“You are the invisible generation.” — Steve Oklyn

A Letter

This issue began, like last, with a question: why has cultural production become so deafening, so overwhelming and so all consuming that we can barely keep up anymore? There were also other questions like: despite the seemingly endless amount of culture being created, why does it sometimes feel like we are surrounded by sameness? Where can we find truly new ideas? Does a collective avant-garde exist today? Do we still believe it can exist at all?

These, of course, are not new questions. As early as 1944, critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer declared in their essay “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” that “culture today is infecting everything with sameness.” Adorno and Horkheimer go on to liken the cultural industry to just that—an industry—a powerful business with vetted interests in standardization and mass production. Within this system, difference is identified, absorbed and neatly classified away, while sameness, under the guise of ‘universality,’ does nothing more than reinforce the powerful structural and societal hierarchies already at play. When cultural production is taken up into the realm of business administration—that of identifying, cataloging and classifying—spontaneity, imagination and difference cannot survive under the crushing weight of the Culture Industry’s formulaic totality. Newness and novelty are continually discussed, but forever out of reach. Taking the place of difference, novelty and surprise is more: more products, more art, more literature, more music, more film, more media (that of newspapers, magazines, television, radio and advertising), all beating to the endless rhythm of reproduction and repetition.

In 1972, art critic John Berger looked to determine the impact of mechanical reproduction and technology on both ‘high’ (European oil painting) and ‘low’ (mass media) culture in Ways of Seeing, a four-part BBC documentary turned book of the same name. Informed by philosopher Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Berger theorized that because images could now freely move throughout the world, they had become akin to language, with the power to not only transmit information and messages, but also be transformed and given new life by the collective public.

Last month while reviewing Ways of Something, a web project conceived by Lorna Mills in which a series of artists use one-minute clips to respond to the first episode of Berger’s documentary Ways of Seeing, art critic Ben Davis asked of Berger’s text today, “where do we stand in relationship to his themes?”

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Seeing artists expertly manipulating, editing and using images while hearing Berger muse on technology’s ability to let us see images “in the context of [our own lives]” blatantly illustrates just how far we’ve come since 1972. Berger’s vision of a collective public being able to create individual and highly personal visual languages seems to have reached its zenith within our current digital landscape.

However, Berger also looked to critique mass media and its ties to advertising, publicity and the cult of the celebrity. He argued that when these powerful social and commercial industries took the image as their highest form of currency, they remade the rest of the world in their likeness. In turn, collective participation is increasingly replaced by individual consumption, in which our cacophony of choice (i.e. the Culture Industry) is transformed into a “substitute for democracy.” Within this context, Davis concluded that although Ways of Something may point to how far we’ve come, unknowingly, it also points to how far we’ve yet to go.

These thoughts rang true for us. For while we knew our questions had not only been asked, but answered before, what we found most surprising was that we were still asking them. Aren’t we supposed to be living during the greatest cultural transformation of our time? Where today’s technological revolution and its promise of the Internet—that great cultural equalizer—offered up the solution that Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin and Berger had been arguing for all along: a truly democratic platform in which anyone’s voice could be heard away from the deafening sound of powerful mass media and commercial production? Where difference could not only be found in abundance, but mobilize and effect change? Where new ideas could be conceived and found within seconds? All we had to do was log on and participate.

When Berger looked to examine mechanical reproduction’s affect on the tradition of European oil painting and its ties to mass media, he observed, “we see these paintings as nobody saw them before. If we discover why this is so, we shall also discover something about ourselves and the situation in which we are living.” We wish to take a similar stance. If we agree that culture has the ability to shape our minds and selfhood, then perhaps if we examine cultural production today, not only from the position of what is being consumed, but also how and why are we consuming it, we can begin to find new answers to our questions.

— Aliyah Shamsher, Editor / November 2014

'I feel like I'm constantly being exposed to fresh and exciting new things… like every time I pick up my phone and hop on Twitter. There is an insane amount of regional, cultural and ethnic cross-pollination happening with incredible results. People are seeing a lot of the same films, artists, records, etc., but through the kaleidoscope of their own unique context and experience. I see lots of originality at this point of open and adventurous sampling. Music is possibly the best example of this phenomenon because before the Internet it was heavily regionalized—most sounds were, to a certain degree, contained regionally. Now of course, everything is accessible online, and therefore post-regional.'


All images Chris Dorland 2008-2014; Images courtesy the artist. Untitled (Image Render), Ink on Found Paper, 2014; Cover Image: Untitled (Stainless Future), Inkjet on Canvas/Tarp/Vinyl, 2014
'The Internet has made it so easy to follow what is happening all over the globe. Everything is accessible all the time. This is a wonderful thing. However, because there is so much information available I do find it hard to retain all this info in my memory. But I would still take having access to everything over not knowing what is happening. I find that good work is not easily forgettable, even if viewed on YouTube.'

- Daniel Faria, Daniel Faria Gallery

Untitled (Image Render), Ink on Found Paper, 2014
'Everything at once. Everything from everywhere, a constant, unending stream... There's both too much culture to drill down in any meaningful way, particularly given the economics of the profession at the moment, but also too much culture being produced about the same culture we're all consuming. What's the point of piling on? Why bother writing about the latest HBO show, or the new Beyoncé horseshit or whatever it is. There is no point. I have similar feelings about abundance ruining my ability to appreciate culture as well. Netflix, Spotify and e-readers have given us all an infinite supply of culture, more than we will ever be able to experience. The result is it makes me devalue whatever it is I'm in the midst of experiencing because I always wonder what I'm missing, and finding out is just a tab away.'

- Luke O'Neil, Journalist and Blogger

Untitled (Image Render), Ink on Found Paper, 2014
'Ideas about the “size” of the Internet can be so misleading and subjective. For some users it feels “huge” when they get a chance to step out of their IRL social groups, yet for other users it seems “small” after they learn to identify everyone who does similar things as them. The image that we most often associate with the Internet is that of the “Whole Earth Catalogue.” It is very much an old visualization—the Earth, seen in its entirety from space and wrapped in this shiny transparent layer, too big to consume. In a way this contains two nightmares in one: an image we’ll never see as anything more than a reproduction, and an idea too big to hug.'

- Maja Cule, Artist

Untitled (Image Render), Ink on Found Paper, 2014


Ch. 1

So of course, when we first tried to interview Hurtzig and she immediately instructed us to use past interviews and articles first, copying and pasting quotes and various bits of information in an exercise that saw us compiling our own answers to our initial inquiries, we barely blinked. For the artist had seemingly placed us at the centre, giving us the power to edit, cut, add and exclude information at our will as we easily made the shift from passive interviewer to reader, author and creator of the entries subsequently found below. But what first seemed like empowerment, bolstered by the unequivocal belief in our own capacity for knowledge production and transfer, began to quickly unravel at the hands of Hurtzig. Over the course of four months, our simple interview turned into pages upon pages of notes, linked articles, videos, quickly spoken remarks from various in-person meetings, along with found quotes and given quotes from a series of email exchanges. Each was a layer that finally pointed to the purpose of Hurtzig’s practice: to make visible what the circulation of knowledge truly is, a piecemeal collection of assumptions, opinions, habits, techniques and beliefs, only narrowed by our reflexive insistence to place ourselves at the centre of it all.

For Hurtzig, the ‘Age of Knowledge’ is merely an idealized view of our current understanding of knowledge production, which values, above all, data, information management and the ease in which all of it can be transferred from one individual to the next. Hurtzig’s practice rejects such ease and our need to analyze, contextualize, comment on and verify information. However, as you’ll discover below, continually calling into question our understanding of knowledge production and transfer may lay bare the illusion of individual agency, if only in an effort to point to the infinite possibilities of the collective.

Current entries on Hannah Hurtzig:

The Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge is a project series by the Mobile Academy, which has organized events throughout Europe since 2005. German curator and dramaturg Hannah Hurtizig initiated the Blackmarkets in an effort to experiment with new forms of knowledge production and transfer in constructed public spaces.

Blackmarkets have been realized in such cities as Hamburg, Berlin, Istanbul, Vienna, Liverpool and Riga, ranging in topics from “The Repaired, Enhanced and Dead Body,” “Waste: The Disappearance and Comeback of Things & Values,” and “Who Will Have Been to Blame?”

Each Blackmarket is comprised of a set structure: a chosen topic is handed over to a field of 100 experts. During the event, which takes place over the course of one evening, there are one-on-one talks between experts and clients. Participants become clients by purchasing time with experts for one euro, each session lasting thirty minutes long. A larger audience is always present, and can listen to various conversions via headphones.

Wanting to explore how performance factors into communication and social interaction, Hurtzig’s Blackmarkets pose knowledge as theatre. Here, knowledge becomes a space to be negotiated, while each encounter becomes a fulfillment or betrayal of the promise of knowledge.

“More demand does not create more supply, supply is diverse and open, but it is also fixed and limited, and is not always distributed in accordance to plausible rules.” (HH)

The outcome is never one, coherent, and certainly not a unified or homogeneous production of knowledge. It is instead an irreproducible act of connectivity between people, places, memory and interests.

The Copycat Academy, produced in partnership with the Luminto Festival, was a one-week incubator program that took place in Toronto from June 9th -15th 2014. The program took Canadian artistic collective General Idea as its subject, with 20 emerging artists attending lectures, seminars and workshops that deconstructed various topics pertaining to their work, exploring ideas around death, glamour, emotion, copyright and collectivity. **ISSUE28 also takes up General Idea for our own purposes in Chapter 3. »

'I wouldn't call Google research an idea, rather a habit. Although it might be good as an additional means for research. I would say in order to develop knowledge you really have to digest information; you have to mull it over. This can take some time, years and even decades. I guess it is, at the same time, a conscious and subconscious process. But it needs work, reading and re-reading and re-reading to find and take in the right details important to you. But the large quantity of metadata presented to us via something like Google seems to be, in a way, an adversary to that process.'

- René Frölke, Filmmaker

Untitled (Scanners), Inkjet on Canvas/Tarp/Vinyl, 2014
'I’m not sure I fully accept the (somewhat cynical?) insinuation—a human’s total ‘knowledge’ has always been split between things known/understood with depth vs. things known/understood superficially or casually. I understand the instinct to think that we’re more dillettante-ish now due to constant googling, but I would also counter that the net also gives us a deeper and more textured understanding of the things we claim to master, such as our career skills or personal passions. I feel we just know more period—more ephemera and more functional knowledge.'


Untitled (Catch Me if I Fall), Inkjet Print/Linen/Nylon/Wooden Stretcher, 2014

ISSUE28’s “interview” with Hannah Hurtzig

What is it about the organization of knowledge that interests you?

I’m not particularly interested in organizing knowledge, more in its appropriation, consumption and communication. We are using and quoting the existing strategies on how to organize knowledge and how it is collected and designed in encyclopedias, archives, and different information systems, and how it is staged in reading rooms, congress and 19th century public showrooms. We try to set up situations in which we can stage scientific knowledge as a tangible experience of shock and astonishment. Within this structure, the gaining of knowledge becomes an instance of collective practice—a form of popular theatre. That includes the deceit, the cannibalization and the faking of knowledge, along with the old question, who determines the access to knowledge?


How did your ‘Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge’ series come about?

The Blackmarket is a performative reflection of how the learning society currently understands itself, or more an experimental setup on how one ought to understand the future realm of education as a whole—on the model of advanced liberalism. One of the implicit questions at the Mobile Academies was: What will the ideal learner of the future be like? Well, one would describe him as an entrepreneurial individual, who manages himself, grasps himself as capital, voluntarily invests in knowledge and skills and organizes social relationships and networks on his own initiative. Someone who trains in self-administration, self-control and self-realization. The Blackmarket plays with this neo-liberal model of the future as a set piece, but also with other metaphors, like that of a googling society, and it is above all an image of the masses and of collective learning.


Why the distinction between ‘Useful Knowledge’ and ‘Non-Knowledge’?

Non-knowledge can be knowledge that hasn’t found a language yet, cannot be put into words, or a knowledge still seeking forms for its communication and processing. Or implicit knowledge that only functions by not being expressed—the open secret. But of course also: faith. And superfluous production of meaning that no one can sort out. Censored, repressed information. I think it was [Niklas] Luhmann’s dictum that when one learns, one must first unlearn something. So in every form of ‘useful knowledge’ there is a seed of ‘non-knowledge.’


Language and dialogue factor heavily in your practice; do you think these are the most effective tools of knowledge transfer?

No, of course not! Our installations are more about the play between intimacy and publicness. So while dialogue is part of it, we stage a specific type of dialogue—one that provides a possibility for or need to be observed. Of all the possible forms of dialogue we know and practice as communicative beings, I’m interested in those, which either have to, or want to reckon with the public. These are dialogues that allow for observation. When we think of the most popular forms of dialogue today, that of the confessional or therapy, these do not allow for observation. But there is another highly popular dialogue form which demands observation, even control and is very much reliant on a public: it is that between consultant and client. The culture of consulting has become a mass movement. The twenty-first century is the century of consultancy and counselling.


This form of “consultancy” is transformed into ‘expert’ and ‘client’ during the markets…

Yes, however in requesting that the “experts” narrate their knowledge, not deliver it as a lecture, it becomes less like an interview and more of a joint process of memory. Of course, it is also a “fake” dissemination of knowledge. Seduced by the encyclopedic form, the belief in lists and catalogizations, one could also be taken in by liars and inventors. A betrayal of the conveying of knowledge. Some “experts” really have invented things and make up knowledge on the spot. At the Blackmarket, knowledge, information, and credibility are up for negotiation between “expert” and “client” at the table. »

'Learning about hard-to-describe-in-words spatial, social, natural, biological, emotional and empathic perceptions takes more than reading texts and organizing bookmarks and contact information. Tastes and smells, quality of light, the grain of one’s voice, eye contact, body language, bodily pain, pleasure and other qualities to being-in-the-world fully are what contemporary knowledge regimes cannot reproduce. Ultimately, taking stock in one’s internal world, one hopefully not too obfuscated by outside forces, is the first step towards an autonomy of self and the community it stands with.'

- Brandon Alvendia, Artist & Curator

Untitled (Scanners 1), Inkjet Print/Canvas/Nylon/Wooden Stretcher, 2014

And the role of the observer/spectator/public?

The Blackmarket fragments the spectator into his possible parts: as voyeur, witness, client, observer, guest, cultural tourist, participant and actor. It tries to find scenes for as many of these partial viewers as possible and to offer an unsurveyable process of watching and acting by forcing the spectator to reassemble himself as spectator. Templates of societal reality like theme parks, political events, conferences, consulting offices, etc. are thereby mixed with the participatory ethos of the theatre of the 1960s, the self-reflecting performance practice of the 1980s, and the experiences of an anti-globalization political activism of the 1990s. It is also about defining theatre as a space of collective debate and also going back to an ancient model of theatre—the agora—where themes were publicly negotiated.


The Copycat Academy seemed to take on more of academic structure, with lectures and group sessions over the course of seven days. What were you trying to achieve with the academy?

Yes, a one-week academy is not an installation or show like the Blackmarkets but a temporary learning unit and meeting place. The program in Toronto combined lectures (some of them four hours long, like those by Kendell Geers and Marten Spangberg), group sessions, presentations (some of them performed by an undead, like the one by Terence Koh) and workshops to explore the art of General Idea. You may call that an academic structure but it still has to be activated, dissolved and destroyed by the participants. As a clever neoliberal individual and self-entrepreneur, an artist must organize knowledge on one’s own and must also know which knowledge needs to be combined. Hopefully in that week we could test our capacity for collaboration, self-critique and how we relate to ideas and concepts of the past.


In past interviews I’ve also heard you use this analogy of “dissolving and destroying” knowledge production and transfer, how does this come about?

The entire structure of the Blackmarkets is encyclopedic. The clients orient themselves in the program using headwords from A-Z; that defines the seating plan and the course of events. The encyclopedia is a very easily understood form of structuring, but the way we use it, it is also an encyclopedia hallucinating itself, proliferating, becoming monstrous and then dissolving again. The encyclopedic character determines form, but it dissolves again from the inside. In each case it is a collective form of knowledge transfer based on dialogue. What is of interest is less which content is communicated than how this content is communicated. And precisely because it is a process of narration and dialogue, we can’t and don’t control it.


It is obvious to state that the Internet has affected knowledge production and transfer irrevocably, so I wonder, how do you think your work with the Blackmarkets and The Copycat Academy fit into this new landscape of learning?

Well, I don’t know if it has to fit. We are just trying to gain profit from the fact that we are staging live performances. Meaning: the-watchers-watching-the-watchers-watch. There is a statement by the author and cyberneticist Oswald Wiener which features in all our projects: “It was only when I heard how you understood me that I knew what I had said.” It is precisely for this possibility of dialogue and coming together—namely a joint decision to forge a different narrative that is a reciprocal translation process. It is for these types of dialogues that we create a mise-en-scène for. §

By Aliyah Shamsher



Hannah Hurtzig is an artist, curator and dramaturg currently living and working in Berlin.

Detail series of Untitled (Scanners), Ink on Found Paper, 2014


Ch. 2
'Online everything looks so alike because it’s being reproduced as an image. But the image you’re looking at might have been a screenshot, sculpture, painting, photograph, logo, selfie, a video that is now still, some situation or a document—that’s why it’s ‘Post-Something.’ Online, all the mediums dissolve into an image. I try to behave like this, to dress up in order to disappear, because I feel that being unidentifiable allows me to have different experiences and meet people I (dis)agree with.'

- Maja Cule, Artist

Untitled (Simulations), Ink on Paper, 2008 (detail 1); Below: Untitled (Image Render), Ink on Found Paper, 2014

ISSUE28 in conversation with Marcus Boon, author of In Praise of Copying:

When did you first begin to think about copying?

There’s a lot of different ways to answer that question. In his essay “On the Mimetic Faculty,” Walter Benjamin begins by talking about the way young children love to transform themselves into other entities, and he claims that that impulse to transform is universal. I don’t really remember any such transformations myself, but when I watch my five-year-old son, who is continually transforming into an eagle or a Pokemon, or a ninja, I can see that it’s true. Although I think all learning and socialization involves copying (you learn by imitating a teacher) my own exposure to copying really happened through various subcultures when I was a teenager: I read Marvel comics and was part of a group of fans who circulated mimeographed zines, I remember the weird waxy quality of the mimeograph pages, the tactility of the printing machine which you would turn round and round to make copies of the original. And then there was punk, and the DIY movement, and the realization that records weren’t just magical corporate products that appeared, but that you could actually make records yourself, there was an early Scritti Politti single that had instructions and the budget for doing so.


As you mention in your book, In Praise of Copying, copying is an integral part of our everyday lives. Why do you think copying is such an uncomfortable topic for most people?

Well, in school and elsewhere, students are told that they have to be original and that copying is wrong—even while technologies of copying, especially those associated with computers have proliferated and form the basis of our lives. But I also think that despite the endless celebration of creativity, being yourself, being an individual that we hear so much about today—the pressure to conform, to behave like others, is very intense. And in fact human beings are treated like copies of each other a lot of the time. So there’s a lot of confusion around these words like “copy” and “original,” “individual” and “mass” or “collective.” And these then appear in actual laws that govern the production of copies in our society: intellectual property law for example. Or, the politics of being trans, and the ways in which “male” and “female” are defined, legally and otherwise, today.


You have previously mentioned that you find creativity works best within a restrained framework (i.e. jazz music) vs. when people are given free reign they tend to rely on the same gestures, lines, etc. Can you expand on this thought?

I love improvised music (well, sometimes I do!) and sometimes people will cite improvised music as an example of pure originality with absolutely no copying involved—in contrast to say punk or jazz or hip hop, where there are generic rules. But I thought it was interesting that a great improviser like Derek Bailey would observe that actually most improvisers have their own shticks and that they copy themselves all the time. So that it’s actually pretty rare to find someone who entirely reinvents themselves every time they play. It’d also be pretty difficult to collaborate with someone like that. As soon as responsiveness is involved, something like copying starts to appear, and that’s not a bad thing.


In your book, you look at how folk cultures are predominantly associated with copying (the rise of hip hop began because of the availability of copies). The Internet provides a powerful archive of information, images, sounds and most people can now participate in mimetic transformation, so why does it sometimes feel as though we are surrounded by so many bad copies?

That’s a good question. Maybe it’s a question of speed and quantity. Through various processes of automation, ideas and images can be replicated ad infinitum. So you get what Simon Reynolds calls Retromania, and the associated sense of being immersed in unending sameness or cycles of repetition. I think you see a lot of people today trying to reintroduce elements of slowness, difficulty even, into the processes of copying by which they establish collectivities: the Occupy Wall Street’s use of “mic check,” the hipster preference for analog board games and Etsy style craftiness. I don’t ultimately agree with Reynolds though, I think the utopia of infinite free information is important, and the flashes of it that we get when we can download the complete discography of some artist are telling us something important about a future global gift economy, that is not yet realizable, but is definitely on the horizon. »

'Coming up with something good is beyond difficult; it’s a life's work. I’m not so radical as to suggest abolishing the concept of intellectual property. Perhaps the next step for us is to move from regurgitating what works, to being mindful of the act of reproduction, and moreover, to play with mimicry and the recycling of knowledge.'

- Arianne DiNardo, Writer & Gallery Director

Untitled (Simulations), Ink on Paper, 2008 (detail 2)

Insiders & Outsiders

Ch. 3
'The media has replaced all other institutions,” says [Fran] Lebowitz. Public image is paramount. Producers and publicists limit creators in positing imaginary publics, wanting “comps” for everything. In the entertainment industry, this results in prepackaged stories and types, copies of copies. Lana Del Rey is Marilyn meets Marylou, samo samo. STILL: Even though Lana’s lyrics are laughably simple (you make me crazy / you make wild / just like a baby / spin me round like a child), and her look entirely recycled, a playful audience can write interpretation after interpretation on the pop star. I love Lana’s music, it’s my current opiate of choice, but I do believe what audiences do with her work is more creative than her making. Maybe for now how we look is more novel than what we’re looking at.'

- Fiona Duncan, Writer & Bookseller

Untitled (Apprentice), Ink/Enamel/Plexi on Canvas, 2013; Below: Untitled (Cornpone), Ink/Enamel on Canvas, 2013

Monk’s own “verbal utterances,” which looked to deconstruct concepts such as death, glamour, perversion, plagiarism and collectivity, were at times frustratingly hard to follow, although served to magnify the density of General Idea’s fabricated systems used for critique and subversion of cultural norms. Living in Toronto, General Idea is ever-present and has become part of the lexicon of popular culture they once sought to parasitically inhabit, appropriate and cannibalize. But unlike say, Warhol, whose system of ready-mades, commercial printing techniques and views on fame and celebrity are easily understood (and therefore continually referenced ad nauseam), General Idea’s complex visual and verbal languages beg to be uncovered further. One system in particular that General Idea employed was that of inhabitation and articulation, which Monk theorizes as “insider vs. outsider” systems of cultural production. I asked Monk to explain this theory further for ISSUE28 and to offer, through an analysis of General Idea and his own work as a curator, thoughts on our current landscape of mass participation, nostalgia, and consequently, where this leaves the artist today.


During your lectures at The Copycat Academy you mentioned that General Idea didn’t use the words parody or pastiche in their artistic practice. I found this so interesting as these are words that are very much used today and part of our system of cultural production…

Someone else at The Copycat Academy asked me why I didn’t use the word “parody” in describing General Idea’s work in my lectures. Well, I was engaged in what I would call a philological exercise, which is to consider what the system of their work means in terms of its own time when it was produced (now historical) and through its own language. I only used the language or terms General Idea themselves used.

We have to think of General Idea as a closed system. Developing their ideas in the late 60s and early 70s and ending in 1994. It’s important we look at the group through the language that they used and work within that. They used language in a very specific way; they were very interested in fascination and nostalgia. Parody didn’t quite work within their system. Parody implies critique, and while General Idea did critique our systems of culture, they were much more interested in seduction, nostalgia and recovery. Parody implies irony and dismissal, standing outside a system in order to reveal how it works, General Idea loved what they were doing and it was a fascination rather than a dismissal.

Yes, you seemed instead to use the words seduction, recovery, nostalgia and fascination throughout the week…

Yes and of course, General Idea were arch, ironical, and camp in their work, but they never would state this, only display it. It’s curious that the word “camp” only appears once in any of their writing or their magazine FILE. They preferred to use the code word “nostalgia” for “camp” for strategic reasons. Of course, their work was a critique of sorts: of Glamour, the commodity, and the art system. But at the same time, they wanted to play with the fetish character of Glamour, for instance, and its fascination because their system was double edged: it was a system in motion. They elevated something degraded (a drag queen Miss General Idea) in order to degrade something elevated (culture’s notion of Glamour embodied in the beauty contest). Nostalgia is not about dismissal but loving fascination. We only camp what we appreciate in some way, even if we are being “ironical” about it. This is what General Idea were doing.


You mentioned “insider vs. outsider” systems during the week and its relationship to cultural production; can you explain this concept further?

It was a very different era when General Idea was producing art; one of the major differences was that communities were quite closed off. For instance, with the queer community, there was a coded language that people in-the-know created and used among themselves. This is just not possible today when everything is public. Culture is now something that everyone can participate in, comment on and ridicule. I think this results in a flattening out of culture; language is reduced to its most common denominators, which does not allow for any nuances or subtleties. We’re looking at the passing of culture from inside to outside. An insider system requires an articulation of a specific language. An outsider system is about looking in, viewing and commenting on culture—this is generally where parody, copy and mimicry are found. For General Idea, working within the closed system of our collective past, they wouldn’t need parody. »

'In the current era of hyperlinked documentation, tweets, instagrams and reblogs, an order is brought to culture that stagnates its opportunity for innovation. If the modes of delivering culture become enforced with rigid structures, nothing will feel fresh, even if it is. The monotony of navigating Facebook, emails and Wikipedia has diminished the chance of niche discovery in the public data stream.'

- Analog Preservation Network (APN)

Untitled (Skin in the Game), Ink/Enamel on Canvas, 2013; Below: Untitled (Pickle), Ink/Enamel on Canvas, 2013

Where do you see this “insider vs. outsider” system being articulated today?

It’s hard to imagine that we can have an avant-garde or underground anymore when the terms of culture are shared immediately in the widespread system of the Internet. The “underground” is an incubator of new forms of understanding, new languages, and new approaches to sensation. It takes time to articulate these, to invent new languages—even though in time they rise up to be collectively embraced. If everything is shared immediately, it can only be through a common language that already exists, which is usage in its most mundane, debased form. There is no room for exotic understanding here that can transform us in different ways. If they are the only platforms within which we interact, we have to realize that the Internet and social media have collapsed the possibility of difference between the underground and mainstream. The former is composed of outsiders who invent new languages; the latter consists of insiders who merely comment ironically on a culture we already share. As an enterprise, General Idea was inaugurated at a time when it was still possible to be an “outsider” inventing languages yet participating in culture through a critique of its images.


Yet some would argue that this current widespread participation, in which we all have become insiders, leads to new forms of authorship and selfhood…

More than the question of authorship, for me the interesting issue is that of archives. The Internet has forced us all to become archivists. But since through social media we all seem to share what is familiar and similar, these are archives of the Same rather than Difference. What is potentially interesting about archives is their classification of difference: archives can bring together images or things that don’t seem at first to belong together. This is part of their power to fascinate. (General Idea’s work was one giant archive that archived images of our culture in the process.) What is equally interesting is the question of what unsettles the archive by unsettling its classification system, a question of what cannot be housed there. Is it possible to unsettle the archive of the computer screen? A too-shared culture may not be able to ask this question or even recognize it.

Where does this leave the artist/writer/creator today?

This new archival recognition frees the artist or writer to look at the richness of historical culture archivally, to invent new archives from the resources of knowledge systems artists, writers, scientists, and historians have created in the past. The aim is to reawaken the past by making its knowledge systems exotic, not just for nostalgia’s sake, but for our own intellectual fascination.


As a curator, where do you see the avant-garde existing today?

I think about artists who are working within closed communities, working with people vs. working within the art system—this is where we can begin to critique culture. Within this new system of hyper-connectivity and superficiality, I find myself retreating into the past. I’m currently fascinated by 19th century scholarship, the idea of an encyclopedia of knowledge. We have become a culture of ‘the image’ and as time goes on the ability to read feels as though it might become obsolete. I’m retreating from the visuality of our culture into producing writing, investigating its capacities. I don’t think all is lost though, there are still revivals. I’m living at the end of a generation that loved print. It now moves into cult. Everything returns, just in a different way.


How do we approach revival—this consumption of the past—within our current cultural landscape of ‘the image’ in thoughtful and meaningful ways that go beyond surface-level revivals and homage?

Revivals are ways of re-circulating culture, where something is retained and something lost in the process. They are a necessary part of our relationship to the past. We have to constantly balance an understanding of a past culture in its own terms and in terms of what still interests us. Most cases of revival only deal with the latter, with a culture’s more superficial aspects, but revivals are also means of discovering the fascinating things we have (arrogantly) forgotten. To do this, though, we need to get beyond the computer screen and engage with material artefacts, whether these are objects or images, just as we need a more direct interaction with language itself and not communication. »


Ch. 4
'I think it’s inaccurate to say that we’re suddenly speaking up. Suddenly it’s happening in such a way that someone you don’t know can read your opinion, but it doesn’t mean that we’ve suddenly become voiced in a way that we weren’t before. We’ve always had opinions and those opinions have always gone on being shared, now they’re just being done in such a way that, however perturbing it is, they’re accessible opinions from people on the margins of life.'

- Sky Goodden

Untitled (Basic Pleasure Models), Ink on Found Paper, 2011

Aliyah: Writer Fran Lebowitz has said many times in the past that there is “way too much democracy in culture and not enough in society. A good way to participate as a citizen would be to vote. Not necessarily to tell your opinion of a singer.” 24-year old artist Lucien Smith shares a similar view, saying, “people understand what art is supposed to look like, and so it’s easy to make something that looks like art but isn’t.” What do you think? Are there just too many people participating in the production of culture right now?


Sky: I would just say that Fran’s quote, it’s like saying, why can ants carry their weight and why are root beer floats so tasty? They’re separate things. We can be participants in our political environment and we can have our opinions about culture and one doesn’t have to beget the other and one doesn’t have to eclipse the other. And then as far as Lucien Smith goes, I think it’s funny that he would say that because he’s making art that looks like art. I don’t know if we should be quoting people who are that young.


Danielle: Well, why not? Young people are allowed to participate in culture too. Just because people are new to creating culture, and the culture that they create may not be as sophisticated as what older people are making, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be doing it. I think, yes, there’s a lot more people participating in culture. That means there’s a lot more bad and mediocre culture, but it takes time for people to learn how to produce artwork. And what are you gonna do, stop them? I hope not.


Sky: Do you actually think there are more people participating now than before?


Danielle: Well, just to the extent that everyone is in the act of persona creation by having these online profiles, which is what only celebrities, artists and people who were in the public eye used to do. Now everybody’s doing it—to various degrees of incapability—and, you know, even just taking photographs was something a specialist did. Or writing for public consumption used to be something that only specialists did, and even if people are just dabbling in it like dilettantes, it still means they’re becoming part of cultural production. Maybe the ideas aren’t good, so it’s not good art, but I think it’s art. And I think it’s good that people are learning how to create art; I think it makes how they understand art more nuanced and interesting.


Arianne: Back to what Fran’s saying—there’s way to much democracy in culture and not enough in society, a better way to participate would be to vote and not give your opinion of a singer—that’s such a fascist statement. Like, who is anyone to say that someone is not allowed to have an opinion on an item of cultural significance or insignificance, for that matter? I adore Fran, I think she’s invaluable to our generation and to the cultural consciousness, but that just seems sort of antagonistic for the sake of being antagonistic… which is great, also, because that challenges people to reconsider notions that they may not have wanted to think about, or that they wouldn’t have had before. And I don’t think it’s possible that there can be too many people participating in something. Participation is generally good because it creates dialogue.


Aliyah: I decided to use Fran’s quote because I do think it is culturally elitist. Fran believes culture should be created by a natural aristocracy, which is determined by how good you are. And then you start questioning that because, again, it’s very subjective: What is good? What defines good? Right now it’s the market—those who are selected and who become famous. For me, her question misses the point. I’m more so interested in why we all feel the need to participate, whether it be creating content or commenting on a singer. And I think we’re participating, whether it is in criticism or in production, in a way that we have never before, because we have so much access to do that. »

'I think one of the reasons when people decry, “Nothing’s original and everybody’s just re-hashing what everybody’s re-hashing,” it’s mostly because people have these super computers in their pocket and they’re still figuring out what the buttons do. And once they’re more comfortable with the format and the media, then I think you’re going to see this quantum leap happen where people are oriented to how the Internet works as a means of production and the idea of cultural production being a populist thing. And we’re going to be past the stage where we’re just collaging together what already exists.'

- Danielle Meder

Untitled (Basic Pleasure Models), Ink on Paper, 2011

Sky: I think it’s inaccurate to say that we’re suddenly speaking up. Suddenly it’s happening in such a way that, yeah, someone you don’t know can read your opinion, but it doesn’t mean that we’ve suddenly become voiced in a way that we weren’t before. We’ve always had opinions and those opinions have always gone on being shared, now they’re just being done in such a way that, however perturbing it is, they’re accessible opinions from people on the margins of life. I think what it means is—and I think it’s dualistic: one is that we are responding quickly, which means that we’re honing our instincts of what is good and what is bad; it also means there’s a high margin of stupidity that’s being given a sound kind of audio, like a soapbox. And then there’s the third piece, which is that there’s a long fucking memory. That actually, as much as you can edit and undo, there’s a lot of things you can’t undo.



Danielle: I really like your thoughts Sky. I feel like we’re in this stage of cultural orientation, so a lot of the reasons why the stuff that we see is so ignorant and repetitive is because people are still getting used to the idea that there are these things that they can do. I remember making those leaps and saying those stupid things in 2005 when I was on the Internet for the first time and not prepared for responses. In an orientation period, just like when a young artist is going to school and learning how to create art, you imitate. You find artists that you admire, you imitate them, you’re still forming your ideas about what art is and figuring out which ideas are yours and which ideas are the ones you seem to have collected along the way. And I think one of the reasons when people decry, “Nothing’s original and everybody’s just re-hashing what everybody’s re-hashing,” it’s mostly because people have these super computers in their pocket and they’re still figuring out what the buttons do. And once they’re more comfortable with the format and the media, then I think you’re going to see this quantum leap happen where people are oriented to how the Internet works as a means of production and the idea of cultural production being a populist thing. And we’re going to be past the stage where we’re just collaging together what already exists.


Emily: [And the fact that] we can actually take control of our medium, of our methods and our pace—it sounds like we’re discovering we can take our time to write.

Danielle: Yeah, nothing bad happens if you don’t respond right away.

Sky: You may lose your audience, potentially.

Danielle: Whatever.

Emily: That is a potential, ha. Hopefully now if more people are saying, “No, you can take your time and do what you actually want to do,” other people are also feeling more relaxed, and they’ll give themselves that time. Because so many eyes are on any one thing, we can start new examples, ones that are maybe more holistic or easier for people to follow along with. [We should] embrace our talents and embrace our limits.

Sky: I don’t know, though. I think that’s optimistic because our activity online is pretty neurotic. I check CBC eight times a day, it’s stupid—

Emily: —I have like seven tabs open at any one time.

Sky: I’m struggling with this right now; I’m thinking, maybe I should just be [publishing] once a week. I upload five articles and they’re great, rather than trying for two a day. And I’m struggling with that because I realize the reality is that you’ll probably lose your readership, right? They’re not going to keep the tab open. Their computer is going to crash and they’re going to forget that you ever existed! I mean, I don’t know, it’s a nice idea, as I say I’m working through it right now, but I don’t know that our behaviour online is super conscientious.


Aliyah: One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is how our disruptive behaviour—this moving between an infinite amount of tabs, checking news sources or social platforms an inordinate amount of times throughout the day—not only influences how we read now and consume culture, but what we are creating in hopes of it being consumed, particularly online. Are we just creating things that pander to this new type of neurotic audience? Are we waiting for more and more people to start slowing down? »

'If everything that you consume online is only geared towards what you already like, then the pool for learning something wildly new and strange is diminished. You’re only going to learn within the spectrum of what you already know. The amount of choice seems endless online, but there are algorithms in place that narrow how much information—potential new information—is going to be placed in your feed once you start prefacing everything with a 'like' or 'dislike.''

- Dixie Gong

Untitled (Basic Pleasure Models), Ink on Paper, 2011

Arianne: To go back to what you were saying about concentration and the way that we traverse the Interweb, Kenneth Goldsmith is starting a new course—

Aliyah: —Yes, I just read that same article in The New Yorker.


Arianne: It seems fucking brilliant. So it’s called How to Waste Time on the Internet, which sounds like such an asshole thing. I don’t if you guys are familiar with the Situationists; they blew up in the late 60s and were very concerned with psycho-geography and with moving through your terrain, your geography, your urban space, and experiencing it in a really mindful way, but also in a very dreamlike state. Kenneth wants to take this idea and transpose it onto the online world, so that we’re more aware of what we’re doing online. The premise of this class is that for three hours the students are in total silence, and communicate with Kenneth only by chat room, listservs, etc., and at the end of the class what they produce can be anything like a browser history as a memoir, or linking the Twitter feeds of celebrities and making poems out of that. It seems like a really interesting concept to just be more aware of what we’re doing online, because for me, when I get home from work and I go online and read… it’s just this total mishmash that makes no sense, but it’s really an imprint of who you are and your interests. To be aware of that gives you perspective into who you are. If you have perspective into who you are, your creative output will be a lot better.


Danielle: Can I throw out a metaphor here? It’s like The Omnivore’s Dilemma for media consumption. It’s a book by Michael Pollan where he investigates the way that we consume food, and I’m really interested in that as a metaphor because I think of my media diet in terms of food, and I have for a long time because one of the things that the Internet is, regardless of its military/industrial origins that I find fascinating, is that it’s kind of an empathy machine. Like, you’re inside of all of these other people’s minds all the time, and their minds are inside of your mind. And it makes you think, if I’m reading this random person’s opinion of Kim Kardashian’s butt, that’s inside my mind. And after a while you start to think, which of these things are like red food dye #5, colouring my brain and affecting my thoughts?


Danielle: It’s one of the reasons why we have this sameness of culture—the people who read the fashion magazines go and design fashion and then that fashion comes out in fashion magazines. It’s an aurora borealis that goes on and on and on. But then, the people who are creating really fascinating new things usually have a very diverse media diet. The same idea in The Omnivore’s Dilemma is that our food is becoming too uniform and the result is that we’re consuming ourselves into oblivion.


Dixie: For sure we live in that kind of monoculture, because if you tend to filter yourself too much, your likes and preferences, then there’s no space for opposition. And there’s no space for difference. Too much personalization can be a bad thing.

Sky: Yeah, you can become an autodidact.

Danielle: Being an autodidact is dangerous? Why?

Sky: Because you’re steering your education in accordance, to some degree, with your beliefs.

Danielle: What’s bad about that?

Sky: It doesn’t shape you. There’s no opposition to agitate against, and to form a sort of character in response to. You’re not responding, rather, just gliding.


Dixie: If everything that you consume online is only geared towards what you already like, then the pool for learning something wildly new and strange is diminished. You’re only going to learn within the spectrum of what you already know. The amount of choice seems endless online, but there are algorithms in place that narrow how much information—potential new information—is going to be placed in your feed once you start prefacing everything with a ‘like’ or ‘dislike.’ »

'Becoming overwhelmed can force us to take the path of least resistance, playing into the market that we know is safe instead of carving out our own ground. It’s like, "I just have to make some sort of output. I’m too overwhelmed to really make it original, I’m just going to do what I know will be successful and so that I can remain relevant." We’ll produce something that we feel will fly, even if it’s not fully developed, just as a place-marker of ourselves in the world.'

- Emily Piggford

Untitled (Basic Pleasure Models), Ink on Paper, 2011

Aliyah: Steve Oklyn from NOT VOGUE recently said in a roundtable discussion with Adult Mag: “We have reached a cultural and aesthetic ground zero.” Oklyn very much believes our current culture has become far too preoccupied with consumerism/fashion, and that we ourselves have been “commercially compromised,” so let’s flip the conversation. Perhaps it’s not that too many people are participating that’s the problem, but what they are participating in?


Sky: Well, how often do we read things and then consciously choose to not look at the comment section because it would really bum us out? I think it is a fairly democratic place. There was some sociological research that was done a couple of years ago that basically concluded, we are so overwhelmed by the entire world’s trauma, in all of its manifestations, that in fact we’re paralyzed, we’re not actually acting. We’re liking, distantly, we’re making subtle gestures to allegiance, but we’re not stepping out of our computer. And that’s really troubling.

Danielle: It’s funny, the reasons why I’ve eliminated a lot of news feeds from what I follow—yeah, maybe I’m less informed but I’m also less helpless against the trauma and I find it easier to do my work, which is what my life is about. Democracy is optional. You don’t have to vote, and even if you don’t have a computer or a smart phone, well, we still have libraries. If you really have something to say, you can run over to the library and create a Tumblr and say it. So that’s like the voting option. In a theoretical kind of optimistic sense, yes, everything is democratic. Do I believe anything is democratic? No. Everybody comes at everything with their own set of privileges and disadvantages and we are not all made equal and life is not fair. Just because we have the Internet doesn’t completely change that.

Aliyah: Has the Internet overwhelmed us to the point that we can’t participate in other ways, like voting and actually mobilizing change? A lot of people allude to the Occupy Wall Street movement as having had this frenetic energy, kind of like what’s happening online where everyone is shouting, but they weren’t actually able to mobilize change and nothing was coming out of it, and that’s why it failed. So while I have this choice to be online, where I get to read endless articles about art and fashion and anything I want, I also get to dismiss anything I don’t want, like learning about civic law and how to exercise my right as a citizen in this world.

Emily: Becoming overwhelmed can force us to take the path of least resistance, playing into the market that we know is safe instead of carving out our own ground. It’s like, “I just have to make some sort of output. I’m too overwhelmed to really make it original, I’m just going to do what I know will be successful and so that I can remain relevant.” We’ll produce something that we feel will fly, even if it’s not fully developed, just as a place-marker of ourselves in the world.

Arianne: What I want to know is why we’re so desperate to be—aside from getting a pay check, which is essential, especially in overpriced metropolises like this one, and in which many creatives are based—who fucking cares if you’re relevant or not? Nobody knows who I am; I don’t care. I don’t understand what the race is about.

Sky: Well, you’re just feeling existential. The rest of us care deeply.


Aliyah: It’s a good question and that goes back to why are we all participating, why do we all feel like we need—

Sky: —To be witnessed.

Aliyah: Yes, to be witnessed, to not only to have voice but also have it heard.

Danielle: Oh and understood. Can you imagine?!

Aliyah: And to also be singled out as someone—

Sky: Since we don’t have God anymore—

Emily: —It could be us!

[Laughter] »

'The rush so many young people have, not to be good, but to be “more famous than X.” Culture is not a race. If something is profound, if it stirs you, makes you question even a single unconscious dogma, who cares if its maker is twenty-four or sixty-eight? It’s up to us now to move past antiquated notions of 'cool' and 'hip' and 'now.' Or else we’re all tethered to a system that places the value of cultural production on marketability rather than intellectual and emotive benefit.'

- Arianne DiNardo

Untitled (Basic Pleasure Models), Ink on Paper, 2011

Aliyah: And our research sort of led us right here, to this question. We started reading Astra Taylor’s book The People’s Platform in an effort to understand what is actually happening online and why we all feel the need to participate. Her theory was that what’s happening offline—like our capitalist value system that has created such extreme inequality—is what is happening online. So there is a race happening and we do all feel like we need to participate in order to be heard because our options are crumbling beneath our feet. Job security is a thing of the past. This is the way people often make a living now: go online, create something and hopefully someone will see it and you’ll get a big pay check.

Sky: I think we need to remember that we’re in the West. Activism is still a reality, and it’s happening with the aid of social media in places like Egypt—they felled a dictator because of it. We might feel like we’re sitting on our hands and feeling quite solipsistic and defeated, like “Well, gee I’m just a bit too overwhelmed by all the traumas of the world so I’m just going to eat this doughnut.” We need to maybe reflect on ourselves. That might have to do with culture, not social media.

Aliyah: Yes, there are really positive things coming out of the collectivity happening through social media platforms, like hashtag activism that promotes social and cultural change, where new and diverse voices can find each other online. We just need to see more of that.

Danielle: I watched this amazing interview with David Bowie from the year 2000. He was talking about the rise of rave culture and the Internet and how we’re approaching an age where the audience is just as important as the performer. And how he saw that as a tremendously positive thing. Your audience has a greater understanding of what you do because they’re in the mode of culture creation as well, they’re more critical—they have less time—but having consumed so much culture they have a better understanding of what’s good and not good, and they can call you out on it if you’re ideas don’t stand up, and they will. That’s incredible. A lot of this, “Oh, I’m so overwhelmed” and “Is being able to curate your feed a bad thing for the culture?”—it always sort of implies the good ol’ days argument, which I hate! Good old days for who!? No, these are the good days and yes it’s completely destabilizing and overwhelming but it’s the greatest adventure of our time.

Arianne: It’s interesting that you mention the audience being important. I’m noticing a big trend right now in culture where people like the experience of things such as tours and participatory interactive installations, where you’re thrust and thrown into it, you’re part of it.

Danielle: The audience is an element of the piece. The artist is present but so is everyone else.

Arianne: Exactly. And Sky alluded earlier to the comment section of a web forum; for me that’s part of the article. I love reading the comment section, even if it is depressing and makes me rage and question humanity, but that’s part of the article. That’s the participatory element and it’s an important part that the Internet has really propelled, and it’s infiltrated every aspect.


Danielle: A book I would recommend—it’s a book no one will read because it’s 600 pages long—is Jeremy Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilization. It’s the book with which I really caught on to what was happening to my career. He calls our age the dramaturgical age.

Arianne: What does that mean?

Danielle: It means we’re performing—we’ve entered this age where the performance is the thing. I think performance is really important, I think audience is important, and I think criticism is really important. That being said, I’ve trained myself to not care when I’m talking to a room full of a dozen people, I’m really only talking to two people. I just focus in on those two people because I know they’re my people. I think that’s the amazing thing about the Internet; before it, I didn’t know that there were people out there who were my people. Even if there were only a handful of them, I’ll take it. It gives my life meaning.

Emily: That pressure to be relevant or gain some sort of celebrity status, or be known and accepted by such a wide group of people—that is very difficult to achieve and sustain. And in the end would we not just be happy if we had, as you say, just a handful of people that we all work with well together and get one another and can have a satisfying life? Is all that we do not chiefly to have a satisfying life? §

Detail series of Untitled (Basic Pleasure Models), Ink on Paper, 2011

Permanent Vacation

Ch. 5

Last Words

“My aim is on making this mostly invisible landscape, visible,” says New York-based artist Chris Dorland of the complex infrastructure of desire, consumption and commerce that can be found online. It is for this reason that we asked Dorland to collaborate with us on this issue and we thank the artist for graciously allowing his body of work to set the stage for us, and we hope for you, to also go in search of all things invisible.

Thank you to all of our contributors for breathing life into this issue by sharing their truly insightful and discerning thoughts on our current state of contemporary cultural production and consumption. The conversation has just begun.

Contributors: Analog Preservation Network, Arianne DiNardo, Brandon Alvendia, Chris Dorland, Daniel Faria, Danielle Meder, David Psutka, Dixie Gong, Emily Piggford, Fiona Duncan, Hannah Hurtzig, Luke O’Neil, Marcus Boon, Maja Cule, Philip Monk, René Frölke and Sky Goodden

ISSUE28 created and conceived by Aliyah Shamsher