James Bridle‘s writings and art often explore the intersections of technology, politics, culture, and citizenship. Launched the day before his 2015 keynote at the Walker’s Superscript conference, for instance, his Citizen X creates a visualization of web users’ “algorithmic citizenship,” all the geographic locations one’s internet data passes through. And his 2014 Artist Op-Ed examined a movement in his native UK to “deprive” terror suspects of their citizenship. Fittingly, his contribution to the series 2016: The Year According to touches on these core themes, but from a new geography—his new home in Athens, Greece.
Refugee Crisis and the Flag for No Nations
On the 17th of January I planted a flag on the shoreline in Athens made from a foil emergency blanket. It’s not a particularly new or unique artistic gesture, but for me it connected a number of thoughts about technology and politics which set the tone for the next 12 months, with an emphasis on DIY and critical thinking. The refugee crisis has been very hard on Greece, and it’s not over yet; in fact, this is merely the initial phase of a far larger and far more devastating global crisis. But I’ve been privileged to see the myriad ways individuals and groups respond, from those braving the sea crossing to the Greek islands to those working to help them in camps and squats on the mainland. The future is hard, and it starts here.
I saw Xylouris White—Cretan singer and laouto player George Xylouris and Dirty Three drummer Jim White—play the opening of the Niarchos Foundation in June. Everybody danced. Their album Black Peak, released a month later, has been on heavy rotation ever since.
Nigel Farage, the tinpot leader of the UK Independence Party, declared on the morning following the Brexit referendum that his side had emerged victorious “without a single bullet being fired.” Eight days previously, Member of Parliament Jo Cox had been killed in the street by a fascist yelling “Britain First.” UKIP’s own election material was filled with racist and xenophobic material. Personally, as a UK citizen living in the EU, I have no idea what the future holds, but I benefit from an immense amount of other privileges. What is more concerning is the abdication of hope, the refusal to believe that we can do better than this. I say now what I said then: Fuck hatred, fuck violence, fuck borders, fuck Brexit.
The Santa Cruz School
In October of 2015 I saw Karen Barad speak at the Through Post-Atomic Eyes symposium in Toronto: a rare and genuinely life-changing experience. Since then, trying to catch up, the work of Barad and companion writers have become central to my thinking and doing: Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble and the particular success of Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World (both published this year) point to the growing awareness of this work, and along with Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter and Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark have been personal touchstones for 2016.
Just ahead of the Ethereum heist, the Brexit flash crash, and the first automated driving fatality, the massive attack on the internet performed by household objects—fridges, lightbulbs, cameras, and thermostats—gets this year’s award for WTF Futures. The Internet of Angry Things is here, and your toaster hates democracy.
Watching my friend Zachos Varfis’s project Latraac evolve over the last year has been wonderful. A skate bowl and social space in a once-vacant lot in the Kerameikos neighbourhood in Athens, Latraac is visionary and beautiful.
Turbulence is on the rise. Just another marker of a world on fire but one that strikes a particularly dark, anthropocentric chord: low-atmosphere Kessler syndrome, the metaphors becoming real, and vice versa. Global warming is not a threat in the future: it’s happening now and everything is entangled.
Journals and Newsletters
In response to the above, the Dark Mountain Journal has been particularly helpful, as has Rob Meyer’s Not Doomed Yet. Journals and newsletters are resurgent/emergent forms full of necessary and nourishing goodness: many thanks to Dan Hon, Warren Ellis, Charlie Loyd, and Salvage for their regular appearance in my inbox.
I was lucky enough to see far too many exhibitions to pick from this year, with some wonderful recognition for some of my favorite artists, including the Jarman Award for Heather Phillipson and the Turner Prize for Helen Marten. Alongside Sophia al-Maria’s installation at the Whitney, and Cecile B. Evans and Hito Steyerl’s work at the Berlin Biennale, I’d like to highlight Suzanne Treister’s HFT The Gardener, which I saw at Annely Juda in the summer. Gematria, algorithms, and psychotropics FTW.
I moved to Athens in September 2015—this has been my first full year in Greece. One of the highlights of the summer was the Syros Film Festival, and the highlight of that was a drive-in screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey on a village football pitch. About half-way through the film, the bright point of the International Space Station passed in an arc over the screen, the sky already filled with bright Aegean stars. When the film finished, all the cars tooted their horns to The Blue Danube, and I fell asleep, brimful with raki, on a beach.