ANNUALE text 2017

Sad!

by Dane Sutherland

 

“Ben Garrison will cleanse the earth.”

- Taylor Swift

 

A velvet aisle of loose ash crumbling underfoot, we shuffle through a room thick with smoky plumes of pink. We follow the solemn chatter of incantations, red-pill sermonising and shitposting lulz. Onwards, breaching the clouds of incense, our wayward crew of libcucks approach an altar with the curiosity customary of our native Cathedral. Our inquiring gaze, however, incites a murmur of haet and anti-lulz from the shadows around us, for our ways are of an epic fail here in the Church of Kek. This is another cult’s safe space. A whisper is retweeted through the pink smoke: “I get the sense among normies that they think of the trends now as business as usual. They don?t see the darkness ahead. They are not ?woke?”.

 

We gather at the altar, steeling ourselves with reserved indignation at the heresy before us. Candlelight flickers across the white-powdered surface to guide our viddy towards a gilded reredos image macro. Upon its photo-crystal surface, an avatar returns our gaze with mournful eyes(1). Pepe, atavistic reaction face and deification of the primordial concept of dankness, casts his meme-hacked smug across the empire; dankens the door of each and every board with the prophecy, ‘Trump will win’(2).

 

The babble of shitposters around us is closing in. With no orientation in the coral fog we retreat. Tracing our ashen steps back through the smoke and dim light and discarded Top-Kek wrappers we step over some lilies resting at a memorial for Elliot Rodger guarded by an unmistakable apothecary holding a skull: Ebola-chan. She conducts us further rearward with a gleeful lash of her virulent pigtails. The Frog Twitter babble grows quieter, and we begin to hear the comforting sounds of the outside world once again: protest, noise, fake noise, J. J. Charlesworth beseeching for free speech, likes, shares and the sonorous tones of our filter bubble. From one enclave to another we tarry with our selves.

 

*

 

A mythos binds a community, helps to define and regulate the borders between the ‘us’ within and ‘them’ without. It harbours the principles, ethics, worldviews, conventions and beliefs of those who abide by the situated narratives produced, developed, negotiated and disseminated by invested members of a specific community; the ideologues, the institutions, the active and authoritative voices. A myth-system is gradually built, plotting the metaphysical parameters that allow a localised group to develop its (shared) identity and enact its own culture. Within this dynamic, actions and assumptions are legitimised and normalised. The ‘compendium of symbols and their meaning’ (3) becomes a rich, lively, and sophisticated cultural resource through which commonly accepted belief is cohered.

 

This is precisely the current situation with regards to the recent rise of the so-called alt-right. While figureheads are regrettably appearing on the political world-stage who fundamentally embody the racist, sexist, anti-democratic and anti-progressive millenarian complexion of the alt-right (who are capable of instituting harmfully regressive policy such as Trump’s Muslim ban), there is an occulted (and somewhat occult) hypereconomy in which grassroots activity is reifying these principles on the ground.

 

A recent artworld farce which gathered worldwide media attention was the outing of London-based, artist-run gallery LD50 as an organisation sympathetic to alt-right ideals, placing them under intense scrutiny from grassroots pressure groups and international press. The gallery had delivered an uncontroversial programme of exhibitions and events until late last year, when 71822666 (Amerika) attracted minor suspicion from a number of artists and arts professionals. While it is worthy to note that where the exhibition worked as a useful introduction to the formal hypereconomy (and actors therein) of the alt-right for some, most criticised the show as a crude experiment in poor taste, condemning the signal of a safe-space for a tendentious community to foment its agenda. This latter suspicion was confirmed by consensus when a private conversation with LD50’s director was leaked where support in favour of Trump’s Muslim ban was voiced alongside criticism of MoMA’s solidarity of the affected countries with the re-hanging of artworks. A more clandestine manner of organisation was subsequently revealed in the guise of a series of programmed talks which gave platform to individuals such as Brett Stevens (who famously congratulated the actions of the far-right terrorist Anders Breivik) and topics as woefully racist as the insidiously named Human Biodiversity.

 

The key point, presently, is the efficacious role of grassroots initiatives, alternative-media platforms, remote ideologues and artist-run activity working in cooperation as a distributed bloc. Despite various disagreements and disputed labels ranging from Ethno-nationalism to Neoreaction and Meninism, the distributed grassroots activists provide a shared vocabulary of terms, symbols, and methods around which to coalesce; a galvanising mythos that empowers, enchants, and indoctrinates by lending aesthetic purchase to political agenda. In addition to LD50, these movements also disseminate the philosophical acumination of far-right concepts in blogs, digital guides for conducting online debate (or, trolling/shitposting)(4) and the active discussion of a new, coherent Western aesthetic (fashwave, anyone?) in aid of right-wing ideals across digi-lo-fi platforms such as 4chan(5) and Google Docs(6).

 

Examples such as the 71822666 (Amerika) exhibition and the Westhetica Google Doc highlight the functional role of aesthetics – the importance of making something happenmaking a difference in the world according to one’s own views. This kind of ‘culture war’ is embodied in Westhetica’s section on ‘memetic warfare’ and also in LD50’s nod towards ‘meme magic’(7) as an occult art in affecting reality via the circulation of information. As well as ‘rebranding’ the typical image of ideologies such as white supremacy(8), such imagery aspires to editability, shareability and recognisability in order to gain traction on the wider cultural imaginary. Cartoon characters are adopted (even seized from their creators), styles are appropriated, celebrities are hacked and news is faked. Meme magic and memetic warfare are forms of culture jamming that intend to embody ideals (it does not require a great deal of analysis to find a racist kernel within much of the imagery, nor in the use of the slang term ‘cuck’ which has been popularised to decry liberals) and to alter reality (much in the same manner as the occult notion of the egregore, an autonomous entity in the world that influences a collective group mind).

 

These activities, particularly the distributed network of grassroots initiatives operating locally and non-locally while exploiting the resources of digital culture, need to be considered in order to face the challenges they pose for organisations and artist-led enterprises that stand in opposition. DIY, grassroots, artist-led and such phrases do not inherently imply one specific political or ethical orientation. They are necessary components of a scalar hypereconomy in which multiple agents produce value(s) while disseminating the spirit and conventions of those who are active in such initiatives, subsequently requiring them to be situated within particular communities that share and develop such ideals.

 

A key thinker in the alt-right bestiary, Mencius Moldbug, ascribes the rival left/liberal nexus of discourse the pejorative appellation, ‘Cathedral’:

 

‘And the left is the party of the educational organs, at whose head is the press and universities… we sometimes call it the Cathedral – although it is essential to note that, unlike an ordinary organization, it has no central administrator. No, this will not make it easier to deal with’.(9)

 

Although there is a warped perspective regarding the balance of power in modern, Western societies (that men, white culture, and the West is somehow under threat and marginalised…) which motivates Moldbug’s conspiracy of the ‘Cathedral’, there is a certain useful diagnostic acuity which departs from conventional paranoid-conspiratorial thinking. This is the view that there is ‘no central administrator’, which I have attempted to apply in this short text to the complex organisation of the alt-right as a dynamic hypereconomy comprising multiple grassroots and more established agents. The reason for this analysis is to acknowledge the challenges posed by the recent and regrettable shifts towards normalising socially regressive ideals, without being purely reactionary in response. Or, without enacting a conspicuous virtue-signalling that offers no purchase on the formal complexities and opportunities of the contemporary post-digital, post-truth landscape while those in the alt-right manage to colonise and understand the impact of a media/platform ecology working in confluence. And also, to highlight what these challenges mean for grassroots organisations in the arts such as Embassy Gallery and the cluster of activities that form as Annuale.

 

While I will not claim a distinct political agenda on behalf of these activities, it is notable that there is a constitutional inclusivity and conviviality that motivates them. Concern with access, diversity and de-colonisation in many arts organisations represent an ongoing effort to recognise deeply embedded assumptions that affect and limit what art can be and who can produce/consume it. It is perhaps this recognition which helps define the actors within the so-called Cathedral as willing to develop their commitment to inclusivity. This is clearly fundamentally in opposition to the neo-tribalism of the alt-right which not only commits to projects such as racial segregation but also their own essential self-definition via negativa, referring to the uninitiated as normies (and to the individuals identifying themselves across a diverse and non-binary spectrum of gender, sexuality, ability, etc. pejoratively as snowflakes). Conservation, exclusion and security are among the hallmarks of the right. The question remains as to how initiatives such as Embassy and Annuale (continue to) situate themselves within an integrative, distributed hypereconomy and how they can operate in solidarity with like-minded agents to organise and develop a binding mythos, enacting changes to the world in accordance with ideals of inclusivity, greater diversity and free access. Mapping the rise of the alt-right shows that this aim is no empty affectation.

 

References:

1. Yuk Hui, ‘On the Unhappy Consciousness of Neoreactionaries’, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/81/125815/on-the-unhappy-consciousness-of-neoreactionaries/

2. http://archive.is/vGrv3

3. Tara Isabella Burton, ‘Apocalypse Whatever’, http://reallifemag.com/apocalypse-whatever/

4. ‘Rules for the Alt-Right Radicals’, https://northernreaction.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/rules-for-alt-right-radicals/

5. https://yuki.la/pol/111643756

6. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DIeovVhwprNb9z4x9Pxiyr84nhouf3mxz3uzDOlARdo/edit#

‘What is the artistic movement attached to the alt-right, or rather what artistic style should be applied to the alt-right in order to give the movement a greater sense of cohesiveness and consistency in a visual sense?’ (DISCLAIMER: please sign OUT of Google etc before opening this document).

7. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5554b030e4b001ab96842f2d/t/5807f2aae58c62d480121bbd/1476915889886/Intermediate+Meme+Magic+-+Saint+Obamas+Momjeans.pdf

8. White supremacist, or self-styled ‘Ethno-Patriotic Radical Traditionalist’ (wtf), Richard Spencer is keenly aware of the importance of rebranding. He is responsible for the appropriation of the term ‘alt-right’ as a label that sounds more media-friendly and re-vitalised than ‘fascism’: ‘The Left wants us waving a swastika flag, yelling “White Power”” or some such nonsense. What they don’t want is an intelligent person, confident and laid back, talking about how democracy is bad and the races are different’. For a moment of respite from Spencer’s guff, here is a video of him being punched in the face: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rh1dhur4aI

9. ‘A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 1)’, http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/gentle-introduction-to-unqualified.html