In the December issue of Art in America, I published “They, the People,” an essay on representations of the people in art and populist movements, and how each responds to the other. The essay covers Hank Williams Jr.’s halftime show, Tomas Rafa’s videos of European nationalists and refugees, Jacques-Louis David and Phrygian caps, Ronald Reagan’s heroics (as assimilated by Steve Bannon and dissected by Pablo Sierra and Pacho Velez’s The Reagan Show), Ferhat Özgür’s take on the imperial vision of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the culture of the popular front, Shepard Fairey’s claim to speak for everyone, Ken Loach’s ads for Jeremy Corbyn, and Lawrence Lek’s Sinofuturism. I also dig into recent writing on populism by Jan-Werner Müller, John Judis, Chantal Mouffe, Cas Mudde, et al.
For the exhibition “Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox: 1989–2017,” on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Vienna) from November 3, 2017, until January 28, 2018, Triple Canopy was commissioned to make Dear Future Reader (View Contents of Folder). The video, shot at New York University’s Fales Library & Special Collections, is a message from an archivist. He explains contemporary publications to the future reader, given the potential that, decades or centuries ago, screen-based devices may have been replaced by biological computers, the English language (or even writing) may have become obsolete, paper may have been superseded by holograms, and alcohol and song may have been banished. Dear Future Reader (View Contents of Folder), which I worked on with C. Spencer Yeh and Jessica Y Lee, is now viewable as a digital project on Triple Canopy’s website.
In October of 2017 I was an artist/writer in residence at Para Site, the venerable and remarkable independent art institution in Hong Kong. While at Para Site I was thinking about conspiracy theories and how to take them seriously as symptoms of political exclusion and alienation—as well as sources of cohesion for those who participate in their narration and dissemination (and in so doing puncture the view of reality formed by an official consensus or elite opinion). I’ll return for the second part of the residency in the fall of 2018.
For the third issue of Oberon, which came out in the fall of 2016, I published “Be a Cutting Machine,” a fiction on the cult of instruction. I make use of the language of acting manuals, writing gurus, and self-help guides, and consider the power of those who effectively mobilize that language. Some tangents: what handwriting reveals about the self, Vaslav Nijinsky’s graphomania, the history of writing machines. “Be a Cutting Machine” was written in response to the artist Boru O’Brien O’Connell’s “Reaching for a Soft Structure,” a project that appears in the preceding pages.
On February 21, 2017, I published a conversation with artist David Horvitz in Triple Canopy about the standardization of time, space, communication, and the rhythms of our bodies. The conversation began in earnest in the summer of 2014 and was conducted via email, text message, telephone, postcard, and word processor, as well as in person. We cover ancient Egyptian astrology and atomic clocks, the auditory landscapes of nineteenth-century villages and the contemporary landscapes offered by geostationary satellites; we ask how to recover forms of experience and interaction that now seem antiquated or implausible.
In the summer of 2016, the artist Paul Ramirez Jonas mounted Public Trust, an interactive artwork hinging on promises made by participants (and circulated via billboard, rubbing, photo, and social media), at three sites in Boston. For the ensuing book, Paul Ramirez Jonas: Public Trust (APC, 2017), I wrote an account of the work—a report on the experiences of the work by others, a reflection on my efforts to come up with a satisfactory oath, an essay on the relationship between language and reality in the so-called post-truth era.
In the February–March 2017 issue of Mousse, I published “What Do We Know?,” an essay about art in the so-called post-truth era, philology in the op-ed pages, the comparative merits of The Purge: Election Year and Hamilton: An American Musical, the likelihood of political promises being enforced via blockchain, and what might be lost if we strive to Make America Ancient Greece Again. The essay considers works by Victor Klemperer, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Zoe Leonard, Adam Curtis, Paul Chan, and Giorgio Agamben.