We work in a diffuse and communal space, an environment that is at once supportive and transient. Almost everything I know about painting I learnt from spending four or five years watching L work, but in some sense we have very little to say to one another about art. Our production happens in the spaces around shows and projects, and the things that we are able to teach each other are more often the pure applied life things that come from spending empty time with people that you love.
It is a landscape without distinguishing features - it offers you shelter, it is marginally plastic and with some effort can be excavated, shifting sheet metal and piles of refuse to create pockets and depressions where life can continue. The light here filters through dirty glass panes that are reinforced through their composition with crisscrossed steel wire: an anti theft precaution more than a century old and still effective. Almost every pane has been smashed and flowered with bright cracks like crystal but not one has fallen away from the soft lead setting that secures it to the brick.
The Commendatore insists that we meet in these tired theatres. He likes to see them move out there on the periphery, slow people, grey and silent, who have made their homes out here in the aftermath. He is a big man, tall and strong and almost fat, with a shaved head and greying temples, a daddy who would have been beautiful when he was a young man, beautiful but not as strong back then, a man whose physical presence has grown with his easy madness as he gets older and as he becomes more and more divided from the press of people around him, more accustomed to ordering violence, to his own state of permanent exception. He told me once a long time ago when he first found me that there was a originary genocidal violence that installed every democratic order and as he spoke he seemed to recede back into the spaces of history, his body stretched and changed into an obscene megaphone and pulpit and a sick swollen brain, and we talked about sacredness and the responsibilities of young men living under oppression, young soldiers on whose shoulders the weight of that genocide was placed - of white genocide, of rational christian orders pulled to pieces by a fat commercialism and by a thousand external barbarisms. He would place his palm on the top my round head shaved like his but so much younger and pull me down, press my face into his swollen chest. He smelled then and still smells like cooked fat and cigarettes and aftershave, a cartoon of the daddy dressed in a soldiers boots and denim, in linen and leather, a jacket, belts and straps and holsters.
Before I left the city a had my future read by a friend, C (this is against my strictly Marxist upbringing). The future that C divined was dramatic, violent; terrorism, mugging, sex, sickness, writing, a litany, a cascade of violence, of bodies, everything pushed in close and made rough. C seems stretched, thin, anxious. They laugh it off when I in my ignorance start to speak of Jewish demons, of the Qliphoth of inverted Kabbalah, of trees of death and degradation. I am still obsessed by demons, by infection, by bringing bodies to contagion, by contagion as practice, putrefaction, bodies scraped together, their limbs arranged and rearranged again and again into legible series, shifting positions, shifting significance, new limbs, serpent phalluses, the heads of dogs, lions and hyenas, ‘not by their faces but by the positions of their limbs shall you recognise them’. I am still obsessed by this image of brutal pragmatism, of pure exteriority.
The young men that travel with him seem drugged in their movements but their eyes are so hostile that you cannot meet their gaze. They terrify people. The Commendatore is just an old antisemite, a basic type from like the fifties (though he does not know this), but these young men are something else completely and tied only nominally to the history of European fascism. The are like golems whose animate force is milked from scripture implanted directly into the skull and that can be switched out as needed; or like cyborgs, technology and flesh, short and direct relations from word to limbs like steel deprived of any obvious interior will. Sometimes they look at the Commendatore the way a soldier would size up a rape victim. His is wilfully blind to this. I think that it must be wilful.
‘I got my things and left’. Dambudzo Marechera, one of my favourite writers, born in Rhodesia in the 50s, came to Oxford on a full scholarship and ended up trying to burn down the halls where he was studying. He threatened to kill the other students there, who he had become convinced were trying to trap him, to ‘rape his mind’. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His writing is extremely, rigorously lucid, but not always clearly legible - its literary debt is largely to Western puritans, to Woolf, Elliot and Mann, a High Modern theatre of cruelty as imaged by a man who took it upon himself to write his country out of the incredible violence of its Imperial/colonial present.
Strap it on. Pull every strap tight, make sure that the rigid plates sit close to the curve of the body, that they do not hang loosely off of your body when you run towards the enemy lined up on the other side of the football pitch. The materials of construction trace out the class spread of these players - there are men who have suits of steel chainmail and foam core plates inlaid to ape the gilt decorations lifted out in straight homage to a hundred thousand Universal Settings. It is night and the grass is lit up fluorescent green beneath stadium spotlights - at this size the machines are noticeably municipal/suburban and less pageantry epic nationalistic - perfect replicas simply scaled down from State Games version to Sunday barbecues - it is only the scale that changes over time.
I wonder often what tools an artist has to remake themselves in this image. Only rarely do we carve a space or impress a surface. Marechera wanted to be the demon that broke Oxford but instead ended up writing about sex obsessively, as impersonally as he could - like Chris Kraus (‘confessional of what?’) writing for her whores and her young men obsessed with Nietzsche. She hates her own people, except in those rare instances that they reveal themselves, that they make their degradation impossible to ignore. I write too much about America, I own nothing of Los Angeles but fantasies of machetes and assault rifles, thin bodies, stripped muscle, gangs of soft eyed boys in motorbike jackets. It is an incredibly specific set of images, graven into mobile sections of timber or sheet metal, and it grows in series like theatre. When Marechera’s lover writes his biography in the 80s they make the story of his life obscene and sentimental. You get a strong feeling that Marechera knew that this would happen eventually and took or tried to take precautions against exactly this mythologising during the last years of his life; precautions that he was in the end not strong enough to apply to the letter because the illness that killed him was painful and lonely.
My facepaint is applied by a young Druid, first with a finger and then with a thin makeup brush. The design is extremely elaborate. She tells me that it won’t work if she gets the strokes wrong. She uses a makeup kit of rouges and bronzers and a tub of thick white zinc which she layers thickly around eye sockets and up cheekbones once the foundation colours are in place. As she works she tells me about the jewellery that she wears and how each piece counts as armour thanks to it’s in-game magical properties. She wears: two pendant earrings that look like pewter and cut glass chain nets and that each hold a steel sphere maybe the size of a large pearl engraved with celtic/neo pagan symbols; a choker with a fat glass trapezoid that sits squarely at her throat; a thin crown made from two interlinked strands, one of white plastic and the other dull metal (iron or lead) - she wears this beneath her hair so that it is only visible across her forehead - her hair is brightly died and collected up above her head into two little Mickey Mouse buns; five rings with different coloured stones, one for each of the elements and the fifth indicating mastery of all, an ‘elemental undivided’ ring, which she says allows her to take control of an enemy elemental construct once per in game hour. She tells me that she took this ring in combat from an enemy that she and her boyfriend slew together (their second date). She has barbed wire tattooed in an elaborate spiral pattern up one of her forearms, done in black ink but with red at the tips, and also occasional drops of red blood. Also an inverted triskelion design on the pale skin between and just below her collarbone that looks like it was done with india ink and a sewing needle. I picture her in a dark room somewhere lying back on a scuffed couch with her skin flaring under white electric light and her friend bent away to avoid casting a shadow, carefully following the texta guide design with the tiny spike jabbing in again and again, neurotic little movements; the needle is almost too small to hold dextrously.
I will miss C but during our final meeting I find that I cannot really speak to them. I am moving to a continent in a constant, unending state of crisis. I know only slightly more about Europe than I do about LA - my entire system of reference is a series of Marxist cliches that were out of date by ’85, but that I still use to order my speech because I have nothing better, and because to be cut off from communicating is something I fear intensely. This fear was actually something that me and R were able to speak together about, each ranging round and round like big cats neither willing to teach or open to kindness except in moments of true shared clarity, of which I remember only two. C was right about terrorism - the first thing I hear when I emerge from Heathrow’s grubby interior is that a bomb has gone off on the Underground and that ISIS has claimed responsibility.
The battles themselves are deeply ambiguous; the movement is a complicated flow of crowds that obviously recognise one another somehow but who from a surveying perspective are basically interchangeable; there are no immediately visible markers, access here would be via immersion over long periods of time in the scene - a felt sense for the micro signifiers of each gang grouping; all of the bodies move laterally across a field which is lit up white and crystal clear (the air is cold). The lights that ring the park are each haloed in the glassy night air. The press of bodies flowers open, they break into running charges and complicated manoeuvres, turn aside and coalesce again around friends, flags or leaders. Bodies fall down and lie still. Sometimes they are revived by teammates and rise to fight again but often they lie face down and forgotten until it is time again, until the DMs blow their horns all at once and they rise and the press disperses back out into their clans again, around the periphery again, laughing and flushed with adrenalin. I remember thinking that everyone looks like they’ve just cum, all together every member of this thousand strong game, sparkling eyes and parted lips and heavy breathing, even the ones that died.
I think about R and wonder about the faces that haunt her. I think that they are cruel faces, or more accurately faces that turn cruel - faces that hold inside them the possibility of betrayal. Impassive (at rest), classical, blurred, softly lit, out of focus, and possessed by the possibility for cruelty. This latent violence is their power (Negarestani speaks of turning the body into a betrayal engine). I think that R’s installs hinge on this stretched moment of peace before cruelty becomes visible. I think that this is an image of the digital. There are multiple images of the digital in an R print - one is this betraying image that turns cruel, another would be an image that cannot be cleanly decoded because the light plays and the surfaces are neither obviously transparency nor reflection. She has successfully identified the moment of betrayal as one that hinges on valencies of transparency and reflection: a deferred cruelty on one hand, the transparency/reflection register on the other. She is too articulate to fall into a true theatre of cruelty; these are not abject spaces (although she is quick to remind me that they have their own perversity) ie betrayal does not lead directly to death and terror. But really what is perversity here?
Spatial sensitivity. Bordering, composition, laborious analogue processes, a programme inherited and put to use disciplining what would otherwise be a nihilist space cracked completely open. The air is clear. Unlike Marechera R is both articulate and lucid.
We all move under the big lights.
C speaks to me, lists her taxonomies of spaces and the things that she finds in them. Spaces that have no borders, no systems of reference. In C’s installs there is only a point that moves - no ground, no walls; an ambiguous and borderline Romantic landscape of mist, drag, sea, lights. The ground is also this space - deserts and shantytowns: ‘the ends of the earth’. The point moves extremely fast; it could be an eye or a lens, could be a machine (plane)(every inch of the surface is a light sensor). The spaces are not delineated by architecture; there are only two elements, light and wind. The wind is how you recognise the space and the light is how you bound it. The eye/lens that C uses to record images is a truly cyborg assemblage in the sense described by Jasper Puar and Judith Butler. A hermetically sealed inhuman body with its own sovereign organs, sexualities and desires. The only thing that we have in common with this figure is that we also are also able to see, and so can track the progress of its fragmenting arc.
The correct writing for this space is a list of things that the eye/lens encounters on its trajectory. The eye/lens is only a sensing membrane. Everything that it encounters is completely full, saturated, and so there is do delineation or hierarchy to the lists. No plot, no characters. The list is in no particular order - everything encountered is both open and full.
C makes a desert everywhere she goes. She has the apocalyptic vision that makes every building transparent, that turns every body into ash and every word into vanity. All that remains are the lists of things in the world.
Afterwards we go to a bar. The music playing is all Metal - not True Norwegian Black Metal, the bad American frat version, made by bald fat programmers for teens out of work who drive chevys and shoot off AA10s and 303s out in the desert sitting on laps or riding shotgun or sending covert snapchats to one another from abattoir floor jobs. No way that any true aficionado would endorse this garbage. Codified largely in the wake of Slipknot’s IOWA, often commissioned for CGI horror franchises (video game adaptions and starette vehicles); ugliness like a steel surface - nothing here in any way gothic or artisanal or abject-aristocratic; an aggression that has the bluntness and lingering nastiness of a knife used in a mugging. No freezing steppe and no germanic mythology except surface callouts to a very few ubiquitous symbols, appropriated here from the third reich and masticated down into a sales-ready shorthand: ‘I despise you, and if given the opportunity free from legal consequences I would get my friends together and beat people like you to death’.
I exist in this group at the periphery, and it is often very hard to know how to speak.
Original text commissioned for The World is Waiting for the Sunrise, TCB Artinc, October 2017