THE OUTAGE is here!

The Outage_booksI’m so excited to be able to unveil The Outage (published by Banner Repeater), a ghostwritten memoir based entirely on my digital footprint, this Friday evening 27th June. It’s been an intense project for me in many ways and has precipitated a series of crises (not necessarily a bad thing- I started drawing for the first time in 15 years, see example below), which I am going to talk about a little at the launch at Banner Repeater. I mean the crises not the drawings.

I’ll also be reading a short passage from it, as will the writer John A Harrington and then we’ll take some questions- so, do come along if you want to find out more.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then count yourself lucky as I have driven pretty much everyone who would listen insane with talking about the various stages of the book… but anyway, more informatively, here is how my friend described the project in a Facebook chat (it’s intentionally in PR speak, she had asked me how I would describe it in a press blurb and then offered up her version while I was being too dramatic to focus…)

“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”

So come along on Friday to hear more! There’s also other new productions being launched:

colocation, time displacement, by Yuri Pattison (paperback, published by Banner Repeater)

Penetrating Squid by Anna Barham (audio presentation from the production reading groups over the exhibition period)

and a new screen print edition by Jesse Darling.

 

ravings of a half mad woman>> I’m leaving London for a bit so decided to creatively shred bits of stuff I’ve had lying around for ages (or ‘destroying your archive’ as Helen Kaplinsky put it) and then got quite obsessed with it

empties     acid trip

 

 
 

 

BECAUSE YOUʼRE NOT WORTH IT

Originally written in October 2012 – so don’t blame me if it’s a bit shit- for a blog which appears to have since gone under, I thought I’d repost this mildly amusing musing on the annoyignness of dating (whatever the fuck that means) and on good feminist mottoes. Enjoy!

[this video was made specially for L’Oreal’s justlikemum competition- which I WON! Skillz.]

Back in the mists of time, when I was a teenager, our girl gang had a favourite acronym, duly scribbled on walls, T-shirts and pencil cases: DDDBB. Meant to sum up our general attitude towards life, Iʼve been re-evaluating it as a feminist motto, especially for women (i.e. me) who have recently entered the snooze-fest known as ʻdatingʼ.

So- what does it stand for? Divinely Desirable Demi-goddesses Bathed in Beauty or some other self-esteem boosting warble? Nope. Something far less fabulous and yet, potentially, far more wonderful: Desperate, Deprived, Depressed, Bored and Broke. At first it just sounds like a typical teenaged moan, and totally at odds with the fantasy image I have of myself at that age: partying, drinking and dancing on the one hand and contemplating world politics and classics of philosophy on the other. I have a cringe-worthy memory of brandishing a Nietzsche book at the local skatepark, probably in an attempt to impress the boys; unfortunately I think most of them were more concerned with Gives Good Head over God is Dead.

my rules for girls- found amongst my stuff back home. best line has to be ‘don’t even look at guys. ANY of them’

But anyway, I digress. The DDD section expresses a general lack: desperate for boys, fun and excitement, deprived of all three, and- understandably- depressed as a result. The BB was a kind of after-thought, as in ʻduh, OBV we are bored and brokeʼ, after all, sources of income were hard to come by in Athens where we grew up and boredom pretty much goes with the teen territory. So why revive it as a feminist motto, seeing as it all sounds a bit gloomy and guy-obsessed?

The reason Iʼm embracing the motto is for its total lack of fabulousness and ʻoh arenʼt I a GODDESSʼ type posturing. What it suggests instead is much more honest, and fun: that as women, we can mope, be pre-menstrual, hung-over, horny, boring, short of cash- be whatever, and whoever, in fact and still be just fine. And through acceptance of that, achieve an awesomeness of far greater proportions, because to whine on about your fab-ness seems to belie a desire for validation lurking beneath the surface. After all, if I know I am so truly A-Mazing, why proclaim it to anyone whoʼll listen? It would be much less hassle to just relax with what we are, whatever that happens to be.

no she’s not

But hereʼs the catch: we (that means me) canʼt help wondering if this attitude will scare the men off. Because apparently, I am now, as a single woman, meant to actually give a toss about being able to attract, and possibly even keep, A Man. The internet, for example, abounds with mostly moronic dating advice for single ladies, which can be summed up as: donʼt moan about your ex, get drunk or have sex on the first date, and definitely donʼt do all three at the same time.

Then thereʼs those inane ʻ10 Things Women Do That Men Find Unattractiveʼ or ʻ5 Ways to Get a Guy to Notice Youʼ lists that litter online space. They immediately bring out the spoilt little brat in me- I mean, what, I have to impress someone, beyond putting on low-cut top and laughing at their jokes? Too much effort already. And what if they notice you, but because you did something unattractive, like puked in your handbag at their exhibition opening in front of all their friends? Itʼs a minefield (and it ended in tears…) And don’t even get me started on that pick-up scum-bag con-artist or whatever name he goes by. No, please don’t.

don’t get drunk, men hate it

Just as infuriating is the (hopefully not widespread) male practice of rating women from 1-10; err, this isnʼt synchronized swimming, though it does imply a similar eagerness to please and glued-on smileyness on the ʻcompetitorsʼ behalves. Not only does the urge to rank things reek of closet geekiness- I suspect offenders of drawing up mathematically precise graphs plotting median ratios of score to ʻscoreʼ- but it seems just a little presumptuous. Who are they to judge, and who said I even wanted to be a perfect 10? Too much stress, thanks. Iʼd much rather stick with my budget, flawed, hormonal self just exactly as I am, issues, shortcomings, needs and all. Whatʼs wrong with being normal, anyway?

Well, everything, if the almost-dead K-Stew story (note: apparently this ‘mattered’ in 2012, I can;t even remember what it means now…) is anything to go by. Much as I hate to revive it, that whole debacle does say something about a womanʼs license to mess up, i.e. be a normal human being, now and then. While itʼs certainly not the smartest move in the world, cheating on your guy is hardly the most heinous crime known to the universe, yet the hysterical media response was a proper ʻwomen, know your limitsʼ style scolding. If thou shalt make any mistake, thou shalt be punished- and depressingly, by other women too.

this is what single women look like apparently-  no wonder I’m not getting laid

So, I suggest as women we embrace our inner averageness, and even our inner crappiness and get busy with the far more pressing concern of enjoying life. Or, forget about auditioning for the role of Little Miss Perfect, and worry about living, which includes making mistakes and occasionally being a bit rubbish. And certainly not as a veiled attempt to get male approval through the backdoor; as in, by being so cool and self-accepting, men will magically fall at our feet in adulation. Although, they might. But who knows, who cares- this isnʼt a dating advice column, unless you actually want to stay single.

More to the point, aiming to get laid (or dates) more often is no reason to embrace this un-goddess attitude. It must be done with pure heart, without expectation or calculation. So, DDDBB all the way, just because Iʼm not worth it, and donʼt even want to be.

 

FAIL- all the bottles are still unopened

This Is (Not) My Book

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still from Nine Lives of the Artist

It’s been an interesting few days since I read- and loved- the first draft of my ghost-written fictional memoir. Based on data profiles collected by, or with the help of, various professionals in the fields of data mining, digital privacy, text analysis and cyber security, the writer has also done his own research into my online life and written it into a pretty dark, sci-fi inflected narrative.

It shifts between his writing, whole sections lifted from my blogs, artist’s interviews and projects like #winning (a kind of covert-but-public autobiography thru the medium of prize competitions) plus quotations I’ve posted on my tumblr, to create a weirdly accurate account of one version of my data self.

Its effect on me was unexpectedly intense, like reading my own obituary. My hands were shaking in excitement borne of recognition but also fear, like ‘oh fuck- this person, who I don’t know, has understood something about me… and I’m not sure it’s entirely flattering’. A bit like doing a personality test only to discover you don’t like its assessments and then doing it all over again with different answers. Except I’m not doing it again, and I think it’s great.


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…the worst kind

Speaking of pointless personality tests, Facebook is currently an orgy of quizzes allowing you to nail your character to some daft metric. While this is just ‘harmless fun’ (and a bit of data collection on FB’s part) it echoes a broader cultural interest in profile analytics of all stripes, many of which, like Wolfram Alpha, SocialBro, Sprout Social and SP-index, I used in the data collection phase of this project.

They satisfy a desire to know yourself through your data, to have it reveal the patterns that you weren’t even aware of (like who your top Facebook commenter or ‘social insiders’ are, or your Twitter wordcloud or demographics) and through that, to deduce certain things about your life (she’s not really my friend! or- in my case- I say thanks too much).

quantify this 

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mindless eating crapp

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Self-knowledge through numbers also happens to be the slogan of the Quantified Self movement, for whom seemingly random bits of data can add up to a meaningful portrait, allowing you to change niggling character flaws; I think apps geared towards data capture are examples of what Steven Poole calls ‘self-help technologies’. However, apart from apps/ devices (Nike Fuel band etc) hooked up to biometric data like heart rate, the QS ethos depends on the user entering the info themselves, which in my experience means cheating, lying or forgetting…and then feeling guilty about it (hello Mindful Eating app). In contrast, digital footprints and social media data accumulated over years capture both self-conscious and un-self-observed (not a word) behaviours, including things written, clicked and liked without much premeditation- not to mention stuff you were too inebriated to even remember doing.

they don’t think much of you… 

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Wolfram Facebook report

The increased use of data profiles also taps into the social aspect of all personality tests- it’s not just how you see you, but how they see you compared to an average that’s fascinating: how you come across to others, compared to others. Wanting to know what others ‘really’ think of us beyond surface social codes of civility, or wanting to work out one’s place in the social pecking order is obviously nothing new. But, in an increasingly technologically augmented world this anxiety intersects with the knowledge of being observed by both human and non-human ‘others’ who may be scanning our data and behaviours without contextual info to justify it. (e.g. coincidentally using a string of trigger words in your emails and being arrested- even if this technically can’t happen, following NSA revelations it’s already part of the popular imagination). Data profiles tap into a desire to discover our algorithmic identity, bringing to mind Boris Groys’ notion of performing to an algorithmic gaze. But they may also acclimatise us to the concept of ubiquitous, ambient surveillance, encouraging us to accept that since it’s already happening, we might as well find out for ourselves what it is ‘they’ see.

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SocialBro (what a fuckin name!) tagcloud

nobody cares very much

All this ruminating tells me that I really do feel exposed- kind of rare for me- which is probably why I had a minor meltdown after reading it. When I bumped into the writer over the weekend I realised how vulnerable I felt, like he knew things about me that other people- strangers- weren’t supposed to know… why the fuck had I entrusted this dude with ‘representing’ me? This is just being paranoid, since almost all this ‘stuff’ is out there already, but usually nobody gives enuf of a shit to piece it together, to draw out the threads linking offhand tweets, Facebook comments and tumblr posts. Not even your bestest buddies know, follow or care about ALL your online activity; there’s always one arena that they’re not plugged into, or less frequently interact with.

all this will be over one day

ImageAnd no matter how prolifically you post, stuff normally just gets lost in the flow without coalescing into any sort of coherent object, in the way a text, especially once published, does. Kenneth Goldsmith’s Printing out the Internet project comes to mind here, and its resemblance to, as Orit Gat points out, new services like My Social Book (basically a book of your Facebook life) which, despite their chirpy rhetoric, foreground concerns raised when corporations are entrusted with our personal archives.
As she says, “The internet is constantly shifting; will your memories—in the form of writing, images, or anything else—survive the demise of the sites that host them?” Printing out a freeze-frame of your Facebook life for posterity means you’ll have something to show your grandkids when these platforms are but a distant memory. Which sounds cute, but as she points out these services feed off anxieties about the future of our data selves without encouraging users to question the ways this info is being stored and monetized, and by whom, right now.

templates are so average 

So, I’m similarly committing a moment of my digital footprint and archive to actual print. But instead of using some shitty off-the-peg service, aggregating the data off Facebook or Instagram into a generic template, with this project I’m going one ‘better’: instead of getting an algorithm to ‘read’ me, I got a real life person! How’s that for a bespoke, customized service?

But, unlike these services and cheesy Facebook videos which focus entirely on our greatest hits of affective affirmation, this real person hasn’t painted an amazingly sympathetic view of me; which is partly what makes it effective as a text (spoiler alert, it’s not terribly negative either). [also, this on Transitioning in the Digital Age by Jessica Lachenal, why not everyone wants to Look Back over their archive- especially not publicly] And obvs it’s really tempting to edit, although I don’t want to control the narrative too much, or try to manipulate the content (like, why didn’t he put more stuff about meditation in? why does he pick up on stories about my mum, but not my dad?) or do vanity editing.

i eat my tail

Image Of course even what I’m writing now has this function, since I’m framing the project and discussing my expectations to a public and thereby preempting the book’s reception in some way. And this public obviously includes him, since he is probably, given the nature of the project, going to read this too; so, I could start surreptitiously pruning my posts and tweets, trying to influence the remainder of the text and wresting the story back under my control. Or I guess I’ll just have a conversation with him- after all, this is my book…isn’t it?! Our talk at the book launch is going to be fun, I can tell.

Before I fall into what Katherine Hayles calls the infinite regress of reflexivity, a quote from her amazing book, How We Became Posthuman to end: “once the observer is made a part of the picture, cracks in the frame radiate outward until the perspectives that controlled context are fractured as irretrievably as a safety-glass windshield hit by a large rock.”

Wish me luck.

Unreal feels

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haven’t slept in weeks/ airplane face


*I’d just got back to my parents’ house in Athens and was circling around like a lost homing pigeon wondering what to do with myself, so I started writing this and only got round to finishing it now, about 3 weeks later…this is part one, kind of…

Back in Athens for just-missed-Easter after a hazy, hungover, sleep-deprived flight. I was in my usual fragile traveling state that Ryanair- who are now flying to Greece, which means I am probably doomed to their shitty flights forever more- weren’t helping out with. Apart from nasty, overpriced coffee, lowlights included continuous tannoy harassment about their ‘deserving children’ charity scratch card…how Victorian!Image

What is it with Ryanair and their charity campaigns anyway? Last one was a borderline porn calendar of the cabin crews ‘girls’ raising money, without a shred of irony, for a young women’s (girls’?) charity; I got into an argument with the air stewardess after being told to delete the photo I’d taken of her parading it down the aisle (why? if it’s so great why not snap it for posterity?) Apparently they’d also been doing deals for local lap-dancing clubs in some Eastern European cities around the same time. Ryainair: for cut-price women’s rights!

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prince charming? or mummy’s boy?

Anyway, while pretending to read a theory book (as you do) I spent most of the journey spacing out at the clouds, vaguely trying to remember what this dude (boy? man? couldn’t work out his age apart from ‘younger than me’) I’d recently met looked like, without the aid of a Facebook stalk- one good reason to not have inflight internet connection I spose. I could half-recall the sexy, possibly troubled eyes, but couldn’t work out on the strength of one conversation whether they’re dreamy-interesting troubled or immature-lostboy troubled.

Or neither; it’s easy to completely misread people if you’ve been side-tracked by their hotness or your horniness. Call me a cynic- actually I’m not- but I believe a lot of what we call romantic love (apart from the intoxicating feeling that everything is possible and the genuinely amazing sense of being connected in some meaningful way to another human and therefore to the universe…yes, I vaguely recall that) is projection: falling in love with a figment of your own imagination, often with very little correspondence to reality.

don't try this at home unless you have good screen wipes

don’t try this at home unless you have good screen wipes

Relationship guru Natalie Lue calls this mismatch a ‘fantasy relationship’ since you’re mainly living it in your head: in between sexual fantasies, imaginary conversations, and extensive dissection of apparently innocuous comments/ behaviors, it may feel like they’re a big part of your life, when actually you’ve met them twice, or only see them once every 2 weeks (or 2 years if it’s long-distance/ Skype arrangement…she says those ‘relationshits’ are especially susceptible to the fantasy genre, which, having once accidentally fallen into a Facebook chat-based infatuation, I can confirm). You might as well write a story and fall in love with the lead character- at least your creations are unlikely to suddenly transform into whining mummys boys, preening narcissists or just, you know, normal flawed human beings.

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Pygmalion got lucky with his sculpture

Reading people is one thing, reading ‘reality’ is another. My dad has this theory that living well (he thinks, and I agree, that happiness is a red herring) is about how successfully you simulate reality, as in, whether you can accurately read a situation/ the world/ your boyf and act accordingly; he attempted to explain this through some convoluted diagram of a holographic universe, but I think that was the main gist of it.

The Dalai Lama has also written a book called ‘How To See Yourself as You Really Are’, suggesting this question of (in)accurate perception extends to the self; alot of Buddhist writing is exactly about our inability to ‘see’ ourselves as we are, instead of as god’s gift to mankind or hopeless lost-cases. Meanwhile, that thankfully short-lived ‘What I Think I Do/ What Bla Thinks I Do’ meme makes a weak gag out of the difference in personal, social and familial perceptions of our assumed role in life… though I did chuckle a hollow laugh of recognition at the ‘reality’ of the artist’s life as a Sisyphean task of endless proposal-churn.

These days, Facebook personality quizzes determining what sort of frog, 70s TV detective or smoothie you are, channel the desire for self-knowledge into an interactive, time-wasting game (which nevertheless probably helps flesh out FB’s profile of you, so, not entirely a waste of time- for them at least)

flunked-fb-quiz

Anyway, while it’s true we are often deluded about what’s going on around us, and that this usually leads to suffering of one sort or another, I’m not convinced about what this model implies: that an independent, verifiable ‘reality’ exists independently of us which we must correctly simulate in order to live happily ever after. Analogous to a scientific belief that the physical world is ‘written’ in the eternal laws of mathematics and it’s our job to uncover them, this model twangs of representationalism, which according to Karen Barad is “the belief in the ontological distinction between representations and that which they purport to represent”. This assumes, in tripartite fashion, that there are “two distinct and independent kinds of entities—representations and entities to be represented” with the third of the holy trinity being the “existence of a knower” (or, someone who does the representing).

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So if you take something like life drawing, everyone’s looking at the same tableaux (the entity to be represented) but in the ‘bad simulation’ model, some people (knowers/ observers) are hopeless, so their pictures (representations) come out all wrong and distended. And then they get pissed off and despair at how useless they are and what right they have to call themselves an artist…or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway in the same vein, Barad asks “does scientific knowledge accurately represent an independently existing reality? Does language accurately represent its referent?” And if not, then the argument could be that ‘faulty simulations’ (or, inaccurate representations) are, or lead to, unhappiness, since they mean you’re not looking properly or gleaning the right bits of information from the current life situation (you think it’s lurve 4eva, he thinks it’s a booty call; you think you’re hilarious and witty, your twitter following thinks you’re a bore).

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bizarre apparatus

Barad argues similarly for the enmeshment of measuring apparatus in acts of measurement and representation (or, the drawing tools, or the describing instruments, e.g. language), since apparatuses are ‘neither neutral probes of the natural world nor structures that deterministically impose some particular outcome”. By extension, reality emerges or is created through an entanglement between the actions we take and the pictures or measurements we make.

RmN6b2bTo hark back to J L Austin’s speech acts, I think what’s she ‘s saying is that our relationship to reality is performative rather than descriptive, where, very bluntly put, performative utterances change reality, while descriptive utterances merely describe it (though of course, the act of describing something also changes it so…everything’s performative?). So, and excuse the horrible fridge magnet aphorism, we create the world we live in, and our actions directly shape it; it’s not something separate, ‘out there’ to be discovered, as if observing, mediating and representing it didn’t affect the picture we see. Self-help soothsayers similarly advise that no matter how shitty you feel, you are not intrinsically any less of a loser than anyone else; it’s down to your perception and the way this makes you behave. So, amazingly, if you act like you’re already smart, popular and sexy,  people actually believe it.

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my true work

As for the self, as Judith Butler puts it in Bodies That Matter, “in the sense that the ‘I’ has no interior secure ego or core identity, ‘I’ must always enunciate itself: there is only performance of a self, not an external representation of an interior truth.”  Or, there isn’t some coherent interior that we must faithfully  ‘represent’ through our ways of being and speaking/ lifestyle/ jobs/ consumer choices/ haircuts etc, though this is largely what the ‘authenticity’ promise of consumer capitalism traditionally traded on. (altho personally, I do always aim to fully express my true self through my hair).

As Rob Horning says,  “consuming authentically could seem to prove fidelity to our “real self”’, a self that was built on the foundations of what Katherine Hayles has called “possessive individualism, the idea that subjects are individuals first and foremost because they own themselves”. Instead, it’s through these choices and actions that the self- and gender, as Butler famously argues- is enunciated and created, that is, through its performance, which gains coherency and legitimacy through its reiteration, rather than fidelity to any intrinsic, essential quality.

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pointless venn diagrams- the meme that never was

As for the physical world (not that the two are actually separate, but y’know) the performative model questions the idea that coherent, unchangeable ‘laws’ exist anterior to their representation through formulae, equations and diagrams but rather that these create a particular, and partial, understanding of the world. Going back to Barad on apparatuses and other mediating functions, they are not just neutral ‘measurements’ or ‘simulations’ describing nature, but are themselves active agents that help shape (though not determine a la Mcluhan) a particular worldview.

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Anyway I’ve gone off on a complete tangent but part 2 of this will be a walk-down memory lane in Athens (well except not because everything’s changed…) via more half-remembered cosmological theories which I’ve remade as lifestyle instruction guidance.

 

 

 

Zenning Out

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As a committed meditator, I often get stuck in repetitive thought-loops fretting that my embrace of meditation means I’m halfway to becoming a neobliberal drone, cheerfully internalizing the imperative to ‘work on’ myself- coz no one else will, sucker- and zenning my way out of any sense of collective responsibility in favour of tending my own interior front lawn. In an economy where mental health and/ or its more upbeat opposite, ‘wellbeing’- along with pretty much everything else – is increasingly privatized, meditation also shifts the onus of inner care-taking to the individual, thus arguably weakening the desire to change the wider sociopolitical structures which cause or exacerbate depression, stress and anxiety.

Analogous to the pernicious effects the focus on (individual) ‘recovery’ as opposed to (collective) consciousness-raising had on female empowerment, which as Trysh Travis argues “has become a favorite scapegoat, seen as a narcissistic consumer lifestyle that lured women away from the movement”, meditation and its bastard offspring, positive affirmations, seem to locate the key to salvation- or at least happiness- in a personal, rather than social register.

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So, the political is personal: the world’s shit is your problem to clean up, through a vigilance of mind that, as Zizek argues of the “Western Buddhist” meditative stance, “is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity.” His reading reframes the Buddhist notion of non-attachment as a disavowal of ones own participation in ‘the frantic pace of the capitalist game’, allowing you to be fully cognizant of the worthlessness of the spectacle but nevertheless able to sample it with impunity because ‘what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always with-draw’.

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This conception of Self (capital S), as a haven of secure subjectivity, does not, however correlate with what I have understood of Buddhist scripture, which encourages a gradual disentanglement from ego, the ‘little self’ that continuously seeks to micromanage one’s status, appearance and achievements, investing them with a sense of self in an futile attempt to seek ground. In time, this dropping of obsession with oneself allows the barriers that separate you from others start to dissolve, and eventually, if it all goes well, you realize ‘no-self’ (anattā), and can finally drop the ‘illusion of self’ that causes unhappiness since we cling to it as though it were real. As Buddha says  ‘’this is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’ and to invest this illusion with an enduring sense of selfness and ownership is what leads to suffering; enlightenment is dependant on giving up a belief in a secure, solid, unchanging self.


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I have my own ideas about the benefits of meditation (as anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing me drone on about it knows); not least that I find it makes you less self-centered, aggressive, materialistic and so on, which surely would equate with being a worse consumer and less able, lets say, to rape and pillage the planet for the pursuit of profit.

And yet, meditation has entered the corporate jargon, with promises that mindfulness is a great way for burned out execs to control stress (again, shifting a structural issue onto the individual), make clearer decisions and maybe even sleep at night. For those lower down the food chain, meditation and mindfulness are offered as a salve to ease the pain of unfair working conditions, allowing greater ‘flexibility’ (again, reframing non-attachment as a willingness to be free and easy with your temporary working contracts- hey man, why are you so ATTACHED to decent hours and pay?!) 

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‘successful businesspeople meditaiting’

As Steven Poole points out, “there exists an industry of self-help technologies devoted to teaching us how to be happy workers”, encouraging us to adapt to employment and financial misfortunes instead of say going on strike, suing for unfair dismissal or joining a union. As a programme on the quantified self on BBC 4’s Analysis put it, the main issues facing the workforce today are caused by stress; or, as Berardi says ‘’your psychic suffering didn’t matter much to capital when you only had to insert screws and handle a lathe.’ (quoted by Hannah Proctor & Michael Runyan)

That is, our mental state now matters to the economy, and if meditation, rather than better working conditions, are going to fix it, then that becomes a cheap, individualised solution; and the responsibility to ease the pain is yours, not your employer’s.  The idea that its not the world that sucks but your thinking that sucks is pretty much there in the first line of the Dhammapada: “All things are preceded by the mind, led by the mind, created by the mind” usually summarised as  ’mind creates the world’, implying it’s up to you to shift your attitude rather than blame the economy, or anyone else.

It’s not hard to see how all of this fits in neatly with a doctrine of self-responsibility, which many of the more bonkers fringes of the positive thinking movement (The Secret…ugh) have been rightly castigated for. 

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Barbara Ehrenreich has written eloquently about the dangers of the positive thinking movement in both health, following her own brush with breast cancer and the sappy pink rhetoric of half-fullism surrounding it, as well as in the job market, where she found ‘unanimous advice to abjure anger and “negativity” in favour of an upbeat, even grateful approach to one’s immediate crisis’.

 

But meditation isn’t positive thinking- and most Buddhists, western or otherwise have explicitly repudiated the claims of positive affirmations, seeing them as ineffectual cover-ups for the crap we’re trying to hide from. (As Pema Chodron says- you’re sitting there saying ‘I’m beautiful and everybody loves me’ but really what you’re feeling is ‘yeah, right’) And even if they did work, anything that strengthens the ego, giving us delusions of grandeur, is, according to the Buddha, unskillful and leads to suffering. Plato puts it like this:

The cause of all the blunders committed by man arises from excessive self-love. He who intends to be a great man ought to love neither himself nor his own things, but only what is just, whether it happens to be done by himself or another.

ImageIn fact common to most wisdom teachings and religions is a rejection of the atomised, self-preoccupied model, stressing the paramount importance of love for all beings, expressed in many famous passages of the bible (if a man has faith to move all mountains but has not love, he is etc etc).

Honouring your neighbour, not casting the first stone, forgiveness, care for your community and a general attitude of ‘humility’ that Nietzsche saw as the hallmark of the slave mentality that Christianity (and Platonism before it) ushered in, are universally encouraged across religious texts. Of course- as nauseating stories on corporate scumbags/ politicians hanging out with the Dalai Lama attest to- the problem is you might end up forgiving the very a-holes who are destroying the planet and or our social services in their blinding indifference to anything but the profit motive.

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This is the part I don’t have an answer to. Do you ‘forgive’ a cop…or what about a person who has abused you? And if meditation makes you more forgiving and caring towards others, does this mean you no longer struggle against the people, policies and power relations you disagree with? Personally I think not. But I can see how it seems to add to up a desire to change oneself, rather than changing the world.

 

In Media End

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blank videos on Instagram

This is a slightly refreshed/ rejigged version of text I wrote in summer 2013 as part of research into my commission for Derry City of Culture, where I sent out video postcards to friends, family and online contacts and asked for them to send me metadata in response. The Instagram version of the project features black or blank videos with only the tags and titles and names of senders; the original videos i sent are kept private.

‘bearing  the marks of a man’

The Husband’s Message, an anonymous Old English poem, dates to around the 10th century and is one of the few surviving poetic compilations from the Anglo-Saxon period. Taken to be a love letter from a lord to his estranged wife, it nevertheless seems to be written from the perspective of the inscribed piece of wood which bears the lines of the poem, that is, the object carrying the message:

I remain true     to the tree I was hacked from
Wood I am, bearing     the marks of a man

Aware of itself as a medium that carries the message ‘cross the sea’, ‘borne on salt currents’ the wood is both a medium or a carrier for the content of the poem, and a speaker, as indicated by the first-person narration: “To you far away     I carry this message”. However, the text of the poem is itself a medium, which casts it as a very early example of what Marshall McLuhan argued was characteristic of every medium: that its ‘content’ is always another medium, which ‘shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action’. In other words, the wood (the medium) and its power to shape human experience through its ability to carry messages is as important as the poem (its content), since, as he famously said ‘the medium is the message’.

Relating the story while reflecting on its ability to do so, the speaker of The Husbands Message invites the reader to consider both the particular plight of the estranged lovers and the mechanism through which the poem-message is mediated; through its self-reflexive evaluation, it foregrounds both language and the wooden object as a medium, a carrier of messages.

A play of awareness and effacementhannahhoch-cutwiththekitchenknifethroughthefirstepochoftheweimarbeer-bellyculture1919

A tendency to emphasize the artistic medium is described by Boulter and Grussin as hypermediacy, which they argue ‘makes us aware of the medium or media’ and is the counter-tendency to the prevailing logic of immediacy, which has dominated Western art since at least perspectival painting. Immediacy is the desire to efface and erase the medium, so as to allow the represented content (of the drawing, film, computer game) to appear more realistically to the viewer, a quest to erase the interface in a denial of the “mediated character of digital technology altogether.” In contrast, hypermediacy revels in its mediated nature, drawing the viewer’s attention to the medium, or surface, in examples as varied as collage, the heterogeneous windowed space of the web, and even the 16th century wunderkammer.
Wunderkammer 1599


The subversive potential of hypermediacy

The desire to foreground the facticity of mediation could be deduced from self-aware videos like Ryan Trecartin’s (indeed describing his work as ‘hyper-mediated’ is practically compulsory…) which acknowledge and even celebrate their mediated nature, conveyed through frequent direct-to-camera addresses, visible camera equipment, fractured editing and no attempt at realism of story-lines, characters or settings. By foregrounding and reveling in its own mediation, work like Trecartin’s subverts the desire for ever greater realism and immediacy, or medium effacement, exhibiting what Boulter and Grussin (2000: 14) call hypermediacy’s ‘playful or subversive attitude, both acknowledging and undercutting the desire for immediacy’.

Alienating effects

The radical, subversive potential of accentuating the medium was also explored by Bertolt Brecht in the context of theatre through the alienation effect, a ‘technique of alienating the familiar’ which offered the possibility of ‘freeing socially-conditioned phenomena’ from their familiar meanings, allowing the public to see them anew and thus presenting the possibility of another social reality. By jolting the audience out of false identification with the characters and the play, this tactic also reminded viewers that this was not ‘real life’ but instead a representation, a theatrical production in an artificially constructed situation, thus foregrounding its own mediatied character and denying the pleasure of an illusory, absorptive immediacy.

 The ‘poor image’ in a hierarchy of resolution

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Hito Steyerl

Hito Steyerl similarly argues for the revolutionary potential lo-fi media, embodied by her notion of the ‘poor image’, a fast-moving, low-res ‘lumpen proletariat’ ranking bottom in a hierarchy of resolution linked to Hollywood cinema, liquid crystal displays and the flawless photo-shopped fabrications of mainstream media.

As the oft-repeated argument goes, the poor image, with its jagged edges, crude compression and digital artifacts, has inherently oppositional qualities resisting the realism and verisimilitude that capitalism demands of its representations. It also makes visible rather than effaces it’s mediated nature, since pixellation and other lo-fi markers jolt the viewer into awareness that this is a digital representation. (Of course, Steyerl is fully aware that the poor image could paradoxically also be considered the ideal image of neoliberal capital, it’s small size allowing it to travel quickly and copiously).

Broken links in the network chain

broken-link-checkerIf, as she has more recently suggested, ‘networked space is itself a medium’, then web-native poor images also bring it into view as a medium which depends on a smooth, transparent graphical interface to keep images flowing, fingers tapping, eyeballs roving and users interacting without distraction. Broken links, error pages and slow internet speeds disrupt this fluidity, whose effectiveness in keeping us ‘plugged in’ is key to the Web 2.0 economy of value creation through participation, including sharing on social media, browsing, searching and buying online.

The absorptive effects of interface-effacement or medium-erasure that Boulter and Grussin associate with immediacy could also be considered politically coercive, fostering what Jodi Dean has labeled ‘communicative capitalism’: the illusion of agency produced by continuous participation through social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and so on. eye-tracking-googleHere, the continuous circulation of content, news and information, and the corresponding flow of opinions, debate and affective combat which users mistake for genuine political action depend on the medium- the social media platforms- disappearing from view into a transparency enabled by high-speed broadband and fluid, intuitive graphical interfaces. As Dean might argue, the dangers of media absorption are ever more insidious because unlike a video game, users experience their interactions and participation within the network as genuine action, thus satisfying their desire for agency without effecting any real-world change.

Whither the monomedium?

But is a platform like Instagram or Facebook a medium, or a space for the sharing of other media, or both? Lev Manovich, in his book Software Takes Command, argues that in the current situation, it may not be meaningful to even talk of different, discrete mediums at all; after all, the content of Instagram and its functioning as a platform, and beyond that the computer or mobile phone’s operating system, are all created in and made possible by software. He asks, “what happens to the idea of a “medium” after previously media-specific tools have been simulated and extended in software?” suggesting that a proliferation of media have been replaced by ‘one single monomedium, or a metamedium’.

In a sense, this could be what the post-internet shift is responding to; apart from the banality of the internet now it’s as familiar as TV was to preceding generations who’d grown up with it, even talking about work, or life, or art being ‘online’ or digital seems an outmoded throwback to a time when there was a such a thing as not online or not digital, in at least some part of its production, reception or dissemination.
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Mediums begat formats

In After Art, David Joselit argues that mediums, which produce singular objects, are now best considered subsets of formats, which he describes as ‘configurations of force’,  ‘provisional structures’ that aggregate and channel content establishing patterns of links or connections between images. Artworks which privilege the reframing, capturing and re-use of existing content, rather than creating new content, all draw attention to both the image and its ‘aesthetic environment’, the nexus of connections and links ‘not only to messages, but to other social currencies like capital, real estate, politics’ within which it has power, value and visibility.

Within this shift from ‘object-based aesthetics’ toward ‘network aesthetics’ is underway, artists stage a ‘performative mode of looking through which the single image and the network are visible at once’. In this mode images have power not for their intrinsic formal properties, but due to their connectivity and relationship to other nodes of value,  echoing the way that “in informational economies of overproduction, value is derived not merely from the intrinsic qualities of a commodity (or other object), but from its searchability”, i.e. its ability to be found, and connected to other commodities.

13th century shipSo to return briefly to The Husbands Message, the wood calls the viewers’ attention not just to the content it carries, and therefore its role as a medium, but also to the fact that it is itself ‘mediated’ through a ‘network’ of links: the ships, sailors’ hands and horse-drawn carriages and by extension the economic distribution system that managed to transport it across the sea and far away.
Perhaps this wider network, which has evolved into our global economy, has always been the main, or umbrella medium; as with some readings of the term ‘postinternet’, the notion of media become problematic altogether once seen within the wider context of networked space as itself medium, or as Steyerl says ‘whatever one might call a mediums’ promiscuous, posthumous state today”.


I wanna be the girl with the most cake….

Philip K Dick says “Don’t try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night.”… shoulda listened! Instead, a 4am ramble.

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genuine fake

As a person who regularly experiences periods of insomnia, people often ask me what it is I worry about when I can’t sleep, as if wakefulness automatically means being consumed with anxiety rather than just not feeling particularly tired, which is the far less exciting truth. On some occasions, however, I really am worrying, awoken in the night in the iron grip of a familiar terror, a cold conviction that ‘this is wrong’, or, more accurately you are wrong, this is all a big mistake, an awful joke, a case of mistaken identity, and somehow sooner or later EVERYONE WILL KNOW and then you’ll be unceremoniously booted from the club, ejected without explanation, because the secret is out: this isn’t REALLY your life, this isn’t REALLY you, not the you you were supposed to be.

Basically, what life coaches call imposter syndrome, which, when it strikes, makes me wish I had grown up just ‘knowing’ that it was OK for me to be an artist- or that it was even an option- instead of having to convince myself, and everyone else that it is/ was OK and that being able to spell or do differential equations doesn’t immediately mark you out as an uncreative right-brain (read: boring) rationalist.

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cat says go back to bed

But it’s not limited to career choices; it’s more a general, over-riding sense of uneasiness which makes your life, personality, circumstances etc feel like a random mix of fragments that somehow you have to convincingly piece together into a coherent ensemble in the performance of ‘you’; like waking up late, hung-over and with no clean clothes for a really important interview and trying to construct an outfit out of the random bits of your wardrobe, most of which probably don’t even fit or are covered in bike grease or cat hair, and having to put across a convincing performance as a coherent, sane and employable individual despite wanting to crawl back into bed saying ‘nope, wrong person’!

wait...they LOST their bodies?!

wait…they LOST their bodies?!

The costume metaphor is particularly fitting (pun alert!) given that I am going through yet another rerun of a long-standing (see last year’s blog post from pretty much same time- surely not coincidentally, Christmas) ‘issue’, which is weight, and food. But at the moment, I’m also reading everything symbolically, including losing a brooch only to discover it was still attached but that my top was on back to front, meeting an old flame who I had almost no recollection of, and dreaming of eating a plastic octopus – though as these all happened late last night it’s quite possible the symbolic message was stop drinking and go home– hence I’m reassigning some kind of cosmic, symbolic significance to my ‘food issues’ in the hope I’ll finally get to the bottom of them, and finally have only 1 size of clothes in my closet.

Anyway, food issues…I kind of even hate myself for writing about this, not only ‘cos it sounds like a cheap celeb ‘special’ (How I Battled My Inner Weight Demons And Finally Stayed A Size 10 For More than 1 month and then an amazing man fell out of a tree and gave me a million dollars [or other ‘dream life’ scenario]- now buy My Diet Book or Yoga DVD)- a requisite part of the ‘woman in public life’ narrative, or even just the woman narrative; but especially cos, as a self-proclaimed feminist, I can’t help feeling like I have failed by having this ‘problem’.

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You buy this book…you have problems

It’s like I’ve agreed to the brainwashing that equates skinniness with cool, with success, with ‘It’; and to measuring my worth according to my appearance, rather than knowing, and I mean truly knowing, not just on paper, that my right to be here, to participate and have agency in this world and be sexy and hot and whatever else men can be while also sometimes looking like dogs, is totally unrelated to how I happen to look and especially to how much I happen to weigh.

Whatever I believe- and I do go thru periods of genuinely not giving a toss about how I look, though they’ve often coincided with being in lurrve or under the influence of strong mood-altering chemicals, which amounts to pretty much the same thing- social norms dictate that regardless of whether or not I buy into it, people will and do judge a woman on her weight and equate it with her ability to ‘manage’ her life (i.e. it’s SYMBOLIC).

And yet the worst thing is, I also judge – not when it comes to other women, but with myself; it’s not so much that I feel ugly or useless when I’ve gained an extra couple of kilos (ok maybe a bit of that too), but more that I feel exposed; like the fat betrays you, making visible your inability to manage your life, or more accurately your feelings, because, like many women, when difficult feelings arise my autopilot response is to fall on a bag of something and mechanically eat my way through it like a deranged robot, or else inhale biscuits by the packet-load without even tasting them (which is even more pointless cos that means there’s not much pleasure involved).

h8C183DF7In fact until a few years ago I didn’t even ‘know’ I was feeling anxious, rejected, depressed or whatever- I just knew I needed to eat a whole bar of chocolate, and right now. Over time I learnt to read cravings as a sign there was a feeling I was unable to sense consciously; pretzels means ‘too much work, too little fun’, chocolate means ‘nobody loves me (wah wah wah), bread means ‘unhinged, lost at sea’ and so on. (btw, there are whole books devoted to the art of reading your binges and cravings, like coffee grounds, for insight into your dysfunctional emotional processing patterns).

party is over-redact

…for YOU anyway

Similarly, ‘feeling fat’ is shorthand for ‘feeling shitty’ in some vague, undefined way; ranging from the general unease of feeling wrong in your skin, to all-out self-loathing fantasies of being reborn in a different body/ life/ place. Annoyingly though, just being intellectually aware of what experts call the stimulus-response relationship (i.e. feel like shit= pig out) doesn’t make it any easier in the moment to override the command to devour a packet of biscuits. The problem is now that I can’t kid myself that I just love biscuits, or say hey, what’s wrong with a few biscuits- obvs, NOTHING- since, reading it symbolically, I know that how you eat, more even than what you eat, has a deeper meaning that reflects the way you experience the world, and what you believe to be your place within it.

So, it hit me today while eating a piece of cake (symbolic of ‘good stuff’), observing that I already wanted to eat the next piece, and preferably the whole thing, how ingrained my fears are: I am terrified, on some level, that this ‘good’ will run out, and any day now, it will all be taken away; ‘they’ will see that this was all a mistake and that all my endless striving, reading, knowing, speaking, being ‘in the know’, not missing out- all this is part of a desperate ploy to make sure that nobody EVER discovers that actually I am, in some nebulous way, somehow irredeemably flawed, a hopeless case…. so I’d better eat the whole damn cake

other versions

other versions

and quick before it gets taken away!

Like one of those cringey dreams where you suddenly realise that you’re in public- back at school, on the street, with your in-laws- naked except for a crappy bit of fabric which you’re desperately trying to cover yourself up with while  hoping no one will notice- except instead of bits of cloth I’m using my brains, my wits, the reams of books I’ve read, my blagging super skills, being nice, being in charge, being thorough, being responsible, being fun… well being whatever really, it doesn’t make much of difference, as long as it works; whatever will temporarily assuage this conviction that SOMETHING IS WRONG and if I’m not careful EVERYONE ELSE WILL REALISE, and I will be exposed as a sham-person, a fake, a cheap knock-off.

feeling less thanSo anyway it’s this feeling, of thinking everything is totally unworkable and I might as well give up now that then leads out, or rather (in self-help talk) through into its opposite: as John of the Cross says in Dark Night of the Soul, “The soul has to proceed rather by unknowing rather than knowing”. Or, you are not here to fix, to control, to have an answer to why you happened to land in this life, and likewise your life is not a ‘problem’ to be solved, an issue to be fixed, like a bike puncture or faulty boiler: there is no handyman you can call in for this one.

Peace comes from accepting that and sitting on your hands doing precisely nothing, even though every part of you is crazed with an urge to tear the house apart to find that secret key which will unlock the door to the You without issues, self-doubt, world-doubt, paranoia: an impossible Magazine You that oils the wheels of the economy as well as the ridiculous notion that at some point- in the future, of course- when this You has been located THEN you will finally be ‘happy’.
Grumpy-Cat-Fun-Meme
But no. There is no magic pill to make the shitty stuff dissolve and wash away; this caked on limescale, layered up over years, IS you- not some jacked-up fantasy of a pure, clean, debris-free surface which nothing clings to, a Teflon surface that all pain slips off without sticking and catching. No such luck! I recall my bestie, when I was (literally) crying over some two-bit loser who was too lame to man up and face the consequences of over-stepping the friendzone, gently reminding me that all the meditating, yoga and self-reflection in the world isn’t going to take the pain- or the dickheads- away; and it’s true, coz on some level part of me secretly thinks, well shiiiiit I sit on my arse meditating every goddamn day and read books and listen to podcasts about how to live life with some modicum of wisdom, SO WHY THE HELL AM I NOT PERFECT ALREADY?!

Then, the realization, as the Zen parable goes, you’ll never make a mirror out of a stone, no matter how hard you polish it, and you’ll never make a ‘better’ version of you, no matter how hard you try (no matter how many books you read, weight you lose, therapy you do, workshops you attend, clothes you buy, teeth you whiten etc etc). This is the ‘you’ you’re stuck with, and stopping rather than cranking up the endless attempts to fix, cure, control or better yourself is the only way out/ through.

As St John also says, (I’m paraphrasing a bit) we get shitty with ourselves because we want to be saints already, we want to be totally free of our ‘flaws’ and ‘faults’ NOW, without realising that if we were, we’d probably be smugbragging, self-entitled pricks with no compassion for other people’s pain, doling out unwanted advice to the unenlightened wretches who are still struggling with their shortcomings, stupidity and self-defeating behaviors. As Richard Pryor so wonderfully put it, what that shit that won’t flush wants, so to speak, is to let you know that even if it’s carved out of stardust by Italian craftsmen, your toilet is no different than anyone else’s- it’s still a fucking toilet, and it’s still only good for one thing: taking a crap.

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still a fucking TOILET

And some crap will just keep coming back and keep asking for your attention cos all that inconvenient ‘stuff’ you just want flushed away (annoying habits/ people, extra rolls of fat, compulsive thought patterns, whatever), is actually crucial: a reminder that you cannot control things around you, and you especially cannot control yourself into a better version, rid of these inconvenient hindrances- because that crap is you! And just as wasting even a nanosecond trying to get someone else to change in a relationship is utterly pointless, now I also see the futility of trying to control, fix or cure myself. But unlike a useless boyf, I can’t bail and run as fast as possible in the other direction because this is the life- and the body- I’ve got.LIFE
And it’s all going to be over so soon, so best hurry up accept it and get busy enjoying it because something tells me that when I’m lying on my death bed, I will definitely NOT be despairing about what size clothes I’m going to be buried in (as long as they’re nice, the rate I’m going I might well be looking to pull in the afterlife…). Anyway that’s my 4am (6am now) ramble done.

How To Waste Time Productively

wikihowIn mid-November, 2013 I wrote a ‘how to’ article on Wikihow called ‘How To Waste Time Productively’; a few weeks later, they deleted it. The text is still in my drafts though, so here it is, unchanged and with the same pics.

Every morning as I drink my coffee, I envisage a wonderfully productive day stretching ahead of me. I will get those invoices done, and those lingering emails, and all the new ones that come in, while cracking out an original piece of writing for my long-neglected blog; hell, I might even get round to calling the tax office about that overseas payment which I so desperately need but somehow can’t quite muster the energy to battle through HMRC call centres to get to. Oh and maybe even do some actual WORK.

But every evening, my to-do list sits there practically untouched with only ‘Skype with mum’ and ‘put the washing out’ crossed off. Seriously, where does the time go? As that’s far too big a question to consider here, I thought it might be helpful instead to reframe wasted time as productive time, so that you can stop beating yourself up about being lazy, inefficient or addicted to Facebook.

STEP 1
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Put your lack of productivity into perspective. Nobody else is getting anything done either, which explains the thriving market in time-management apps; it’s like when you go into a club with a bit of paper stuck in the loos saying  ‘ANYONE CAUGHT DOING/ DEALING DRUGS WILL ASKED TO LEAVE’, you know for a fact the place is crawling with dealers/ wasted punters and you’re going to have a great night.

STEP 2

Time-wasting requires breathing, which is itself a type of work, as Marcel Duchamp (godfather/ grandfather of conceptual art) said: “I like living, breathing better than working…my art is that of living. Each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere, which is neither visual nor cerebral, it’s a sort of constant euphoria.” Since it’s not inscribed anywhere it takes up no storage space, which is a bonus, and also it’s stealth art-making, since people think you’re ‘just’ breathing, when you know you’re actually you’re making art.tumblr_mpsll7eCmU1qe9qato1_1280
Eventually you could just sit on your arse all day and call it ‘work’ (see Marina Abramovic, except that’s wasn’t very stealth cos it was at Moma so everyone knew it was art, and JayZ had something to do with it, which meant that even non-art types heard about it, i.e. not very undercover)

STEP 3

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Or, you could just do nothing and call THAT art, like ‘enigmatic’ artist Lee Lozano, whose General Strike Piece (1969) involved dropping out of the art world and never going to any parties again (I like this detail cos it proves she was actually ‘someone’ and obvs this piece  wouldn’t work if you were a nobody, cos no one would care if you jumped off a cliff let alone stopped making art). So, she stopped making work, except that was the work, so she had the last laugh as we’re still talking about it 30 years later.

STEP 4

Seriously, you might as well do nothing but just exist, ‘cos according to Boris Groys, God doesn’t care about the extra stuff you put in either way: “what is the difference between the saint and ordinary people? The saints only live; they only exist; that is what god reacts to; that is why they are saints”. Oh and don’t bother finishing anything either; he advises that today’s artist need never make a masterpiece or indeed any ‘complete’ piece of work, and in fact ‘that is why he is admired’.

STEP 5

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Saint Lucy…she knows

And luckily, in the new regime of attention scarcity you don’t actually need SKILLZ, you just need to master visibility retention, as exemplified by the reality TV star, who, as Brad Troemel points out, is “famous not because of her professional craft but rather due to an ability to remain visible, maximizing attention through the often banal and repetitive performances of herself.” In other words, she too ‘purely exists’ without really doing anything, but in a way that will probably lead to rehab and or financial/ emotional bankruptcy, which is why we watch it, and why she makes money (see also ‘bad girls’, certain variants of Overshare, trollgaze)

STEP 6

In a sense, the saints, and reality stars- and us too, now that we are all kind of reality stars in the ongoing drama of our socially mediated lives- are channeling a bit of Nietzche’s fridge-magnet-worthy aphorism: “Live your life as a work of art”. God is watching, even if no one else is. Except God is dead. Well, your friends are watching.
[Digression: note he didn’t say GOOD work of art; it’s like on the rare occasions I meet non-artists and tell them what I do for a living (hahahaha) and they half-squint at me, I feel I should add, ‘but I never said a GOOD or SUCCESSFUL artist’, cos I know that’s what they’re thinking; unlike most jobs, claiming that you are an artist seems to imply a positive self-value judgment. But he also didn’t say BAD work of art, failure is so 2012.]

STEP 7

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‘Wasting time’ on liking, sharing, commenting and stalking people on Facebook or reblogging/ faving stuff on Twitter and Tumblr is, as doomy film theorist  Steven Shaviro points out, in fact very productive: “Aesthetic sensations and feelings are no longer disinterested, because they have been recast as markers of personal identity: revealed preferences, brands, lifestyle markers, objects of adoration by fans….it is only insofar as they are known and objectively described, or transformed into data, that they can be exploited as forms of labor”.
In other words, telling the world what you’re into is actually a form of labour that is productive, albeit not for you, but hey, what comes around goes around, right?

STEP 8

If you’re an artist or other professional self-exploiter (permanently-employed world take note: in the not-too-distant future EVERYONE will be freelance and hence endless, shameless self-promotional  social media whoring will be the norm) after all, as Foucualt says, the individual is compelled to be “an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of himself … being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of [his] earnings.” Well-dressed kunst-maven Isabelle Graw similarly warns that ‘subjectivity is the product’- and you better know how to sell it.

STEP 9

Anyway, it’s not just freelancers who’ve been sucked into the social media value extraction machine, as Ian Bogost (a game designer AND philosopher, howz dat for multi-tasking) points out: ‘today, everyone’s a hustler…we’re not even just hustling for ourselves or our bosses, but for so many other, unseen bosses’. Instead of technology letting us chill the fuck out once in a while, we’re ‘hyperemployed’, as ‘we do tiny bits of work for Google, for Tumblr, for Twitter, all day and every day’ and guess what, you’re not getting paid for it.

STEP 10

gold-farming-china-wow7gold7

But if you’re smart enough, all of this hustling CAN actually be productive to you, since as Brad Troemel (him again!) says “we live in a time when young artists look at each other’s Facebook pages more than each other’s art” and “be it ‘politicized’, ‘sexy’, ‘ironic’, or anything else, the artist’s online brand tends to function as a kind of live-action role playing artist statement” (digression: your life is essentially a video game, but there’s no escape, and no end; but, just like the cottage industry of gaming ‘gold-farmers’ labouring in sweaty PC rooms to get coins to sell to losers obsessed with World of Warcraft, it’s already possible to cheat by buying up ‘likes’ in bulk, except the former requires actual, RSI-inducing WERK, not just a bit of software- in the future, there could be righteous vigilante squads hunting down the immoral, artificially augmented like-buyers, for cheating at the game on online popularity, just as gaming squads pick on the Chinese workers for selling coins that would otherwise take months to collect).

Basically, if you accrue enough cultural capital through your Facebook presence, in a few years time you can cash it in for some actual capital in the form of paid writing/ speaking engagements, an exhibition, a book deal, a column in the Guardian etc etc.

STEP 11

So, as Sam Riviere argues in a post on internet poets, you could reframe your ‘extra-textual work’ as a form of brand consolidation since “the extra-literary text … functions as advertisement for the poems, which function as advertisements for the author-brand: both are secondary content for a final product that is endlessly deferred, and that need never materialise.” Put another way, the extra-literary text IS the text, IS the work, and since that means its your life, you don’t have to finish it, or alternatively it means you will be working until you die. Or beyond even; Groys also that saints were essentially bloggers, whose blog was read by God, and whose death posed no obstacle to its being read. Poets- especially ‘internet poets’- are a special case though, cos unlike artists, NONE OF THEM ever make any money. Maybe that’s why poetry blogs are so good- the commenters are free to debate, safe in the knowledge that they don’t need to keep the OP onside in case she suddenly inherits a gallery/ starts editing Frieze. Or maybe, unlike most artists, they can actually write, and they’re just showing off.

STEP 12
big dreams
Another way to stop worrying about actually MAKING anything could be by embracing what David Joselit calls buzz, which as he explains, has now replaced aura: “contra Benjamin … it is saturation through mass circulation- the status of being everywhere at once rather than belonging to a single place–that now produces value for and through images”. As the joint authors of Club Kids of Facebook point out, why bother toiling over a canvas (i.e. an auratic object) that probably no one will see when you could post a hilarious pic of a chicken on Facebook that could accumulate affective buzz and network dispersal through likes/ shares? For this to happen you do, however, need to have built up your online audience in the first place, otherwise no one will care about your YOLO pics, paintings or anything else for that matter.

STEP 13
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A related strategy of accumulating attentive capital without doing anything is Geert Lovink’s natural language hack, where you get Google to work FOR you, by spreading your meme/ word/ image: “once your image/word meme reaches critical viral mass, you won’t be able to stop people from dispersing and modulating your images”. For this to work it needs to be a really catchy image; in my (female) experience this means one that at least sounds vaguely pervy, since to date my most ‘successful’ video, in eyeball terms at least, features me taking a shower [free tip: tags like hot, wet and pearls are good cos they could be innocent and therefore dodge the x-rated filters, though obvs not when used together]. Men can do it too though, and not just by posting pics of their girlfs; artist Oliver Laric told of his clip-art video being picked up by some vapid TV presenter, after which it got a zillion hits. End result, he got famous.

STEP 14
why am i hereBe warned, though: trying to accumulate buzz can lead to constantly monitoring your ‘data self’ to get a few hits on the crack pipe of affective affirmation, which can as Rob Horning points out ‘yield paranoia and a constant feeling of self-promoting phoniness as checking one’s reblogs, likes, messages, and comments becomes compulsive’. In that case, go get SELF CONTROL software, it’s free and everything, though it’s a bit like admitting you can’t take the heat (and obvs, it’s still on your phone).

STEP 15

More to the point, what exactly is it you think you’re going to DO once the to-do list is crossed off: start living? Michael Sacasas aka The Frailest Thing, talking about the ‘Programmable World of Google Being’ asks a similar question, pondering what exactly we think we’re going to DO once technology has taken care of all the shit we need to get done: “the idea seems to be that when we are freed from these mundane and tedious activities, we will be free to finally tap the real potential of our humanity. It’s as if there were some abstract plane of human existence that no one had yet achieved because we were fettered by our need to be directly engaged with the material world. I suppose that makes this a kind of gnostic fantasy. When we no longer have to tend to the world, we can focus on … what exactly?”

STEP 16
What indeed? Sorry to say, but dealing with people on the phone, emailing them, cleaning the kitchen, paying bills, booking coach tickets, writing invoices, occasionally doing work you actually enjoy- that IS life so why make it into a list to be crossed off as quickly and efficiently as possible? Everything you cross off, you’re just one step closer to death. So…take your time!

Anguish beyond whirrs

correct

“exactly, machines correct at this point”

Written in response to an essay on the New Sincerity, this offhand comment on poetry blog htmlgiant seems to express a fundamental anxiety around what we consider to be authentic, sincere and true in a world where automated programmes are increasingly responsible for both writing and distributing text. This tweet captures a similar sentiment, one that resonates across online space:

sext me badly

that mistakes are more human, less bot and conversely, that well-written, grammatically correct statements are more contrived and mediated, because they point to the intrusion of automated technology.

Auto cucumber

drinking-coke

Cock and jizz from auto cucumber

Put another way- only a human decides to leave something uncorrected. Word helpfully underlines your mistakes, Skype makes its own adjustments as you type and the iPhone’s hilariously potty-mouthed corrections are regularly shared on Damn You Auto Correct (presumably it picks up words like fuckweasel, butthole and jizz off its owners?)

Keeping the mistakes becomes, therefore, a gesture of asserting human agency, making visible an active choice on the part of a human author in defiance of the ‘correct’ version a bot is programmed to deliver. Or, in its imperfection a ‘badly spelled sext’ (or other message) conveys an urgency, immediacy and therefore sincerity; scribbled in a hurry and sent off before second thoughts/ regret sets in, it becomes a display of vulnerability, fallibility and ultimately humanity.

Intentional image slip

Tao Lin: Google search style poetry

Tao Lin: Google search style poetry

Badly spelt and punctuated writing also quietly rebels against the slick, well-considered and crafted copy employed by corporate entities, in their slogans, email bulletins and adverts. It communicates a willingness to relinquish image-management and show your ‘real’ self, letting your image slip in a way that no brand would- unless of course it was calculated to come across as more ‘authentic’ (coming to a billboard near you, Coke/ Nike/ Converse ads with crap spelling…just you wait).
What it amounts to is a suspicion that if it’s well written, some non-human agent was involved, which points to the either corporate or technological mediation.

Sincerity effects

As an artistic strategy, keeping the mistakes in has a similar ‘sincerity effect’, suggesting an intimacy and vulnerability that Tracey Emin and to a lesser, funnier extent Laure Provost and doubtless many others have (intentionally or not) made use of. AD Jameson argues (again on htmlgiant) that in Steve Roggenbuck’s work, “persistent typos signal that the work has been written quickly, spontaneously, and is therefore less revised” and “more earnest.” He shows how contemporary poets- many, like Steve Roeggenbuck and Tao Lin, associated with the New Sincerity- are experimenting with ways of writing that can “create the illusion of transparency, of direct communication”, pointing out the irony that they use devices, or methods- which are a kind of artifice- in order to seemingly go beyond artifice and set up a ‘direct’, unmediated connection between poet and reader.

Christ… I can’t spell (by Tracey Emin)

Devices include emulating the meandering flow of a G-chat through broken, stilted  conversation, time elisions and slack, no-caps grammar; or channeling the ‘20 open tabs’ mentality of online drift by absent-mindedly switching between ‘deep’ shit (life/ death/ whatever) and inconsequential observations about the colour of the sky:

That night with the green sky (excerpt)
by Tao Lin

Why did you want me gone?
That hurts
Why?
Why?
I don’t know
Some things can’t be explained, I guess
The sky, for example, was green that night

Another tactic is oscillating between different levels of intimacy, which reflects the juggling of simultaneous conversations with mothers, employers and lovers all on the same device; as Senthorun Raj points out in an piece about Grindr, users must calibrate their tone depending on whether they’re texting Mr Right or Mr Right Now, which requires demanding emotional labour.

(I think I was attempting to channel some of these ideas into You Could’ve Said )
Less bot, more sincere

Despite the notion that less bot equals more sincere, these literary and poetic devices nevertheless reflect a lifetime of communicating through interfaces, and an intimate, honest connection with the technology we live with; after all, it ‘knows’ better than anyone what you look up late at night, who you Facebook stalk and what unsent messages you’ve drafted (not to mention the ones you unwisely did send when drunk). And it never judges you for it.

is it normal

Is it normal? Am I normal?

The logic of immediacy

So by channeling the instantaneous and fragmented style of online communication, these poets paradoxically create writing that seems less mediated and more sincere than if it was impeccably crafted. This is not to say it’s not a considered technique; I’m sure it is. It’s interesting though how this intersects with what Bolter and Grussin call the logic of immediacy, aka the desire to erase the medium and come into ‘direct’ contact with the contents- of mind, or of the image. They argue that this quest, manifested in realism and illusionism especially, has characterized Western art at least since perspectival painting and still shapes our GUIs, as well as, I’d add, our interaction with social media sites which are designed to keep us absorbed and blissfully unaware of our containment in a medium (the network).

Technology is touch

I’m reminded of those ads where people dive into and become one with an interface, or, working the other way, the screen contents spill out into physical space, portraying the dissolution of self into medium as a major selling point.

They’re real you know

Narrative gloop

Meanwhile, the soporific effects of media absorption- and its political implications- have been rallied against since at least Brecht, for whom alienation effects in theatre prevented the audience from identifying with the characters (and thus getting ‘lost’ in the play, the representation). Structural filmmakers active in the 70s, notably Peter Gidal, similarly blasted ‘illusionistic’ (read Hollywood) cinema’s dependence on narrative, seen as a kind of miasma that glommed the audience into their seats, sweetening the hegemonic poison and stupefying them into an apolitical suspension of disbelief.


No narrative here- Peter Gidal’s Clouds

Drawing the viewers’ attention to mediation- essentially saying, look, this is not real life, this is a representation– aimed to shake them out of their absorption, and in the case of film, shatter the illusion of direct presence it conjures up. Tactics employed by conceptual poets like Kenneth Goldsmith- like plagiarizing whole bodies of text with seemingly no expression or authorial agency- could similarly be seen to point to language as a medium: look, this is writing, this is language!

In contrast, the New Sincerity poets, a little younger, seem to be aiming for the illusion of direct presence and immediacy while asserting human agency through the rejection of the ‘good writing’ software would produce. They ask how to seem unmediated in a fully mediated world: by simultaneously rejecting automated grammar fascism and embracing the language of instantaneous, immediate connectivity and communication that networked technology makes possible.

angush

know the feeling

How all this intersects with spambots, and the crazy, beautiful lines some of them come out with- as well as Hito Steyerl’s ideas on the ‘degraded, affective language’ of romance scams, is a whole other topic, TBC.

Wind-up doll chronicles

Compliance never felt so good!

Compliance never felt so good!

Do you ever feel like a wind-up toy that requires cranking just to make it out of bed? Lack of interest in stuff? Unusual moods? Well, don’t worry too much, you’re probably just depressed, according to an uber-creepy advert for antidepressant Pristiq. Deservedly lampooned in various parody versions on YouTube, it features a close-up of a woman emoting about her identification with a wind-up doll, intercut with images of said doll in case you’re too thick to imagine one for yourself,  before backing up all that subjective shizzle with some totally objective science explained by a ‘reassuring’ (i.e. male) voice and vector graphics illustrating the cheery little dance of serotonin neurotransmitters that will commence once you’ve necked a few of these.

A Prozac ad meanwhile promises a shudder-inducing holy therapeutic trinity of Confidence, Convenience and (my personal unfavourite) Compliance…’cos being compliant feels good! Anyone would think these big pharma companies are in bed with politicians or something…oh hang on…

Franco Berardi (aka Bifo- even theorists have street names these days) has a few, infinitely more illuminating things to say about the societal psychopathology of panic and depression in his book Soul At Work. Developing the work of Alan Eherenberg’s wonderfully titled book, The Fatigue of Being Oneself, which outlines depression as a pathology with a strong social content directly linked to pervasive competition, Bifo describes depression as being  “deeply connected to the ideology of self-realisation and the happiness imperative”.

Zizek has described this imperative of happiness-first ‘tolerant hedonism’, as emblematic of what Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello call The New Spirit of Capitalism, a revivified capitalism which ‘triumphantly appropriated (the) anti-hierarchical rhetoric of ‘68, presenting itself as a successful libertarian revolt against the oppressive social organizations of corporate capitalism’.

Fulfillment and self-realization is no longer optional in a post-‘68 capitalism which privileges the paramount importance of being happy; what started out as a countercultural antagonism to the stultifying effects of Taylorist managerial/ corporate culture culminates now in a burden, another ‘thing-to-do’: become ourselves, which is understood as become our happy selves.

God says…biblical kitsch is back!

It transpires that this chimera of selfhood requires work, effort and persistence (hence the fatigue) and a whole industry is geared towards the never-ending DIY project of discovering, and being oneself. In the void left by religious instruction- think 10 commandments- a panoply of tools, tinctures and instruments promise to fill the cracks in our hearts, blast away unhelpful patterns and gloss over our lackluster surface to deliver the self we could be, the self we truly are, underneath all this crap.

It’s a paradoxical quest for self-betterment that promises to deliver the self we already ‘really’ are, but just haven’t done the right ‘work’ to be able to access it. And there is so much work to do on this soul: self-help books for everything from time management to heartbreak, meditation for stress, exercise and raw veg diets for health, therapy for head-fucks, networking for status, and so on and on in a spinning top of endless responsibility for one’s self.

One day you might be happy, but don’t count on it

Summed up nicely by the slogan (and the existence) of Psychologies magazine, Know More, Grow More, this drive for self-improvement also involves a stupendous amount of knowledge accumulation/ sifting. In an attention economy of ever-diminishing time, and ever-increasing speed and volumes of information, this creates yet more psychic stress: what the hell do you fix first? Moreover, failure to achieve this mythical state of self-realization leads to a drop in motivation, where, as Ehrenberg puts it, the depressive individuals are “not up to the task, they are tired of having to become themselves”.

Naturally the info-overload enabled by ever-increasing speeds of connection info isn’t confined to the self-DIY project; it’s a more wide-spread affliction. As Bifo points out, cybertime is limited to human capabilities, which has only a finite quantity of attention to share out, in contrast to the unbounded space of cyberspace, whose speed can accelerate indefinitely, expanding without limits into galaxies of infodust. And as Virilio points out, ‘the reality of information is entirely contained in its speed of dissemination’- it’s not ‘separate’ from its distribution and its network, since ‘speed is information itself!

Speeding towards the limit of cybertime, a cracking commences, where ‘we collapse under the stress/ pressure of overproduction/ hyper-productivity’ (Bifo), unable to accommodate the assaults from the avalanche of attention-demanding goods. The exploding heads in Cronenberg’s Scanners, borne in the early years of the mediafication of everyday life, seem a presciently fitting visual analogy for the boiled-brain sensation induced by the avalanche of interesting articles, things/ people to follow and comment on and ideas/ trends to keep up with.

If as Boris Groys has suggested, our Web 2.0 prosumerism has lead to the emergence of a society of the spectacle lacking in spectators- as we are all so busy with creating the damn stuff there just isn’t enough time to go round- a huge volume of content is destined, from its inception, for the info landfill. But beyond this lies another fear, perhaps: that we too have become bits of digital debris on the stage of social media and are thus liable to get lost in the invisibility dump. And as anyone who has advertised on- well, or even just used- the web knows, stayin’ alive is all about visibility in the attention economy; except this time, the product is you. So how do you perform your product for public consumption? And who’s watching?

Attention scarcity, is, as Rob Horning puts it in a fantastic blog post about microfame, “a matter of TMI, which has an obvious connection to some of the more salient practices of microcelebrity: confessional writing, oversharing […] exhibitionism, the New Sincerity, and so on.” In other words, TMI in the sense of gross or overly personal pics, or vomiting your heartbreak all over FB, is linked to the general TMI avalanche the internet represents; there’s just so much crap out there vying for a sliver of our attention, that we must shout louder, or more embarrassingly, than everyone else to be seen, and thus validated as existing, connected beings.

Or as he puts it, these modes of self-display “reflect the possibility of a life lived merely to confess it, to share it on social media”, where intimate, private moments become tangible currency; the more outrageous, the more it gets noticed.

TMI on TV

TMI on TV- Kardashians feature again (see previous post)

Not that this is anything new; reality TV cultivated- and depended on- this mode of celebrity/ infamy via public debasement (or at least exhibitionism). Except now it’s our friends, peers, family and colleagues whom we both watch and are watched by; we are the ‘microcelebrities’. From famous for 15 minutes, to famous to 15 people, to microfamous to 1500 people, perhaps.

The pursuit of microfame, predicated particularly on self-presentation to those who don’t already know you well, seems particularly pertinent to artists, for whom labour is, as Sven Luttken puts it, ‘marked by the inability to distinguish between labour and leisure, […] working hours and free time, performance and life’.

Art stars-  a lot more famous than you!

Within social media, the artist’s public profile is manifested not simply through traditional signifiers of ‘work’- their videos, photos, invites to shows, press, etc- but also, crucially, through the status accorded by their connectedness to particular social groupings, i.e. their ‘non-work’ life. Again, IRL, this echoes the casting of artists- not just their work- as cover stars for mags like Art Review, or life-styley photo shoots allowing glimpses of their ‘real’ life.

In a collectively written essay called Club Kids: the social life of artists on Facebook’, the authors suggest that group exhibitions (especially online ones) function to forge publicly-paraded links between artists and curators, who simultaneously promote each other so that “the strongest ties artworks in today’s group shows often share are the Mutual Friends the artists have rather than the work itself”. These connections are further bolstered by the strategic tagging of party pics which are posted on FB for their audiences to digest.

Apart from cynical careerism and supporting the argument that labour and leisure are indistinguishable- no such thing as down-time, every moment can be instrumentalised- what this suggests is that the party-posturing and connectivity is just as important as the ‘real’ work, or that the public performance for a FB audience is the ‘real’ work.

Tag that- artists party by Kroyer

Tag that- artists party by Kroyer

Boris Groys has argued that autopoetics, or ‘the production of one’s own public self’ is key in the age of social media, where every public persona- not limited to politicians and celebs- is also a commodity. What the ‘Club Kids’ are flirting with then, is becoming just profiles, no work; ‘artists without art’, as they put it. Or as John Kelsey suggests, ‘the figure of the artist herself dematerialises, become a profile- her most abstract work being herself or her own connectivity.”

You only get one choice

Can artists work with this profile, not just for instrumental ends (fame! Being ‘some-body’), but to destabilise/ critique it…and if so, how will the market commodify this 2.0 version of dematierialisation? How might we, as Kelsey asks ‘truly [begin] to inhabit networks’ so that ‘more ecstatic and catastrophic modes of interconnection’ can be experimented with?

An ecstasy of self-catastrophe, perhaps, a willingness to self-destruct one’s own profile in a kind of online version of the ‘public meltdown’, enacted as a critique of the system of online representation rather than a result of buckling under its strain. Let’s see what drugs they come up with for that.