Checkmate or Check Out: A Game of Fashion Politics

Chantal Brocca surveys the fashion industry in 2018.

Checkmate or Check Out

A Game of Fashion Politics.

The world is strewn with ambitious disruptors, game changers and pioneers, the ones that question their realities and look at the world differently, hoping to subvert the status quo and shake entire industries up onto their heads. The world needs these disruptors, it needs breaks from predominant ideologies and processes in order to evolve and bring about change – and change, as noted by Hannah Arendt, can only come through violence. She was of course, referring to the overarching reality governing battle that is geopolitics and its many modern day soldiers; global cross cultural and cross border battalions taking the form of sociopolitical ideologies, the world war of our generation.

When it comes to fashion, the playing field is no different. Numerous analogies can be made with the fashion industry, a natural representative of its wider social context: game changers in fashion are no less important than game changers in politics. Fashion is politics. It’s politics masked as idle indulgences, peripheral consumables, a match of illusions for the wealthy and those who aspire to look it.

In truth, there are few things so inherently political as fashion, music and art. They are the dresses donned by powerful social ideas, beautiful and enchanting as they are distracting and deceptive, hiding a breadth of cultural cues and deeply significant ideologies that shape and influence on a mass scale. Magazines like Vice and i-D aren’t just a collection of the latest street born fashions, the defining carriers of counterculture, but are powerful vehicles of ideas targeted at the future leaders and game changers of the next generations. As much as Vogue illustrates the latest trends in the pages of its glossy magazines, it projects aspirational lifestyles and identities imbued with multiple layers of social conformity cues. What seems innocuous at first glance, the industry of fashion and play, has seeped deeper into the modern industry of manufacturing of meaning as the world got larger with globalization and digitization, curling its roots insidiously around other powerful mediums of culture such as music, dance, literature and entertainment to strengthen the charge of its message through emotional marketing.

What follows, we learn, is that fashion is inherently manipulative. Such a powerful medium of persuasion is easily nothing short of propaganda. The mainstream fashion media have the ability to sway public opinion through the image of legitimacy they have created over the years, and hence, hold a lot of power over which brands rise to influence and to triple digit profits and who don’t, representing a great opportunity for emerging talent struggling to succeed in the industry. And if we recognize that the modern ubiquity of brands translates into the fact that brands are carriers of identity, of ideas and of social conformity – as numerous academic papers and articles have theorized – it is not a power to underestimate. Yet, what we naturally recognize in politics, we routinely fail to remember when we indulge in the amusement of fashion: the game is rigged, and it is an opaque system of power relations and advertising spending power, and not one of meritocracy, that dictates who wins.

Thierry Mugler FW 1984
Thierry Mugler F/W 1984

Fashion publishers, journalists and brands are locked into a closed, self sustaining circuit that relationally affects the entire industry, offering up an impossible barrier to entry into the fashion system for those unwilling to play the game. When the pages of a publication are filled with thousands of dollars of advertising revenues from major brands, it is safe to say that both its editors and its writers steer clear of any form of criticism, lest a furious creative director at the helm of an iconic fashion house pull its “contribution.”

In this way advertising spending acts as an investment – the investor is always looking for a return. As journalist Tamara Pearson notes in an article for Truth-Out, journalism is dead and content marketing has taken its place. It is a tacit agreement between entities to scratch each other’s back to the detriment of the final consumer, hoodwinked into buying into facts with no real foundation in scientific analysis and objective reporting, and into products lacking in all the value adding attributes they promised to bring.

Vogue Magazine - taken by Charisse Kenion
Vogue Paris December 2017/January 2018

In 2016, British Vogue was estimated to have made £25 million per year in print advertising alone, commanding just over £70,000 for a double page spread. Yet print isn’t the only channel that commands advertising – between Vogue.co.uk with 2.16 million users, Youtube channels that span around 2.6 million subscribers for the brand overall and 17.6 million followers on Instagram, we can just imagine the vast potential for profit, its tempting shadow quelling any and all qualms about journalistic integrity. This is of course does not yet count annual festivals, sponsorships, fashion competitions (indoctrinating future fashion generations into the sycophancy demanded by the industry’s modus operandi) and all the sister publications with their own distinctive channels covering target markets of every size, income bracket, age, culture and niche.

Not surprisingly, the idea that informational reliability can coexist harmoniously with a model that relies on advertising revenues rests on shaky ground. And yet, this idea is aggressively defended by its perpetrators.

Stephen Quinn, Vogue’s publishing director since 1991, held his head high when the September 2014 issue was criticized for carrying more ad pages than any other September issue in the magazine’s entire history. So did Jefferson Hack, founder, publisher and director of Dazed and Confused Magazine, when he was questioned on the hypocritical commercial underpinnings of his self-proclaimed status as an independent publisher, in an interview by Lou Stoppard for SHOWstudio in 2014. With deep pocket brands such as Chanel, Nike and Gucci’s backing, and as a media conglomerate that spans AnOther Magazine, Dazed Digital, AnOther Man, and NOWNESS, the latter on LVMH’s payroll, Hack’s anti mainstream stance as an independent voice for this generation’s rebellious counter culture is laughable, if not downright despicable.

What is alarming isn’t just the obvious prostitution of the media, a discourse that has now become common knowledge, but the shameless appropriation of a populist guise, complete with zine trimmings and political (albeit vague) calls to action in order to serve his very corporate, and very mainstream, interests. Here we begin to tread into waters that are much more obviously political to the eyes of the layman – just look at Vice Media, so commonly taken by millenials in creative industries as a hub of intellect, pop culture and populist street style instead of the highly political news media agency that it is. Give me one student from Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion that doesn’t make Vice, i-D, Dazed or AnOther Magazine their source of news.

i-D Magazine Spring 2012
i-D Magazine Spring 2012

The effect is disastrous – the hypocrisy of a system that demands the best of both worlds, donning the veil of truth whilst selling out to the highest bidder, destabilizes our collective ability to think critically and independently, and normalizes a system where wisdom is undermined in order to accept happy illusions in the place of ugly realities. Michel Clouscard called it back in the 1960’s, stating that a world that so heavily relies on advertising is a world that bastardizes the significance of reality and truth and their place in our social hierarchy of values. The manufacturing of concepts is as devious as it is persuasive, which is why initial theories and studies of mass communication focused on its usage for mind control, beginning with American two time Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Lippman’s novel Public Opinion published a century ago in 1922. A quick read of a couple of excerpts will soon bring the horrific realization that rather than a cultural analysis, Public Opinion acts as an elitist guide on how to steer the masses, referred to as a ‘bewildered herd’ incapable of reasoning in their best interests and in that of the world’s. Interestingly, Lippman is also one of the founding fathers of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), one of the world’s most influential foreign policy think tank.

Michel Clouscard understood the seductive importance of the spectacle, underlining how marketing worked so well because it operates ambiguously between the opposite realms of truth and falsehoods, a strategic positioning that enables appearances to easily annihilate reality, the superficial replacing any form of depth in one swift blow.

via Pinterest
via Pinterest

The age of influence coincides with the age of entertainment, perpetrated by a static power structure; an ingrained set of interconnected factors that hold it all in place, shaping the face of the fashion industry at will in a vicious cycle of self affirmation, executed in large part by the consistent filtering of information through multiple channels of censorship.

A brief overview makes this clear. Like Hack, editors will play on the fact they only publish what they like, omitting that what they like is heavily edited to conform to prevailing narratives. Fashion journalists and writers innately know how to turn a blind eye to their objectivity by relying on techniques of propaganda such as omission of information and usage of emotionally charged descriptions in order to maintain their status within the publication and the industry. PR agencies loom threateningly behind any exchange of information between brands and the outside world, their presence alone signifying implicit censorship. Bloggers and influencers, the people’s solution to the pervasive infiltration of marketing and image in the goings of ordinary life, enter into a tacit mutual understanding with the brands that pay them to direct their social media posts to their trusting immediate social circles. Runway, launches and private fashion party invites are handed out to industry insiders that are known to garner only positive buzz for the brands that host them. Public personalities and celebrities become brand ambassadors legally bound to non disclosure and coerced positive promotion so stringently it borders on identity ownership. Models, the faces and main promoters of the industry, are selectively picked from within the system maintaining an incestuous circle that naturally eliminates most of the threat of ideological defiance. Stylists and photographers work with hyped brands with wide reach that garner high publicity in order to make their way into the big dog’s good graces, get higher exposure and get paid for their associations to high status. Retailers stock the brands with the highest buzz to increase their chances of selling and maximizing revenues. Fashion interns swarm in the thousands to big, buzzy fashion houses, offering up their expensive graduate degrees, promises of free labor and fresh creative ideas to be plagiarized in the hopes of jumpstarting their careers. And finally, brands need to mass produce novel content by attracting high quality creatives on a budget in order boost profits further, showcase attractive growth metrics to investors and shareholders, and maintain their imperial position through aggressive branding and advertising with influential publications, closing the loop.

 

“The manufacturing of image and consent have become such powerful tools they have even managed to topple logical directions of power hierarchies among industry players.

 

The effects of a system built to applaud itself for its own grandiosity through the careful filtering of yes-sayers has direct consequences to consumers and the non fashionable inner workings of garment production. The quest for shock worthy, perpetually avant garde content has translated into runway designs more noteworthy as artistic sculptures, manifesting a combination of designers’ self importance and deeply embedded pressures to deliver on the hype promulgated by the fashion press, rather than into clothing consumers would want to or could afford to wear.  That the fashion industry is heading straight for the brink of burn out is a topic well discussed, but the cracks keep getting paved on with short term solutions that only aggravate the problem. The high social and environmental cost of fashion has recently become a hot topic, yet institutions still tip toe around big brands, knowing better than to bite the beast too harshly and call out human rights violations by name for fear of being shut out.

PRATT + PAPER & RALPH PUCCI, Dec. 2010
Pratt + Paper & Ralph Pucci, December 2010

The manufacturing of image and consent have become such powerful tools they have even managed to topple logical directions of power hierarchies among industry players. When Alexa Chung released her first collection, a buyer for a prominent luxury multi brand retail store decided against stocking the nascent label because it fell short of luxury standards, only to be later called up by infuriated representatives of the brand to demand how she dared not spend her allocated budget, and to undermine her position by threatening to report her insolence to Vogue. One can only wonder at the deeply ingrained mechanics of coercion, so authoritative so as to turn a brand’s relationship with a purchaser upside down.

The extortion goes in multiple ways. Jacques Hyzagi published an article with the Observer in 2016 where he denounces Elle Magazine for the hijacking of a brilliant unprecedented interview with Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, one of the most interesting designers alive today, in the name of content branding and petty power meddling.

Predominantly, we’re looking at a system that not only discourages critique and opposition, but downright banishes it into non existence, closing the door on any player at any level in the fashion industry hierarchy that refuses to play the game, throttled of their voice through the simple act of exclusion from networks and their monopoly on publicity channels, whose absolute power is cemented as the primary filters of any and all information generated on a global scale. If cultural codes are fixed and the process by which they shed and gain meaning controlled, everybody is inclined to think the same, bringing forth a secondary channel of censorship enforced by individuals onto each other and new entrants, who are then forced to confirm to prevailing narratives in order to gain any sort of credibility in the system and gain access.  

via Kristina Flour
via Kristina Flour

The closed fashion industry circuit feeds back into itself in a never ending cycle of hype-feeds profits-maintains status figures’ legitimacy-feeds hype, blocked from any form of evolution that isn’t a direct extension of its internalized logic. The industry mimics the workings of a chessboard; all industry insiders acting as pawns forced to play by the conditions imposed by the game. The only way out is to choose not to play, in which case you’re out. And the game continues.

Your Move - Jonathan Wolstenholme
Your Move (2003) – Jonathan Wolstenholme

In its appraisal of self censorship in the realm of fashion writing, Vestoj brings forth Noam Chomsky’s arguments with regards to the elite domination of mass media news reporting, which it illustrates as fundamental in garnering voluntary compliance with the dominating forces in the industry, naturally applicable to the fashion industry microcosm.

What we find is that propaganda has had the leeway to flourish and ingrain itself into internalized rationalization on an individual level, shifting conformity from external forces into voluntary internal obedience, for the simple reason that we all need to work and make money in order to survive. Few will be able to hold their stance before succumbing to its debilitating limitations, and few, as Chomsky notes, will have the time, energy and commitment to carry on the battle to break from the illusions we perpetuate that keeps the system alive.

This censorship isn’t exclusive to the realm of fashion, but to other fields that rest, whether fully or in part, on the realm of ideas, the driving forces behind our behavior, conformity, and direction and process of evolution. When the source of all social drivers, no matter how diverse in principle and thought, is one and the same – and in this case we are referring to the capitalist model – then thriving naturally enters into the complex, murky waters of gray areas. Principle, integrity and righteousness are naturally subverted for survival. We all need money to live, and we are all driven by the socially ingrained definition that success is measured through material wealth and individuality. Individuality may seem out of place, but it is in fact fundamental, bringing public recognition, the ultimate cultural driver in a society running on image fumes, as well as allowing for the private ownership and aggregation of wealth.

Historically, the real disrupters of cultural mainstream conventions starved. They were outcast, ostracized, ridiculed and impoverished, only to gain notoriety post mortem, refueling an ideology where life goals are measured by publicity and wealth. Few contemporary artists wouldn’t want to hold the same weight of Van Gogh; however, even fewer would want to accept the same conditions with which he earned that weight. Counter culture is now a multibillion dollar industry, its proclaimed disruptors glorified, revered and marketed as such, fueling a bubble of hype, publicity, higher prices, and monetary gain.

The most important subcultures throughout history have been plagiarized to give carefully constructed branding the appearance of price inflating edginess. Through appropriating the visual codes of political movements and reinserting them into contradictory, superficial contexts, the fashion industry acts as a machine of deconstruction, stripping away their depth and power in a manner that ultimately dilutes their argument. Whether a natural occurrence of the processes by which the system survives or not, some would recognize that as a form of social engineering.

In all of this, modern consumers of counter culture stop looking around and stop questioning. Fashion’s current façade interestingly centers on one of the most important issues of our time: the disparity of wealth. While we engage in class battles, the driver of our global foundation, money, is quietly siphoned into the bank accounts of a small group of top dogs, leaving very little for the rest of the world to use to address the numerous ills of modernity. Behind this, the normalization of global economic crises is largely contributed to by bourgeois interests swathed in worker class fashions, marketing the idea that poverty is cool by placing democratic clothing like white tees, hoodies and jeans in elitist contexts and price tags. All we have to do is take a look at brands like Vetements, Balenciaga, Off White, Supreme, and any other brand that appropriates populist uniforms to give couture priced and marketed products the appearance of counter culture coolness, littering their branding channels with pictures of shanty towns and low income workers that would never be able to afford the products they promote.

Populist fashions and trends with an authentic call to action lose all of their righteousness the moment they are donned by celebrities in a highly publicized, exclusive runway and sold higher than the price of a worker’s monthly wages, yet that does little to discourage the swarms of millenials ready to buy into the adventure of living in the shoes of a poor man for a night.

Walter Pearce by Terry Richardson, for Man About Town Magazine, A/W 2016
Walter Pearce by Terry Richardson for Man About Town Magazine, A/W 2016

What any historic political subculture, be it Dada, Beatniks, Punks or Mods, originated for, what beliefs, lifestyles and calls for action they stood for, were picked apart and remodeled to fit the commercial interests of the capitalist model, where the counter culture ideas they once represented, such as freedom of expression, independence from a system perceived as suffocating and the drive to create new channels of political expression that beat new paths out for others to follow, whether originally authentic or not, are used, cultural code by cultural code, to perpetuate a systematic circular path of indoctrination back into the system, to serve the appealing, yet dependent, consumerist industries of frivolity, entertainment, fashion, leisure, and as Michel Clouscard notes, the commercial monopolies of sex and drugs.

Dazed and Confused was originally a true, independent voice for fashion students and other stakeholders at the bottom of the industry barrel, yet with growth and success, it inevitably morphed from a driver of change into an upholder of the mainstream. Satirical derivatives of logos popularized on merchandise to make important social statements that were initially sued by the brands they defiled for the sacrilege of image desecration, now in turn sue newly created derivatives by third parties having entered into the corporate ethos of maintaining profits and the status that upholds it. Even the Dalai Lama is a brand whose ideology has been used to sell innumerable products, hollow of the ideas that originally may have motivated their creation. There are no outsiders when it comes to industries with image fabrication at their core, the powerful cultural drivers of society. Here, image is power, and those who seek it will eventually have to pay the price of authenticity. I too, as a product of my social context and an individual working in the fashion industry, am inextricably linked to its behavioral and relational power structures.

i-D Issue #91
i-D Magazine Issue #91

Herein lies the real problem: can we ever escape the inherent catch 22 of the societal model we’ve erected? When it comes to culture, voluntarily denying ourselves monetary gain and success, and hence, power, in the hopes of maintaining our integrity, would only lead to the unfortunate position of lacking any resource or means to bring about the new forms of cultural expression we envisioned. In our current framework, such an ethical consideration could never work, ultimately revealing that all roads lead to maintaining the positions of power held by established cultural tastemakers.

The fashion industry will continue to operate within its current framework, unchallenged, its endemic system of censorship acting as an impenetrable fortress to any conflicting ideological revolutions that could threaten its very foundations. Postulating solutions inevitably border on the radical, on violence of the kind identified by Hannah Arendt as the only real substance a revolution that ever brought in an entirely new system was made of. And here we open, by default, an entirely new can of worms.

In an issue on power, Vestoj astutely questions that if fashion reflects society, then does this mean we are staring right at the ugly face of our society’s inherent paradigm? In other words, do the structures and hierarchies that we erect around us simply mimic the political dynamics symptomatic of human nature? We are reminded of an Orwellian dystopia, one whose fictional prophecies resonate much too closely with reality. It is also the premise of determinism, which stipulates a series of logical cause and effects from which humanity cannot escape.

George Orwell, Animal Farm. Graffiti found in Singapore.
George Orwell, Animal Farm graffiti found in Singapore

With such scenarios in mind, we are forced to question nature’s part in the co-creation of corrupt systems with the power to be self-sustaining. Discussing solutions that do not delve into the dual nature of reality rely too heavily on vague affirmations. In an Orwellian world, a revolutionary upheaval of the chessboard would be redundant, simply buying us time until a new static power structure takes its place; the deterministic trap made unavoidable by humanity’s natural relational dynamics with power.

Perhaps the answer lies not in toppling a system, but in rewriting its rules, replacing the static justifications that maintain the power hierarchy with new, malleable ones able to intermittently prevent abuses of power.

In the fashion industry microcosm, the static pillar is that of multi-branched censorship. As a violation of identity and possibility, the right to own our own thoughts, and to express them to like-minded peers, our social circle or the world, whether by written word or speech, becomes the most critical right that we have. The right to question. The right to transparency. The right to truth; and if that’s too much, then the right to seek it.

Ultimately, in a world governed by a system of manufactured meaning and glorification of image so rooted in our collective perceptions and reasoning we have long lost the natural ability to identify what lies behind the smoke screen, if these illusions are what allow us to face reality, if entertainment is what fills the hole in our existence that the unanswerable universal questions of our time have left, the real question we have to ask ourselves is: can we really ever escape the system, and do we want to?

Contributors / Chantal Brocca / Website / Instagram

Techno-Capitalism

Isaac Authus examines the increasingly indistinguishable line between technology and sociology.

Techno-Capitalism

Linking Technology and Sociology.

I tried to write an article that would speak to a certain view of the exercise of power. At first, I sought to address violence as it related to the psychological displacement that many feel in this racial climate. Something that should, as our minority populations grow, lead to wider inclusion within and diversity of how we see and experience community. 

In the wake of recent events, like the shootings at Parkland, Michigan State, and a host of others, the violence that we have witnessed is not only a problem of gun-ownership or psychological fitness. Instead, this violence arises from the manner in which  we construct and perpetuate institutions that alienate the first-person “actor” at the expense of others. Others may be seen as impediments to our desires for more immediate satisfactions for sex, violence, or other catharses. 

Violence has thus become an outgrowth of how we practice digitization in our time of techno-capitalism: The passage of an era where the digit had more to do with utility rather than quantification. The utility for a living organism, rather than a proliferation of numbers. 

In terms of our current technology, we often wish to go hands-free and speak commands instead of picking up the phone, pressing a few keys, or even going outside to acquire goods. Are we entering an age in which our very handy-work will have nothing to do with our hands? That the root of digit will truly be dead? Maybe only for some. 

Many have written about techno-capitalism to describe corporate relations to the state, to describe the social influence on and felt from emergent technologies, and how that affects the flows of investment. Let’s begin with what many have: intellectual property. We can’t forget that every click, bit, pixel, digit not only bears a numerical expression but also is imbued with intrinsic value: what we might call an expression, whether visual, aural, syntactic, or numeric. The very number also is imbued with a value not of that which it expresses, but of how and of what expresses it, its own enumeration as well — in other words,he difference between the function and its effect. This, essentially, is the habitual behavior and systemic nature of techno-capitalism.

One example of such behavior can be found in  stories of adventurers who scour the earth for rarities in far flung regions, something medicinally useful maybe. They study the enzymes and chemical compounds and patent it, regardless of from where they came or whose back-yard they are tromping around in. Following, there is also a drive for the accumulation of numbers, a hoarding.

Another aspect of such behaviour involves how that same value-seeking worldview affects the wider social sphere. Catharine MacKinnon has long talked about the dangers of pornography, how the media through which we experience and learn sexuality can tinge our lived experience if not behaviour. We have long been warned of the violence expressed in video-games, different from allegorical violence, should be noted. In video games, violence has become ever more immersive and real-like. This isn’t to say that all pornography is bad or that all video games are bad. However, it informs us of a basic instinct that oftentimes ought not to be promoted. Take for instance the relation of a “first-person shooter” and a “lone wolf gunman.” Even if experiencing virtual carnage may relax some, for many it serves to desensitize and inspire cynicism, even if they wouldn’t buy one themselves. The prevalence of real violence committed using AK-47 and semi-automatic weapons is twinned by their virtual components in these games with surprising realism. I have childhood memories of playing Wolfenstein and Doom, experiencing the carnage, and being a voyeur of staged violence that might make someone “uninitiated” to that culture wince. It’s no coincidence that trolling started as a gamer habit, and now has become a high political issue, as has been seen in the accounts of Russian mis/dis-informationists, and the dissemination of post-factual statements.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (2003)

So it’s not that we have somehow forgone “utility” in technology altogether, even if in some ways we have. As humans, and as a highly evolved species, we make and use tools, often with and on other tools. I do not write to question “utility” in the abstract sense, but rather to ask to what ends are we using these tools? We cannot mark an ideology with the same stroke that we use to mark an actor, so we must ask what commands we are given, and who are they that are expressing rules of use around technology. Is the experience that technology gives us through media, through online communities, through video games preferential to what we live in “ordinary” life? We also have to ask, what happens when we choose a worldview that is less connected to something valued, and more closely related and built upon other valuations, when we see green. For those wishing to monetize this, we ask what is convenient, what is exciting, and what is efficacious, while never asking what convenient, exciting, or efficacious means in that syntax. After we look into those questions, we will better be able to understand what is at risk when we watch movies like The Terminator and The Matrix

I do not seek to tout a conservative bent either, although I think it is important to ask ourselves where we find our entertainment and to what end our consumption serves. It’s a perfectly good question to ask why we would want to be violent, and if that is a natural way to release a human instinct, how that violence is exercised. Whether in politic or virtuality. I don’t think, however, that any psychologist would agree that if “first-person shooters” went away, we would suddenly see a rise in gun violence. I think people would just find a different way to be entertained, and maybe a more healthful one.

In light of this, perhaps we can situate the human in an increasingly complex, although ultimately closed cybernetic field; if we cannot say that of machine learning en toto, we can at least say this when value is pegged to an economic unit. I believe that if block-chain and crypto-currency saturate the market to the fullest, we will see more clearly why this is so. We are leading towards an era where not only everything will be counted; everything will have an economic value, even if for those more ephemeral items, the value quickly approaches zero.

This type of abstraction is more violent than what those have called a “naming” or declarative function, for it bears no name or thing beyond enumeration. For this reason we have responded to calls of storytelling and witnessing.

The World Health Organization (WHO)’s adoption of Quality Adjusted Life Years — as opposed to Disability Adjusted Life Years — represents one change in the function of enumeration when applied to health statistics. The latter places value upon the upper bounds of a population’s life expectancy given certain factors, like disease. The former asks how the population might feel about their own health at any given time. Even here, when quantifying a “happiness” expression, problems abound. A citizen of an underdeveloped or highly indebted nation may feel satisfied with two meals a day and with fewer amenities, but that does not mean that the same individual, after having experienced a change in lifestyle, will feel that way ad infinitum. It also does not mean that the very same person will not criticize others for neglect of healthful distribution of resources either

We also cannot forget that we do not live in a vacuum, and that we experience events [political, scientific, psychological, artistic, or otherwise categorized sic. Alain Badiou], whether everyday or momentous; and that those events affect our behaviors. We have seen something in American politics about which  has been long written: a “cult of personality.” But technology has both changed how we exercise our freedom to spend and has borne an influence on what we value or choose to seek when we spend. More and more, we follow a moto of “you can’t make money, if you don’t spend money.” No wonder that we have also heard that “there’s nothing better than spending other people’s money [especially on yourself]”.

We can look at the recent tax codes the same way: Those who benefit from these breaks may well spend in order to earn more.he underlying message given is that when we spend unwisely, we won’t make money and someone else will. This perspective ignores how  spending money does always involve receiving immediate or even latent satisfaction. Sometimes spending money serves to enrich the community on a wider scale. Nietzsche writes, “First change culture, then see what philosophy can do.”

The accompanying discourse and disciplines around achieving said liberty is seen in an increasing financialization of our lives and of the things around us. This is an inherent imperative of techno-capitalism. Yet we gloss over it with a guise of neutrality. Take for instance a commercial ran a few years ago for ING: Its message was, “a number is just a number.”  We don’t care how much money you have; you can still bank with us, and we will provide a caring service by watching after your financial security. True as that could be, it’s a commercial. If you want to saturate the market, of course you want anyone and everyone to feel as though they are being served in the manner a concierge might. The implication is that your number doesn’t matter as long as you bank with us.

What falls out of this new-fangled experience of the market, more rapid, more intense, more seemingly neutral. “Don’t politicize the market!” someone once said to me. Guy Lyotard writes, “The spectacle preserves unconsciousness as practical changes in the conditions of existence proceed.” Through a history of roaring markets, calamitous crashes, the emergence of increasingly sophisticated technologies, those who have survived and thrived must be…titans, lucky, or wear parachutes. In this way, Trump is not anomalous, Trump should have been expected.

The more we see green, the more the dollar sign has become a totem of our culture and a constitutive element of the American psyche. It should not surprise us that, amidst these speeding cycles of media frenzy and market turnover, we seem to forget a lot: events that impact our wallet until we start to live high on the hog again; lost loves who we would rather remember to spurn ourselves; what we might have dined on just yesterday, however exquisite. Even though the Credit Crisis of 2008 gave birth to a good amount of regulation, “sub-prime” still exists as “near-prime”, and “non-investment grade / high yield” has become “below investment grade.” In news media too, we see an onslaught of images to gawk at, looking for similars, and forgetting how what the last image presented us with. We have lost an amount of concernful circumspection, and adopted one of voyeurism. And because we forget so much (every downturn, cyclical or “great” depression, and crisis) or the horror stories that we see in the news, we feel we can always right ourselves, or that the market will return to its normal or profitable mechanic, never asking who really got the short end of the stick–which, in the end,  we have just experienced. But what happens when we take off the green-tinted glasses and virtual reality gear? What happens when we realize that this is not a game? That showmanship is explicitly not what a President does when she or he governs. And should we perchance remember, maybe by some hypnosis or self-searching power, we ask for whose shame had that history passed?

What now will be our conditions of existence? What now has our world-view become? Can we change the channel on legislation as we might have after we finished watching people get fired? When we look to an administration that failed to staff leadership positions for our country, and when we see appointments made for reasons of “loyalty,” we have to ask to what ends are those offices now serving? Those who have been given the now colloquial “You’re fired!” seem only to care because they are now cast out of a golden city in which dollar signs rule more than does communal equity. Under the present administration, it seems that the city may have just as well been wrought of lead. And we wonder, why have we elected a “King of Debt” rather than a “Secretary of Goodwill”?

Contributors / Isaac Authus

Ohwell?

Daniel Matthews explores the intrinsic connection between art and communication through the lens of his Ohwell? exhibition.

Ohwell?

Exploring Art and Communication. 

At the beginning of 2018, a friend and I put on an exhibition in South London, titled Ohwell? Featuring the work of five young artists – and marking the launch of our quarterly publication and production company (DAMFCY) – this exhibition was conceived as an attempt to highlight and explore the communicative abilities of art. The desire to do this stemmed from our perception that, despite having the events of recent years to draw upon, the emergent wave of contemporary creativity lacked a genuine and meaningful engagement with the real world of politics and society. These artists were being educated as Donald Trump rose to office; as the refugee crisis entered (and quickly exited) the public spotlight; as the UK’s domestic socio-political state regressed along increasingly ridiculous lines. These artists, despite the vastness of their surroundings, appeared confined to the bounds of aestheticism and conceptual purity.

This is not to say that there was absolutely no political attachment in any of the shows we saw, or that all art has an obligation to speak out. Rather, it is to say that the current state of affairs deserves a thoughtful response at the very least and, to go a step further, maybe even some form of challenge. What we did see when the outside world was brought into focus was often heavy-handed or clunky in its negotiation of its chosen issue. It was statement art – and whatever shock value it possessed was easily brushed off.

Maximillian Hartley
Maximillian Hartley

As subjective as it may have been, this perception pushed us to try to find and demonstrate art’s ability to perform as a tool of communication by which the issues that surround and affect us every day are kept in the individual and collective consciousness, where they can be seen, considered and acted upon, rather than being allowed to slip into obscurity. With Ohwell? we wanted to showcase art’s capacity to peak interest and stimulate discussion, as well as its unique ability to cultivate personal and communal involvement.

In reaction to the heavy-handed material mentioned above, the rationale behind Ohwell? became centred on the discrepancy between questions and statements, and the idea that questions go further than statements. When you are asked something you are made to think, you involve yourself in some way in the subject. Perhaps you look at your own experience in relation to the topic’s wider field, you consider yourself more deeply within the context or narrative posed and, through this reflexive process, you are pulled into the subject of the question. By contrast, being told something tends to allow for a more passive reception of whatever it may be. You are not required to do all that much and, importantly, you are not (always) invited to include yourself in the subject or the discussion it brings to hand.

When this idea is applied to art and the wider bounds of creativity, its potential is carried further by the fact that art is often an interpretive and highly personal experience. Furthermore, it is often an expression of emotion. Where stories and statistics inspire concern in the viewer, art garners empathy and offers perspective. When a piece of art asks questions, it has the potential to pull the viewer, as an individual, closer to the area of shared importance it addresses. By inviting the viewer to include themselves immediately – and critically – within a narrative, a piece of art can attach an individualistic relevance to a collective matter, creating a commonality that is perhaps missed by other modes of communication.

Reconnecting this rather airy idea (and hopefully this essay) back to its real world concerns are the artists, whose various works engaged with a range of very immediate societal issues. Be it the shifting dynamics of our socio-economic composition, the functionality of race in the art industry, or the influence of technology on various levels of psychology, the immediacy of these topics is owed largely to their existence as everyday phenomena. Rather than being occurrences in our lives, these issues are permanences; they operate at a low, but constant level that arguably allows us, or encourages us, to sideline them – perhaps we just get used to them and can eventually stop noticing the noise they generate.

Viviana Troya
Viviana Troya

In certain areas, this concern over the everyday may seem trivial. Some things just aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things and we can’t be expected to mentally balance everything all of the time. But then, triviality has its limits. And what isn’t an everyday issue? The deepest and most far-reaching levels of political corruption (or ‘collusion’) happen every day. As does man-made human displacement on a vast (surely unmissable?) scale. And while these problems do receive attention and condemnation, it is often short-lived, and when the next big thing is illuminated, they continue to operate in its shadow.

In some ways, this suggests a certain level of disengagement exists. It suggests that people don’t feel personally invested or directly involved enough in these issues to push a lasting and meaningful project of corrective action. It suggests – if our theory is to be trusted – that people are being told, rather than asked, about these problems. They are being disconnected (or allowed to disconnect themselves), pushed out of the fold, their feeling of involvement decreased.

Nathan Caldecott
Nathan Caldecott

Coming back round to our aim with Ohwell? as an exhibition, and with DAMFCY as a continuing publication, our plan centres on the enlargement of the platform from which alternative modes of communication can be seen and heard. As our established channels of insight (traditional news outlets and oft-misdirected social media) seemingly lose their efficacy by falling behind or adapting poorly to an increasingly isolationist modernity, self-generated networks like Fathom and DAMFCY are becoming more important in replacing them as the tools used to share information. The hope is, that by exploring and developing the channels provided by creativity (both its products, and the sociability that it cultivates) we can heighten our understanding of – and our connection to – the questions that surround us.

Contributors / Daniel Matthews / Website

Justice and Naruto

Craig Debrah carefully crafts an argument for the informative power of anime.

Justice and Naruto

Anime’s Moral Compass.

I learnt more about justice from watching Naruto, than from my Law degree.

I studied Law at City, University of London, which included a year abroad at Université Toulouse 1 Capitole. Like most 17/18 year olds beginning their degrees in Law, I began on the basis of having a “strong sense of justice” and a “wish to do good things in the world.”.

Ironically, my law degree barely developed my “strong sense of justice.”. If anything, it numbed me to such noble overtures. It reduced justice to numbers and figures as opposed to people’s stories and the pursuit of righting wrongs.

pain
Pain, a character from the manga Naruto

Enter: Naruto.  Most are quick to dismiss anime as childish, infantile nonsense for nerds And yet, the show presents a deeply nuanced perspective on justice. A character from the show going by the name of Pain has a deeply thought provoking method of gaining World Peace. His method is a complex theory based on three pillars: Pain, Justice and Peace.

According to to Pain, there is no justice in the world as human beings have shown over time that we are incapable of resolving conflict in ways that bring about long term peace. Pain believes that this inability to solve problems is derived from our lack of understanding of one another.

Pain suggests that the only way human beings can understand one another is by going through pain. This is because once both sides of the conflict endure pain, anytime conflict arises again, both sides will think back to that moment of pain that they both went through. This knowledge and remembrance of the products of conflict will inevitably lead to a resolution between the two for fear of ever having to suffer the pain caused by conflict. This leads to peace.

This theory made me stop and think. What exactly is justice? Is it tit-for tat? You’ve caused me pain, so I want you to feel the same pain that I felt? Is it restitution? You’ve caused me damage, so now I want to restore my situation to what it was before the damage was caused? Is it preventative? You’ve caused me damage, and so now I want a resolution that should deter you from ever causing such damage again?

This made me question, and therefore learn more about justice than I did during my law degree. A law degree focuses more on who is receiving the justice, why they are deserve justice, and from where they obtain  justice, as opposed to finding out what justice actually is.

Pain’s theory holds merit: Can human beings really come to a true understanding and thereby have peace, if they haven’t felt each other’s pain before? It’s easy to preach about peace when you’ve never felt the pain the other party has felt before. It’s easy to say “Yay, peace!” rather than “I want revenge.” Is justice, therefore, vengeful?

The thought process does make sense in that there is an undeniable vengeful element to justice in itself. In justice systems worldwide we see prosecutors requesting higher sentencing for defendants. In the famous South African case of athlete Oscar Pistorius, he was handed a 5 year sentence for the “culpable homicide” killing of his girlfriend of which he only served 10 months and was then released to house arrest. Prosecutors went back to appeal the sentence and overturned the “culpable homicide” charge to “murder”. He was again, only sentenced to six years. The prosecution again went to appeal the sentence and got it increased to 15 years.

The family of the victim welcomed the decision as they confirmed that their “faith in the justice system” had been restored. Clearly this would indicate that their form of justice contains the same vengeful aspect as Pain’s. They are suggesting that the person responsible for the conflict in the situation (Oscar Pistorius) must feel as large an amount of pain as possible in order for them to feel as if they have received justice.

Can we blame people who feel that this is justice to them? Would you be ok with the sentencing of 5 years in prison for the person who “recklessly” killed his girlfriend, if said girlfriend was your daughter, or sister or aunt or niece? Would it be wrong to say that your desire to see a longer prison sentence is not motivated by a separate desire to have the perpetrator feel a comparable amount of pain to what you’d be feeling in that moment?

Pain’s solution to the question of justice (which leads to peace), is to inflict pain on the individual/entity responsible for conflict. This pain will lead to swift conflict resolution for fear of more pain being sustained. This will eventually lead to peace. However, eventually this fear of never wanting to feel such pain again will wear off and someone will cause pain to someone else. The cycle must then restart with an act of inflicting pain that leads to conflict resolution as well as the fear of feeling said pain again, which results in peace.

Of course, it must be said that Pain’s solution is seriously flawed. The very fact that the cycle has to be repeated is a flaw in its own right. If humanity has to repeatedly have huge pain inflicted on it to deter it from causing conflict, then quite clearly this solution isn’t a great deterrent. Even so, Pain does understand and recognize the holes in his solution. This is evidenced in the fact that he is willing to listen to solutions others may have.

I’ve had some deep thoughts about justice, and have regularly put these thoughts into action via discussions and conversations surrounding the topic. The general conclusions I’ve come to have been that justice, when it can, must attempt to put all parties in as close to a position as possible that they were in before the conflict arose. Where this isn’t possible, it needs to be about making the perpetrator understand what was wrong with his/her behaviour and how to avoid repeating it. It should also serve as a warning so as to put people off repeating that same behaviour that caused conflict.

So Naruto made me think and learn more and find out what justice means to me. My own personal definition of justice is about restitution to the victim, retraining/educating the perpetrator in order to protect society from future perpetrators. Justice should also be preventative, in that it should also deter people from wanting to get on its wrong side.

Those are my thoughts on justice on a societal level, and what I believe our justice systems should be based on. On a personal level, my thoughts on justice are largely similar. However, I put more emphasis on certain aspects in my definition of justice than others. If a friend of mine wrongs me, as long as no tangible/physical/monetary damage has been done- restitution isn’t as big an issue. The retraining/educating part is the most important as that will lead to the final requirement for justice to be met- the preventative side. Once my friend knows and understands which actions of his/her causes conflict, if justice has prevailed, one can assume he’d do everything in his power to make sure it doesn’t take place again.

What is justice? What does justice mean to you?

Contributors / Craig Debrah

Degenerate Art in Nazi Germany

Tristan MacHale presents a historical survey of Degenerate Art in Nazi Germany.

“Entartete Kunst”

Degenerate Art in Nazi Germany.

The proliferation of the term ‘propaganda’ proves the potential power of art in society. Whether labeled propaganda, political art, or protest art, the underlying vein is its influence on the public. There have been few political systems in history that prioritized propaganda more than did Nazi Germany. Perhaps Hitler’s aspirations for art school allowed him to fully appreciate the strategic potential of an effective propaganda campaign. This manifested in massive construction projects and strong, beautiful (and Aryan) men and women in painting and sculpture, all classically inspired. Nazi Germany, the antithesis of a democracy, explicitly delineated what fit within the canon of Nazi art, and what did not, and this distinction forcibly permeated throughout the nation. Nazi propaganda thrived on the dehumanization of non-ideal, non-German culture, and contemporary art was certainly within Nazi sight. Labeled ‘Degenerate Art’, or Entartete Kunst, the non-canonical art produced within the Nazi regime was not censored or subdued as might be expected, but rather showcased in a state organized exhibition for all of Germany to see. As Joseph Goebbels said on the opening day of the exhibition, “German Volk, come and judge for yourselves!”

Goebbels views the Degenerate Art exhibition

Unsurprisingly, the Degenerate Art exhibit was not conducted to support modernist artists of the time. The entire project was a strategic play to further cement in the minds of the German Volk what constituted as German culture, and what was considered Degenerate.

The Degenerate Art Exhibit which opened in Munich on July 8, 1937 and displayed a wide array of modernist and avant garde artworks, served as a counterexhibit to the Great German Art Exhibition, Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung. The two exhibits were eachperverted reflections of each other. The artworks displayed in the Degenerate exhibit were described as “sullied reflections of the same generic images the Nazis sanctify as subjects for ‘Great German Art’: farmers, soldiers, mothers, and landscapes”¹. Goebbels and the Nazi exhibition organizers curated this production for this exact purpose: to manufacture a cultural juxtaposition.

Visitors study the Degenerate Art exhibition.

The entire Degenerate Art Exhibit consisted of 650 individual pieces of sculpture and painting by German artists (with a few other European exceptions). The pieces were seized from museums and galleries from around the country by order of the government. It took less than one month for the entire exhibition to be erected, and the exhibition’s curation was fitting with this rushed job. The paintings, labeled with plaques misidentifying the works, overcrowded the walls. Red stickers posted under many of the artworks featured captions stating that they were funded by the German Volk, a message intended to shock German citizens by suggesting that their taxes financed the works on view. Despite the apparent curatorial flaws of the Degenerate exhibit, every decision was meticulously and strategically executed. By giving the public direct access to the artwork that fundamentally opposed the Nazi ideals, Goebbels not only invited the people to ‘judge for themselves,’ but also carefully constructed the public perception he desired. The haphazard presentation and faulty identifications led the public to see nothing but the nonsensical work of degenerates, or art-bolsheviks.

https://graphics8.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000002764882

Moreover, much of the work was auctioned off following the exhibit, which suggests hosting the exhibit maintained some political value. Like much of Hitler’s ideology on racial and national contamination, the Degenerate Art (or ‘Jewified’ or Bolshevik) served to produce a common enemy; opposition to Germany’s dominance. In displaying the modernist artworks, the curators were actually displaying the “symptomatic product of a contaminated political past.” Central to Hitler’s mantra of a national ‘rebirth’ was the identification of a burdened past. The juxtaposition of the Degenerate and the Great German arts polarized the “arts of those days and the art of our days.” German ‘rebirth’ required a cultural collapse from which  to recuperate.

In acquiring the exhibit’s content, the Nazis had particular criteria to meet. They needed to find works whose interpretations they could manipulate. The vast majority of the works displayed were Expressionist. Of the represented artists, the more recognizable names on the roster included; Otto Dix, Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Piet Mondrian, and Emil Nolde — essentially a list of the most impactful Expressionist artists of the modern era.Some of these artists were German Expressionists, which further complicated matters, as  many wondered if Expressionism would become the National Socialist revolutionary art. Goebbels himself had owned and displayed in his home Emil Nolde’s and Kathe Kollwitz’s work. While a neoclassical style was chosen instead, German Expressionism’s potential role in representing the movement explained the overwhelming presence of expressionism in the exhibit. However, German Expressionism was a direct product of the Weimar Republic — a history that the Nazis tried diligently to erase from their past.

Tellingly, the absence of John Heartfield from the Degenerate Art Exhibit was one of the greatest indicators of the Nazis intentions for the show. John Heartfield, whose work regularly appeared in magazines, such as AIZ, which explicitly opposed Nazism, was a graphic designer and photo-montage artist appropriately identified with Degenerate artists. With works widely circulated and featured in shows throughout Germany, Heartfield would not have been overlooked. Even in his shows, he would always insist that work be printed and made available in an attempt to emphasize that art resided in the message, rather than within the material image.

A few possible reasons may help understand his absence from the show: His work was explicitly combative against Hitler, it was designed to be machine reproducible, and he primarily worked with photographs — a medium understood at the time to be a means of documentation as opposed to an artistic medium. Heartfield’s  photomontages were simply too explicit in their delivery. His work left was no room for misinterpretation, and consequently the Nazis could not manipulate the reception of the montages. Moreover, his artwork were inexpensive and readily reproducible. The red dots indicating prices of the degenerate art works would hold no weight on a photomontage designed to be inexpensively reproduced.

In total, the exhibit received 2,009,899 visitors. While no documented accounts of the exhibits’ receptions exist, the enterprise’s goal was not to elicit good press. Goebbels was less interested in publicizing the Degenerates’ work and more interested in the prioritizing the “spectacle made by the constant stream of visitors.” Today, the names of German Expressionists Kandinsky, Kirchner, and Dix live on, and are more widely recognized than the Nazi-favored German neoclassicists Ziegler, Breker, and Thorak. The German Expressionists and the other ‘Degenerates’ created the visual aesthetic that defined the counter political climate within Nazi Germany that cemented their political disdain onto the world stage of 20th century art and cemented their presence in global history.


¹Neil Levi, Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014) 56.

Contributors / Tristan MacHale / Instagram

Blockchain: The New Economy For Artists

Jason Bailey instructs emerging artists on how best to leverage new blockchain technologies.

The New Economy for Artists

How to Leverage Blockchain

The trope of the “starving artist” exists for a reason, we never hear of the “starving doctor” or the “starving lawyer”.  Yet given free time, many of us choose to spend it consuming the work of artists, by going to museums, grabbing a book, or heading to a concert.  Institutions for publishing and managing distribution of artist’s work can provide a valuable service. However, these same institutions are too often complicit in a system which turns just a tiny number of artists, writers, and musicians into superstars, leaving the majority of creatives with little to no options to fund their craft or make a living.

What can we do about it?   

What if dozens of markets emerged for artists and patrons that took zero commission from transactions? What if those markets were built on decentralized databases that kept a public record of participants and transactions and could easily facilitate “peer to peer” style payment for art using cryptocurrency?

Imagine a world where engineers quit their six figure jobs to build out these databases and then fought for the attention of artists because they needed art to fill these databases and to fuel these new markets? What if this caused the world’s first artist shortage?

Would this new demand for “artists” inspire people who never thought of themselves as “creative” to build their own artistic skills to get in on the action?  

 

Enter: Blockchain

 

What is Blockchain and Blockchain art?

You have likely heard of CryptoKitties or Bitcoin, but terms like “blockchain” and “blockchain art” still haven’t fully percolated through public consciousness. For an initial dive, we’ve put together this video:

If you’re interested in the nuts & bolts of these ideas, check out The Blockchain Art Market is here and An Artist’s Guide to the Blockchain.

How do I get involved with blockchain?

  1. Dada.nyc

Dada.nyc is a social network where people speak through drawings that you can collect on the Ethereum blockchain. So far, thousands of artists have participated in creating tens of thousands of drawings. The website includes digital drawing tools, and the community encourages people of all skill levels to participate. Additionally, some of the art is also available for sale via the blockchain which helps keep the project going and supports the artists.

Artwork from the artist Moxarra. Via Dada.NYC

Who buys this work? People like me who are more concerned with supporting the arts and artists than we are in turning a profit. I placed my first CryptoArt purchase at Dada.nyc for this funky character below by the artist Moxarra, for which I paid less than $20. Because the artwork was digital and purchased on the blockchain, there were none of the costs typically associated with commissions, shipping, and framing. Thus, I can knowingly invest the money that would be spent on those services into more art and artists. And because I spend at least 100x more time looking at screens than the walls of my home, I can look at my new art whenever I feel like it. But buying/owning the art is just part of the experience at Dada.nyc.

This is a great way to get your feet wet.

If you’re interested, you can watch the founder, Beatriz Helena Ramos, presenting at the Digital Rare Art Festival to get a better idea of the platform and the spirit of the community.

  1. Curio Cards

Perhaps you don’t want to use Dada.nyc’s digital tools to create your art. Travis Uhrig, CEO from Curio Cards has you covered. Uhrig believes artists shouldn’t need to own or even understand cryptocurrency in order to participate in the blockchain art market. Curio Cards was thus created to provide a platform in which anyone can participate.

So far, the project is doing phenomenally well, with over one thousand cards sold and artists making on average $300 – $900, according to Uhrig. Any artist can submit their work for free to be voted on at community.curio.cards.

Example of a Curio Card

In Uhrig’s words, “Crypto needs artists, is my sense. Everyone always says that bitcoin is too complicated to explain to people, but you’ll look at subcultures — hip hop, hipster — all these different groups, they have very complex rules of engagement, very complex rules of etiquette, and not everyone understands them — and it’s just fine because musicians and artists and writers and reporters have explained them to us. I think that’s what Bitcoin needs. It needs artists to help explain the culture and help define it. So I really liked the idea of creating a project that can get people that don’t have any Bitcoin, don’t have Ethereum, don’t know anything about it, but they’re really talented, and it’s a way for them to get involved.”

 

  1. Slothicorn

While it may be easy for a collector to part with money for a masterpiece from a trained artist, who will provide the incentives to artists that quite honestly just are not that good yet?

Slothicorn provides place to start for people who are just starting out so that they can 1) Build their art skills 2) Learn about cryptocurrency. In founder Stellabelle’s words, “Slothicorn is really a creative commons cryptoart community where we create art in Steemit that other people can use for their blogs.” There are only 2 rules: First, you must put a creative commons license at the end of your post, and second, the topic of the meme has to be related to cryptocurrency.  

These are just three of the many platforms emerging for artists on the blockchain. Other groups like Archetype.mx are working on solutions to make it possible for you to tokenize your own work and market it however you like. The sky is really the limit, and though it can seem a bit overwhelming, it is the art itself and the relationships you will build with this community that matter most.

A wild Slothicorn
Contributors / Jason Bailey / Website / Instagram

Environment / Technology

Robbie Crace examines the relationship between technology and environmentalism.

Environment / Technology

Acknowledging Technology as an Ally in the Anthropocene.

Technology and the natural environment are often considered opposites, especially with regards to the ways in which humans interact with them, but how productive is this mode of thinking in an age where technology permeates so much of society? We currently exist within the Anthropocene, a geological epoch wherein humankind directly affects the planetary make-up of the Earth. This influence of humankind on natural environments has subsequently blurred boundaries between what is and what isn’t natural. Although previously seen as anything but natural, technology has now, in a twisted way, actually become natural.

And yet, why does opposition still seem to exist between technology and the environment? The damaging side effects of technology are abundantly clear and certainly not to be undermined, however to draw the conclusion that technology itself is to blame in this scenario is to misunderstand the ‘social relations from which technology arises and in which any technology is vitally embedded.”¹ This misunderstanding has been allowed to brew for so long because designers fail to assert an honest level of humanism within the technology they create. People, therefore, mistakenly assume that technology is a destructive, extra-terrestrial force turning us against the natural environment. However, accusations should not be aimed at the machinery and infrastructure itself, but rather at the set of social beliefs that underpin the designing of these objects.

If the dichotomy separating technology and nature is to be resolved, there must be a shift in the way in which they interact, one that disassembles our false assumptions of technology as a separate, autonomous force and builds, through experience, a cherished relationship between them. Natural Networks, a creation of Studio Six-Thirty’s, is a buoy that floats in natural water sources and collects a GPS, light, time and temperature reading, and it may serve as one device that could begin to repair the tear between humans and the natural environment. Through a 4G transmitter this information is sent to an AI that has studied a wide variety of Twentieth Century poetry, it then translates these data readings into emotive poems extolling the virtues of the natural world. Here is an example:

The hazy river full of leaves,
Churned the River Stort.
The Cold travelers washing their necks
And disappearing into the morning walk…

When writing of possible environmental solutions, Bill McKibben, author and environmentalist calls for a “humbler alternative – one that would let us hew closer to what remains of nature and give it room to recover if it can.”² Although significantly complex in technological feature, Natural Networks is actually rather modest. Physically, the object is comparatively inert and does little to interrupt the natural environment like other solutions such as wind turbines. Experientially, the object also possesses humble characteristics, there is no grandiose interaction involved, simply a steady stream of dialogue between technology and nature that can be chosen to be read when it suits the subject.  Natural Networks alters the computer (and technology more generally) from something we associate with a detachment from nature, to something that actually reattaches us to nature. It also allows the busy twenty-first century individual to approach nature on their schedule and from the comfort of their own home.

With this in mind, let us examine this model of sustainability in the long term:

Week 1: You log on for the first time and enjoy reading a poem written by a river, you’re interested.


Week 4: You have logged on a few times and have noticed a shift in data readings, and a subsequent shift in mood of the poems, the seasons are changing.


Week 20: You have become fond of checking the river’s varying emotions and decide to visit. Soon enough you’re a regular visitor and begin to experience these changes in season, atmosphere and mood in person. You are stimulated by the change, and after a while you begin to really care for this snippet of nature. Why would you want something you care for to be damaged?

Through commitment to a long-term experience, Natural Networks has the ability to build meaningful relationships between human, technology and nature and therefore directly engages with “the underpinning behavioural phenomena that shape patterns of consumption and waste.”

Natural Networks by Matteo Loglio and Studio Six-Thirty
‘Natural Networks’ by Matteo Loglio and Studio Six-Thirty

Studio Six-Thirty have recognized that “mutual evolution will effectively transcend obsolescence,”³ tackling the Anthropocentric notion that the world exists to be mined for our benefit. In a progressive, technologically oriented society, developments are constantly being made that outdate previous models of technology. Once these models are outdated they no longer “reflect desirable and up-to-date reflections of our own existence” 4 and are subsequently disregarded and thrown away. Technological artefacts such as Natural Networks, however, offer a perfect platform for “mutual evolution” because they enable subject-object interactions we envisage ourselves performing in the future such as online consumption and communication with Artificial Intelligence. We therefore perceive them as up-to-date objects that have a lifespan long enough with which we can co-evolve. Not only does this product provide the ground for humans, technology, and the natural environment to engage with each other, but it also demonstrates a contemporary alternative to the way in which we consume objects through challenging outdated forms of communication and ownership.


1 Bryan Pfaffengerger, “Fetishised Objects and Humanised Nature,” Man 23.2 (1988): 242.
2 Bill McKibben, The End of Nature (London: Viking, 1990) 17.
3 Chapman, Emotionally Durable Design, 61.
4 Chapman, Emotionally Durable Design, 49.

Contributors / Robbie Crace / Contact