Region/Concept: East Asia, Desire
Sub-Concepts: Collapse, Disgrace, Extinction
Description: Individuals meet online to arrange and plan acts of collective self-destruction.
Theory: What dark concerns. Four men, three women perish of carbon monoxide inhalation in cars parked along a remote mountain highway; four others seal themselves within a room to meet a similar end at the hands of a disconnected gas stove. Are these supposed to be “uprisings” (a movement-above) or “transpirings” (a breathing-across)? More than this, what desire rests behind such recurring displays of suffocation and aerial poisoning, organized by strangers bound together only by a virtual pact (to leave the world one night)? No, they cannot be reduced to mere suicidal gestures: the phantasmatic factor of the screen/the image, alongside the medieval factor of the oath/the vow, make this an otherwise distinct orchestration of a calling-unto-death. If not suicides, then, are these well-choreographed acts based in still-broader categories of harm: “malicide” (the killing of evil), “chronocide” (the killing of time), or “famacide” (the killing of one’s reputation)? Are they agitated yet careful attempts to remove the structures of control and coercion within oneself, thus becoming an internal act of “dominicide” (the killing of a master), “regicide” (the killing of a king), “tyrannicide” (the killing of a tyrant), or “deicide” (the killing of a god)? Does the impulse extend even further than this? Could we conceive of these simultaneous self-slayings, these evacuations of the earth, with their odd mixture of loneliness and intimate alignment, as larger symbolic efforts in search of a final expiration-register: i.e. “omnicide” (the killing of the entire human race)? More clearly, are these ceremonies really just subjective enterprises, or is their mark of collectivity a sign that they are drawn forward by a yet-grander dream for the species itself: that is to say, the dream of extinction?
Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh
Region/Concept: East Asia, Space
Sub-Concepts: Withdrawal, Isolation, Refusal, Neo-Misanthropy
Description: Two recent phenomena of aloneness: 1) hikikomori (literally, “pulling inward”)—legions of Japanese youth who have become shut-ins and total recluses, withdrawing entirely from society, within their high-rise apartments; 2) kodokushi (literally, “lonely death”)—legions of Japanese elderly who die within their homes and go undiscovered for months or even years.
Theory: What kind of bizarre hermeticism emerges from within such hyper-metropolitan centers, a product of their intense alienation and compartmentalization of human activity? Here we come across a kind of postmodern solitude: both young and old receding into the air-tight enclosures of private apartments throughout the cosmopolis, as if reeling from the accelerated velocity and theatricality of the futuristic cityscape in order to adopt some new version of ascetic tranquility. But what kind of solace or esoteric wisdom can one find in a small room on the nineteenth floor? Can one even attain an authentic or sufficient level of hiddenness when protected (from an age of excessive light, noise, and movement) by only the fine border of a window? And, more importantly, what are they after in this sheltering-act? Is this increasing pattern of self-extraction just an attempt to recover a more ancient principle of self-annihilation? Perhaps, but entirely misguided and anachronistic; it is not the same brand of thoughtlessness or painlessness of the past; they are no monks with their acute despair. And so one experiences in those four walls only the very same numbness that circulates across the despised outside (now just disguised as insularity). From the accounts given, this retreat-tactic offers no sanctuary or refuge: rather, it is a dead-end that brings only a futile recognition of the very obsolescence of such older quests for enlightenment, distance, serenity, meditative concentration. These are no longer attainable categories; the havens are gone, and with them the potential descent into void (this neo-emptiness teaches nothing, allows nothing). For sure, there is only a mimicry of aloneness here: to live alone (without meaning, ritual, or reward) and to die alone (without consecration, prayer, or transcendence). No longer the problem of “no way out,” but rather the problem of “no way in.”
Link 1: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23182523
Link 2: http://invisiblephotographer.asia/2014/03/24/kodokushi-soichirokoriyama/
Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh
Region/Concept: East Asia, Time
Sub-Concepts: Condemnation, Waiting, Vicariousness, Desperate Replication
Description: North Korean prison camps invoke “three-generational punishment”: i.e. life sentences handed down to three generations of the same family (only the offspring of the fourth generation to come is granted freedom).
Theory: Cumulative agony; genealogical retribution; the corpsed multitude. What does it mean to transmit damnation across several generational channels? There is common knowledge of authoritarian regimes that have constructed special cemeteries for traitors to the state, with executed bodies thrown in impersonal rows beneath unmarked graves, and that even the bare soil on the surface is ordered to be overturned from time to time so as to allow no solace, no rest, for the treasonous dead. But this other phenomenon—three-generational punishment—is a technique like none before. A man/woman is accused and sentenced (condemned for life), and that accusation sends a convulsion down the spine of their child’s forthcoming nights (condemned for life), and the grandchild (condemned for life), at least one never having even seen the outside, until a fourth successor breaks open a door beyond the camp (if they ever get that far). A triumvirate of starvation, torture, enslavement, and waiting…until the lapse. What happens here, across three axes of tormented descendants? What kind of burden does the original violator (the guilty ancestor) carry in the face of an entire lineage now entrapped, incriminated, and starved of horizon for his actions? Does he see the imprint of his own awful insignia on their foreheads at every turn? And how does he envision the still-unborn face of the redeemer child who will someday be let go, in some distant time most likely beyond his own death? Does he contemplate this ethereal figure as a kind of vicarious deliverance? How do the middle generations, without even the luxury of self-willed wrongdoing to account for their condition, perceive their existential function in the world? Are they mere transitional or instrumental beings, intermediaries who must survive (not for themselves) but for the one who will come to end the cycle? And what of the one who is the warehouse of half a century’s anticipation (the unchained), and yet immediately orphaned upon arrival?
Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh
Region/Concept: East Asia, Movement
Sub-Concepts: Confinement, Stillness, Silence, Horror, Incarnation
Description: Artist Liu Xia arranges dolls in telling positions of interrogation, torture, and constraint.
Theory: There is a unique kind of horror that resides within pure stillness — an affect of negative awe that belongs to the unmoving/the unbreathing alone. The nerves run colder here, before the dreadful image of the automaton (the doll, the statue, the puppet, the scarecrow). Frozenness, paralysis, immutability: one cannot tell whether they are incarnations of absolute surrender (that they have abandoned themselves to some half-existence) or whether they embody a far more grave and perilous concept of inevitability (that within them lies the inescapable potential to someday begin moving). At night we fear these dormant forms, these figurines and effigies that dwell in our fields, our windows, our cellars and bedroom chairs. We fear the fragility of their hovering and strandedness; we fear the unreadability of their psychology (or lack thereof); we fear that the fixed, spellbound gaze is only momentary, and serves a greater final purpose (concealed for the time being); we fear that soon enough they will break loose and sway toward us (with restlessness and thirst), for they already live where we live. In truth, have we not always suspected some sinister volition being held in store, an alternative version of animus to be released at the right hour? Are these motionless ones not perhaps the rightful heirs of futurity…temporarily suspended, in waiting, half-wakeful, with stares like premonitions…and ever-positioned for an eventual overthrow of the world?
Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh
Region/Concept: Europe, Time
Sub-concepts: Surfacing, Suspension, Climate, War, Decay
Description: Mummified corpses of World War I soldiers emerge from melting glacier battlefield turned ski resort.
Theory: A love letter appears on the melting surface of an Italian ski resort; the frozen cry of a condemned soldier of the Habsburg Empire, inscribed from the depths of his agony. And the glacier, it seems, generates its own inscription from the depths, written across its surface, of the sunken remnants of a multitude of bodies and weapons rising from a block of suspension. On the currents of a warming climate, the landscape secretes its secret. Death emerges among the picturesque Alps, as tourists pose before a jagged array of peaks slowly eroded by weather and the occasional barrage of mortar blasts, silent for almost a century, and remaining in silence, only to reveal the mutilated army that once traversed these peaks and crevasses. Where now, amidst fresh alpine air, skiers and hikers cannot help but “smell the war” and encounter the contorted bodies, mummified as if they had died on this same resplendent day. On some immemorial day or eternal night on the outskirts of the highest village of the Habsburg Empire; the highest and therefore an example for all. The chalet may have replaced the outpost for now, but the smell lingers, the smell of an ineradicable decay, the immanence of destruction that permeates yet another empire, beneath a glossy surface, as permanent and as transient as the glacial ice; a depth that is already emerging with the turning of a breeze. And so, in the poetic tradition of an unmarked grave, the letter, emblazoned forever across the melting slopes, terminates with the signature, “your abandoned lover”.
Posted by: Will Scarlett
Region/Concept: Europe, Body (Fleshness)
Sub-concepts: Mutation, Transformation, Vulnerability
Description: Staggering installations by artist Berlinde De Bruyckere.
Theory: Without doubt, a confrontation occurs when one lays eyes on these installations: a form of a horse carefully crafted yet frozen in development before it is fully actualized; a human body that extends into heavy branches pulling its back toward the ground; a body with missing parts; or else isolated parts (antlers of a deer) piled together. This is the work of a new butcher, one that has certainly learned from the old masters, but then in silent solitude went to invent her own counter-procedure: the flesh (which looks alive) is rendered with wax, a material that does not rot; the bodies are not open through the the wounds that announce its death, but rather, each is closed in on itself. Sometimes we do not even see the transition or a surgical scar (there are no seams); all is smooth, curled, curved, coiled. There is no specific wound because the entire body is a wound, closed but not healing, suspended in what it exactly is: a constant mutation of forces that inhabit the flesh and thus form the body. The act of twisting as a gesture of cruelty already. She is a rare and original butcher that does not open up but instead twists, smooths, and transmogrifies so that it is hard to see fleshy deformations. Yet the more one looks the more one sees the beauty: the tactile seduction of the wax, the horse hair and skin, the pillows and the hooks, the marvelous wooden tables and cabinets which surround the bodies simultaneously exposing and protecting them. In the end, nothing but beauty extracted (slowly and brutally) from its own infinity.
Posted by: Dejan Lukic
Region/Concept: Eastern Europe/Adriatic, Space (Indifference)
Sub-concepts: Water, Stone, Flower
Description: Former Communist prison island slowly fades into an archeological site of the future.
Theory: The immense water that surrounds it: indifferent. The perfect blueness of the water that competes with the lightness of the sky: indifferent. The stone quarries abandoned (as if the prisoners left for a lunch-break and never came back): indifferent. The lighthouses and the bunkers: indifferent. The rocks, one by one, out of which the winding roads proceed, and buildings rise: indifferent. The torture pit: indifferent. All the materiality of sensation that being-here produces, attests to that enormous feeling of indifference created by the former Stately power. Communists, fascists, Habsburgs…all different temperaments that laid down their teachings in the manner of absurd pedagogy. And yet tiny wild flowers dot the rugged landscape. Where do they come from? Precisely from this indifference which cannot but also lay down seeds that eventually bloom into their own color, their own elated forms, their own stubborn vulnerability. In due course the rocks will disappear, and the weeds will spread in all directions, and no one (not even an archeologist, or a historian, or a pilgrim) will realize that the wild plants won. The stones and the sea are only the background against which they open their protean power onto the world.
Posted by: Dejan Lukic