How to trace nonbinary relations at the Venice Biennale, an aging institution burdened by spatial subdivision into national domains of representation? With a queer transversal approach.
Queer transversality is a model of collectivity that combines queer subjectivity with a device for mapping the potential of desire within groups. For Félix Guattari, “Transversality is a dimension that tries to overcome both the impasse of pure verticality and that of mere horizontality: it tends to be achieved when there is maximum communication among different levels and, above all, in different meanings.” Group-subjects, according to Gilles Deleuze, “are defined by coefficients of transversality that ward off totalities and hierarchies. They are agents of enunciation, environments of desire, elements of institutional creation.” Transversality depends on an acceptance of the risk of having to confront “the otherness of the other,” of the multiplicity of desires espoused by groups outside one’s own.
Queerness implies a sensibility. Historically, queerness is linked to “Camp.” In ‘Notes on “Camp”’ Susan Sontag writes that Camp is a sensibility, not a hardened idea, and that “the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” Neither moralistic high culture nor high art, “Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is ‘too much.’ […] The whole point of camp is to dethrone the serious.” Camp confronts the normal as other, generating a perspective that accepts normality but also lays it bare.
Queer transversality can embody Camp, but the former is not necessarily defined by the latter. Contemporary queer expressions like drag, and particularly nonbinary drag, considered next to today’s more widespread genderqueer and transgender identities, challenge Sontag’s relegation of Camp to affluent societies “capable of experiencing the psychopathology of affluence.” An infrastructural sensibility, whatever its name, can draw relations between queer subjects across race, sex/gender, nationality and class. The trauma associated with queer experience, particularly that of adolescence, approaches something like a universal. Queer transversality accepts the risk of confronting the otherness of the natural and, as a mode of collectivity, unleashes queer desires.
People in the tech industry frequently talk about autonomy, self-organization, and autopoiesis. But the problem is, these ideas related to self-government are commonly taken at face value, used only formally. These concepts get appropriated to advertise developments in technology that can also hypocritically reinforce existing social and economic structures, together with their inherent inequalities. Critics of cybernetics have long lamented the appropriation of socialist concepts (like autonomy) by members of an elite control sector, which exists foremost for the sake of the “need to control control.” Yet, at the same time, the depth of transformation brought on by computation’s expansion into everyday life through technological development is often miscalculated, resulting in political responses from critics of cybernetics that sometimes exhibit ethical dissonance. Rapid system change would, for example, have infrastructural implications affecting users above all, particularly people who experience a competitive disadvantage because of their identity or special needs. Total system failure almost surely means survival of the fittest. Feminist artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles wrote, in 1969, “The sourball of every revolution: after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?” This turn of phrase can be extended to today’s computational infrastructures: After the centralized networks have been shut down, who will take charge of delivering food, medical services, and other necessities to people in the sudden absence of logistics and communications infrastructures?
Sergio Zevallos, born in Lima in 1962, is a Peruvian-German artist whose work, beginning in the early ’80s, has spanned performance, installation, drawing and photography. From 1982 to 1994, he was a member of the Grupo Chaclacayo, known for its performances positioned against the sexual and racial violence surrounding Peru’s armed conflicts. Zevallos’s work is iconoclastic, tearing down epistemological regimes inextricably tied to colonialism. Last year, he took part in documenta 14 and has recently been named the winner of the 2018 HAP-Grieshaber-Preis der VG Bild-Kunst, awarded by Stiftung Kunstfonds. His current exhibition in Berlin, envisioned as a site-specific composition, features a selection of graphic works from the ’80s and today.
Titled ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero,’ the 10th Berlin Biennale (BBX) positions itself in the negative. It emphasizes a refusal of the status quo, of the imagined necessity of a savior to free us from the messy present. Yet, while the show exposes viewers to artists and positions critically missing from German institutions, the exhibition itself also reinforces the spaces and formats it negates. Like many other international, recurrent exhibitions, BBX is politically correct—it appears to cling to an idea of identity politics as a vehicle for social change—begging the question of how a hero-less curatorial project in the positive might look. Nevertheless, lead curator Gabi Ngcobo’s shared struggle to bring diversity of approach and personal origin to European institutions, themselves based on foundational acts of colonialist extraction and accumulation, must not be overlooked. Ngcobo and her team’s radical refusal of heroics—technological, national or cultural—in the struggle to decolonize and democratize art institutions opens a space for new lines of inquiry and action, in and outside of art.
Published in the catalog for the exhibition Augmented Sunrise Beneath The Skin, curated by GeoVanna Gonzalez. Edited by Eva Gonçalves, Gabrielle Cox, and Martin Jackson.
Zach Blas’s work ‘Contra-Internet’ explores the glowing, gushing and violent ends of Silicon Valley’s utopian ideologies. Its centerpiece, a short film titled ‘Jubilee 2033’, follows Ayn Rand on an acid trip to the future, where her ideas, adopted by Californian tech moguls, are played out to an uncanny extreme. The film features gender non-conforming performance artist Cassils in an unforgettable role that queers the presupposed category of “user” beyond recognition. Rife with overcooked special effects, the film embraces humor over voracious critique, leaving signal processing to the mind of the viewer. I interviewed Blas on the occasion of his current exhibition at Art in General in New York and the film’s European premiere at the 2018 Berlinale Film Festival in its Forum Expanded program. A version of Contra-Internet was also shown at transmediale 2018 face value.
The group exhibition Evidentiary Realism identifies an ongoing trend in contemporary art, as well as in broader cultural circles, that takes up “evidence” as a material or animating subject matter. Characteristic works deal with social structures that exist to perpetuate crime or to hinder it, to represent or claim authority over certain groups through data or data representations. The exhibition is complimented by a website that includes more than a dozen texts and a handful of artworks not in the Berlin show (Evidentiary Realism was shown in New York earlier this year).
In its programmatic essay, curator Paolo Cirio coins “Evidentiary Realism” not as a style or a genre, but rather a certain impulse or tendency that rejects poststructural aesthetics in favor of “the real,” of forensic, documentary, and investigative aesthetics. “Reality today,” he writes, “can only be fully apprehended by pointing at evidence from the language, programs, infrastructures, relations, data, and technology that power structures control, manipulate, and hide.”
Cirio says that this tendency “pushes the boundaries of what can be seen beyond sight,” building on the tradition of historical realisms, where artworks become “advanced learning tools” for the development of social knowledge and inquiry. More than descriptive graphs or visualizations, such works fundamentally question the overall use of sophisticated tools for data visualization (think of Facebook’s Big Data-driven “social graph” as a totality of technologically-mediated social relations). It’s less about how we look at data, and more about how our data look at us.
The “right to the city” has become a rallying call for social movements worldwide. While the slogan serves as a generic container for a variety of issues that might otherwise go ignored, its origins pertain to a certain idea of revolutionary politics. More than symbolic negation, the right to the city was originally meant to signify an ongoing struggle at the level of everyday life. As such, the terms of the right to the city must be continuously renewed, today in regard to the advanced technical infrastructures that shape everyday life, in cities and beyond.
Distinct from the droves of international biennales and triennials birthed in recent decades, the Skulptur Projekte Münster (Sculpture Projects Münster) sets itself apart as an unparalleled cultural moment once every 10 years that places strong emphasis on site-specificity and encourages long-term artistic study. The decennial’s first edition in 1977, curated by Klaus Bussmann and Kasper König, sparked controversy by radically implanting works of renowned sculptors in Münster’s conservative public space. Then as today, the projects stood in stark contrast to the near-timeless city, whose postcard-ready urban fabric of reconstructed historical facades smooths out the city’s wartime traumas.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing James Bridle for ArtSlant on the occasion of his new exhibition at NOME in Berlin. We talked about the political ramifications of automation, the role of mythology and mysticism, and his strategy of learning-by-doing.
An article about local initiatives surrounding Documenta 14 on the occasion of the meta-exhibition’s recent opening in Athens.
In a city reeling from six years of politico-economic distress and an unresolved lack of dignified housing and basic services for refugees, Documenta 14 could amount to a spectacle where ‘the Germans,’ who have been vilified in the Greek media, proclaim, ‘Let them eat art!’
I recently caught up with my friend Michael Adams, a Kansas City-based economist and amateur historian/genealogist, whose current area of interest centres on Missouri’s African-American community. Zeroing in on Wheatley-Provident Hospital, our discussion revolved around the indirect role Civil Rights legislation played in its eventual dilapidation.
What are the implications of media in today’s so-called post-truth society? Mediating technologies permeate everyday life, and rather than serving an emancipatory agenda, they tend to reinforce baked-in prejudices and ideological assumptions. Global media corporations like Google and Facebook extract billions of dollars of surplus value by exploiting their users’ self-generated, cultural and biometric information. […] Does agency lie in the human, the machine, or the mediation in between? Agency can be staked out in two concepts of freedom: a negative freedom-from (a refusal of things as they are) and a positive freedom-to (a refusal and simultaneously future-building project). The former entails resistance, even a claim to purity by refusing to participate in an unjust system. The latter entails refusal, but it also contains a recognition of contingency (‘there is no outside’) as a means to construct an alternative future from within the entangled complex of the present. Transmediale, Berlin’s festival for art and digital culture, makes a case for the latter.
The black box gives commands outside the performers’ control, but of course within the execution of those commands there is an element of discretion…If the algorithm cannot know that skin is soft and glass is sharp, can it be malicious in creating the circumstances under which that violent incident occurred? Did the choreographers intentionally accelerate the speed of the cues to push the dancers to the brink, to provoke that failure vis-à-vis human error?
I had the pleasure of interviewing Omsk Social Club Feat. PUNK IS DADA on the occasion of her work “Scene Afterform: Bona-fide Sites and the Meta Community,” presented at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich. The artist spoke about her motivations for creating this work inside the space of the institution, her interest in larp, and the constitution of a “meta-community” that intersects the real and the unreal of our social, cosmic, and unified selves.
Who does urban development really serve? I had the opportunity to go to Quito in October to participate in the transdisciplinary residency/exhibition “Mapear no es Habitar,” which was set in opposition to the approach of the official Habitat III conference. I wrote a critique for Failed Architecture, which exposes some of the underlying contradictions of global governance within the UN system regarding habitat production.