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If ever there was a time in which the function of dreaming needed to be more fully examined, it is the present, defined as it is by the forced flattening of experience and the compulsory destruction of intimate relationships with our external environment and with other individuals. Exploring the reservoirs of the subconscious is a necessary corrective to a waking consciousness increasingly colonized by monotony, predictability and discouragement of experimentation. Speaking as someone whose life was a struggle against these qualities even before the Plague Year, I have spent much of my artistic non-career using art as an “oneiroscopic” tool to bring that portion of human experience into focus. Acknowledging the moss-covered old Nietzschean dictum that we “have art in order not to perish of the truth,” it makes sense to use the implausible situations, emotional incongruity, and non-causality of dreams as the very starting point for creative works rather than as a colorful garnish. It is worth taking thinkers like Gaston Bachelard at their word when they claim that “the dream is stronger than [waking] experience” or alternately that “science is formed on a reverie rather than an experiment”[1] (and in at least one case, the dreamed discovery of the benzene molecule, this is literally true). To be sure, the past century or so of organized creativity has seen “dream logic” and imagery used very effectively to combat many of the straitjacketing effects of modernity — see the collective efforts of the Surrealists in particular. …


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Félix Fénéon, as portrayed by Paul Signac

In a year defined by uncertainty, which should ideally provide the media with their finest hour as they shepherd us through it all, there is nevertheless a steep decline in public goodwill towards them. For those who find that to be one of the least surprising trends of 2020, the epidemiology behind this should be fairly well-known in its own right. Firstly, for organizations that project themselves as having unique access to information and superior capabilities for its analysis, the corporate media are still laughably oblivious to the reality confronting them: namely, that the general viewing public’s preference for events to simply be shown to them, rather than explained, has accelerated the major news networks’ obsolescence. The amateur live-streamers who simply have the patience to train their cameras on an event for its meaningful duration are more useful to that public than a bevy of editors and expert commentators delivering obviously incomplete reportage, followed by speculation on those very portions of the raw footage that went to the cutting room floor. …


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‘Industrial painting’ by Situationist artist Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio

The Belgian philosopher Raoul Vaneigem begins his 1963 magnum opus, The Revolution of Everyday Life, with what has to be one of the finest attempts in all of literary history at preemptively blaming external factors for readers’ negative reactions to a work: “If the element of boredom it cost me to write it comes through when you read it, this will only be one more argument demonstrating our failure to live.”[1] Whether or not there was any humor intended in this, a quick skimming of this work makes it clear enough how deadly serious Vaneigem was about boredom being both the default state of bureaucratically managed consumer societies, and the unique form of humiliation that may be most responsible for the occasional insurrections within them (his positive appraisal of the riot as an art form is never in question). The term “boredom,” while appearing just under a dozen times throughout Vaneigemʼs impassioned broadside against endemic inauthenticity, is only slightly outnumbered by watchwords that were never absent from the Berlitz leftist phrasebooks of that era (“exploitation” makes sixteen appearances by comparison). When and where boredom is discussed, it is interwoven into portions of the book, and also Vaneigem’s contemporaneous writing for the Internationale Situationniste organ, that are more or less essential to proving out his thesis that an ounce of self-determined living is worth a ton of bureaucratically managed survival. To that end, boredom is generally always portrayed as a manufactured state rather than merely an intrinsic, “natural” character flaw of certain individuals. …


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IRWIN’s apartment-based exhibition ‘Was Ist Kunst,’ 1984

Most people who have ever learned an artistic discipline have been repeatedly told that, in anything but a time of great abundance, their skills would be first thing to be declared societally useless. So here we now stand, in an unprecedented scenario involving the entire world lunging at a novel pathogenic terror, and with consumption of goods and services nearly everywhere reduced to spartan Essentials Only levels: in this scenario, one of the only things we possess in abundance is the time to think and re-think, and so perhaps a few minutes can be spared to reconsider the truth of this supposed uselessness. It seems unlikely, with all human relations from the geopolitical to the interpersonal primed for huge and unanticipated changes, that the role of the modern artist would remain what it has been up until the viral dawn of the 2020s. …


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Rudolf Schwarzkolger, “4 Aktion”

“There is nothing man fears more than the touch of the unknown. He wants to see what is reaching towards him, and to be able to recognize or at least classify it. Man always tends to avoid physical contact with anything strange. In the dark, the fear of an unexpected touch can mount to panic.”[i] It is the above statement, appearing under the heading “The fear of being touched,” with which Elias Canetti opens his landmark sociological study Crowds and Power. In tracing the creation of all our artificial boundaries back to this fear, Canetti makes it possible for certain affinities to be formed between different categories of human enterprise. Take, for example, art and terroristic violence: whereas these were once activities that had practically no overlap in the Venn diagram of public attitudes towards such categories, the past couple centuries have provided an increasingly steady flow of incidents causing the violent insurgent to be compared to the practicioner of radical aesthetics. …


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19 Feb 2006 from On Kawara’s “Today” painting series

Like many kids who attended state-run American elementary schools in the 1980s, I have barely any recollection of anything that I learned in the actual confines of a classroom, being mostly dependent on family support and autodidactic ability to acquire and retain knowledge. I do, however, have a comparatively vivid recall of all the “extra-curricular” rituals of violence and status-jockeying cruelty that were the rule, not the exception, in these institutions. In among the rapidly decaying memories of this time, I can still remember one popular insult that was hurled around on playgrounds and school buses with sadistic glee: “generic.” In terms of initiating either clumsy fistfights or defeated sobbing fits, it wasn’t as cruelly effective as other period barbs, i.e. “retard” or “L.D.” [an acronym for one placed in ‘learning disabled’ classes], but it often enough managed to strike a nerve and prompt intense, prolonged fits of self-doubt. While someone being mocked as a “retard” was simply being called inept, to be on the receiving end of a “generic” claim was to be simultaneously accused of low status and to be totally devoid of any distinguishing personality traits. …


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Genex Tower, Belgrade

Le Corbusier, one of the pre-eminent figures of modern architecture, has been widely quoted as saying “a hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe,” a statement he immediately qualified with “and 50 times…it is a beautiful catastrophe.” Fittingly enough, it was the adoption of Le Corbusier’s term béton brut [raw concrete] which heralded the coming of an architectural style ideally suited to a modern era that, justifiably or not, has consisted of populations perpetually viewing themselves as being on the brink of catastrophe. …


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Extract from “Force Mental,” 1980s Belgian ‘zine of extreme culture

The British serial murderer Dennis Nilsen, once he had cemented his singular legacy of death dealing, came to be known by an ironically colorful sobriquet: “The Monochrome Man.” It is a label that has resolutely stuck with him throughout the years, because it so perfectly communicates the idea of a “Manichean double-headed monster”[i] living in the type of binary on/off relationship to humanity that has come to typify slayers from Bundy to Gacy (as well as more garden variety psychopaths). Masters contends that this was not a “dramatic contrivance conceived after his arrest…but a long-standing obsession,” and in particular an obsession with how “the contrasting poles of nature […] possess[ed] him equally.”[ii]


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Striborg in his element

If black metal music ever had a chance to break into the cultural “mainstream,” some three decades after the events that crystallized it in the subcultural imagination, now would likely be the time. The first feature film based on the topic, Lords of Chaos, has made its way to streaming services and may yet generate some outsider sympathy for this defiant and corrosive subculture. The non-fiction book of the same name, by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, was optioned as a film nearly a decade and a half ago (and the late Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey, for his efforts, gets his last name spelled incorrectly during the film’s credits sequence). The book contains a considerable pre-history of what would become black metal, as well as a laudable effort at determining the reasons why theistic Satanists, romantic neo-pagans and non-aligned antisocial elements all manage to rally under the banner of this musical genre. …


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note: I originally wrote this piece in 2011, though it seems timely to exhume it now that Guillermo del Toro is working on a film adaptation of the books that inspired it.

During my days working at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, I spent my fair share of time acting as a sounding board for the champions of “nice things”; politely and empathetically absorbing their stock complaints about the work on hand: why is everything here so depressing?! Why can’t you ever have anything nice?! Different defenses had to be prepared depending on which piece offended the most, and it wasn’t always easy to offer up a mannered explanation that calmed the nerves of the patrons and didn’t make me feel intellectually dishonest. It was easier to, say, make some critical justification for Charles Ray’s orgiastic mannequin sculptures than it was to defend the MCA’s policies restricting public interaction with his art — I had no rebuttal for patrons who wondered why their kids weren’t allowed to play on the life-sized fire truck sculpted by the same artist (it was parked invitingly on the plaza in front of the museum). Of course, there was the great hue and cry raised against conceptualist obfuscation, and extreme distaste for pieces powered by text and technology rather than by oil paints and elbow grease. …

About

Thomas Bey William Bailey

Sound artist, psychopathologist, author of “To Hear The World With New Eyes,” “MicroBionic, ”“Unofficial Release” and “Sonic Phantoms” (with Barbara Ellison).

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