Brian Kuan Wood is a writer who lives in New York. Together with Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle, he is editor of e-flux journal.
I thought to talk to you today about the latest project that we’re working on at e-flux journal, which is a project for the Venice Biennale, a kind of massive four-month publishing project, but it’s called—it’s coming up here. It’s called Supercommunity, and of course I thought, like, OK, there’s something like I want to talk about it, I want to show this to you, but then like something about it seems a little bit too right, you know, to be talking about Supercommunity at the community and connectivity panel at Superscript, like something is corresponding a little bit too much, so maybe it’s meant to be.
So I’ll start by with just a brief introduction of e-flux journal. We basically started—sorry, I’m just checking the Internet here. I’m checking my email. So e-flux journal started in 2008, it’s a monthly journal edited by myself and Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle. And it started really as an attempt a kind of—yeah, a kind of really almost desperate experiment in trying to find a way of creating a discourse or a collection of writing or a kind of language that could address a certain kind of global spread, that has happened in maybe like the last 10 to 15 years in art, where we basically take for granted that the community of the discourse of art now takes place basically in most places of the world. Right?
And so if you take this for granted, though, it really starts to shift the foundations of what you consider to be an artistic canon or what you consider art history, because in many places in the world, artists who are working, they have a kind of relationship with art history and what is often conceptualism, often a history that is based in certain capital cities in the west. A certain relationship with a canon which, you know, is a little bit too close and a little bit too far, right, where they know the history, maybe better than many artists working in New York, but then also feel a bit distant from it, where like the history doesn’t actually apply to them, so it’s like it’s not your history.
It’s a very common post-colonial condition which is installed into the working conditions of many many artists today. So then how do you create a certain kind of discourse which has a certain kind of amnesia, which has a certainly kind of visceral directness, right, which also is reflective, and how do you—how do you to create something that does justice to this new kind of community in art that we take for granted?
So this was the kind of idea that we had in starting the journal in 2008, and so and since then, yeah, we started—there was a PDF version of the journal. It’s the journal is basically ten issues a year, it’s free, online, we made a PDF version, which is distributed to a network of distributors in different parts of the world, who basically receive this PDF, and can print it and sell it at whatever they want, so you know, they receive a PDF, they print it, they can sell it for 3 Euros, they can sell it for 300 Euros, they can give it out for free, it’s up to them because many people were asking for a printed version. I don’t know if these are kind of boring details about format, but you know, this is what we’re working on.
Lately we started e-flux conversations because the journal has been sort just an online transposition of a paper publication, right, where it just, you know where we are like a printed journal but it exists also online. So there was very little dialogue, dialogue was usually taking place between people or privately, so in the last year e-flux conversations became a kind of a, yeah, kind of a discussion platform, a kind of discussion platform for dealing with a lot of these issues, the issues that we deal with in the journal but in the discussion format. So this is kind of still new, it’s about five or six months now and we’re trying to understand what this strange community of people who are really kind of taking hold of e-flux conversations, what they’re actually, like what their character is, because it turns out that actually, there are like really a lot of smart people out there with really a lot to say.
So it seems to attract a certain kind of—it does attract a lot of like, you know, flaming and this kind of things that you see on YouTube, that they’re actually very substantial arguments but they’re short-form micro arguments so it’s really something that I’ve never seen online before so we’re kind of listening and trying to see what happens. With this. And what the community tells us.
We also do a series of readers. The—I think it’s the 9th reader that we just came out, I think 4 months ago, in collaboration with Sternberg Press, the last book is called The Internet Does Not Exist and this is a kind of, you know, of course, the title is a kind of a provocation, but it has to do with a lot of the things that we’ve been thinking about today. The Internet Does Not Exist, it’s a kind of like it’s a collection of essays from that we published in most of which have been published in the journal, but as a provocation, the editorial concept of it is really that the notions and the images and the figures that we have for understanding what the Internet is, have—they’re really just not sufficient anymore, right?
Like you can imagine some kind of information super highway, like this stuff doesn’t really work anymore and so at the same time, a lot of people think, that for example, if you want to understand how the Internet functions or how the communities around the Internet function, how this kind of communication function, you should maybe also good kind of like old school Marxists will say you should look at the material base of the Internet, right, look at where the servers are and look at how they’re connected and that will tell you who’s in control and how the Internet works and it’s the State Department and it’s the NSA, you know, U.S. Department of Defense, you know, all of this is kind of true, but it also doesn’t explain exactly what the Internet is actually doing to us, right?
What the Internet is doing to us, what it’s doing to our lives, to our economic lives, to our personal lives, right, is actually something completely different, so this book sort of wants to depart from the notion that actually the Internet is something which you have to describe through some kind of other figures, right? So things like emotional blackmail and things like this, right? Labor extraction, right? Like what are the figures that we can use to describe the Internet? But of course I mean it just reminds me, there are also people who are doing really, really important work with the actual infrastructure, artists. You have someone like Trevor Paglen who is actually looking for the undersea cables, right, so we still think of actually the information super highway as a kind of abstract notion, but then like someone like Trevor Paglen is actually diving down to find these undersea cables that are stretching across the Atlantic ocean, for example, and he knows about like the actual US submarine that actually goes and kind of kinks the cable to tap into it to monitor the communications. So this stuff is of course really important, but it’s also something that is not a dominant figure that we use to think about how the Internet functions.
So, yeah, so just to tell you a bit about the Supercommunity project, after—I mean basically we’ve been thinking about—we’ve been thinking about these things with e-flux journal for I guess 7 years now, and a few months ago, without much advance notice, we got an invitation from the Venice Biennale to participate as the journal in the biennial and we proposed to do a kind of four-month daily publishing project as the 65th issue of e-flux journal and the concept of it is Supercommunity and it deals with a kind of notion of community which has—which a kind of notion of community which is not something that we actually want, right, which is autonomous, like a warm communitarian, it does not have the warm communitarianism that can cozy up mammal style like everything is going to work it itself out.
Actually it turns out that we’ve had many mass revolutions, we have a lot of people connected to each other and actually sometimes it works out it turns into some kind of new fascism, something that we don’t want and we didn’t ask for. So this poses a real problem to sort of well intentioned artistic standpoint, right, where you believe that your work or you are on the right side of the barricade and the work you’re doing is by its very nature improving the world and making the world a better place, actually it seems that not only are you know, if you look at gentrification, not only are artists the problem, if you look at something like climate change, humans are part of the problem.
So how do we look at these without being the heroic saviors, so it tries to think in these terms, through, there are kind of short form, also quite cheerful text here considering the topic. Yeah, but notions like corruption, cosmos, we have planetary computing, is the universe actually a gigantic computer? We have “Cosmos” which is guest edited together with Boris Groy, “Corruption” together with curator Natasha Ginwala, “Apocalypsis” together with Pedro Neves Marques, “Political Shine” on surface reflection and bling as kind of a new ontology. “The Art of Work,” “Art,” “The Social Common,” which is together with Raqs Media Collective, and the section on Cuba, which we’re doing here with Coco Fusco.
So I thought I would basically finish by reading you the editorial that we—this is the cats. And I’ll conclude that with. And you can actually you can read along with me. No, please don’t.
But with your eyes, please.
Having no body and no name is a small price to pay for being wild, for being free to move across (some) countries, (some) political boundaries, (some) historical ideologies, and (some) economies. I am the supercommunity, and you are only starting to recognize me. I grew out of something that used to be humanity. Some have compared me to angry crowds in public squares; others compare me to wind and atmosphere, or to software. Some say they have seen me moving through jet-lagged artists and curators, or migrant laborers, or a lost cargo ship that left a trail of rubber ducks that will wash up on the shores of the planet over the next 200 years. I convert care to cruelty, and cruelty back to care. I convert political desires to economic flows and data, and then I convert them back again. I convert revolutions to revelations. I don’t want security, I want to leave, and then disperse myself everywhere and all the time.
I’m not worried about famine, drought, wifi dead zones, or historical grievances, because I already stretch across the living and the dead. I can be cruel if that is what’s needed. Historical pain is my criteria for deciding the pricing of goods and services. Payback time is my favorite international holiday, when things get boozy and a little bloody. Economies have tried to tap into me. Some governments try to contain me, but I always start to leak. Social contracts try to teach me to behave, but I don’t want rights. I want fuel. And if you think you can know me, I’ll give you such a strong dose of political and economic instability that you’ll wish you never tried.
e-flux journal has been trying for years to give me a face and a name. The editors think they can see me move in the trees of the Giardini. They think they can find the supercommunity in how plants experience pain, how humans experience pain, how jellyfish talk to each other, how acacia trees warn other acacias. They think they can see me in how the world talks to the world.
The editors think they can trace my footsteps by asking artists and thinkers to consider how the supercommunity assembles through a growing series of themes that reflect the profoundly contradictory scales of thinking that are currently altering the collective consciousness of contemporary art, and by publishing these essays, statements, and prognoses in individual installments over the course of the Venice Biennale.
For instance, they think some artists and writers from New Delhi can see how I’ve always rendered any social contract uneven and unequal. They think I increasingly use corruption as a vehicle for getting around. They think I helped a bunch of Russians hack the Enlightenment to design spaceships before the Communist Revolution. They think I extract labor from artists with false promises, when all I want is for them to stop thinking so much about survival and focus on their work. They think Cuban artists know something I don’t know. They think I build infrastructure out of surface gloss and lighting effects. They think I mash physics with universalism to build a gigantic computer.
The supercommunity loves a miniaturized version of the world as an idea. From human understanding the supercommunity harvests protocols for the mobilization of goods, services, and ideas we didn’t ask for: it moves a lot of things around, but never forward. The supercommunity wants a maximal version of the world that floats any governing idea so long as it never governs.
I grow larger and healthier when forms of international solidarity are stripped of their progressive promise, and when those solidaries are put to work munching up real estate or vying for control of towns and villages. I am the alphanumeric calculation of visitor numbers and the force that floats those figures to source outside infrastructure for the next iteration of the fair. I make language into everything and nothing at the same time. I can sort you faster than you can recognize your own image in the mirror. And in fact, I will replace your image in every mirror.
Think of it this way. I need to attend international exhibitions to update the methods I use to sort the communities of the world. The world is not yet in alignment with its own communitarian desires. There are certain areas where resources have pooled precisely because those resources cannot be used. They function like banks in which the money is safe because it can’t be spent, because in many cases the knowledge, content, talent, human minds, or natural resources moved away a generation or three ago.
The supercommunity sources internationalist good intentions to match those resources to the talent that floated away—to seek refuge in another country, another national pavilion, a yacht moored in Riva Dei Sette Martiri, an artist’s incessant doubts, or an exhibition boycott. The supercommunity discovers the places where these errant resources hang in limbo, and patches them back into the venues where they didn’t know they always belonged.
This is what makes me bigger than any political demand you ever thought you had. I have a lot of work to do for the Biennale. I have a lot of work invested in the Biennale. Don’t bother with choosing me or not choosing me to represent you. I am the supercommunity, and you are only starting to recognize me.”