Artist Profile: Jesse Darling


iKea [Stockholm Syndrome], Single-channel video, LCD TV screen, 2012

Can you talk about the body of work you've just finished? Where do you see yourself going from here?

My solo show (at Arcadia_Missa), Stockholm Syndrome and Other System Failures, felt like a manifesto as opposed to a showcase or retrospective. It was kind of a show within a show, a meta-installation; the work sat on plinths and IKEA cabinets placed alongside each other, and everything was painted thickly in shitty white vinyl emulsion (I feel like white paint is interesting as a symbol of structural violence - institutionalisation, gentrification, erasure). There were some discrete works in there - Padded Cell (Sultan), Please Let This Be Real, iKea, There's A Little Pre-911 Myspace In All of Us. But the other stuff on show was just what was generated in the labor of putting it all together: tools and detritus. The broom, the beer trolley, the paint pot. I didn't want to clean it up. I didn't want to make the distinction. Everything had a museum card and a price tag: post-fordism on speedy drugs [for enhanced pleasure and better performance]. I've had my blue period, like, my Facebook period, and I think I'm just about done with IKEA, but I'm still interested in the tension between the production of an art object and the collateral damage (material, financial, emotional) of that production process. I guess in my case the art object is an analogue for the subject in the world. Maybe even a self-portrait.

Your Tumblr is a great repository of images, videos, and texts that seem to commingle and collide in a way reminiscent of Benjamin's Arcades. Of course, there's something inherent in the structure and aesthetic of Tumblr that invites that comparison, but do you feel you've tried to make a more explicit link between the two? Has Tumblr facilitated that practice, or was it a style you'd worked with before?

Benjamin's one of my favourites, thanks for the props. He was an embodied philosopher, the best kind.

With regard to Tumblr, I'd say it's something like a place, which is also a discipline or a protocol: like any other software or platform, or K-Mart, or a library, or a gallery. There are best practices and paths to excellence in all these: it's possible to excel at Tumblr, for sure, like it's possible to excel at Facebook or Twitter or Photoshop or gallerygoing. I guess I'm not so invested in the best practice model - like, being really good at Tumblr - which is closely tied in with the idea of "network influence," Kloutism, whatever. I like to subvert best practices wherever possible, actually. But Tumblr is good for the aggregation of visual material, a kind of open sketchbook (I sometimes say that Twitter is my notebook, too). I'm into transparency as/of process, and in placing my own works occasionally alongside whatever else I'm posting and reposting, I guess I'm trying to make a statement that this - all of it - is a continuous practice. I'm not sure about the reification of discrete art works within the continuous playbor loop. I think especially now we are all producing work in dialogue with the communities we live in on and offline and I want to be transparent about it, make it explicit. My life and work feel pretty inextricable sometimes, and the work comes out of all of this and everything else I see and do and think and feel and eat and whatever. It's a subject position. A subjective position. I like Benji and Foucault because they knew there is no other.  

Following up on that idea, I've noticed an amazing passage from "The Queer Art of Failure" on your Tumblr. I'm wondering how those ideas can help to re-conceptualize the idea of an art object and as opposed to the creation of an ongoing project that can help to, as Halberstam says, "Poke holes in the toxic positivity of contemporary life." To that end, do you consider your work as moving away from an art object and into another, more open-ended form?

I like that passage a lot. It reads like a rationalisation for my existence and functions as a readymade artist's statement. I believe very strongly in contingency - or otherwise, [potential-] failure-as-process - which is a way of coming to terms with the fact that things fall apart and fail all the time. Queer theory is great because a lot of it feels like embodied knowledge - thinking that arises from doing or being - which makes a lot of sense in the context of my own life/work/whatever. As to the open-ended form, I think that's more about the process than about the product: I don't trust this idea of authorship, because it feels like an old-school humanist (and historically gendered) thing which I don't want to aspire to on principle, even if it were available. So instead I like to set parameters and then let things roll; the work becomes what it is through parallel mechanisms of momentum and devolution. In this way I do generate art objects, build stuff and/or stage discrete scenarios, but I'm also definitely interested in praxes that poke holes in the toxic commodity fetish of the commercial art world, including but not limited to post-performance, peer learning models, social structuring experiments, unrepeatable bricolages, undocumented interventions, life-as-art, animated gifs, screenshots, twitter poetry and the open-sores philosophy of affective/aesthetic overshare.

Your Black Mirror series is very interesting because it questions consumer technology's ability to interact with the self. Yet your use of technology is very tied to your self, both in its creation and discovery. Can you talk about this duality of approaches to technology, both as a tool that both involves both approximate and distant approaches to yourself?

Consumer technology is designed to feel interactive, anthropomorphically so - the breathing white slit on the front edge of a macbook pro, sensual glowing touchscreens, embedded softwares that listen for your voice like a dog waiting at home. I genuinely used to think that the iPhone would respond only to its rightful owner, that it would get to know your touch and expand its pixels out under your fingers like a lover. All this delights me like it's supposed to, but it disturbs and grosses me out, too. Still, I've noticed that my iPhone legitimises my solitude, like walking a dog: you're alone but you're not, which is my favourite feeling. I also like the immediacy of being able to record and transmit what's happening around me in realtime: if nothing else, I can bear witness. And in turn, the technology (the network as well as the device) bears witness to my being-self in the world. Pix or you didn't happen [#gpoy]. But social media's a panopticon. A kind of massively multiplayer Be-Yourself LARP without pre-agreed boundaries. I'm ambivalent about the line between the spoken and written word, the embodied and virtual self, and the network versus the community, so I'm moving from one to the other all the time, or hanging around in between: nice and slippery as a mode of survival.

In your essay for The New Inquiry, you describe social media's relationship to the Read/Write Web as "what sprawl is to the metropolis of modernity: a homogenous, cancerous, rhizomatic junkspace that expands exponentially outward on a sludgy wave of strip malls and sponsored links, greed and induced demand." How does this notion of digital junkspace relate to your fascination with the company and culture of IKEA, which produces real prefab spaces?

I feel like I've said and written so much about this, so I'm just going to answer in the words of Rem Koolhaas, taken from the terrific polemic essay in which he coined the term junkspace: "Although its individual parts are the outcome of brilliant inventions, lucidly planned by human intelligence, boosted by infinite computation/ their sum spells the end of Enlightenment, its resurrection as farce, a low-grade purgatory." You'll admit there's a parallel.




London & wherever.

How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

My dad gave me a hammer and some nails when I was about six and I made a small boat to float in the sink.

[I got my first computer when I was about 12 and got into p-basic programming while trying to make a more convincing affect simulator than the Eliza-bot. It wasn't great but at least it had a dirty mouth and a better sense of humour.]

Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

I've been taking photographs since I was a kid, but they were always too static for me; like one photo couldn't possibly be enough to communicate the sense of anything, or not without forcing the subject to assume a particular set of axes forever, and why would you do that to something you love? The unquestioned objecthood of photographs was always unsatisfactory for me, [so] I started dancing in my teens (though I was never very disciplined) and I've been experimenting more or less formally with performance since then. And then I was thinking about ways to document performance, or otherwise, the sense of any living moment without pinning it down like a butterfly or having to engage unwillingly with the filmic discourse. Documentation is basically didactic, however you frame it; I don't want to pretend otherwise. So I got into animated gifs because they are the most Brechtian and didactic of media. It's like, "look at this! Exactly this and nothing else!" - it's the moment of gestus, with the extra Verfremdungseffekt afforded by deep compression - anti-HD, anti-photorealism. There's a political aspect to the filthy dither and the unwillingness to lie still and flat on a surface, and I like that. I learned how to cut video one summer a few years ago when I was too sick to speak or leave the house, and I love it - editing is like painting, super-solipsistic and perfectionistic and gestural, or at least rhythmic. I can go on an editing jag and not come back for three days. For the rest, I've been building and arranging and tacking stuff together for specific or non-specific purposes since I was a kid, and I learn new tricks (and shortcuts, and softwares) all the time.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I went to the Rietveld Academie for a year before they kicked me out for bad behaviour. Studied dance and physical theatre at the Theaterschool in Amsterdam. Went back to school later and did my BA in sculpture at CSM before taking a year out to practice in the real world, and now I just started an MFA at the Slade.

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

At the risk of labouring my point, wood and nails and gaffer tape are technologies too. And yeah I also use white paint and mdf, perspex and drip markers and spray cans. I'm a bad painter and a shitty engineer, mediocre at Photoshop and Final Cut, amateur in After Effects and couldn't care less about Maya. I'm not interested in mastery. I'm interested in forcing the messiness [of the living body] [back] into digital media. I'm into gesture as opposed to image, which naturally informs the way I work with/relate to technology.

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

I'm Art Editor at large for The New Inquiry. I'm kind of promiscuously politically affiliated, if not exactly active. I sometimes cook for my friends or throw a party, which is my idea of community organizing.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

I've got a trade (as a chef) and when I need money I go sell my trade somewhere or do some life modelling. Sometimes I teach performance and video, and occasionally I write essays for publication. I've done just about everything for money, from music journalism to web copywriting to translation to circus clowning to sex work to selling weed in a coffee shop in Amsterdam - and while those things aren't important in their specificity, they're significant in how I think about making and labour and the condition of work, or working, in general. I must admit that I've become slowly, accidentally politicised by all this; not coming from a straight art school background it's taken a long time for me to figure out how to qualify art as work, for example, and some of this art world shit is just so rarefied, full of unthinking privilege and tired-out tropes that mean nothing outside the circle. Nowadays I make no claim to be outside the circle, but I still struggle with that stuff. On the other hand the art game beats the hell out of the service industry for lifestyle features so I'm not complaining.

Who are your key artistic influences?

I'm not sure I draw influence from particular figures. I get a lot from my own experiences in the world, but also from pre-modern and recent history, internet culture and war reportage and demographically targeted advertising (always a good barometer) and from the condition of the contemporary as I see it - and occasionally as it gets theorised. I also feel like I'm engaged in a dialogue with my contemporaries on and offline that ends up influencing my thinking, if only in opposition to whatever else is going on. I like Klara Lidén's queer garbage romanticism a bunch, and I think Bjarne Melgaard's doing something interesting, though it's weird watching the institution attempt to recuperate his critique. I want people to know who Mark Aguhar was, in particular for her art and activism around identity and community on and offline. I really loved Documenta13 for how meaning was consistently constructed through the [post-] humanistic social context, rather than the received art-historical context. And of course I'm in awe of Ryan Trecartin's trashy meta-drag. I kinda think he's the only truly postmodern artist - the rest of us are just moderns with modems.   

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

Too many to name, and long may it continue.

Do you actively study art history?

Sometimes, to confirm a suspicion or whatever; and lately I've been looking at the history of modern painting in relation to the screen-as-surface. But the art history canon leaves a lot of things out, you know, and I find that problematic. There are extensive histories of feminist art, queer art, black art, art from the diasporas, art made with early computers etc, and these histories are key to understanding the avant garde of today. But if you want to access those histories, you've got to go looking outside the canon.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

Raoul Vaneigem was my first love, but teens love situationists. Then Levi-Strauss gave me some good tools for self-defence in defining bricolage and magical thinking. I started reading Hannah Arendt recently and it's like reading The Lord of The Rings, but without the map of Middle Arendt inside - which is a shame, because it's the kind of writing you need to approach with a map and compass and thesaurus and sleeping bag and camping stove. I enjoy Agamben and Foucault and Bifo Berardi, though I never read the whole thing. I like John Berger and Zygmunt Bauman: political thinkers driven by very real emotional conviction. I've got Adorno's Minima Moralia in my bathroom because it's full of one-liners, you know. And Baudrillard, with his big ambivalent hard-on for a post-networked subjectivity, is still holding up in the face of touchscreen technology and post-colonial theory. I saw Donna Haraway speaking recently and she was terrific: radical optimism at the micro-cellular level, a good antidote to apocalypticism and speculative realism. If she was in the pulpit I'd totally be at church every Sunday morning. 

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

I talk sometimes about Capitalist Realism, but what I see in a lot of post-internet practice, especially stuff that originates or exists mainly online, is a kind of capitalist nihilism. Total capitulation; no accountability. There's a kind of ecstatic orgy of appropriative image-making going on, which is great, but it sometimes feels emptied-out, cannibalistic. But the best artists are two steps ahead of this acceleration, making work that simultaneously interrogates and flows back into the feedback loop - like Iain Ball, who makes this cannibalism into a conscious practice and comes up with something like capitalist mysticism, or Dora & Maja, who do a kind of critical structural recuperation thing, or The Jogging, who communitysource Capitalist-Realist Tumblr satire. I admire that.