This Storm Is What We Call Progress

Denis Maksimov (Avenir Institute) reading "This Storm is What We Call Progress"

Denis Maksimov (Avenir Institute) reading "This Storm is What We Call Progress"

“ ’Tis but a tent where takes his one day’s rest

A Sultan to the realm of death addressed.

The Sultan rises and the dark Ferrash 

Strikes, and prepares it for another guest.” 

Difficult, indeed, it is, judicially to handle a subject where even probable truth will hardly gain assent. In the affairs of war we excel those of our enemies, who adhere to methods opposite to our own. In our manner of living we show an elegance tempered with frugality, and we cultivate philosophy without enervating the mind. When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. 

And yet we pass the soundest judgements, and are quick at catching the right apprehensions of things, not thinking that words are prejudicial to actions, but rather the not being duly prepared by previous debate before we are obliged to proceed to execution. Envy will exert itself against a competitor while life remains; but when death stops the competition, affection will applaud without restraint. Moreover, we may hence conclude that there is great hope that death is a blessing. And if it is a privation of all sensation, as it were, a sleep in which the sleeper has no dream, death would be a wonderful gain; for thus all futurity appears to be nothing more than one night. 

To conquer we have need to dare, to dare again, ever to dare!

Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse. History teaches us that no oppressed class has ever come into power and cannot come into power, without passing through a period of dictatorship, that is, the conquest of power and forcible suppression of the most desperate and mad resistance which does not hesitate to resort to any crimes, such has always been shown by the exploiters. And by the hundreds of thousands today we find our own people have become impatient, turning away from your white nationalism, which you call democracy, toward the militant, uncompromising policy of black nationalism. There is no system more corrupt than a system that represents itself as example of freedom, the example of democracy, and can go all over this earth telling other people how to straighten out their house, when you have citizens of this country who have to use bullets if they want to cast a ballot. 

We are new brooms; let us see that we sweep the right rooms. For it is monstrous that the feet should direct the head. There is no jewel, be it of never so rich a price, which I set before this jewel: I mean your love. For I do esteem it more than any treasure or riches; for that we know how to prize, but love and thanks I count invaluable. Neither do I desire to live longer days than I may see your prosperity and that is my only desire. I have ever used to set the Last Judgement Day before mine eyes and so to rule as I shall be judged to answer before higher judge, and now if my kingly bounties have been abused and my grants turned to the hurt of my people contrary to my will and meaning, and if any in authority under me have neglected or perverted what I have committed to them, I hope God will not lay their culps and offenses in my charge. Let tyrants fear; I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects. 

To be a king and to wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it. In such a time of necessity those who act in the name of God are not those who, citing Bible quotations, wander idly about the country and spend the day partly doing nothing and partly criticising the work of others; but those whose prayers take the highest form of uniting man with his God, that is the form of work. I encourage you from time to time and always in respectful manner to question my logic. If you’re unconvinced with a particular plan of action I’ve decided is the wisest then tell me so. But allow me to convince you and I promise you right here and now - no subject will ever be taboo. 

Except of course the subject that was just under discussion. The price you pay for bringing it up: I collect your fucking head! Now, if any of you, son of bitches got anything else to say now is the fucking time!

Ours is a righteous cause. The enemy shall be defeated. Victory will be ours. 

The text was read publicly by Denis Maksimov (Avenir Institute) at the opening lecture-performance of the total installation "Storming" by Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai in London. It features quotations (in the order of appearance) from Omar Khayyam, Pericles, John F. Kennedy, Socrates, Georgres Danton, Petyr Baelish, Vladimir Lenin, Malcolm X, Lady Astor, Elizabeth Tudor, Adolf Hitler, O-Ren Ishii and Vyacheslav Molotov. 

Imperialism post-ex-ante

Avenir Institute. 'Imperialism post-ex-ante', installation/lecture-performance, Projeto Fidalga, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2017).

Avenir Institute. 'Imperialism post-ex-ante', installation/lecture-performance, Projeto Fidalga, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2017).

Thomas Hobbes introduced the idea of Leviathan as a corporeal representation of a nation state. The sovereign, as a unified body of all, represents the common consciousness of a nation state and possesses the ultimate political power which converts into the exclusive right of legal violence against its parts. The body is, as any other objects, a subject to gravity - but in this case to anthropological gravity. The nation as a man is mortal and vulnerable to psychological and physical sickness. The syndrome of post-ex-ante, or freaktional imperialism, has a history of recurrence in nations that went through the imperial stage of development.

After the Age of Discovery and consequential creation of the truly global empires, the man became global with his components being the various elements-states in the interconnected system of political economy. Before we get to specificity of post-ex-ante imperialism let us look into the stages of imperial development.

An empire is different from a nation state by the desire of expanding and dominating the rest of the Oikumene, the world as it’s known to them. An empire seeks ultimate power to define the norm in social, political and cultural life across the whole. For example, The Persian Empire looked into the conquest of the Ancient Greek polises as an opposing lifestyle and The Roman Empire desired to ‘civilise’ the Barbarians all around known Europe.

Avenir Institute. 'Imperialism post-ex-ante', installation/lecture-performance, Projeto Fidalga, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2017)

Avenir Institute. 'Imperialism post-ex-ante', installation/lecture-performance, Projeto Fidalga, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2017)

Empires start with an ambition. Much like Brazil in 19th century, new empires seek to be reborn from their shallow past and create new symbols of the great beginning: with the myths of life-giving rivers, such as Ipiranga, or sacred trees. The Neo-imperial ambition is the lungs of the Leviathan: they breathe with fresh energy, devotion, readiness to sacrifice and to make the leap forward to achieve the next stage of development - the status of the present empire.

There can be only one present empire in the Oikumene at time. It exercises complete ethical, political, moral, economic and cultural superiority over all new empires, transcendent empires (which we will discuss later) and nation states. The present empire dominates over them actively through a dictation of the modes and the mechanisms of normalisation. The current present empire, the United States, does not need to justify itself: the Hollywood, just as the model of the liberal democratic political system, must be imposed or copied.

Present empire always lives in the condition of an everlasting present. It takes its dominant position as constant, never-changing reality by default. It tries to extend this present to eternity, offering only one future world and therefore being in conflict with the very idea of possible, alternative futures. There is only one future for a present empire - where ‘now’ is permanent.

All present empires, sooner or later, regardless of their desire, fade into the condition of a transcendent empire. At this stage, the empire enters the state of being a former holder of the position of defining the normal. Russia has a population of around 140 million people and accounts for less than 3% of the global GDP (2017), but the so-called ‘Russian world’ is about 0.5 billion people strong. Reappropriated Russian culture is spread all over the globe: Russian literature, ballet, and political history are researched in the universities abroad with more authority than at their origin. The transcendent Russia flows far beyond its physical borders. To some extent it can control how, by whom, where and when its heritage is appropriated, used and analysed, but in general it loses the authority.

The Freaktional syndrome of transcendental empires relates to a condition in which the empire desires to return to its present condition in the past - and regain the control over defining itself and the ‘normal’ for everyone else. It desires that so much that it wants to skip the neo-imperial stage of a new formation, and rather base its acceleration to a present state on the basis of nostalgia and reclamation of the heritage. It can initiate strategic and tactical tricks in order to amplify its position - if not through real resources then via symbolism and image-making. Those tricks could include fueling regional conflicts and distorting the balance within immediate perceived adversaries by activating and supporting crippling internal conflicts. Freaktional transcendent empire returns from the condition of being asleep into aggressive actionism.

It is important to mention though that not all transcendent empires inevitably obtain freaktional syndrome. German Empire had it at least twice in 20th century, but after the Second World War it actively tries to stop its resurgence in any form by legal, cultural, educational, economic and political means.

Avenir Institute. 'Imperialism post-ex-ante', installation/lecture-performance, Projeto Fidalga, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2017).

Avenir Institute. 'Imperialism post-ex-ante', installation/lecture-performance, Projeto Fidalga, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2017).

You have already noticed that empires related to here as sentient beings, as if they had consciousness and feelings on their own. They are Leviathans inside of meta-Leviathan of geopolitical magnitude, which is in itself not a sentient being but rather a pastiche of powers where dominating one defines ‘the weather forecast’. China is the world’s labourer and engine of its economic growth, and it might be claiming quickest transition from neo-imperial to the present state. South Africa and India, on the other, could be at the point of entering the neo-imperial stage of self-realisation.

The process of transformation, establishment and diminishment of empires is circular and repetitive. The avenir, the potentiality, of an exit out of this circle into a space of multiple possibilities exists in the currents of an institutional twilight. Global corporations, such as Google or Facebook, accumulate power that could eventually allow them to challenge the hierarchy of the distribution of power relations - including the current geopolitical imperial order. The border between institutional forms within and outside of the imperial form becomes more and more blurred. Can the new, post-imperial paradigm of actualising, sharing and defining the ultimate power be born out of it? It could be a kairos, just like Perseus grabbing of the Aegis of the goddess Athena: a unique intuitive opportunity seized by the global society, which could turn it into a kind of a rhizomatic meta-state. But it can be a thanatos as well, and instead of using the shield to hide from Medusa aka Apocalypse and cut her head, we will end up being turned into lifeless stone.

Post-VR: Society and Politics

(This text is an extended version of the lecture-performance text, that was presented at Futurice offices in London, UK.)

illustration by Avenir Institute

illustration by Avenir Institute

The advent of the Virtual Reality (VR) challenges the structures of the society and the political systems with new opportunities and risks. While the coefficients of happiness are posed to gradually replace the GDP per capita as the indicator of prosperity, chance has become an unacceptable notion in the society where we can supposedly have complete control over our “organic” lives. What role can the VR play in the design of futures?

‘Futures Cone’ (or vuvuzela if you like) is one of the benchmarks of the trans-disciplinary field of futures studies. There is no singular ‘future’ per se: futures are a combination of infinite probabilities that constitute scenarios of dynamic plausibilities. Out of all ‘possible’ scenarios, the ‘plausible’ constitute a smaller group, while ‘probable’ are the ones most likely to come to be. ‘Preferable’ futures, on the other hand, are the ones that we could identify as scenarios wishful thinking - however, reality more than often invalidates them. The strategic foresight mission is to develop the tools that would bridge ‘probable’ with ‘preferable’, making our vision for the destination closer to present, singular ‘reality’.

The vision of ‘preferable’ is changing over the time, depending on the resource and material bases on which the scenarios for futures are developing. Decades ago the idea of progress and purpose was built around the notion of ‘economic growth per capita’, following the philosophy of utilitarianism that was introduced a couple of centuries ago by the English scholar Jeremy Bentham. He assumed that happiness of the citizens can be calculated in material resources that they possess.

In recent times, with the advent of the post-industrial age, knowledge economy, neoliberal banking, digital and other characteristics of ‘the economy now’, the notion of ‘product’ has come under the pressure of re-definition. The Western economies are not growing at the rates they used to - and most likely would not reach new unimaginable heights. Even if they did, in the present socio-political structures the individual would not linearly benefit from it. This leaves the populations of the economies under the impression of an age of stagnation at the best, or that of a degradation at the worst.

Due to the absurdity of the concept of a continuous exponential economic growth, a shift in the mindset becomes necessary. In the last years the idea of ‘Gross Happiness Product’ (and ‘happiness’ as the product) is gradually replacing the traditional progress as a measure in the strategic planning papers of the leading Western world think tanks, such as the OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development). As the accumulation of material goods becomes impractical due to the destructive nature of accelerating rates of consumption, this reformulation of value in post-material terms comes in to provide alternative routes for preferable futures.

But as the Western world struggles with post-material formation, the so-called developing world is catching up on the industrial grounds, challenging the perceived traditional geopolitical order and raising a conflict on the level of fundamental values. All of that is happening - in contrast to other historical periods - in a single ‘reality’. The reality, as we now know it, is a place of intersection in time and space that is shared by all of the actors simultaneously: via facebook lifestreams, internet news feeds, tweets, etc.

This single ’reality’ appears and feels overpopulated. It is competitive, since its entering in conflict ethical and value systems. It is polluted with ever-increasing amount of information about the world’s complexities from an infinite number of perspectives. The pressure of coexistence between the alternative visions of morals, ethics and politics is becoming more unbearable for the different actors. For example, a cleavage of American and British electorates between pro-nationalist, pro-liberal and those who choose to abstain, paints a picture of the fundamentally fractured visions of futures co-existing in the same time-space. What if the possibility to generate alternative realities will be offered for the situations where compromise is not obtainable? Imagine the VR fused with augmented reality set that can provide to both Israeli and Palestinian opportunity to see Jerusalem as their sole capital.

Deviation-based virtual worlds-realities can provide an alternative to frustrations within the singular worldview. Michel Foucault challenged the notion of normality on a theoretical basis and offered a political solution to the problem via abandoning ‘the normal’ and embracing otherness and deviation through the means of political empowerment. Fighting racial, religious, cultural and sexual biases as well as others had become the core struggle of the neoliberal world, and it seemed to be achievable through critical education and domination in the entertainment industry.

However, the continuous rise of the so-called ‘alt-right’ and other new conservatives forces has challenged the current generation of the critical school, led by Jurgen Habermas, as being out of touch with the overpopulated reality. Conciliatory, multicultural and poli-layered model for a contemporary democracy, in which all of the various groups of interest are able to find compromise through mutual respect of each other views, seem to have been crushed into the wall of desire to return back into the safe space of simpler versions of reality. The complexity of the socio-political structures, accumulation of technological risk and environmental challenges are some of the headaches of the contemporaneity, and they are being escaped from through the democratic process of voting for the simple and the unrealistic solutions of making everything understandable again. Needless to say, it is leading to self deception as the complexity is not removed, but merely avoided until it cannot be ignored. Being unattended, it might lead to an utter dystopian collapse. The entertainment industry has already outlined many variations of its possible coming through sci-fi movies, TV shows, books and the likes.

Moving away from the probable scenarios to the preferable - and at the same time plausible - virtual and augmented realities can provide the bridge to cover the wide gaps between where we are now and where we want to be. A complete replacement of the complex reality with a simpler one provided by a VR set is perhaps not possible due to the presence of the prior memory of the complexity as the ‘really real’: the sense of dissatisfaction of self deception is similar to the destructiveness of a drug-addict realising that the moments of joy are only temporary ‘ups’ on the overall downhill road. Just like in the aftermath of visiting a theme park or watching a movie, the return to the empirical ‘real’ seems like the inevitable end for the escape from the clouding complexity of the present.


Sensations of psychological remedy gained by diving into high-quality immersive worlds (alternate realities) can ease tensions in the competitive and complex structures of the contemporary world. This can allow for a new post-democratic form of delegation of power in the ‘really real’, where the complexity is handled dynamically, and provide a path for futures full of opportunities to further realise the human potential in the quest of proving or disproving the hypothesis of its limitlessness.

Present Visuality and Thingness of Trans-Ethnography in the Context of Unrealised Future in the Past

courtesy of Liva Dudareva (METASITU)  

courtesy of Liva Dudareva (METASITU)  

In 1922, the Soviet Union was established on the basis of the principle of national self-identi cation for nationalities within its borders. The borders that were drawn by Bolsheviks for the new Soviet socialist republics created new geopolitical entities, that required symbols and ethnographic history for legitimization. Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow was founded in 1918, right after the October revolution, and was gradually expanding collections of the artefacts of the cultures of the Eurasian region since its inception. The excavation expeditions of the Soviet archeologists and ethnographers were working in the context of gradually transforming Soviet ideology, where the initial decision of national self-identi cation of new republics of the Soviet Union was dictated by the strategic intention of the group of Bolsheviks, led by Joseph Stalin with support of Vladimir Lenin, to  ght ‘Russian chauvinism’. The decision implied necessity to accelerate transition of bureaucratic documentation, school education, etc. into national languages of ethoses in the areas, which in many cases had no writing culture appropriate for Bolshevik methods of possible conversion. The objects and things of ethnographic signi cance were appropriated as symbols of national self-identi cation.

Between 1918 and 1922, in anticipation of the World revolution, the Bolsheviks were divided on the issue of how administrative borders within the future Soviet Union (as a part of new Socialist and later Communist world) would look like. One of the strongest positions implied lining out the map of the country in sectors disregarding historical, ethnographic, geopolitical, etc. cartography. If that scenario have been implemented in reality, organisation of Moscow Museum of Oriental Art collection and its appropriation would reveal a different set of narratives behind the things that matter.

 

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Today we are living at a time when notions of disparate nations, cultural identities and borders have become even more problematic and ambiguous as a result of a greater economic, cultural, political and technological interconnectedness across the globe. As a result of a process of globalization that denies time, space and place, today there is a “disturbance of our notions of the past” which also results in a “crisis in our imagination of alternative futures” (Andreas Huyssen, 2003, p.2) Yet, while the original dream of a united Communist world has not been realised, it is even more necessary to acknowledge the interrelations across the world and rethink the existing narratives reinforced by old-fashioned museological approaches to be able to imagine the future ethnography of our material world.

The current display of the Oriental Art Museum which is based on the distinctiveness of separate places is in fact a product of the modernist project and observes cultural speci city only in spatial isolation while neglecting interactions with the beyond. As the cultural geographer Doreen Massey explains: "‘Cultures’, ‘societies’ and ‘nations’ were all imagined as having an integral relation to bounded spaces, internally coherent and differentiated from each other by separation. ‘Places’ came to be seen as bounded, with their own internally generated authenticities, and de ned by their difference from other places which lay outside, beyond their borders." (Massey, 2005, p.64)

Massey’s proposition of a ‘relational geography’, on the other hand, necessitates seeing cultural identities as interrelated, as well as sharing the same time and space. Her claim that “identities/entities, the relations ‘between’ them, and the spatiality which is part of them, are all co-constitutive”, challenges the modern conceptualisation of difference that was based on distinctiveness of places as re ected in culture. (Massey, 2005, p.10)

Here, we would also like to refer to Peter Osborne, who discusses the contemporary “as the time of the globally transnational”. Accordingly, the concept of the contemporary refers to the present as a world-historical moment, not only de ned by one place and time but shaped within a relational geography of co-existing places and times. Osborne speci cally highlights ‘con-temporaneity’ as what best expresses the temporal quality of the historical present, meaning

“a coming together not simply ‘in’ time, but of times: we do not only just live or exist together ‘in time’ with our contemporaries – as if time itself is indifferent to this existing together – but rather the present is increasingly characterized by a coming together of different but equally ‘present’ temporalities or ‘times’.” (Osborne, 2013a, p.17)

Based on these ideas around the spatial and temporal recon guration of the present, we would like to propose a trans-ethnographic approach to the existing objects in the museum, which interweaves temporalities and expands into other times that include not only our present but also the future.

Bureau for Public Insecurities: a conversation between curators Denis Maksimov (DM) and Caroline Carrion (CC)

curatorial duo DNV [dan'etvɐzmoʐnə], Caroline Carrion and Denis Maksimov

curatorial duo DNV [dan'etvɐzmoʐnə], Caroline Carrion and Denis Maksimov

DM: Conversations about insecurities in modern life seem infinite. What do you think?

CC: Borders are socio-political conventions, so it seems only fair that notions of territory and limits, both in their material as metaphorical meanings, would be blurred and somewhat fluid in moments when certain paradigms about civilization are being revised.

During the still young 21st century, we have been watching the emergence of an economic crisis (leading to social convulsion) all over the world, from the EU and the US to the BRIC countries, accompanied by the outbreak of terrorist groups, like ISIS or Boko Haram. We must keep in mind, when looking at such phenomena, that the idea of crisis is essential to the functioning of capitalism, especially in its current neoliberal form. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that local historical processes and idiosyncrasies can be disregarded. The effects in material well-being that result from this growth in insecurities are very different for the European middle-class compared to those experienced in Latin American, for instance.

DM: Poetry is, from a practical perspective, useless when it comes to the issue of dealing with risk to material comfort. However, its emotional and psychological effects are, from my perspective, invaluable. Is it possible to reveal the essence of this treasure we possess, which is becoming more and more rare in light of growing materialism, consumerism and omnipresent culture of entertainment?

CC: I’m not sure if it’s useless from a practical perspective. In the short term, this uselessness is unquestionable, but long term, poetry has the revolutionary potential of affecting opinions and world views, reaching the core of contemporary modes of understanding the self and the other, which necessarily will create material impact–thus the importance of poetic approach to the issue, as you mentioned.

I believe that critical forms of thinking, from aesthetic philosophy to social theory and psychoanalysis, attempt to reveal the essence of this treasure, as you called, but they can only do it within their own language, in the form of knowledge and information. The experience of real revelation can only come from art itself. In times like ours, when entertainment is more powerful in mind-shaping than any propaganda conceived by totalitarian governments, being in touch with art can be a transformative experience. For me, this is particularly true for the fruition of visual art forms, with their immediate impact and variety of interpretations.

Even with all the possible criticism that we can, and should, make, we must acknowledge the essential role that the art market plays in the diffusion of art, and the possibilities it creates for artists to make a living. On the other hand, experimental and independent art exhibitions are fundamental for works that stretch beyond the bounds of the market’s dictates. As for us, as curators and art critics, I believe that we can do our part to expose treasure by creating a forum for the artworks to be known and seen.

DM: Mitigation of risk is not the same as avoidance of risk. It is indeed about reaching the point of being at peace with living in a world of constant flux. Any sort of “promise” that all our systems provide us are as ephemeral and uncertain as an economic forecast. So why do we keep building the castles of predictability, all those foresight models and “2050s” plans? Isn’t it better to communicate to the public that living in constant unpredictability is the norm? I don’t want to sound Marxist, but from my perspective, it’s all just grounding for the usurpation of power and control of resource distribution systems.

CC: I couldn’t agree more. And this control you mentioned doesn’t happen exclusively within the realm of social hierarchies, but also in our understanding of subjectivity. The rigid and univocal comprehension of identity, sexuality, gender, political affiliations, etc., is directly related to the control of material prosperity. That’s why, in my opinion, the deleuzian concept of devir [‘what is to come’, ‘emergence’] remains so important–after all, the devir is always a devir-minority.

It is interesting, though, to notice how the appearance of social mobility and gain of freedom are essential for such societal systems. The austerity imposed by neoliberalism is only acceptable with hope of future personal prosperity. If it were clear to all that financial gain remains in the hands of the 1%, while the costs and crisis are paid by everyone, changes would come quicker than ever imagined.

DM: I feel contemporary art is among the very few mediums, where the conversation about the fundamental problems of the neoliberal capitalistic totality, foreseen by Theodor Adorno, is still possible. Do you agree?

CC: Yes. Despite being inserted in a multimillionaire market, one that isn’t always legit (as we are getting to know better now, with the leak of the Panama Papers), contemporary art is a platform for critical thinking. While some artists engage in openly politicized practices, others assume a critical posture by insisting on slow and artisanal modes of production and adopting anti-consumerism lifestyles; either way, they point to alternative lifestyles and create a point of disruption, no matter how minimum it is, within the established order.

Identity and univocality are one face of totality; oppositions and plain dialectics are another. Just by existing, contemporary artworks points to multiplicity and question totality.

DM: I really love neologisms – they allow language to stay alive and erode the power of institutional oppression. I find them so important in fighting attempts to close up any subjectivity in opposition to strictness of the objective view of “the winner”. History is always written by the victor, and reality is narrated by those who possess the means to alter the rules of storytelling. How would you describe “danetvozmozhno” [dan'etvɐzmoʐnə] neologism meaning from a universal perspective?

Giuditta Vendrame in collaboration with Fiona du Mesnildot, 'Mixed Passports', 2015

Giuditta Vendrame in collaboration with Fiona du Mesnildot, 'Mixed Passports', 2015

CC: I am a lover of neologisms myself, as I am of etymology. First of all, I believe it’s significant that “danetvozmozhno” derives from a colloquial expression. The original term in Russian means “yes, no, maybe”, but never at the same time. It is my understanding that it all depends on context and intonation. As a neologism, “danetvozmozhno” represents an utterly grey zone, where “yes”, “no” and “maybe” are indiscernible and simultaneous – a space of complete uncertainty that, contrary to the original expression, creates no hierarchies of power between the utterer and the receiver, as both of them are in the same undefined position. It means the coexistence of exclusionary categories (affirmation, negation, and possibility), which is basically a way to summarize the permanent flux condition that you already mentioned.

DM: Brazil is going through very intense period of political and economic turmoil. In the upcoming exhibition “Bureau for Public Insecurities”, art sort of steps in to address the issues in which socio-political and economic institutions seem to fail. Do you think art can and should replace the failed structures functionally? I see it as the main problem with so-called “socially engaged art” for me. I believe art can inspire, instigate, motivate but should never function, promote or propagate because at this moment it stops being art and turns into design, which serves particular goal and betrays aesthetics.

CC: For sure: either design or propaganda, which is even worse. As I mentioned before, one of the most powerful aspects of art, in my opinion, resides in the production of multiplicity, that is, in the fact that it has no final function and provides no final answers.

The desire of presenting the “Bureau for Public Insecurities” came from Brazil’s current situation and from the perception that it is not a local problem. By that I mean the world is entering an era of growing insecurity and precariousness. The artists invited to take part in the show approach matters of relevance for the current socio-political agenda, without the intention of solving them. When Giuditta Vendrame, for instance, presents an installation and a performance based on her research on how to get passports from several European countries, she isn’t providing a service or attempting to promote the acquisition of passports as a solution for a more secure way of living. Her action questions the idea of nationality in itself, the pertinence of the concept of nation in contemporary global societies and the power relations implied in the concept. There’s a certain ironic approach shared by many of the works in the show, which is also ironically titled–after all, we are creating a fictional “Bureau” that offers no 'real' service.

DM: Do you think "insecurity profiles" are different or rather similar in global cultural contexts? The exhibition will feature the selection of European and Brazilian artists, who will create or adapt works for the Bureau and create a sort of Frankenstein out of insecurities originating from very diverse environments and historical moments.

CC: It’s hard to say for sure, and I am actually very curious to see how the artists will interact and which departments will arise from this encounter. In the context of globalization and neoliberal capitalism, many uncertainties are common to different societies. Concerns with the means for assuring rent and food, fear of urban violence, doubts about one’s professional future are probably shared "insecurity profiles". The risk of losing basic rights after the rise of a totalitarian regime, or the imminence of terrorist attacks are, in turn, “profiles” that vary according to the location–the first one is very present in Brazil at this moment, while the second isn’t really a concern for most Brazilians (which cannot be said of Europeans, for instance). No matter how different our lives are, every one of us can be fit in at least one “insecurity profile”, and that is the point of the Bureau, to address the only shared certainty we have: uncertainty.

We have hardly yet begun

written by Denis Maksimov for Node Center for Curatorial Studies  

image by Node Center for Curatorial Studies

image by Node Center for Curatorial Studies

One artist and one theorist explore the darker side of our endless quest for ‘progress’.

From conversations with machines to Walt Disney’s ‘experimental prototype for a community of tomorrow’, Joseph Popper’s video We have hardly yet begun will take you on a journey through a history of corporate visions of the future. Mixing ‘top-down’ proposals with science fiction visionaries, the video connects and contrasts various ideas of progress along with hopes and fears for things to come. Popper’s video is a starting point for curator, researcher and theorist Denis Maksimov to delve into the murkier waters of our paradoxical relations with the future in his text below.

Watch and read on to find out how corporations sell their products by tapping into dreams of the future and why we should combine different fields of knowledge to close the gap between our imagination and potential realities. 

screenshot of We have hardly yet begun, 2015, Joseph Popper. Originally produced for The Victoria & Albert Museum, London © The V&A

screenshot of We have hardly yet begun, 2015, Joseph Popper. Originally produced for The Victoria & Albert Museum, London © The V&A

Can you begin to remember the futures? Every single moment of the present creates potential and desirable scenarios. The history of progress is a continuous endless race from the point of ultimate uncertainty towards a fictional finish line of total predictability. Today, we enjoy the possibility of keeping in touch with people across the planet, crossing vast terrains and oceans, while simultaneously gluing a sticker on the web camera of laptops, afraid of being spied upon by Big Brother. The idea of the technological panopticon* as an instrument of an omnipresent observation system is therefore sublime: both fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

There are many ways of dreaming about the future.For some, it can be an escape into individual reality as a consequence of an unwillingness to face the currents. The realm of aesthetic freedom seduces science when non-hierarchical thinking is evolving faster than the institutions of knowledge verification within the field of science will allow. Scientific thinking enters the mode that it appears to despise in our present-day: fiction,which can be considered the result of an extrapolative doodle about the potential application of something the scientists haven’t even closely approached.

Today, knowledge creation and its verification mechanisms are still predominantly separated by disciplines: economics, literature, physics, history and so on. This separation of knowledge limits the speed of human pace towards possible progress. The mental gap between the image of a possible future and the institutional restrictions of its arrivalbecomes unbearable. The frontier between the ‘fictional’ and the ‘real’, so evidently uncrossable before, is violently penetrated in the moments when formerly fictional ideas become suddenly materialized: air flight, voyage into space, etc. These moments liberate the mind into free float. We have been finally heading into the future of infinite possibilities and abandoned restrictions. When will we arrive there and if it happens – how is it to live there?

There is a Soviet anecdote: “the future is certain, it is only the past that is unpredictable”. The ultimate certainty of the future is plain: it is going to come regardless of whether we have a place in it. The future is a flimsy construction subjected to anthropological gravity at a certain point of intersection between time and space. The strength of the pull towards the usual ground is defined by human-centrism in acting, thinking and dreaming. And we have hardly yet begun to depart from fundamental egoism behind the conviction that the Universe is turning around us. The future is fascinating, merciless and situated within the perfect chaos of storms.

*A panopticon is a proposed architectural model for the most effective prison. Developed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the structure requires one single guard in a central observation tower who is able to watch any prisoner at any moment of time. This creates the feeling for the prisoners that they are indeed being watched at all times, effectively constantly controlling their own behaviour.

The Nationless Pavilion: for the Future of Community after Nation State

The Nationless Pavilion Laboratory heald by Denis Maksimov, image of the Leviathan, Sale Docks Venice 2015. Photo © Mohamed Keita

The Nationless Pavilion Laboratory heald by Denis Maksimov, image of the Leviathan, Sale Docks Venice 2015. Photo © Mohamed Keita

Political crisis of today is dictated by outdated nation state model of mapping the world. While all the other systems already spilled over with economy, art, science going global, nation state still draws the lines on the geographical map.
 
Political power and it’s redistribution is the heart of the issue. Advancement of human civilization, apart of providing technological leaps, also demanded more transparency and visibility from power. It has always been ‘catch and run’ game - with new strategies of mystification of political power into institutional forms of different kinds. Authority redistribution mechanisms always tend to appear impersonal as their function is to communicate idea of being ‘detached’ from the matter of defining good and bad, right and wrong. Ethical, moral and aesthetic judgment seem to appear to naked eye as something defined and proved by centuries of common societal work, where standards of normal are the result of careful, almost Darwinist selection of what is better for all. The mythology of this process was first supported by the narratives of religious dogma and power, while today it’s mostly relies on fear and ignorance. Ulrich Beck rightly highlighted one of the core characteristics of a modern life as the detachment from understanding of the basics of how this ultra-complicated world of ours works. Experts are supposed to decide what is good and bad, while comprehension of the verification mechanisms of their expertise is not an easy task for commoner. Expert networks include government, academia, economic and cultural elite, which are all intertwined through multiplicity of intersections within the hierarchies of confirmation of their expertise validity.

The Nationless Pavilion, Nation 25 Under Construction, Installation view, Sale Docks, Venice 2015 © Nation25

The Nationless Pavilion, Nation 25 Under Construction, Installation view, Sale Docks, Venice 2015 © Nation25

Epistemological processes of knowledge production and legitimization is strategically anything but transparent. The fundamental principle of the whole mega-structure is collective responsibility as silent conspiracy, bordering with plain nepotism. If I am demystified and going down, you are going down with me too, because the whole structure of validity behind our claims is constructed on mutual presumptions. The web of artificiality of social and political order demands almost religious belief in it’s realness. And if the certain structure is central to the multiplicity of these hierarchies, it’s guarded as a sacred cow by more than silence. It is supposed to actively reinforced by the actors in production of new ways to confirm the validity of ideological structure. It’s notoriously easier to imagine the end of the world, than end of capitalism not because of capitalism’s irreplaceability, but due to dependency on it’s rules and mapping of the roles and functions in socio-political matter overall majorities of the elites, contracted in unwritten and unsigned, but mutually understood by majority of them. When John Locke was speaking about social contract between state and citizens, he should have envisioned probably that not all the citizens sign the very same contract. All animals are equal, but realness, designed by the collective responsibility as silent conspiracy for value production and legitimization, proves that indeed some animals are more equal than the others.
 
The process of development of the Nationless Pavilion in the context of the 56th Venice Biennale ‘All the World’s Futures’ was launched in order to critically reflect on this complex subject. The chosen point of departure, the grounds of contemporary art, is strategic: because having the conversation about this at any other ground is by default ideologised and exists in opposition to dominating meta-narrative. The task of the curators seemed at the best impossible and at the worst plainly naive - can we envision possibility of alternative narrative of social construction beyond the known format  the nation state?

Full version of the text by Denis Maksimov in DoppioZero International

The dilemma of superposition: robot companies and human imperfections

'Ghost in the Shell', 1995

'Ghost in the Shell', 1995

In the animated movie Ghost in the Shell, a computer program that has advanced to a level of human thinking claims it has reached the criteria to acquire human rights and thus requests an asylum - only to be rejected as entirely absurd, from the point of view of the security agencies that deal with the case. What defines a difference between a being which is running on artificial intelligence and form of traditionally conscious life? The case itself has not been heard at the court yet, where the legal precedent of a dispute about defining the waterline between artificial and natural might have to be drawn.

The first entirely automated company has been created and it has attracted some $120m of investment from anonymous investors. What is significant here is not the amount of investment, but the fact that contemporary form of capitalism allows to run a company with no human involvement. The ultra-utilitarian society of infinite effectiveness, which appears to be the ideal of the currents, is actually inviting artificial intelligence to replace humans - humans who tend to make irrational decisions. The society of absolute rationality where the turn from the only possible road of uber-efficiency is a malaise that inevitably leads to necessity to eradicate humanity as imperfection, an obstacle on the way to perfection. 

'AI-dentity', Avenir Institute, 2016

'AI-dentity', Avenir Institute, 2016

While moving on those tracks towards ‘the ideal’, lets call it ‘a totally optimized society’, morality and ethics must be gradually replaced with standards and models, based on cause and effect logic dictated by the definition of value. How the value of in this acceleratingly effective totally optimized society will evolve? In the logic of meta-ideology of utilitarianism, the value is maximization of the production of the material and immaterial products with minimal losses and costs. Ethical and moral choices often contradict the efficiency as they present alternative definition of value: a human life. Therefore we arrive to aporic contradiction of value as it’s defined by the capitalism that is obsessed with material optimization - driving automatization to its extreme to cut off transactional costs of irrationality - and the value of human life, which is irrational by its very nature. The possibility of a war between these value systems becomes apparent: the contemporary contradiction is already provoking conflict, which is mediated mostly through culture and ideology. 

Coming back to the example of an automated company, what is perhaps even more interesting, is the possibility of this entity becoming sentient. Typically in speculations of highly sophisticated robots, or androids, they are owned by humans as slaves with no rights or even a theoretical possibility of being an independent actor in the legal world of humans. They are forever only machines, much like a toaster or a vacuum cleaner. The artificial intelligence is not yet where it could compete with the human capabilities, but should this day come, the AI could be implanted into a company structure such as this, making the company ‘a being’ itself. How will this ‘being’ will then develop its value system? Will it see human error and irrationality, poetry and spontaneity as something valuable and worth preserving or will it be rather an obstacle for biopolitical (or AI-political?) spread and colonisation of the other planets, solar systems, galaxies? How the AI will see it’s purpose and will be it build up on the premises of human-defined ‘draft’ or would it be developed independently from it? 

However, in this scenario, if a sophisticated AI is placed to operate a company and acquires a new form of AI-dentity, it should, as ‘a being’ and ‘company’ at the same time, have the same legal rights as physical and juridical entity. The AI finds itself then in superposition of identity from how the term ‘identity’ understood nowadays. These rights include important aspects, such as owning capital and property. But will it want to? Capital is the source of power and definition of hierarchy in human society, and there is no guarantee, beyond human-centric thinking, that AI would be sharing the same value system.

'Blade Runner', 1982

'Blade Runner', 1982

Another possibility the legal arrangement would enable is the "robotic" company to create physical agents to represent itself on the streets, thus becoming eerily "real". The multiplicity of superpositioned identity of a company would be then complemented by a physical manifestation: being a whole and a unit(s) at the very same moment. Given a few predictable technological advancements, it could choose to create a robot that is able to mingle and act as a human, just like Blade Runner was depicting already decades ago.

If anyone would be to harm the robot now, for instance, the company could sue the offender on the basis of owning the physical robot as a machine aka property. Or speculating further, such a superpositioned identity of a company-unit(s) will manifest a new resourceful form of being, and therefore an attack on one of its units could have unpredictable repercussions and consequences for the offender. The company-being could, for instance, cease to provide services to the rebelling individual, should it, or one of its subsidiaries, be in the service sector. This could facilitate for an entirely legal attack on the offender in several subjective ways at the same time, in which one action of the other creates multiple retaliations. Can a one-dimensional human cope with such complexity in the new condition or are they doomed to be neglected and be extinct as less sophisticated form of life, ‘being’ a subject to the very organic process of Darwinistic natural selection?

The artistic in aesthetic and the politics of loyalty

                      (c) The New Yorker

                      (c) The New Yorker

The fuzz about robots producing "artworks" brings about actuality of fundamental dichotomy between art and non-art. Robots might (and surely will) be able to produce enjoyable and perfect aesthetic symmetries, enticing and attractive visually. They are able and will be to improve the technique of producing aesthetic material, which has little to do with art. Art is a language. This language manifest infinite number of poetic and visual appearances, forms and structures. I would say that this also applies to creative production retroactively, meaning that most of historical museums of "art" hold in their collections products of craftwork. Robots and craftsmen are in this sense synonymous. The richness of authentic poetry in creative production defines identification of the result as the piece of art. In this sense, furthering the statement of Peter Osborne's statement about all contemporary art being post-conceptual, I would say that all historical products of creative labour is either conceptual, or has little to do with art. We look at Hieronymus Bosch or Lucas Cranach oeuvre with admiration because both were not only are outstanding in technical production, but most importantly had the conceptual agenda, for instance, of eroding the institutions of power that dictated norms, aesthetic standards and specific functionality of the "artistic" production. 

                      (c) Denis Maksimov

                      (c) Denis Maksimov

The relation between poetry as artistic component in creative production is similar in the spirit to relation between loyalty as unconditional support (what Machiavelli was calling "love"), manifesting power, in politics. The aesthetic, functional component in creative production stands for design, where aesthetics is "tasked" to serve specific purpose - propagate specific  set of principles, etc.  In political it is similar to dichotomy between holding on to power versus possessing control - where power is sustained by loyalty and legitimate support, while control at the other end is resting on forced obedience and fear. 

 

The Mosque of Pokemon Fan Clubs

Essay is based on the workshop that was organised by the Avenir Institute at the 32nd Chaos Communication Summit in Hamburg on December 28 2015

Hito Steyerl in the essay ‘Too Much World: Is Internet Dead?’ highlights the spaces of important problematics of remaining potentiality of Internet to serve a function of trigger for fundamental, structural shift of socio-political system. 

In the contemporary liberal democratic political discourse, which is dictated by the interests of the oligarchy, the democracy in classic sense had become unnecessary. To say more, it is rather assessed as being dangerous for efficiency-driven and KPI-constructed society, where performance (and pressure of increasing it) has become the ultimate sacred goal. This leads to natural elimination of the space of political - as something unpredictable that poses a risk to disrupt the planning of efficient advancement towards the goal. 

As is quite evident in contemporary politics, the bureaucratic essence in its core gradually overtook the idea of politics as a multilogue with possible unpredictable result. ‘The big data’ is expected to predict the patterns of behaviour in all totality, realising the dream of complete panopticon once suggested by Bentham's utilitarian desires. Funnily enough, ‘democracy’ remains the banner of the ultra-capitalism in advancement of new interventionism and re- definition of colonialism. Perverse, mechanical, understanding and following practical institutionalisation of democracy (which might be better called as-if-ocracy) leads to magnificently poor-played theatre of simulacra. ‘Teach the fool how to pray and he’ll break his head’, Russian proverb says. 

The automatically negative perception of a figure of a politician on the background of an ecstatic expectation of the new iPhone is quite exemplary. Space for political action has shrunk to non- existence through the bureaucratic regulation of anything that might have even theoretically played the role of the place of assembly. 

That brings us to what Steyerl called in another text the ‘proxy’ politics - spaces of alternative political activity, which exist in a heterotopian dimension. These supposedly include many corners of the Internet as well as holograms on the streets. But do these spaces actually exist? 

Establishment of the national borders within the Internet, massive surveillance, accumulation of gargantuan chunks of mega-data in the hands of specific corporate actors shrinks the space of proxy politics. It is not as effective as in the space of material, where politics is already almost a novelty (remember the Greek voting on the bailout conditions by Troika and the almost sincere fascination of media and EU officials about the Greek government desire to actually proceed with a democratic procedure of referendum?). But when you repeat a certain mantra long enough, it becomes ‘true’ in your eyes. The frames of mutational superstructures of liberal democracy and ultra-capitalism excluded ‘political’ for so long so the remainder about its original essence seems so strange in the new age of ultimate efficiency and met-bureaucracy. 

The question is - does the Internet still possess potentiality for returning the space of political, through virtual to material, or is it already too late? Has the Internet lost in this sense and had been already reduced to another network colonised by ultra-capitalism logic? 

The Internet still provides the unique experiences that are hardly replaceable beyond its realm. Randomness and authentic curiosity, which are empowered by the technical possibility to literally jump from the fluffiness of hamsters to charts on economic performance of Brazil during the dictatorship, is truly outstanding. 

Is the Internet virtual? 

Had the ‘world’ of the nation-state political frame incorporated the Internet within it’s 17-century Westphalian borders or does the Internet still possess the energy to reform the ‘world’ from within or even from the outside, somehow spilling over its chaotic, rhizomatic functions beyond the cyberspace to a sort of new space of political? The challenge of converting ‘virtual’ to ‘real’ in terms of the impact is possible, especially in relation to a political action - the Arab spring sparks just proved again that although the simulacra is virtual, it’s impact is more than material. 

It still seems the Internet might indeed provide potential disruption. In several states of the US internet-generated, openly fictional independent presidential candidate accumulated up to 10% of the votes. Presence of the protest electorate, mobilised in this way, shows the scale of unfitness between political reality of worsening theatre and demand for authentic space of political. Similarly, when the investment banking originating CEO boosted the price of AIDS pill, the Internet reaction also demonstrated potential of mobilisation. 

These cases of the ‘mythical’ Internet mobilising itself behind a specific issue are seeming erratic, though, and tend to be short-lived and driven by extremes. This is far from political discussion – the mantra is “either you are with us or you are not cool”. Discussion is often seen as counter-productive as the incentive is to manifest the power of the Internet as a self-justifying actor. It is the last refuge of democracy, in which the individual in their limited capacity for attention and impact can feel they are part of something bigger, if only to remind themselves they are still in control – at least when they so desire. 

On the other hand, there is a softer power to the Internet that is being more or less effectively utilised. This is the power of shifting opinions by curating the content the people see. In cases such as with a Syrian boy being washed ashore in Turkey, the seemingly enforced digital emotions seem to become the source of magnificent simulacrum of political manipulations. It is not to say the event itself is not significant, but the way it is lifted on a pedestal could have been done artificially. 

In the same fashion, after the Paris attacks on November 13th 2015, society is not asking the question of what the inherent motivation behind radicalisation is, which might have been set around a Pokemon fan club as much as the spirit of Islam. The immediate reaction is to see the problem in the dangerous ‘Other’ who is threatening our way of life. The Russian doll structure of stories and fictions on the surface dimmed the path towards historicity and fictionality of modern culture and mythology. 

Instead of providing a public space for discussion, this manipulative side of the Internet is effectively dismissing the discussion altogether. The discussion is presented to us in the form of news articles and media coverage. 

The temple of Internet wormholes

Regardless of the motivation, all these cases demonstrate real impact created by the cyberspace driven temporary spaces of political action. Do they constitute still omnipresent space of political potentiality or rather manifest convulsions of what beforehand could have been seen as the ground for the next paradigmatic shift in society? How long still we will be building parliaments based on the architectural model of the ancient Syracuse theatre? Space of political avant-garde occupies science fiction and fantasy, while being absent from cultural discourse. 

There are digital wormholes that guarantee anonymity to the actors within the cyberspace. Can this anonymity enable a self-controlled and self-organised space of post-material political? Can it be more than a proxy, a simulacrum, a dummy or any other indication of constructing the visual replacement of a functional structure? To convert into a space of potential, the amount of participants of this space has to be sufficient, as well as the agenda self-controlled by some kind of peer-reviewed, on the fundamentally critical basis. To avoid the shutdown on the grounding of pseudo-political (and in reality oligarchic) reasoning, it probably has to be based in the political area of peculiar, post-Westphalian geography - maybe on the former oil platform of Sealand? 

There is another issue that has to be taken into account - the anonymity of the Internet communications provides not only space of opportunity, but as well the space of abuse and manipulation. The post-political world is actively discarding ethics as the category that is not enough utilitarian. The Internet, if it still possesses the energy to offer to the space of political shelter, should step in by outlining the ethical rules and mechanisms of its modernisation before the political world will seal the issue by simply extrapolating its increasingly extreme and polarised nature into the cyberspace. What about the self-organised communion of the Internet inhabitants, that will be staging Sintagmas of the cyberspace not only ad hoc, but institutionally? The role of the Internet as global meta-political actor in itself, the democratic chaos of ‘possible’ and ‘potentiality’ requires challenging the system within the language it actually can understand and the means it cannot ignore. 

Avenir Manifesto

'Avenirology', Avenir Institute, 2015

'Avenirology', Avenir Institute, 2015

Do you remember the Future? It was a post-political society, where robots did all ‘the work’ and everyone was in a good health.

We face a choice from a Pandora's box of misfortunes: an offering for different ends of the world from environmental disasters to political dystopias. 

Do you remember the Future? It was a borderless green city the size of a planet, where the society enhanced with technologies and synergies with the nature was exploring the limitlessness of the transcendent post-humanity.

We live in a society of risk, paralysed by the all-encompassing fear of a systemic collapse. 

Do you remember the Future? It was a Noosphere of expanding singular intelligence, in which the emergence of the common consciousness allowed us to go beyond the physical and psychological restrictions of our bodies. 

To preserve the everlasting present we live in a zoo we constructed ourselves, in a time where the history has ended.

Do you remember the Future? It was a nomadic resilient interstellar mothership drifting between galaxies of the expanding Universe in pursuit of frontiers of limitless human curiosity. 

'Expanded Poetry', Avenir Institute, 2015

'Expanded Poetry', Avenir Institute, 2015

To counterbalance this rather dire and sad context, Avenir Institute hereby introduces and commits to promote employment of the term ‘avenir’ as a counterbalance to ‘risk’.

Do you remember the Future? It was a borderless post-nation world where distance and time-space stopped being limitation after a widespread introduction of teleportation.

‘Avenir’ is a counterbalance to ‘risk’, more than the word ‘opportunity’ - an avenir is a potentiality independent from any practical utility or historical context. 

Do you remember the Future? It was a confederation of star systems and galaxies inhabited by expanding its presence in the Universe enlightened humanity. 

We are restricted by the focus on risk aversion, which forces us to contain our imagination and obstructs a poetic essence in arts and fundamental research. 

Do you remember the Future? It was a genderless space where the fluidity of sexual identity was as smooth as white sand in a hot equatorial desert. 

Avenir Institute strives for realisations of post-disciplinary synergy between philosophy, art, politics, and technology, welcoming Others as agents of vitality.