of sophisticated civilization makes this difficult, if not impossible.

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On the other hand the Marxist theorist Bifo’s collection of essays focuses on the Western economic climate of labour and capitalism. Although rather difficult to digest due to the complicated sentence structure and use of language, Bifo’s writing has been influential on my thoughts on how labour, cyber culture and capitalism function after 9/11, how these things historically came to be and the (negative) cognitive effect of this environment in which the sole focus is progress and technology on the Western world’s population, myself included.

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I plan to read more of Dawkins works in particular I think it is of importance for me to read the Selfish Gene, the book where Dawkins coins the term ‘Meme’. The Blind Watchmaker gave me the opportunity to marvel at the diversity of the natural world and learn more theories about how everything came to be. I also think it is important to think not only about physical evolution but also cultural evolution as anthropology is something I often think about in my own work. Although visually the natural world is usually exempt from my practice it is ultimately my curiosity and awe at it that is the backbone to everything I do, so I feel it is important for me to absorb all the ways of seeing it as possible.

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Wolfe’s gonzo journalism style has led me to experiment with a new stream of consciousness way of writing that has directly influenced my way of making work. It is this organisation of events along with the emotional style of Wolfe’s writing that I want to pursue within my own work, whether it be through writing, staging happenings or performances I am now more aware that I want to make work that focuses on emotions and experiences. It is also the backdrop of revolution on which the text plays out that made me fall in love page after page as I could feel the energy of exploration and community of that time flooding my senses, something that I have never experienced in my own culture.
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Then onto Non-fiction, I have always loved sci-fi and recently this has begun making more and more sense to my practice as they present the dystopian futures of humanity that I often imagine myself. Clarkes’ Rendezvous with Rama and Vonneguts’ The Sirens of Titan both explore the way in which AI would receive and interact with our planet earth. It is this distancing from our way of life that I think is really important to my work, to try and see our civilization from new perspectives is possibly the only way we can assess, as a community, if we are making the right decisions, not only for ourselves but for the planet as a whole.

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Quite opposed to these dystopian reads is Garlands’ modern depiction of Utopia; The Beach. In this novel Garland explores the contradictions of tourism, paradise, self-sufficient communities and Utopia. It is the blind faith and necessity of escape that the young people present that really spoke to me in this book that thrilled and shook me before bringing me back into a disappointing reality where all my hopes and dreams for a simplistic future disappeared. It is ultimately this frustration at my futile dream of an impossible Utopia that I feel has effected into my work.

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My current reading practice is relatively diverse, but this is something that I am not looking to change as I feel my interests lie in many places, and this only helps to fuel my writing and understanding of the world in which I am apart of. In the next months I plan to begin reading Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, texts by Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf, Manuel De Landas’ A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, James Lovelocks’ Gaia Hypothesis, Slavoj Zizeks’ Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours and W. G. Sebalds’ Rings of Saturn (along with any other books I pick up along the way).

140 per minute; Rave Culture and Art in 1990’s Poland – at Open’r music festival, Gdynia, Poland.

Referring to the beats in classic techno dance music belonging to 90’s cyber culture, this exhibition explores the relationship between politics, technology and art at the end of the 20th century. In his book ‘After the Future’ (2011) Italian theorist Franco Beradi (Bifo) refers to the 1900’s as ‘the century that trusted in the future’, but notes the negative shift in this belief starting in the final decades of the 20th century, ending with cyber culture in the 1990’s. Bifo describes cyber culture as a new type of utopia, one that differs from the utopia of progression and expansion imagined by the rest of the century;

“The Net is the utopia of an infinite, virtual space where countless trajectories of billions of intelligent agents meet and create their economic, cultural, and psychic reality.”

This too, reflects rave culture also taking place in 1990’s Poland where electronic music parties;

“began to appear in Poland together with the political system change in the early 90s, often voicing the naive, but nonetheless authentic optimism of opening up to the world, its civilizational and technological advancement.”

Bifo believes that the previously imagined utopia’s, so focused on economic and special growth, have caused the inevitability of environmental catastrophe, and pre empting it; our modern obsession with dystopia. This is embodied in the work of Janek Simon, whose work ‘Robot VJ mixing channels 1 and 2’ was included in the ‘140 beats per minute exhibition’. Simon’s practice strives for autonomy from our commodity dependant civilisation with works such as ‘Home made digital watch’ (2005), as well as works which physically predict the apocalypse such as ‘Slight Earth quake’ (2004) (a shaking glass of water) reflecting the importance of our own preparation for the end of the future.

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View of the “140 beats per minute” exhibition, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski   

Perhaps most efficient at transforming the viewer into the visual dimension of the 1990’s were the spatial installations by Andrzej Miastkowski; ‘That which appears everyday and makes itself’ (1997) and Piotr Wryzykowski; ‘Global Social Organism’ (1996). The first of which consisted of a black-lit room with walls decorated with small fragments of neon yellow, surrounding an intricately adorned shrine in the centre of the room. The added element of sound, a soothingly hypnotic pulse, (which was unfortunately rather drowned out by the wailings of Bastille taking place on the main stage at the time of my exhibition exploration) created a juxtaposition between the senses, a tension that mimics that of the 90’s rave culture; both stimulating and soothing, a comfort and a threat.

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Andrzej Miastkowski, Wspólnota Leeeżeć, “To, co widnieje każdego dnia i czyni się samo”, 1997, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

Wryzykowski’s installation consisted of a spinning disco ball in the centre of a black room, the lights of which reached into every corner of the installation. Considering the admirable number of Wryzykowski’s artistic and politically active successes, I feel as though this was a rather bland representation of a truly inspiring artist.

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Piotr Wyrzykowski “Globalny Społeczny Organizm”, 1996, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

Fortunately Wryzykowski’s greater achievements were showcased in ‘Test na Cyborga’ (Cyborg Test) (1996) by C.U.K.T, the Polish art collective he co-founded in 1995. This piece was the personal highlight of the exhibition for me, a documentation of a happening performed by both the collective and the general public. C.U.K.T set up raves open to everyone willing to exchange information about their weight and size of their body, they then had a number relating to this information branded onto their left hand with permanent marker, and had this hand photocopied. A selection of these photocopies were shown alongside the contract filled out by the rave goer and three screens documenting this process. For me, this trade between experience and personal information predicts and reflects the workings of modern social media, and poses the question; why do we perceive things as ‘free’ only if we are not exchanging money for it. With further research into this collective and their activism, (in particular their creation of Wictoria Cukt, a virtual presidential candidate for the 2001 Polish election that had the potential to electrically embody all of the views of all of the people using the infinite space of the internet), I realised that this collective’s core beliefs are in fact very close to my own. Their anti-institutional attitude puts life at the forefront of activity, not art, something I believe is sorely missing from the practices that surround me in 2016 Britain.

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C.U.K.T, “Test na cyborga” (fragment), Warsaw, Zielona Góra, Düsseldorf, 1995, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

In all, this exhibition remained faithful to the works on display, being confined to their specific timescale was vital for the audience to understand the anthropological significance of the works, which I sometimes feel can be lost with decade specific exhibitions. The midst of Poland’s biggest music festival was the perfect setting for this educational exhibition, although afterwards I would have been quite partial to a bit of hard core techno music, of which was lacking at the festival as Bastille was STILL playing, so in a way this exhibition commented on it’s location itself – the commercialized world of music. Ultimately the selection of works on show walked me through the setting of 90’s culture that I had read about in ‘After the Future’, visually demonstrating those feelings of scepticism and celebration prior to Y2K.