Back on 50 Broad St., a thick fiber optic cable would wind down the marble staircase, from the offices on the tenth floor to the sixth floor where Island kept its servers. Four levels of stairs where this thick plastic conduit cut through the architecture, alien to both its time and location. Information shot through it – mind-bendingly fast – invisible to the human eye. I’m sure if you laid a hand upon it, you could convince yourself that you felt the buzz, the heat of friction between information bits racing each other through the fiber optics. This cable had a simple function - it transported information down, four flights of stairs. From the Island offices into the server room. A simple transportation really, with a simple load. The complexity of this load could be foregrounded, but arguably the load is really not that complex, it is rather the velocity and opaqueness of the very transportation that comprise the complexity factor. The next stage in the evolution of this cable will comprise unimaginable torrents shooting through it and the complexity will fold accordingly. For now the cable forms a self-contained circuit. The invention of Joshua Levine a single event. The Island narrative forms an island indeed.

Anti-Work Meditation
Inside the ones and zeros of the CGI sequences, the cable works its way through a written series of statements, or witness accounts, forming a sort of critique of work. It describes the conditions of working at Island as horrible and destructive. This anti-work meditation was introduced in order to transform the narrative about the vanguard, the innovators, the artists, that enthusiastically drives themselves out over the edge in the name of progress and innovation. An over-excessiveness that serves as example, for all the simple workers, of what dedication truly entails. Its function was to return the fetishised genius to the position of unsung simple worker. The auto-sacrificial nature of the genius, is a myth created and upheld by the ideology of acceleration and productivity before wellbeing – or productivity as the only path to wellbeing. Josh and his cohorts of tech-smart speed junkies has now become simple labourers of their own creation. And they now realise that this work environment, that they themselves are answerable to creating, is a hellish place indeed. The text reads as a song of complaint or the lyrics of a protest song (I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more). The way in which (labour)time is reflected in bodily malfunction, mental breakdowns, substance abuse and physical hurt, is intended to bring to mind the inseparable relationship between work and violence - as manual workers mangled by the mechanics of the conveyor belt; temp-workers passing out from exhaustion, bladders destroyed by the denying of toilet breaks, psychically hollowed out by how the algorithms always reroute them away from human encounters; cognitive workers bringing their work with them home, into bed, stress building, necks strain and migraines gush in. The way the body suffers regurgitating violence on a daily basis, all in the name of productivity. It’s a horror movie. No, a splatter.

Splatter Capital
In 'Splatter Capital' Mark Steven draws convincing connections between the splatter movie and capitalist accumulation. From the dismantled and ripped apart limbs of the factory workers, through the body horror of the semiotic worker’s rejected body, to the stomach-turning feast of colonial canibalism, and further into the torture porn of neoliberal sardonicism and capitulation. He remarks how the popularity of the splatter genre coincides with specific moments and changes in the capitalist system. First how horror (gothic) appears during the first industrial revolution and later reemerges somehow in the 'splatter' images of Sergei Eisenstein in the second industrial revolution. In Eisenstein’s 'Battleship Potemkin' (1925), one specific edit is considered a first encounter with splatter cinema. An edit in which images of a battalion firing riffles into a mass of fleeing workers are intercut with the disembowelment of a bull. Steven writes: ‘The ultra-realist shots of the eviscerated bull arouse a horror that is transposed onto the murdered workers. Gore is used, in Eisenstein’s words, to “stir the spectator to a state of petty and terror which would be unconsciously and automatically transferred to the shooting of the strikers”.’ (2017)

A rise in popularity of the splatter movie happens again in the seventies, in parallel with its economic crisis. Steven describes this crisis as a signal crisis. And as production economy, in a response to this signal crisis, is transformed into finance economy, yet another rise in splatter popularity occurs. This time during and around the 2008 Financial Crisis; a crisis fittingly described as a terminal crisis. With the rise of neoliberalism, and its opaque relationship between production and labour, the human body - the one that was undergoing all the gory mutilation in the factories - is replaced by ‘networking [as] a new form of capitalist enterprise with its own underside of exploitation.’ (Steven, 2017) For the semiotic worker, the face replaces the muscles and hands as principal labour tool and the direct link to bodies-ripping-apart recedes. The splattering of other bodies – often also presented in a reverse narrative, where the well-off is chopped to pieces by the less-fortunate in a cathartic act of revenge (by all means, yes!) – is for a while replaced with the body horror of being inside ones own body. The face replacing the body, as a body without organs, ‘presents us with a being made violable by external forces, which overwhelm that body from within and transforms it to their own needs’. (Steven, 2017) How the different waves of splatter film popularity has followed the moments of crisis in the capital system tells us how this genre’s foremost potential is to relate to us how it feels to live our lives in the red mess of the capitalist gore movie: ‘The lesson can be put this way: we all inhabit the same splatter film and we should all be intensely revolted by this. But, even if we cannot undo what has already been done, perhaps that revulsion will somehow lead to revolution.’ (Steven, 2017)

Abject Itch
The song of complaint was though of as the song of those splatter casualties of office work, but also as sung by the cable. The cable too performs the daily travail of lending its body to the flaying gush of the market. That terrible ITCH that presses out from inside the cable body, stretching its skin, is the same ITCH that presses through the crudely animated skin of the person that sits on the stairs next to the cable; a surrogate version of Josh, uncannily inanimate and inorganic. As the leg of the indifferent CGI character, is marked by the same incantational wording as the cable body, CABLE ITCH, the protruding scarification seeks to highlight the wrongness of the CGI body. The swelling - embossed skin writing (dermatographia) or a message of distress from an entity trapped inside the skin (see also: The Exorcist, 1973) - was introduced to evoke a sensation of abjection in watching something that resembles a body but clearly is not. The rejective moment, of feeling resemblance and simultaneously casting-off that which is felt like an unrecognised self, is arguably no longer experienced with the same horror, in the distance created by a saturated flow of body-images. In this distancing, produced by the hyper-real treatment of bodies on screens, the potentiality that exists in the horrifying moment of recognition and rejection (of that something of the self) of creating empathy or a sense of mortality, disappears. This is evident in the way cinema pursues the ‘abjection-effect’ of violence or horror, in the adding of billions and billions of triangles, unconstraint polycounts and top-of-the-game fluid simulators, all to end at something that looks so real that it has absolutely no effect on the body of the audience. It has no reflective surface, it’s all live-like emersion; abjection of other bodies if anything.

Data Rot

In his text 'Data Rot' (2016) Ed Atkins writes about this inability to get at the abjection, in the digital body that does not acknowledge its own difference from a real body. He writes: ‘It strikes me that although these processes appear to approach the conditions of abjection, crucially there is no horror, no breakdown of consistency, no opposition. The sight of a 4K wound at IMAX scale remains an unreflexive representation, despite its gratuity. Abjection requires a holistic sense of reality in order to be broken, to be queasy-experienced. This break, which might best be understood as a kind of anti-edit, a caesura, an arrhythmic gesture […] differentiates itself from something like a "glitch" by maintaining its intentional status. A deliberate decision rather than a permitted accident, it sustains the difference between the technology and its analogue forebear, the body.‘ (2016) I wanted the animation of Josh to speak directly to the non-body quality of this technological character. The cable, most of the time, seeming more sentient than the half-naked programmer. I was wondering whether the mutilation of the scarification text on a non-body would make it more possible to produce an abjection effect. In contrast, for Atkins the return of the abjection relies on the surrogate body getting an as close to realistic representation as possible, and then from there to let it speak to that cut between real and virtual. He writes: ‘If part of the condition of abjection is the irruption of corporeal reality, then by comparison the incorporeal aspect of the CGI […] is part of that return. It also posits a place from where corporeal reality might return. Verisimilitude, the crisp cusp of the realistic, underscores the separation between real body and representation – a separation that becomes more acute the more excessive the attempt at realism.’ (2016)

The animation style of 'Cable ITCH' obviously shrugs off this complete verisimilitude, especially in the scene where Josh is hanging out with the cable. Its crude quality is a deliberate resistance towards becoming verisimilar. Josh’s body does not resemble corporeal reality, far from it. It appears as an object, an element added to the space, like the cable, like the texts, like the simulated fluids. The instances of body movements break with the inanimate quality of this human figure on the same level as the cable suddenly moving about. These were designed as uncanny movements - mechanic animated attempts at appearing human. In contrast, Atkins’ bodies are uncanny in their excessing at this animation, including all the errors and unwanted features of the real body, moving beyond the type of CGI hyper-real, that does not allow for human flaws.

The Abjection of Other Bodies
Where our approaches might differ, I share many of the concerns that Atkins describes in ‘Data Rot’. Especially his suggestions that a ‘resurgent interest in abjection in contemporary art might correspond with the ubiquity of an experience mediated by technology’ (2016) and that we can now abject boundless material with the swipe of the finger. The material we reject because it invokes the intolerable in ourselves, is in the digital realm dematerialised. With this dematerialisation, the direct horror of the abject is also eliminated, or at least removed onto the other. Atkins writes: ‘By eliminating the proximity of abjection, its horror is also eliminated, along with the possible potent conjuring of empathy, humility, even a sense of mortality. Abjection, it seems, is the sole prevail of its victims, the forcibly abjected. It is the privilege of a contemporary, wealthy, western subject to be able to avoid abjection as an experience of self to self-not-self and, instead, to abject an other. Social media seems to excessively allow us to abject others, while its anonymity seems to pretty obviously spoil abjection as an essential process of identity construction.’ (2016) The velocity and scope of encounters with bodies and images that might instil abjection online, undoubtedly shifts the field. The close connection that abjection had with notions of empathy and mortality is lost in the distance from the abjected. With the advent of digital technologies the very matter of moving images has changed, ‘[..] material has shifted into image – images that conspicuously attempt to hold material, to perform as material, even as they turn to code and are spirited elsewhere.’ (Atkins, 2016) Atkins speaks to a return of the conjuring of abjection, in the way that high definition digital video feels in a peculiar way - repulsive and excessive - and in the way corporeal imagery is favoured and fetishised even in its paradoxical dematerialised nature.

There is something abject to the forming of letters protruding the skin and the chance encounter that this body will be experienced as a reflection of ones own body, as that-which-is-not-me, perhaps speaks to a translation process in that moment of experiencing. Read the word ITCH on a body part and my bet would be that a small phantom itch does occur. The ITCH is used as a vehicle to understand the weird fixation on materiality in the digital ream of the immaterial.