21 June 2007

Some installation photos

Note the correct use of the apostrophe in the business next door's sign:

What is common-sense nihilism and what does it want in New Zealand?

Ladies and gentlemen: Those parts of humanity not too busy trying to survive every day breathed a collective sigh of relief that the 20th century – which brought us such delights as industrialised warfare and genocide, the atom bomb, and the triumph of global consumer capitalism – was finally over. Maybe we could just kick back and enjoy life for a while. The 90s were kind of fun, eh? Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. A group of religious fundamentalist psychopaths seized control of the world’s foremost military power and rapidly began trying to reshape the world according to their mad schemes. They knew we’re screwed.

According to report published by the British government that is being used as a basis for long-term planning, the next 30 years will see:
- the development of neutron weapons that destroy living organs but not buildings and ‘make a weapon of choice for extreme ethnic cleansing in an increasingly populated world’. Such weapons would be dispersed by means of unmanned vehicles, leading to ‘application of lethal force without human intervention, raising consequential legal and ethical issues’;
- implanted brain chips standard for all citizens in developed nations;
- a mass revolt on behalf of the middle classes of the developed world in opposition to rampant immigration, an urban under-class, and the deterioration of social order;
- the revival of Marxism as a replacement for religion in an increasingly morally relativist age;
- unchecked globalisation that effectively ends the nation state and leads to wars based on territorial belief systems rather than country against country;
- endemic unemployment, instability, and threat to the social order as a result of population increase; and
- the emergence of a ‘terrorist coalition,’ an alliance of belief systems that oppose the state, from environmentalists to ‘ultra-nationalists’ and remnants of religious groups.

And this doesn't even mention the global environmental collapse that's already under way.

But, being religious fundamentalist psychopaths, none of this worries the madmen in charge one bit. They just wanted to make sure they’d stay on top, calling the shots for their own short-term benefit – at the expense of the rest of us (and any future generations, in the unlikely event that there are any).

What are we going to do about this? Well, the obvious first thing is to stop buying what they’re selling. You might think your interests coincide with theirs, but they don’t. You don’t need lots of money. You don’t need to accumulate lots of shoddily made consumer crap (built-in obsolescence indeed!). You don’t need to believe in fairy tales to give your life meaning. Only you can do that, through what you make of yourself in the circumstances you’re in.

You don’t need to kill other living beings for food. There’s more than enough suffering in the world as it is without us spending so much time and effort at increasing it. You don’t need nations, governments, or laws. These are just fictions made up to keep us all in line. You don’t need armies or police. Seek out like-minded people and make alliances. Be careful who you work for and what you have to do.

We don’t have to put up with this situation. Everyone can do something about it. The world is insane. It has always been insane, at least since civilisation started 6000 years ago. But it doesn’t always need to be insane. Tell the nutters firmly: ‘You are dangerous and insane, and you need to stop.’

Common-sense nihilism demands:
1 the international revolutionary union of all creative and intellectual men and women in the name of common-sense nihilism;
2 the introduction of progressive unemployment through the comprehensive mechanisation of every field of activity;
3 the immediate expropriation of all property, the communal feeding of all, and the conversion of all prisons and police stations into community art centres;
4 the introduction of pipe and pipe tobacco depots in convenient locations to issue citizens with the pipes and pipe tobaccos of their choice;
5 the introduction of pipe smoking rooms in every dwelling and workplace;
6 that every Wednesday be declared Pipe Smoking and Black Magic Day, with only pipe smoking and black magic allowed on that day;
7 that numbers be banned;
8 the immediate organisation of a large-scale common-sense nihilist propaganda campaign; and
9 the immediate regulation of all sexual relations through the establishment of a common-sense nihilist sexual centre.

David Cauchi
Common-Sense Nihilist Revolutionary Central Council

19 June 2007

In other news

Police are following new leads in the hunt for legendary fugitive artist Paul Faris, sources reveal. Faris has been on the run since his daring daylight robbery of Te Papa in 1999. Spokesperson Stephen Rowe had no comment other than denying rumours Faris is disguised as a nun and teaching life drawing in a Catholic girls' school in Oamaru.

Enjoy Gallery has announced that it is amalgamating with Telecom New Zealand. The new Enjoy Telecom Gallery will be located next to the CEO's office, between the private zoo and the jetcar landing pad.

Creative New Zealand is funding a visit by a group of curators, arts administrators, and collectors to the International Space Station to explore opportunities to market New Zealand art in outer space.

Auckland band Barge are to be the new Fall, rock star and artist Liz Maw announced today. 'When Mark E. Smith heard us, he sacked his band immediately and signed us up on the spot,' she explained. 'All he asked was to be able to write the odd song now and then, and we thought that that would be okay.' The new line-up will perform songs from their new album in Wellington on Friday, 22 June.

Wellington artist, writer, and intellectual David Cauchi is standing for Parliament in the next election. His Common-Sense Nihilist Party 'offers practical help with the futility of existence and promises to completely transform everday life into avant-garde art'. Spokesperson Stephen Rowe said that, as part of the election campaign, Cauchi would challenge David Tua to a boxing match 'to prove his fitness to lead'.

[NB: Only one of these is true.]

18 June 2007

14 June 2007

09 June 2007

Something in Wellington to go to

05 June 2007

Link to radio interview

Here's a link to me being interviewed on National Radio's Arts on Sunday programme.

Why science fiction is the only legitimate art form of the 20th and 21st centuries

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to begin with a quote by Philip K Dick from 1974:
How does one fashion a book of resistance, a book of truth in an empire of falsehood, or a book of rectitutude in an empire of vicious lies? How does one do this right in front of the enemy?

Not through the old-fashioned ways of writing while you’re in the bathroom, but how does one do this in a truly future technological state? Is it possible for freedom and independence to arise in new ways under new conditions? That is, will new tyrannies abolish these protests? Or will there be new responses by the spirit that we can’t anticipate?

By only legitimate art form, I mean that which exemplifies the culture, the place and time in which the artwork is made -– the zeitgeist if you will, the spirit of the times. For example, in the 15th century, Western culture’s sudden new access to Arab maths and Greek science caused deep societal and cultural change. New continents were discovered and double-entry bookkeeping was invented.

’Man is the measure of all things’ was the new credo, as exemplified by perspective painting, where the average height of a man was literally the measure used to create pictorial space. If we compare a 15th century painting that’s still in the International Gothic style...

...with Piero della Franscesca’s Flagellation...

...it should be obvious which is the legitimate 15th century artwork.

We live in an advanced capitalist society, one that is only made possible through perpetual advances in technology. We need technology to advance simply to maintain the society that we have. This is an incredible thing. The industrial revolution represents a radical break with the past. Previously, every generation basically lived the same kind of lives as their parents and grandparents. Change happened on a much longer timescale. Let’s watch our first film. As well as being a nice illustration of how science fiction exemplifies our culture, it also shows how much things have changed in just half a lifetime. [Caltex ad]

We live radically different lives than practically all of our ancestors, pretty much mostly cos we have artificial lighting and regular clocks. Modern cities never sleep. There’s always someone up doing something. We are taller and we live much longer and easier lives than most people who have ever lived. Of course, all this comes at a cost. Two hundred years of industrialisation has stripped out virtually all of the readily accessible minerals and oil, wiped out a significant proportion of the world’s species, and fucked the climate for at least the next few thousand years.

By advanced capitalist society, I mean of course that we are now a consumer-driven post-industrial capitalist society. As the avant-garde art political group the Situationist International identified in the mid-50s:
The project of the postwar West is to redefine everyday life to mean the pleasurable consumption of material goods in a system of male supremacy and corporate hegemony.

This is the 50s future that we inhabit.

Like the revolution, the science fiction future – jet packs and holidays on Mars, an end to poverty and disease and work, and our descendents spreading out among the stars – was never going to happen.

Science fiction has always been about using metaphors of a technological future to talk about modern life now. Although it originated in the European avant-garde, as I will shortly demonstrate, it really came into its own in mass-produced pulp fiction and film – two media that couldn’t exist without industrial capitalism – so that with science fiction you get that magic marriage between form and content that produces great art. As Philip K Dick said in 1969:

[I]t embodies some of the most subtle, ancient, and far-reaching dreams, ideas, and aspirations of which thinking man is capable. In essence, it’s the broadest field ... permitting the most far-ranging and advanced concepts of every possible type; no variety of idea can be excluded from SF; everything is its property.

Let’s watch our second film, by Dunedin animator Fred O’Neill. [Fred O’Neill]

Some recurring science fiction images – robots and spaceships, pocket communicators and computer terminals that can access all of human knowledge – are now a part of our everyday life. In a lot of ways, science fiction has formed our world. Take the rocket ship, the ultimate metaphor for the American love affair with the motorcar, itself a quintessential modern thing. The visual metaphor of the rocket informed the design of 50s cars, huge things that were all fins and swooping lines, creating a feedback loop that’s continued to the present day. Just look at my Star Trek communicator! [Wave cellphone around.]

As I mentioned before, all this had its origin in the avant-garde art movement of the early 20th century. In 1904, while still an art school student, Francis Picabia, who would go on to paint the world’s first ever abstract painting five years later, declared:
One day all of us young painters ... will be the masters of Paris and turn the Champ Elysees into an immense playground. In circles, in serried rows, delimited by geometrical figures, we will set up all the plaster casts of the schools, all the marbles of the Louvre, the statues of the gardens and museums. And then the astonished bourgeoisie will see something unique. With a fusillade of stones we will demolish the Discobulous, the Belvedere Apollo, the Venus de Milo, and the Venus de Medici.

As usual, artists were the first to see the way things were. For the first time ever, the Golden Age moved from the past into the future. Rather than being dispensed by gods, we would use technology to transform ourselves into gods.

In 1909, the Italian poet Marinetti published the Futurist Manifesto and went on a highly successful speaking tour of Europe. The Futurists glorified speed and technology – Marinetti wrote ecstatically about crashing his car, prefiguring J.G. Ballard – and, just like the student Picabia, wanted to destroy the art of the past and start afresh, create a modern art for a modern society.

In Moscow in 1913, the only performance of the Russian Futurist opera Victory over the sun ended in riots. In it:
[T]he sun, representative of the decadent past, is torn down from the sky, locked in a concrete box, and given a funeral by the Strong Men of the Future. The Traveller in Time appears to declare the future is masculine and that all people will look happy, although happiness itself will no longer exist. Meanwhile, the Man with Bad Intentions wages war and the terrified Fat Man finds himself unable to understand the modern world. The opera ends as an aeroplane crashes into the stage.

Kasimir Malevich, most famous for his one-man Suprematist art movement, designed the costumes and backdrops for the opera.

In 1919, he wrote:
One needs but to find the mutual relationships of two bodies moving in space; the earth and the moon; between these two, there may be constructed a new Suprematist satellite, equipped with all the elements, which will move in orbit, shaping its new path. In analysing Suprematist form in motion, we come to the conclusion that movement along a straight line towards any planet may be conquered in no other way than by circular movement of interstitial Suprematist satellites that form a straight line of circles from satellite to satellite.

Of course, between 1913 and 1919, technological progress reached its logical conclusion in the horrific mass murder that is industrialised warfare, something else never before seen on the face of the earth. As a result, the cyborg was born.

The Dada movement was a response to this madness. In Berlin, Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Hoch invented photomontage, a new visual medium that transformed the dominant society’s industrially produced propaganda and advertising into art.

George Grosz incorporated the technique into his paintings, explicitly portraying the plight of modern man using the metaphor of an android.

In New York, which he described as ‘the cubist, the futurist city’, Francis Picabia had worked through abstraction to a new mechanomorphic style.

Here he portrays the human condition as machines that fail to connect, endlessly repeating the same hopeless motions, going and getting nowhere, just like in a Philip K Dick novel.

People generally consider Dada to be a precursor of Surrealism, but that’s bollocks. Its true successor was Constructivism. The Constructivists also wanted to transform society into a technological utopia. They made no distinction between advanced art and everyday objects, such as chairs and tables. Here’s Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, a true science fiction extravaganza.

Tatlin’s Monument was:
...to be built from industrial materials: iron, glass and steel. In materials, shape, and function, it was envisioned as a towering symbol of modernity. It would have dwarfed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The tower's main form was a twin helix which spiraled up to 400 m in height, which visitors would be transported around with the aid of various mechanical devices. The main framework would contain three enormous rotating geometric structures. At the base of the structure was a cube which was designed as a venue for lectures, conferences and congress meetings, and would complete a rotation in the span of one year. In the centre of the structure was a cone, housing executive activities and completing a rotation once a month. The topmost one, a cylinder, was to house an information centre, issuing news bulletins and manifestos via telegraph, radio and loudspeaker, and would complete a rotation once a day. There were also plans to install a gigantic open-air screen on the cylinder, and a further projector which would be able to cast messages across the clouds on any overcast day.

After World War II, which brought its own delightful technological innovations, modern art got hijacked by the CIA, which kind of fucked it for a while.

However, rather than dwelling on that, let’s have a look at Len Lye’s Birth of the Robot, which has a really nice juxtaposition of classical and modern motifs and which sums everything up nicely. [Len Lye]

Okay, I’ll finish with a new generation of NZ artists who are using science fiction forms to talk about their interests and concerns, and then, if we’ve got time, I’ll answer any questions.

First, we have Andrew McLeod.

This is by Brendon Wilkinson [slide 11]. When I was researching this talk, I came across this quote by Brendon: ‘For me, surrealism and science fiction are the only interesting things to come out of the 20th century, in terms of art.’

This is by Yvonne Todd.

Here we have Matt Hunt.

Here’s Paul Faris.

This one’s by Stephen Clover.

Finally, this is one of mine. It’s called Signs of a doomed civilisation.

Any questions?

[NB: These are the notes and slides from the talk that I gave at the New Zealand Film Archive on 2 June at the instigation of Mark Willams. I'd like to acknowledge both Mark and Anna Dean of the Archive, without whom this would not have been possible.]

02 June 2007

visitors since 29 March 2004.