Anti-Stag \\ Anti-Prog: An Introduction to Tera-Realism
Social stagnation and subsequent retrogression are adversely impacting the Arts. Creative progression is decaying, the imbalance between old and new creating a void. Into this void, western culture keeps throwing various out-dated fragments and expecting definable “progress”. All that is created, however, is a twisted mirror that makes the old look once again new. From Hollywood blockbusters to the output of a lone YouTube grime artist, every avenue of culture is being forced to partake in a conversation with the power of stagnation. It is an important conversation to have, as the universal force of entropy and its impact on our social and political conventions lies at its core. Notions of stagnation and progress must be challenged and reaffirmed in order to halt the negative impact a fear of this force is having. What suffers are the dual powers of imagination and observation that underpin and bookend our collective creative output. This wish for redefinition and continued challenge forms the bedrock of Tera-Realism.
Etymologically based in Surrealism, Tera-Realism takes a term from the field of computational science; ‘tera’, as in terabyte, with which I’m sure most, if not all, of you will be familiar. The age of the megabyte is long gone, that of the gigabyte still hanging on by a fingernail. The age of the petabyte is fast approaching. The terabyte, however, reigns supreme for now. There is also a not-so-subtle word-play at the core of the term: Tera/Terror. The Age of Terror, with internal and international terrorism littering the headlines every day, has been in the ascension since the end of the Second World War, morphing into a new stage since the end of the Cold War. All that leftover fear had to be utilised somehow, I suppose. Tera-Realism is, therefore a movement for the modern age; a technologically aware relation of Surrealism in an age not of total war, but of a loss of western imagination due to the appropriation of Utopian thought by totalitarian regimes and their critics. A web of control and deceit at the centre of which lies another invisible web, woven as fast as the light travelling along the world’s ever-growing network of fibre-optic cables. The Internet might not exist; neither, potentially, might we. All that is left is a trick or lensing of the light; an effect that can be manipulated either positively or negatively in the 3rd dimension. As artists, that choice lies at our feet.
In his book, ‘A Short Survey of Surrealism’, David Gascoigne points out the intense self-questioning that lay at the centre of the original Surrealist movement.1 In this post-enlightenment “century of the self” (as explored in the documentary series of the same name by documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis), it is of great importance that this line of questioning is itself questioned, so that the self-reflective nature of Surrealism can be re-appropriated. The mantra here is: ‘We look closer so that we may see past’, with a heavy stress on ‘We’. This is a collaborative thought-structure that necessitates shared questions being asked in an environment where there may be no answer. Taking Gascoigne’s assertion one step further, Tera-Realism proposes itself as a physical and conceptual space where the imaginative property of many “selves” can come together. Tera-Realism is a Humanist approach based on the search for a balanced connection between equanimity and creativity. Words are only a starting pistol to action.
Part One \\ Stagnation:
The first hurdle. No matter your personal preference, the financing and making of a new raft of Star Wars films by the Disney Corporation clearly signals the onwards march of a kind of stagnant reappropriation. A new script has been overlooked in favour of a one-dimensional reworking of a “classic” backed by more money and more recent technologies. Whether or not a hologram in a gallery might, however, also signal a similar form of stagnation is a slightly more difficult sell. Our conception of newness has been compressed by modern technology and technocratic late-capitalist ideologies. Thanks to the parameters of Moore’s Law, technological progression that once took years now takes months or weeks. Lest we forget that a 5MB hard drive took up the majority of an aeroplane cargo hold some sixty short years ago. At that point, this digital capacity, or “memory”, was only affordable by government agencies. Now, however, much more than this capability is available to most. This may be a levelling process in terms of digital capacity, but the subsequent synthesis of digital “memory” with human memory has made us more willing than ever to exchange money for an image of the past. Through this process, memories and the emotions associated with them have been further fetishised. The means of production are becoming more and more remote as we rely on more and more scarce raw materials such as rare-earth metals. We are locked in a monetised transaction with an unseen power that holds our memories in a “cloud” above us once they have passed through this matrix of resources and middle-men. This transaction makes remembered feelings more quantifiably valuable than current ones, leading to the financially logical conception that the older memories must be cast in a positive light in order to avoid being thought of as socially or creatively stagnant. Due to their monetary value having to be weighed against social norms and trends in creative spheres, it is not all that surprising that art is being treated like a child in a playground; it’s mother watching through a smartphone rather than using her eyes. Creativity is, like procreation, one of the clearest litmus tests of the functionality and progression of a society. But as Geert Lovink states in his essay ‘What is the Social in Social Media?’:
We create a social sculpture, and then, as we do with most conceptual and participatory artworks, we abandon it, leaving it to be […] happily forgotten as the next distraction consumes our perpetual present.1
When the value of a particular set of emotions or emotionally-based creative products is presided over in this way; by a court of remote judges, it is no wonder that the products of this systematised method of production and communication are of a certain variety. Art is a paradox, as it is both generative and destructive. Art can be a wasted resource, in the same way that time itself can. The limitless potential of the online world is a ghost. Access to the past is taken for granted, as is access to the present. There is still, however, an inherent lag due to the processes and hardware involved. Between human beings there is only the lag of the air vibrating the inner ear and the firing of neurons in the brain. Can we ever truly be said to be in the present? The common denominator in these factors, people, illuminates how intensely personal and interpersonal this stagnation is. As a species we are a group of individual beings with an interconnectivity that prompts action. Whether that action is a collaborative film, a fight or a conversation, we are working to project our thoughts about reality onto the realities that present themselves to us. This paradoxical canvas underpins a feeling of insecurity that plays directly into the hands of a search for cerebral and creative safety. There is safety in numbers. Big numbers: costs, profits, budgets, populations, nations.
Fear of being left behind by the pack breeds similarity and assimilation, which only accelerates the decline of imagination. Imagination, it has been said, is the 5th dimension2, existing outside the self, shape and time to inhabit a realm where anything one can and cannot conceive is happening simultaneously. This simultaneity adds credibility to a shared Humanist conception of creativity, as there is a timeline where I am currently painting the Mona Lisa while doing a handstand. Don’t ask me how I’m holding the brush: it’s not pretty. Risk is the missing link. In order to avoid stagnation, creative risks must be taken so that true progression, rather than a fearful anti-progression may be found, explored and further questioned.
A decline in Western imagination is a core concern for Russell Jacoby in his book ‘Picture Imperfect: Utopian thought for an Anti-Utopian Age’. In the preface he asks:
Is it possible that […] a relentless barrage of prefabricated “images” from movies and advertising has shackled […] “imagination”? Has imagination become unimaginative – or rather practical and realistic? 3
The stagnation of this drive to look out into the unmapped territories of our imaginations rather than across at the output of our peers has created a generation of culturally aware yet infinitely referential makers: only looking in order to find a suitable answer, rather than looking to see that there may be no answer at all. An experiment is partially to find, but mostly to observe. We live in an age where our educational institutions are telling us it’s the age of “post-theory” and media outlets are telling us it’s the age of “post-truth” and “fake news”. These combine to shake the foundations of trust that experimentation is based upon. We are learning to listen for comfort, rather than hear what a risk might yield and to look rather than see in the same vein. If one is only looking for a singular result, one can easily find it. In order to move forwards we must experiment knowing that, even if the results are repeatable, new realms of knowledge might have been opened up in tandem elsewhere or elsewhen that demonstrate an equal and opposite truth. Truth is not dead; it is merely conceptual. As Bertrand Russell put it, ‘This statement is false.’4 The entire concept of Tera-Realism is false, but in that falsehood it finds its truth.
To me, three of the central tenets of this stagnation I have been speaking of are nostalgia, self-reference and self-history. What follows are three pieces of work that I approached with a reassessment of these topics in mind:
- nostalgia –Project y-y
Hello – my name’s James. I have spent the last few months collating and compiling various scattered and fragmentary notes I made while living and working in a geographically marginalized society in the Northern Hemisphere, here code-named ‘Y’. The pieces I am about to read have been collected sporadically, sometimes in rushed circumstances and settings such as street-corners and drive-in churches, and others more lengthily in lounges and home-offices, over the last three years. Five years would be closer to the truth, but I don’t trust odd numbers.
I have used the question and answer structure with liberty and abandon, building various fragments in as poorly constructed stepping-stones. You don’t need to know these facets of my research - I am only telling you this up front in order to set you very slightly on edge.
Question 1: why question?
Answer 1 – Deke, aged 41: "Ah. What? A question. A statement? I'd say fear is a chance. To ask. Try traversing the dot under the hook. Round the corner there. Catty-corner. I'll see you later."
Bio Piece 1 – Deke:
Born: Lenexa, 1970
Star-sign: Co-axial Cable
Wait: 4 seconds prior to talking
Prevailing emotion: taught concern
Phobias: dot matrices
Answer 2: "Am I? Who's in charge of its edges? Each fissure might show me a loose nail holding up the gilt-framed mirror. I'll see me later?"
Question 2 – Deke, aged 41: why defend?
Artefact Piece 1: Conch Shell
5 inches long, rosy peach in colour yet pearly grey inside. Someone has removed the spines of the shell in order to smooth the back ridge. The 8 small spikes are arranged, nestled in the shag of the green carpet, against the soot-stained forehead of the hematite fireplace. They sit and watch, at times being balanced against their smooth former points of connection to be photographed or for the carpet to be cleaned.
Question 3: why protect?
Answer 3 – Aneka, aged 29: “There’s a dust-cloud on the horizon. Some of its outer tendrils drip off as lions, running. A many a grey paw claps the earth. All our legs are becoming fizzy in our pants. A flat stone takes over the balls of my feet. My island is under attack. The trees begin to howl at their own photosynthesis, wishing to be petrified. Do you run? yes toward? no away?”
Bio Piece 2 – Aneka, aged 29:
“I was born in that house there. The one with the yellow circles on the door. I have an older sister and a younger brother. My mother was into studying crystals. My father ran a bottle-washing plant up there by the correctional facility. He used to employ a lot of ex-cons. He’s retired now. I went to school in Y and then off to college not far from here. I met my boyfriend in junior high. He died in a car wreck when we were both 19. My brother was driving but survived. Where were we? Me? Oh.”
Question 4: , and what?
Answer 4 – Aneka, aged 29: “, and, all soft-taped to the felt, it is the thing held together by sitting under my collection of hats. Who should I point the microphone towards? Any more?”
Memory Fragment 1 - Mine: It was hot. Unfathomably hot. Dry heat that made one’s ears ache. I saw Jim coming around the limestone edge of the house in his underwear. Past the inlaid woodwork. A ship’s wheel, or stern. Or was he in a shirt? I can’t remember. All that matters is that his feet were tracing the same pattern I had sensed when he walked out of his office at the university close to Y six months earlier. There had been one cold day that torpid summer. He had been wearing a similar shirt. Or had I?
Question 5: what are we thinking in?
Answer 5 – Jim, aged 63: “A projector. Or a series of them. I am projecting this sentiment into the ether around me as I talk. I am, I think, aware of my environment. It looks as if it holds water. And releases it. I cannot find where it has all come from as my blood and birth are alien to me. I could be anything. My environment and the thing that passes for “me” are linked, perhaps, in a vaudevillian embrace that makes Al Jolson’s face turn white. I am hugged and being hugged by the violence of dead suns. It’s all heating up. We’ve all got an agenda - an agenda of wakefulness that, here, becomes an agenda of wanting-ness. I want my space. You want yours. The concept of “my space” is preposterous. There is no space unless it is there to touch, and my fingers and thumbs and toes are confused by the profusion of complicit particles. There is a bullet making contact with a child’s head somewhere, in my name, and my name means nothing. My sound, however, “means” something as it ties this body to the structure of the universe, loosely. It is all knots and paradoxes, and joy and fear, until we start to buzz in a lower range of hertz. More of you is filling the CRT screen than me. Wide sockets point electricity back towards the sun. Or moon.”
Question 6: how archive?
Answer 6 – Jim, aged 63: “An empty hard drive. a dry mouth and salty eyes. “what’s it like, this series about desperation?” This fear is within itself, looking out through kaleidoscopic prime lenses. I was heard because I was heard muttering I was here. I am moving around the seventh portion of desert with an avuncularity that verges on ridicule. You do not need to know my uncle to know this, I am merely telling you for the exposition of his petroleum-covered lips. I am trying to connect with his photograph, but a concertina of justified (left) images keep passing water through my screen. I am always looking up into the base of puddles, dreaming about what the world might be again. Once. There was a small button hiding in the back quarter of a box. I hid from it for a year or two, looking in to see by how much the dust had grown. There was a thin film, then a slightly thinner film, then the film tripled, and I took a scalpel to the top layer, saving it for a felt disc that supports the tongue. I am constantly pressing it - pressing my dry mouth to her open eyes. I am looking with my tongue for what I might have saved. Yesterday. Or none.”
Memory fragment 2 – Darlene, aged 59: 21st June – “I just stood there. The press in the basement could be seen through cracks in the lacquered floor my father had laid in the 30s. I never thought that burning ink would smell so sweet. Jim had shaken me awake 15 minutes earlier and my robe licked my shins like so many soft tongues. I hadn’t had time to tie my shoes. One sock was slightly lower than the other. The newsprint was singing small squeaking tunes in the air as embers. It was already getting warm, even though the sun was only just above the horizon. I was distinctly aware of my front being warmed by the fire and my back by the sun. It was as though each were there to insure against the other, assuring themselves of their violent efficacy. We’ll rebuild. As soon as I collect the damp headlines.”
Question 7: archival circularity?
Answer 7 – Darlene, aged 59: “The internet acts; an invisible cyclical web. an inter-temporal spider with crystal legs. We are saved and saving on the blue light flicker. my hands are shaking from password paroxysms. I hear three faint clicks when I am falling asleep. Some nights my head explodes. As I fall I am leaning on a graphite ledge, looking into the steps to see the tracks of boots. The scarf around my neck starts scrolling, looking for a moose with which to trade aesthetics. I was a French artist. The year was 1643 and my hair stood on end constantly. The rats played with my daughters and taught them how to sing. I am the rooftop and the door-latches and my fingers do not quite understand the lightness of air. Or where I? When? Italy - 40,000 years hence - my mother sits in a terracotta cave, contemplating the landscape and the river that runs through it. The past is hugging cotton candy, and the love of a good man stretches the edges of my future.”
Question 8: how have we come to absorb things?
Answer 8 – Jim, aged 63: “Under these circumstantially-ascribed simulation-realities, “I think, therefore I am” becomes by necessity “I think, therefore I think I am”, which, in turn, morphs into “I think I think I am, therefore I think I am” and so on and so forth, ad infinitum, until the basis of all thought becomes so totally abstracted as to render an “abstract” thought more concretely “provable” than a “concrete” one. I feel a little seasick. I think. I think I feel it. I feel it.”
Question 9: 3 doors at once?
Answer 9 – Deke, aged 41: “If there are two doors, there can be three. Step through with arms first and legs after while waving tips at diner chicks. I can only wiggle my toes to prove my dimensionality. Are we just soft cubes in this all this? Pixels? How might these doors look with our eyes closed?”
Question 10: soul-inversions in bi-personal autocratic realities as iterations of pendulous emotive neuro-plasticity?
Answer 10 – Deke, aged 41: “Is there time?”
Geographic Memory 1 - Mine: Outside Y
I am standing on a mushroom shaped rock. What would be the gills are sandy. Generations of Y’s youth have walked here through the grey-green grasses to carve their names and the names of their lovers. Or enemies. One inscription is merely a pictogram of a pistol. Perhaps the wind drew it. Over nearer to the horizon I can see the wind drawing power from turbines that look like a static missile defence system: one button and the world shifts a few metres right or left. There is a small snake at the base of my mushroom. He stares at me for a long time and moves on. I am alone once more and the sound of resting cicadas fills the air. And the stalk of my mushroom becomes imperceptibly thinner.
Question 11: why me?
Answer 11 – Darlene, aged 59: “Me? … Well … this is only a slice in time to illuminate the idea of intra-temporal self-reflexivity: a conversation between one “self” and the infinite other “selves” that “my” existence on this timeline proves the existence of on other timelines. Everything one can and can’t imagine is happening simultaneously. Not somewhere, but somewhen. The English language falls short - “I” am a conglomeration of selves along infinite timelines that exist outside this dimension; outside the linear conception of time, yet I cannot refer to myself as a plurality: “mes” does not make sense here. Yet.
Our lines through time are strings made up of angles, not rulers. Potentiality leads to a net of diverging and consequently converging timelines - timelines converge without warning or “reason”, other than to form part of the fabric of a temporally delineated experiential reality. Is mass time if it becomes experiential? We are, after all, part of the fabric of space-time - why have we been given the ability to sense parts of what might be around it? Can we at all? Do decisions let time expand? Is time a tyranny? What actually happened, ever? Why time not space?
I’m currently in conversation with one of my selves who is becoming greener and greener as the moments pass. She is becoming emerald. Another is fighting back tears on the precipice of a glacier. Many more are jumping on the spot. Many more are yet to. I am also trying to pat a Chinese dog upside down.”
Question 12: why ‘Y’?
Answer 12: I am still awaiting a full response from all participants. Aneka is still setting up an email address. Deke has moved from Y to start a business repurposing spent batteries on the west coast. I cannot think what he dares to make. Darlene is losing time in scrapbooks and Jim, unfortunately, has passed away since my time spent interviewing him. He would be uncertain of his answer I’m sure, and not all too sad.
- self-history – I am a generation of lost
I am a generation of lost
of which are carried
by the rising
or setting moon.
It is never really
and can be
We might have been
a young man
now I am unsure
for my mouth
full of seeds
- the dreamy
of life -
& our hands are
on the tops
of our heads
& there’s a new model
with eyes in its
& I step forwards
to be asked
Our father is
asleep & the latch
on his gate is starting
He is again a
baby bird popping,
inflame before the
“To spectate is to act” I hear
the sap whisper
in the nearby trees
& I poke 3 tongues
out of my boiled
one for each finger
I should have
counted off, cut
off in haste -
(look: here’s how I did it…)
- self-reference – so it gave me a link
so it gave me a link
this end of the pen, coated in
and her eventual acceptance of.
so it gave me a link
this retuning of a frequency
so it gave me a link
poisoning that river in my head that runs
from east-river to west-river along the same nutty banks
so it gave me a link
and the blisters of a chain-link fencing day
are worth practically everything here
bone china walls
so it gave me a link
to something far out from the actual scratch
that tickles the inside of my eyelids
as I lie in the morning abed willing my legs to get cold on the bathroom floor
so it gave me a link
this fortitude in the face of mounting triangular adversaries
too all-heaped and swiping to look from 2D to 3
so it gave me a link
this 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
so it gave me a link
there, many-brained, Moloch is sat speed-dating
twisting the tablecloth and hoping the stain on his shirt isn’t period blood
- it has been a long time -
and the stone chairs are all the same as the deck chairs in Whitstable Bay, only brighter, with more fingerprints in their surfaces.
so it gave me a link
back beyond the sky-stem to a system of figurative names
and a wild dark punchy dream of mirror-bound depravity
so it gave me a link
watching them sleeping on the street in rags and bags
and coating myself in poundcoins in the vain hope of staying warm and safe and whole and me
so it gave me a link
come trotting out one day and you’ll see the spot where he fell
they shouldn’t have been racing
they’d been doing pills in the park
he was unsteady on the rooftop
there was fresh bitumen all over his jeans
so it gave me a link
and all the cyclamen seem to know something I don’t
and for some reason the parting clouds look somewhat matte, even in light relief
and I am lightly relieved when I can fall back asleep
and the light-cord cautiously knots itself higher and higher in the night
and one eye always opens before the other, cut
so it gives me a link.
Part Two // Progress:
In this second half, I will be continuing to look at a very similar set of stimuli, but through the lens of what is commonly termed “progression”. This similarity itself shows some of the paradox that I am trying to expose and explore, as stagnation and progress can be shown to be in some important ways aligned. When researching this idea of Tera-Realism, I have been beset by the same questions time and time again. Towards what are we progressing? For whom? What is the thing that prompts the progress? What is being gained or lost? What is being created or destroyed in the name of limitless progression in certain spheres? Progression and accumulation sleep next to one another. Size and progression have met while out shopping. Fear sits in the cupboard with a Chinese finger trap on both thumbs, screaming.
What’s the best way to react creatively? A morality play? A statement of intent? An action of entrance or exit? The answer hangs like a fish in another net of questions. What, then, keeps us falling forwards? Each of these questions and the multiple potential answers expose a paradox that underpins the technological advances of the last twenty years. Binary, the language of the computer, posits a reality that is solely made up of 1’s and 0’s. Two options: a polarised view of a chaotic system in which infinite answers may or may not exist. This propagation of quantitative methods of critique and value adversely impact imagination in that all the colours of the rainbow are overlooked in favour of black and white. Hue over colour. Safety over risk once again. How many stars hang in the firmament? How many grains of sand need to be moved by a seabird before one second of eternity can be said to have even begun? This is not a quantitative reality; it is a qualitative one. The conflation of quantitative, i.e. capitalist, conceptions of value with art have pulled it further away from its niche in the world of qualitative decision-making. Art is not art because there is a quantifiable number of things against which to judge a piece, it is art because it exists among the innumerable composite parts that makes this holistic ecosystem hang together. It is a fibre in an infinitely complex rug woven by the inherent and unfathomable forces of creation and destruction harboured by the universe.
This sentiment is pointed directly at such commercial artists as Damian Hirst, who have fetishised the story surrounding their work to such a level as to make the number signifying a particular assistant or date of production as valuable as the work itself. This is another show of the power of nostalgia as mentioned in part one. I am not against the sale of artworks. I am a capitalist, if a reluctant one, but I do believe there is another way that monetary influence can be and should be used. Money, time and space come together in experimentation, and experimentation is the mother of invention and the child of risk. If we can truly move forward to a stage where we can repurpose the nostalgia that has been mobilised by those with capital, we can reclaim our memories and in doing so reclaim their imaginative potential.
Damian Hirst’s approach, although an admittedly easy target, exposes yet another paradox: if what makes an artwork monetarily valuable exists outside the artwork itself, what is to stop art from losing its market value? If this version of progression is allowed to continue unchecked what now seems comical will one day be true: buyers paying for works that exist only in reference to the quantitative data attached to them:
“Yes – the new series of invisible dots are £500,000 each. Each series is incredibly exclusive at only ten units. Mr Hirst has gone back to his roots and is creating every piece singlehandedly. What do you mean you don’t see the works?! They’re all around us!”
When paradoxes have been mobilised by those in the halls of kleptocratic power, opposites become utilities, just as they do when mobilised by religions that ask us to believe in the monetisable value of the unseen.
Hito Steyerl dives headlong into this debate in her essay ‘Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?’, wherein she puts forward that this shift in production is based in a new movement she terms ‘circulationism’. She describes the term in its current state as follows:
Circulationism is not about the art of making an image, but of postproducing, launching, and accelerating it. It is about the public relations of images across social networks, about advertisement and alienation, and about being as suavely vacuous as possible.1
She goes on to explore how this circulationism might be reinvented in order to circumvent these networks, bringing the realm of sharable artwork outside the parameters of the screen as set down by the military-industrial-entertainment complex.
She warns, however, that, like the productivist movement by the Soviet avante-garde, circulationism, if not carefully managed, runs the risk of becoming ‘an ornament to an internet that looks increasingly like a mall filled with nothing but Starbucks franchises personally managed by Joseph Stalin.’2 I too over the last year have been experimenting with this idea of reinvented circulationism. One such project, called 7LOCKS, was made up of seven handmade and typewritten pamphlets containing a riddle and a list of possible answers. Of all the objects inherent to the possible answers the only object to truly exist was the eighth key, which I still carry with me. Each pamphlet, along with a metal key, was either left in plain view around London or given away on faith that it would then be given away again in an indefinite cycle. There was no mention of my name or contact details, so the pieces could never be traced back to me and I made no document of the process. As soon as they left my possession their existence became questionable. They, as objects, passed from imagination, through creation, and back into imagination. As Hito Steyerl concludes, ‘If circulationism is to mean anything, it has to move into the world of offline distribution, of 3-D dissemination of resources, of music, land and inspiration.’3 I couldn’t agree more.
If to be is not to be in this way (confusing Hamlet’s question somewhat), then to look back is now to look forward, as to look forward is to look back. Far from the mentality of the Luddites and those like them, anti-progressive thought of this variety is, much like the concrete abstractness of the Italian Futurists (minus the racism), a radical stance that aims to repurpose and recycle the old and forgotten in order to throw a new shadow behind the new deities of technology and digital connectedness: a necessary act in a throwaway world. In order to accept the terms of this approach, we must be willing to set our received notions of newness and clarity of individual expression aside. This task becomes easier and easier when light is thrown on the futility of trying to define the creative output of an analogue technology (i.e. human beings) through the use of purely digital media. Once again we reach the impasse of whether a quantitative approach to making can in fact leave room for the qualitative nature of imagination. An impasse that highlights the inescapably present futility of what Jacoby refers to as ‘a quixotic or impossible task: to use language to demonstrate the hopelessness of language.’4
In this vein, Jacoby goes on to write at length about the greatly damaging impact quantitative speculations on the possible utopias that man might one day be able to bring about have had on the collective western imagination. He states:
Not brassy proclamations and floor plans but love and solidarity determine the future. Herein lies an essential element in iconoclastic utopianism: its regard for the here and now. It yearns for the future and values the present.5
And therein lies an essential element of Tera-Realism: its basis in the present-mindedness of imagination, but its awareness of the effect the systems surrounding that imagination might have on its future. As for a source of this imbalance in the human impulse to imagine, Jacoby gives many. The most pressing, I believe, being that:
today disillusionment drains that impulse. Not only manmade deaths but manmade prosperity sap utopian speculation. Distant and not-so-distant suffering, on the one hand, and anxious affluence, on the other, poison its source.6
Tera-Realism is open-source thinking: it carries no definite blueprint, as a blueprint is too easily corrupted and manipulated for individual gains. Those with the power to make the blueprint hold the key to the future; those who resist the blueprint disrupt its trajectory.
This notion of ‘anxious affluence’ perfectly describes the way social currency is utilised in the media sphere and its effect on making. With the imbalance between the value given to quantitative elements and qualitative elements of both experience and making in mind, it is no wonder that what one does, thinks and makes is held up to a critique by those that are only participating in order to have their own assertions repeated to them in the seemingly endless echo chamber that the internet can provide. Once again risk is rejected in favour of safety in numbers. Turning to Jon Rich, who looks at the effect of this phenomenon on writing in his essay ‘Facebook: A Court of Ignorant Cruel Judges’:
The slippery slope the […] writers have been sliding down has turned them away from writing and towards advertising. [….] The official goal or mission is to poll the public in order to validate one’s point of view and gain legitimacy among others. […] They have no time for philosophers and truth-seekers who aspire to reinvent the rules and find values and morals in them.7
Rich highlights the ongoing need for a reaching reassessment of other much older technologies, such as the written word or even the space that the word inhabits, in light of this version of “progress” if their limits and uses are to be redefined along more qualitative and imaginative lines.
The paradox of this echo chamber of code and words that underpins internet-influenced making is that the space behind the words is at once as real or insubstantial as the binary code that allows a word to be regurgitated onto something that resembles a page. A webpage, however, is not inert like a sheet of paper that must be physically interacted with and manipulated in order to progress; it has agency. Keller Easterling, in his essay ‘An Internet of Things’, looks into this phenomena and the imbalance it creates in the relationship between user and used:
We are not accustomed to the idea that non-human, inanimate objects possess agency and activity […]. [T]he idea that information is carried in activity, or what we might call active form, must still struggle against many powerful habits of mind.8
This well of unseen activity exists everywhere and nowhere, complicating the very nature of our relationship to our environments. Where art is concerned, ongoing conversation surrounding the spacelessness that the near-infinite space of the web and deep web expose has led to some interesting personal experiments. For example, a show of mine based solely on text-messages came to an end yesterday, turning the phones of those involved into mini galleries for a month. Each text of 160 characters has carried a fragment of the project I shared part of earlier, Project Y-Y, scattering them across continents and pockets with the ebb and flow of code dreamed up by the programme’s curator, creating interesting conversations based at home and abroad.
With this in mind, the words that have been employed to create the structure of this part-lecture part-performance part-talk have been presented to you as a spaceless “object”, an utterance that has escaped the bonds of the page, an imagined tera-real sculpture in the 5th dimension, the physical dimensions of which are as compact or as broad as the space between my mouth and your ears: it all rests on perception. With an ever-growing connection between writing and artistic practice underway, I’d like to thank you for being part of this experiment in communication across mother-tongues, technology and the ether. As Franz Mon put it, ‘Letters are signs for signs and therefore so removed from language that they reflect it when set in motion.’9 Like many before me I believe firmly in the concreteness of abstraction, so I would like to conclude with a small selection of some of my more abstract works, hoping that these pieces may reflect something once set in motion.
- 1.Shall i wander into the modern world with open?
In this piece fragments of text meet fragments of video. Repetition renders both unstable in a space of forgotten contexts and unintelligible words. Unfinished until it's destroyed, this piece is soon to be projected onto a torn piece of A1 paper. What happens when B-roll detritus is elevated to the foreground? A love poem loses all emotion when read by a synthetic voice. Or does it? This piece is distorted visual auto-fiction: a macro shot of a few pixels of an existence revolving around screens, love and distraction.
A piece I made during my time living in a Tobacco museum in Ljubljana, ghosts2 is part of a series of video works and poems exploring the marginalia of an alien culture. Living alone in a gallery for a month has allowed me to find my inner ghost, this part of my ongoing exploration of my proximity to it taking the form of video experiments and rhythmic marginal noise.
the wording makes it real
were it vocal
the internet cannot see
cost report that bastard squirrel
i want it’s mother’s milk
the talking is the ass-end of air
come up to me in the street
this all yours is
tamper with my seal
so that I may be returneth
to the shelves
among the cobbledust
were it vocal
of the yokel
might just resonate strongly
enough to shake
the pen from
of her teeth
of her thighs
lend butter to the outsourced moon
I’m a full plate of neptune tonight, darling
-don’t touch me-
were it vocal, the
light in her
bring about the
might bring about a rupture
in a schismatic
the coconut, shy,
lays on the bed
affeared of it’s own nakedness
were it vocal
were it vocal
were it vocal
could copulate with the jinxing of my ears
to produce a grey movement that backed
up unto itself
when the barometer needle fell
were it vocal
my shatter might be dust
might be all true all
might be the zenith of
might be the blue core
might be undulating within
might be ripped across
might be a tackling racist, chants the backwoods
might be hanging (A)
might be hung (B)
might be hanged (C)
might be handed (D)
might be hand (e)
WERE IT VOCAL
- 1.Gascoigne, D., A Short Survey of Surrealism, Enitharmon Press, London, 2000.
- Part One \\ Stagnation:
- 1.Lovink, G., ‘What is the Social in Social Media?’, The Internet Does Not Exist, p. 179, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2015.
- 2.Morrison, G., quoted on https://bigcomicpage.com/2014/12/14/imagination-is-the-fifth-dimension-garry-mac-on-grant-morrison/ (accessed 25/03/2017), Online.
- 3.Jacoby, R., Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age, p. xiii, Columbia University Press, New York, 2005.
- 4.Alam, R., Bertrand Russell’s Logical Atomism, Mittal Publications, Delhi, 1990.
Part Two \\ Progress:
- 1.Steyerl, H., ‘Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?, The Internet Does Not Exist, p. 20-1, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2015.
- 2.Steyerl, H., ‘Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?, The Internet Does Not Exist, p. 21, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2015.
- 3.Steyerl, H., ‘Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?, The Internet Does Not Exist, p. 22, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2015.
- 4.Jacoby, R., Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age, p. 105, Columbia University Press, New York, 2005.
- 5.Jacoby, R., Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age, p. 141, Columbia University Press, New York, 2005.
- 6.Jacoby, R., Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age, p. 143, Columbia University Press, New York, 2005.
- 7.Rich, J., ‘Facebook: A Court of Ignorant, Cruel Judges’, The Internet Does Not Exist, p. 152, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2015.
- 8.Easterling, K., ‘An Internet of Things’, The Internet Does Not Exist, p. 29, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2015.
- 9.Mon, F., quoted in Concerning Concrete Poetry, Bob Cobbing and Peter Mayer, p. 23, Slimvolume, London. 2014.