Natalya Serkova: In your projects you meditate on the topics related to geopolitics, ecology, geology, and economics. When I look through your Energy Pangea long-term project I can feel your strong concern with the present and the future of the Earth and its inhabitants. We all know what factors may cause irreparable damage to our planet and to all living and non-living things on it and inside it. But what seems interesting to me is a possibility of conducting a mental experiment and imagining that all that has already been done to Earth by human beings and all that would be potentially done by them in the future, is an intrinsic part of the Earth’s existence and regeneration rather than the harm caused by its inhabitants who, by a dramatic mistake of nature, have become more sophisticated than they should have been. In your opinion, what role do humans play in this planetary spectacle and what are the scenarios of possible consequences that their ecological politics, in a broad sense, may lead to?
Iain Ball: My focus shifts around, loops back in on itself and retraces a lot, but as the last few years have seen massive changes in culture, politics and technology, what I am trying to do with the work now is to figure out how to move it through these recent phase states. The work I have been doing for the past decade has always been about imagining disruptions, chaotic transformations, maladjustments, unforeseen shifts, patterns, connections and weird outcomes.
Human experience, life, everything, is cyclical. It is not linear, and I am trying to interweave everything together. For instance, right now I am feeling much closer to where I was at with ‘Crisis’, 2007 , and to wherever I was over ten years ago, but that is why I keep all my old work on my site. I do not take the old stuff down, I do not privilege the new work, there is no linear development, ever. And I am trying to bring these worlds and conditions together, it is all connected. I do not like one-dimensional stuff where people can easily say that it is about this or that subject, it is dealing with this particular issue, it has this overriding theme. It is all a joke in reality. Who cares about that stuff.
I want it to be a confusing fucking mess, I don not want to answer to expectations or demands or desires of others, I hardly relate to anyone in the Art-world most of the time, and have distanced myself from it quite a bit. I only want [my work] to speak to those who can really listen or relate or care. I think people project a lot of themselves onto Artworks, it is very vampiric, but to create something really meaningful or real you have to stick your middle finger up to all of that stuff most of the time. I am still trying to work out the new ways to do that. It is a constant battle: I can care about the ecological crisis one minute and the next I do not fucking care. I want the whole world to burn or I only care about my immediate needs and desires. That is normal but people do not always present that, they want to be held to one modality so others can easily digest it and get it. Making Art is like a war, lol, with yourself, with the people who consume it and with the Art system. People create their own cages, boundaries and groups to operate within.
So, yeah, more recently, I have started to think less in geological and ecological terms and more from the perspective of consciousness and time perception. As far as I can understand, we are spending all of our time trying to make guesses about what is out there in the world and we are also trying to actively shape, influence and transform that world at the same time. We are trying to map patterns to align with what we assume reality to be and create the best picture to suit us at any given moment, and we might seek to reinforce, transform or submit to that reality we perceive or just survive it. And that is something we are doing all of the time … but when we say ‘out there in the world’ the ‘out there’ is also us, since we are predominantly made of water and bacteria and cellular systems (actually quarks and neutrinos or whatever jus like everything else is) which is not really the core ‘us’ then you might go further and to conclude that there isn’t really an ‘us’ in the first place, we might be like the Ship of Theseus. Consciousness could be a trick or illusion but then it might also be everything, like it might be the only tangible thing. In fact you might reach the conclusion that all of reality is ‘us’ yet we perceive, feel, sense and experience parts of it more intensely and deeply than some other parts. And since we are made up of the same stuff that everything else in the universe is made up of, we are acting like very complex sentient networks of interaction, testing out activity and connection. That is like a kind of fun, terrifying, euphoric, lonely, beautiful, painful, hyper-connected, alienating thing to be – with some potential for higher cognition, breakthrough and innovation; whereas for a sea cucumber or a dog or a tree it is a different set of experiences.
I am on the fence as to whether consciousness is everything that is real or just some trick or whether there is something more steering the ship. I guess from a scientific standpoint, either nothing is steering the ship, we have not found it yet or the culmination of factors that causes wave function collapse is enough in itself. It seems that consciousness stems from an organism’s ability to perceive and react to everything that it senses to be a part of, which then also maps and renders reality. ‘Organism’ can be a pretty broad term but consciousness seems to be something which is emergent and can evolve or branch out into diverse degrees of complexity, sentience and awareness rather than something that we as humans have and a sea cucumber does not, for instance … So I would say that any sensory perception is on the spectrum of consciousness and self-awareness is a slippery term.
In that sense, I do not know how the ecological crisis, politics, AI and other technological developments will play out or what we as humans should even try to do about them. But what I am really interested in now is how we develop and shape our guesses about what is out there, which also includes inner worlds, extra dimensions, emotions, fictions, paranoias and dream-states because even the most wild guesses about what is out there have value. I am not really in a field where I have much to offer in terms of practical solutions for the future, so I am just playing with different perspectives most of the time.
Vitaly Bezpalov: I can perfectly relate to the approach to understanding reality that you are describing, in particular and to the whole TZVETNIK project in tote. I really like that the only unambiguous message which the art produced by our generation of artists is capable of giving is that neither of us has any idea as to what is going on all around us. The number of possible options for how any given event or idea might develop at the same time is so great that we simply refuse to choose which option is the most preferable and eagerly embrace any of them. But what I am concerned about is that obviously at some point of time the speculation will reach such a level as to render any constraining factor (ethical, aesthetic, logical, religious, etc.) non-functional. Chances are it will already happen in front of our very eyes. Is there such a threshold for speculation for you, at which you will understand that you are completely not ready to go any further?
Iain Ball: Yeah, for sure no one knows what is going on anymore. That is something people in general have woken up to over the last few years with the rise of post-truth, fringe media and conspiracies becoming the mainstream, weird twitter, dark Youtube, fake news, primary school children shitposting memes irl at their schools (dabbing, flossing etc), politics going haywire, Microsoft’s Tay Ai … all that stuff, it is familiar to everyone now and its undoubtedly the result of hyper-technological shifts causing more unpredictable outcomes and complexities and targeting decentralized media. We do not really have much control over it anymore and it is just going to continue … For the last ten years that is what I was trying to do with my work: present the idea that it is all going to go dark and weird somehow, that it is going to transform in ways that we cannot understand or predict. I always wanted to represent that symbolically and archaically … and now that I see it is really happening it is crazy to witness that. It has made me think about how I reconfigure what I do because I do not need to show people how its mutating or spiraling off into weirdness and darkness in the same way anymore because we are all aware that is what is happening now anyway.
A lot of people are logging off too, or not really posting, but they are still consuming digital content, they have not actually gone anywhere. I think Art blogs like yours also accelerate peoples consumption and perspective on Art, back in around 2010 there was only really a handful of Artists engaging with online but now it feels endless and even Artists that do not engage with online have an internet presence through their works documentation and proliferation on Art Blogs and Instagram, …it all becomes this infinite feed of people doing stuff and your like “well ok, so where does all of this go in the end?” It is weird being a part of that, like what am I supposed to do? or make? or say? about all of this??” It becomes machinic and it becomes data, like we are creating more and more information and more content is being piled up on top of older content, but to what end and for who, something non human?
So in regards to the question about speculation and going further, what I am interested in is how these circumstances cause shifts in consciousness, or cause changes in behavior and re-configurations of activity … after having to sober up from net utopianism, and even say post-Internet was utopian in that it sought to collapse the distinction between on- and offline … all of that seems really naive now, Occupy seems naive, lots of things from that era do. So when we sober up from AI and block-chain and all the buzz that is happening now, we might find ourselves figuring out that we have been left behind and shut out. Or that there are limitations to human consciousness and it is sort of already happening. Everything is over applied, accelerated, condensed, intensified and anxious as fuck.
NS: Yes, I think everyone can say they more or less feel like this. On the one hand, the situation induces extreme pessimism regarding what you describe, but on the other hand, it contains a promise of some fundamental change in the way of thinking, and this adventure can become really fascinating. You have mentioned our blog, and I can say that we consider TZVETNIK as a point of developing new logics inside the artistic community, new experimental ways of production and representation of art … For now this is just a blueprint, but the goals we pursue give us strength not to give up. Do you have an understanding of what strategy should the artist choose in the present situation that you have described and what goals that we set ourselves can today stand the test of naivety and utopia?
Iain Ball: Everything just is. It is because it is easier for something to exist than nothing, nothing cannot exist, so everything has to exist everywhere forever always, and all of reality can manifest as an infinite set of fields and frequencies, infinitely complex with infinite manifestations of infinite outcomes. We are part of that pattern, there is an infinite amount of us going in every single direction forever in every possible way. We experience ourselves, the world and others as a frequency in a field of frequencies dancing together in a field of fields falling into information and manifesting as meaning and then collapsing again. Information is the noise which gets louder and louder. If things get noisier you have to dance differently or tune into different frequencies or try to tune out of others or go deep into something specific. We always spiral into other dimensions, it is happening all of the time since we are able to go down rabbit holes constantly. We have access to the other dimensions; both 4D space-time and our physical bodies are the cruise ship we are travelling in but they are not the whole of reality. I think the hope is that all sorts of consciousnesses can continue to manifest and propagate outcomes that we have never seen before. Since we have the ability to go to these places and report back with signs and symbols and signifiers, it is imperative that we keep doing that, that is something unique about the potential of consciousness, the ability to create novelty, uniqueness, newness, change – that is everything.
VB: What you are describing reminds me of the structure of fractals. You endlessly fall from one dimension to another, while these dimensions endlessly replicate each other creating the fields of beautiful ornaments. Those ornaments may take multiple forms, but still there is a bunch of fractals behind them, which repeat themselves. You speak about newness, but how could we understand that what we see in front of our eyes is novelty, not a new combination of the well-known initial forms? The curse of Nietzsche’s eternal return remains with us, while the history repeats itself, first as tragedy, later as farce. In your opinion, how could we discern the newness, if it is possible at all? And if we have a chance to discern and create it, what would it be made of?
Iain Ball: Yeah, I mean geometries are pretty timeless, I think I have read some research on psychedelics that was linking visions within the psychedelic experience of seeing geometric forms as having to do with the organisms evolutionary development to understand and detect edges. So when you are under the influence of particular psychedelics, parts of the brain responsible for detecting edges and form become overly active … I am into the idea that this is then actually closer to a true nature of reality, or at least a different strata of reality, even if hallucinogenically the brain is basically over rendering and excessively mapping there is a sense that the matrix is being pulled apart, this matrix being the construction built up by the self, ego / the I.D , culture, society, etc … that sounds very Terence McKenna but I think it is true.
I have just watched this documentary called ‘CuriosityStream—First Man’ about the evolution of humans, It is kind of funny and a lot of speculation based on recent evidence is happening but it is interesting because it at least manages to show how traits in our early ancestors evolved and developed into what we are now. You could potentially view every order of species in this way… that given the right circumstances each might evolve towards greater degrees of complexity, reasoning, intelligence, creativity, ritual, technology etc. I think what creates newness is adaptation, causality, mutations, accidents, sudden spark-like transformations, a tendency towards greater degrees of complexity, and a kind of Animism in a way.
Trying to express or replicate that in Art is difficult, I think. Art is very confused about what it is or what it should be doing at the moment. It wants to break free from its institutional and critical constraints but does not know how. It needs to free itself from the burden of its own ivory tower, it is trapped in a whirlpool, it feels like a lot of people are just going through the motions saddled up with blinkers on, but the formula is leaking, the wheels are buckling, the screws are loose, and a lot of us are just spilling out, left stranded, bemused and naked in the open plains.
But everything is going to change, and it will happen really quickly, it is all going to flip because a wave of transformation is coming that we will not have any immediate answer to.