Monday, July 30, 2007

Streamside Day

I'm sitting on the floor in a polygonal enclosure waiting for the film to start. The walls outside are coated with iridescent emerald foil. As the lights go out, we sink into the half-light of dawn. In a long crane shot, cleared lands and tree carcasses streams past the camera. The sound of cicadas intensifies into a dense cascade of audio. Under the forest canopy, woodland animals venture into the frame: a rabbit, an owl, deer and a racoon. The deer drinks from a stream, oblivious to the camera. Cut from the woodland to the suburbs and a Bambi look-alike traipses down an urban driveway to enter a new, empty residence. Its hooves click on the kitchen linoleum. Outside on the street, a group of kids play house in cardboard boxes. We speed out of the city down the highway into the valley. The journey is inter-cut with brief, fragmented scenes: twin children crouch in a vast sea of grass, a swarm of bees engulfs the base of an enormous tree. “That’s our house right there”, says one girl, pointing to a miniature architectural model on a table in an empty room.

The parade begins slowly. A fire-fighter truck, cars and buses roll slowly into town, followed by a procession of revellers dressed in makeshift costumes and cardboard boxes. “Welcome to Streamside Day”, the poster reads. Children in animal masks wander the streets like zombies. The soundtrack is saccharine, like a twisted ice-cream van jingle. The cops watch from the sidelines, their faces lit by the flashing lights of emergency services. All dialogue is muffled. On a stage in front of an almost empty town square, the mayor begins her speech: “A great community spirit is starting”, she announces, speaking into the void, her audience distracted by the commencing feast. Guests navigate through tables laden with “traditional” settler’s fare, heaping their paper plates with food. As the sky darkens, a fake moon rises above the houses like a giant balloon. A man takes to the stage with an acoustic guitar. In front of a few, idle spectators, he performs the “Streamside theme song: "a flower blossom, raising through the falling leaves, the day’s just begun, light through the trees, this is the same light that falls in dreams. It’s a streamside Celebration." The tune is at once unbearably kitsch and strangely sincere, like a Julee Cruise song in a David Lynch movie. As the day comes to a close and the town is left empty, the camera scans streets strewn with discarded boxes and debris. Two moons – the full moon and the inflatable balloon moon – hang lightly in the sky. Someone flicks a switch. The moon flickers out and is pulled back down to earth. The walls begin to move again.

(Notes on Pierre Huyghe's installation Streamside Day Follies at Dia: Chelsea, New York, October 31, 2003 to January 11, 2004.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No knowledge zones

"'No-knowledge' is a condition whereby everything one assumes to be true, or that one thinks one knows, participates in an essence that is incomprehensible. Knowledge repels itself. True knowledge is a voluntary freedom divested of all fear."
Simon of Taibutheh

Ideas are pulled out of white noise. White noise is the unrepresentable totality of phenomenological and mental perception, as constructed by the human animal. Like sentience, white noise is an invisible screen, a collusion so vast it cannot be seen (looking at the sun burns holes in the retina). In order to navigate through this impossible terrain, people try and shape solid pockets of meaning and isolate them as reference points. This process can be described as subtractive selection. Similar to the way that Michelangeo carved his marble sculptures out of a single piece of stone, idea pockets develop by scooping away the totality in order to find the singular. These singularities are the landmarks that puncture the void.

Sometimes it's difficult to determine who or what makes the landmarks visible: do you sculpt your own pockets of meaning or are you stumbling across ones already created? Outside my window is a street lined with houses. If I look at the houses, I see them either as self contained units, or, if I'm trying to go somewhere, as impediments along a route. Walking to the shops, I follow the road. I don't even think about it. The road is already made, it flows around the houses, and in order to get where I want to go I stick to path. I don't jump the fences and stroll through other people's gardens. I am a model citizen. I observe the codes. I am afraid.

A world without landmarks is a world without knowledge. To live in a no-knowledge zone can be likened to total immersion in white noise. This prospect is a dream, utopian, and yet it is critical to maintain because the acquisition of knowledge – as it regulated today, at 3:11 on Wednesday, July 25, in Melbourne, Australia – currently appears geared solely toward the maintenance of the economy. What is referred to as knowledge is then not knowledge at all. It is illusory, a fiction, a necessary lie. Perhaps we should ditch it for the sake of something else; a construction site, a no-knowledge zone, the potential for collective control.

In neo-liberal societies, the individual is presented with the dubious honour of self-regulation. Self-management, self-control, self-policing are critical strategies for a market in which competiton and prosperity are predicated upon the individual's capacity for self-maintenance. The focus on the self, the privatisation of labour, is echoed by widespread privatisation of public services and the removal of collective infrastructure. Any problems that the individual may encounter cannot then be referred. Kafka knew this condition well. Call up the courts and the telephone gabbles nonsense. There is no external law. The other end of the line has been leased out to a stand in, tenured by a corporate mouthpiece.

The singularity demanded by the system in order for the individual to prosper is a blindfold. With this blindfold firmly in place (helpfully fastened by its wearers) the threat of external perspective is neutralised. The erasure of the outside nears completion when the borders between life and work begin to crumble. Neo-liberalism relies upon the immaterialisation of labour: work is no longer definable as the task that one performs or the object produced, but is rather properly situated in the mind of the worker. The model citizen is a living, breathing, curriculum vitae, whose success is measured solely by an ability to overcome impediments to prosperity. Flexi-time workers in an immaterial labour force arguably bear most of the brunt of this affect. They are, literally, their work. Any free time "earned" is on the flip side of labour, a dualism that always requires the gift of the self. That it is a gift and not a requirement is the ingenious keystone in the maintenance of false agency.

Such maintenance is strengthened by the belief that all landmarks encountered in the void of white noise are created by the spectator. They come into being seemingly only at the moment they are sighted. They have no history, no past, and no future. They stand alone, each individual believing that they are the author of the fiction of knowledge, but in effect, agency lies elsewhere. The most dangerous symptom of this process is the generation of a time code: the neverending present, the eternal now. Ideas, when recognised, have no context. Their value is graded by the econony, meaning the perpetuation of the state of the eternal present.

I am reminded here of a mouse in a labyrinth. The mouse, trained to go through the labyrinth, does not consider the possibility that there may be secret doorways. The mouse can not bear the thought of the unseen. It does not entertain the potential of secrets. The maze is then produced only by the mouse, who tracks through its long corridors unaware that it is responsible for the path. The labyrinth is real, but outside the labyrinth are the no-knowledge zones. What is needed is to be able to move through these zones, and with the help of others, recognise the landmarks in the void by the context of their production.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Conversation No. 5

Do you want to ring up your husband?
I'm ringing up your husband.
Who is your husband, not your old husband, your new husband? Dougie's your new husband, right? Oh here he is, your husband. Quick talk to him!
Hello, who is this?
It's your new husband! Your new husband! Your new husband! Oh look give give me the phone. Hello Dougie are you there? How are ya? Look, the wife just wanted to talk to you cos she's so much in love. Look I'll see you later, I've got some rolls for you. Here, talk to your new husband (tries to give her the phone, she pushes it back, he tries to give her the phone. She takes it reluctantly) No, he wants you. Look, tell him you love him, Tell him, your new husband, you love him. Oh give me the phone. Dougie? What's that? Bring the wife over? Yes. I'll bring the wife over. What's that? You're already married Dougie, you're already married. Look, I'll bring the wife over she's going to have veal parmigiana and then she'll be right over here I'll put your wife back on (He hands her the phone).
Ask him how much he loves ya! Get him to tell you how much he loves ya!
He says he wants to know where the honeymoon is, when's the honeymoon?
Ask him where he's taking you for the honeymoon!
He says he's taking me to Geelong.
Do you want me to talk to him again?
No, he's your husband, you talk to to him. He wants you, not me. He wants you.
No, he says he wants you.
You're going to bed?
Give me the phone! You're going to bed with the wife Dougie is that right? You tell her so she'll understand here. And then we'll hang up.
Oh (she talks on the phone).
Veal Parmigiana.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. What? He wants you.
No, he wants you.
Ask him how much he loves you.
Hello, can you hear me? Do you want to speak to him?
No he doesn't want to speak to me, he wants you.(She hangs up phone).

We're going to fatten you up for the jig a jig wth Dougie. Now, you promise to go and see and your husband tonight?
He wants to see you.
No, that's not the point, you can do things for him that I can't.

(They sip on Camparis)

He's alright Dougie, a nice bloke Dougie, I approve of your husband. I approve of your husband. Alright darling, we're going to feed you then take you to your husband for a night of mad passionate love. Mad passionate love. Alright? Enjoy your night of mad passionate love with Dougie.
Who's Dougie?
Your new husband, Dougie.
I don't want him.
Whatd'ya mean you don't want him, you're married to him, you made a promise at 67 Grover Road. I was best man at the wedding. Ask Dougie.

(This is a transcript of an actual conversation that I recently overheard in the pub. The couple were in their mid 60s, each carrying a large red white and blue homeless-person bag. The phone was a very sleek, new Nokia.)