A contemporary artist (or a collective, however long that 21st c iteration may last, like an Artforum x Entourage nightmare) is required to find a rhetorical anchor in this McLuhanian pleasuredome, This Miserable Information Age. Drolly opportunistic and thirsty for the coy coattails of interest capita, what sharpens the praxial teeth yet to bite? The compression and speed of historical information shared without context, self-expression null counter-culture vomit fog, #fakenews and the rest pulsed through a febrile internet, harnessed to weaponise all who attempt to interlocute simultaneous historicisation and dissemination. Gone are the 1.0 halcyon days before all net dwellers were obsessed with branding themselves, innocence lost as progress meta-marches downward. Now a gloam of tiny art blogger pictures orbit the arc of your electro-piss and a throttling sensation of non-hierarchical competition builds in the crater behind the place where a sensation of ‘heart’ usually would be. Those wielding an armament of cottage-industry signcomms are thus qualified for their ironic-passive usurpations, slipping behind glossy screens and printed page, all between dumb luxury ads and demonic algorithmically smart tracking ads. Speculative criticism of a press release, an overboiled sci-fi fanfiction, a child rambling a freeform phantasy to its parent about the properties of a cartoon fruit. But it situates your pre-emptive reception to the visual art in some critical locus, capitalism and lifestyle, you know the dril(l) by now. //
PART 1: HOW TO HARNESS THE POWER OF THIRSTY RANDOS TO PLATFORM YOUR Q&A
Labour doesn’t denote worth, but are we not the worthwhile product of our own emotional labour? Documenting our own wanderlust, parking overt privileges in shadow until maybe a bad instagram story presents the wretched meat of our vile classism to the furies with online poisoning. So smart, so aloof, no need to explain what the complexities are beyond asking questions that make it complex. What kind of fresh bullshit that is, riding a wave of remote, soylent liberal screengazing like a weasel clinging to a log going down a waterfall. Blockchain and art theory has only existed for as long as I discovered it on conservative woke twitter, the ontological fire burns hotter and faster with trash in it, as opposed to wood or coal idk. Whatever it is, it (should) accumulate… and multiplication of anything often turns it into art*. Non-linear ascent up a career ladder is a childlike dream, parallel to the dream of cumulative labour building to a level of expert proficiency. Progress, right? Follower numbers increase, footnotes and fantrolls. Art school contributes to this unwieldy bildungsroman, it is just one perspective that is hard to escape and grafted with willingness to the increasingly leisure-coated ponces carving out practice-plateaus and hiding their nuevo-riche shame by “outwardly noticing” how everything is a despairing ruin of media-absorbed consumer fetish. What more can be done? Overcooked smug takes on social politics and technological infractions on western concepts of this/that is a rote behavioural pattern of libertarian art bros, made possible because… is that not the function of the artist in late-capitalism beyond providing an interesting form of asset trading and takes? Or the homework of the artist, maybe. It’s the perfect web strewn with droplets of irony toxin, because the most impressive facet of cultural capitalism is how it subsumes elements critical of it — so the radical art is enabled by what it ideologically opposes *adam curtis voice* and so it removes the tooth and nail. But ther is always the “democratic webspace” to fuckspose “data” as “natural resource” despite the fact that data isn’t oil or corn (but abstracted it totally is, henlooooo). To give examples would be to enter our names on even more shitlists because how dare we shit on art worms just trying to compost the ontological marine snow in this precarious world. But the more unstable an industry becomes, esp the culture industry, the more it relies on sympathy from the ruling classes. They seem to like to hear about made up science like “expanded non-neuronal intelligence in technology and nature” which is a horrible fetid salad of words that only someone who has bashed themselves in the face with Adventures of the Dialectic before instagramming a picture of their studio with gentle indirect sunlight caressing material spattered shelving units and ferns atop tressel desks. Tristan and Isolde, meet Athroposcenester and Brometheus. They can help you master the concrete poetry of the humblebrag. Their zero books publication is going to be a hit, despite being as thin as the filling of a heartburn inducing dry as fuck frieze art fair £8 gruel’s bakery sandwich.
But you can’t just do whatever you like, because a press release will have trouble with anything more than “familiarity subverted into a gateway to the uncanny which produces x type of realisations or experiences” method. Gotta make a choice, the more you know thyself the more you can say with precision vitriol that whom’st criticises mine work is just wrong and doesn’t understand, or didn’t read it. Choices have palm fronded out to doughy indecision coupled with renaissance network fever. Gone are the times when your Diablo II character decision as a Necromancer permanently forged your virtual hellspawn slaying proxy self with inept technical proficiencies and a constitution that would quite easily be destroyed by a Chipotle burrito, let alone a fictional satanic minion. Built for sordid conjuration and unpaid-intern-as-bodyguard questing, the Necromancer class is quite a lot like the moron at art school who spends £10k on a giant 3D print for their degree show. Playing Diablo II in the style of a warrior with the Necromancer class picked instead of an actual Warrior would yield unrelenting setbacks. The game would turn into a grueling process of buttressing your statistical shortcomings to make it through dungeons alive, the grinding chore of it would remove all risk/reward gratification of interactive escapism. Hang on, this sounds like a praxis to blanket a quadrupally removed and idiotically cultivated hatchet job! Let’s run with it!
After the Role-Playing Videogame formal methodology of unflexible character roles floated into the parthenon of retrograde, with 2D sprites and fixed isometric viewpoints a thing of the past, the faux-mythic fantasy The Elder Scrolls 4: Skyrim embodied a millennial aspirational idea about choice — albeit one with compulsory dragon shouting bullshit. Instead of an irrevocable career decision at the genesis of your character, Skyrim instead gave you the option of becoming anything and everything, the virtual proficiency of x bestowed by utilisation of x. Starting out shit at everything (haha just like all artists nowadays am i rite?), the more you swing your blade at fiends the more proficient you become at swordplay, thus your “class” is formed au naturale with the weak spots defined by your negligence to whatever it is you don’t do enough. Though it doesn’t confine you to dueling goblin arseholes within a strict methodology, it posits the new opportunity to ‘fix’ your lesser-developed aspects with a behemoth GRIND [unenjoyable chore time spent in virtual world]. Toil with every confrontational method for long enough and your draconid terminator will be a fucking apex polymath. As the old turn-of-the-age Diablo 2 Necromancer, all you could get really good at is the predetermined path of your class. Reinforcement of Brave New World-style policies or just adherent to conservative fantasy archetypes, pick an answer and post it with a cheque payable to Arthur Shitbeard, PO BOX nearest bin. Omitting MMOs from this dumb take because it’s convenient plus I never fucked with that shit. Anyway, back to IRL, artists can offset their unpolished skills by paying a fabricator or technician to do it for them. This cheeky little sleight of hand appears often at MA degree shows, where someone has paid for a rigged animation model of something or made an obvious instagram thirst trap. It’s all fine because having studio assistants is a hallmark the prismatic career ladder, the money paid is more than just for labour, it’s to waiver their claim on authorship. Microtransactions in videogames now ghost this practice by offering the results of digital simulation toil in exchange for actual real life money, which is batshit insane but if you can get people to buy things that don’t exist then you’re really on to something. Love that hustle.
If you’re already familiar with the specific nerdy diversions of role-playing videogames, then that explanation will not have been edifying in the slightest, a budget fast food menu item of thing-difference-time-noticing with a moat of pontification. Sap Jerry Seinfeld his incredulous observation of social mores and hamfist that praxis through to high art immerso-critique* How do you enjoy your fantasy time that means nothing except a phantom sense of drip-feed brainstem reward? Condescending shithawk!
When your choice of formally classed yet always potentially classless artist trajectory is positioned, the world unzips the trouser fly of its guilt sodden post-modernist narratives and reveals to you a hyper-engorged valve cluster of content. Cultural teats to suckle from. //
Obviously I’ve conveniently picked two RPG videogames to contrast against each other as some example of toxic millennial philosophy, ignoring the many other similar titles that have rigid class personas (Dragon Age) and ones that do not (Bloodborne). The emergence of the flexi-class RPG videogame does not actually represent some techno-libertarian drift within interactive entertainment but it could be positioned as such, especially when it tickles the woke valve, especially when it is a convenient paste to drywall the kitchen ready to heat up the takes. It feels vaguely relatable because it chips off some credibility from the oft-circulated sentiment that the post-boomer generation were sold a lie, as multiple economic and sovereign crises dispensed with optimism, replaced with insidious entrepreneurialism. A botulism of idpol, dried and added to whatever hunk of bread you’ll knead out with your arse cheeks for AQNB. But the bread can’t be too basic, like a screed on how art competition fees are bad. Everyone knows paying £10+ to be considered by some jury of metropolitan artworld socialites and politically dodgy gallerist bourgeoise to be in some exhibition or publication nobody asked for, is bad. Whitechapel does it every year, despite being arts council funded, and people flock to it under the assumption that paying to be ‘considered’ by a jury is more pious than going to ladbrokes. These kind of fuckrat cabbage shits would be the first to pull the career ladder up after them, the abyssal void starlight of a fake meritocracy, the free market. See there, a particular gripe about exploitative ponzi schemes can open the gateway to a utopia of moaning. Everything you see is good, because the optimising hand of the market has picked it. You see nothing bad, because the market just ignores it. Nothing in an art prize can be bad, then, ideologically. It’s good content, because it has been judged by those in positions of authority within that system. They deserve to be there by just being there, as any hustle to reach positions above ‘scrambling peon’ or ‘hetty douglas’ is respectable. This is all fine, because zombie capitalism has forced it upon us and the only way out is to game the system. Then the almost Seinfeldian luxury of simultaneously occupying booths in art fairs funded by banks that launder money for russian mafia AND an esteemed position in cultural quarters as a politically charged radical voice, it is yours. If it is achieved, it is relevant, your artreview editorial intern m8s will come wafting round like the smell of wine vomit on a tube seat. Sorry, u probs only take ubers, uhhh the smell of a fresh zephyr out of a toyota prius air conditioning unit. It is perfectly fine to be a voice against artist-led activism but yet chair a symposium on activism and art. Responsible debate against the machine, please. Nothing too much that might cause the gears of my self-interest to seize up and disconnect from the status quo.
BUT BACK TO THE MATTER AT HAND, THE TEATS, THE VALVES OF THE CONTENT! Pick as many as you like, stranger. One very engorged teat, for the purposes of this screed to focus on, involves the methodology of ‘response via shared phenomena’, distilled right from the sac. Producing a malleable liquor of an ‘immersive’ something or other and primed to convey an inchoate sensorial prick tease of a notion, the mechanistic process of psychological delivery built into a sedimented layer of visual activations. That’s how the fuckers would like to explain it, as if linguistic density clads the subject in limpet tooth armour. The experiential method of making art installations ‘respond’ to technology in a non-functional manner is often achieved by directly referencing corporate design psychology, or mundane consumerist visual archetypes. Sometimes there is an anarchic, gestural addition to intra-usurp the millennial stratagem, but done with a considerate soft gloss so ya know it’s subtle n vry thoughtful. The ‘product’ of such birthing is an agency that expounds/challenges/whatever the uncanny of said implementations in work/home relations. Smartphones in bed, tech giants creeping into your social spaces and leisure time by device usage — that kind of thing. Charging your phone being one ubiquitous activity that is simultaneously domestic but performed in many social spaces set up for that kind of group-loner computing, home-office hybrid lounge beyond the home. These observations are quotidian, platitudinous — they are supposedly achieved by the digestion of techno-socio-politico agents and justified by the excreta and accompanying explanations thereof. Despite positioning as arch rebellious bizarro world infraction of our cultural demonosity, this genre of art enviro-experience is super conservative. White guys sitting around in residencies funded by weird private money, doing some project about stock photos and ironic e-commerce DIS-lite because of some personal brand exercise, fuck knows why, but a random art blogger intern will interview them and through the ignis fatuus of online artpointscoring et al. all that is liquid crystal melts into the pit of your reptile brain, conjuring a bastard reality. You can donate to them for private memes or to hear their podcast early, fucking great right?
It’s a peculiar inversion of the vanguard, culture allowing itself to be lead by trailblazers of tech startup industries, the detritus of innovation hoovered up for substance — which is in turn reconstituted into artwork of a ‘socially conscious’ nature, but of a self & appropriation of self. We seem to need artists in particular to tell us how weird excessive biopolitics are by refiguring a lexicon of jargon. Everything works in the favour of artistic formation, the more insidiously positronic the better. Unconscious mores of marketability within the role of the artist are slingshotted back via that jargon buffer system and you’re given a solid “intellectual” thrust, often co-opted into the beast it itself critiques. Creative survival is obviously paramount, but garnering seductive attaches isn’t considered mutually exclusive with rampant commercialism. It’s admirable to profit from the very thing you might ideologically oppose, like the horny-for-brexit garbage academics who infest vaguely legitimate art conferences funded by educational bodies. The “resistant witness” of Russian nonconformist art, once a satirical branch of Soviet era painting with the aim to covertly undermine the carnivalesque of the state by painterly refraction, this old art modus operandi has gone on a Dantean journey. Praxial tropes (not just visual tropes) don’t burn out from overuse in the visual arts, they transition through various stages of hell until the abyss inverts into paradise, tropes becoming symbol. A trend/gimmick discarded by the self-professed precarious contemporariat just ends up in any fashion/branding wank kettle for “creative, vibrant nowness” despite the avant-garde yawns echoing through the dispensary. Funnily enough, those visual cultures then end up being the content of which these artists, enamoured with the urbane logo drenched gloam, chew and digest — the meta-product being formerly discarded subjectivities. Examples of these are often thrown up in the chattering social media patches of curators and art workers, signals of tongue-in-cheek bad taste acumen — the gallery potted plant, the gradient dye, the domestic object alienated, aspirational lifestyle codes from the media… enjoy your own neg compilation making and tweet it with best humour.
PART 2: Now that’s an esophagus
The tick, the bloodsucking parasite, is a noble creature and its raison d’etre of host consumption is actually a pan-philosophical dictum that parallels to survival in our gentrifying, urban lives. Fuck, who would have thought!? But don’t try to convince the workaday folk with that rhetoric, it only tracks with the directors of doublename galleries with an emerging/established focus on hot take #3. Drain minuscule amounts of elixir to keep the primary organism alive, but do not extract so much that the host dies or notices. It’s a valid laissez-faire capitalist work ethic, while disenchanting in a glib manner because there is no romance or heroism in being a tick. Maybe that’s relative and perhaps even obsolete, right? Get ready to travel with this bullshit!
If the host willingly gives nourishment, the definition of the parasite falls apart. Not a fully graduated symbiote, caveats of this arrangement are distributed obscurely enough that risk goes unnoticed — suddenly the parasite no longer trespasses the authority of the host. The terms of blood sucking are re-written against the tick with its own consent, almost. What if the parasite is persuaded to generate something — it discovered it might have wanted to do that all along. Of course this is a very daft metaphor to acknowledge a paradigm in art making as well as the anthropomorphic projection that a tick might be conscious of death/career termination, philosophically speaking. Developments yonder in the millennial silicon VR crèche twinned with austerity measures prod a sleeping nostalgia combinant in that paradigm. Art is a mirror to culture, but the hand holding the mirror has been swapped for the pseudo-iconoclast holding the iPhone camera, the mentality of a backseat Guardian website piecemeal commenter, the syrupy hedonist swaddling the creator myth in glitchy stock irony. The smugness trickles down to the fingertips after those typical macho-intellectual statements, the think piece commerce traders rutting in many vestibules. The tick could move up to a prime vein if a compliant measure is enacted. Or another tick might join onto the host, tumescent enough to nourish another little sucker. Does that 2nd tick feel any relations to the other, envy of feed point or desirous of tickly usurpation? Though ticks might cluster, hematophagy is too precarious an extraction method to perform en masse. Vital essence is limitless in theory, but bodies and good circumstance are not. Parasitiformes don’t need worry with choice, another problem of this daft metaphor. Maybe time for another.
The deep-sea anglerfish has a pragmatic mode of sexual congress: the tiny males are pheromone-charged seekers who graft themselves onto the females, the generally recognisable xenomorphic death orbs with that classic luminescent lure. This isn’t just the genital carabiner lock of your demonic howling town fox, the male angler fish actually begins to fuse to the female until naught but a flailing remnant is left attached, like some protrusion of mis-assembled Ikea furniture. Objectively this makes a lot of sense to fish inhabiting a world where sunlight or enough 4G for aquatic Tinder doesn’t penetrate. The role of the male is reduced to the functionality of an electrical appliance you have to buy separately but is 100% necessary. Consumer capital doth provide such creamy analogues! All the male angler craves is functional absolution and it is getting a pretty sweet deal out of the arrangement too. Once the blood vessels merge, the male’s eyes and fins atrophy until he is nothing less than brain and testicles, probably dreamland fucking in whatever plane of being you inhabit once you’re instrumentalised. Labour, time and currency mean nothing when you’re a little brain testicle supported by the ultra-state of female angler fish. That’s not far off the paradise promised to us by capital: exert labour for money which can extract pleasure and retain membership to lifestyle, enough money can also nullify the requirement for labour, the absence of which also qualifies for pleasure. We’re all striving for that big angler fish to retire into. A hermetic space of our own concerns, refusal impossible, leisure (the zero-labour kind) endless.
The angler fish do not have systems of prestige and males simply need follow their olfactory hunt and the chaos of nature plays a hand of death or actualisation, nothing in between. The females needn’t be picky as a shunned male simply dies rather than stalk/harass with despotic vitriol on social media. Beating nature with brains is our species’ big survival gambit, as opposed to sexual parasitism or mute, nihilistic feeding mandibles. The problem we encounter in our prospering is the earth itself functions as hybrid anglerfish babe/5 star tick blood bag (just gonna add yet another layer of daft metaphor). Maybe there is a massive sense of shared guilt about that? Oil companies, banks, general vampiric institutions often make huge donations to not-for-profit spaces, art museums being a favourite as culture pacifies guilt, supposedly. They’re under no onus to, but a cocktail of shame-fear perhaps drives it. Artwashing. What a fuel! As nebulous and yet as reliable as the instinct which guides the male angler to his spermy obliteration. It’s a remark so putrid in blatant obviousness, but it goes without saying the habitat of the anglerfish is the reasoning behind their chthonic union. An ecosystem deprived of photosynthesis must find an energy substitute and in abundance. What the aphotic depths of the watery abyss isn’t without of is marine snow, not a twee anaemic guitar band of reformed Tory flesh from rural England but a constant downward drift of organic material in ultra-miniscule fragments. Particles of sinking biological matter shaved from the azure fishscale hellplane provide nourishment for tiny fleets of plankton and krill — miniature scavengers whom in ever increasing mass populate the exclusively carnivorous food chain. In a realm where the primary generative source of life is outsourced to the discarded machinations of another, evolutionary methods to circumvent precarity become particularly radical, obviously this relationship works out for the fanged hunter/baiting trapper angler fish.
The artist is not dissimilar. Increasingly shedding political agency for technological sophist-analytics not because of some Ipcress File-style brain drain of modernity, but taking advance of the accelerated nature of fashion & capital immersion. Independent ecosystems of artists and studios are under threat from themselves in a self-cannibalising gentrification process. A potential ward to gentrideath is being nomadic, but mobility and property transience is harder when landlords can fuck maddeningly with rental prices. With the perceptive disruption of social media, surveillance states et cetera et cetera it can hardly be a blameful submission to give up being quasi-antagonistic. Survival is better when you can regurgitate capitalism’s own culture back at it, narcissus in a lambent frappe. On a surface level it is edgy, undermining of dubious power elements — often enabled by those very powers as a multi-facet protection racket. Daddy pours a bowl of Kellogg’s Detritus for hungry, fledgeling mouths. When the material is digested, the carrion birds of advertising/marketing can snaffle the carcass and even that behaviour can become a nice glib angle some hip artist crew can “address” with some fabrication or other. Those clamouring on the floor for loose particles of Kellogg’s Detritus belong there, in their own nethersystem. No reform, just game. Until a deus ex patreon drops in like a last minute Mario Kart blue shell, but as nice as that can be, why slide into a rubberbanding artificial economy?
We must be consumed by fear of the void. //