Serpentine’s 2016 Miracle Marathon

Whilst reading David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous, I thought it would be beneficial for me to attend the Serpentine’s annual marathon talks, this year the subject was miracles. After reading Abram’s analysis of the ‘super natural’ I assumed that these talks would follow a similar rhetoric, that we have become so sheltered and separate from nature that even the most ordinary of natural events will be labelled ‘super natural’ because of our inability to control or fully understand them. The Serpentine talks on the Saturday that I attended included speakers such as Gilbert and George, Sophie Al-Maria and Christo of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and involved talks that not only addressed ‘miraculous’ nature but also unravelled the entirety of civilisation and the world in relation to the miracle.

Carina Namih spoke around the ideas of the Oracle, how it is part of human nature to look for a leader to guide us, the way in which we are now so invested in science and technology that we stop thinking for ourselves but how these two developments mean that our lives are more miraculous than ever. Namih was followed by Riccardo Sabatini who spoke about how science attempts to perfect humanity and makes the borders of a miracle, or what we find to be miraculous, much smaller.

Sophia Al-Maria still from ‘The Litany’ from solo show Black Friday at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Sophia Al-Maria’s talk had very pessimistic undertones, of which I could completely relate to. Al-Maria started by announcing that miracles do not exist, because no miracle can get us out of this situation, she went on to describe her panic attacks when realising the vanishing future ending in the upcoming catastrophe but also maintained that we should continue to look into the face of fear and break out of all of these traps. All of these extremely personal, emotional responses echo my own pessimistic relationship with the future. I also found Al-Maria’s description of her most recent solo show in the U.S ‘Black Friday’ of interest as she spoke about her analysis of how the effect of shopping mall architecture of the shopping mall echoes that of the catherderal and other religious architectures, evoking feelings of both safety and inferiority. This has led me to think about how we worship science in a lot of ways, it is the truth that we believe and follow, and all of the products that we buy and treasure have come out of scientific research, experimentation etc. it is science that has totally infiltrated our lives.

Jussi Parikka showed the video work ‘White Mountain’ by Emma Charles in order to demonstrate and analyse how cold war architectures are being transformed to house data centres. Parikka highlighted the fact that these architectures were designed to withstand apocalyptic bombs and now house digital secrets. It is always interesting to consider how ‘the cloud’ takes up physical space, but Parikka also spoke about how data always requires energy and how wifi has a sound (I often think about all the digital, man made frequencies that are passing through my material body at any given moment). This talk ended thinking about the ‘cult’ of doing things beyond human powers and how corporate engineering has replaced the magic and miracles of the natural world.

Kumi Naidoo’s speech was politically and emotionally invigorating. Naidoo made it clear that we must find ways of speaking about the current situation in a way that does not scare people to the point of immobilisation where they will only pray for a miracle instead of being active and participatory in effecting global change. Naidoo referenced Martin Luther Kings speech on Maladjustment to demonstrate the way in which we should feel about current events taking place, remarking that ‘it is a miracle that Donald Trump is potentially going to be president…it is a miracle that banks and bankers committed mass fraud… these are all unnatural events.’ After recounting the experience of his politically active youth in South Africa and the loss of a friend to activism Naidoo stressed an important message about how we should retaliate against these structures of society: ‘Do not give your life, but give the rest of your life.’ He also went on to say ‘don’t worry about the planet, the planet will continue without us, what we need is to adapt a mutually beneficial relationship to the earth. The technology exists, the need exists but the political will is letting us down.’ He left the audience with a list of what we need to effect global and productive change: ‘moral courage, scientific re-design and a shit load of miracles’ and lastly reminded us all that ‘Struggles are not sprints, they are marathons.’

These talks were very much discussions of the theoretical whereas Christo’s segment was purely focussed on his own work, of which I found incredible in scale of the projects achieved but his stubbornness to look outward of his own practice left me feeling a little patronised. On the other hand Gilbert and George’s performance of ‘FUCKOSOPHY FOR ALL’ was a source of much needed comic relief, but I was not sure if it was entirely relevant to the setting of the marathon as a whole. It was a great experience to be in the presence of a performance that undermines whist simultaneously liberates language, but at some points it felt a little awkward and out of place.

This series of talks was really beneficial for the development of my theoretical relationship to my subject and has helped me identify the ways in which my different areas of interest merge together into an all-encompassing context; the natural world, science, technology and revolution. Not only did these talks reflect my interest in these subject but have also motivated me to be active in this field of interest and artistic discourse, in a lot of ways this has validated my belief in what I am doing and the work that I plan to make.