I had kindly been invited to the Experimenter Curator’s Hub, in Kolkata, India. Although I don’t feel like I have anything interesting or useful to say to a room full of curators or people interested in curating, the invite was kind and heartfelt enough for me to say yes. I haven’t been to India since 1997, and then, only around the North: Dehli, Jaipur, Agra and torrential Chandigahr. Having been born in Bangladesh, for a long time I wondered whether I should describe myself as “Bengali” or “Bangladeshi,” interchanging the two when I was younger, only realising the difference much, much later in life (region vs nation, in case you’re wondering). Kolkata is the spiritual centre of Bengali culture, its intellectual fulcrum: literary, cinematic. And it was also, of course, the centre of the East India Company, Britain’s Imperial instrument of colonialism. For all these reasons, I was keen to go.

But in the end I didn’t go. TL;DR: I couldn’t get an online visa, despite having a British passport. I won’t go into all the details, because it will expose my entitled privilege (“I’m British! I can go anywhere!” screeched in a colonial accent, of course). Let’s say a BJP-led antipathy towards Pakistan and especially “secret Pakistanis” combined with the ham-fisted crudeness of automated systems of bureaucracy meant I was not eligible for the online visa process. My father was born in 1937, therefore, in British Imperial India. My mother in 1953, therefore in East Pakistan. They were both Pakistani citizens—as were my grandparents— from 1947 to 1971, when Bangladesh won its independence. I can only deduce, by the number of questions asked about me and my family’s ancestral links to Pakistan, that I had tripped up a computational red-line.

This is a minuscule fraction of what millions go through on a daily basis, burdened with less palatable passports than mine, and by palatable, I simply mean, the extent to which you are welcome or unwelcome and made to prove your worthiness of being welcomed. Birth is the first lottery. Naturalisation to another country, another passport, is another lottery. Both weigh the worth of people in unethically asymmetrical ways.

I often think about what would have happened if my father had decided not to leave Bangladesh in the early 1970s—initially to Libya(!) but eventually to the UK.  What would we have become, in Bangladesh, a country whose greatest adversity is not the punishing climatological condition—a third of Bangladesh may be wiped out by rising sea levels in a few decades—but the violence enacted on the vulnerable masses by the privileged political, economic and military elite.

I touch upon this thought here in an interview with Rosalyn DMello  published in Firstpost. I also talk about automation and AI, living across cities and countries, and the uniquely important opacity of art.





Machines à Penser is an exhibition at the Fondazione Prada’s Ca Corner, in Venice, which “focuses on three major philosophers of the 20th century: Theodor W. Adorno, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein… and the conditions of exile, escape and retreat and physical or mental places which favor reflection, thought and intellectual production.”

Curated by Dieter Roelstraete, it brought together artists who have reflected on these philosophers’ spaces of solitary production, as well as ersatz reconstructions of Heidegger and Wittgenstein’s huts.

A book accompanied the show. Designed by Will Holder, it contains essays by Roelstraete and Mark Riley; conversations with Goshka Macuga, Leonor Antunes and Alexander Kluge; and excerpts from the philosophers’ works.

I was asked to write about the history of the “primitive hut,” its antecedents and after-effects. My essay sweeps across time, from the Desert Mothers and Fathers to a Muji cabin available to order online. The full illustrated text is here. Throughout, the question remains, “why does this archetype return, again and again?” And what does it say about the fantasy of thinking?”

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 02.34.30 pmScreen Shot 2018-05-31 at 02.35.13 pmScreen Shot 2018-05-31 at 02.35.53 pm


It’s been impossible not to think about power recently. Power has gone through some kind of monumental transfer — from print to screen, from political parties to political outliers, from Good Internet to Bad Internet, from humans to algorithms. It was the topic of 2017’s Format at the AA School. And here, below, it continues, as 76 points written for the AA’s fierce lil’ zine, DUE.



FYI, according to YouTube, the answer to number 75 is all of these power ballad-ish songs.

With thanks to Due’s editors, Sofia Belenky, Tobias Hetzer Dausgaard, Hunter O’Brien Doyle, and the designer, Anja Kaiser.


I was asked to write in Michael Rakowitz’s catalogue, for his show at the MCA Chicago (Sept 2017 – March 2018), entitled Backstroke of the West, curated by Omar Kholeif. Michael’s work encompasses errant history, near and far. He plays with time and matter. And so, here’s my short story inspired by his preoccupations*.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 01.21.00 am



A precious artifact separates them. It’s white, brittle looking, a real talking point. Dust falls onto the starring loan. Neither she nor he notices. It’s nearly midnight now. The museum is open late, for the public. We must educate the public. Guards are prone to daydream, but what do they dream of at night? Dust always falling, breeding, elsewhere in the building too. Tiny enemies. Dust falls between this woman and this man.

“I REMEMBER…,” she says.

“YOU REMEMBER…?” he shakes his head.

They have been visiting this popular museum since they first met, on the third floor, forty-five years ago. They sought shelter from the rain that day. From the fucking chaos of the world. Their eyes locked onto one another—through the missing gaps of a dinosaur skeleton. Love at first extinction, you might say. Small talk ensued. Were the dinosaur’s memories still trapped in the bones?

A tour guide passed by, arms flailing, and he shouted, “One day, humans will be artifacts in a museum like this.” It made our couple laugh, and, before long, they’d told each other their plain, familiar names.


“YOU REMEMBER NOWHERE,” Okada side-eyes.

Time in a museum is unlike time on a watch, on a screen, between atoms. Museum time is a relatively affordable luxury, a holiday away from habit. Time, here, is not narrative. Neither is it nonlinear. It is formed of crystals, according to a Sudanese painter whose work they saw on the ground floor of the museum, in rooms one through four. Women trapped in crystalline cages.



Riva and Okada have lost track of their route through the popular museum, the rooms they’ve visited, in their long, winding life together. Numbers are related to counting, and, after some years, when their marriage slowly turned into a private museum, they chose not to count anymore.



Earlier, in one of the museum’s other rooms, they read a caption that said, “Time, more than space, belongs to theologians, filmmakers, and shamans.” They made a note of this, in shorthand that the other would find impossible to ever read. Then they watched a film. Historical sites—thousands of years ancient, in a part of the world most associated with unending wars—were being blown up with old explosives. These statues, apparently, were sacrilegious. Shirk, the greatest sin of all. Shirk, attributing God’s greatness to something other than God. Destroying them was the duty of the devout?

But the videos played backward. Pulverized dust slowly congealed back into form and figure, poise and premonition. This is often how their marriage felt too.



Are we able to piece together their itinerary over the past three hours—or three decades, who’s to say—moving from curated room to didactic display? Is this an accurate checklist?


Doomed to repeat, cursed to repeat, shuffling the same playlist—this is what their grandchildren believe happens to civilization. Only technology changes. The nature of switches, dials, buttons. If humans are going to be artifacts in a museum like this, Riva wonders, could they pick me? She imagines a vitrine shaped like a crystal, like the one she saw Vladimir Lenin encased in, at his Red Square mausoleum. She envies the glory of his eternal rest. His pallor.



It is 11:59 pm, and the museum guards are rounding up people, politely asking them to make their way to the exit. The precious artifact separating Riva and Okada—white, brittle looking, a real talking point of today’s museum tweets—has puzzled them ever since they arrived.

The museum should provide theologians or shamans for moments like this, when the captions on the walls fall short. When you’re free-falling through meaning. When you look at the person you’ve spent almost your entire life with and— like that—you feel no love.


The chaos of the fucking world leads us here?

To a set of “keywords”?

The precious artifact—says the exhibition handout—is a new, three-dimensional printed copy. Very twenty- first century, apparently. However. Let’s be honest. This re-creation is more of a lewd ghost, composed entirely of digital dust, the wet dream of millennials, who have become the stupidly successful museum’s priority audience.

Riva and Okada fail to lock eyes with one another, missing the dinosaur skeleton maybe, missing whatever it is that makes the past something other than a grotesque animal. Their memories are trapped inside their bones. And at this moment, sadness falls between Riva and Okada for the last time.


“MY LOVE,” he cries, “I KNOW YOU DO.”


*The characters’ names are borrowed from the actors’ names in Hiroshima Mon Amouras is the contrapuntal affirmation and denial between the protagonists.


And here’s the cover of Michael’s catalogue:

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 01.21.46 am

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 12.33.46 am

Portrait by Trevor Paglen

I interviewed Hito Steyerl for the Autumn 2017 issue of Tank magazine. Read it here. My introduction goes:

For anyone with an interest in the fate of images, Hito Steyerl’s work is indispensable. Based somewhere between Berlin and the internet’s subconscious, Steyerl is equally adept at writing as she is at filmmaking, and is an influential professor at the Universität der Künste Berlin. Books such as The Wretched of the Screen, and installations like Factory of the Sun at the 56th Venice Biennial of Art, have cemented Steyerl’s status in a lineage that includes Harun Farocki and Chris Marker. No one quite manages to historicise the recent present in the way that Steyerl does, summoning philosophy, politics and popular culture with deadpan precision and deadbeat humour. Duty Free Art, Steyerl’s latest book, is published by Verso and is out October 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 06.11.31 pm

Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, was killed in an attack at Malaysia’s low-cost carrier airport, klia2, at around 9:00 a.m. on February 13, 2017. He was scheduled to take a flight to Macau later that morning. Two women, Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong (twenty-eight) and Indonesian Siti Aisyah (twenty-five), were allegedly asked to wipe baby oil on Jong-nam’s face, and were paid $90 for this reality-TV prank. However, twenty minutes after the attack—which was caught on airport security CCTV—Jong-nam was dead.

In issue #83 of e-flux journal, I’ve written a piece entitled “LOL History,” which is about this image, released soon after Kim Jong-nam’s murder:

Duan Thi Huong

It’s an attempt to enumerate the different associations my mind and my memory made when I saw this image for the first time. When I started to zoom in, print it out, zoom in further, print out again, then pin on my wall:

duan sb grid.jpg

If our memories are becoming more like the data sets used by Facebook et al. for facial recognition, then it’s perhaps unsurprising that our eyes and ears have become search engine interfaces.

The text ends with a heartfelt question:

Something always exceeds the images of faces. Escapes complete capture. Maybe it is why we take so many selfies everyday?


dark habits

Dark Habits, published by HOME, 2017



I’m starting a new moral universe. I decided. This morning. After difficult dreams; before my day began its dull duty. Today, I vowed, I must start a new moral universe.



And here I am.



Here we are. At the foothills of a more moral universe, whose path, I should warn you, is steep and likely hellish in parts, TBH.



And yet, gulping the sweet coffee that is more like a chemical poem, tingling with this remarkable and fierce fury, the kind that accompanies deliverance, not mere duty, I said to myself, (((but not out loud))), that the time has come for a new moral universe. Free of novelty mugs.



Because YOLO.



I left the chain coffee shop, whose mermaid logo I am considering as a tramp stamp, and set off to the horizon of the future where a new moral universe is impatiently awaiting. (Kickstart campaign pending. (The pitch video is awesome)).



To the skeptical I say let us choose our battles. To the haters, I say let us arm ourselves with truth. To the basket of deplorables, I swear, let us not fall prey to the false gods of universalism.



I’m starting a new fucking moral universe AND there will be no Kenyan Keynsian economics, no state-capitalist discos, and no sweatpants outside of the gym. Dress code: strictly Uptight Anna Wintour.



I meditated a new moral universe. Peace. Shalom. Shanti.



I have yet to define where morality comes from. Me? You? Us? Him? Her? Them? There’s a song I stream – ‘Morality is Vanity’ by Momus – and the lyrics start out like this:


Nobody is evil, nobody is good
All the guilty people have misunderstood
It’s really nothing personal
You shouldn’t blame yourself
The crimes are irreversible
The life sentence is death


But I can’t dance to it. Downer.



I’m starting a new moral universe and I need an acronym because people don’t read anymore, they just ‘thumbs up’ 👍 or ‘down’ 👎.



Although these are just notes, they do contain encrypted secrets.



In my new moral universe – FYI! – we will be commissioning a lengthy report on the disruptive potential of morality. It will be full of cute GIFs and big, big data. It will make Mr Robot look like Peppa Pig.



[Enter sponsors logo here. And here.]



Before dinner tonight I will have installed a transition team for my new moral universe. They will bear uncanny resemblances to all the great thinkers – Noam, Lindsay, Michel, Hito, Sophia – but their thoughts will have been unthinkable even a year ago. Thinking that comes from the deserts, from deep past and deep future, desert language, prophets… absolutely nothing perfunctory. I promise you with my cold dead hands.



Jeff Buckley died too young. He would have been one of the most important twenty-first century feminists ever. I saw him play in a tiny club in Glasgow. It was 1995. He covered a Cocteau Twins song. He was in a relationship with Elizabeth Fraser, the lead singer from Cocteau Twins. Love letters come in many forms. In my new moral universe, where cryogenics will be immorality-free, I’m bringing Jeff Buckley back to pen the anthem and teach young boys gender grace, not through fear, but love.



I’m starting this NMU and I will look into:

  • statutory rights for robots
  • free Ashtanga for every citizen
  • the end of money money money
  • the definitive ‘season end’ of celebrity
  • fascism detection classes
  • an algorithmic poet laureate
  • energy produced every time an emoji is used
  • 7 billion social contracts
  • and I’m crowdsourcing the rest from you. Rest assured.



We don’t know whether to think or feel. If we think too much, those who feel more than us seem to win. If we feel too much, those who think more than us win.



I took some pills to slow my mind, to go to sleep. I hope I wake in time for my new moral universe. If I don’t, then, you’re in charge.



Commissioned by Sarah Perks for Dark Habits, a companion piece to the La Movida exhibition, which took place at HOME in Manchester in 2017. “The book is also self-consciously aware of its namesake, the title and content of Pedro Almodovar’s third film Dark Habits (1983), a key figure and film associated with that time.”

 – Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 01.17.47 am

You look up “outsourcing” on Wikipedia with a knowing smile. The crowd/out-sourced oracle says it dates “at least to 1981.” Even if this part isn’t true, I want it to be. Why? Because Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979 and Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Because the era we have come to believe is ours all started with Maggie and Ronnie’s love affair with delirious deregulation? Because history loves coincidences.

You get into bed and say how good my hair looks. I tell you I dyed it with the new “Anish Kapoor Ultra Black” this morning, just after you went to work, and while I logged onto MTurk, Fiverr and Taskrabbit.

I remember back to when we first met, and you would read out loud to me. Now we have “audiobooks.” So, I ask you to read to me tonight.

You oblige: “Outsourcing is one of the central tricks of profit engineering. Keep production in an agitated state of perpetual displacement, shifting it to the next cheapest location.”

I demand a better bedtime story.

E.T.A. Hoffman wrote one called “The Sandman” in 1816. The protagonist, Nathaneal, develops strong amorous feelings towards Olimpia, whom he spies through a telescope. She plays the harpsichord, sings and dances. But Olympia turns out to be an automaton, and Nathaneal is driven mad by the sight of its disembodied eyes lying horrifically on the floor. Three years later, Sigmund Freud built his theory of “das Unheimliche” (“the Uncanny”) around that queasy feeling of not knowing if Olimpia is human or nonhuman, and the even queasier feeling Nathaneal had when he realised he was sexually aroused by a machine.

“Are we outsourcing more and more of ourselves to machines?”

“Baby, the more we outsource our memories to the Cloud, the more our memory can remember less.”

Does it matter where the Cloud is? Does it matter if the server farm is prize-winning architecture? Do the cleaners get a decent break? And are they unionized? Does the Cloud storage facility use rainwater to cool the temperature inside, or am I adding to climate change if I outsource my memory to it?

“Chill. The basic unit of outsourcing is distance,” you say, proudly.

“What kind of distance?”

“A distance that moves production not only from your physical view but also your conceptual view. This distance creates remove. Remove creates distanciation. Distanciation allows us to suspend certain judgments that proximity simply would not.”

I caress your glistening skin. I stare hopelessly into your eyes. I pray, after all these years, you do not turn out to be an automaton.

You tell me about a happy dream, where we have two robot dogs – called “Blindspot” and “Blacksite” – and a real cat – called “Blowback.” You hope I have the same dream soon.

“Would it be useful for robots to cry?” I ask.

“Well it depends what they’d be used for,” you reply, uncommitted.

“If you could, would you outsource your crying to a machine?”

“No,” you reply, committed. “Totally no.”


“Crying is emotionally cleansing. I don’t want to give that up.”

I decide not to share my idea of an app that crowdsources the public to cry on the user’s behalf, in case you find the idea emotionally devastating.

“So,” I process, “outsourcing is a chain of remove?”

“In exchange for something that makes us feel better, smell better, earn better. Like your luscious, gorgeous hair, which always turns me…”

You run your rugged hand through my locks – and shriek. Your palm is a blackened mess. It must be the “Anish Kapoor Ultra Black” dye. It hasn’t dried yet, still in a state of precarious entropy. I feel cheated. It was a good deal on Amazon, and only took three days to be delivered from China. I read all the user reviews. Now it’s all over our bed-sheets, which, fortunately, happen to also be black, but, just plain black, not absolute “light-absorbing black.” And not black like my skin either, which is yet another hue of meaningful noir.

All this pillow talk has reminded me that my ancestors were employed as human machines in a story of outsourcing called “Empire.” It makes me sad, not sexy. Sorrowful, the way our peace is made possible by outsourcing war elsewhere.

We turn our bedside lights off at the same time. Is there a name for the distance we see each other, arrange each other, love?

Published in Spike Art Quarterly, #51, Spring 2017

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 01.05.21 am

160614 Format 2016 – edition print WIP 1 lo

Poster by Wayne Daly

In Summer 2016, I organised a series of conversations at the Architectural Association in London, where guests were invited to share one “Couple Format” that has, in retrospect, made some kind of mark upon them. I asked each guest—from the worlds of art, architecture, curating, literature, and philosophy—to present the ways in which their chosen couples’ roles were delineated; the way in which the things the couples produced rendered the relationship; or the way in which the relationship may have been a kind of work or product itself.

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 12.39.37 am.pngSuperhumanity, a project by e-flux Architecture at the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, commissioned me to translate the “live magazine” into an essay. Included here are selected excerpts from the seven presented Couple Formats. They include:

  • Charles and Ray Eames by Catherine Ince
  • Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown by Sam Jacob
  • Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari by Aaron Schuster
  • Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas by Guy Mannes-Abbott
  • Marina Abramović and Ulay by James Westcott
  • Broadway and Fifth Avenue by Natasha Sandmeier

Throughout, we ask, “What was the identity between love and work, or, the love found in working together?”

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 11.19.53 pm

I interviewed Miranda July for Tank magazine, Travel issue, 2016, here. My introduction goes:

“Filmmaker, writer, artist.” Biographies tend to reduce people to nouns, but in reality the most interesting people are adjectives. Miranda July has made two acclaimed feature films (You, Me and Everyone We Know and The Future), a book of short stories (No One Belongs Here More Than You), a novel (The First Bad Man), and many collaborative art projects that harness communication as their medium. There are pre-lives, too, as a Riot Grrrl or a performer, all of which will surface in her characters. She lives in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, despite disliking all the driving that the city entails. Miranda July is always impeccably dressed and has an ear for tender pathos.

She’s also effortlessly affable in this conversation.

Portrait by Todd Cole.