The Last Frontier of (Un)Consciousness and the Arts: On Neurodiversity and Artistic Thinking in Times of Self-Observation, Evolution’s Most Recent “Killer App”

This presentation, connecting my own performative knowledge with recent debates, discusses neurodiversity as a potential game-changer for the notion of art. Applying two key concepts of contemporary identity politics (disability studies, postcolonial theory) to the highly idealised but never closely analysed process of artistic thinking, it aims to parallel the global rise of self-observation (social media, post-Snowden era) with the increasing self-reflection and contextualisation that artists are both forced into and voluntarily choose nowadays. It will seek to describe examples of artistic perception processing, provide a historic background for the concepts of dis/ability and neurodiversity, and reflect upon the benefit of introducing these subjects to the debate about the epistemology of art. Finally, it will culminate in Deleuze-Guattarian (anti-)cyberneticism, surfing the current battlefields of knowledge production on desire machines and testing base-jumps from an (assumed) natural to the cultural matrix that nowadays dominates. Here, artistic research is revealed as a twenty-first century cyborg-utopia conceived to heal the phantom limb pain of cultural scientists permanently bordering on a lack of practice, before reporting live from the fields of artificial intelligence where the sun of cognitive singularity rises above the ocean of collective media consciousness.

More in depth, I will explain in a rule-of-three-like method how the construction of “dis/abilities” was related to the emergence of wage labour in early capitalism, introduce the new claim for “neurodiversity” as demanded by the disability and mad pride movements, and probe the application of this idea to artistic thinking in the context of debates about university reforms and practice-based PhD studies. Initial descriptions of “neuroatypicalities”—especially of visual-based thinking that is supposedly predominant in artists and people with Asperger’s syndrome—will lead us to theories about different intelligences, including language-related nuances in perception processing, showing that the pre-verbal and the pre-conscious are not to be confused. By doing so, I intend to offer an artist’s perspective of the non-verbal structure of Deleuze and Guattari’s desire machines, before subsequently pointing out comparisons between their “unconscious” and other topical cognition theories, scientific findings, and art projects (such as, the Otolith Group’s “Sensitives,” Crary’s daydream, Google’s Deep Dream, new findings on “desire”/the reward system).

It appears that the overall expansion of a consciousness addicted to media and shaped by labour, squeezed into eternal attention and self-awareness, perfectly mirrors the ongoing colonisation through theory that artists are permanently exposed to in the environment of academia and of the apparatuses of public project funding. While claiming to stand by artists when designing artistic research programmes, theorists often actually ignore the artists’ needs, implementing “curriculised” versions of their own fantasies about an ideal artwork and ideology-driven wishes for a certain social function of art. Whereas—with the assemblage being the potential epitome of artistic production strategies—the link between Deleuze and artistic research is obvious, a debate is still missing that connects Deleuze and Guattari’s theories to a more general and also factual-political view of “the last frontier of (un)consciousness,” as one could call the youngest evolutionary shift in the anthropocene that has become even more visible thanks to the Snowden revelations about its techno-governmental preconditions. Regarding these parallels, the artistic research debate might actually profit from zooming out to a macroscopic point of view and co-engaging in the attempt to answer to the question, Where is collective intelligence going and what role is (mass)surveillance taking in that?

Previous versions of this talk were presented at “Compared to What?,” an annual conference of the German Society for Media Sciences (GfM) Vienna, Austria, January 2015 (for abstract see popkongress.de), and at the Inaugural (Rest of the World) Conference of the SLSA (American Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts) and SymbioticA, University of Western Australia, Perth/AUS, October 2015.

Blindness

In his lecture-performance titled “Blindness” Bill Balaskas will reflect on the ideological state of post-crisis Europe and the role of contemporary art as a communicator of the antagonisms and anxieties that still linger. Connecting Deleuze and Guattari’s aesthetic and political preoccupations, Balaskas will adopt (and adapt) the two thinkers’ “Body without Organs” (BwO), in dialogue with the model of the rhizome, in order to highlight the deep contradictions inherent in the domination of neo-liberal capital. On a formal level, the artist will employ the fluidity that characterises the BwO as the fabric of his lecture, thus producing a rhizomatic, non-hierarchical, and non-linear narrative reminiscent of the structure followed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. Blurring the boundaries between personal narration, scientific documentation, and poetic allegory, Balaskas will bring together a wide variety of seemingly unrelated sources and media, including re-edited extracts from his video works, graphs exemplifying economic theories, a literary analysis of José Saramago’s novel Blindness, a cover version of the song “Blindness” by U2, personal exhibition anecdotes, and extracts of works by Deleuze and Guattari. Through the amalgamation of these elements, Balaskas will aim further to explore one of the most prominent preoccupations in his artistic practice: “the fluid and petrified substance of money” that functions as the BwO of any capitalist being (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 11). For Deleuze and Guattari, capital’s distinctly schizophrenic character epitomises the nature of the BwO as “a body without an image” (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 9). In a perverted and bewitched capitalist world, “capital increasingly plays the role of a recording surface that falls back on all of production” (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 11). Through his lecture-performance, the artist will suggest that this “non-image”-surface is, in fact, produced through an unprecedented elevation of spectacle within the public sphere. For Balaskas, the totalitarian enactment of the image that we experience today should be understood as the last, “blinding” refuge of a socioeconomic model that is struggling to survive. In this context, “blindness” is not only a condition that emanates from a particular economic system (capitalism) but also a profound cultural choice that aims to deliver us from the need to face a new reality. This voluntary lack of vision affects not only the way we evaluate culture and aesthetics but also our very understanding of the societies within which art is called to perform its role.

References

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 2004. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. London: Continuum.

Corpus Delicti #2 // Untimely Precursors

On 30 July 1881 Nietzsche sent a postcard to his friend Franz Overbeck, enthusiastically expressing his surprise at having discovered he had a famous precursor in the history of philosophy:

I am utterly amazed, utterly enchanted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza: that I should have turned to him just now, was inspired by “instinct.” Not only is his overtendency like mine—namely to make all knowledge the most powerful affect—but in five main points of his doctrine I recognise myself; this most unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world-order, the unegoistic, and evil. (Postcard to Franz Overbeck, Sils-Maria, 30 July 1881)

In our fictional lecture-performance, Franz Overbeck (Arno Böhler) responds to Nietzsche’s postcard by recommending that he read two young French philosophers: Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. Overbeck is particularly enthusiastic about Deleuze’s book Nietzsche and Philosophy and Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. He claims that both authors have finally understood that his friend Nietzsche’s work, due to its untimeliness, is a foreign body to what has been called philosophy so far. Having started the “Prelude of a Philosophy of the Future,” Nietzsche’s thought is now at last recognised as being a precursor of thought events, still waiting to be discovered and called into being posthumously.

Such a futuristic mode of thinking and doing philosophy, says Deleuze, “has an essential relation to time.” It is fundamentally untimely, that is to say:

… essentially against its time, a critique of the present world. The philosopher creates concepts that are neither eternal nor historical but untimely and not of the present. The opposition in terms of which philosophy is realized is that of present and non-present, of our time and the untimely (UM II Use and Abuse of History, Preface). And in the untimely there are truths that are more durable than all historical and eternal truths put together: truths of times to come.
(Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy. London and New York: Continuum 2006, 100.)

Franz Overbeck’s reflections in response to Nietzsche’s postcard are interrupted by Susanne Valerie Granzer, who presents a selection of texts by philosophers whose philosophy has been interpreted as a disruption, or sometimes even as a crime against the classical canon of philosophy they inherited: Spinoza, who was cursed for his thoughts, the man in Kafka’s The Trial who was executed without reason, and the poets in Plato’s Republic who were expelled from the state.

The lecture-performance stages philosophy, rendering the words uttered in the performance as a sensual, bodily experience, to be shared with the audience.

Strata: A Lecture Performance

My first creative gesture, always, is inwards. I look inside; I dive inside. I bathe myself in the numerous, interconnected yet distinct streams of sensations, thoughts, and feelings that incessantly rush through me. I drift upon them; I observe how they intersect, split one another apart, or converge. Amidst the buzzing of inner activities that living appears to be as soon as one suspends one’s project-oriented actions, one sees tentative tropes emerging, heteroclite assemblages forming themselves. Some persist, others vanish quickly to cohere later in a different combination. My work attempts to investigate how we constantly compose our experience from the multiplicity of which we are made. Artistic research too proceeds from an introspective drive: art turning itself toward art in an attempt to question anew its processes and its effects; research as a movement that goes nowhere but insists to be where it is, digging up the very place upon which it stands. Following such a self-reflexive movement, art encounters itself as not self-identical, animated as it is by multiple other practices—craftsmanship, daily life, theory, philosophy, politics . . .

Strata, the online publication on which this lecture performance is based, is an instantiation of such an introspective approach. It is a cross section of my own work, applying my compositional strategies to question my own practice. A collage of images, text, and video fragments on an endless white page, it was created in 2014 on an online platform for multi-modal publications, Oral Site, which is hosted by Sarma, a workplace focusing on artistic research and discursive creation. Although explicit references to Deleuzian concerns do surface in Strata—direct quotations as well as excerpts of an interview with I. Stengers—it is mostly through its rhizomatic mode of composition that it meets the philosopher’s work. With no centre, no end, no linearity, it offers itself as an environment to get lost in. By maintaining their reciprocal heterogeneity, clusters made of distinct documents create a wide constellation, a field of tensions where relationships are endless, yet (or because of this) are never totally effectuated. In this composition, gaps are pivotal and the trade with the non-actualised is constant. It invites the visitor to a diagrammatic experience in which meanings and affects emerge in the midst of invisible trajectories that saturate the page as one’s attention bounces from words to drawings to filmed movement, from personal anecdotes to art history to philosophical digression or political concerns. In its associated lecture-performance series, Strata is screened for the audience and offers itself as a score for a digressive exegesis. We navigate its large plane, unfolding one of the countless ways to think and feel its layering. Live dance and/or drawing extends its constellation into the room as the performer—myself—embodies the particular mythology instantiated by the publication.