I TerroRealist

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:1-3

"We must find out what words are and how they function. They become images when written down, but images of words repeated in the mind and not of the image of the thing itself." 
- W.S. Burroughs

“Did you pack your bags yourself ? Were your bags with you at all times since you packed them ? Could anybody have tampered with your bags ? Are you carrying any electronic or battery operated devices? May I see them please ? What is your occupation ? Where do you live ? How long have you lived there ? Who paid for your ticket ? How did you receive it ? Are you carrying anything that could be used as a weapon? Please remove your laptop computer !! Please remove your shoes and belt !! Thank you and enjoy your flight......”

Every time I fly to the USA I am amazed and shocked by the naive stupidity of the security procedures at the airport.  As if you would say that you did not pack the explosive bags yourself or that you intend to set your shoes on fire during mid flight.  Then once you arrive in the USA the visa forms ask if you are a Nazi, terrorist, drug addict, alcoholic or have a history of insanity in your family.  The assumption is of course that if your intentions are to engage in any form of terrorist or subversive activity, that when asked you will readily reveal your intentions.  Why would you go through all the trouble of acquiring sophisticated and undetectable explosive devices, spend months, if not years planning your attack, engage in a secretive life hidden inside a sleeper cell and then in the eleventh hour admit that you are a terrorist and that you are packing a bomb?  Why do we so readily assume that such a person would not lie and would not be carrying false passports hidden beneath the veneer of a fake lifestyle and gray suit ?

God gave me language and my profit of it is that I can lie and lie I shall for I am an artist. George W Bush gives us two options, that we are either with HIM or we are on the side of terrorism.  Following his logic, you would immediately become a terrorist should you lie about that vibrator in your bag that you would simply prefer not to show to the macho monkey in the uniform. Indeed the truth is even stranger than fiction for on the 11 September 2001 the hijackers did not have the need for luggage, packed by themselves or not, nor were they carrying dangerous weapons for they brought the capitalist world to its knees using credit cards, masking tape, box cutters and a great deal of faith, vision and courage.  Perhaps our greatest shock was to discover that faith, vision and courage are still all you need to change the world.

In reality if you really want to disrupt an international flight with an act of terror  its so much easier to simply open the doors mid-flight for the pressure alone will suck out at least 2 dozen people, a dozen more will die in the panic, 10 will die from exposure to the extreme temperatures up there and you can be certain of at least 2 more heart attacks.  If your accomplice forgot his nailfile or toenail clippers, or if they were confiscated at the airport, he can break the neck off the bottle of in-flight champagne or red wine and use it to cut the throats of a dozen more passengers. Alternatively he can simply strangle his neighbor or drop sleeping tablets into the captain’s coffee.  Let’s face it, its about as easy to hijack or cause terror in an airplane as it is to lie about your intentions.

Terrorists are not born any more than their actions can be considered illegitimate.  Irrespective of their political position, their actions and strategies are always forced upon them through a lack of alternatives.  Denied a country they have no voice or seat at the United Nations.  Their plight is made illegitimate only by virtue of their being born disenfranchised and alienated from the seats of global power and capital.  Outnumbered, outgunned, under nourished and impoverished they are supposed to disappear into the folds of history and silently assimilate into the culture of their oppressors and masters.

The concept of a “Terrorist,“ as opposed to that of a Freedom Fighter, is built upon the premise of a homogenous society in which we all have the very same value system and subscribe to the same socio-political and ethical codes.  The Terrorist is the outsider, the other to whom our codes do not apply and who is as a result now our enemy.  We classify them as terrorist only because they do not play by our rules, respect our currency, worship our gods and they certainly do not respect our crusades and declarations or war.  We expect them not to lie because we have been taught that only the truth shall set us free and why should they be any different, especially if they aspire to our measure of civilisation with its so-called universal laws of democracy and justice ?

Arriving in the USA today every body who requires is visa is then also digitally photographed and their fingerprints scanned. Of course visas are not required for any body from the EU, Japan, Australia or any other wealthy partner of global capital. The visa is in effect the very same method of controlling the movements and access of people deemed undesirable as was used by both the Apartheid Regime and the Nazis in Germany. The USA has however gone one step further than even Hitler could have imagined with the Patriot Act and the fingerprinting of visitors. Standing there as my body is scanned I am reminded that I am alien to that culture, that I am unwelcome and shall be tolerated only for as long as I behave appropriately. My differences, my otherness is in the process coded as criminal, captured and archived. My crime was to be born into a country classified as suspicious.

Part II

Indeed, terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently, the ruling principle of the sublime. Edmund Burke

“Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefor an emanation of virtue” Robespierre

I gave birth to myself in May 1968 in an moment of terror, a riot of global proportions as Paris, Prague, Mexico City and  San Francisco were burning and Carl Andre’s bricks were being hurled into the faces of capitalist authority.  The Molotov cocktail and dustbin lid transformed forever our understanding of the quotidian object and in the explosion the innocent milk bottle lost its virginity.  It would take another three decades and another generation before the importance of that shift would be fully understood as Seattle, Genoa and of course the World Trade Centre finally caught on fire and this time it was on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

I did not grow up in Soho nor was I ever invited to dine with the Queen or hide my emotions in a suburban haze whilst resting in a Matisse armchair.  I do not speak the Queen’s English because I grew up on the streets of Africa, a place where you can die for what you believe in or for the small change in your pocket. My accent is my resistance for it reflects my lived experience, the realities of my being born twice.  My accent separates me from the centre, by choice.

Language is oppressive for as it only acknowledges that which can be named.  It is not the result of any particular individual’s design as much as the external manifestation of a culture. The structures and codes that enable or disavow what may be articulated and expressed in any particular language is predetermined by the dominant class and culture that it gives voice to. In English it is the Queen’s accent and Oxford University that set the standard and norm, the structure of authenticity. It is thus hardly surprising that English should be predisposed towards the prejudices, value and experiences of that social class. For example the Royal habit of understatement, especially when it comes to the world of emotions, means that we have only one word, LOVE, to express what you feel for your Corgi, your mother, your lover, your wife, your favorite ice cream flavour, a book, colour or chair.

A vastly different lifestyle and experience than the Queen’s translates into an entirely different language and whilst that is certainly true for example with French that allow a far greater emotional vocabulary, the prejudices of its own ruling classes is embedded in the very same manner. Your only resistance is in terms of your accent which is by no means neutral nor impotent. The accent is an authentic voice that whilst limited in terms of vocabulary is empowered in terms of points of reference, allusion and intonation. It prioritizes the spoken word over the written, transforming the tongue into a very sharp weapon. The accent is built upon the foundation of a lived experience that places the street, the parochial and colloquial at its semantic core, defining itself in terms of the shared experiences that bind that specific community and no other.  Whether it’s the Irish accent of the Argot of prisoners, the accent embodies the conflict between the centre and periphery, a dialogue and negotiation between points of contact and points of resistance.

In creating their colonies the modus operandi of the European Superpowers were to duplicate the centre in every imaginable aspect, from the language to the names of the streets, the urban design, architecture and even the history lessons. I was for instance taught more at school about European history than the continent where my family had been living for 400 years. Teaching the natives how to read and write was a quick and efficient method for inserting the “ master’s voice” and hence his values and beliefs into the soul of the good students. With the Bible as textbook the transformation quickly meant that there were more churches being built in the colonies than in Europe. According to the logic of the church and colonial master plan, the natives were divided between that of the “good” native who read their bible diligently and who spoke, dressed, walked and thought like his master and in every way aspired to become that master and on the other hand the “bad” native functioned according to an entirely different concept of good and evil and was thus cast in the role of Cannibal.

In 1928 Oswald de Andrade’s Anthrophagic Manifesto recalled this same Cannibal as the most appropriate voice for the native who sought a way out of the binary duplicity of the Christian European model. He explained that “...the struggle between what one would call the Uncreated and the Creature illustrated by the permanent contradiction between man and his Taboo. The quotidian love and the  capitalist modus vivendi. Anthropophagy. Absorption of the sacred enemy. To transform him into totem. The human adventure. The mundane finality. However, only the pure elites managed to realize carnal anthropophagy, which brings the highest sense of life, and avoids all the evils identified by Freud, catechist evils. What happens is not a sublimation of the sexual instinct. It is the thermometric scale of the anthropophagic instinct. From carnal, it becomes elective and creates friendship. Affectionate, love. Speculative, science. It deviates and transfers itself. We reach vilification. Low anthropophagy agglomerated in the sins of catechism-envy, usury, calumny, assassination. Plague of the so-called cultured and christianized peoples, it is against it that we are acting. Anthropophagi”

I grew up watching Dallas, Dynasty, the Smurfs and Rocky 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.  I never saw the Muppets or Coronation Street because they had the good sense to boycott Apartheid South Africa.  I did however read Face magazine, ate Kentucky Fried Chicken and drank Coca Cola, even though the latter pretended to boycott by changing the name in the very small print on the side of the can, but looked and tasted exactly the same as any can of Coke anywhere else in the world.  To all intents and purposes I was weaned on the same cultural crap as a kid of my age in London, New York, Melbourne, Nairobi or Sao Paulo.

On the other hand the violence of my childhood colours my memory of the Smurfs and nails one foot very firmly down in African soil, giving my Smurfs a slightly different shade of blue. I think I shall carry a coffin of Germiston earth around with me like a vampire for the rest of my life. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for at least I will never forget where I come from and always be reminded that I am in fact the Frankenstein of a failed experiment in social engineering.

It’s been 2 years since the opening of what was meant to be “our” Documenta and I would argue that little has changed as a direct result.  Those of us born into the Third World, the margins, the disenfranchised, the colonized, the disempowered naively trusted that the tables would turn, that we would finally be granted a seat at the table rather than waiting on it. I believed in the hope of a global expression that would adjust the colonial structure whereby I have always been judged by a model that prejudices quality in terms of proximity to the centre, how well I spoke the Queen’s English.   I listened aghast during the “Empires, “Ruins + Networks” conference in Melbourne earlier this year as the former Pope of art explained to a naςve isolated audience that no single person had the power to change the system.  His words stood in stark contrast with my memory of the same man literally having to run through art fairs as the most powerful galleries, dealers, vendors and artists in the world chased after him with complete devotion and would jump to any height or sink to any depth to win his favour.

No sooner had Enwezor’s appointment been made public than the punters began placing their bets.  Everybody who had previously supported him or even been seen in his company was scooped up into the net lest they become part of a new turn in the art market.  We all benefitted from that and it certainly made a world of difference that otherwise would have taken a decade longer. Its very ironic to say the least, that the punters took more risks and were infinitely more courageous than the show they were trying to pre-empt and in the end it was they who changed the way we now understand art from the margins.

Dokumenta XI ushered into the mainstream the Politically-Correct -Multi-Cultural (PCMC) artist from both the margins and the racially unequal centre. On the other hand this ushering played into the hands of the neo conservatives and left us with an art that is desexed, desensitized, devoid of content, apolitical (except for the predictable partisan accusations and propaganda), innocuous, calculated, decorative, bland, sentimental, saccharine and inoffensive. The PCMC artist is unlikely to change or even challenge anybody except their own political nemesis. The direct expression and literal articulation of one political position is really as valid as any other and with time the pendulum of fashion will swing in the opposite direction and disavow its predecessor. The “Holier Than Thou” PCMC artist starts off on the wrong foot with the assumption that they have the moral high ground and that the rest of us mere mortals should follow. The problem with such a position, irrespective of their political bias, is that such work leaves us with a very predictable binary choice where we are able to only agree or disagree with and little else, a small stones throw away from George W Bush’s special version of reduced political logic. The partisan nature of such work neither challenges nor subverts any value system and probably reinforces difference with its reductionism. Ultimately it embodies precisely the same logic of power as that which it seeks to disavow and is thus as guilty as the mirror through which it sees everything in reverse.

Since the work of art is always an invested social relation and always the physical embodiment of a culture located at a specific point in time, the work of art will always be politically inscribed. Its not necessary to announce who the artist voted for since that should already be clear in terms of their choice of scale, medium, symbolism, imagery, strategy and so forth. To be truly subversive or revolutionary the artist creates a context or situation through which the composition of power is disavowed and the viewer cast into a complex semantic labyrinth through which they must find their way back to safety alone. In reversing the polarity from passive consumer to active participant the work of art functions more as a catalyst that starts a chain reaction whereby the socio-political and moral prejudices of the viewer become the checker board on which the delicate game of ideological chess is played out.

This dislocation process is really possible only when the field lies beyond the safety of the known. The work of art needs to move outside the logic of language into the dangerous world of terror. The codes of language and history are threatened only by terror and that which is unimaginable, unpredictable, unexpressible, untranslatable, unmentionable, unsayable, inappropriate and articulated through humour, contradiction, danger and extremism. Of course having been articulated once the code resets itself and assimilates and denies the threat by transforming it into fashion. It is here where the colloquial becomes so powerful for the lived experience of life in the margins, be it geographical, emotional or moral, lies so far outside the conception of the centre, that complete assimilation is very problematic. In order to function it is necessary that the expression be articulated through the common ground of an mutually understood code. The point of contact here is language and history that since we assume to be set in stone plays straight into the hands of the cannibal with a different eye on what’s permissible. The point of resistance is the emphasis on the accent and the cannibalization of language and history by inverting its logic of power through an entirely different lived experience and relocating the centre to the outside.

When the slave finally gets to dine with his master he can either decide to imitate the master and even fuck the other slaves entirely forgetting where he comes from or he can quietly poison the master’s food and seize control of the entire farm and liberate all the other slaves.

Part III

The white cube gallery is the high temple of capitalism and its dealers are the priests who make daily sacrifices of integrity in order to keep the gods of profit happy.  The entire institution of art, from the critics to the collectors, the trustees to the punters, make the timely visits to these temples to renew their faith and maintain their shrines at home.  Art has always been there and will always be.  It differs from what we understand as culture in that it is culture at its most rarified and pure.

Culture is an open ended expression of heterogeneous individuals who have created particular forms that give material form to their social needs.  These groups are united and divided by their individual relationships with these expressions. On the other hand Art, with a capital “A,” is the purest expression a homogenous culture can give to its most holy beliefs, investing objects and images with symbolic power and ideological charge.  At its service are the artists who are commissioned either formally or via the pressures of market demand to make manifest this value system.  Only that which is able to perfectly express the unspoken will of the elite will survive for only it will be taken care of and preserved for posterity by the commanding powers, for only they can afford, and only they have the vested interest in protecting that legacy.  The white cube gallery system is the manifest form of high capitalism and the physical form of its purest ideological expression.

Capitalism responds to every potential threat by assimilating the threat in the form of fashion. Since the 60’s every sub cultural challenge from the underground threat to the mainstream from the Punk movement to the commune, from the drunken wail of the Bukowski to the cut-up technique of Burroughs, from the bullet of Valery Solanis to the body fluids of COUM Transmissions or the call to arms by Malcolm X has been assimilated and translated into the safe cathartic rituals of  fashion.  No longer dangerous the implicit violence and transgression has been recorded as mere history and the fabric cut into Prada’s anti fashion, no less fashionable, fashion. Che Guevara is now only a slogan on a T-Shirt and his diaries a Hollywood script. The last Dokumenta shifted the MultiCultural and Politically Correct into the mainstream only because it was already dead.

Part IV

“Hoaxes are warnings that contain incorrect information about malware or system events. These warnings often describe fantastical or impossible malware program characteristics that often fool the user into performing unwanted actions on their system or suggests that users should forward the warning to other users. A hoax can be considered a nuisance by the mere fact that by forwarding it causes a waste of time and bandwidth.” www.trendmicro.com/en/security/general/glossary/overview.htm

I would like to return to my starting point, to the question of language, of truth and the ability to lie.  Given that the semantic composition of the art structure embodies and represents the values and needs of the ruling class and that their brokerage predetermines the outcome, the artists themselves are impotent.  What I make, say and do has no value beyond how it can be used, traded and exchanged.

Enter the TerroRealist.  I have previously attempted a somewhat crude analysis of a certain kind of marginal artist, an artist who speaks both within a language of vested power and simultaneously articulating the realities of an entirely different experience. I observed that artists who had grown up in countries that had been torn apart by war, revolution, conflict, crime and genocide created work according to an entirely different set of aesthetic principles.  In place of the cool detached passive showroom aesthetics of the white cube shrine, their work was invested with a Reality Principle that sought to disrupt the viewer’s pleasure more than satisfy it.  Whilst most of these artists may be known to the institutional powers, their practice seems to preclude full assimilation.

On the one hand the artists typically grew up or lived significant parts of their lives in countries that had experienced extreme ideological switches like the former USSR, Yugoslavia, Serbia, Croatia, South Africa, East Germany and so forth.  Having witnessed such extreme ideological reversals and dramatic shifts in their social realities and moral codes, these artists would naturally be more critical of any social codes and ideological promises.  I was thinking here of artists like Milica Tomic, Ilya Kabakov, Aleksandra Mir, Christian Jankowski, Sisley Xhafa, Oleg Kulig, Alexander Brenner, Marina Abramovic, Irwin, Fernado Alvim and so forth.  There exists too an entirely similar group of artists who grew up or lived in countries in which capitalism has failed to take root, countries that embody the empty promise of profit and the criminal inequality of a system designed around the needs of G8. The favelas, streets and ghettos of Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Rio, Havana and Bogota have witnessed a very similar strategy coming from artists based once again on a loss of faith in a political system that disqualifies and disenfranchises them even before they begin and this experience has created artists like Cildo Meireles, Felix Gonzales Torres, Helio Oiticico, Victor Grippo, Lygia Clark and Carlos Capelan to mention a few.

The USA was naturally shocked and deeply traumatised to see the twin towers burning but in countries like Iraq, Angola, Russia and in cities like Johannesburg or Bogota such terror attacks are daily events. Everyday families and friends are traumatised by rape, kidnaping, murder, bombs, assassinations and incarceration for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Almost immediately as I had articulated the theory of the Terrorealist, that albeit somewhat forced, still made sense, I was uncomfortable with it for a great many artists from the centre demonstrated the very same characteristics like David Hammons, Jimmie Durham, Maurizzio Cattelan, Carl-Michael von Hausswolff, Jens Hanning, Giani Motti, Gino de Dominicis and so forth.   In the case of Spanish artist Santiago Sierra I would say that his is a simple case of the colonial structure of raping and enslaving the natives for profit, but for the rest I needed to expand the logic somewhat

The Terrorist must infiltrate in order to survive, slowly integrating themselves into the culture they seek to destroy. The more successful they are in being able to lie about their intentions and disappear into the social fabric, the greater their chances will be to later rip it all apart. Whilst the ensuing attack will certainly be articulated in terms of terror, it can be as effective with a well placed rumour as with a benign, but suspicious looking package or a spectacular car bomb explosion made from fertilizer. Their weapons are all recycled from everyday life so as to, on the one hand avoid suspicion, and on the other because they have no access to any other means. Their greatest weapon is their precise analysis of the social fabric, its strengths and weaknesses and where a well placed object or telephone call would be the most disruptive. Since it can sometimes take years for a plan to be set in motion, it is very important that they keep their eyes on their goal with a very strong sense of faith and courage, hiding behind subterfuge and equivocation. As a role model there can be no better for the contemporary artist for the terrorist needs to, by definition, study and perfectly understand the structure of power and the logic of the social, political and economic classes of the society of its enemy.

The artists I have attempted to define as Terrorealist would refute such a definition for they would be suspicious of the power and control that follows the process of naming. Their work is difficult to define because it concerns itself more with the social fabric than the objects or images that are the external expression of that fabric. Their work is performative and disruptive, anti-social and yet at the same time they can sometimes use fashion as a vehicle. Most importantly the Terrorealist distrusts power whether it is in the form of language or history, the logic of the institution or an individual. Power is defused with humour, contradiction, disavowal and history is thrown back into the dustbin from whence it came.

Perhaps the most important aspect of such an artist is that they begin every project from the perspective of the self. Unlike the PCMC artist the Terrorealist does not speak on behalf of others or create victims by imprisoning either the viewer or their subject. Instead the self is located at the centre, as the subject from which the world may be analysed and decoded. The self is fixed in another time, language, history, place and culture and as such it is the most subversive place to begin for it all holds all the keys to the dislocation of the centre. The lives experiences, the colloquial subjectivity of this space provides all the clues necessary to create the bumps and potholes on the gallery floor of a homogenous culture.

Part V

According to the Hindu tradition of cosmology we are now entering into the age of Kali Yuga, a dark spiritual age of chaos, rampant sexuality, greed, violence, debauchery and lies. The gods that were once feared have since been reduced to one dimensional clichés like Bush’s Episcopalian America, Muslim fanaticism or even entirely forgotten as profit replaced the prophets. Most Contemporary Art practice reflects this condition in its vapid banality and decorative emptiness. The gestures become more slight and the expressions more flat.  The Veneer Disease of “Empty V” television  is spiraling out of control and artists have absolutely nothing to say about nothing and are happy to simply go on photo-shopping.  There is no spiritual dimension to contemporary art beyond celebrating the sale and exchange value of the objects.  I would argue that this absence of faith is directly related to the emptiness and boredom of living.  The excess of profit has created lifestyles in which death, disease, pain, trauma and the fragility of the body is removed from experience.  According to the ancient Shamanistic ways it necessary that you confront and deal with the realisation and experience of your own death before you can express life.  Throughout the history of art, the proximity and experience of death and disease, revolution and war translated into entirely different strategies and expressions than during periods of luxury.  In our own life time the Aids epidemic in New York brought death, suffering and empathy into the lives of a generation of artists who as a result produced work that was far more engaged with life and its fragilities than the decade either before and after. The same may be argued for the work created in the time of the Vietnam War although we have yet to see what the attack on the twin towers and unjustifiable war in Iraq will translate into.

Memory is a scar that holds onto the body in pain, ecstasy, anger, orgasm, hysteria and excess, constantly reminding itself about that moment when every word, every vowel or syllable it had been programmed with was unable to save or protect it. This loss of control threw the body into a space beyond language that was closer to God than any other experience before or since. The memory of it remains a scar because time has no way to cover the wounds with words or cultural expressions and only the experience itself can describe the experience. God is the ultimate terrorist constantly creating and destroying our world with violence and beauty, simultaneously expressing infinite terror and infinite joy.

I have ripped out the tongue of my master and with it firmly in my cheek I would now like to speak about the spirit and the soul.  This is not the sentimental quoting of yet another faith I have read in a book, but a baptism of fire into the secret life of objects as ideological receptors.  It’s about returning the body to a space for desire, sex, blood, sweat, pain, love, death, the awakening of the Beast within, the cannibal in Dionysus devouring Apollo in order to assimilate him.