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<nettime> Hope is not about what we expect
colin hodson on Mon, 14 May 2012 16:22:25 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Hope is not about what we expect


Hello Nettimers.

Below is an essay response to an installation/intervention artwork I made
last year as part of a series of commisions by Letting Space - an
organisation producing site-specific works in commercial spaces left vacant
since the 2008 market contractions.

My project broke into the inner architecture of a 9 floor office block and
took over the building's lighting system to run it via a data feed
replaying that day's stock market activity.

To some degree, this project was shaped by consumption of Nettime discourse.

cheers,
Colin

LINK: http://www.lettingspace.org.nz/essay-market-testament


HOPE IS NOT ABOUT WHAT WE EXPECT

Martin Patrick looks retrospectively at Colin Hodson?s April 2011 Letting
Space project The Market Testament

"If art and politics meet at all, it?s in the obligation to work concretely
in the present toward an ideal that may never be fully attainable" - Barry
Schwabsky, The Nation, 12 Jan 2012

Cinematic Disasters

I spent my otherwise uneventful small town pre-adolescence squarely in the
shadow of disasters. That is to say, disaster films: Airport 75, Towering
Inferno, Jaws (parts one, two, and three) and Poseidon Adventure. Our
collective, nightmarish fears were projected back to us incessantly, as the
prosperity of the post-war era diminished.

Citizens sought comfort in the soothing delirium of the still-wide-screen
American movie palaces. These were becoming bifurcated into ?twin cinemas?,
or screened dollar movies or pornography on their way to bankruptcy, just
before the advent of sprawling new multiplexes.

Cinematic disasters come in cycles, as we alternately covet or reject our
(post) apocalyptic visions. We currently see a return of this phenomenon -
The Road, Contagion, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Perhaps more to
the point here is the remarkable and straightforward documentary Inside
Job, which painstakingly delineates the financial turmoil enveloping global
markets and local households since 2008 (and earlier).

One could argue that ?real? devastation - whether economic, psychic, or
physical - bears no easy resemblance to fantastical obliteration in CGI
mode. Our fears now are palpable, very real, but conveyed in more
abstracted, oblique economic channels and forms. (And of course this is not
to underestimate the long and difficult period of coping with the manifold
effects of the recent earthquakes in Christchurch.)

I fully realise I?m beginning to ramble and muse overly. My intention isn?t
to detract from the manifest, novel singularity of Colin Hodson?s
remarkable artwork The Market Testament. Nor, by contrast the fascinating
ways in which Hodson?s authorial voice was radically diffused by the
techno-omniscience of the installation itself. Was the building?s
infrastructure itself perhaps personified in place of the author/artist? We
might also remember the absolutely scarifying HAL the talking computer from
Arthur C. Clarke?s 2001 A Space Odyssey more vividly than either Clarke or
Kubrick as its sci-fi creators.

Regarding Cycles

Reports of the Occupy movement - spread virally, globally over the past
months - eerily recall much earlier reports of social protest as
spectacularly conjured events. Take author Norman Mailer?s brilliant yet
idiosyncratic account of the 1968 March on the Pentagon in Washington
(later published as The Armies of the Night):

?Now the Participant recognised that this was the beginning of the exorcism
of the Pentagon, yes the papers had made much of the permit requested by a
hippie leader named Abbie Hoffman to encircle the Pentagon with twelve
hundred men in order to form a ring of exorcism sufficiently powerful to
raise the Pentagon three hundred feet. In the air the Pentagon would then,
went the presumption, turn orange and vibrate until all evil emissions had
fled this levitation. At that point the war in Vietnam would end.?[1]

When reading journalistic reports of today?s out of work artists, artisans,
and designers throwing their lot in to create responses to the current
climate of extreme economic precariousness, I think of this proposed
Yippie[2] stunt, comprising an unequal mix of goofish mockery, creative
imagination, and deadly earnest utopianism.

Journalists of every persuasion are digging out their arsenal of tools to
try and sum up and categorise an unfinished historical period. Such as Time
magazine?s placement of ?The Protestor? as their nominated ?person of the
year? for 2011. In writer Kurt Anderson?s words:

?2011 was unlike any year since 1989 ? but more extraordinary, more global,
more democratic, since in '89 the regime disintegrations were all the
result of a single disintegration at headquarters, one big switch pulled in
Moscow that cut off the power throughout the system. So 2011 was unlike any
year since 1968 ? but more consequential because more protesters have more
skin in the game. Their protests weren't part of a countercultural pageant,
as in '68, and rapidly morphed into full-fledged rebellions, bringing down
regimes and immediately changing the course of history.?[3]

Anderson?s slightly purple prose leans more toward the so-called Arab
Spring than any perceived success or failure of the Occupy (Wall Street)
Movement, which some have said has succeeded mostly ? and ironically ? by
becoming a ?brand name? itself. Anderson?s mainstream user-friendly
rhetoric contrasts markedly with the fervent manifesto-style approach of
writers Franco Berardi and Geert Lovink in their ?A call to the Army of
Love and to the Army of Software?, a posted bulletin dated October 2011:

?There is only a way to awake the lover that is hidden in our paralysed,
frightened and frail virtualised bodies. There is only a way to awake the
human being that is hidden in the miserable daily life of the softwarist:
take to the streets and fight. Burning banks is useless, as real power is
not in the physical buildings, but in the abstract connection between
numbers, algorithms and information. But occupying banks is good as a
starting point for the long-lasting process of dismantling and rewriting
the techno-linguistic automatons enslaving all of us. This is the only
politics that counts.?[4]

Haunted Shells

Traces from all of the above have raced through my mind retrospectively
after observing and reflecting upon The Market Testament.

A bunch of bland, boxy structures, arbitrarily generic, punctuated by
little decorative flourishes: the colour of modernist glass and steel, the
signage announcing their functions, or corporate sponsors. I don?t know
much about these edifices of the Wellington Central Business District. I
tend to avoid them assiduously. I can count on the fingers of one hand the
memorable times I?ve spent in their midst: health exam, bank visit,
solicitor consultation. Perhaps the strangest though was when graciously
invited to facilitate a discussion on?or I should say inside ?Colin
Hodson?s work.

At 139 The Terrace I was ushered into the building after hours, up a lift
and into a partially-emptied floor of office cubicles. The remaining
contents included some dismal grey desks, formica tables, metallic filing
cabinets, along with a few bits of stray, printed ephemera: Post-it notes
featuring once urgent, but now discarded information. It was a haunted
shell of a workplace.

The artist, curator, curatorial assistant and myself as advance party
exchanged jokes, but for me spooky uneasiness prevailed. Then, after the
typical swollen handful of attendees as at any Wellington art event had
arrived, we chatted about the surrounding context, the work, and the
artist?s intentions. But most of what I remember were the slowly changing
lights, staggering and stuttering in that typical way of antiseptic,
fluorescent ceiling fixtures, being taken for a virtual test drive,
flickering according to Hodson?s computerised collision course while we
talked.

One collision so to speak had already been had with the local media and
respondents to the Dominion Post website, offering uninformed and surly
rants that the work didn?t ?seem very artistic at all? and against ?wasting
power this way?, accusations that The Market Testament was not art, etc..
In short, a typically unproductive verbal impasse.

Hodson?s project took ongoing data reports from the New Zealand stock
market, and converted them into visual signals over the course of a
fortnight. The activity of lights flickering on and off on the different
floors of the building onsite was relayed via a streaming webcam video onto
an accompanying website, and it was of course visible throughout certain
areas of Wellington city. Thus the project involved an actual material
site, which was simultaneously mediated, dispersed, and disseminated.

The Readymade

Hodson?s piece brings to mind two notions originated by the artist Marcel
Duchamp: the ?readymade? and the ?infrathin? (or, inframince). In terms of
The Market Testament, the site becomes a readymade, an existing object to
which new ideas are then applied and associated.

The readymade in Duchamp?s view devolved or branched off into several
sub-categories, such as the altered readymade (moustache painted onto a
reproduction of the Mona Lisa), or the reciprocal readymade (use a
Rembrandt as an ironing board, treat an ironing table as a masterwork). And
the readymade was chosen by Duchamp, ostensibly, in an ?indifferent? manner
such that the readymade object itself would be unlikely to be seen as
aestheticised.

Nonetheless readymades have been treated as visually elegant
representations (Alfred Stieglitz?s haunting photograph of the urinal
Duchamp entitled Fountain), or as mere rubbish (the bicycle wheel readymade
was once stolen from Museum of Modern art and found partly trashed nearby).
But the readymade seems to maintain such force and latent energy as a
conceptual apparatus by the way it serves to deflect and resist meanings.
It?s a shell that cannot be pried open; a sort of armoured exterior, in
which the interior is left as an empty, conjectural cipher.

Moreover, the notion of infrathin (far more obscure in terms of any
comparable art historical fame or ubiquity) was exemplified by a series of
glancing blows at philosophical meaning, literary phrases rather than
visual figures: ?the difference between a shirt when it has been ironed and
after being worn?; ?the gap between two sides of a piece of paper?.

Duchamp?s compelling maneuver was to describe that which is almost
imperceptible, but actually wields a deceptively large significance. This
is echoed in the ways by which The Market Testament addresses the seeming
arbitrariness of the ascending and descending stock tallies, a steady hum
underneath our daily activities. Here this is represented by flashing
patterns of lights drawing from algorithmic signals pulsing through the
hidden recesses of an existing office block - itself a time capsule,
symbolic of the 1980s ?Greed is good? mantra.

A Conjuring

Ultimately what?s both fascinating and frustrating about The Market
Testament is its very elusive quality, as if turning itself inside out from
time to time, transforming the flows of unseen numerical data into the
visible flickering of lights, but also by asking in a sense, where, when,
how is the piece? Even if its logistics were completely revealed to me,
could I or would I comprehend them? This very opacity rejects a totalising
understanding or awareness. This aspect is also quite different from a mode
of activism. It instead operates as a conjuring, a sleight of hand
presented only partially to the viewer, whose full comprehension is
unlikely to aid the work, rather even to spoil its peculiar merits.

Its resistance to totality recalls both Postmodern fragmentation but also
something very of the moment ? historical commentary on the spot ? the
splitting apart of forms, meanings, hopes that have failed to cohere. Who
could have prognosticated the turbulence of the last few years of this new
century?

This is not to undercut the political awareness of the artist and the
cogent research done which serves as background to its quirky fa?ade. It is
significant to note that Hodson is a film director and actor as well as a
visual artist, well versed in setting a scene, dealing with performance,
and thinking through the durational aspect of a work.

A number of years ago Hodson resided in New York and during that period
worked closely with the renowned experimental theatre company, The Wooster
Group, then comprised of members Elizabeth LeCompte, Willem Dafoe, Kate
Valk, Ron Vawter among others. The group?s specialty was restaging,
rewriting and utterly reconfiguring classics of the American theatre such
as works by Eugene O?Neill, incorporating video, choreography, music, and
various Post-modern style ruptures and interventions into the mix.

As in the case of many engaging temporal projects created recently,
Hodson?s work presents the intention of taking a snapshot that not only
becomes a glimpse of one particular moment, but allows for the flow of
events occurring prior to and after the event to prevent that glimpse from
freezing totally.

In fact I?m learning more in retrospect from The Market Testament -
continuing to consider its reading of mid-2011, created just as the
aforementioned protest movements were on the verge of commencing. In the
maelstrom of events that continue to occur in these unpredictable times,
and which can take a decisive toll on one?s own capacity for optimism and
fortitude, I would return to the following statement by writer Rebecca
Solnit:

?hope is not about what we expect. It is an embrace of the essential
unknowability of the world, of the breaks with the present, the surprises.
Or perhaps studying the record more carefully leads us to expect
miracles?not when and where we expect them, but to expect to be astonished,
to expect that we don?t know. And this is grounds to act. I believe in hope
as an act of defiance, or rather as the foundation for an ongoing series of
acts of defiance, those acts necessary to bring about some of what we hope
for while we live by principle in the meantime. There is no alternative,
except surrender. And surrender not only abandons the future, it abandons
the soul.?[5]

I would assert that such an emphasis on ?breaks with the present, the
surprises,? becomes a very apt credo when considering artworks like The
Market Testament. Colin Hodson?s welcome creative surprise simultaneously
responded to the global and invigorated the local cultural context.

[1] Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel/The Novel as
History (New York: New American Library, 1968) 120

[2] A group of politically active hippies in which Abbie Hoffman was a key
figure.

[3] Kurt Anderson, ?The Protester,? TIME, Wednesday Dec. 14, 2011, Cover
story.

[4] Franco Berardi and Geert Lovink, ?A call to the Army of Love and to the
Army of Software?, InterActivtist Info Exchange (
http://interactivist.autonomedia.org/node/32852), October 12 2011

[5] Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: The Untold History of People Power
(Melbourne: Canongate, 2005) 163
-- 

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