October 23, 2018

Suzanne Treister, The U.S. National Security Agency on Fire, 2010

This is one of several works I’m installing in Berlin this week for a show I’ve curated. It’s called Agency and it opens Friday.

I’m just incredibly happy to have this work in the show, in front of me now. I’ve never actually seen it IRL before, only online, but it’s been very important to me for many years. The date is significant – how many people, let alone artists, were interested in NSA back in 2010? Suzanne has been thinking about these issues and implications for many years. Moreover, she’s been doing so in a consistently thoughtful, accessible, and personal way. She’s made tarot decks about secret government programmes and watercolours about high-frequency trading, and much much more.

Suzanne’s work is emblematic of an approach and a response which I’m seeking out in the show, of how we respond to global-scale threats and fears without falling into despair or repeating the logics of power. The most common societal response to systemic violence is fear/anger and apathy, which appears in art either as dick-swinging revelation, or avoidance. I was looking to break with that binary. Here’s the blurb:

Mass surveillance and transnational terrorism, climate change and conspiracy theories, anti-social media and rapacious capitalism. As the scale and complexity of our societies grow ever vaster, individuals feel ever more disempowered and hopeless. Our vision is increasingly universal, but our agency continues to be reduced. We know more and more about the world, while being less and less able to do anything about it. In an age of planetary-scale networks and opaque, remote systems of governance, how do individuals retain the capability for creative thought, meaningful action – and a sense of humour?

The artists gathered together for “AGENCY” all concern themselves with the present state of the world while refusing, reassessing, and rewriting the narratives of despair and powerlessness that are thrust upon us. They critically engage with the most technologically complex and politically pressing issues of our times while asserting the ongoing importance of storytelling and myth-making, and the value of artistic expression, imagination, and intervention.

The practices of the artists in “AGENCY” work with a range of techniques and materials to interrogate and enchant present conditions. Morehshin Allahyari uses 3D scanning and printing to reappropriate ancient mythologies for new objectives, while Anna Ridler unearths hidden stories buried within leaked archives. Suzanne Treister and Navine G. Khan-Dossos reconfigure contentious technological and political icons in search of alternative, competing realities. Ingrid Burrington literally deconstructs technological apparatuses, while Constant Dullaart builds spirit armies from mass-produced identities, and Sophia Al Maria conducts a call and response across deep time. In these artists’ work, magic, poetic, and material speculations form new narratives and calls to action, and fashion powerful expressions of agency from the tools we all have to hand.




I’m not really blogging. I’m pleased to see so many old friends picking up weeknotes again and so on, but my heart’s not really in it. Rather – and I’m sorry that there’s no less annoyingly hipster way to say this – posting semi-regularly on Scuttlebutt and other distributed platforms, as I try to find the tools that actually feel that they might get us out of this mess. This is a cross-post from there. Come find us, if you like.

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