Berardi

12/06/17

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I have been reading a lot of Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi recently. He is an Italian Marxist theorist and activist in the autonomist tradition, who is widely published.  One of his most famous works is The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (2009). He has also written extensively on Felix Guattari, ideas of capital and acceleration, society, the future, the worker and a variety of other dense topics. Berardi is perhaps my new favourite writer – or, given I prefer not to categorise into mere favourite divides, it’s probably more accurate to say he is a new favourite of mine.

His name kept cropping up in multiple bibliographies I was skimming and then I found a fantastic article by him on e-flux which could not be more relevant to my current research. The article is title ‘Time, Acceleration and Violence’ and it opens with this:

What do you store in a bank? You store time. But is the money that is stored in the bank my past time—the time that I have spent in the past? Or does this money give me the possibility of buying a future?’

– Berardi, e-flux journal #27, Sept. 2011

Out of all the articles I have ever read, this one has really stuck in my mind and left a lasting impression on me. I keep thinking about it and experiences or news articles I come across remind me of it too. For me, a Berardi read is always incredibly thought-provoking and at times, slightly unsettling. This read is one of those interesting yet unnerving ones. The article is a discussion of capitalism’s integration into our daily lives, into our cores. It talks about time in relation to the philosopher Henri Bergson; his ideas of duration versus modern days of perception. It discusses the Futurists and their war mongering attitude, Marx, war, competition, money, production, surplus. Its contents stick in your mind for days.

Why it was so prevalent to me?

Firstly, because reading about time is always a prevalent experience. Mainly because it forces you into an awareness of your own mortality. Yet this article goes further, as it links biological time to technological time and the time of capital. A comparison between the two is of course disturbing, as the biological can never compete with the economic. Particularly not in the digital age, where everything is immaterial and carried out online.

That was not the only disturbing element however. Extracts in discussion of the Futurists  were perhaps the most worrying given their accurate analysis:

Also in 1977, “competition” became the crucial word for the economy, whose project was to submit human relationships to the singular imperative of competition. The term itself became naturalized to the point where saying “competition” was like saying “work.” But competition is not the same as work. Competition is like crime, like violence, like murder, like rape. Competition equals war. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari say that fascism is “when a war machine is installed in each hole, in every niche.” And I would say that an economic regime based on competition is fascism perfected. But how does this violence arrive in the economic sphere?’

– Berardi, e-flux journal #27, Sept. 2011

Competition equals war. 

Think about that in relation to history. Think about that in relation to 2003; when the US first entered Iraq, claiming it was a moral act of defence and liberation. Yet capital was in fact the dark motive at heart. When I say the article is disturbing, I am not disturbed by the article itself, as it is merely a commentary exposing ideas and observations. It is the observations which disturb and unsettle me, particularly in wake of the current political and economic climate, both of which are fraught with uncertainty.

Recommended reading:

Berardi, e-flux journal #27, Sept. 2011

 

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Acceleration

o4/06/17

Recently I have been exploring a great deal of philosophical thought concerning time and temporal lineages, including Henri Bergson’s theories of duration, in which time and duration vary according to the individual but remain the same for science. Kant’s notions of time and the sublime experience have also featured, as have several other discussions of the abstract qualities of time.

I have also been reading a lot about the history of time which is incredibly interesting, particularly given the evolution of the instruments we have employed to measure it; which range from sun dials to stop watches. Yet philosophical ideas and the science of time have not been my only major influence; I have  recently become fascinated by geographer David Harvey’s notion of the ‘time-space compression’. This is, as the name indicates, the collapsing of temporal and spatial distances. This compression is triggered by technological innovations and means of communication; the ease of which contributes to today’s shrinking geographies.

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In light of this, my considerations of time in contemporary art and culture have therefore inevitably led to a focus on this idea of acceleration. With the introduction of the internet in 1990s, a paradigmatic shift occurred not only in our abilities to communicate, but also in our economic climate. The internet allowed for the acceleration of capital exchange and production modes, the opening of new markets and an entirely new social sphere. With online banking, Google calendar, alarm notifications, WhatsApp groups, it could be argued that today we exist just as virtually as we do physically. It also heavily impacted artistic production, leading to what is termed as ‘post-internet art’ – a term I personally cringe at using. Although more broad and ambiguous perhaps, I feel ‘the virtual’ is far more encompassing and apt a term to describe online modes of production. Post-internet compartmentalises it too much for me and even the inclusion of the word ‘internet’ is narrowing. However, I feel ‘the virtual’ allows for connotations of various virtual spheres (whether that is social, political or economic), virtual worlds, virtual technologies, virtual communications, etc. It seems far broader and more applicable to my explorations. Having said that, it may just be my aversion to conventional ‘post-internet art’, as with the work of Ryan Trecartin, see here. I am not disinclined towards post-internet art exactly, or to Trecartin’s practice, in fact I think it is a wacky mass of crazy. I think however, my apathy lies in the fact that more articulate practices have since developed.

maxresdefaultRyan Trecartin, Any Ever, 2012, film still

I personally have far greater affinity with the work of both Hito Steyerl and Melanie Gilligan, mostly because both practices and bodies of work are interesting and thought-provoking commentaries on capitalist society. Gilligan’s work takes the form of realist/sci-fi reality TV dramas as an abstract representation of capitalist conditions and social commentaries and Steyerl’s work adopts a more documentary and video essayist approach. I was in The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow yesterday and so popped in to see Steyerl’s piece Abstract (2012) for the second time, as it is an incredibly interesting film in discussion of weaponry, globalisation and warfare.

I think the success that underpins both of their works is the strength of their theories and research methods; both are incredible writers who I would highly recommend reading.

HT-crop-827x463Hito Steyerl, Abstract, 2012, film still

You can watch Melanie Gilligan’s sci-fi piece Popular Unrest free online here

You can read some of Hito Steyerl’s texts for e-flux journal by clicking the links below:

‘In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective, e-flux, #24, April 2011

‘In Defense of The Poor Image’, e-flux, #10, Nov 2009

 

 

 

Dissertation

02/06/17

Recently I have started my dissertation period. I say recently, it’s been about a month. Having changed my idea several times however, I am finally making headway. The issue about studying art – and contemporary art in particular, is that I want to write about everything! The same problem happened with my artistic practice and in my studio on my Undergraduate; I had a notebook filled with so many ideas that I wanted to pursue every single one. Naturally, I realised this was not possible.

I think however that the process of refinement is really interesting. It teaches you what your core interests really are. So for my dissertation I have been toying with multiple ideas across several weeks, all of which encompass similar themes, which are listed as follows:

Contemporary art
The virtual
Capitalism
Spectatorship
Consumerism
(The archive)
Documents
Virtual representations
Art production online
The internet
The social
Social media
Politics
Ephemerality
Dissemination

I would have to say the core areas of interest are contemporary art, the virtual and capitalism. Finding a way to incorporate these very broad themes has been incredibly difficult, but the more I read and the more my research trajectory was shaped, a theme emerged quite organically; the theme of time. I found myself writing it several times over in my notes:

‘time as commodity’, ‘space and time’, ‘viewing time’, ‘acceleration of time’, ‘relation in time’, ‘temporal instability’…

It kept occurring and it was perfect. It also came as no surprise that this was the theme to emerge. I read Whitechapel Gallery’s Documents of Contemporary Art book on Time two years ago and it had a truly profound effect on me. I could not stop thinking about it or referring back to it. At that point I was exploring Performance Art, so notions of duration and performance time were more my focus. However the themes and threads of the book were incredibly thought-provoking and long lasting. So of course, I have returned to this collection of essays to explore the theme of time in contemporary art and capitalism for my Masters thesis. One of my favourite quotes I have extracted so far is:

‘The clock turns time from a process of nature into a commodity that can be measured and bought and sold like soap or sultanas.’ – George Woodcock, p.65

The reason I believe I am so interested in contemporary time, is that the notion of memory has always intrigued me. Ways to record, ways to remember, was to recapture. Memory and time are inherently bound up. Over time my interests have evolved from purely fixating on ideas of memory and counter-memory, to also encapsulate this idea of acceleration in capitalist culture. Although humans have always segmented their days with set time scales – morning, lunch, afternoon, evening; the working day, it is only in this century that we have become so governed by time. We have people getting up at 5:30am for a morning yoga or bootcamp session, eating a hurried breakfast on the go, grabbing a take out coffee, cycling, driving, or using public transport to get to work to start their day. Email calendar appointments, emails coming through on our phones, notifications on our Fitbits. Leisure time, work time – they are all blurring into one. You can be sat doing work emails at 11pm after only having finished the domestic tasks that needed doing. The lifestyles of late-stage capitalism and neoliberalism have enabled these accelerated timescales. As has the consumerist impulses, which are present not only in commodity goods and shellac nailpolish, but also in today’s ‘scrolling’ society. We are consuming images and information at rates never imagined. We skim and flit between links and articles, but how much are we really absorbing?

It is all comes back to time. Time spent scrolling, time spent listening, time spent planning. Time dictates our body clocks – and I am not referring to this purely in the sense of biological time, but in the time constraints we have established for ourselves as a society. What is an interesting paradox however, is that although time governs so much and so many of our lives, it is an elusive term which no one is able to define. There are several renditions of time, each relevant to a variety of fields; metaphysics, technological time, biological time, Newtonian time, time in philosophical thought, etc. All these grey areas but nothing concrete. I suppose there is the morbid element however; how many of us actually want to think about time? It is a reminder of our own mortality, our own fragility, our own time scales. Is our need and impulse to govern and segment time an attempt to conceal this?

Time will tell.