In your work, you devote a lot of time to the topics of fake news, post-truth situations, different kinds of speculations with facts, etc. At the same time, it is generally accepted that it was the Internet that has created such a situation, having made qualitative changes in the socio-political and communicative fields. Along with this, your work, as if criticizing this state of affairs, receives a great deal of coverage on the Internet. In addition, a number of your incredibly beautiful tumblrs show that you are getting inspired directly with what you find online. In this regard, I have two questions. What is your attitude to the ‘ethics of the Internet’ and its impact on the relevant social processes? And also, in what form, in your opinion, can a criticism of the current “technological” state of affairs appear today, given that the dissemination of this criticism is carried out due to the technology it criticizes?
I think it’s important to remember here that there are people behind ‘the Internet’ designing the interfaces and platforms, writing the code and algorithms. Fake news is not a new phenomena - propaganda by governments, organisations and people in power wanting to control what people think and do has been around for centuries. Whether it’s religion, the state, politicians, the military or an Internet troll, each have their ways of manipulation and power play.
The Internet provides new ways of mechanising and spreading these messages. We live in a time of ‘hyperpolarisation’ where we think that people with different political or religious beliefs live in different worlds. Our beliefs are reaffirmed in social media echo chambers whereby abstract manipulation occurs through background algorithmic processes, pulling us further into rabbit holes and making atomized groups. The advent of digital media has shown that the world is made up of a mass of circulating, disjointed and contradictory information. This multi-dimensional communications network can be easily manipulated by online groups, individuals and corporations, which can give rise to new narratives and ideologies.
Gregory Bateson is an interesting figure to look upon concerning these topics. He studied ‘systems theory’ and came up with the term ‘Schismogenesis’ in the 1930s, which literally means "creation of division". It seems as if we are living in an increasingly divided world, and as we have seen within recent political upheaval in the last few years, popular opinion and attitudes may not be grounded in certain ‘truths’ but based upon the ‘success’ of ideas and beliefs. This is reflected in the logic of ‘Memetics’, where units of information can be replicated across cultural networks.
In ‘Adcredo — The Deep Belief Network’ made in 2018, I created a fictional pseudo company which states ‘It's our vision to support people in being able to connect, network, interact and form an opinion of the world they live in. To create beliefs through data and science’.
Vitaly Bezpalov: You mentioned your fictional pseudo company, the creation of which became your art project. However, we can say that today the border between artist and entrepreneurship is becoming more and more uncertain. On one hand, it is constantly said that successful entrepreneurs must be able to ‘be creative’ and ‘think outside the box’; their projects become their true expression, and in addition to the financial issues, they also care to increase their symbolic capital. On the other hand, an artist is seen at one time as a manager who fills in a pile of papers, a PR man who creates his or her personal brand and networks, and a business analyst trying to deal with the demands of the art market. As a result, the products of the entrepreneur and the artist are becoming increasingly close to each other. In your opinion, to what extent can such rapprochement realize itself, and how soon will Forbes become a magazine about contemporary art?
JH: Well I hope it doesn’t! I have no desire to become an entrepreneur and I hope that I don’t make work which is in response to the art market. I am however influenced by real world events, responding to current concerns and dominant structures. Creating these pseudo companies in my work, simulates the operations which are at play, revealing actual company operations that collect information about us in order to manipulate our behavior.
I guess depressingly globalisation and capitalism will continue to homogenize our lives, but I hope that art can continue to question the dominant structures and keep finding ways to address this.
NS: Such an opinion of the artist is absolutely understandable, but at the same time we all know that post-Fordist capitalism is more likely to be nourished by criticism. Strategies to overcome capitalism are being criticized in one way or another. On the other hand, I see the problem in setting clear boundaries between different discourses or fields today, like here the art market is present, and there it doesn’t belong, here is a resistance, and there it is a humble reconciliation only. In this sense, the old concept of the spectacle ceases to be relevant since in the porous structures of reality everything penetrates into each other and changes places so that we cannot always trace processes. In your opinion, is it still possible, theoretically, to create an artwork that will oppose capitalism in an ultimate, unambiguous form, and if so, what will such artwork look like?
JH: Yes agreed, separations are often futile, we are entangled. ….of course these things are intertwined and nothing can truly oppose or break away. But I believe firstly to create — to make art, that’s what comes first and what's important, and what happens after it is made, how it is ordered and valued, is secondary. I always remember being at art school and my tutor in a studio visit talking about recognition as an artist, something which I used to think was so important. But when you get the dream show, the gallery, the sale, all of that stuff is finite, and doesn’t satisfy what is really important deep down. It’s when you are in your studio, and you step back and look at something you have made and it works for you with your own twisted logic... there’s the magic, that’s what’s important. So when you ask what such a work could look like, one which will oppose capitalism, and whether that is possible — yes — I think that in the act of creation, at the heart of it does this, if the artist is living their truth. God I sound like a total hippy. Perhaps I am.
VB: We started our conversation before the coronavirus pandemic. Now it seems the whole world is in a state of uncertainty (could it possibly turn out any other way?..). At the height of the pandemic, different scenarios for the future emerged, but it is still unclear which direction the future will take. Artists respond, make statements through texts or artwork. How does the position of a lonely, dreamy artist in their studio relate to a rather specific intonation that you resort to when you mention current events through your work? Should the artist react quickly to social and political changes, and if an artist has the right, in your eyes, to take a silent stance?
JH: We have witnessed artists responding to what is happening in different ways. This has ranged from some responding within their work, some doing activism and some performing it. I think artists do have the right to remain silent -it’s a confusing time and I don’t think we should be quick to jump to conclusions or feel like we need to respond / make work about it. We shouldn’t take sides, hastily point fingers and form the usual binary camps. It’s been said many times — that the C-urrent situation has made it all the more visible how connected we are — to each other, to other creatures and to our environment. There has been a lot of art activity relating to care in recent times, but an art community like any other, we need to truly enact this, take care of each other, and not just virtue signal this with surface themes. Art isn’t made alone, it is made through support structures like public bodies and funding, a network of peers, conversations, shared discourse and working together to realise projects and make meaningful work. Collaboration is key to much of what I do, and for many artists, even though they may just put their own name out there.
Over the last three years I have helped produce other artists' work, and mentored younger artists and graduates just starting out. I co-run Chaos Magic which is a project space based in Nottingham which is centred around a peer-to-peer learning network where members organise a public arts community programme spanning a diverse range of events, exhibitions, and workshops. The space is named after Chaos Magic, a belief system which aims to change reality through ritual practice. Members of the space view chaos magic as a tool through which a fairer world can be manifested through cooperation and inclusivity.
Last year when the first lockdown took place, myself and a group of collaborators including Omsk Social Club, Julia Greenway and Megan Broadmeadow created SPUR, an online platform to support recent graduates whose studies were affected by the pandemic. This programme was very much geared towards collaboration and breaking away from individual artist egos. Participants use self-built avatars and new pseudo personas, rather than their existing identities, finding new modes of thinking and creating. It’s an artist network without the usual boundaries enforced IRL, meeting in virtual realms and developing collaborative artworks whilst forming new online communities.
My own recent projects which include Semelparous (2020) I am indebted to the curator Julia Greenway and Arts Council England for making the exhibition possible as well as many other supporters and collaborators. I think going forward artists should be more open about how they work and emphasise the support structures they have in place and strive to give support back to others.
My recent exhibition at Seventeen, London is titled ‘Abyssal Seeker’. It portrays the journey to a deep sea brine lake, which remains undiscovered by science. The film installation depicts the strange creatures that live there, which are able to shape-shift, metamorphosize and swap genetic material. Above ground the installation is structured like a panopticon, tracking the surface lifeforms and creating biometric profiles which are used to programme their behaviour. The surface dwellers seek any form of escape from this centralized surveillance, and make their way to the lake below ground to evade identification.
In the vast abyssal plains, remote and unexplored, the deep sea is a metaphor for the limit of human knowledge and often referred to as the ‘final frontier’. On land, computation is taking over human knowledge and is on a quest to turn all that lives to data. This work reflects on how life forms remain non-totalizable, and maps out ways in which we can become ‘less human’ to confound datafication.