Cao Fei I Watch Book

The artist Cao Fei asked me to write a few short impressionistic texts for her new book, co-published by Daimler Art Collection and The Pavilion, Beijing. They were to act as introductory entry points to three of her best known projects: RMB City; Haze & Fog and La Town. New China, forever apocalypse. Here they are.

You Travel to La Town

Cao Fei La Town

You will arrive at La Town. You travelled a long way. A long time. Via Hiroshima and Nevers. The plane had to take a detour. Electrical storms. Turbulence. You hate turbulence the most. You only reflect upon your mortality in a plane. You can even taste death. Or is that the after-taste of the terrible plane food. Every tiny shudder. Jolt. It sends shivers from your brain to your feet and then back again. The pilot said we have to make an emergency landing. You assumed you would all die. That’s what the sky is for. Disappearances. It’s OK though. It’s fine. You have arrived in La Town. With a new vitality for life. You are ready to discover. You are the kind of person who prefers not to read about a place beforehand. Those travel websites that advise. Award stars. You prefer to see everything with your own eyes. Without prejudice. You have tried to put the frightening rumours around La Town aside. You are an explorer of what’s left of the world. Sometimes you feel like you’re the last person on earth. This makes you feel alive. Like you matter. You are about to enter La Town, at its militarized border. You show your passport, even though countries are a thing of the past. You are tired. Your life feels like a videogame without a prize. But what is that sensation? That you have stood here before? It’s impossible. Your home is thousands of miles away. It’s your first time here. Irrelevant. This is what you sense. Déjà vu. La Town. Fear, excitement. Dread and desire. Your friends warned you that when you get to La Town you would remember nothing before that. You remember nothing about Hiroshima and Nevers. La Town will swallow you whole. Desire is fear. La Town coughs clouds of smoke. A chilling silence of an abandoned planet. La Town is what’s left of all of us. The end is OMG. Then a scream that can never be forgotten. That scream is yours.

 For Sale: Haze and Fog

Cao Fei Haze and Fog

We have the ideal place. You and your family have been searching for this all your life. Where is it? It’s not ‘just outside Beijing.’ It’s the New Beijing, the one that makes the other Beijing feel old. Like a ghost. We’d really like to set up a viewing for you. All our agents are ready. They’ll even dance when you arrive. Our best clients are entitled to their own customized dance. That’s the kind of agency we are. When you arrive, we’ll show you all the new facilities. Think residential paradise. Cafes. Organic grocery stores. Cutting edge hairdresser. International primary school. Yoga studio. 24-hour gym. Dark hidden basements. We’re so proud of the community created here. China is proud of us. Together we are proud of our future. Where else do the living and the not living manage to coexist? Where else can you see your dead parents and their dead parents on the way to the kid’s playground? Hello! All apartments have state of the art kitchens. Every surface is wipe easy. The plasma screens are so realistic you’ll think that red paint is blood! Your neighbours are the new crème of society. Lots of creative types. Artists too. We are very strict about who can move here. We share values. Everyone here believes in a kind of modern Chinese freedom. Every man, woman, or zombie is free to do his, her or its business without the judgment of others. Wealth, boredom, sexual fetishes. These are not taboo words. They’re a way of life. And the views! On a rare clear day, the views tell you this is a special place with its own rules. They may at first seem hazy and foggy but you’ll soon discover that a community that shares values can make a place like no other on earth. Because every great civilization from the past adapts morality to their time. We do too. We police each other. Wrongdoers are eaten alive. Not joking! Remember. We want your life to be the most contemporary possible. Your life is an investment. This place is the high yield return. Would you like a slice of watermelon? Welcome to your new home!

User’s Guide: RMB City

Cao Fei RMB City

I press the ON button.

me:                  “Hello?”

user guide:    “Hello. I’m your Intelligent Guide.”

me:                  “Nice to meet you.”

user guide:    “The pleasure is mine. I’m here to tell you how to use RMB City.”

me:                  “Great. I can’t wait to get started.”

user guide:    “If I go too fast, just rewind. I’m here to make your life less chaotic and much more fun.”

me:                  “Capitalism has killed my idea of fun. And made me poorer.”

I look sad.

user guide:    “RMB City was designed with you in mind. Let’s get started. First. You’ll need to stop being you. You need a new you.”

me:                  “I can do that?”

user guide:    “You have to. The secret of RMB City is searching for the secret inside of you.”

me:                  “You make it sound metaphysical?”

user guide:    “I’m sorry.”
me:                  “It’s OK. I like metaphysical. At the weekends.”

user guide:    “Ha. That is a joke. Ha.”

I look perplexed. I point at the various elements that make up RMB City.

user guide:    “They’re the best of New China all in one easy to get to place.”

me:                  “How do I get there?”

user guide:    “You teleport of course.”

me:                  “That sounds fun.”

user guide:    “I told you it would be. You just mentally picture where you want to go and in less than a second you’re there.”

me:                  “You make it sound so perfect.”

user guide:    “I’m programmed to.”

me:                  “What about money. In First Life, money corrupts and kills.”

user guide:    “Currency is a necessary evil.”

I look worried.

me:                  “Ha? Joke? Ha?”

user guide:    “No. RMB City has its own currency. You can never hold it though. It never becomes dirty. You can use it to buy me a present.”

I look more worried.

user guide:    “That was a joke.”

me:                  “What about when I want to meet others like me?”

user guide:    “No one is like you. RMB City will make you more of an individual than you have ever been. But it’s easy to meet other individuals. They’re waiting to meet you. And your soul.”

me:                  “How do you know I have a soul?”

user guide:    “I scanned your body.”

I look violated.

user guide:    “Everything is data. Data is everything.”

me:                  “Is that the religion there?”

user guide:    “You decide.”

me:                  “What if I transgress?”

user guide:    “You decide.”

me:                  “What if I don’t want to decide?”

user guide:    “There’s provision for that too.”

me:                  “So there really is no limit to my freedom?”

user guide:    “The sea and sky and land are as wide as our server farms allow. Your imagination is the only other factor.”

me:                  “I’m ready.”

user guide:    “So is RMB City.”

I teleport.

user guide:    “Ha?”

The Mystic and The Modernist are in an arm wrestle.

They have been since the start of the 20th century.

Each one believes that the other is so fatally flawed that the word ‘brainwashed’ comes up more than once – the simplest way they explain who or what they are is by defining their credo as the negative of the other.

The Mystic declares, “I am everything The Modernist is not.”

And the Modernist replies, somewhat petulantly, “I am nothing of what The Mystic is.”

The Mystic likes to claim that one of the major flaws in modern architecture (modern = all white, streamlined, cool and clean), is that there is nowhere for ghosts to hide. The Modernist is proud of this achievement, even though s/he knows that the stark plain white wall was, for most of the time in the 1920s, hiding the ghost of an old-fashioned brick wall inside its cosmetic plaster face paint.

Bernard Tschumi

The Mystic prefers Sarah Winchester’s Mystery House, the one that’s forever unfinished, a warped warren of rooms, restlessly expanding due to a visitation by the accursed spirits of the victims who were killed by Winchester firearms.

A giraffe was brought to the opening of OMA designed Villa Dall’Ava (1991)

On and on the bickering goes between our two adversaries, blinded by a fervor. What, dear reader, is this fervor?

Well, its secret energy, its giddy entanglement, is to be found in the colour theories of the Soviet Vkhutemas School. In The Red Book of Carl Jung.

Carl Jung’s ‘Red Book’

In Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky’s log cabin on the outskirts of Kaluga. In many of Albert Einstein’s utterances, including, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” It’s in André Breton’s initial announcements on Surrealism: “The marvellous is always beautiful. Anything marvellous is beautiful, in fact only the marvellous is beautiful.” Breton, a Mystic, if there ever was one, lampooned the architect Le Corbusier, a Modernist if there ever seemed to be one. And then later in life, Le Corbusier’s cosmos replaced the early white walls and shallow ramps and chrome bannisters with something more brutal, primary, animal.

The writhings of prostitutes and the cult of the bull.

Did Corbusier really have the hide of his beloved dog turned into a prophylactic? Only his wife Yvonne would know.

Roger Caillois was on Breton’s side until 1934. He tells the Pope of Surrealism: “I want the irrational to be continuously overdetermined, like the structure of coral; it must combine into one single system everything that until now has been systematically excluded by a mode of reason that is still incomplete.”

Roger Caillois wrote about stones as if they possessed animistic qualities

Breton would expel many of the Surrealist Mystics for not being Mystical enough.

Then there’s Stanislaw Lem, Rothko’s Kabbalistic lozenges, Barnett Newman’s zips, Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis. Who knew as much about the history of religion as PKD? David Lynch’s cameos of film fire, angels and disappearances. Even The Athiest, who may not consider herself a Modernist per se, does not perceive how her fervor against the mysticism of religion is the newest kind of spiritual mystique.

The Modernist and The Mystic condemned to this arm wrestle by their own stubbornness, a macho dance, forged from compulsive free will but determined and fatalistic, fawning and flawed. Mostly very, very flawed.

God, it is said, loves everyone. Including sore losers.

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Commissioned by Near East, Issue 2, “MYSTICISM.”

Photo by Bas Princen

The new Fondazione Prada Milano is opening this week. For Miucca Prada and Patrizio Bertelli, it represents the culmination of somewhere between seven and 22 years of preparation, in conjunction with the architects OMA/Rem Koolhaas. For me, it represents the culmination of just over a year or so, and with it, the public announcement of the Fondazione Prada Thought Council, of which I — along with Cedric Libert and Nicholas Cullinan — are credited as Founding Members. Yes, the name evokes George Orwell and Superman comics. It’s worth reminding ourselves how impoverished terms are if you want to avoid ‘Advisory Board,’ ‘Curatorial Consultants,’ or worse still, ‘Think Tank.’

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 02:  Patrizio Bertelli and Dario Franceschini attend Fondazione Prada Press Conference on May 2, 2015 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images  for Fondazione Prada)

Nicholas Cullinan, myself and Cedric Libert in ‘Serial Classic,’ shown in the Museo, Fondazione Prada Milano

Cedric and I will continue for another year, while Nick assumes his new role as Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London. The Thought Council will now be joined by the curators Elvira Dyagani Ose and Dieter Roelstraete.

TC Opening May 2015

Cedric Libert, Nicholas Cullinan, Miucca Prada, Dieter Roelstraete, Elvira Dyagani Ose, myself (4 May 2015). Photo by Goshka Macuga

So, what is the Thought Council’s remit? Every answer remains speculative except, in Miucca Prada’s words, ‘You are here to think!’

What I’ve gleaned during my time there is that the Fondazione has been it’s own thing for over two decades, which is also not-being many things: it’s not a museum (though it organises museum quality exhibitions), it’s not a Kunsthalle (though it organises ambitious temporary exhibitions), it’s not Artangel (though it stages some spectacular happenings in weird places), and it’s not a display of a permanent private collection (most of it has never been seen).

Now, with the enlarged permanent venue, it can experiment with all these gestalts and never have to choose to permanently be any of them. ‘It is a learning process for us,’ says Miucca Prada.

View towards entrance

From ‘An Introduction,’ curated by Germano Celant, makes a personal selection from the Collezione, set in a quasi-domestic setting

‘In Part’ curated by Nicholas Cullinan, takes works from the Collezione that feature bodies in fragments

‘Serial Classic’ renarrates the role of reproductions and copies in Greek and Roman antiquity

Accademia space for young children, conceived by  Giannetta Ottilia Latis and students from École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Versailles, led by Cédric Libert and Elias Guenoun.

Accademia space for young children, conceived by Giannetta Ottilia Latis and students from École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Versailles, led by Cédric Libert and Elias Guenoun.

As if to mirror this moment of reinvention — and also continuity — the institutional structure of the Fondazione has been rewired. There is no director. Instead, there are a constellation of opinions and minds. Some are pre-existing (Germano Celant, the Fondazione Curatorial Team, OMA, 2×4, regular collaborators). They represent the continuity.

The Thought Council is a new point in the constellation. We are there to bring new perspectives and, to use an old fashioned word, provide counsel. We also generate concrete projects (the first is Trittico, a display initiative using three works from the Collection at a time). But our voice is really one among many (which currently include Roman Polanski, Robert Gober, Thomas Demand and Wes Anderson), and one among many unknown voices that will appear in time to come.

Something thing we — and in particular I — worked on was formulating the Cultural Statement. This version, which I imagine will continue to evolve, alludes to the impulses of the many involved. It also stresses the certainty of doubt, something I appreciate. For those of you interested, here it is:

For the last two decades, the Fondazione Prada’s activities have analyzed intentions and relevance through an evolution of projects. These have included ‘Utopian’ monographic artist commissions, contemporary philosophy conferences, research exhibitions and initiatives related to the field of cinema. With the opening of a permanent cultural complex in Milano, the Fondazione offers new opportunities to enlarge and enrich our processes of learning.

‘What is a cultural institution for?’ This is the central question of today. We embrace the idea that culture is deeply useful and necessary as well as attractive and engaging. Culture should help us with our everyday lives, and understand how we, and the world, are changing. This assumption will be key for the Fondazione’s future activities.

Our main interest are ideas, and the ways in which mankind has transformed ideas into specific disciplines and cultural products: literature, cinema, music, philosophy, art and science. With the new venue, the Fondazione’s range of knowledge will be expanded. Each field will be afforded its autonomy but have the same overall aim. They will co-exist with one another, leading to unpredictable resonances and cultural intersections.

An attitude of openness and invitation characterizes the political mood of the new Milano premises. We will assert the possibility of participation at all levels for all generations. We will try to find new ways for sharing ideas. Attempts to redefine residency and education programs will go alongside with rethinking the notion of the Library, which might stay open all night, together with the Bar Luce below it. Another possible question is how a contemporary art institution can engage with the Cinema without becoming a film festival.

Art is the Fondazione’s main and given instrument of working and learning. A territory of freethinking in which established, indelible figures ¾ as well as emerging approaches ¾ are welcomed. The Prada Collection, comprising mostly of works from the 20th and 21st centuries, is another one of our given instruments. Our collection is conceived as a resource of perspectives and of potential energy. We will invite different kinds of people to provide new interpretations of undetected ideas from the collection: curators, artists, architects but also scientists and students, thinkers and writers.

This emphasis on range and repertoire of knowledge is reflected in the spatial composition of the Fondazione Prada in Milan. Formerly a distillery dating back to the 1910s, the transformation leads to an architectural configuration that combines preexisting buildings with three new structures. The combined result is a campus of post-industrial and new spaces, alternately intimate and expansive, while the courtyards provide a common public ground, open to the city. This rich spatial array will encourage quick and improvised reactions to cultural stimuli.

Finally, the Fondazione’s new institutional structure embodies the overall aim towards reinvention. It has become an open structure, where ideas are freely exchanged between the Presidents, the Artistic and Scientific Superintendent, the Fondazione Prada’s curatorial departments and the Thought Council, a group of individuals invited to engage with the future program for different durations of time. These and other contributions and voices bring to the process their own unique views on the present moment.

STRUCTURE

Presidents

Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli

Artistic and Scientific Superintendent

Germano Celant

Curatorial Departments

Head of Programs: Astrid Welter

Head of Research and Publications: Mario Mainetti

Head of Exhibition Design and Production: Alessia Salerno

Thought Council

Founding Members: Shumon Basar, Nicholas Cullinan, Cédric Libert

Forthcoming Members: Elvira Dyangani Ose, Dieter Roelstraete

p26-27

I’m enjoying the way The Age of Earthquakes is migrating across media. The BBC have, in particular, been generously receptive. So, when I was asked to go onto a World Service program, I’ll admit I got a little bit excited. Because it’s the radio station I listen to every day and admire both from afar and near. It is genuinely worldly. On another level, it’s also the radio station my father and his family listened to in Bangladesh when it was still part of India and then part of Pakistan onto Independence. BBC World Service is an institution that remains largely intact. That’s something to cherish.

Here I am on The Forum. The program is called, ‘How Long is Now?’ Time perception plays a big role in The Age of Earthquakes, and so it was a treat to be able to discuss this with experts from neuroscience (Virginie van Wassenhove) and musicology (Lawrence Zbikowski).

Of the three, I am the ardent generalist.

The host, Samira Ahmed, was enthusiastic and gracious and the entire team patient with my lack of studio panache. Radio remains at its best a bastion of slow thought. (Despite the fact our perception of the present has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds today, a new study confirmed).

My theses come from simply noticing my own behaviour and how they’ve been changing. I can’t back it up with research — but I think that’s okay. Because it seems that neuroscience still doesn’t know many things about the brain — and there is even an argument to say it never can because: how can a subject analyse the object of its study with due objectivity and precision if that object is the subject?

Confused? Welcome to my world.

And so, again, without scientific fact to back me up, what I think I’m interested in and want to know more about is an ANTHROPOLOGY OF THE BRAIN.

PS. I make an extremely rogue connection between monotheism, eschatology and the 3 minute pop song that I literally came up with on the spot. As ludicrous as it sounds, I believe there is evidence for this conjecture. One day I will be shown it.

 

Two days ago, around 900 people died at sea.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 11.47.06 pm

They were victims of… what, exactly? Fleeing from where, exactly?

  • War
  • Structural poverty
  • Political chaos
  • Histories of colonialism
  • Histories of submission
  • The way in which global capital does and does not enter territories
  • The 20th century
  • The 21st century
  • No future

It was put to me, by a haughty German artist in his 70s, wearer of a haughty moustache, that the flow of migrant desire from the Middle East and Africa towards Europe is proof that Europe is still, in the symbolic imagination, a superior place, a horizon of aspiration. And that any thesis that diagnoses the ‘end of the West’ should reconsider it in light of migrants’ flights.

I could not wait to exit this conversation.

His diagnosis is too simple.

Raft medusa
I do not wish to poeticise what is, in the simplest of human terms, an ongoing tragedy of epic proportions. But, there is something about what is happening, what has been happening, for over a decade now, where the borders between continents and countries have become ever porous, as if to shame the insistence of the Nation State idea into coping with its reality.

When Gericault painted the Raft of the Medusa and displayed it in Paris in 1819, it was to shame the political authorities that allowed slavery to persist, and to shame the consciousness of his own people into ensuring this diabolical trade of humans would come to a definitive end. It took an image to crystallise a condition. An image to arouse empathy. Images can possess the ethics we have yet to enact.

What of the images we see today of boats crammed with bodies, old and young, having paid their escape fee to a new kind of trader? What of the image of boats tipping, wrecking, bodies overboard, crashing into rocks? Corpses floating on the surface of the sea, specks of spirit? The many thousands that will never be found and identified.

It’s a kind of geology. Human bodies, in all their desperation, redrawing the lines between here and elsewhere, us and them, us and us, them and the others.

There’s something about the laws of entropy. That energy has to remain constant even if that means taking different forms. Travelling to different places with less… entropy.

We move everything today. In shipping containers, across kevlar coated cables at the bottom of the ocean bed, over wireless signals, on the backs of starved donkeys.

We move money through telephone lines.

We are moved. We are unmoved.

We also seem helpless against this geological shift of human pressure, maybe more or less helpless than how we feel about the ruination of the planet by those shipping containers, kevlar coated cables, wireless signals. The starved donkey is blameless. For once.

It is difficult to visualise the vast forces that are being effected by us or upon us.

This is one of those visualisations. A comprehension.

‘I enter Europe or I die,’ said one traveller.

‘I die in order to enter Europe,’ is what happens instead.

By Yuri Pattison from his show at Cell Space, London

Yesterday, I moderated a discussion called ‘Outsourcing: Live Our Lives,’ at the symposium ‘Until recently I only had a voice,’ organized by Adam Faramawy and Cecile B Evans.

There were two artists – Cally Spooner and Yuri Pattison – and a professor of affective computing, Maja Pantic.

Before the event, in the semi-august library of the Royal Geographical Society, I looked up ‘outsourcing’ on Wikipedia (where else but that triumph of crowd/outsourcing knowledge labour itself).

It said that the term dates at least to 1981.

Even if this isn’t true, I want it to be.

Because, it would fit so perfectly in a narrative that claims the era we all fully succumb to now (deregulated, free-marketeering, financial capitalism) starts with the symbolic marriage of Margaret Thatcher (elected 1979) and Ronald Reagan (elected 1981).

‘Outsourcing’ is one of the central instruments of profit engineering. You keep production in an agitated state of perpetual displacement, shifting it to the next cheapest location.

Cally cited a scene in Madame Bovary, where a ‘fake tear’ is proffered by the emotionally lazy male protagonist. She said she got interested in this scene because of her interest in the history of ‘credit.’

Sixteen years before Flaubert’s novel, ETA Hoffman wrote ‘The Sandman,’ in which the lead has tragically ambiguous feelings towards Olympia, who is an automaton. Freud builds his theory of ‘unheimlich’ (The Uncanny) around the story of Olympia, and that queasy feeling of not knowing if she is human or non-human. And furthermore the possibility of it not mattering to whether or not you can be sexually aroused by such an ambiguous entity.

We are outsourcing more and more of ourselves to machines.

Our memories can remember less as long as there are hard drives and APIs that make remembering something we call upon from somewhere else.

Does it matter where? Does it matter what the server farm looks like? Whether the cleaner there gets a decent break? If the rain water is used to cool the heating computers that mindlessly give us the sense of our minds today?

It struck me that the basic quality of outsourcing is distance. Not any distance. A distance that removes the thing not only from your physical view but also your conceptual view.

This distance creates remove.

Remove creates distanciation.

Distanciation (thank you Brecht) allows us to suspend certain qualities that proximity simply would not.

If someone was about to kill themselves in front of you, there is every chance you would try and do something, even if you couldn’t actually stop them.

The workers who killed themselves making the parts that go into our Apple gadgets were not in front of us.

Distanciation provides us with an alibi for our ethics.

Outsourcing is this chain of remove in exchange for something that makes us feel better, smell better, earn better.

Yuri described his research with Amazon Mechanical Turks, that new class of invisible workers who Jeff Bezos describes so poignantly as, ‘Artificial Artificial Intelligence.’

Because, in the interim time that computers can’t figure out every aspect of automation, humans are needed. But they’re needed to not be humans per se, but humans carrying out the tasks of computers.

Being computer.

Being algorithm like.

Whereas once, the Industrial Revolution and then Fordism brought the shock of machines doing human work, now, we have the non-shock of humans doing machine work.

Not in order that machines can take more time off, accompany their kids to soccer matches, take a cruise round the world, and do more charity work.

But because the smupid machine can’t do everything it is predestined to do. Yet.

[ ]

I can’t quite put it into words or even a succinct image, but, it feels like there is a story of distanciation and remove that has happened and is happening to outsourcing that mirrors or makes the story of globalization, then late-globalization, and now, the story of aspatial acceleration that ubiquitous computing has unleashed.

The non-visibility of outsourcing’s original rubric continues in the Amazon Mechanical Turk. Except he/she – it? – doesn’t have to be on the other side of the planet anymore. They may live underneath you, in the same apartment block, the same street, struggling to find work as a middle-class employee in labour landscapes that decimate the middle-class (Greece, Spain, anyone?)

I wanted to know if a Amazon Mechanical Turk – and those like them – earn more or less than a beleaguered construction worker in Doha or Dubai.

There’s every chance they earn less. Similar.

But they will not garner the same moral outrage or disdain. Or sympathy.

And yet, something is also exploiting them. Quite hideously, even, and is allowed to do so, not because these workers are not afforded the citizenry rights of a non-Third World state, but, rather, because they’re not, biologically speaking, considered to be truly or fully human.

We do not pay our machines wages.

We do not give them time off.

We do not let them form unions.

So why should the ‘AAI’ be that much more different?

[ ]

Maja Pantic asked me if it would be useful for computers to cry. She asked me in a tone I associate with Ayn Rand: cool, assured, from a position of greater insight than me. I said, ‘Well it depends what the computer or robot would be used for.’ I then asked Cally if she were given the choice to outsource her unhappiness and her crying to a machine, would she? She said no, she would not. Maja described crying for women as ’emotional cleaning’ and for men, ’emotionally devastating.’

There is probably some way of approaching the complexity of outsourcing, its ethics, its imperils, through the subject of tears.

I would like to read something about that.

[ ]

For now, I hesitantly offer you this:

Outsourcing is distance times remove.

I didn’t build a city.[1]


[1] I didn’t draw the roads. I didn’t paint any trees. I didn’t lay down pathways. Places for people to sit. Stare. Lust. Cry. I didn’t design their dreams. I didn’t set the horizon. I didn’t put in dogs, their snarls, needy panting, those hurled sticks, measures of obedience. I didn’t think about dog shit, and where Good People put dog shit in a Good City. I didn’t, but I could have. I didn’t allocate parking spaces, under- or overground. I didn’t install strip lighting to keep us safe. I didn’t stipulate disabled ramps at the right incline. I didn’t propose a walkway in the sky, Jurassic concrete hair rising from tropical heat. I didn’t control the weather. I didn’t position the sun so the shadows would make everything seem more real. I didn’t arrange stars in new astrological constellations. I didn’t, but if I wanted to, maybe I could. I didn’t put in skyscrapers. I didn’t select if they would be Miesian or New Asian. Intelligent or unfinished. I didn’t place wind turbines on top of their green roofs. I didn’t factor in urban farming, the needs of the victims of the end of the Industrial Revolution. I didn’t, but I should have. I didn’t suggest—with the use of an enormous scale-model made by Chinese hands—this is where people should live, this is how they will be happy, this is a community. I didn’t deploy troops, concrete barriers, emergency hoarding, chairs that can be used as missiles, children that can be used as collateral. That is how history will be avenged. I didn’t; no one asked me to. I didn’t raise the expectations of the Mayor or the President or the People in all their multitude and meanness and human magnificence. I didn’t print out all the plans and sections and photo realistic perspectives there to produce hope and profit and the profit of hope because I did not press the PRINT button. I wouldn’t, I should have? I didn’t submit my vision to the pale scrutiny of reality, the arbitration of Time: how cruel it can be, how fearsome and awesome it once was. Wasn’t it? I didn’t build the city. I kept it. For myself. I’ll keep it, until you arrive.

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 Commissioned by Benjamin Reichen/Abake.

I want to invent this colour. Lord knows all and he knows I’m trying.

Samsung Wallpaper 2

Ideally it would *just* happen, but not just like *Just Jared*. You see, I dreamt a dream in which I manage to index every colour I’ve ever seen — acknowledged and not — and from this archive that, as far as humans know, does not exist in time and in space, I concoct a single colour. It remains unnamed. Partly because I shun the pseudo poetics of ‘Evening Lilac Shade’ or ‘Jam Surprise,’ affronts to colour’s innate gaiety. And do not get me started on their numeric counterparts. Faceless strings of digits the spawn of industrialization. Soon comes the day when we name people, our children of the future, after strings of numbers. The ones their skin most closely resembles. I want to invent a colour that started in that dream — and when you see it you will struggle to describe it too. I am not so immodest as to want to invent a new way of seeing. I leave that to the boys and girls of Silicon Valley and Seoul. I am writing to my old schoolteacher, Ms. Elceedee, a dowager now dwindling into senescence, who taunted me and told me I’d amount to nothing on this earth. I am writing to tell her about the colour I plan on inventing, most magnificent, beyond the limited scope of her punitive imagination, and that of my own heart’s sight. The hues will erupt in unison. Swans will bow. Mountains blush. Search engines will wither. Prisoners will find peace. The only oversight in this otherwise most formidable plan is not knowing its fucking name. A name that people — cultured, svelte, caring, fans of yoga — can drop into their polite dinner conversations in and around the topics of sky, coats, skin, sex, simulations and vacation. I’m going to invent this amazing fucking colour bitch — and by bitch I do not mean you, or any woman. I apologize, but, I just heard the phrase on a YouTube video that’s been trending rather well of late. The sound was so crisp. It boomed from this TV, the size of a small state or large child, which, when switched on by retina eye recognition + NSA verification, the screen lit up in an array of colours only ever cited by the lucky few who venture North to the Aurora Borealis. That impossibly smooth landscape of vaporous colour bleeding seamlessly into each other. Perfect gradients. Cries and whispers. This colour, which cannot remain so doggedly without moniker forever, dear Lord, this colour is the one I want to invent.

*

Commissioned by Adam Furman. 

Both

Here are the two cover designs for The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, both rendered and designed by Wayne Daly. The one on the left is the Penguin UK edition (echoed in the German edition), which sets the title in a bespoke captcha font. What are captcha?

Don’t pretend.

You all know.

They’re the ever primitive looking warped writing used by computers to determine if you are also a computer or a human. They’re the machine version of the Turing test on us.

captcha_lots

At their very best — or worst — it does feel like only another computer could decipher certain captchas, leaving us effectively locked outside our own existential homestead.

impossible captcha

We assume that captchas belong to Web 1.0, to a clunkier, Netscapey era of the Internet. But they’re around just as much — in more or less sophisticated forms. In fact, they illustrate the way in which the Internet is ‘chronochaotic,’ suffering olde bits of technology in tandem with the swooshiest HTML 1000 PRO (I made that up. I think). During the design process for AOE, we therefore liked the idea that our cover would effectively be this machine-Turing test for the reader, as well as another kind of test whereby some people will recognise the allusion to captcha, and others, simply will not.

The cover on the right is for the US edition, published by Blue Rider (also part of the Penguin Random House Group). Here, an illustration entitled Luxury Melted Earth by Alex Mackin Dolan, originally sent in as black and white:

ALEX MACKIN DOLAN melted luxury earth

has been artfully colourised and then even more artfully placed on top of a holographic foil.

Luxury Melted Earth _ Alex Mackin Dolan

We always imagined the front cover of the book — a paperback with an identity crisis — to be a kind of screen, so, it was thrilling to be given the go ahead with the holographic foil by our American colleagues. The insides of AOE are strictly black and white, following the example set by Quentin Fiore in The Medium is the Massage:

p14-15

so, it’s important that the exterior has a chromatic, even tactile quality. The holo-foil is again both contemporary and also quaintly 60s or 70s, as if lasers and space travel have just been invented, and express the frontier of now. A time when Carl Sagan was our guide through the universe:

Carl SaganNotice the name at the bottom. Jerome Agel. Oft forgotten genius svengali who gave birth to some of the most important experimental paperbacks of the later 60s and early 70s, including the McLuhan/Fiore The Medium is the Massage:

Medium is the Massage

Outrageously, Agel’s name was not included on the original Penguin cover from 1967, but, the current re-print amends this, and says, “Co-ordinated by Jerome Agel,” which goes some of the way — but arguably not far enough. For that, I recommend the brilliant The Electric Information Age Book which restores Agel’s cultural and intellectual significance. It’s because of Agel that I’ve come to think of the paperback as a piece of always-new technology. A Papeback OS, as it were.

Doug’s simple request to Wayne was that the cover should “feel like a classic Penguin paperback.” And this time-travel logic continued in the brief for the insides, too: “Wayne, the reader should be able to open our book somewhere and it feels like 1967. Then open it elsewhere and it’s 2015.” Just like the bumpy contours of the Internet itself.

p228

We hope we’ve succeeded.

bitter lake

There’s a scene in Adam Curtis’ new history-essay, Bitter Lake, which made me turn away — and cry, and wait until the un-narrated scene was finished. It shows a young Afghani girl, maybe aged 6 or 7, sitting by her father. They’re in a hospital. In Afghanistan. Her right eye seems to have been gouged out, her left hand and both her legs are heavily bandaged, twisted. She’s the victim of a bomb. The camera films them face-on. She’s there, placid, damaged, no doubt confused, shattered. But silent. Her father and the unseen health staff are doing their best to elevate the tragic situation. He offers her a flower, a red flower, with a smile, a loving smile, as if this red flower, its intrinsic beauty, might take her and them and maybe even their broken land somewhere else.

Photo 26-01-2015 1 36 42 pm

After I opened my eyes again, I see a soldier. He’s in a grassy landscape. I’m assuming it’s Afghanistan. That after all is what Bitter Lake is ‘about.’ Close by, a bird. Also just sitting there, minding its avian business. The soldier reaches out to the bird, carefully, delicately — yet the bird doesn’t fly away. In fact, it responds affectionately. They commune. This footage is also un-narrated, a moment of irrational tenderness, perhaps just before another bomb is set off, and other small children will be maimed irrevocably, or that soldier will be killed, and that bird decides to flee Afghanistan.

We listen to the news and we may think we are informed. But footage that makes its way to us is usually there because it can perform shorthanded and spectacularly. But what about everything else? All the time and space between those newsworthy ‘money shots’? For lack of a better phrase, where actual life occurs?

Much has been said about the fact that Curtis has made his new 137 minute film available only on the BBC online iPlayer, so that he can go long-form, free-form. But I’ve always thought of his film-essays as single pieces, 3 or 4 hours long, subsequently sliced into hour long fragments, to fit normal TV schedules.

The difference in Bitter Lake is that the strongest, most affective — and perhaps most informing — sections are these long, uninterrupted sequences where Curtis allows us to see footage from the never-seen BBC Afghanistan archive in a primary, unrhetorical manner. He allows them to ‘speak.’

This is what I’m taking from Bitter Lake.

There seems to be two films encased together. The first is the more familiar Adam Curtis-esque quantum hidden history, how causes (in this case, Saudi Arabia) ricochet to make events and vice versa. But the second film, the one I’m grateful to see and hear, the one that’s made me flinch away and well with tears, is akin to what cameras would tell us if we asked them to tell us everything they saw and heard. Everything. The lilts of nothingness, wordlessness, and the violence that occurs beyond the frame of vision we permit violence to operate in and as. Video game or not. Reality TV or reality free.

At the start of Pierrot le fou, Godard’s 1965 film that makes margins into centres of cities and souls, we hear Ferdinand read from Elie Faure’s History of Art. It’s worth working your way to the end of this longish excerpt, for the very last word:

‘Past the age of fifty Velasquez stopped painting definite things.
He hovered around objects with the air, with twilight,
catching in his shadows and airy backgrounds…
the palpitations of colour…
which formed the invisible core of his silent symphony.
Henceforth, he captured only…
those mysterious interpenetrations of shape and tone that form a constant,
secret progression,
neither betrayed nor interrupted by any jolt or jar.

Space reigns supreme.
It is as if an aerial wave, sliding over the surfaces,
soaked up their visible emanations, defined and modeled them,
then spread them about like a perfume,
an echo of themselves,
a scattering of impalpable dust.
The world he lived in was one of sadness:
A degenerate king, sickly infantes,
idiots, dwarfs, cripples,
a handful of clownish freaks dressed up as princes,

whose function it was to laugh at themselves…
and to amuse a cast that lived outside the law,
in the meshes of etiquette, plots and lies,
bound by the confessional and remorse,
with the inquisition and silence at the door.”
Listen to this, little girl!
“A spirit of nostalgia pervades his work, yet he avoids what is ugly, sad,
or cruelly morbid about those oppressed children.
Velasquez is the painter of evening,
of open spaces and of silence,

even when he painted in broad daylight or in a closed room,
even with the din of battle or of the hunt in his ears.
As they seldom went out during the day,
when everything was drowned in torrid sunshine,
the Spanish painters communed with the evening.”
Beautiful, isn’t it, little girl?’