Conceptual prankster Tom Estes presents his work “Blitz” (2009) as a large screen digital projection for ONE MINUTE ONLY. The work was shown as part of an exhibition and conference, Speeding & Braking: Navigating Acceleration for The Screen and Audiovisual Research Unit, LG01, at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Everything is getting faster. Computers, news, food — and even walking. Pedestrians today move quicker than they did in the 1990’s, and the more developed the country, the speedier their gait. When they reach their destination and sit in front of a computer, a third will abandon websites that take more than two seconds to load; 20 years ago, they were prepared to wait four times as long. What is more, our patience is only diminishing.
Modern life is too fast. Everyone is always in a hurry; people skim-read and don’t take the time to eat properly; the art of conversation is dying; technology places too much stress on the human brain. This litany of familiar complaints comes, of course, not from out own time but from the late 19th century, as collected by the American writer and XKCD comic artist Randall Monroe in his arch cartoon ‘The Pace of Modern Life’. And here we are in the 21st, in another culture that both worships and deplores its ostensibly unprecedented speed.
Speeding and Braking: Navigating Acceleration, the exhibition on May 15 at The Screen and Audiovisual Research Unit
Whether everything is getting faster and faster or not, though, it remains the case that fast things are happening. A recent investigation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Jeffrey K. Smith and Lisa F. Smith found that the mean time spent viewing a work of art was found to be 27.2 seconds, with a median time of 17.0 seconds. This modern phenomenon, is of course, directly oppositional to the ‘meditative’ quality that museums are meant to suggest. So one could say that to ‘Blitz’ a gallery, is to ‘vigorously attack’, or try to see all the works in the gallery in one go.
Tom Estes’ work ‘Blitz’ for Speeding & Braking: Navigating Acceleration introduces a new kind of artwork that functions more as art proposal for a partially realized exhibition; a document of visual and spatial modes of presentation that theorizes a different approach. The title of Tom Estes’ work is ‘Blitz’ a term which is a shortened version of the German word “blitzkrieg” (blĭts’krēg’). Blitzkrieg means “A swift, sudden military offensive, usually by combined air and mobile land forces”. In the work an individual being thrown through the air by a lightning bolt is depicted superimposed on to a Victorian Bible open to the story of Noah and the flood.
Speeding and Braking: Navigating Acceleration, the exhibition on May 15 at The Screen and Audiovisual Research Unit
Though a work of art with very contemporary concerns, the tone of imagery in Blitz seems to have more in common with the tradition of late nineteenth century photography or film. In 1892 the Lumier brothers had already began to create moving pictures. The work, therefore, seems to suggest that a movement away from the slow and contemplative in the visual arts is not just a modern phenomenon. By the 1910’s, films like those of the Keystone Cops were an established part of popular culture and so the representation of ‘speeded action’ was already on its way.
In Estes’ ‘Blitz’ even the medium itself, a projected digital photograph, suggests speed, as a recording of ‘live’ split second action’. For Estes’ the slapstick comedy of the image is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock. So the work could suggest rushing about with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer, while catastrophic destruction on a global scale looms ever closer.
Estes’ work is part of the exhibition- Speeding & Braking: Navigating Acceleration. In political and social theory, accelerationism is the idea that either the prevailing system of capitalism, or certain techno-social processes that have historically characterized it, should be expanded, pre-purposed or accelerated in order to generate radical social change. Some contemporary accelerationist philosophy takes as its starting point the Deleuzo-Guattarian theory of deterritorialisation, aiming to identify, deepen, and radicalise the forces of deterritorialisation with a view to overcoming the countervailing tendencies that suppress the possibility of far-reaching social transformation. Accelerationism may also refer more broadly, and usually pejoratively, to support for the deepening of capitalism in the belief that this will hasten its self-destructive tendencies and ultimately eventuate its collapse.
Speeding and Braking: Navigating Acceleration, the exhibition on May 15 included work by Esther Polak/Ivar van Bekkum, Magnus Ayers, Tom Estes, Ryan Kuo, Stefan Riebel, Emma Charles, Gary Zhexi Zhang, Lawrence Lek + Harun Farocki
Acceleration has been characterized as both reason and remedy for the challenges presented by an increasingly fraught global economy – by financial crises, ecological ruination, neo-colonial oppression and forced displacements of an unprecedented scale. The contemporary political and cultural imagination is caught between conflicting velocities: the accelerationist affirmation of technological transformation on the one hand, and decelerative or restorative movements on the other. The conference Speeding and Braking: Navigating Acceleration gathers critical responses to this conceptual deadlock that reach across and beyond such entrenched (op)positions.
Prominent theorists include right-accelerationist Nick Land. The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru), an unofficial research unit at the University of Warwick from 1995–2003, of which Land was a member, is considered a key progenitor in both left- and right-accelerationist thought. Prominent contemporary left-accelerationists include Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, authors of the “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”, and the Laboria Cuboniks collective, who authored the manifesto “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation”.
Along accelerationist lines, Paul Mason, in works such as PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future, has tried to speculate about futures after capitalism. He declares that “[a]s with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by post-capitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.” He considers that the rise of collaborative production will eventually help capitalism to kill itself.
Emma Charles, Additivist Manifesto at Speeding and Braking: Navigating Acceleration, May 15, 2016
A number of earlier philosopher have expressed apparently accelerationist attitudes, including Karl Marx in his 1848 speech “On the Question of Free Trade said:
“But, in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade.”
In a similar vein, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that “the leveling process of European man is the great process which should not be checked: one should even accelerate it…”, a statement often simplified, following Deleuze and Guattari, to a command to “accelerate the process”
Ryan Kuo, Death Driver 2016
So despite the apocalyptic imagery, Estes created the digital image ‘Blitz’ as documentation of the works physical formation- intentionally leaving the material project unrealized. This has a flattening effect which merely implies the existence of an installation in real-time, three-dimensional space. This closed circuit of illusion mimics and merges with the mass media desire for immediate novelty; anticipating the online reduction of an ‘installation’ to a single image.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the work is actually liberated from worldly concerns. The dematerialization of Estes’ work expresses a concern with the material and phenomenological consequences of both accelerations and decelerations, as well as the aesthetic strategies afforded or precluded by them. It is concerned with the material inscription, practical harnessing and social experience of varying speeds, from the perspective of contrasting temporalities. Particular emphasis is placed on a transversal approach, reading across, and drawing into dialogue, seemingly impossible positions within the fields of visual arts, cultural and critical theory, and media and communications.
Lawrence Lek, Unreal Estate (The Royal Academy Is Yours) a virtual tour that imagines the sale of a public art gallery to a wealthy family
For Estes the process of real subsumption is the key to our globalized network society. In 1848 the world of Karl Marx was not facing global ecological catastrophe. Nor are we still in the process of emerging from a rural, agricultural based feudal system. Everything without exception is subordinated to an economic logic, an economic rationality. Everything must be measured, and made commensurable, through the mediation of some sort of “universal equivalent”: money or information.
Real subsumption is facilitated by—but also provides the impetus for—the revolution in computing and communication technologies over the course of the past several decades. Today we live in a digital world, a world of financial derivatives and big data. Virtual reality supplements and enhances physical, “face-to-face” reality—rather than being, as we used to naively think, opposed to it. Neo-liberalism is not just the ideology or belief system of this form of capitalism. It is also, more importantly, the concrete way in which the system works. It is an actual set of practices and institutions. It provides both a calculus for judging human actions, and a mechanism for inciting and directing those actions.
Capitalism is unrelenting in it’s pursuit of profit. What cannot be assimilated is marginalized or destroyed. But Estes’ emphasis is the conflict between the physical world – a world governed by laws beyond the reasoning of human culture- and our unrelenting desires. Or as Shakespeare put it “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy“. The title of the work Estes’ work ‘Blitz’ suggests a military offensive- and indeed we humans are at war with our own environment. Faced with the choice of either completely altering of our philosophical system or facing annihilation, humans will continue to risk annihilation. Why? Because whether it is the right choice or not, the process of acceleration is so deeply ingrained we no longer have a choice.
Speeding & Braking: Navigating Acceleration was organised by The Screen & Audiovisual Research Unit and run by Media and Communications Ph.D students at Goldsmiths College. The research unit acts as a point of reference between different practitioners and research initiatives in order to establish a common and cooperative space of dialogue devoted to screen and audiovisual media. The core objective of this group is to create meeting points between disciplines and practices so as to broaden and deepen discussions revolving around film, sonic and visual arts and screen-based media. The research unit hosts seminars, lectures, screenings, conferences and conversations.
Cyberfeminist, Annie Goh at the conference Speeding & Braking: Navigating Acceleration. Goh’s work ranges from academic reflections on cybernetics and the female voice, to the lived experience of women and transgender people in live sound engineering and electronic music.