Auguest 15, 2020

Establishing an outpost of the Global Frequency for Keeping the World Weird

This is the final in a series of three posts on the damage done by the move from linear to ‘algorithmic’ timelines, one of the most socially destructive moves the ad-sponsored internet has ever made. It is based on a talk I gave at a friends birthday party in Helsinki in 2018 and on notes for unwritten essays I made from about 2016-2020. You may want Parts 1 and 1.5 first. I spread this series out over the deadly summer of plague and revolution in hope something might change and influence my thinking - It didn’t - but I changed a little for the telling. Thank you for being here.

Factory Of The Sun

December 2016: I’m in New York, working for a company that doesn’t understand the value of the community they’ve built. The pay is good and I love the excuses to hang out in the city and I will quit this job in abject frustration. I will actually say I quit, and I will never hear from them again. I’m very careful with who I work with and that was the first time I’d ever fired a client in this way, I hope it’s the last, but that day was not this day.

This day I am leaving a difficult week and heading to the airport to see someone in Denmark for the week before I return home to my family in Switzerland. Even reading this sounds like crashing through crazy but it’s my life and it feels mostly alright. It’s my timeline, though the context switching sometimes makes me feel a bit ghostly, and lately I’m a bit out of synch, with everything I think.

Before I get to the airport I arrange to meet a friend at the Whitney because she says I should see this piece by Hito Steyerl and she’s right, I love it, it’s a hypermedia absurdist meditation on life and family and death and celebration in a world built on silicon. I take a photo of us as ghosts, reflected in the museum’s window, haunting the same world briefly.

Someone on Twitter tells me that the exact same Hito Steyerl piece is on display in Copenhagen, which is where I’m headed, I text my host that we’re going to see this piece and we do: I walk out of one museum in New York and less than an hour off the plane I walk into a nearly identical room in Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, everything about this piece, this story, this moment is artificial and strange, but it feels like a crack in the network somehow, a crack in the world. That this same experience can be had (completely synthetic, but in-person-only), across the ocean, a different network, a different context, it’s an inflection point that moves. It feels like a wormhole.

Jorn

I decide that day to try to find my way back to the world through art, which is a practice I’ve lost lately but used to ground me. We travel across Denmark visiting museums, which is where I encounter Asger Jorn (1914-1973), co founder of Situationist International, occasional communist, artist, connector and builder of networks and publisher of zines.

More than anything Jorn connected: people and ideas across the world, seeking to build a small utopian resistance network as a bulwark against… What? The very real manifestation of European fascism surely, the sideways slide of the world that must always be countered with the weight of some body, but also I think against his own loneliness. Creating and supporting a community of people who shared his ideas because that feels better than dreaming alone.

Like all the best artists, Jorn made his life and his collaboration with others his work. The objects that remain simply trace this process.

Or maybe I just desperately want that to be me.

Jorn sends a telegram to New York in 1964:

GO TO HELL WITH YOUR MONEY(^bastard). REFUSE PRICE. NEVER ASKED FOR IT. AGAINST ALL DECENSY MIX ARTIST AGAINST HIS WILL IN YOUR PUBLICITY. I WANT PUBLIC CONFIRMATION NOT TO HAVE PARTICIPATED IN YOUR (^ridiculous) GAME JORN.

III. Crash / Reboot / Fuck it, I quit.

I have nothing to say. I don’t know what to say. I have said everything in my mind and it hasn’t mattered. I have tried to weave this spell, I tried to find a through-line, I am deeply grateful to the people in this world that I love and that love me back but I’m exhausted and feel hollow. I wanted to make this count and I’m not sure I got anywhere at all. I think I want to make my way back to art, because that sort of negative capability has always felt like home to me, but I’m terrified I don’t even know what that means. I can’t find the door.

I ask:

Email, sent to 20 people, February of 2017:
Dearest friend,
How are you?
Like most of us I’ve been having a difficult time with the world lately. As an artist I’m having a particularly difficult time figuring out what, how and even if I should continue making work. At times this feels stupid and impossible and at other times it feels like the one thing that might matter.
I mostly want to know what you think. I also suspect that if we tell each other we might stand a chance of getting through more easily.
How to make work right now?
Why make work right now?
I am putting together a print document (a magazine, a zine, a book, not sure what it looks like yet). You have two A4 pages. Go.

A message in a bottle, I want a proof of life for the network I remember and lost. I want to capture an echo that will confirm I did not fever dream my timeline, that I have not experienced memory loss. I call it Work in Progress Vol 0.0 because I want it to be the beginning of something. Because it’s work. Because it might be progress. I call it issue zero because it might be nothing.

A Global Frequency

In the zine, Ahmet Sabancı, an internet friend I’ve never met in person, writes from Istanbul, an excerpt from his own newsletter I asked if I could include wholesale in my zine because I couldn’t say it better:

Being hopeful in here or making plans for future is hard. That’s why most of the people I know either plans their way out or makes sure they’ll have escape routes when needed. Organising, acting or planning locally feels like a long suicide plan for most. Life goes on but no one wants it to.
…But there are many people in here and around the world who tries to do and create something better. Wants to keep this strange and weird world as it is and stop the people who wants it mundane and obedient. Maybe we should create Global Frequency for Keeping the World Weird.

The world continues to be difficult in a thousand ways and the project takes almost a year to complete. The reasons are boring: financial, mostly, but I realize also that I’m dragging my feet and I’m not sure why. I discover that  it’s because I don’t have my answer to the question, I still don’t know how or why to make work right now. But I do now have a responsibility: I asked a question, I got 16 responses that need to exist. I print the zines, I mail them and to the authors I write:

“These days I believe even more strongly in tangible objects, events, and people: fragile non-digital things that are complicated, difficult to work with and temporary. There seems a great deal of strength in this sort of effort and the patience it demands (which I admit I’m not particularly good at). But I’m going to try and do a lot more of these things going forward, and in any case I thank you for the privilege of allowing me to collect and hold our thoughts.  Thank you for continuing to build our collective cave of dreams. Thank you for allowing me to help amplify the global frequency of weird.”

Around this time I am asked to think about giving a talk at my friends birthday party, which is also a conference. I tell my friend that I can’t give a talk, my head isn’t nearly coherent enough.

I change my mind.

I tell my friend that I’ve changed my mind, I’ll talk about memory and zines.

I don’t know how to do this.

I fly to Finland for dinner. This is the back in the time when we flew. I write the talk in a hotel room. This is back in the time when we stayed in hotels. I have something ready in time for breakfast. This is the time when we shared a room when we had something to share.

I cry through it.

I write about it, in circles, for years.

Time slips, I still have no idea what I’m doing. I still can’t make art, and I can’t seem to make a career either, but I do remember a time when these things made sense, and when the links felt strong and solid and the voices clear and we all weren’t so goddamned tired. I remember a timeline in some kind of order. You put the sound waves in one side of the tube and they were suspended, fragile and liquid and poisonous, but beautiful. Connect the end to the beginning and it loops, and we’re all still here, threaded together on the Global Frequency of Weird. I remember everyone I’ve lost. I remember all the useless things. I remember a network much stronger than the one we think we know now. I remember a network made of people.

Lausanne, Midsummer, in the year of the plague and the uprising, August 2020.