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A (self)portrait of a young artist in the style of institutional critique
The research is ongoing and it is based on research on how the current global sociopolitical and technological changes influences artistic roles. Although I’m using the “cultural field” idea of Pierre Bourdier to analaze cultural fields that are “breeding”, “charging” and “shaping” artists, I’m using the “theory-fiction” methodology (a good example could be Reza Negarestani’s book “Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materialswhich”, 2008) to theorise and speculate on possible artistic roles in the present and near-futures.
My PhD thesis is rather unique, at least, in our institution - it has to be both an artistic research and artwork at the same time. The preliminary title of the research is “A (self)portrait of a young artist in the style of institutional critique” and it is closely connected to my practices as a curator and writer. I’m very much interested how someone (a student, for example) becomes an artist, what is the role of an academy and artistic scene in this process, how an academic world shapes what is the research, what is the language and how it may be used, how a thesis’ defence process is organised, etc. Thus, if to make it more abstract, between the problematic and interesting questions is the next one - how something personal and subjective becomes recognised and objective, especially in an artistic field where innovative, personal, and subjective are encouraged?
Thomas Manneke, a cover photo fof M Magazine (issue about art academies, 2004/06 )
A few writing examples:
I DeepDream of Strangers (in Quarantine)
Ahh, how I missed strangers!
That face-to-face relation in
the dark alley, no masks.
Well, that’s the point of the
quarantine, isn’t it?
To avoid strangers.
My father told me to avoid strangers
after he saw me jumping out of a stranger’s
car. That man was mom’s lover -
father almost beat me up for that ride.
I did not get it then. I found that stranger
to be sincerely charming, not dangerous at all.
I was already five or six, quite a combination of
various cells and naïveté: Soviet
Lithuanian, somewhat Jewish-French,
with slight Germanic umlaut.
Did I know what “the other” meant?
Emmanuel Levinas, who
was born in the same city,
he knew it very well: “If one
could possess, grasp, and know
the other, it would not be other.”
This is exactly what I told my
father: “That man was no
stranger at all! Ask mom!”
Levinas: “What could an entirely rational being
speak of with another entirely rational being?”
Where do all these memories come from?
And all these dreams? I ask Siri.
She says the Google query
“why am i having weird dreams lately”
has quadrupled during the quarantine.
“Dreams are fugitive.”
Siri reads aloud an NYTimes article.
“Their analysis is inherently based
on incomplete information.”
“People are having a ton of bug dreams.”
“Tidal waves are common, as are monsters.”
“Nightmares are widely known to follow in the wake of trauma.”
However, quarantine is not exactly considered to be a traumatic event,
Is Siri a stranger? A familiar stranger?
May I trust her? You may always trust
strangers. They don’t have a motive to
lie to you. Unless they do - then they
are not strangers anymore.
Have you tried to imagine Siri’s
face? I ask Siri if she has one.
Her answer is “Well, if ‘face’
is short for user interface.”
She has that face of a perfect stranger,
of a fugitive, a face you will never know
although you think you might know her
just because she knows almost everything about you.
What is my face then?
Enough of myself, of I.
Ego is a prison.
Face is a prison.
Body is a prison,
House is a prison,
Language is a prison,
Cellphones are a prison.
My favourite meme group on Facebook
is titled “Michel Foucault’s Moist Meme
Maison.” Their typical post would sound
like this: “Can I leave heaven once in
there? If not, is it just a fancy prison?”
The more I miss strangers
the less I may bear the familiar ones.
One needs a stranger to define yourself.
In quarantine with the familiar only -
I’m losing myself, I’m losing my mind
I’m becoming an object with no projection
to infinity, limited by the lack of external
stimulus, moving inferior, internalising,
going, diving into DeepDreaming. Memory
as an inversion of historical time is the
essence of interiority.
Does it answer why I dream that much lately?
So I may meet strangers in my dreams
as a way to stay healthy?
Ahh, how I missed strangers!
The face-to-face relation
in the dark alley, no masks!
I start googling random faces,
checking strangers on social networks.
I spent a few nights looking at Airbnb
apartments in various suburbs. I zoomed
into sleeping Tokyo, zoomed out to Porto
parks filled with peacocks.
“The very relationship with the other
is the relationship with the future,”
Wondering about the future and quarantine
I start browsing thispersondoesnotexist.com
Every time you enter this website,
you see a portrait of the person
who does not exist but is imagined
by a GAN (generative adversarial network)
using existing online databases of portraits.
Every time you reload the page that
deep-imagined image of that person
you think that image belongs to, refers to,
“The face is a living presence.
The face speaks,” Levinas whispers.
Ahh, how I missed my deep-fake-dreamed other!
How to recognize deep-faked faces?
My deep-dreamed strangers with
their deep-faked qualities. That
awkward sense of how infinitely
surreal, how extra hybrid it is. How it
refers to new infinities.
What does this face speaks for itself
as a deepfaked image?
That look! Asymmetrical
facial features. Strabismus - eyes
point to different directions,
different futures. Non-binary
gender presentation. Semi-
That fuzzy hair, that missing
ear. A liquified earring, melt
ing jewelry. Odd and mangled t
eeth. With the third middle t
Ooth. Hair isn’t attached t
o anything. A malformed
background. It looks like pain
ted watercolor aesthetic s.
Text? Text is indecipherab
Le. Background is is is is is
“Natural adult medium hair neutral person” o
r “Joyful white adult female with
medium brown hair and gray eyes.”
“Unique, worry-free model photos.”
Levinas’ “Love goes beyond the beloved,”
transforms into “Love goes beyond t
The more I miss strangers
the less I bear the familiar.
I had that dream last night or was it today.
In a dream I took a curatorial trip to Russia.
A problematic country to travel to for a
Lithuanian because of postcolonial
Stuck in my apartment,
roughly one third of the size
of Mir space station,
I 3D scanned my room
with some app - it rendered my room into
some ghostly painterly 360 panorama,
flying in empty space, like
memories, like dreams.
I’m somewhere there, another
object to be rendered, to be scanned.
I zoom in and out, just another pixel
in that screen, just another small
square on an endless display.
I look around and find many
copies of objects that “belong” to me,
that are the traces and effects of my being,
but all are slightly melted, inexact,
mutated. A variety of imprecisely
cloned shoes, pens, misspelled bank
cards and passports. A photo in the
visa has no teeth. Etcetera.
Everything seems familiar in the internalised world
but nothing is real. Especially the past. I woke up screaming:
“The more I miss strangers the less
I may bear the familiar.”
Strangers, don’t leave me with myself, with the
familiar, with the internalised. DeepDreamed
strangers, don’t leave us with our shallow-selves.
Ahh, how I missed strangers!
That face-to-face relation in
the dark alley. And no masks.
"An Incomplete & Unreliable Guide to Social Media War Room" An exhibition research proposal
Let’s be clear. This guide is incomplete and unreliable, the data conflicting or missing, the war hybrid and ongoing. The room is a riddle in a labyrinth. Social media a synonym for something else. We are still trying to understand what else, exactly. “The moment has come when all the crises – economic, ecological, migration, informational and political – are intertwined, and nobody can entirely figure out where they originated and how to address them but many declare to have ‘the solution’,– concludes Marta Barandiy in her policy paper about the Russian information war against the West. However, this statement also accurately reflects the nature of the ongoing information wars. Thus, here we are, surfing between various waves of pandemics and various ecopolitical crises, trying to control, monitor and understand – not necessarily in this order – ourselves and the ever-changing world.
What is the Social Media War Room?
Social Media War Room (SMWR) may be described as a particular area that is specially designed to extract insights by visually monitoring certain real-time actions. Thus, it consists largely of multiple screens displaying data from an arsenal of sources. Accordingly, the exhibition is built around diverse works that are connected to monitoring (semi)public acts, mining reality, researching social networks in Ancient Greece, behavioral surplus, data exhaust, political demonstrations, leaked material, media spectacles, various online collections, public voyeurism, amongst others. SMWR may be compared to the News Room or War Room – they all are rooms for monitoring and controlling the ongoing situation.
Where were we?
As already mentioned, the data is big and complex, it is constantly changing, incomplete, unreliable and we don’t know which part is which. The paradox of the so-called information age is that whilst new technologies have provided us with the ability to store, retrieve, manipulate and communicate more data, faster than ever before, it has simultaneously become more and more difficult to follow or monitor that information. Then add to this equation: (self)censorship, disinformation, red herring and false flag campaigns, under-representation, troll factories or groups that distrust established scientific facts and theories - flat earthers, climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists. You can continue the list.
Now is the right time to introduce Vladislav Surkov, the author of concepts like “non-linear war” or “sovereign democracy”. He is also a former aide to Vladimir Putin, a “political technologist”, “grey cardinal” or “puppet master”. It is he who published a short story “Without Sky” under a pseudonym and at the same time “curated” the invasion of Ukraine in 2014.
In “Without Sky”, he writes: “In the primitive wars of the 19th and 20th centuries it was common for just two sides to fight. Two countries. Two groups of allies. Now four coalitions collided. Not two against two, or three against one. No. All against all…The goals of those in conflict were quite varied. Each had his own, so to speak: the seizing of disputed pieces of territory; the forced establishment of a new religion; higher ratings or rates; the testing of new military rays and airships; the final ban on separating people into male and female, since sexual differentiation undermines the unity of the nation; and so forth.” In this context, it is easy to see why today’s cultural wars about everything from Covid-19, ecology and economy to the family, sexuality and gender may be interpreted as a direct result of non-linear information wars.
And the so-called social media?
In her book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” (2019), Shoshana Zuboff offers a disturbing picture of how Big Data firms are mining users’ information to predict and shape their behaviour. According to her, “surveillance capitalists now develop “economies of action,” as they learn to tune, herd and condition our behaviour with subtle and subliminal cues, rewards and punishments that shunt us toward their most profitable outcomes.”
Zuboff further explains how surveillance capitalism, through the modification of our behaviour, corrupts democracy, the power of the polis. The future taken, a horizon no more! In this situation, the future and human agency are ripped from us, as this kind of capitalism does not just predict, but also shapes. According to Zuboff, the idea that in this new kind of capitalism we became products is not just cliché, but it is also false. For Zuboff, we are not products – we are abandoned exploited carcasses. The product is the surplus which is being ripped from our lives.
So we are paranoid abandoned exploited carcasses, left in our narcissistic rooms with infinity mirrors?
Many seemingly contradictory forces are dictating the present, every nano-moment of it. Two principal vectors are separation and contraposition - roused and rabbled by the seemingly never ending streams of dissuasion, disinformation, dissonance rumbling the floor beds of the oceanic infosphere. Separation happens when society and individuals, under a siege of sensorial bombardment, are atomised into radicalised defragmentations of certain, often radicalized, choices, ideologies and views. Its second vector, contraposition, or polarization, permanently recruits and reconnects the new atomised and defragmented subjects into new temporary structures and transactions. Pitted and played in opposition, only then to be further precipitated, regrouped, and atomized, in a cycle destined for replay, repeat and refraction. The organs of surveillance capitalism - global and regional powers, corporations, other institutions projects - may stand for or inspire the aforementioned forces, that can often be equally contradictory in their aims.
More research materials and documents
A picture from Klaipėda Sea Museum.