when everything’s clean we can start again

 first posted on Auto Italia’s blog as a postscript to On Coping: A Reading for Liverpool (The Royal Standard, Liverpool, summer 2015)

An experiment in efficiency and time-keeping: 2 hours to write up some ideas & quotes relating to the device-cleaning workshop run as part of On Coping. Screenshots I took while writing are presented along with screenshots people sent me during the workshop, responding to the words on their cleaning cloths and more generally to our discussion around maintenance (digital, sanity and otherwise), storage, over-load and other fatigues.

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I’m sittin in bed I write this, on my phone. Somehow it felt like this immediacy would make me write more concisely. I need parameters- apparently the task stretches to fill the time, or time stretches to waste all day on a task that could’ve taken an hour. Very familiar.

I’m writing on Evernote, which, I discovered the other day while trying to delete old apps off a new phone, is classified as a Productivity app. Most things are- why use an app unless it saves you some time? When you’ve saved all seeking materials that last forever time then you can start living. I used to have a motto- an adaptation of youth is wasted on the young (is that it?)- that goes ‘Life is wasted on the living’.

Spending so much time managing life that there’s no time left to live it.

What’s any of this got to do with the phone and laptop cleaning workshop😑 😑 well- I just spent the morning doing a ‘brain dump’ which is another sort of efficiency/ prosciutto tool.

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I meant productivity not prosciutto obvs.

So here are some notes.

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Evernote has bizarrely added its own little post-it logo unless it wasn’t obvious what they were. This is definitely a sign that it’s a productivity app- post-its are a shorthand for brainstorming blue sky thinking/ out of the boxing/ dreaming up a new start up for (most likely) a new app

Okay. Going back. Here’s a quote:

“maintenance of digital infrastructures are forms of labour very rarely discussed”
“infrastructure is also the invisible and time-consuming labour that underpins our electronic world” Judy Wajcman, Keynote at Transmediale 2015

I’d been doing this phone cleaning project for a while already when I came across this quote/ sitting and cleaning other people’s phones and then keeping the dirty screen wipes.

Dirt as a kind of medium, an encrypted trace- it tells you ‘something happened here’ but it doesn’t say what. It preserves privacy. It’s also a very micro/ personal scale of materiality of technology- even what Ingrid Burrington refers to as these ‘black amulets’ collect and carry traces of their use, a literal embodiment of the time spent swiping tapping zooming scrolling. Truly intimate data. Wiping off someone else’s intimate data proved to be pretty awkward. A sense of anxiety thT somehow it gave me access to something hidden, something hidden behind the lock screen.

There’d been so much talk of how the internet isn’t immaterial-

“The Internet doesn’t exist, but its effects are real”

– how the greedy server farms guzzling energy linked our everyday devices to much wider geopolitical networks of value, profiteerring, war. And here’s me worrying about the commodification of human consciousness. But I do worry.

At the time I’d also been thinking of what sort of relationship artists have with their audiences, collaborators and friends and family and how these come into their work. I was thinking that I probably care too much about what they think- I have this fantasy that some artists really Don’t. Give. A. Fuck but they’re probably pricks so never mind- and that maybe I shouldn’t acknowledge this thru gestures of attention-giving

My new phone still has my old shortcuts on it (another effieicny tool!) so as I wrote the above, this appeared:

“Giving attention is giving love, is giving away something u haven’t got” (any time for)

I agree with that, mostly. I think it’s a fudged version of Lacan On Love. But love and care and attention are often forms of gendered labour that- like maintenance in general- is less ‘important’ than the grand gestures. The grand gesture of buying flowers so all your friends see, and say aww isn’t he great? but neglecting you in the day to day living of a relationship- not doing the dishes, or asking what’s wrong when you’re pulling that face. The grand gesture of launching an amazing new app/ start-up/ platform/ feature etc, whose functioning relies on successfully culling beheadings, porn and other NSFW content from its feed- millions of microtasks perforned daily and to no applause by mostly underpaid women from parts of the works like Bangladesh where We don’t have to worry about their deteriorating mental health.

Someone’s got to do it though/ and no, there’s no app for it, not yet. Hito Steyerl talks of the process of deciphering buttholes from bunches of pixels

‘What are the social and political algorithms that clear noise from information? The emphasis, again, is on politics, not algorithm.’

[ Proxy Politics: Signal and Noise]

Just went for a loo break. The idea is I’m going to write for two hours. I’ve heard- and it seems true- that if you just focus on ONE TASK- you’re much more likely to finish it. And that by tricking yourself into writing (or doing anything else you have a love-hate relationship with) for a very short period of time, you might end up with a book. Multitasking as a curiosily ineffective way of saving time. From the Manifesto of Rivolta Feminile, a group of Italian feminists active in the 70s-

We detest the mechanisms of competitiveness and the blackmail exercised in the world by the hegemony of efficiency.

Attributing high value to “unproductive” moments is an extension of life proposed by woman.

Rivolta Femminile Manifesto (1970)

What is an unproductive moment? Sometimes we lie together and I try and feel ‘oh, THIS IS SKIN’ or as in the zen saying, ‘every moment is the best moment’.
Moments aren’t in competition with each other.
The other day he said I was competing with the duvet, coz I suggested he was hugging it, instead of me. Competing with an inanimate object, a new low!

But really. Things have so busy in the past six months (or is it a year?) I can’t even imagine. I’ve become my own worst nightmare- colour coded to-do lists, post its all over my wall, a million schemes. And a fear that I’ll never have time to do ANY of it, like a full blown fomo grass-is/greener syndrome, looking for value everywhere and being unable to find any, anywhere. I will look back at this and say ‘that was burnout’- as if it only happens once.

Burnout, treading water. Cleaning and re cleaning- the work is never done. However clean it is, soon it will be mucky, soon the storage will be filled up and I’ll be deleting photos and videos quickly to try and take another. Even the photos are in competition with other, even tho there is endless space for our ‘moments’ now, as endless as the energy used to prop up the cloud(s) is endless.

>> After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage?

Mierle Ladermen Ukeles- Maintenance Art

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So in this workshop. We sat in a circle, on the floor. A kind of group therapy situation (I assume- I’ve never been to one) with optional, though entourages sharing. Embroidered screening cloths were passed around, which were used to clean dirty devices with, in between digital cleaning: deleting, moving, sitting, unfollowing, logging off. Like an AA meeting, an opportunity to confess and rectify some digital sins, mute some people, ask why you can’t delete those photos of your daughter even tho they’re backed up in 5 places. A dream of disconnection, which only has value in relation to the norm of connection and mostly seems to be undertaken with a book deal or article in mind.

It’s been an hour now. I’m feeling very tired. Maybe I won’t do the whole hour after all. I’m still on Airplane mode, still on Self Control. My addictions always get he better of me, I can’t help it, I’m a Greed personality which means I always want MORE even if it’s of a Bad Thing. Like scrolling Facebook with insomnia or lingering over other people’s Moments.

Recently I’ve been thinking about hiding. And secrecy. 

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Evernote Snapshot 20150813 183703.jpg-4 Hiding from what?

From admitting I’ve been miserable, or from the fact I might just be lost. Of course like cleaning and maintaining, staying On The Path (whichever one it is) is a daily task, a constant challenge. Sometimes I look in awe at friends who seem so…buoyant and wonder how they manage without hours of meditation/ medication/ therapy etc etc. but then I’m sure that exactly how I come across: buoyant and together.

I’m going off topic now, really tired. Everytine I do. Body scan I relate thee is a layer of concrete solid exhaustion.

‘Exhaustion as a status symbol’‘ says vulnerability guru Brene Brown.

hashtag Smugbrag– for the artist who has t all and wants to make sure everyone knows about it, but also knows it gives of the wrong yuppie/ Protestant work ethic odours if shouted too loudly. One eye on the clock, or around the room for other, more unity people. Signifiers of slumming it gloss over a hard business nose. I do it too. Pragmatism- artist got to eat, artist got to produce/ project social capital, those two things don’t always sit together. Sweet compromise! The real skill lies in projecting or generating  enough social capital that those compromises, that pragmatism, gets overlooked.

Outsiders become insiders but can claim the privilege of both if they cultivate and maintain their outsiderness. But it’s a tricky balancing act. Now I’m wondering why he out Jenny From the Block on my playlist (I have theory- his playlists are evidence of love, each one carefully considers so that I read meanings into them, deciphering How He Sees Me from the choice of title- for sown reason the document with the quotes won’t load but I was thinking of Apophenia- the tendency to see patterns j chaos, human faces in clouds, winning streaks at the casino, undying love in a string of text messages, paranormal activity in random unrelated phenomena. Things make sense coz we need them to/ We don’t see things as they are but as we are, said Anais Nin.

I’m almost at an hour Nd half. My mind is wilting. I had wanted to say something about hiding, occlusion and making visible. I got so annoyed of this rhetoric of illumination- the idea that we can stand outside things, shining lights into dark corners and as if by magic, MAKE VISIBLE. it’s a thing in what could be called Infrastructural Critique- a logic of showing how the Internet or technology or sue elephants or whatever works, that suggests a critical distance, a standing beyond the issues and processes being made visible.

That implies a gif eye view, an untainted separation of viewer and viewed. BUT Everything gets dirty in the end. And every act of making visible is also a making of new knowledge- it’s not that there is an objective reality just waiting, wanting to be uncovered. Meaning, like reality, is performative- and contingent. Two people couldn’t, wouldn’t make the same thing visible in the same way. Subjectivity creeps in, but is often disavowed.

I’m running out of brain. This quote was very important to me- Wajcman, quoted at the start also points out how ‘Busyness is a cultural (not technological) construct’. Technology is social before its technical, to misquote deleuze.

“Chrononormativity is a mode of implantation, atechnique by which institutional forces come to seem like somatic facts. Schedules, calendars, time zones, and even wristwatches inculcate what the sociologist Evitar Zerubavel calls “hidden rhythms”, forms of temporal experience that seem natural to those whom they privilege. Manipulations of time convert historically specific regimes of asymmetrical power into seemingly ordinary tempos and routines, which in turn organize the value and meaning of time.

Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds

Near the end now, adding quotes in a panic coz I don’t want anything to be left out. Like this is my chance which is probably true- I won’t get any more time than this. Institutional forces- of being always on, always moving, available, flexible, come to seem like somatic facts. My lateral hip pain, an outward expression of the implanted belief that I must always be busy that there is- or should not be- no off button. My batts are running low and the threads between things running low. I think I know what I mean. High performance turns on itself so that darkness becomes a cover, a safety blanket. A knowledge in darkness, that’s where I’m going. I have run out now. The ‘brilliant darkness of the unknowable silence’. Or just to the shop, my turn to cook

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Look how daft I look posing as ‘sleepy but WORKING gaddamn it’ in bed

By chance YouTube played me who moved my cheese and it said the most important thing is to LAUGH AT YIURSELF

so I’ll go do that now



Staying with the Trouble: Resident Artists’ Show and Open Forum

Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen

Resident Artists’ Show and Open Forum
Friday 26th- Sunday 28th June
The White Building, London

The open studios event for the last cycle of The White Building’s #stacktivism residency programme will feature work by artists-in-residence Kei Kreutler, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Erica Scourti and Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen around geopolitical landscapes of data, experience encryption processes, browsing decoys, satellite constellations and estranged astrologies. Working on- and off-site over this spring, their practices deal with differing conceptions of infrastructures, contemporary networks, geologies, and narratives of scale and subjectivities.


Friday 6:30- 9pm

CLEAN THOUGHTS (video performance)
Erica Scourti
“When everything is clean, we can start again”

Kei Kreutler
The night will close seated in a circle. Having emerged from distributed conversations under the alias INFRA_LIFE, the workshop traditionally centres around the questions: What do you envision for the world in the next five years on political, personal and network scales? How can we re-configure or hack existing infrastructure and institutions to meet our shared goals, and what will we have to develop ourselves from the ground up? Staying with the past is also possible.

Saturday 12-6pm
All day open studio

Sunday 12-6pm

Exhibition Tour- led by the artists

2-4pm Open Forum

Prompted by Donna Haraway’s injunction for staying with the trouble, an open forum[n] conversation will focus on critical discussion around questions of art and/ versus activism, the complicity at the intersection of art and technology, and how contemporary global and self-scales[o] are produced.

A mix of friends, interested parties, academics, and other artists have been invited to respond to these questions in an open discussion format chaired by Erica Scourti. More details will be announced later in the week.

WHERE: The White Building, Unit 7, Queen’s Yard, White Post Lane, London E9 5EN MAP
WHEN:  Friday 26th- Sunday 28th June

INFRA_SPECTION Screening and Discussion

CS1349985-02A-BIG7pm, Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Come by the White Building for a screening and discussion featuring magic, black boxes, and red stacks, with videos from the Haunted Machines mini-conference at FutureEverything 2015 and transmediale: CAPTURE ALL 2015.

This event will be the first in a series of informal screenings, readings, and discussions held at the White Building’s studio space with current artists-in-residence Erica Scourti, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, and Kei Kreutler.

Ping us on Twitter (@Erica_Scourti@M_PF@keikreutler ) for more details, and expect there to be (some) beer.

WHERE: The White Building, Unit 7, Queen’s Yard, White Post Lane, London E9 5EN
(next to Crate, Hackney Wick)  MAP
WHEN: Tuesday 14 April 2015, 7pm

dreaming of electric tweets

Wrote this piece on affect recognition and other stuff almost a year ago and never got round to posting, later added some bits and then forgot about it. Decided to post without rejigs- it just about makes sense (except I’m no longer sleeping with screens as I have the boy to do that with)

download (1)Despite being a person who goes to bed surrounded by phone, iPad and laptop, sleep is usually one of the few places I’m not perennially plugged in, so last night’s dream of checking Twitter interactions seemed to signal a new level of saturation: an always-on zombie, dreaming of electric tweets. Not coincidentally, I’d been reading Jonathan Crary’s 24/7, a chilling indictment of life as value-extraction game where sleep holds out as a final frontier of valueless repose, along with daydreams, rest and the “useless time of reflection and contemplation”, all of which act as problematic barriers to the monetisation of all experience. For one, no technology is as yet capable of intruding into our dreams to program appearances of Twitter, or any other product, service or brand; also, unlike online behaviours, dreams can’t be recorded for clues about what sneaker or holiday destination your subconscious is hankering after. Which is just as well, since, as the facilitator of a Cryptolcass at Mozilla’s London HQ pointed out, a possible future where recorded dreams can put you in jail is reason enough to start taking privacy seriously, before it’s too late.



As well as potentially landing people in jail, technology that could directly access our minds, and dreams, would be manna for marketers, giving an even more accurate portrayal of what it is we ‘really want’, and then targeting ads to meet- and shape- these desires. The notion that ever more responsive, telematic, intimate devices and software will end up not just being able to read the contents of our mind, but to actively shape it, has also been a long-standing concern of dystopian strands of science-fiction, in books that herald the complete commodification of the soul and the pliant zombie citizens it produces. In Transmetropolitan, a dark comic series by Warren Ellis, advertising has penetrated into the dreamscape, with sponsored messages bombarding the protagonist Spider Jerusalem in his sleep. Similarly, MT Anderson’s Feed extrapolates current trends of targeted online marketing to telepathic levels, where ads pop up in users minds in response to life events- a break up, a job loss- with what algorithms have deduced would be their most likely behavioral response- ice-cream binge, shopping splurge or revenge fantasy. Most of Philip K Dick’s output could also be read as a (fairly accurate, it turns out) prediction of life once people’s affective responses can be parsed into useful data.
i2w2b While these scenarios are still mostly fictional dystopias, Google’s purchase of various AI and robotics companies, like DeepMind and Boston Dynamics, suggest that ‘divination of private consciousness’, and it’s hidden desires, is big business. Perhaps with masses of Very Big Data plus algorithms fuelled by some artificially intelligent juice, search engines will finally be able read between the lines of your URL history, emails and social media interactions and deduce what you want to search for- and buy- before you even know. Of course this still signals a belief in the separation between us (desiring humans) and them (deducing algobots/ machines/ etc), when it’s probably more a process of entanglement where it becomes impossible to tell ‘who makes and who is made in the relation between man and machine’, as Donna Harraway put it.


But anyway, the parsing of affective responses and the insights they provide into our supposedly unfettered desires, is becoming big business. For example, new affect recognition imaging technologies promise to track what consumers ‘really’ feel/ want, according to the changing weather of facial expressions; and Dataclysm, a book by OK Cupid’s CEO book, draws conclusions from data gathered about users’ dating proclivities, thereby telling who they are when, as the subtitle puts it ‘they think no one’s watching’.

In both cases there seems to be an underlying belief that their data, or rather, the reading of it, unwittingly reveals elusive truths that not even the users themselves are truly aware of. Both rely on the algorithmic parsing of this data into ‘fact’- the muscular micro-movements into emotional states, or the eyeballing and clicking on dating profiles into facts about what men want (youth, apparently…). Needless to say, the conclusions (‘facts’) are codified by existing conventions- around what happiness, sadness etc look like, about how different genders interact (usually with the assumption that there are only ever TWO genders)- and therefore you could say, the process of reading and interpreting data has as much agency in the shaping of meaning as the data itself. That’s a long-winded, verbose way of saying that data, whatever that even means, does not just ‘mean stuff’ objectively and apart form the society and culture that’s measuring it.


Still, the idea of algos reading private consciousness suggests that they become both technologies for accessing inner experience, as well frustrating barriers to its efficient conveyance: an interface which enables communication but always prevents direct, unmediated, one-to-one experience, where what I feel, you feel. Boulter and Grussin call the desire to efface the medium so as to allow the represented content (of the video, computer game or innermost desires) to appear more realistically to the viewer the logic of immediacy, a longstanding tradition within Western art. This erasure of the medium or support gives the viewer the illusion of power by obfuscating the reality of the technical interface and its over-arching control of the viewing (or playing, or whatever) situation. The development of ever-smaller and more portable, wearable tech could also be seen as a desire to remove the pesky interfaces and merge more seamlessly and enjoyably with information flows.

More broadly, the notion of invisible or transparent infrastructure upholds an impossible dream of immaterial connection, and a state of denial towards the social and geopolitical realities that facilitate our tech. Recent debates around Stacktivism, for example, have emphasized the materiality of technology and the physical consequences of e-waste, energy-guzzling servers and the mineral harvesting involved in hardware construction. Stacktivism, has been described as ‘a conversation about those hidden technological and social infrastructures and the conventional metaphors that mask them: the cloud, the smooth and playful industrial design, the invisible interface.’

Getting off that fluffy cloud and scratching the surface of these smooth machines by becoming aware of the very material conditions that support them becomes an act of resistance against the ambient control of interface-less technology that aims to unite us with the contents of the network. If our data has become perhaps an interface through which our ‘inner world’ is mediated and known, then scrutinizing this process could also be about making visible the very real, material ways it’s collected, used and monetized through our always-on, and always-on-us- technology.

Sharing, liking and over-thinking

(or ❤ ❤ ❤ in a public place)

This is a kind of garbled thing about falling in love and worrying about, oh, everything and nothing. I wrote it a few weeks ago and then kind of chickened out of posting it, for no apparent reason, as it’s not particularly salacious or exciting. Well and also then I made this video, which was kind of blatant, so…whatever


It’s been a while since I’ve written, and apart from the triple whammy stresses of moving out of studio and home (to Manchester, temporarily) as well as publishing The Outage I’ve also been trying to work out what the impact of ‘meeting someone’ is having on my work. Apart from the routine worry that erotic daydreams are distracting me (and him) from work, I’ve found myself questioning how much to share about him, my feelings and our correspondence in my work. I’ve already made numerous allusions in my twitter feed, and a few on my tumblr, (ok, loads) but when I floated the idea of somehow incorporating one of our email exchanges in a piece of work, one friend suggested I had stooped to Jordan-level cynicism: pimping out my private, not to mention intimate, life for a gossip-hungry public. Obviously her media profile translates directly into hard cash/ boob jobs in a way that mine can’t, so it’s hardly a fair comparison.

I love that this pic is called ‘jordanandre’

But the reaction reflects maybe a wider suspicion that talking about your lover in public, or making them part of your work, is de facto careerist and shallow, evidence of a willingness to instrumentalise even romance into one’s work, and therefore, one’s cultural, if not actual, capital- particularly if, as in my case, your work is often a kind of self-performance of your life as it’s lived. As Dardot and Laval put it, the hashtag neoliberal subject must constantly think about maximizing its human capital across all areas so that “all its activities must be compared with a form of production, an investment, and a cost calculation” from which romance is not exempt. If your soul’s already on it, why not put your love life to work too? This is particularly true if the object of your affections is already somewhat implicated in a piece of your work and therefore could potentially provide some, err ‘added-value’ to it, in the time-honoured tradition of staged Hollywood flirtations orchestrated to boost weak-performing romcoms (see: the life and works of Jennifer Anniston). Funny though that milking romances for extra value always seems to fall to the female stars, suggesting they have to live their emotional, ‘off-screen’ lives as stories to be consumed in the pursuit of viewing figures much more so than their male equivalents.

But instead of calling it out as cynical, what about seeing the incorporation or reference to one’s lover as a touching public display of affection? Felix-Gonzales Torres’ clocks, ticking in time together, elegantly convey feelings of connection, similarity and companionship that love brings, though it’s an abstracted take which doesn’t divulge specific details. Also, it’s not yet another puke-inducing paen to the heterosexual coupledom we’ve had rammed down our collective throats by Hollywood, TV and the advertainment industry in general (incidentally, I am reading sexual undertones into pretty much everything at the moment, it’s making it hard to concentrate on anything…).

Despite being sold as the culmination of human (or female) happiness, the reality of the heteronormative love arrangement, as Hannah Black argues, mostly “represents an appropriation of the physical and psychic energy of women to benefit men”. It’s often a danger to them too; a woman is far more likely to be killed by her ex or even current lover than anyone else.

Carolee Schneeman, Fuses

Work like Carolee Schneeman’s Fuses, a sensual 16mm film capturing her having sex with her partner, is a bit more explicit, specific and ‘collaborative’, in the sense that the guy is visibly, identifiably in it and doing something useful; while it’s often been read as a celebration of straight sex, Cadence Kinsey argues that the watching presence of her cat Kitch provides a more subversive take on sexuality. More recently, Frances Stark’s chatroom fling with an Italian filmmaker seems to have started off as a genuine ‘connection’, or pleasant distraction from ‘real’ work, but I’m sure it’s potential to be translated into a piece became apparent pretty soon… or maybe that’s just me. So, was she only in it for the work? Maybe it’s just good time management skillz- multi-tasking by having a fling/ fuck with half an eye on producing a piece out of it: after all, constructing and maintaining relationships can be seen as a time-heavy (yet fun) form of unpaid intimate labour, so it makes sense to generate some kind of bi-product if your practice can accommodate it…

Frances Stark, My Best Thing, 2011

Of course there’s a difference between setting up a sexual/ romantic situation specifically with the intention of turning it into a piece of work- like the idea I’d toyed with of using Tinder to recruit blokes to make something until someone advised me this was callous and avoidant- and drawing on your unplanned life experiences as they occur in order to attempt to reflect the way in which sociality and relationships, including romantic ones, are key value-creators in the affective economy. (though obvs romantic relationships have always been partly about value- hence power couples, arranged marriages, dowry, the history of the monarchy etc etc). But even if they are unstaged, perhaps co-opting romantic liaisons into your work is an attempt to control them- like, if I could just turn this into a ‘piece’, then I know I’m in charge, ergo I’m safe…and even if it goes wrong, it’s potentially re-coupable as work of some description somewhere down the line so no matter the pain, I’ll benefit somehow (I don’t believe this by the way, but it kind of makes sense…).

Speaking of deferred timelines, one friend worried that publicly blabbing about a budding romance while it’s still unfolding could/ would kill it, and suggested I reflect on it in 10 years- (hahahaha, 10 YEARS…?!)- when it was over (what do you mean over?!!!). I mean OBVS I will have reflected on it in 10 goddamn years, and in a way that seems like a cop out. Part of the point perhaps is the temporality- the presentness. When it’s ancient history already, what’s the risk in talking about it? Now, when things could still ‘go wrong’, there is a risk: I mean if it all goes to shit, I’ll feel pretty sheepish and sad, after proclaiming hearts and flowers to anyone who will listen. Which includes him, as he follows me, silently, on Twitter. (one friend enquired if I’d briefed him on my tweeting…umm, no).boy

My mum, who was also pretty nervous about The Outage, balks when I say this, asking why I’d want to put myself in a position of risk (and exposure more generally). While I think she’s more concerned about my mental/ emotional state, it’s also a good question from the perspective of the neoliberal subject that Dardot and Laval talk about, (can you tell I just read that article on e-flux?) who lives according to a new(ish) imperative to self-entrepreneurialise, which is all about taking risks to further the business, the brand. As Bob Aubrey, an ‘international consultant from California’ (nice job title) who they quote puts it, “personal enterprise is reactivity and creativity in a world where one does not know what tomorrow will bring.”

something I made and then gave him

And love is certainly a massive risk: along with the awe-inspiring moments of wondering how it’s even possible to feel this strongly about another person, come fears that they might randomly drop dead, transform before into your eyes into a monster once the lust-drugs have worn off, or, perhaps most terrifying of all, stop reciprocating. Or, if they do lurve you back, that you might collapse into each other and forget that you once had a separate personality, identity and life before them. Any one of these scenarios is enough to send me into a panic right now, which shows that there is something at stake that is not, necessarily, strictly, work. Another friend exclaimed with horror that this meant I cared more about the boy than about my work- because otherwise I would be thinking purely in terms of what’s best for the work, not him, or, god forbid, me. And what sort of crap artist cares more about people/ relationships than their work?!


There’s another worry, especially for those of us (i.e. me) who treat platforms like Twitter as an imaginary boyf, a non-judgmental person we can chat random shit to as and when it appears in our heads: that they may replace our ‘audience’. I mean, what if I stop tweeting? Disaster! [this hasn’t happened btw- but I do tweet less when I’m with him and not just cos I’ve run out of my data allowance this month…] Already I’ve found myself sending him articles, stupid photos and random anecdotes instead of putting them on my blog/ twitter- or at least, sending him them first/ as well. Cary Tennis’ sanguine advice to a heartbroken writer, in love with another writer, offers a shortlist of ‘problems of the artist in relationship’ and apart from the standard artists are too egoistic/ childish/ self-absorbed to make good partners fare, he also warns that ‘another artist can seem like the ideal audience but he is not. The ideal audience is us.’ Ouch… Another potential social media pitfall is boring people with gushing on twitter, which I became momentarily paranoid about when someone mentioned that they felt knew ‘all about’ my love life …oh dear.

falling in love

Also, unlike using say, text messages with friends- a pool of quite a few, different people (cos I’m so popular, obvs), if you’re drawing on correspondence, diary entries, photos, and other media referring/ written to your lover, well, it kind of narrows it down to one specific person, who has their own public profile- and private life – to worry about, especially if they are artists or writers too. Frances Stark’s lover remained anon (from what I could tell, though he is identified as a filmmaker), but others, like Marie Calloway, whose What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life clearly refers to real people (most notably a well-known figure in literary New York and a thinly disguised Tao Lin), and Chris Kraus, especially in I Love Dick, have embraced full disclosure of the most personally excruciating and difficult kind. Tracey Emin, when challenged by a disgruntled former shag who took umbrage at being ‘reduced’ to a name on her tent, apparently retorted that he shouldn’t have fucked her, which seems fair enough. 

But if you actually like the person, then I can’t help feeling they have a say in what you’re putting out into the world. When consulting the boy about this he took an amazingly open-minded attitude to my (half) joking suggestion that I publish some of our emails, saying “you’ve mentioned more than once that people you’re close to will end up in your work. I’m ok with it if you think it’s important”. Talk about passing the test with flying colours! As it happens, I didn’t do it. Although that snippet was from an email convo, so maybe I just did…

I got thinking also about Nan Goldin and her photographic recording and display of her personal life, which obviously includes the intimate lives of her friends and lovers. According to Ben Burbridge her work has been read in a remarkably constant way, in accordance mostly with the artist’s explication of her work as a fuck-you to stuffy suburban values that creates a space for the countercultural, bohemian lifestyles left out of mainstream media representations. But the mainstream/ counterculture binary doesn’t really exist in the same way anymore, or if it does it’s used to peddle ‘alternative’ as a lifestyle category, this argument doesn’t really hold; and web 2.0 actually demands and runs on the exhibitionism and display of intimacy that her work seemed so groundbreaking for, so it’s hardly subversive to share-all. Burbrigde goes so far as to argue that her strategies of self-display are partly implicated in what she sees as the shallowness and artificiality of today’s world, which, as she puts it, has been ‘completely destroyed by computers, the sensationalism of emotion in talk shows’.

Nan and Brian in bed, 1983, part of Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency

And what do the blokes she’s shagging think? One of them said he tries/ tried not think about it being out there in the world- which was maybe possible in the 80s, but less so now, when images can be shared in an instant, and everyone would potentially know who the fucker who gave her a black eye was cos he’d be tagged up in previous couple pics, and, hopefully, would be getting some shit for it (although judging from the amount of abusive tossers who walk free on Facebook every day parading their new squeezes…maybe not).

Ah, Facebook. Last time I got together with anyone was a year before it took off, and multiple messaging across text, email, Skype, not to mention FB stalking of them and all their (visible/ known) exes just wasn’t an option. And hey, what’s the difference between presenting your boy in artwork and presenting them, trophy-like, in a couple profile pic? Isn’t that also an attempt, though maybe unconscious, to consolidate one’s personal value- like, get me, I’ve got a man!- in a vaguely similar way to ‘using’ them in your artwork, i.e. ‘using’ them as some form of value generation? Even if it’s not, you can be sure that Facebook, and doubtless someone else, is generating value from your ❤ ❤ interactions. Why else did they introduce that nauseating ‘couple page’ (presumably since dropped)?

Anyway I don’t know where this going, necessarily (I mean this post, not the romance), I think I just wanted to rant a bit because apart from anything else, I really do have a pressing question of how, if at all, to incorporate some of these heady mad feels into the commission I’m working on. I have some ideas- it’s somehow going to embrace the idea of huge amounts of emotional/ intimate labour involved- jeez all those emails, when you are both writing types, I can’t stop writing to him about every thing that pops into my head and have had to go airplane mode when on a late night one to stop myself pestering him with 4am text messages- and the fears of non-reciprocation, as I’m emailing all these random people as part of the piece, and mostly not hearing anything back. And also the plentitude of sexual desire and the plenitude and overflow of images online (translation: more erotic daydreams). But more on that later.

Phantom Selves

This is the text I had on my iphone at the launch of The Outage, my ghostwritten memoir drawn entirely from my online presence, at Banner Repeater. I’ve resisted the temptation to modify it from it’s 10 minutes reading length, because I quite like it as a record of what I was thinking about at that moment in time, before other people had read the book, asked me questions about it and before certain other- related- life changes took place. I don’t really flesh out many of the points I mention, they’re more like starting thoughts for conversation, and there was plenty of that after I read this bit of text and myself and the writer, J. A. Harrington, read sections from the book.

instagramIn case you don’t know what this book is about, I employed a ghostwriter to write a fictional memoir based entirely on my digital footprint- everything that it’s in the gallery is also in a shared Dropbox which he had access to, plus whatever else his own research brought up. The result is, as my friend said, intentionally mimicking PR speak:

“a ghost written text that draws on the personal and practice-based online activity of its subject, with a view to performing the distance between artwork and artist” (thanks Lizzie Homersham!)

That question of distance between artist and artwork, between work and life when you use yourself in your work, is key to me and is what I probably found the hardest, and most interesting part of the project.

I wanted to start off by saying plainly that this project has had a pretty big effect on me.
When I first I read the book I freaked out. It was like reading my own obituary, written by someone pretending to me. Or seeing your reflection in a cracked mirror and not being sure if the picture still hung together as you or produced something very different.

My hands were shaking as I read it and I had to lie down and call 5 friends- I was happy and even thankful that it was exactly what I’d wanted without having realised at all that that was what I’d wanted.

At the same time I felt strangely naked, exposed and vulnerable, which, combined with the mixture of excitement and fear, was almost erotic. I felt like this person had understood something, which I’m not sure I really wanted a stranger to know, never mind the rest of the world, and yet as most of it is directly quoted off my blogs etc, the rest of the world already DID potentially know! I mean- it’s not like it was private information exactly.

There’s perhaps a playing out of the false intimacy and connection of online interaction- imagining you could know a person by trawling through their random tweets and blog posts, which is kind of what we do when we stalk people we fancy or are envious of.

Though as Rob Horning puts it, the postauthentic, mediated intimacy of today is something different- it’s “going over someone’s social media offerings and reassuring them that none of it seems much like them at all”. Or maybe I secretly thought I was a precious snowflake that someone else couldn’t suss out just from their online presence.

Of course that’s only half right since I actively use social media as a site for a certain kind of self-performance, which is nevertheless not necessarily calculated, or any more than my self-performance in general is- either way, I never imagine what I’m putting across is some authentic self- mainly because I don’t believe in such a thing anyway and see it as a historically contingent construction (to oversimplify).

The thing I’m interested in is a sort of collective or shared subjecthood, and how we can’t separate our own dreams, ideas, beliefs, desires from anyone else’s, and the role technology and consumerism plays in shaping it. If the self is performative and iterative and endless citation, then doesn’t that imply there’s no interiority to worry about, no essential me to try and guard and put limits up against? Why not make that performance of self available to some else to have a go at constructing something from- after all, it’s just fiction anyway isn’t it?

Well that’s what I thought to begin with- but there’s stuff about real people like my mum and others in the book that I felt genuinely unsure about, which then begs the question why I’d put it out there and made it public in the first place.

But things written in personal blogs, or offhand maybe even drunken tweets, or even within a project- like my #winning one, a kind of undercover one that nevertheless appears a fair bit in the book- have a completely different visibility online and weight from a carefully written artist interview on a widely-read website.

Presenting them as one coherent text, which is what this book does, erases this context specificity and confuses the line between considered and unthought out remarks, between personal experience and work, between other people’s words and my own. This points to the collective self in it’s form, in a way that I like and thought found worked- but on a personal level it was disorienting; I couldn’t work out what were my words, what were the writer’s and what was some one else’s- in some cases I had to go back over blog posts to check and was particularly disturbed to realise that one section I was sure I had written, he had written.
I also couldn’t separate myself from my work and felt self-conscious for probably the first time ever, and wondered if I had actually turned myself into something and now couldn’t work out if there was any of me left- any of me that wasn’t work.

BR tweetAnd if there was, whether I had been really stupid to give this up to someone else to represent- it could have gone very wrong. Giving up control of your work, and therefore to an extent your self if you appear within it, is inherent within the online context anyway, since you can’t determine where your stuff will end up- like footage from one of my projects being used in someone’s George Michael cover video- but to explicitly hand over the task of representing yourself to someone else, without telling them what to draw on or to make you look good, or tweaking it afterwards to reflect a more desirable version- and then putting in print a version of myself that I can’t go back and delete or modify after I grow out of my opinions- was intimidating in itself. Books have a finality and authority and I just gave that away- a gesture of negating what Brian Driotcour’s describes as “the self-important phantom self that requires consistency and autonomy, limits and boundaries”

What this project made clear to me as that no matter how in control of your online presence you think you are, you cannot control what another person will make of it. This taps into the survellient anxiety of big data that Kate Crawford, amongst others, has spoken of- the sense of being watched and parsed at all times- albeit not by humans (unless you’re someone very important or dangerous) with conclusions being drawn about you, that you’re unaware of, until you get the spot on Amazon recommendations. We don’t know what choices Google is making on our behalf based on our URL histories, when we do a search, but we know it’s ‘tailored’ to our preferences- we don’t know what they picture they have of us, but we know there’s a picture. Everyone is producing an image of themselves for an algorithmic gaze intentionally or not, and to think that because you don’t use Facebook you’re safe is wishful thinking- as the CEO of the SP-index pointed out, lack of social media presence is itself a very strong identity marker- usually that you’ve got something to hide.

This comes back to privacy- and what constitutes in the age of big data. What do we have a right to keep private- not just from other humans but from algorithms too? (as that is always the defense- no human sees it…) How are leaking ourselves into public or semi-public space without even realizing it? And how is that unconscious performance being monetised?

special people

nothing special people

Ellen Feiss said recently that digital privacy is an explicitly feminist concern, continuing a project of connecting private life to public life, the personal as political; self-representation, autobiography and the confessional mode are also historically feminist concerns, and they also all come into play in various ways in this project. Female artists’ self-representation has also often been evaluated as narcissistic or vain and this project does seem kind of vain, even hubristic, at first glance- not just employing someone to do you a vanity search but getting them to construct something coherent out of the results too! Get me!

And who writes a memoir- particularly when still young-ish- if not someone who thinks they’re a special person, a celebrity? At the same time, celebs are consumable human images, branded lives, whose sell by date is surely soon coming- after all, publishers get the memoirs out quick, before the public forgets, while there is still a buck to be made. This is especially true of the reality TV star, who must endlessly perform themselves as their work until the public tires of them. Maybe there’s something of that in artists who appear as themselves too- which some sections of the book explicitly touch on, as I’ve written about this before.

There’s a lot more to say I could say about this project but I’ll shut up now and you can ask questions afterwards. We’re going to read a bit now.