P O ST-T R U T H
P O ST-T R U T H
P O ST-T R U T H CONTENTS
Cover Illustration by Atalya Laufer
L I T E R AT U R E 004 Post-truth Politics and the Defense of The Status Quo Words by Ruth Kinna 008 Satisfied: Feminism and the Affective Turn in Architecture Words by Andrea Wheeler 010 Still True? Russell Marshall and Phil Sawdon 012 Today at rhe RA Words by Laura Davidson 016 The Dark Art of Equivocation Words by Marion Arnold 024 “Nevertheless She Persisted”: Queer Feminism in Art History as a Model for Political Thinking in an Era of “Alternative Facts” Words by Amelia Jones
028 Tell Me Something Thatâ€™s Worth Smelling Lensed by Harris Kyprianou Model Ksenia Zaytzeva
042 The Truth Will Not Be Televised Words by Alan Dunn, Leo Plumb, Bex Ilsley and Ben Parry 046 Leo Plumb 058 Four Words 074 Bex Ilsley
P O ST-T R U T H P O L I T I C S A N D T H E 1 D E F E N C E O F T H E STAT U S Q U O Words by Ruth Kinna
JUST OVER FIVE HUNDRED YEARS ago Thomas More ruminated on the place of philosophy in the courts of kings. Should philosophers resist the corruptions of politics and protect the critical force of independent thought or become advisors to kings, making interventions in politics for the advancement of the common good? More refused to offer a straightforward answer to the conundrum but his Tudor-period reflection on the relationship between the philosopher and the king is a useful jumping –off point to think about the character of modern post-truth politics. In a post-Nietzschean age, the impossibility of grounding political knowledge on anything other than experience and struggle has become a commonplace. Nevertheless, the realisation that metaphysical truth eludes citizens in modern states continues to live happily alongside the ideas that More probed: that political philosophy and science offer ways of evaluating actual political arrangements, such that political knowledge is not understood merely as a weapon to be deployed in the pursuit of power and that the parameters of legitimate conduct in public affairs – nowadays, electoral competition – is structured by accepted norms. People disagree about the methods of political philosophy and its purposes, for example, how far empirical analysis can establish facts about the political world and whether the aim of political analysis is to demonstrate, investigate or uncover various aspects of political life. They also disagree about acceptable political behaviours, how far, for instance, a political leader’s commitment to taking a morally right action (or action believed to be so) outweighs the need for openness and transparency. Rather than denying the possibility of truth in politics, (for us, for now) these disagreements reinforce it. The possibility of revision and review in
either sphere assumes a general commitment to the independence of political thinking from the exercise of political power. Even if, as More recognised, the relationship between knowledge and power is uncertain and fluid, maintaining the fiction of autonomy is preferable to encouraging the elision. Post-truth politics closes the gap between evaluation and the exercise of power, not by denying the possibility of truth in a metaphysical sense, as fascist intellectuals tried to do in the interwar period, but by grounding political truth in the evaluations of citizens. Calls for the removal of experts from the field of politics as a means to counter supposed elite subversion of popular democracy are part of this move. It appears to be highly democratic because it appeals to an idea of popular sovereignty and the transformative power of collective will to craft and recraft institutions. Less attractively, it reinforces crude marjoritarianism. The institutional arrangements that post-war liberals designed to encourage voters to behave as consumers, precisely to prevent the herd organising anything more than a stampede, become vehicles for self-identifying bona fide citizens to assert their primacy. Post-truth democracy also glosses over the inequalities hardwired into the system, notably the constitutional guarantee of private property and the legal protections that insulate shareholders from corporate responsibility. People are egged on to take back control and rediscover greatness by empowering their representatives to remove the corrupt from power – drain the swamp - but leave the fundamentals intact. The just-about-managing and the left-behind are implored to attack the elite who have run their own games at the peoples’ expense – lock them up! Meanwhile the new leaders defend corporate power, maintain elitist structures and seek out opportunities to rule by executive fiat.
Compare the revolutionary rhetoric of posttruth to the politics of Occupy. The critique of neoliberal globalisation and its effects, the rejection of corporate greed and the lack of government accountability were all central to the movements that mushroomed across the world in 2011. Instead of looking to new elites to initiate change, Occupiers looked to its participants and called on those outside the camps to do the same. Camps experimented with open, genuinely participatory methods of democratic decision making and devised rules of political association in an effort to give voice to the marginalised and excluded. In Occupy the refusal to ignore the views of opponents was a marker of plural, consensual democracy. In post-truth the refusal to consider the views of opponents is a measure of a leaderships’ commitment to the peoples’ will. In the post-truth era the leadership is strategically pliant to the people, which is how it justifies speaking in the peoples’ name. No need to reflect on anyone’s will (as More thought philosophers might do for kings). Implementation is the order of the day. And it’s fine to ignore the views of substantial minorities and even majorities: the truth is that the people have spoken and the remit of the leadership is to realise its demands. Norms of political behaviour are reconfigured to fit the re-grounding of democratic politics. Turned into a platform for anti-elitism, the widely-shared, intuitive critique of the effects of neo-liberal policy gives a green light to domination and demonization. The peoples’ champions make a virtue of saying what they really think, regardless of factual accuracy, ordinary plausibility, offensiveness or common civility. The new honesty that co-opts satire for the powerful shatters the principle of moderation that undergirded post-war democracy and those who
remain wedded to deliberative process deliberate with themselves about shades of grey. Meanwhile online communications, shaped by shifts in political activism taking place offline, facilitate the confirmation of the post truth. Anyone who attempts to reveal the groundlessness of the ideas that fuel popular hatreds is drowned out by comments and likes, derided as victims of political correctness and accused of lacking a sense of humour. When even the people appear to be running behind the views of the leader, the post-truth defence is to invite critics to examine what’s in the leader’s heart and disregard what was actually said or done. Strategic, disingenuous appeals to human frailty legitimise lapses and provide a cover for everyone to do likewise. Talking abuse is fine for as long as you profess regret and unrivalled respect. Honesty is about emotional commitment. In this universe, the political discourse becomes very imprecise and there’s a marked shift in the motivations. The heartfelt cry is no longer intended to be empowering – yes we can! – but to exercise power, to find greatness again, take back control. It’s more interesting to report how many times particular phrases are uttered in a political speech than it is to unpack the meaning. Left unspecified, these slogans are filled by tapping into the emotional zeitgeist. Greatness smacks of empire, control of whiteness. Everyone denies it, but it’s possible to see the signs: liberals on the run, looking to regain the shifting centre by entering into sensible, apparently grownup debates about immigration; critics denounced as defeatists intent on running the country down. Time will tell how putting the country back to work will play out in a hyper-commercialised political environment stuffed full of resentments. No longer told with the pretence of upholding a
public good, the lies that characterise post-truth are not designed to pass undetected, as the Machiavellian lie was intended to do. A prince discovered to be dishonest and to tell untruths was hardly well equipped to rule a virtuous republic. Doing what was necessary involved lying and deceit – part of the ugliness of politics that More found troubling – and the virtuous prince was able to set Christian morality aside so that it could flourish in the citizenry. In post-truth society detection has no power. Lying is now about openly dissembling, rewriting the past in order to detach leaders from complicity in it and using hand-wringing about hardship to build bridges between leaders and led. In post-truth British politics, we move seamlessly from the patrician McMillan to the ordinary May via the bullingdon boyz, forgetting the policy agendas pushed by Thatcher and Blair. Reagan re-emerges a straight-talking guy, not one of the architects of global deregulation and economic restructuring. The British working class are those people who weren’t able to send their children to Eton and it turns out that nobody understood the effects of globalization – not even in America where protests kick-started the global social justice movement. The failure of public services is all down to the influx of foreigners and the domination of bureaucrats, red tape and dirigist state policy. The post-truth on mass immigration is that it’s driven by people who want a piece of our pie but who don’t understand the values of ‘doing the right thing’ - hard work, family life and self-advancement. The post truth is that the media lie whenever the reported facts are inconvenient. The pity of post-truth is that it warps a critique of privilege and mismanagement. Unpicking the democratic, egalitarian alternatives becomes very difficult if not impossible in the context of modern debates. Narratives focussed on the alternatives
to neo-liberalism have been turned against their authors. The revolution has begun. Only there’s no room for the pesky left in the ranks of the dissatisfied. Gainsayers are elites, intellectuals and enemies of the people. That’s the truth. NOTES 1 With thanks to Simon Stevens.
S AT I S F I E D : F E M I N I S M A N D T H E AFFECTIVE TURN IN ARCHITECTURE A 1 0 M I N U T E P R E S E N TAT I O N Words by Andrea Wheeler
GOOD MORNING. My name is Andrea Gibson—it’s my married name. I am an Assistant Professor at a large University in the Midwest where I teach Sustainable Architecture and am a design studio instructor. My presentation today, is entitled: ‘About architecture and affect, and experiencing feminism in architecture now’. Or perhaps it could be called, ‘Satisfied?’ And you may quickly see that I am not. To outline this talk, and due warning, I will be discussing feminism, philosophies of affect and architecture. You may be wondering how indeed she will describe feminism at this time, in the United States and in the institution. And how, affect? To respond to you curious few, for me, feminism – though this seems barely possible now - is work towards equality—a rediscovery. But I believe this sort of equality belongs to a different place and different logic. And it requires artistic and poetic work. Feminist affect? Well, I think this is simply about how you feel now; it is the prompt, the push forward. That this is not about how you think you feel. For those of you who are ambivalent to all such questions, male and female, my more direct appeal is to your belief in your freedom in the current heart of American affect. I am a little nervous about the position I take and I understand that this may be controversial to some in light of what has happened to us or what has been done to us. I am not American – as you might hear from my accent – and I am in the midst of provocation. America is great, they say, and those who don’t like it can go home. And so, here, now, in this large auditorium, at this time, (which is late for the Iowan early riser) I want to ask - acknowledging the peculiarity of this question and its strange appeal to your feeling - what is feminism and what is feminism, today? How is it felt? What is its mood? These are certainly difficult questions. You may answer that mood sits in
indefinable spaces, vague and misty, dim and dusky, to be purged by scientific-method. But I will continue: How has its feeling been conceptualized and how must it be conceptualized? What is our mood doing now, felt through our bodies, in our intimate places? And what will it be in the sites of our conversation? Affect is dirty. It cannot be sanitized. And it does not need feminism to illuminate it. But we cannot be ashamed or ashamed to feel. Mood may not be welcome, but while we are now being built on feeling, let us usher our mood in for examination. Let us direct the strangeness of a feminist light on it. Let us feel and let us imagine—without hesitation or aversion to speculation—a future. Let us hypothesize with an emotive voice, the spaces of hostility we have created—between us and between man and woman. I said I would discuss some architecture, but it is not only the exclusion that I want to address, but also the energy, the mood, the somatic resonances of the felt-body that incite action and agreement, which are my feminist concern. So firstly, and lovingly, to begin my exploration I want to share with you, in this affective performance, an intimate memory. I am in Boston for the first time, the only time, in fact, and in my wanderings—mental and physical—I imagine a woman, my age, perhaps a little younger, who feels estranged from the place. I see her in the dress of her era—belonging not here, but to a different place of her beginning. She has an innocence and she tells me about the landscape, which she knows is not this one, and about both the sameness and strange difference of this new world. She shares with me her feeling of being new in this new world, this new garden. The creator’s work can be seen at work, she feels. It is like a different day in his making, with a different manner in his hand. Birds, animals, insects, trees, plants; the wide feet, the big beaks, their bright colors, their fat bodies. All
the same species and yet so very different; similar but so strangely different and very new. She sees it in the joy of a sharp new light. Truly, this is a new world, and I sense it too. I feel her curiosity as I breathe in new air with her. I spend some time encouraging her, for want of company, seeing with her the difference between her beloved coastline and this place: its landscape, its plants, and its animals. But she seems not to see the architecture, the buildings that I saw. Maybe it was only in her time we felt, perhaps. So I have set the scene, theatre staged, and my intention, in part, is duly described. I have framed a picture with a strange feeling of a relationship created in time, welcomed. This unusual voice, with her feelings, her small energy was allowed to grow. And through her feelings, a different perspective began to form in me. Her voice could have been coming from the outside, from history, somehow encapsulated in the material of the place and released for me. I was open to believe it was not my imagination. I was open to dismiss all academic theory that told me to suppress her otherworldly presence. I wanted her to tell me of her experience and illuminate my own vision. So I remained quite open to quite another sort of analysis of her. Maybe this was real, true. But my intention here is to describe what could be a becoming. And of course this suggests my feminist intention. My waking dream occupied a part of my experience of Boston. But she—I did not give her a name and she did not offer me one—did not accompany me home. Perhaps I mistook the place of her origin as English, and her time, and I misinterpreted her perception. But this little imagination intrigued me and continues to do so. My work up until this time was with research method and I had arrived in Boston to talk about work with children, designing with children, participation with, or even ‘witnessing-with’, as I have heard it
described, children. The questions at the time were about a right to be consulted. What was an ethical relationship in this context; do ethics, that is to say the most radical and most ethical of ethics, include an ethics towards the other who is different as a boy or a girl. Do ethics, including participation ethics and teaching ethics, include a proper ethics towards the bodies and differences in ways of relating? Reflecting on this work now, questions arise about an ethical attitude the development of sexual expression and the truth of moody expression, complaints. So to bring the conversation back to affect, and to this place I find myself occupying, this lecture theatre, at this time in what will soon be history, how can we protect ourselves from the collective ill-recognitions of adult humanity and how it is affecting us? What is our adult feeling in response? Can we, through a critical perspective on the now, in some acknowledgment of our current feelings, and some sense of the uncultivated the depths of our passions as women, incite a new feeling and a new sense of who we are, together? I love my continued discovery in America; it feeds curious desires. But there is another discovery to be made; this is about how we respond to current conditions when we know we all participate in the living of others. This could be architecture; it could be how we make things. It starts with how we feel space and how we can occupy space together. It takes the innocent perspective of the world to allow us to return to an ethics towards the environment and to other human beings, and to find the value of a shared insight with those we consider others to recognize what is missing from our humanity. Only then, perhaps, can architecture become the cultural form with which we can share our insight—that which gives us feeling.
TO D AY AT T H E R A Words by Laura Davidson
A CROWD OF P R E D I C TA B L E characters were around for a weekday lunchtime viewing of the Abstract Expressionism show at the Royal Academy. Tourists, the well-off, the retired and school children thronged the galleries. Clusters of headsets reframed paintings the wearers were told to find important. My reasons for attending were various; cultural duty, a desire to see the infamous works before one’s eyes and to take a break from some woodcut studies I had been working on. My plan was to elegantly promenade amongst the masterpieces, battle the crowds and later narrate my thought processes. I had a wonderfully bombastic idea about producing an elegy for Industrial America, an elegy for vast landscapes, vast factories and, vast canvases. I was looking to write something that would cut against the immorality assumed in these works of art; as they are essentially museum pieces from an era as well as a genre. In 2010, I visited Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Amongst the rough desert grass in the grounds I found his series of cuboid standing stones; 15 untitled works in concrete (1980-1984). From a distance the sculptures reigned obstinate against the land. Up close, the concrete was wasting away and the ground beneath their final standing place was eroding. The scene was both a glaring metaphor and glimmer of post-2008 America, which even the alleged control freak Donald Judd couldn’t have suppressed. Back at the Royal Academy, canvases of course, rampaged through the show. Pollock, De Kooning and Rothko in particular acted as beacons for the public, with wisps of grey hair rippling out from the front of these paintings. Irony tied itself neatly around the bottlenecks of crowds trying to place themselves in the centre of the paintings. Despite the horde’s fixation with the centre, getting to see even the edge
of a Pollock involved an all-consuming aggression. I was reminded that one must always attend popular exhibitions with the type of pumped up adrenaline reserved for the young going into battle. I pushed myself into an audience with a Pollock; the energy engaged in the frenetic marks had died long ago and had transferred itself into maintaining the legacy of the artist. With all exhibitions headlined by master artists of a particular era, I develop a strange lethargy caused by overexposure. Artists like Pollock and Rothko are omnipresent in the West, that essential dash of status for every major gallery or private collection. The usual mild disappointment came across me, so I looked to other paintings with a less fanatical audience. Branching out from the core artists I found a reclusive Sam Francis. A Californian Abstract Expressionist who came to painting after the Second World War, Francis is predominately known for prints and paintings saturated with colour. Contrary to this, his Untitled (Black Clouds) (1952) displayed during Abstract Expression was a wash of black withholding bright splatters underneath. Not far from where Francis’ painting was installed hung Helen Frankenthaler’s Europa (1957). An unprimed canvas imbued with translucent gestures of paint; the movement acting as a counter to Rothko’s translucent shapes by spreading dissonant colours across a vast canvas. Pollock’s process is comparable to Frankenthaler’s, where she liked to work with large canvases placed on the floor ready to be dripped and washed with paint. The crowd had ebbed slightly, so I made an attempt to view the Rothkos installed in the octagonal Central Wohl Hall. The room had taken a religious turn as Rothko’s paintings were allowed to apply their peculiar spiritual quality to the space and so, the atmosphere became contemplative as opposed
to grandiose. Somehow, they dressed the room with the same simple calm found inside the Rothko Chapel in Houston. After spending an undefined moment of time perfecting a most gracious facade of solemn spirituality in the Central Wohl Hall, I retraced my steps to a spot in front of Pollock’s Mural (1943). Mural is said to be Pollock’s first attempt towards ‘total painting’ and his notorious drip technique. Before I could add more elixir to the indulgent bath of historical context in which I was wallowing, a voice whispered “protect culture” from somewhere beneath my right ear. I looked down and an elderly woman in a large black velvet hat and thick winter coat was perched on a portable gallery stool. She didn’t look up at me, so I wasn’t sure if she had spoken or if I had even heard her at all. She was busy with her hands and appeared to be using a pencil to add shading to a sketch. Observing her more closely, I realised she wasn’t drawing at all. She was nonchalantly filing her fingernails in front of a Jackson Pollock. “Protection of culture” said the same voice again, except this time with more force. As the gallery had emptied out slightly, there was no one else in the vicinity who could have been talking. I looked back at her with more intent, expecting to make eye contact but, she remained concealed by the soft brim of her hat. Looking ahead she uttered “we must protect culture.” Feeling awkward I returned my attention to Mural (1943) and wondered how much Pollock had been influenced by Picasso’s Guernica (1937). Picasso’s seminal painting of war, for me, has no focal point and is a violent tangle of tone and shape, chaos and confusion. At that present moment, the forms in both paintings fell into a harmony as I considered what was in front of me. Piercing my thoughts the sitting woman screeched; “People don’t realise
what is going on! Why can’t you do something?!” I opened my mouth to ask what she wanted from me thinking she was hurt but, she was determined to continue her soliloquy. “There are black clouds on the horizon and young people must resist. I am an old woman, I am powerless, I am silenced but, the young have to resist. You all have a voice, for now, and you must use it.” There was a pause and I wasn’t sure how to react. Part of me wanted to slip into the anonymous buzz of people in the gallery and the other half of me was rigid with fearful intrigue. Despite the edge of her hat shielding her face, I could sense she was stifling tears. Deep down I knew what she was referring to but, I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Not in an art gallery. I felt scared, not because of her behaviour, her warning or her brazenness approaching a stranger but, because she appeared to be channelling a collective hysteria amongst my peers. A hysteria that I had quelled within myself. Current affairs in the past year culminated in an orgy of so-called populist emotionalism. Despite the emergent mob mentality, not everyone had been feeling as desperate as the anxious woman in the gallery. In fact it seemed the masses had been quietly jubilant, not despairing. I consider it my duty to think as a humanitarian when someone comes to me in distress and I wasn’t quite sure how to soothe her anxiety, as it was an anxiety that I too embodied. It was as if my anxiety had flown out of my stomach and landed on a gallery stool. She softly took my hand, looked up at me and whispered in one shuddering gasp “the wheels have begun to turn and I have to warn you there is not much we can do. Yet, we owe it to our love of art and of culture to resist as much as we can.” At that moment my body stiffened with cold. Was she a messenger from another era, a ghost from
late 1930s Europe? Pacing around an art exhibition with a well-rehearsed ennui for the surroundings now became a shamefully ungrateful activity. If my visit to the Royal Academy had been a satisfying late lunch, it would have tasted surprisingly sour all of a sudden. I was a modern caricature of a spoiled dandy, parading around an art exhibition like Stefan Zweig in bohemian Paris before the Second World War. Zweigâ€™s memoir The World of Yesterday (1942) narrates the growth of fascism in Europe in the period between the First and Second World Wars. As a narrator Zweig has been critiqued as naive; he loves to entertain his readers with tales about the pleasure he takes from the personal connections he forged with the famous artists and authors of the day. However, lurking beneath this world of intelligentsia his observations of the rise of Hitler from his home in Austria are striking in their relevance to today. As if writing to a lover who had betrayed him, his memoir is a letter to a Europe smashed by nationalism, in order to keep the distant scent of a Europe vibrating with culture and inspiration alive somewhere within him. Reading The World of Yesterday in this current moment gives one the impression that a spectre of Zweig is entwined with the shadows currently cast over Europe as a reminder for us not to take our way of life for granted. Whilst all of this churned within me, I tried to compose myself and held the womanâ€™s hand. I didnâ€™t say anything to her, other than offer her my solidarity by way of this small humane gesture. My previous play at contemplation surrounded by Rothkos had now been realised with a genuine sincerity. After a while I left the woman with a whispered good-bye. She tightly squeezed my hand as a response. The paintings took on a new aura. The tropes were still tired to me but, the overall atmosphere was not. Exhibitions at the RA are always lacquered with a banal cosmopolitan
opulence. The galleries themselves are opulent; the people banal and, the presentation of works can be eternally formulaic in their representation of art history. Somehow, for once that did not irritate me. I meandered the galleries imagining a world without art moving across borders or without any kind of art at all. I felt a range of emotions that are only depicted by paintings capturing the sublime. I returned to watch the chaos of crowds scrambling to the centre of paintings which were made with the intention to abolish the focal point of painting. My mind diverted to consider how long it takes for art to drip into culture to change the perceptions of the many. I stepped out into the flat winter sunshine on Piccadilly with one eye shut in reverie and the other anxiously open to the future. I resolved that I would immerse myself in it all, my senses heightened to appreciate every small detail of the world I know before it slips away.
T H E D A R K A RT O F EQ U I V O C AT I O N Words by Marion Arnold
Announcement November 2016: After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. In the Dictionaries Press Release, free-lance cultural commentator, Neil Midgley, observed that the word was chosen because it had ‘become associated with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics’. Aaah – politics! The noun, Truth, seldom accorded respect in politics, has now been grossly insulted, and hijacked into a hyphenated, composite adjective that participates in political language games. Posttruth is a buzzy buzzword busy buzzing, and as Winnie-the-Pooh observed, ‘That buzzing noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without it meaning something’. Pondering the meaning of ‘something’, claimants contesting the meaning of truth emerge – White Lie, Partial Truth and False News greet their younger sibling, Alternative Facts. They twitter and tweet and post a video clip of themselves waving their small, pudgy hands as they do the virtual celebrity post-truth political Buzzword Dance. It is ‘tremendous, sooo bootiful’. On Naming Language offers no certainties but when the 18th- century botanist, Carl Linnaeus, developed binomial nomenclature to classify living organisms, naming gained purposeful clarity. Without names, said Linnaeus, there can be no permanent knowledge. His taxonomy did not dependent on adjectives to describe unstable appearances but on observable differences in plant structures. Evidence-based knowledge delivered scientific truth to botany. Nota bene: In 1753 Linnaeus published Species Plantarum, now accepted as the starting point of modern taxonomy. It was followed in 1755 by Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language. Data and information do not equal knowledge; this comes from enLIGHTenment. The Age of Enlightenment thinkers observed, gathered evidence, cogitated, wrote, drew, and circulated their knowledge to uplift the human spirit and illuminate minds and lives. However, it is fair to say that the majority of
Europe’s 18th-century peoples remained unenlightened. Mere survival offers dark days of desperation. P is for Post Once, twice and thrice upon a time, the prefix ‘post -’ referred to a period after, or a reaction against specified events. In 1910 Roger Fry, British art historian, critic, painter and curator, was asked by a journalist to name the group of modern artists whose work he was exhibiting in London. In a moment of exasperation Fry responded, ‘Oh, let’s just call them Post-Impressionists; at any rate, they came after the Impressionists’. He set the precedent for the 20th- century to deliver Post-Modernism (which became Postmodernism), Post-Structuralism (structures were deconstructed), Post-Feminism (dream on – another woman has a black eye and another has a face creased by acid), PostColonialism (now Postcolonialism in nations where corruption thrives), and Post-Apartheid (not yet Postapartheid). Such is the significance and equivocation of the hyphen dancing to the tune of ‘post’. NB: A post is also a stake driven into earth, and when wire is strung between posts a fence delineates territory, not time. T is for Truth and True Truth: The state of being true; in accordance with fact or reality. But how shall I know what is true or false? NB: The antonym for truth is LIE, swollen with malevolent intent. Lie lies easy on the ear and slithers off the tongue while truth requires breath for utterance. Post-truth, a noun, is a euphemism for LIE. LIES Adolf Hitler: ‘[the masses] more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously’ (Mein Kampf, 1925, vol. I, ch. X). NB: Hitler’s lesson has been well learnt by those who trumpet iterations of large-scale falsehoods and pay homage to the machinations of propaganda. Definite and Indefinite Articles The Truth; A truth.
NB: The Truth is the Truth but if there is a truth, there is another truth and another... Oath, Affirmation, Promise Sworn testimony: I (…) swear/affirm/promise that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. NB sotto voce: I may lie when promising … Enough of LIES. Rescue truth! On Truth Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘We have art lest we perish from the truth’ (unpublished remark in a notebook). NB: a reference to creativity and imagination, but beware the slithering lie in the clothes of imagination subverting art to pose as truth. Jane Austen: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’ (Pride and Prejudice). NB: The inventiveness of fictive art, the elegant tone of pure irony deflating truth. Thomas Stearns Eliot: We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive from where we started And know the place for the first time. (Little Gidding from The Four Quartets, 1943) NB: We seek truth; lies come unannounced, uninvited, unexpectedly. Susan Sontag: ‘The truth is always something that is told, not something that is known. If there were no speaking or writing, there would be no truth about anything. There would only be what is’ (The Benefactor, 1963). NB: in novels there is much wisdom. Hannah Arendt: ‘There may be truths beyond speech, and they may be of great relevance to man in the singular, that is, in so far as he is not a political being, whatever else he is. Men in the plural, that is, men in so far as they live and act in this world, can experience meaningfulness only because they can talk with and make sense to each other and to themselves’ (Prologue to The Human Condition, 1958, p.4). NB: vita activa.
Robert Frost: We dance round in a ring and suppose, But the Secret sits in the middle and knows. (The Secret Sits, from A Witness Tree, 1942) NB: Truth is a secret, protected, encircled. Analogy Truth being so elusive and difficult to define in words I summon Analogy to conjure up an image of Truth rather than use a provisional written definition subject to indecisions and revisions. Picture this: a piece of pure carbon, the hardest naturally occurring substance, an abrasive, crystalline, almost colourless mineral. I look into its transparent depths and at its faceted mirror-surface planes where I see reflected fragments of my spatial world. This is a diamond. It is a precious stone. Truth is precious. For truth-seekers, Truth reveals herself in fragments, caught in mirrors. And so, ask not what truth is, but what it does. A Digression into History to Witness the Performance of Truth Emerging to Combat Lies and Silences: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a drama in many acts written as a Report that collated Facts and generated Art In 1994, after decades of repressive white nationalist rule, the Republic of South Africa held its first universal franchise election and the African National Congress (ANC) came to power under the presidency of Nelson Mandela. The Interim Constitution contained a clause requiring Parliament to effect reconciliation and reconstruction in the new nation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was promulgated in 1995. Chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the TRC was tasked with conducting investigations into gross human rights violations committed between1960-1990. People requesting amnesty had to make full disclosure of deeds associated with political objectives. In 1996 public hearings began, the broad aim being to seek the truth of what happened in apartheid South Africa to countless victims. The Human Rights Violations Committee of the TRC gathered 21 296 statements during the course of its work and heard two thousand testimonies. The Report was finalised in 1998. To know about the work of the TRC Commission there is the official Report (http://www.justice.gov.za/trc/report/index.htm) and there is Art - novels, poems, images, theatre, films - responding to the words and photographic records of the public hearings. Pictures and words: what do they prompt us to make of truth? Each story heard by the TRC commissioners was painful to tell and painful to hear. One story in a lengthy testimony about multiple
abusive incidents yielded factual oral information and a demonstration of torture recorded photographically. The words and photos from Captain Jeffrey T. Benzien’s Amnesty Hearing in July 1997 seared the imagination of those at the hearing and those who read newspapers. Benzien received permission to make an introductory statement in which he apologised for one killing and for persons he had harmed through torture. He explained that he had used ‘the wet method, whereby a wet bag is placed over the suspect’s head to disorientate him and to make him think that he is being suffocated’. During Benzien’s testimony six victims asked if the Committee would allow them to put some questions to Benzien. Granted permission the first questioner was Tony Yengeni, by then an ANC Member of Parliament. He asked about the circumstances of his arrest and what happened when he was taken to the Culemborg police station. Benzien admitted to using the wet bag torture method and stated that he was able to extract information from his victim within thirty minutes. Yengeni then asked, What kind of man that uses a method like this one of the wet bag, to people, to other human beings, repeatedly and listening to those moans and cries and groans and taking each of those people very near to their deaths, what kind of man are you? What kind of man is that, that can do that kind of, what kind of human being is that Mr Benzien? To help him understand what had happened to him, Yengeni asked for an explanation of the torture. He then requested a demonstration. The request was granted and a member of the public volunteered to ‘play victim’. Responding to Benzien’s factual account of what he did and to press photographs of the re-enacted torture scene, artist Sue Williamson created an interactive art piece, Tony Yengeni – ‘Wet Bag’ Torture – Jeff Benzien (1998) and a video, Can’t Forget; Can’t Remember (1998). I produced a large drawing, Red Data: The Tyranny of Language (1999).
Marion Arnold, Red Data: The Tyranny of Language (1999), mixed media on paper, 120 x 150cms. Collection: Durban Art Gallery. (Photo: Roy Reed) In 1998 Antjie Krog who, as Antjie Samuel had reported on the TRC hearings for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, published Country of my Skull. Both accurate reportage and personal narrative, her text crosses fiction/non-fiction boundaries. Her notes of Yengeni’s speech, made on the spot, capture the man’s emotional state in contrast to the official Report’s objective facticity: … What kind of man … uhm … that uses a method like this one with the wet bag to people … to other human beings … repeatedly … and listening to those moans and cries and groans … and taking each of those people very near to their deaths … what kind of man are you, what kind of man is that, that can do … what kind of human being can do that Mr Benzien? … I’m talking now about the man behind the wet bag? Remembering the torture demonstration she witnessed, Krog comments, ‘The sight of this bluntly built white man squatting on the back of a black victim, who lies face down on the floor, and pulling a blue bag over his head will remain one of the most loaded and disturbing images of the life of the Truth commission.’ She then recalls that after the demonstration Benzien offered a retaliatory comment of his own to the ANC Member of Parliament, ‘Do you remember, Mr Yengeni, that within thirty minutes you betrayed Jennifer Schreiner? Do you remember pointing out Bongani Jonas to us on the highway?’ Ingrid de Kok turned to poetry to express her response to the Benzien-
Yengeni encounter in ‘What kind of man?’ II What kind of man mounts another in deadly erotic mimicry, then puts a wet bag over his head to suffocate him for ‘the truth’? … V the hand with its thumb intact, its active fingers; and the apparently depressed, possibly sedated, shuffling lumbering cumbersome body which then helpfully and earnestly performs in slow motion with perfect memory its training, its function: a tantric posture with wet bag that just for a moment is so unbelievable it looks like a pillow fight between brothers. (from ‘What kind of man?’ in Terrestrial Things, 2000) One truth, another truth, … and facts, spoken by one, confirmed by another, colliding with other versions of events, all drawn from damaged memories. But the smothering silence of the past is shattered. Postscript: A Cherished Gift I was given an ammonite approximately 195 million years old. Name: Etoderoceras obesum Age: Jurassic, Low Lias, Raricostatum Zone Size of Ammonite: 47mm, surrounded by ‘bubble’ pyrite Location: Stonebarrow, Charmouth, Dorset, UK Weight: 467gms Post-ammonite, I belong to Homo sapiens. In my human hands I hold and encircle ancient evidence of life evolving. This fossil provides facts about evolution. It is a tangible, visible truth about life. We still seek Truth.
“NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED”: QUEER FEMINISM IN ART HISTORY AS A MODEL FOR POLITICAL THINKING IN AN ERA OF “ A LT E R N AT I V E F A C T S ” Words by Amelia Jones
THIS IS A MANIFESTO EMPHASIZING the urgency of an intersectional queer feminism in the current Republican universe where lies become “alternative truths.” My title begins with the dismissive, misogynistic phrase of Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell in silencing Senator Elizabeth Warren on the floor of the senate in early February 2017, on the occasion of the vote on Jeff Sessions’ appointment as Attorney General of the United States. Warren was attempting to read the eloquent 1986 letter Coretta Scott King wrote to the chief of the judiciary committee at the time, challenging the fitness of Sessions to be appointed as a federal judge. What we are seeing with this exchange is the classism and racism and homophobia and sexism of late-capitalist patriarchy in action. Queer feminism matters in this picture, not the least as a method to call out lies and insist upon the facts—persisting through the blatantly dishonest and cynical strategies of the new administration. I will argue here briefly and polemically why the specifically queer and specifically feminist political project in the visual arts is far from being peripheral or subsidiary to what is happening in erstwhile democracies across the Euro-American world today—with a particular focus on the US. Rather, if we understand “art” as such to be a construction deeply implicated in and informed by the rise of modern, capitalist, patriarchal, and imperialist European cultures in relation to the cultures of Europe’s subordinated colonies from around 1500 onward, then we can see how a politically motivated praxis such as an intersectional queer feminist art
history and theory might provide a crucial resistance to narratives built on today’s crumbling hegemony of European-based parts of the world (including the US). This crumbling hegemony is being masked by a discourse of lies or “alternative truths,” wherein a president fabricates the “tremendous” size of his inaugural crowd in the face of a humiliatingly small audience that was dwarfed by the million plus people at the Washington D.C. branch of the women’s march the next day. To this end, we must seek to expose the underlying weakness that is proclaimed in the very masculinist structures that seek to divert our attention from it—via our president’s assertions of his penis size, pussy grabbing, and other clichés of weakened white heteronormative masculinity. (As I have always noted to my students: if white heterosexual male-identified masculinity really were inherently superior, people identifying with it wouldn’t need to objectify and subordinate others or (as in this case) brag about their virility and the size of their genitals. In this manifesto, I want to suggest the importance of critical discourses such as intersectional queer feminist art theory and history to the broader political and social situation we face today—to the “posttruth” era, as it were. My argument is based on two things. First, as suggested by this very recent queer feminist “pussyhat” project, devised in resistance to the US president’s “pussy grab” misogyny, it is clear that any queer feminist theory of the visual is always already attached to activist strategies for undermining structures of heteronormative male and white supremacy. As the women’s marches
on January 21, 2017 in D.C. and all over the world illustrated (this was the day after the US presidential inauguration), it is intervening in the visual regime through critique or counter examples of womanidentified modes of empowerment—signified clearly by the adoption of the hand knitted, pink, cat-eared pussyhats by millions and the marches—that most directly demonstrates the kind of political rage that a powerful white male misogynist provokes in a huge range of people of all genders and sexual identifications. We instinctively reached for the visual power of the symbol, which at the marches was adopted by straight, trans, and queer feminists of all kinds, after the disastrous US election last November (which ominously paralleled the Brexit movement, and the rise of far right nationalist parties across Europe). Second, my assertions here are also based on a broad critical approach to art and art history as such, pivoting around my contention that the concept of art as we know it today is a construction coming out of the early modern period of European colonialism, nascent capitalism, and imperialism: all based on forms of patriarchy. With the rise of aesthetics in eighteenth-century European philosophy, the notion of art as we know it today was solidified in relation to these structures of power. Art was defined as that ineffable thing that nonetheless only white European men could create. Colonized people made artifacts. Women could produce only crafts. As feminist art historians such as Roszika Parker and Carol Duncan pointed out in the 1980s, art (at least before the disruptions of the 1960s) had been long defined as
the opposite of artifact or craft, antithetical to any creation that had use value, such as the nurturing quilts or handicrafts or daily meals produced by women or, it is crucial to add, slaves or servants. By definition, women—not to mention Blacks or those from other supposedly subordinate “races” to the Europeans—could not make art. (It is precisely this set of hierarchies that Black feminists such as Faith Ringgold challenged directly in her usage of quilting and painting in one object.) Men who evinced same sex desire—such as Robert Rauschenberg—were usually OK figuring as artists as long as they stayed in the closet, or their sexuality was veiled, and subordinated to their genius. Patriarchy is nothing if not the veiled racist, sexist, and classist privileging of those believed to be the harbingers and creators of the European enlightenment, assigning all other kinds of people and producers to the lower category of what William Pietz (in his 1996 article “Fetishism”) has called the “unenlightenment,” an abject state of objectification assigned to the colonized and feminine. Western aesthetics, which developed as a key component of enlightenment thinking in Western Europe, is structured to promote this hierarchy through hidden structures of power—viz., the era’s development of the first art museums in counterpoint to early natural history museums (things made by white European men are “art,” which objects made by “unenlightened” others are “crafts” or “artifacts”). Art historians such as Donald Preziosi and Claire Farago have traced these structures in their work. Feminism, intimately connected to a critical
understanding of how colonialism and racism function, is central to exposing these hidden structures of power. As feminists from Mary Wollstonecraft to Simone de Beauvoir to Shulamith Firestone have pointed out, this lower status—or unenlightenment in Pietz’s terms—is also in different ways aligned with the feminine and with woman-identified people. This is the case when colonization is perpetrated on those perceived to be racially other by patriarchal regimes that feminize those they dominate. And various forms of patriarchal nationalism rely on subordinating women to men as unpaid and thus lower class domestic laborers aligned with disempowered racial and class “others.” This is a carefully calibrated system that has worked like a charm in support of patriarchal (racist and classist and homophobic) values for hundreds of years to produce these others as disempowered and economically disadvantaged. Even when the art world seems to be embracing the work of (for example) queer women artists of color, it is placing this work within the same system. For this reason, we need to be suspicious of how we institutionalize, ratify, and celebrate any work as “art,” showing a keen awareness of how our judgments rely on implicitly hierarchizing structures of value that are on a deep level based on these historical assumptions and oppressions. What queer theory adds to this picture is an understanding of how normative structures of sexuality also serve to reinforce the binary logic of patriarchy and its permutations, from nationalism to racism. The systems of power in art discourse and institutions, as in society in general, are structured via “us” versus “them” binaries and, while feminism in some of its forms maintains the binary only to reverse or question it, queer theory seeks to unsettle the binary altogether, to put gender/sex (and other interrelated) identifications in motion. Among other things, this reminds us always of our own role in identifying, defining, and assigning meaning and value to people, things, art, and institutions. Meaning and identity are constructed, and thus in process, never fully fixed.
The logic of binarization and oppression—fixing the other in place—must occur in a veiled or hidden way to ensure the smooth running of the system. The lies that the US president and his spokespeople tell, their “alternative facts,” are the sleights of hand necessary to distract us from what is really going on: the erection of a proto-fascist structure of self and other that dangerously threatens not just art making that questions authority and the writing of revisionist historical narratives that correct exclusions from the past (to point to two casualties within the art arena) but life as we have known it in late capitalist democracies such as the US and the UK. If these lies depend on the occlusion of the machinations that produce them, then our job is to expose to view the fakery, the untruths, and the fundamental lack underlying claims of returning to American “greatness” under the current US presidential regime. If our president claims his dick is as large as his hands and that his cultural power is such that he can grab any pussy he wants—both of which he has done in public—then our job is to create counter symbols of women’s empowerment, such as the pussyhat and the seemingly endless streams of millions of people of all genders supporting women’s rights at the marches in January. Our job is to enact our binary-confusing queer identifications so that his administration’s attempt continually to re-binarize sexual difference (so as to secure his hyperbolically heteronormative masculine power) fails miserably. Our job is to insist on exposing the white supremacy of our president’s sexism at every turn—for example, hypothetically, all of us, no matter our ethnic background, should register as “Muslim” should a registry ever actualize in such a heinous way—so that his conflation of immigrant Muslims with terrorism (in spite of the fact that many terrorist acts in the US have been committed by white men, and none by immigrants from the seven countries listed in his refugee ban of late January, 2017) is exposed as a lie. Given this situation of the binaries structuring power differentials in patriarchy, any theory that interrogates the structures of power implicit in and
produced by concepts of art as well as particular works of art would only benefit from theoretical methods that are aimed at interrogating the basic patriarchal (and thereby racist, homophobic, and classist) structures of power embedded in art historical disciplinary practices as well as in the very basic forms of art as it is produced in European-based cultures. Hence an intersectional queer feminism becomes essential to an overarching critical approach in relation to the visual arts and visual culture—in order to expose their roots in European colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism, and nationalism, which is the “truth” of art as we know it today. I want to emphasize that intersectionality is key here. As our president’s panoply of oppressive executive orders, personal behaviors and statements, and cabinet appointments—which mobilize an interrelated class warfare, sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, disabled-phobia, and nationalism—make clear, race and ethnicity are always, no matter how racially “neutral” an image might seem, absolutely central to how gender and sexuality are articulated in the visual field and otherwise. There can be no useful queer feminist critique that is not also a critique of racism (today, sadly, as before: of white supremacy), class oppression, and imperialism. Intersectional queer feminist theory (which can begin as anti-racist theory) is to my mind the most important tool intellectuals and artists have at our disposal to wield in our pressing struggles in this country (and beyond) today. Without the insights of feminism in exposing to view the persistence of patriarchal, binary structures of value that oppress and dehumanize womenidentified people of all kinds through stereotyping (pussy grabbing), legal bullying (laws rendering freedom of choice difficult or impossible), and censure (laws prohibiting trans* identified people from living and acting as women or men in public spaces), the diverse and heterogeneous people who actually do “make America great” as a richly diverse immigrant-based country would be crushed. And without the energy of queer theory, we might
be tempted to ignore the fluidity of the gender/sex matrix, and the ways in which these heinous and hateful policies currently being spun out are purveyed not only to disempower “nasty women,” but to continue to divide the properly from the “improperly” sexed. We would miss the way in which patriarchy is by definition heteronormative, constructing binaries of sex/gender on axes that always already implicate race, ethnicity, class, able-bodiedness, religiously based, and other identifications. What matters today is sticking to our queer feminist guns—nevertheless persisting, as Elizabeth Warren did in the Senate—continually pointing out what today’s resurgent far right is laboring to remove to a space of unenlightenment, oppression, and invisibility: queers, women, and any person not identifying as normatively white. Those of us they are seeking to remove must call their bluff through queer feminist anti-racist arguments that expose their smallness and fear.
TELL ME SOMETHING T H AT â€™ S WORTH SMELLING LENSED BY HARRIS KYPRIANOU MODEL KSENIA Z AYT Z E VA
THE TRUTH WILL NOT BE TELEVISED Words by Alan Dunn, Leo Plumb, Bex Ilsley and Ben Parry
Skimming through Leo Plumb’s pages rapidly, as we should, we see a series of photographic streaks, blurs, blacks and reds. They are made from a process of exposing and scanning camera film before television screens that are broadcasting 24hour newsreels. The final compositions that exist digitally for now, and collectively known as Lucky Escape, are the result of playfully arranging these photographs. The works come about from a period of the artist marvelling at the different 24-hour news channels available to stream or watch globally. Leo considers this continual sequence of programming an abundant cycle of source imagery from which to make new work while becoming increasingly drawn to the phenomenological sensations one experiences when watching this type of broadcasting. Raymond Williams describes this as the ‘flow’ of television: the effort of creating uninterrupted programming, designed specifically to hook and hold viewers. For Williams, ‘flow’ is “the defining characteristic of broadcasting, simultaneously as a technology and as a cultural form.” Leo’s work is born from a preoccupation with the news ticker, the feed of text running right to left or vice versa, a form of text communication emerging from the stock market and televised sports. In the West, the ticker is usually positioned in the red or blue ribbon in the lower portion of the television screen. The first continuous news tickers, that is those that were not just used periodically, were rolled out hours after the September 11th World Trade Centre attacks in New York by Fox News with CNN following just twenty minutes later. Within weeks, virtually all stations were doing the same. Leo unwinds the camera film at the same
speed as the ticker to track the news images from right to left and mimic the motion, translating the continuum of news into a series of moments caught on film. He considers this approach to imagemaking as speaking to an imagination we have of news information travelling in these beams of light from news source to TV studio via satellites. This process symbolises the constant nature of news broadcasting. Keeping those satellites in orbit costs phenomenal amounts and news broadcasting is so expensive it is pushing itself towards extinction. As an artist, Leo enjoys the idea that the tickers reproduce and mirror the death drive of the media. The quality of the scanned negative film has a real poignancy here; it demands close examination. It is creatively satisfying to scan in and to finally get to grips with what has been exposed. It also denies true clarity and Leo quotes Susan Sontag in regarding the pain of others, where she describes the distance employed by journalistic images: “For the photography of atrocity, people want the weight of witnessing without the taint of artistry.” Throughout the development of these works, Leo refers to the website wwiTV.com that links to the world’s different satellite news broadcasting stations. It is a reminder that many different news providers exist and equally that they all have an agenda. It is also fascinating if you wish to know what is going on in the Congo at 5am or what Hungarian breakfast time debate is like. I ask Leo about truth. He expresses his current fears around the threshold between fact and law exercised at state level, a slippage that Agamben writes about. He is as scared as anything about the interchangeability of law and fact, those chicken and egg scenarios that always serve as a means to an end. Then there is truth as we tend
to experience it, aligned somehow with a notion of responsibility. We stand back shocked and offended, as individuals and institutions operate beyond what we understand to be the reach of the truth or legal parameters. There remains an issue about truth seemingly operating at different scales; within, and beyond the individual. We know if we were ourselves to become those exceptions to the rule, to act as they do, we would have to face different consequences involving our own convictions. Can any artist then be objective? Why would they be, replies Leo. We remain interpretative creatures, absorptive to different features of the world around us. We appear to function best when we operate on different scales and can therefore think beyond the different hierarchies of truth. In this way we can be receptive for example to different issues, struggles, comforts and celebrations affecting different groups. Eventually we tend to turn this fluid practice to something more plastic, so that we can align ourselves with particular causes or beliefs, usually at a time when it is most urgently needed. Being subjective gives you a position from which to align yourself with others.
questions, no products, no lifestyles, no special offers, no ... YOU WILL NEVER LEARN, WE CAN DIE BETTER, IT AINT A GAME, TIRED BOY AT BREAKFAST, WISH IT WAS CHRISTMAS. The large digital screen below the tower is installed to mark Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008. It is a commercial advertising space and its graphic frame is decorated with references to local landmarks such as the Liver Birds, the Beatles and the Mersey Ferry. There are also visual references to public artwork such as Jorge Pardo’s Penelope and Antony Gormley’s Another Place; public art about other public art. Or rather, public design about public art and public art as tourism. Over the years, the area around the screen presents numerous bland and meaningless straplines about the city: A WINNING SPIRIT, THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUM, FEEL ITS PASSIONS, A PLACE WHERE THINGS HAPPEN, USUALLY FOR THE FIRST TIME. These mantras are ingrained into a population over time. The screen faces the entrance and exit of the city’s main railway station, Lime Street, and is seen by an estimated one million adults per fortnight.
LEARN TO READ (DIFFERENTLY) Wednesday 20th January 2016 at 3.40pm and the sun drops behind the Holiday Inn Hotel and Radio City Tower in Liverpool city centre. A large crowd, wrapped up against the cold, stares at the 31x7m digital screen adjacent to the lower section of the hotel. A series of bold four-word statements appear on the screen, each for ten seconds: I MISS DOING NOTHING, MAKE JAM NOT WAR, NO COMFORT NO JOY. There are no
REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED, MAKE THE ECONOMY CIRCULAR. I REALLY HATE JANUARY. LOOK! NEW HUMAN TRAFFIC. Working with commissioning agency Metal, I hire this digital screen, known as the Liverpool Media Wall, for one hour to present one-hundred ten-second four-word animations. At the time, it is Europe’s largest full-motion outdoor screen. I invite
a range of people to create four-word statements that reflect upon January, a complex month in which many of us contemplate self-image, debt, the weather and our future. It is also a culturally-void month, grey and bleak. GET OFF OUR LAND, WOMENS PAY IS LESS. VALUE CRASH CRUNCH BOOM. Contributors range from the known such as The Andy Warhol Foundation, David Shrigley, Fiona Banner, Paul Morley, Gerhard Richter, Shaista Aziz and Jamie Reid through to those for whom having a voice writ large in public is a new experience. I invite an A Level student, priest, retired footballer, poet, imaginary school, seafarer, disability arts festival, community gardener, economist, urban planner and journalist to compose these statements that are seen by around 4,000 people between 3.004.00pm. Every few minutes we interject a fake advert from stock library footage of swaying palm trees or rotating confectionary, void of text, logo or strapline. From where we are, how do we picture the world and ourselves? The arts community have different memories, experiences and truths across a city. We access a its public and private spaces, towers, tunnels, closed buildings, billboards, empty shops, carparks, hotels, flagpoles, offices, radiowaves, TV feeds and pavements. We land projects gently over the city like particles falling over time. Our projects are occasionally fleeting and require documentation to exist in any tangible form. Our project documentation becomes our instrument of navigation and our PDFs are our atlases. What do we see in ourselves when we use our city as playground? FOUR WORDS reflects order amidst chaos, the static within the commute, personal statements framed by abstract jingoism
and broadcast against reception. The economist and the journalist write: PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES and at 4pm it ends with a teenager and art student respectively: I OWE YOU NOTHING. THIS WAS ONLY TEMPORARY: http://alandunn67.co.uk/fourwords.html. Looking at Bex Ilsleyâ€™s images, we see a blanklooking female avatar casually located in a futuristic interior environment. Puerta del Cielo is a set of seven photographs taken during a single night in the Hotel Silken Puerta America, Madrid - www. bexilsley.com/Puerta-del-Cielo. The floors of the hotel offer Y2K-era sci-fi sterility alongside soft edges and blob-like malleable forms. The lighting is harsh and institutional. We, the viewer, look down on the avatar. The images are part of a wider body of work Bex makes while thinking about the effect that living in cyberspace has had on her. There seems to be complex implications for the relationship she has with her physical form and her work queries the authenticity of the constructions of body and personality inside and outside of cyberspace. Her existence is sucked into something unavoidably performative, but is a costume worn purposefully more honest than pretending to be real? Is cyberspace a refuge from an equally wobbly wider reality, and should we run to it? Is it problematic to use it as validation engine, something to fill the voids in our self-esteem? Is it okay to admit all of this, or should we, you, me be ashamed of all this self-indulgent mirror-gazing? Her avatar, Bex Ilsleyâ€™s own Bex Ilsley, forms many intense relationships online and becomes a kind of therapeutic object, a safe receptacle for confession and a site of projection that adapts to the needs of its audience. She continues: No, that is
an older interview. She continued: “I question my authenticity. I think about fantasy and retreating to the safe stages of cyberspace. This place can be a refuge from an equally wobbly wider reality, post-truth, while also providing the instant (and questionable) service of being a validation engine for the filling of my psychological voids. What does that say about a human, or about these times?” We return to her eyes. Look me in the eyes and tell me the truth. FOUR WORDS. We never catch Bex’s gaze. Post-911 ticker-tape. Her eyes are hidden behind a visor, virtual reality glasses or directed towards her selfie-stick. But even then she is looking beyond it into nothingness off screen. Four eyes. Her eyes are black pools and lifeless. These are eyes that will never cry, never blink under pressure, never twitch nervously, never look down in shame, never see life for the first time, never say goodbye, never coil in horror at atrocity, never reveal her soul, never widen in arousal, never flicker wildly, never sleep, never feel the sun hitting their insides, never roll in disgust, never glare with anger and ultimately never ever lie. FURTHER READING https://readymag.com/tribe/520061/52/
Alan Dunn photograph by Ashe McDonnell
Conway and Young photograph by John McLaughlin
David Harding photograph by Mark McNulty
Douglas Coupland photograph by Ashe McDonnell
Harry Meadley photograph by Mark McNulty
Forest Swords photograph by Mark McNulty
Harriet Walsh photograph by John McLaughlin
Reverend Max Ripple photograph by John McLaughlin
Ross Sinclair photograph by John McLaughlin
Shaun Curtis photograph by Mark McNulty
Simon Morris photograph by Ashe McDonnell
Levitt Dubner photograph by Mark McNulty
Ollie Longhurst photograph by Brigitte Jurack
Pavel BÃ¼chler photograph by Mark McNulty
W W W. S T I M U L U S R E S P O N D. C O M
Stimulus Respond / Post-Truth