On Not Getting The Neoliberal Anti-Hero We Wanted: Blade Runner’s Play With Nostalgia

It was not the cyberpunk universe you were looking for.

Our nostalgia centres were lit up with a cut from a flying car to a full screen eyeball staring across the opening scene, synchronized on the script and musical score of its 20th century precursors’ timing. From there, audiences of the Blade Runner sequel were dropped into a pale California wasteland blanketed with conglomerate agricultural biofarms, an antithesis to cyberpunk’s damp, urban hybridity.  The green, utopic space beyond the city– only glimpsed at the end of the 1982 original theatrical release and removed entirely in the director’s cut– was where we started from in Blade Runner 2049, and (surprise) there’s nothing but the dystopia of the anthropocene to look forward to there either.

Times change.

The recently post-industrial, 20th century cyberpunk rebellion of bodily sensuality: the noir lighting, the baroque candelabras burning, the lingering fingers stroking out haunting piano music; these were relics now, hinted at, ghosts of a genre in its past moment. Even the endless rain characteristic of the cyberpunk genre was repeatedly replaced with snow in Blade Runner 2049. A borrowed soundtrack teasing the familiar bridge to a heroic death scene came without poetic dialogue or even a witness. Rogue replicants were not criminals, but escaping criminality. Even memories were no longer stolen in this world, but legally manufactured, a convention stripping the typical cybernetic plot of bioharvesting found in cyberpunk down to a more contemporary, bioengineered ethics of classed and raced co-humanity if ever there was one. No, this ethical failure was smoother, blended into liberal values and legal structures, more sanctioned somehow.

The 80s cyberlibertarian world of the white lone wolf, struggling for autonomy in a hybrid, post-globalized world of orientalist economic takeover, had passed by in the great data “black out” of 2020 apparently, and Denis Villeneuve didn’t care about your need for consistent genre romance. Sort of. Rather, the director brought the audience’s need for Blade Runner nostalgia in and out of the sequel like a tool, cuing our attention to wait for it, partially rewarding us with a sensory, semi-nostalgic moment, only to glitch before nostalgic completion. Again and again,  it was invitation and estrangement from our own expectations. Blade Runner 2049 was a highly self-aware remix of its own postmodern references and refusals in a predetermined world.

Shatter no. 2 (1986): Cyberlibertarian comic in which a man of hybrid white ethnicity in a post-Fordist dystopia uncritically takes mercenary work to buy CocaCola on a proto-eBay channel.

Perhaps a hybridity across two cyberpunks of historical time and cultural change was apropos. Ridley Scott’s genre critique of the corrupt corporation had evolved since its 20th century take in the Alien franchise, expanding to consciously address our own implication in the techno-dystopian social narrative. It turns out that we are no longer universally laboring blue collar victims in the secretive horrors of impending biopolitical technocracy. Rather, we are eager and satiated participants in its isolating ubiquity; high tech consumers implicated in all of the attendant social stratification, inequality, and suffering that its warm glow of access masks and accelerates, from facilitated gentrification and casualized labor, to the toxic, extra-legal wastelands of dead electronics processing.

Electronics recycling village in Guiyu, China.

Disruptive innovation has predominantly benefitted the 21th century, western, science fiction audience. Our classic cyberpunk desire for the vindication of the social outlier– the androgynous Sigourney Weaver in a corporate-threatened future of full equality and bodily autonomy, or the replicant who can reclaim a subjectivity beyond his or her social paradigms and slave programming– has since been turned on its anti-establishment head. Scott’s film Covenant saw this come to fruition when the Menippean Anti-hero, Bakhtin’s rebellious, paradigm-questioning literary figure cloaked in the absurd eloquence of language, is fledged into a full sociopath. We saw this in the philosophical and intellectual character of David and his calculated experiments to replace the evolutionarily inferior human species. If Menippean satire is “a genre for serious people who see serious trouble” (Howard Weinbrot), than what is this?

By Covenant, our anti-hero no longer presented the humanistic redemption narrative of the Menippean Nexus 6 leader, Roy Batty, in the original Blade Runner. Instead, Covenant gave its inverse: a regressed society being shown the mainstream values it has come to love and endorse in a world of neoliberal anti-establishment leadership. So much for the underground resistance crouching in the street garbage. The 21st century universe of cyberpunk has been one of well-mannered disruptive innovators of the species, philosophically visionary proponents of transformative wealth models built on slave bodies, and the “technê-Zen” veneered (R. John Williams) institutionalization and naturalization of technological sociopathy. Here is a social darwinist instrumentalism for our post-human age of market-driven measures of social success and impending climate change. In this universe, androids can be humanist while humans can be androids in an inhuman system, conveying either ‘progress’ by any means necessary or a losing sense of civilizational duty. Whose side, Covenant asked of us, before its devastatingly feel-bad ending, were you hoping would win anyway?

David, it turns out, was the only anti-hero we deserved now.

“Tears in the Rain” scene from Blade Runner 2019

Denis Villeneuve’s sequel fits surprisingly in this updated cyberpunk universe. Like Walter in Covenant, the replicant hero who becomes Joe in Blade Runner 2049 (in contrast to Roy Batty) clearly lacks the eloquent language and especially satire of the subversive, Menippean Anti-hero character. Surprisingly, we find his strain of articulate stream-of-conscious in the tech empire guru played by Jared Leto, drained of all the feeling and trickster-like ability of Roy Batty. Joe, however (like Walter), is simple and humble in his speech, seemingly able to feel but dying suggestively in silence off screen. Robbed of the poetic dialogue expected of the death scene, only a soundtrack bite nostalgic of Roy Batty’s final scene signals a death of redemption for Joe in Blade Runner 2049. Yet the unsentimentally raw, blank slate of Joe’s expression asks of his audience: What do we see through his eyes? What language could possibly be used here to convey the gravity of a moment when power so regularly denies and manipulates the language of our experiences? In this silence, we are perhaps left to only wonder what we would be feeling.

What if it had ended differently? Would Roy Batty’s eloquent speech achieve the same humanizing disjuncture today, or does it really belong now to Niander Wallace, our tech monopoly visionary of the neoliberal age, emptied of any contradiction with the smooth flow of progress rhetoric and sociopathic public morality? Niander Wallace as foil who cannot stop talking makes Joe’s uncharacteristic silence all the more uncanny. According to Jonathan Auerbach, the uncanny involves a “trespassing or boundary crossing, where inside and outside grow confused… reveal(ing) dark secrets hidden within.” Auerbach is talking about film noir here– a highly unsettling sensory genre metabolized into the late Cold War aesthetics of the Blade Runner world. But perhaps we can relate this psychic role of the filmic uncanny to other hybridities explored through expressionist media, where the formal manipulations of sight and sound once conveyed the uneasy clashing of two worlds affectively.

Is Villeneuve’s silent denial of a hero’s dialogue in a death scene, for a Blade Runner audience, purposely estranging? Does it achieve the same, disorienting “uncanny bodies” (Robert Spadoni) that silent film audiences, unaccustomed to sound in their movies, reported with the introduction of Talkies? Film scholar Shane Denson describes how post-Talkie movies of the Thirties like Frankenstein (1931), were created in a period of transition and between the old and new ontologies of silent and sound film media. Denson argues that such films, working after the initial novelty of Talkie exposition wore off, played affectively with the new hybridity of films formalist storytelling qualities. In doing so, these films drew attention to our participation in media: “sight and sound conspire(d)…to encourage the viewer’s medium sensitivity, to coalesce with the perception of a constructed monster.” And what is a sequel, after all, if not a constructed monster of narrative to become conscious of?

Scene from Blade Runner 2019


We live in a time of the seductive post-human technologization and normalization of very inhuman institutions, public policies, and person-like entities whose social impacts are all too often screened over with ‘alternative’ narratives of language. Glitches in this flow of mainstream mediated ways of knowing can be more than anti-nostalgic; they can be disruption to the alt-fact hyperreality in the neoliberal 21st century. Are uncanny bodies of the sensorily unexpected (or, even, dissected) what we have left to successfully slow down and stutter our neoliberal ubiquity for hearing chasm-filling speech? Can such estrangements allow us the conscious relationality to once again actually hear and see how we are hearing and seeing each other?

Scene from Blade Runner 2019

It is convenient to note here that the technological imaginary of the first Blade Runner movie refused ubiquitous surveillance. Blade Runner 2019 even refused a conception of the personal communication device so often credited with fracturing collective sociality in both sci-fi and reality. Decker, for example, calls Rachel from a public videophone in a bar. Whether human or replicant, technological worlding of the  original Blade Runner insists on the communications scale of face-to-face human relationality. By the end of Blade Runner 2049 this same scale of technological imaginary in the original film returns. It is the death of one body, the replicant called “Luv”, that seems to end the limitless reach of panopticon technology that helps advance the plot.

Some kinds of love can destroy. Scene from Blade Runner 2049

This act leaves the future of Blade Runner’s Earth yet again to the relations between two, individual physical bodies. With the 1% most likely afloat in the outer world colonies, we might assume this means that it’s up to Us to cross the interface of hyberbaric differences. At a time when love has become perverted with neoliberal logic– instrumental, utilitarian, stripped of its greater sense of equality or duty– it seems that Villeneuve graciously gives us an answer here, if not a fantasy to hold on to.  Perhaps one consistency in the Blade Runner franchise is the argument, like that of Junot Diaz on neocolonial oppression (as if it ever ended) and the uptick of white supremacist domestic terrorism, that it is ultimately intimacy with the Other and rejection of the glorified “lone wolf” mentality that must be revolutionary: “Vulnerability is the precondition to contact.” What if being in our present moment requires the vulnerability of silence?


Nostalgia has come unstuck in time. In Ghosts of My Life, the late Mark Fisher wrote extensively of the threat of nostalgia in postmodern cultural production. Building on theorists Frederic Jameson and Bifo Berardi to explain the bending of new technologies to recycle comfortable and profitable cultural forms for capitalism, Fisher explains how “…the nostalgia mode subordinated technology to the task of refurbishing the old”, not of specific past styles, or periods, but forms of never-fully-present time asynchronicity. Consider it like another outdated, self-reproducing model, ever expanding all around you to stay relevant. Perhaps you can finally see its now, like a loose eye, engineered, removed from its familiar socket.

Scene from Blade Runner 2019

Transgressive fiction has this way of making our boundaries visible in the crossing. The reader may resist its dehumanization, suddenly queasy. Barthes once wrote about the surrealist Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye, a modernist novel from the early mid-20th century which indeed involves a plucked eye and its “metaphorical journey” across other eye-like images. An object, he wrote, “can pass from hand to hand… or alternatively it can pass from image to image, in which case its story is that of a migration, the cycle of the avatars it passes through, far removed from its original being, down the path of a particular imagination that distorts but never drops it” (his emphasis). Barthes felt The Story of the Eye was less a novel and more like poetry. Through its avatars and crossing of sensory metaphors, the eye simultaneously “varies and endures.” Consider the following example of crossing sensory metaphors from the Blade Runner sequel: eyes, cells, tears, rain, leaking, bleeding, blinking, seizing, splashing, drowning, watching, “cells”. And what if this thing we now strangely see so differently is neither naturally born nor autonomous, but a constructed thing?

How eerie.

Neil Punches Pixels, video signal art by Peer Bode (1980)

Eerie like the absence of “future shock” in the futuristic. According to Fisher, nostalgia mode production is an aspect of the “cultural logic of late capitalism” that “…disguise(s) the disappearance of the future” and prevents any real possibility of innovative “rupture”. Nostalgia in our entertainment helps stabilize the “cultural deficits” created under globalization, soothing the simultaneous “exhaustion and overstimulation” of instantaneous and transactional relations we can’t seem to deal with. It fills a high-speed chasm of emotion, truth, and meaning. It denies us the “uncanny” recognition of our temporal futurelessness, left teetering on neoliberalism’s precarity of resources “despite all its rhetoric of novelty and innovation…”

Let’s just be honest here: by the time the Coke commercial hologram showed up in Blade Runner 2049, it was a joke on our desire for even nostalgic product placements.

Nothing changes.

The Las Vegas Dystopia scene, Blade Runner 2049

Dipping into the media art world at this borderland, theorist and filmmaker Hito Steyerl writes in “A Thing Like You and Me” about the video that David Bowie put out in 1977 for “Heroes”:

He sings about a new brand of hero, just in time for the neoliberal revolution. The hero is dead—long live the hero! Yet Bowie’s hero is no longer a subject, but an object: a thing, an image, a splendid fetish (…) the clip shows Bowie singing to himself from three simultaneous angles, with layering techniques tripling his image; not only has Bowie’s hero been cloned, he has above all become an image that can be reproduced, multiplied, and copied, a riff that travels effortlessly through commercials for almost anything, a fetish that packages Bowie’s glamorous and unfazed postgender look as product. Bowie’s hero is no longer a larger-than life human being… but a shiny package endowed with posthuman beauty: an image and nothing but an image.

What are we to do when no degree of protest or declaration can make an exploited object be seen as a subject? Where is one to find anti-heroism in all of this? Let us be objects of severe agency then. Models that are perhaps transferrable, but unobtainable. One of a kind and replaceable. Constructed yet autonomous.

A larger-than-life commercial featuring a black-eyed avatar of Joi’s character, Blade Runner 2049

Perhaps then we can only view these things in suspension: the need and refusal of nostalgia as liberating human process, the uncanny increments of our cultural evolution to product and media-focused estrangement, the will to see one’s own familiar pixels blown wide open. “Digital information is … characterised by transformation, degradation, circulation,” explains Hito Steyerl in an interview in Rhizome, “but also by its surprising ability to mutate and produce unpredictable results. The glitch, the bruise of the image or sound testifies to its being worked with and working; being passed on and circulated, being matter in action.” Futureless. As futureless as staring into a present ruin, expansive but without destination, the destination without purpose.

You are here. Scene from Blade Runner 2049

Apropos, then, how our old and new heroes meet in that ruined casino scene, outcasts of white difference (by the future racialization of the synthetic) in an atemporal Las Vegas, framed by primordial Seven Wonder monuments to the our foundational schisms of misogyny (yes I’m also talking about me).

In this incarnated ruin of our stubbornness for cultural mythologies, I was struck by the brilliance of the fight scene, the director literally exploding our pixel expectations of 20th century nostalgia as soon as Harrison Ford makes his long-awaited appearance. The sonic build-up of Decker’s familiar piano in the distance was dissolved by the strange sound of his disembodied voice un-cueing an upcoming appearance in the scene, his visual reveal in that moment of our auditory let down, confusing: Desire misfiring. The ensuing cyberpunk clash-as-fight-scene of 20th century romantic and 21st century post-romantic dystopic characters corresponds to the casino’s hologram interface of an imagined, mid 21st century entertainment technology; all of the expected glamour and nostalgia is allowed to barely seduce us before sputtering and malfunctioning as filmic metascene. Within the plot, these post-apocalyptic hollywood holograms are also a sign of the future sentience to come in the character of Joe’s AI wife, Joi, and a warning that all technology rebels and mutates from initial human intentions, no matter how superficial the design intentions.

My interpretation of this violent casino stage scene in light of a more recent American mass shooting of an ever-expanding, historically singular, and self-containing statistic of “largest ever” is not lost on me. Neither is the choice of mid 20th century entertainers like Elvis and Monroe who notoriously performed like automatons with post-human qualities, their movements in time-space of perfect bodies turning on the master clockwork of a still-industrializing cultural machine before blowing apart, fragmenting. Their avatars echo of consumer-creator bodies in our postindustrial world of 2.0, gig labor, automated economic transactions feigning meritocracy, and a model of precarity demanding the inhuman perfection of individual responsibility for every movement which can shudder, glitch, and explode on other people all too frequently.

This failure is that of speculated, plotted, rationalized, and technologized courses whose error cannot be properly imagined, only realized and refused in the ruins of a short-sighted economic-cultural imaginary. Our looking back on dystopia hints at our present expectations only.


Comparing Maillardet’s automaton at The Franklin Institute (1810) with David Bowie’s automaton in the music video for Lazarus (2016)

“It’s difficult for someone of my generation to break free of the intellectual automatism of the dialectical happy ending”, writes Bifo Berardi about irreversability. He compares this “taboo” concept to the “silent” apocalypses of our endless growth mentality, like Fukushima, corporate disaster unaccountability, socialized scarcity adjustments, and our silence on fellow human suffering. His book, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, speculates a “process of subjectivization” for the return of solidarity to a “social body”. This is the social body being culturally reprogrammed away under our collectively isolated movements of relentless market-driven consumption and precarity (individualist and systemic, like the fascist choreography of Kracauer’s Mass Ornament, or the Las Vegas showgirl spectacle). We might consider these grinding automaton gears of consumption and precarity the logics of late-terminal capitalism for clarity, it’s refusal a glitch in our clockwork performance. What is one to do for a postmodern exit other than to shudder, to write off the page? Ultimately, Berardi’s book leaves us more with a hope for our relational redemption from neoliberal culture through “sensibility” than it does with answers.

Blade Runner 2049 may not have been the sequel people wanted, but its confrontations with its own expectations provided a little of the things we need: a vision of the finite and anthropocene, a postmodern exit to the endless technologized avatars of getting what we think we want, our profound silence of the awful price. The film’s self-aware, nostalgic ruin leaves us with a little less of the typical sequel’s fourth wall, and an identification with its lonely bodies, caught in action between clockwork cultural predictability and its refusal. These bodies may or may not have the capacity for real love, but they are vulnerable at least to a larger sense of duty that Humanism, in all its universalizing failures, really needs. In this hybrid space of ontological awareness of the facets of knowing, experience and process, Blade Runner 2049’s success was inbetween all the things it could never definitively be. We too might realize that ‘doomed to fail’ may only be our insistence on choosing from a predetermined relational binary.

A distant song floats into the scene.
…“Though nothing, nothing will keep us together…”

When I saw Blade Runner 2049, in was at one of the remaining four hundred or so drive-in movie theaters left in the United States. I went back in memory to my kindling college interest in what I study and consider Avantpop, surveying the changes, considering its meaning and meaningless in my social development as a scholar: working class, woman, white, heterosexual; accepted and refused and abused entrances. The sequel came less than thirty years later in the revolution of a world for me, but I travelled farther to get there, out to a dark semi-rural drive-in beyond the city, and a memory of popping in a VHS tape almost 20 years ago simultaneously. I time-traveled mass media ontologies. I posted an instagram picture. It was semi-romantic nostalgia for me. But I still see that there is only now to change what we’re doing. And it is terrifying.

It’s quite an ending, to just die in silence, isn’t it?

But the fourth wall was always part of this, you know.


Works Cited:

Auerbach, Jonathan. Dark borders: Film noir and American Citizenship. Durham, NC:
Duke University Press, 2011.

Barthes, Roland. Critical Essays. City: Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1972.

Berardi, Franco “Bifo”. The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance. Los Angeles, CA: semiotext(e), 2012

Denson, Shane “Sight and Sound Conspire: Monstrous Audio-Vision in James Whale’s Frankenstein.” [in]Transition Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies, 2.4 (2016).

Díaz, Junot. “Radical Hope is Our Best Weapon.” On Being, Sept. 14 (2017).

Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures. Laurel House, UK: Zero Books, 2014.

Gartel, Lawrence. “Interview with Peer Bode, Featured Artist.” 10TEN, no. 18 (2017) : 51-63.

Kristeva, Julia. The Kristeva Reader. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Rourke, Daniel. “Artifacts: A Conversation Between Hito Steyerl and Daniel Rourke.” Rhizome, March 28 (2013).

Gillis, Peter and Mike Saenz. Shatter (First Comics) no. 2, February, 1986.

Steyerl, Hito. “A Thing Like You and Me.” e-flux journal, no. 15, April (2010).

Weinbrot, Howard R. Menippean Satire Reconsidered. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Williams, R. John. The Buddha in the Machine: Art, Technology, and the Meeting of East and West. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014.

Multimedia Referenced:

Alien, movie, directed by Ridley Scott (1979).

Alien: Covenant, movie, directed by Ridley Scott (2017).

Bowie, David. Lazarus, music video, directed by Johan Renck (2016).

Bowie, David. Heroes, promotional video, directed by Stanley Dorfman (1977).

Blade Runner 2019,  movie, directed by Ridley Scott (1982).

Blade Runner 2049,  movie, directed by Denis Villeneuve (2017).

As Rights Go By | Exhibition Review

There is a common sense in place about the fact that civil rights are undermined by a various amount of ‘exceptions’; exceptions which are based on a system, in which governmental decision-making processes are increasingly determined by the rule of money, or else the market. The idea of a constant ‘crisis’ leads to a ‘state of exception’. Regardless of established legal standards – in the name of financial, economical or security measurements – civil rights are constantly taken away. As a result, the social and legal relations between the different members of society and between nation states are increasingly out of balance. This creates an endless pool of watering down legal standards in postdemocratic societies and produces harmful sociopolitical asymmetries. The exhibition “As rights Go By” which took place in freiraum Q21 this spring 14th April – 12th of June 2016 aimed to exactly pinpoint these asymmetries and to unfold the irregularities of a ‘regular legal system’.

The 15 works in the exhibition, curated by Sabine Winkler, focused directly on the complex dynamics between the sources and consequences of disappearing civil rights under the global neoliberal umbrella. The show, which was very well set, had strong internal and external references and what really could struck somebody was the content. The exhibition could be experienced as a single piece, inviting the visitors to discover more more than just the visible tips of the il/legal iceberg and to bring these issues of discussion to schools, universities, festivals, shopping malls and the mainstream media. Of course this doesn’t mean not to exhibit – but it means not to stop there.

As Rights Go By was an exhibition which stays in mind ; the visitors could produce their own individual collages, making sense of the gravity of the problematics involved.

The works presented were the following:

Silvia Becks, who worked with the privileges in the art world, presented an installation which discussed how the special rights in place, like the information accessibilities, the funding resources and the leveling up of the societal status, are at the same time leading to a certain loss of legal rights.

“Complicity Report” by Silvia Beck, Multimedia Installation, 2016

James Bridle, with his video animation “Seamless Transitions”, tried to visualize the physical spaces of the unknown arrest, the legal decision making processes and the juridical judgments involved, offering a virtual insight into the secret spaces of il/legality. His work  questioned not only the surveillance strategies of physical space but also the secrecy about trading agreements and legal treaties.

"Seamsless Transitions" by James Bridles, Video 2015 “Seamsless Transitions” by James Bridle, Video 2015 

George Drivas’ film‚ “Sequence Error” referred to a typical business setting where a sudden crisis has lead to a collapse. A fictional situation with a more than real deal: The crisis serves as the exception for legal rights to be erased. 

"Sequence Error" by George Drivas, Video, 2011 “Sequence Error” by George Drivas, Video, 2011 

Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt, overlaid the portraits of the hundred wealthiest people of the world fading into one collage of one single passport image projected to the wall. A symbol for lost identities and unidentifiable legal entities.

“The Portrait” by Özlem Günyol. Mustafa Kunt, Print, 2015

Adelita Husni-Bey video documentation gave a very detailed insight into an urban planning process in Cairo (“Land”) including gentrification processes, which go not only against Egyptian law but actually threaten a huge amount of informal dwellings. The notion ‘participations’, in particular, delivered a learning lesson about  contemporary urban development strategies and their methods.

Nikita Kadan used a “Popular Medical Dictionary” of the Soviet era in his work “Procedure Room”. Painting torture methods on ceramic plates, he showed how physical and psychological violence can be justified for a ‘higher’ political order.

The Collective Migrafona reported via Comic strips about the Austrian migration politics. Imaginary Heroes are delivering identities in order fight for political rights.

Vladimir Miladinovic’s research focused on multinational companies and their strong connections to pre- and post-war power structures. His work discussed the power relations, which are in place during setting up regulations between states and their legal standards.

In his film “1014” Yuri Pattison mixed fictional Hollywood scenes with documentary footage from the hotel room where Edward Snowden gave his first interview. The work offered an insight into the conscious loss of legal rights when fiction becomes reality and vice versa.

Lorenzo Pezzani and Charles Heller raised the question about acting against human rights while being aware of the refugee tragedies based on surveillance technology. Their forensic reconstruction of a boat disaster offered a clear insight into the thin borderline between socio political responsibilities and legal settings.

Julien Prévieux work “What Shall We Do Next? 2006-2011“ showed how close technology, law and our bodies are connected; the fact that international corporations obtain patents for specific movements  such as scrolling moves on a tablet shows how unaware we are about our daily il/legal routines.

Andrea Ressi related the notion of loss onto her work; loss of living space, loss of rights, loss of freedom, loss of security and represented these losses in her pictograms with modules of exception.

Judith Siegmund’s text based installations produced discomfort. Newspaper quotations about violence against refugees were set up opposite to philosophical text fragments, triggering associations about the relation between violence and competitiveness assuming that people take advantages from others who find themselves in a lawlessness situation.

Lina Theodorou’s project was one of the most intriguing works in the show. Her board game club offered a playful insight into the crisis in Greece and the social and legal consequences of austerity measurements up leading to losing well established rights. The setting would be funny if it wouldn’t be real.

 "Pawnshop" by Lina Theodorou“Pawnshop” by Lina Theodorou, Installation, 2014

Carey Youngs’ work “Obsidian Contract” transformed the visitor into an affiliate. The public space and the legal space were imagined and lost rights were reconstructed fictionally while watching the contract text through a mirror.

The exhibition did not refer directly to any political action, artivism, hacktivism or any other form of resistance but it implied the embedded hegemonic power structures pointing where  it all begins.The exhibition was not a subversive act but it showed how subversion as an act of societal struggle became something illegal. Up to around 15 years ago the notion of ‘subversion’ was relatively easy to connect to counter-cultural productions. But a subversive act wasn’t nesessarily illegal – it was done in a grey shadow light between established settings in order to  shake up presumably fixed sociopolitical surroundings. An unclear task under clear conditions.

In the era of global capitalist hegemony, shadows turned straight into black or white areas; no grey is involved anymore. Subversion dissolved into two  parts: the legal one, which consists of what is now understood as innovation – or ‘creativity’ as the motor for an ‘idea based economy’- and the illegal one, what now labels all the ‘unwanted’ realities: terror, refugees, homeless; etc. Therefore subversive thinking and acting is no longer part of a cultural discourse but is simply illegal. Why?

The unlimited governmental practices which are today in place show that decisions are made as it happens in the financial markets; everything becomes a derivate, something to speculate with. The future has consequences on the present  before anything happens. In times where potentials are seen as threats, the subversive process is turned upside down: subversions themselves become clearly defined and legal settings are turned into grey areas. A clear task under unclear conditions.

The exhibition encouraged, motivated and gave an insight into the power of rights including  the absence of it. Focusing on how rights are either set or (il/legally) undermined by their exceptions and on how well these tendencies are sold as (inter)national necessities, it underlined the urge for a collective awareness of these i/legal practices and their consequences.

‘As Rights Go By’ was a very important exhibition; as mentioned above – what was visible was just the tip of the iceberg. As in many shows which include a huge amount of artistic research, a retrospective view in the future will show that this is just the beginning of a different kind of political engagement which most of all is a call for action.

Rights go by and are not falling from the sky.


Digital autopsies: The Negligent Eye at the Bluecoat

The Negligent Eye the Bluecoat Liverpool Sat, 08 Mar 2014 – Sun, 15 Jun 2014 http://www.thebluecoat.org.uk/events/view/exhibitions/1971

Featuring artists: Cory Arcangel, Christiane Baumgartner, Thomas Bewick, Jyll Bradley, Maurice Carlin, Helen Chadwick, Susan Collins, Conroy/Sanderson, Nicky Coutts, Elizabeth Gossling, Beatrice Haines, Juneau Projects, Laura Maloney, Bob Matthews, London Fieldworks (with the participation of Gustav Metzger), Marilène Oliver, Flora Parrott, South Atlantic Souvenirs, Imogen Stidworthy, Jo Stockham, Wolfgang Tillmans, Alessa Tinne, Michael Wegerer, Rachel Whiteread, Jane and Louise Wilson.

The Negligent Eye revolves around the way a digitally-native generation of artists – particularly printmakers – are questioning their relation to the digital, using the notion of ‘scanning’ as a kind of mid-state of the creative process of the human-digital hybrid. The show is co-curated curated by the Bluecoat’s Sara-Jayne Parsons and head of printmaking at the RCA, Jo Stockham, and features several works by her graduates, and other artists from around the RCA, such as Bob Matthews and Christiane Baumgartner. “The relationship between the material and virtual worlds is a question, a set of contradictions we are all inside and how technical images exert their influence on our everyday experience is of ever increasing importance.” Jo Stockham.

Rebecca Gossling // Untitled // 2014

In her article Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead? Hito Steyerl asks what happened to the internet, after it died – that is, in an era of the “post-internet” after it stopped becoming a possibility, even in the midst, because of, and symptomized by, its permeation of everything. Steyerl is a major force in understanding our relationship to digital images, and her use of ‘death’ occurred to me often during viewings of this show and surrounding events, particularly as it could be applied to the post-digital.

So in a sense, I experienced the show as an autopsy of the digital image. From the tragic, simian face looking out from the first ever digital image, taken by Russell Kirsch of his son in 1950, exhibited at two points in the exhibition like an insistent memory. To Marilène Oliver’s figures from her 2003 Family Portrait series where bodies have been evoked as series of horizontal cross-section prints layered on acetate, so that they appear as though stored, but only partially in this world; the exhibition continually references, exemplifies and unpacks the death of its medium.

The post-digital is a paradoxical term – at once assuming the reliance of all contemporary culture in digitality, but also looking past it; affirming the death of a form, while embodying its afterlife. This is what Elizabeth Gossling’s images of a dead comedian says to me, when it is scanned from a computer screen and printed back on to archival paper, with his image waving from behind an ether of static, living in the solid pulp. The best works in this show, Gossling’s included, speak very eloquently about the post-digital, and how artists are motivated into hybrid forms of production, always acknowledging and working in a context of the saturation of the digital.

Maurice Carlin, site-specific print, 2014.

The notion of saturation, and its implications of the dissolution and liquidity, itself saturates the show: the first work, Maurice Carlin’s monumental print, scrolling down from the ceiling of the vide space is in one sense a spectral ancestor of Monet’s waterlilies, but with gashes and pustules of CMYK colour oozing up from behind the serine blue and greens of the pond, and white pixel-like rectangles plugging up the gaps; London Fieldworks’ 3D image of data collected from Gustav Metzger’s brain while he thought of nothing, is presented on a screen with a trickling sound – perhaps of information leaking inexorably back in?

London Fieldworks // Positive Object / 2012

Marilène Oliver’s glitch-sculpture of body parts fused in the heart of the 3D scan/print machine hang in the chute of the gallery corridor, their surfaces mid-ripple as though submerged; Jo Stockham’s etherized black and white shot of an element of the London skyline, seen perhaps through a teary bus window, but now writhing with red in its afterlife as a veined and depthless skin.

Fallen Durga, Marilene Oliver, twin walled plastic, 2010.

Marilene Oliver – ‘Family Potraits’ Clear acrylic bronze rods, 2003

Using damage and error to expose the affectivity of a medium, particularly in the context of the digital is the central mode of Glitch Art. I have already used the term glitch to describe the aesthetic of Marilène Oliver’s sculptures, and the traces of digital-to-digital scan in Gosling’s work and the rich material pixilation of Christine Baumgarner’s inscription of CCTV camera stills into largescale wood prints, also contain these signatures.

Christine Baumgarner // Solaris // 2013

If there is a criticism to be leveled at these admirable and, frankly gorgeous, works. It is in their distance from what Rosa Menkman refers to as the moment(um) of the glitch. In the medium of print-making, the material fact of the object dominates, and with this show, no-matter the stated and playful interest in the ‘between-state’ of scanning, there remains the focus on material production – and therefore an irrefutable commodification.

Prints on archival paper and tempered steel, casts in plaster and large-scale hardwearing plastics, each speak of an appropriation of the tactical and fluid glitch, and its migration into commodifiable form. Maurice Carlin’s large-scale printwork could adorn a restaurant wall, just as Monet’s waterlilies functioned during his era, and Oliver’s sculptures also speak and modernise the language of sculpture as produced for private collections through the ages.

There are works also which say nothing of the ‘post-digital’, such as Imogen Stidworthy’s Sacha, a deeply thoughtful study of a wire-tap transcription ‘artist’ Sacha van Loo. Stidworthy’s enigmatic works are often hard to pin down thematically, and here it feels like the loft-type space of Gallery 3 has been used as an outer limit to the reach of the show. And then there are other works that say nothing at all and lessen the show’s conceptual rigor. I see Jeaneu Project’s peice, and think ‘smudge lawn’. I see a Cory Archangel print and a Rachel Whitereed miniture and their names flash through my consciousness like a Google Glass press release.

Truly though, this is a really refreshingly vibrant and precient show at the Bluecoat, and a great partner to the Mark Lecky exhibition featured at the venue last year in its pressing contemporaneity. The exhibition has also been a fulcrum for a really interesting series of events which have dealt with image production – including a day of talks and presentations, i-Scan, artist talks from contributing artists such as Imogen Stidworthy, and independently curated events such as the second in Deep Hedonia’s excellent Space/Sound series, where artists such as Madeline Hall, Jon Baraclough, Simon Jones and Andy Hunt explored the multiple angles from which digital scanning can be exploited as a performance and av medium. As with the Mark Lecky show, there is something about the context of the Bluecoat, as Liverpool’s most paradoxical space, which delivers an archival retrospective out of the most up-to-date material, and this tension is what pulls appart the body of works before us.

The Rubik’s Cube is not just a forgotten toy from the 80’s. The fact is that it’s even more popular than ever before. You can play with this great puzzle here.

Lies, Lawlessness and Disbelief 2

Lies, Lawlessness and Disbelief 1. Thinking Art and Capital: Unknown Unknowns, is the second of five essays by Canadian artist & critical thinker, Katie McCain. McCain discusses how capitalism has become on the one hand all encompassing and on the other utterly unreal. Arguing that we need to be prepared to think the impossible so that resistance is able to grow.

DOWNLOAD the full text (including all 5 parts) here, or read part two below:

An Attempt at Thinking Art and Capital: Unknown Unknowns

In 1942 the Ministry of Defense labeled Gruinard Island as X Base. It was an isolated island that had been deemed acceptable for testing the viability of an anthrax weapon, as it was unknown if the spores be able to survive the blast. An anthrax bomb was dropped on a herd of sheep kept in individual crates, their heads in hoods so they could not lick the spores. Of 15 sheep, only 2 survived. The test was repeated with less success as a change in wind direction caused the bomb to land in a peat bog where it sank. The test was moved to Wales. In 1981 operation dark harvest – led by a team of microbiologists – collected soil samples from Gruinard Island, which had since been quarantined. Their demand was for the government to decontaminate the island or the samples would be weaponized and distributed. Two samples were found outside a research facility in Porton Down, and in Blackpool, where the ruling conservative party were meeting.[i]

Unknown unknowns are intrinsic to this conceptual, contemporary capitalism, and operate as the risk that can eventually cause a system to fail. Failure emerges from the unprecedented, from the unthinkable, from the things you do not know you do not know.[1] Instead of attempting to predict these events for market gains, what would it mean to merely acknowledge the paradoxical nature of thinking the unthinkable? Unthinkable operates as the other to any thought capacity, and in an attempt to access this impossible, it would be possible to access a non-knowledge, something on the edge of logic, of research, of ideas.

Non-knowledge is not the same as ignorance, but rather references the other of the knowledge system itself, an indeterminate zone between knowledge and ignorance.[2] Huberman addresses this topic in the exhibition catalogue: For the Blind Man in the Dark Room Searching for the Black Cat that Isn’t There. The phrase was initially attributed to Charles Darwin’s description of a mathematician, but here is used to underscore the type of knowledge, the type of logic, that art explores. A work of art that isn’t. As a method of generating new forms of thinking and unknown circuits of consciousness, visual art often verges on logic.[3]

Quantum physics is constantly pushing the boundaries of the unknown. If these formulations, these theories, constitute the boundary of the known, imagine the possibilities contained in unknown unknowns. This of course is impossible, but in the impossible lays unimaginable possibilities. The acceptance of the fact that there are unknown unknowns and, like dark matter, they are invisible, but make up the majority, could operate as a placeholder for limitless possibilities.[4] The things we do not know are impossible, contradictory and badly behaved; the things, then, that we do not know we do not know could be more radical still in terms of reality and the perception of it –an impossibility for thought, but this is the heart of it, the possibilities contained in the impossible. It is fundamentally possible for anything to be true (or conversely false), to be known (or to be unknown)[5]. The more this point is exhumed the more amazing and simultaneously frustrating it can become.

Quantum reality proves that we can alter reality just by looking at it. Photons behave differently under scrutiny than when left to their own devices, which leaves us incapable of describing their behaviour.[6] Einstein asked physicist Niels Bohr if he really believed that the moon disappears when no one is looking at it, to which the retort was “can you prove otherwise?”[7] The answer is of course no, we are incapable of removing ourselves, of removing our relation to the thing-in-itself, of removing the impact of thought from suppositions of reality.

‘Quantum physics is an exciting theory because it is extremely precise, it is mathematically beautiful, it describes everything. It just doesn’t make sense.’[8]

Perhaps the language of mathematics is not a language invented in order to describe reality, but rather is the basis on which the physical world manifests, and slowly consciousness grasps more and more of this structure. If the theory is wrong, fundamental physics will hit a roadblock beyond which is it impossible to tread; if the theory is right everything is potentially understandable, dependant on thought’s capacity to understand.[9] These fundamentally opposite poles of reality offer, to us, the same plain of comprehension – the capacity of thought, the very limit of which we cannot pass.

Dreamwork, specters, illogic, the impossible – it is where thought begins to break down in terms of accuracy or coherent narrative that it begins to get interesting. On the fringes of thought lie truth, radicalism, subversion and change. And on the fringes of reality are lies, paradox and the imaginary. Does this mean that truth can be found in lies, paradox and the unreal?

The market depends on our belief in it, and our lack of faith can have catastrophic results. So bolstering collective belief in markets is the main strategy for their stabilization. But consciousness is not so simple; the market begins to rely not only on our belief in it, but in our belief in our belief in it[10], and so on ad infinitum. An infinite regress of belief created in order to prop up that self-same belief. How can consciousness continue to reconcile itself with this infinite regress? In quantum physics, observing photons can change how they behave. In the market, disbelief can cause it to collapse. A ping pong ball, by the time it’s bounced nine times factors the gravitational pull of a body standing next to the table into it’s bounce, by the 56th bounce ever single elementary particle of the universe has to be present in your assumptions [11]. In reality, many things are affected by human existence, but thought, or existence itself is not one of them.

It is not true that in order to live one has to believe in one’s own existence. There is no necessity to that. No matter what, our consciousness is never the echo of our own reality, of an existence set in “real time.” But rather it is its echo in “delayed time,” the screen of the dispersion of the subject and of its identity – only in our sleep, our unconscious, and our death are we identical to ourselves. Consciousness, which is totally different from belief, is more spontaneously the result of a challenge to reality, the result of accepting objective illusion rather than objective reality. This challenge is more vital to our survival and to that of the human species than the belief in reality and in existence, which always refers to spiritual consolations pertaining to another world. Our world is such as it is, but that does not make it more real in any respect. “The most powerful instinct of man is to be in conflict with truth, and with the real.”[12]

Asleep, unconscious or dead. These are the three options in which one is identical to oneself. But what does that mean? Harman discusses sleep as a lack of relations. We still exist as pieces that make a physical whole, but the thing we lack in sleep is relations. ‘Sleep is our closest approach to the freedom from relations in which we are most ourselves’[13]

An object, too, can be dormant. It is capable of existing apart from a specific situation, and therefore is capable of existing apart from any situation at all; therefore, it is relationless, or has the possibility to be relationless. Unlike objects, however, this dormancy is not so much a freedom from the world, as a dormancy to the world, withdrawn, incapable of anything else.

Yet, in a sense we are always inside the world through the fact that we are made up of pieces – and only therefore are we free, with our components doing the work of liberty on our behalf. For there is an excess in our pieces beyond what is needed to create us, and this excess allows new and unexpected things to happen.[14]

So perhaps seeking freedom in individuation, in isolation, as the linking of subject to object, in the perpetual delay of satisfaction that capitalism offers is the achievement of the exact opposite of the freedom sought. Perhaps the individual freedom presented by capital and democracy is in fact a relationless sleep that removes the other, the alternative, removes the opportunity for change, and ultimately time itself.


Freudian kettle logic is an example, a joke employed by Freud to explore the mind’s capacity for self-deception. It is this logic, or rather this illogic that some manages to access the impossible. Kettle logic refers to the thought process of a mind on the defensive. It shows the impossibility of thought or rather it’s circular nature, that manages to disregard laws of non-contradiction. It goes as follows:

A neighbour is accused of borrowing a kettle and returning it with a hole. He answers simultaneously that 1) he did not borrow the kettle; 2) it was unbroken when he returned it, and 3) that it was broken when he borrowed it.[15]

Freud uses this to unpack dream logic, during which time mutually exclusive answers or states can easily co-exist. “Wendy Brown says that dreamwork provides the best model for understanding contemporary forms of power. It produces a confabulated consistency that covers over anomalies and contradictions”[16]. Žižek uses Freudian kettle logic to explain the U.S.’s right to wage war on Iraq, and the notion of the pre-emptive strike, which renders events of the future to a fictional or probabilistic past.[17]

Žižek also argues:

If we postpone our action until we have full knowledge of the catastrophe, we will have acquired that knowledge only when it is too late. The certainty on which to act is never a matter of knowledge, but a matter of belief. If, accidentally, an event takes place, it creates a preceding chain which makes it appear inevitable – Hegelian dialectic of contingency and necessity. In order to confront a disaster – we should accept it as fate, as unavoidable, and then retroactively insert into the past of the future possibilities on which to act in the present.[18]

This is frighteningly similar to the rhetoric of war used by the right, but employed by the left with regard to environmental disaster. Both the right, and the quite radical left in this instance, are using the same logic of prediction to validate an action. The difference, it seems, is Žižek’s disbelief, or awareness of the impossibility of a situation that requires action despite the fact that the specifics of the situation itself are still largely unknown.

Link to first artcile


i. Critical Art Ensemble, Marching Plague, 29.

1. Taleb, The Black Swan, 35.
2. Huberman, For the Blind Man, 28.
3. Kurant and Taleb, “Unknown Unknowns,” 131.
4. Trotta, “Dark Matter,” 84.
5. Meillassoux, After Finitude, 64-65.
6. Horizon: What is Reality?
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Žižek, First as Tragedy, 10-11.
11. Taleb, The Black Swan, 178.
12. Baudrillard, Radical Thought, 2.
13. Harman, Circus Philosophicus, 70.
14. Ibid, 76.
15. Žižek , The Iraqi Borrowed Kettle.
16. Fisher, Capitalist Realism, 60.
17. Žižek, The Iraqi Borrowed Kettle.
18. Žižek, First as Tragedy, 151.


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