Archives for category: On concepts

Over the years, I’ve thought about deserts a lot. As for many out there, it probably goes back to Tatooine, and the two-sun sunset Luke mourns before, in Episode IV. I got to patch a lot of these ideas together in this piece, for a special issue of Pin-Up magazine.

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Things I cite: deep time, Dubai, Gulf Futurism, DeLillo, Dune — and more.


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Deserts and “desertness” allow for the fantasy of imagining an earth without us, or, at the liminal point when the “us” is about to become no more.

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Click here to read the full text.




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?”

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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*.

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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:

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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.”

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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

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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?”



  1. “Cities may not cohere the way you think they do.” She walked across the first of the six lanes comprising the infernal highway. “You walk across the same road you’ve used for fifteen years. You see half a dozen not-quite-things—a tree in bloom, a mobile phone transmitter, some pulverized bird.”
  2. She moved past the second lane, cars ignoring her reckless presence, cars hurtling from place to promised time. Each one, that dream, Autopia. “Like star constellations. When we draw a line around them, we’re giving them a name, so we can believe they exist in a way we think we exist.” [She took out her phone. She duckfaced and selfied the moment. Filter? Nashville. Lo-Fi. Perpetua. <SEND>.] “When we do that with, say, a tree in bloom, a mobile phone transmitter, some pulverized bird, we are making that outline a ‘city.’”
  3. Lane 3 was no match for her blind faith. This forward-facing futurist. “The city is an object wished for.”
  4. The fourth lane was next, and this time, did she float across? “My father said, ‘Constellations are the product of human perception rather than astronomical realities.’ He was right. That’s how they look from earth.” Infinite formlessness freaks us out. But, an animal or a chariot inscribed in the sky makes the universe more human and makes us more like the universe.
  5. She said these words as she fought across the fifth, penultimate lane, made easier or more difficult by the increased traffic at this time of day. People heading home. To be unalone. To dream of escaping this chronic city. “The moments we call crises are ends and beginnings. This, you.”
  6. He had the answer—waiting patiently on the other side of the six-lane highway, a clogged artery—and she was so close to him now, her heart, more mess than myth. She could smell his eau de cologne. Maybe? Patchouli gasoline. Yes. They gazed across the bullet-fire of vehicles. He stared at the selfie she has just sent him, adding a new filter. Perpetua. Aden. Willow. They longed reunion. In two hours time, they’ll stop fucking each other in a gasp of heady, indefinable pleasure, wordless and breathless, creatures conditioned by places. Places as pleasure. His outline, then hers. No name for this conjoining except, “We.” Perhaps? Possibly? Love is a highway that’s never quite finished, never quite started. And yet, two hours before their future post-coital cool, a red car—roof down, young couple in front, escaping the drudgery of their suburban lives, the smell of life fading away like cheap eau de cologne—crashes into the woman and the man, on the hard shoulder of this six-lane highway at the start of the long holiday weekend. Willow. Aden. Perpetua.


*“Later, Whitehead introduces a new a primitive notion which he calls an actual occasion. For Whitehead, an actual occasion (or actual entity) is not an enduring substance, but a process of becoming. As Whitehead puts it, actual occasions are the ‘final real things of which the world is made up,’ they are ‘drops of experience, complex and interdependent.’” The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

Commissioned for Jitesh Kallat’s monograph, edited by Natasha Ginwala.


I miss doing nothing. Or I miss the idea of doing nothing. I spend a lot of time thinking about which, and whether there’s a real difference, or an unreal difference, and that too takes up more time. I describe time as a resource. Unlike crude oil, corn and quartz, it is infinite, but spending too much time thinking about infinity has lost me years of my life since I was a child. Children rarely do nothing. Except maybe young girls. I see them sit quietly at restaurants with their parents. They’re coloring in a unicorn drawing. They’re quietly lost in their own sense of colouring. Maybe this is not exactly nothing but boys of the same age are like hyperactive protons, agitated energy, vectors unable to conceive of stillness. Boys adhere to Brownian motion. Parents writhe over the vexed question “When do we give our baby their first iPad?” Because new parents, maybe more than anyone, miss doing nothing the most. They crave it. They are in an endless jetlag of the body. It’s in their eyes. I miss doing nothing. I ask novelists if they read less novels than they used to, before 4G. Most say yes, their brains have changed. Forever. (The others are lying.) I know one person — a novelist — who refused to get a mobile phone of any kind. He was a modern day Walden. He enjoyed the detachment from digital obligations the moment he stepped out of his apartment into the city. He said it made him see and hear the birds and the trees more vividly. This delinking, he claimed, was a balm for his writing brain. He protected this like a dragon might protect a unicorn. Then he caved. We made him cave because we are bad people. And now he is just as addicted as the rest of us. He has either joined the world as it really is, or he has abandoned the other world of which he was one of the last remaining survivors. Part of me is relieved. The other part of me is sad. Purity, another voluntary victim. But this debate too can take up time, that diminished resource, which I literally have less of the more knowledge I gain. Perhaps wisdom is understanding time’s unknowability. And with this comes less time. To do more or to do less. To worry about doing more or not doing less. You see the quandary. The swamp. Which is why I spend more time missing doing nothing. I miss the blank alps of my mind, the thinned air of inactivity. Because more and more I am time, not in an eschatological sense, but, in essence. The neuroscientists can’t help me. They’re nascent. They referred me to the theologians. Who in turn said, seek the technologists. All the minutes waiting for Uber to arrive add up to some fraction of eternity, which I refuse to acknowledge except here, speaking to you. Time accelerates. It stretches. It vanishes. Collapses. All these metaphors. What if time is really just language? Language never freed us, according to most philosophers.

1.0     We are born into language.

1.1     And it is the case.

1.2     And that case is the world.

1.21   [ :/ ]

I watch other people swipe right on dating apps and I decide that I’d prefer a mechanical finger that would do the swiping for me… So I can use that extra time… To figure out why I’m afraid of swiping right… Why the gaze of a stranger whose name is a string of symbols in a language I don’t understand, why she fills me with the dread I have for the end of time itself, the kind theologians proscribe. This girl on my screen, she’s pretty, she’s from Bulgaria. She doesn’t miss doing nothing. She was born into a Brownian world where frat boys have turned technology into theology, demagogues have preyed upon the free time of crisis ridden boys, those agitated protons so close to exploding far away, or next to me, depending where I’m writing this and reading this. Bored people crave war. The sweet girl suspended in the downloadable app, she’s afraid to be a feminist and not be a feminist, she doesn’t know where she stands on pornography (subject/object). And this takes up so much of her thumb time she’s starting to think her spirit animal is a thumb. Her therapist tells her this, and Jung told her therapist, through red coloured notebooks and visions of eternal time. Returning time. Myths of return. Archetypes as emojis. I would like to follow Freud and Jung as they walked around the making of the modern world and I would do nothing. They would do nothing.

1.3     We did nothing.

1.4     We were always doing nothing.

1.41   Weren’t we?

1.5     [Battery dead symbol]


From The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist (Penguin, 2015)

Originally published in Ingrid Hora’s book, JOMOHOMO, 2016, designed by Åbäke.



Originally published on the Art Dubai blog as part of ‘Posting Ramadan.’ 

My sister’s friend sent this picture to her and she sent it on to me early on this Ramadan.

My immediate thought was: ‘Where do I get this T-Shirt??! I NEED this T-Shirt.’ Because, for anyone fasting in a non-Muslim environment, it could be the singularly most useful thing to own during the month. Because the single most asked question, by those unfamiliar with the rules and regulations of Ramadan, is the double-negative laden, ‘But, you CAN drink, can’t you?’

You take a calm breath, pause, then patiently inform them that, ‘No, I can’t drink anything.

To which they retort, ‘Not even water?’

‘No. Not even water.’

The questioner’s face turns from politically correct empathy for your religious conviction, to mild politically incorrect shock-horror. Because it is the non-water-drinking clause that transforms Ramadan from a daily experience of voluntary hunger to something much more estranging and, even, extremish.

I can’t speak for others – privation is by definition a deeply private affair – but for me the prohibition on liquids means no post-wake-up caffeine ritual which means I’m not sure when it is I am actually waking up. In fact, maybe I never actually wake up, which explains the sonambulistic haze I’m in, especially surrounded by a non-Ramadan world who continues to Starbucks, Costa and KFC so thoughtlessly and inconsiderately around me.

At least they could draw a huge black curtain around themselves, Dubai-style.


The other thing about not drinking anything is the effect it has on speaking. Saliva suddenly becomes a finite resource. Words, which at other times come forth untaxed, infinitely plentiful, are now the opposite. The more you ask me if I can drink during Ramadan, the more I have to reply, ‘no, not even water,’ which means I get thirstier, etc etc.

See the passive cruelty in your innocent query?

That is why the T-Shirt proposed – or equivalent badge or ambient sign or telepathic mind message service (TMMS) – would be my Ramadan accessory du jour.