Friday, 6 April 2012

Hexen 2.0 - Part 3

Black Dog Publishing, who is also running the gallery space where the Litterature exhibition is hosted, published an art book and, interestingly, a tarot deck of Treister’s project. They have been working with Treister for several years and my copy of Hexen 2039 was already published by them – as I said earlier they provided me with a book and a deck: The book itself is a paperback in calendar format, full colour and thick matte paper. No fold-in poster in this one, but a succession of the various elements constituting the complex Hexen 2.0 ecosystem, from the diagrams to the tarot cards, via the bibliography, the portraits, etc. as well as a short discussion of the project by art historian Lars Bang Larsen.

During the talk they hosted at WORK gallery, Suzanne Treister mentioned the sign at the Science Museum recommending a thrity minutes circuit between her artworks – certainly in 30 minutes spent in a gallery space, one can only experience the technique of the artist. The concept and the narrative, which for me holds the more revolutionnary aspects of the project, we can at best glimpse at – neither the extreme complexity of the diagrams, nor the coherence of the narrative or the seamless integration of the artwork into history, can there be experienced. One need time, patience, and research to fully uncipher the project, and in that regard, the book format seems very appropriate.

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Mathew Wilson Smith in his seminal study of the relatively overlooked subject of the Gesamtkunstwerk titled The Total Work of Art, drawing on Adorno, posit Wagner, who is widely regarded as the originator of the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk as we understand it, at the root of a dialectic movement between organicist immersive art work and the ideal of Moholy-Nagy’s Bauhaus theater, or, more surprisingly, of Bertold Brecht. Smith argues that Brecht’s concept of Verfremdung did not contradict, and indeed worked with the notion of Total Art Work, in a “synthetic” or at least non-organic sense.

Hexen 2.0 : Installation at the Science Museum

I am yet to read his conclusions but his tackling of the notion of cyberspace I see in the continuity of this evolution: Treister’s practice is inherently multimedia, not only in the computerized sense of the word, as demonstrated by her pioneering publications of Rosalind Brodsky’s adventures on CD-rom, but also in her more recent use of different medias on each sides of the Hexen’s diegesis. On the level of the artwork, visual arts certainly have the upperhand, but through the use of large amounts of texts, as well as prints or photo-montage, she achieves enough variety to be immersive. On the level of the “narrative” itself, the artworks represent a variety of formats, documenting in the particular complementarity of historical research, the subject of her work. The particular ungraspable quality of this subject, part history, part scientific phenomena, and part political manifesto, participate in it’s “real world” aesthetic quality – but it is in collapsing the clear-cut separation between the world at large and the microcosm of her artwork that she achieves the quality of Gesamtkunstwerk, harnessing, like various experimental video games in the past (In Memoriam for example), real world genre and events into her own “narrative”.

Hexen 2.0 : HISTORICAL DIAGRAMS: The Computer - From the 
MK ULTRA via Counter-Culture to Technogaianism

Here I put narrative in inverted comas because, indeed, the narrative structure of Hexen 2.0, which was already rather unusual in Hexen2039, is virtually non-existent, or more accurately it is invisible. In gamification this is what they would call a sandbox project, as in the fact that the author provides the audience with a certain number of modules in which they are free to evolve, to explore or to ignore, with no particular goal, a defining feature of open-world game design, which certain commentators (Bullfrog’s Peter Molyneux or SimCity’s Will Wright for example) has defined as a the essential separation between game and virtual realities.

Maxis/Electronic Arts, SimCity 4, 2003

This types of environments, be it in the form of games or of pure simulation (SugarScape), are often credited as archetypal emergent systems, and, funnily enough, studied closely by a variety of inheritors of the cybernetic tradition, from AI engineers to social scientists.

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But all is not emergent in the world of Hexen 2.0. In the sixties, when Philip K. Dick was writing The Man in the High Castle  one of his most famous works and probably the most celebrated uchronia in Science Fiction (exemplifying the counter-narratives dear to the artist, reminiscent of the recent development of counter-factual history), he was using the I Ching to write, to devine the plot. Many years later he was actually blaming inconsistencies in the story-line on that practice. As I do for Treister he seemed back then to consider his work as one of world-building, which might be a bit creepy given his later gnostic leanings, but which we can imagine to have involved the creation of actors and forces, which, once associated with the abstract elemental forces of the I Ching, were then combined and recombined according to the “interpretations” of the book.

Philip K. Dick's famous letter to the FBI about 
Solarcon-6 and a (alleged...) worldwide Nazi conspiracy

The influence of Dick, whose style has been occasionally coined “paranoid fiction” and involved a variety of governmental, occult or philosophical factions, is often quoted by Treister – maybe her decision to use a tarot deck, with it’s rich symbolism and modular potential, to illustrate the various elements of her mythos, is again a reference to the writer.

HEXEN 2.0 : Tarot: XXI : THE WORLD

The 78 card deck itself is large enough to be fully readable, printed on thick card and seemingly takes Crowley’s own tarot deck as a starting point. The cards constitute in my eyes the “meat” of the project, more so maybe than the large historical diagrams, and many of the most interesting elements of the Hexen nebula are more widely developped here. The form itself is ambiguous: like Jodorowski, or Jung, one can think, as we do for every symbol resisting historicisation, of the major arcana at the very least, as timeless archetypes – or one can follow Timothy Leary in seeing them as a narrative of themselves, depicting the evolution of man, or in the present case, the evolution of society. 

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