(Upcoming) Antihotel: a folly in five tropes


After visiting a notable residence in Kandy, Sri Lanka, I’m writing a piece about its characters (and taking a closer look at the artwork!) for an upcoming issue of Art + Australia this year. This was a drawing done in parallel with the writing, and indeed it is one of the multitudinous ephemera I participate in, outside of actually writing. 


grey mirror Helga

Discursion: an utterance of sugar and plastics


An utterance of sugar and plastics

Featured image: Stephen Yuen, Perfect Space? 2018, digital prints of VR environment, installation view at Testing Grounds, Melbourne. Image courtesy of the artist. Photograph: Rachel Marsden

RIFTS: Particulate Matter, Co-curated by Kat Kohler & Dr. Rachel Marsden, Testing Grounds, Melbourne, 4–14 July 2018
To enter the Testing Grounds, it’s a barely perceptible transition out of the urban miasma. Rumbling carriageways punctuate on-foot passage, within and outside this loosely hemmed exhibition space in the Southbank location of Melbourne. The open mesh fence makes only timid enunciation of rupture between the art on display and a metropolitan thoroughfare. Picnic tables and coffee offerings further beget such ambiguity, outposts of respite not unwelcome given the biting winter chill.

RIFTS: Particulate Matter conjugates the work of three designers, six artists and two curators in a precipitating array. There is no linearity to the viewing, that ties their ‘particulates’ to one another as would links in a chain. The works are disgorged among concrete and gravel, abutting undulating mounds spiked with plants. There is a skyline view of the Arts Centre, which officiates over one boundary, shifting under a zephyr of projected red light. The exhibition is spread over cubes with austere, functional titles: Clear Box, Black Box. In addition, banners line one walkway (Open Box), taciturn before their full virtual reality activation at the closing event.[1] In the exhibition notes, I read through narratives that ascribe environmental, diasporic and historical reflexivity. Much of these follow the psyche of contributing artists through flows of pliability and transition, adapting with their experiences of the sensible world. These encounters are represented by constituent minutiae, in the bits and the pieces of each artwork. In duelling the ‘built’ versus the ‘natural’ world, co-curators Rachel Marsden and Kat Kohler posit a framework of separation in objecthood. This is certainly sufficient when taking an anthropocentric position, but emergences in nature-culture theorisation continue to bestow objects with a spectrum of valences. These complicate the dichotomies between built and natural, human and nonhuman. In Karen Barad’s theory of agential realism, for example, influence is not a closed circuit of actors, actions and the acted upon. It springs from the quantum level, in the propositional spaces of things that have happened, will happen, are happening—or haven’t. In this performed reality, a thing cannot really be extracted from its nexus of arbitrations: all that is being is entangled astronomically. Space, time, phenomena and matter.

All bodies, including but not limited to human bodies, come to matter through the world’s iterative intra-activity—its performativity. Boundaries, properties, and meanings are differentially enacted through the intra-activity of mattering…That is, differentiating is not about othering or separating but on the contrary about making connections and commitments.[2]

Regardless, we humans cannot hear the full utterance of objects. There lie unbroachable straits between us and our designations of ‘it’, emanations and interactions of materials operating outside of dialects accessible —lexicons of sentience and consciousness. Outside broader narratives, I approach each of the works in this exhibition through their speculative microcosms. My sympathies find themselves aligned with certain material apparatus; objects threshed out along dimensions variable. Excised, splattered, melted or made caricature.

Sugar/ Clear Box

Where better to start than with the tenebrous reflection of my own face, glassy and swelling under a long, elastic drip? From one phase to another, a band of melted sugar performs its environment through the tenor of viscosity. Yoked to the ambient temperature of the Clear Box, it drapes voluptuously over replica fruits and vegetables, coating them in a dark exudate that spools to the floor. This forms a pendulous mass slung from one end of a red gum branch, itself suspended, with a TV monitor hanging from the opposite end. Gold paint frosts the branch and flecks the pool of sugar below, embellishments at the hands of Siying Zhou. Zhou’s mixed media installation The Consequences of Success (2015-18) ties these objects together with a video of Australian native plants, stained by almost imperceptibly slow drips of the black sugar. There is something slightly abominable about these languorous agglutinations. I think of sugar carbohydrates coursing through the vascular system of plants. Vital ambrosia driving growth at the sun’s touch. As if in antithesis to this idea, an endless circuit of brutal uprooting runs on a nearby screen. A small mandarin tree is pulled from the earth by intervening human hands. It quavers tenuously towards the end of the loop, and there lingers an ambiguity to what might have come next in Nikki Lam’s video Uprooting Mandarin (2015). Just outside the door of this Box, there are decorative living trees intended to elevate the site’s landscaping. Kept untampered, some are anointed with a bath of soft light. They are spared such insults of excavation and reconstruction. Their subaltern associates appear to lay interred in exquisite tessellation, surgically cut and adjoining the third cluster of work in the Clear Box. Pristine white tiles interject in this zone, centrally marked by an inky adulteration. In Yan Yang’s installation 理智入睡引来恶魔 (2017), the entanglements of sugar are absent. The formal resolution in her work alludes to past violence, but with such opacity to context that it renders itself entirely bloodless and incomprehensible. With contrary irreverence to all this, one side of the Clear Box’s internal façade profligates a disease: Molly Chen’s softly flagellated discs of ceramic, some haloed with a black tar of strong resemblance to Zhou’s sugar. As would a skin, the walls fester with this dermatitis, aptly titled Scabbing/Cicatrice (2018). Chen’s delicately placed sculptures affect a sense of contagion to Zhou’s pooling molasses, like a vertical pollination of materials bridging separate practices, unbidden.

Plastics/ Black Box, Open Box

That most challenging of aesthetics: presenting an amicable relationship with plastics. Ubiquitous in popular critique, ever contentious, these materials are the ouroboros of our advanced oil industries. Polymer loops cycling between ecological decimation and an undeniable convenience to society. As medium and subject, I find plastics to be the lynchpin media for the other two Boxes. From darkness, Yandell Walton’s simulacrum of plastic waste Foreign Objects (2018) emanates, as if mechanically conveyed towards the viewer from beneath a solid wall. Up close, these spectral deposits lose all resolution, shedding their perspectival conceit through the degree of my proximity. Grit and detritus litter the floor beneath this looping projection. Left to wander through currents of oceans and be buried in the earth, discarded plastics resist breakdown, making a mockery out of our species’ transience. Youjia Lu’s shattered self-portrait sears the emptiness of the wall, Time Experiment No. 2 (2018) rendered by the beam flung out from another data projector. This instrument comes enrobed in plastic, another example of consumer electronics that will one day join a flow of garbage so laconically illustrated opposite. As Lu’s video strobes between blackness and self-image in a manufactured staccato, the glow of Walton’s virtualised waste fills in the empty moments. The two video works entwine impermanence and relentlessness in a reciprocal tension.

On the closing night of RIFTS: Particulate Matter, I don a heavy VR headset: temporal conditions align, and the bucolic fantasias of the Open Box banner imagery are vivified. Like the portal in H.G Well’s Door in the Wall, VR application Pilgrimate offers the participant a similar escape from the topographies of the known world. Guided through sequences of Stephen Yuen and Stephanie Liddicoat’s impossible architectures, I feel that ‘plasticity’ here takes a semantic turn, out of its material aspect. It signifies something integral to our own neuroanatomy. Each fractal dreamscape of Pilgrimate runs like a gamified carnival ride. Plunging from nested staircases or coursing through subterranean labyrinths is confronting and exhilarating at every turn. Through sequential exposure (I am informed via a chaperone) the restructure of my neurons could well permeate lived reality. Unfixed and still palpable, storied yet utterly banal, objects institute universes of their own.

[1] RIFTS: Particulate Matter featured artists I-Yen Chen, Nikki Lam, Siying Zhou, Yan Yang, Yandell Walton & Youjia Lu, and spatial designers Stephen Yuen & Stephanie Liddicoat.

[2] Barad, Karen Michelle. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. E-Duke Books Scholarly Collection. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007, p. 392.

This article was first published by Art+ Australia Online, September 2018 at http://www.artandaustralia.com/online/discursions/utterance-sugar-and-plastics

Ex Machina: Postscript


Image source: https://melbourne.sciencegallery.com/sci-film-ex-machina

This text was presented for Sci Gallery Melbourne, Friday 17 August 2018, as part of National Science Week. It was an introduction prior to screening the film ‘Ex Machina’ (2014) at Federation Hall, The Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne.

“Before you settle in to watch the film, I want to get the cogs turning a little around major themes- no spoilers! If you haven’t seen the film before, don’t worry.
When I was a smaller person, my Dad made the somewhat naeive error of insisting that I learn that game of supreme tactics, operating somewhere in between excruciating deliberations and then spurts of careless bravado- the game of chess, of course!
He quickly overcame his enthusiasm when I started to win, and wanted to deflect my appetite for conquest onto another, perpetually willing competitor. So we loaded up the old Windows XP computer with a CD-ROM of a chess program- he was off the hook.
I had a head full of imaginings around the tale of Deep Blue VS Gary Kasparov, the infamous tournament loss of a human chess champion against a computer. Even so, I made sure I dialled the difficulty settings all the way back to ‘easy’. Now this was to be my first experience of friction against a perceived algorithmic injustice, an encounter of disparity between human and non-human action taken towards a common objective- to win the game. Time and time again, as I played, rather permit my win, the chess program would enforce the second optimal result: flashing up stalemate- stalemate- stalemate! I remember feeling outraged at the unfairness of it all, at what seemed like a cold ungraciousness in what I imagined to be my opponent’s persona. 
Dad reminded me that was a fairly simple case, though, of placing blame on the puppet masters- the developers who had written the chess program’s code. They were responsible for the unyielding, relentless tendencies of their creation. The actions of this program, hardly representing an autonomous thinker, was only a proxy for the whims of its makers.
This brings us to the film we’re here to watch today- Ex Machina. As you might suspect, the story doesn’t offer up such a simple case. This movie is actually one of my favourites in a fairly recent crop of thoughtful sci-fis. Beyond the fanciful, glossy elements of typical sci fi- ultra advanced tech, cyberpunk urban sprawl, and very tight jumpsuits- audiences are encouraged to ask big picture questions of judgement, empathy, conscience beyond the human. These are what’s termed ‘near future’ concerns- not too far away that we’re talking about transcending our bodies and melding into the universal hive-mind, but along the lines of social media becoming a bit more all consuming, our phones doing more for us than ever, or the internet of things being in pretty much in everything. The hardware we already have in our pockets and the software we subscribe to with full consent, in the near future. In Ex Machina, there’s three relevant concerns around the future of tech that particularly struck me, and maybe you can think about these as you watch tonight.
The first arises from that story of stalemate in my chess adventures, and the agency to take certain actions. Where does that distribution of responsibility fall when there are actions of intelligence made, rather than born? How can these actions be judged if there are involuntary, prescribed differences in someone’s moral compass and ability to behave? Is it just enough to create a faithful, perfect copy of our own psyches, suspended in wetware gel? Or should we take our tech obsession with upgrade and improvement to engineering a better version of us- the next unmissable new release, a host of exciting new features, a symbol of advancement beyond perfect. Machine learning researchers surveyed by a specialist unit at Oxford University answer with some conviction. They predict AI will outperform humans in many activities in the next ten years, such as translating languages (by 2024), driving a truck (by 2027), working in retail (by 2031) or working as a surgeon (by 2053). These researchers believe there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years and of automating all human jobs in 120 years. (1)
The title of the film, as some are probably aware, relates to the phrase : ‘Deus ex machina’. The term was used in ancient Greek theatre. It meant, ‘God from the machine’, where an intervening character would fly onto the scene, suspended high above the stage via a mechanical contraption- the machine. They would change the course of the story through powers often unexpected, or supernatural. In the case of tonight’s film, the title itself confronts us with the notion of the machine unencumbered, disconnected from a deity, master or overseer. Thus given elevated levels of autonomy, we are invited to consider an experience of sensation and action, indeed, a consciousness, as it might occur ‘ex machina’- from the machine… alone.
Now I recall a few occasions of being in the car with my partner, who assures me that he is a master of navigation, a genuine wayfinder in a world of directionless chaos. Inevitably of course, we require a helping hand- courtesy of Google Maps. He will protest: “Oh- shut her up! She’s always wrong anyway, she doesn’t know these streets like I do.” Google’s voice navigation is set by default as a female voice, and it’s not a big stretch to imagine a extended persona that goes along with this- one that is specifically gendered. Sure, it’s just a voice- but like Scarlett Johannsen’s character in the film Her, sometimes that disembodied voice might be all it takes to embed itself into cultural norms and expectations. If we tap into the archives of tech media cultures, from sci fi gaming, film, graphic novels, and the like, we encounter an entrenched history of female gendered virtual assistants.
I grew up console gaming with a character called Cortana, an A.I helper in the Halo franchise. Now, a virtual assistant called Cortana issues cheery pronouncements on the weather from the desktop of my Windows PC, with an twangy American woman’s voice. My new Samsung phone rather unfortunately pits an A.I assistant called Bixby- Samsung proprietary-against the cohabiting, also female voiced, Google Assistant. Both carefully avoid mentions of their Apple counterpart Siri, attending to such menial tasks as turning my Wi Fi on and off, or calling someone handsfree. These current day assistants also orchestrate the latest in smart home technology, bonafide domestic goddesses that are not yet seen- only heard.
Where the rub lies is the continual reinforcement of these artificial, abstracted, but identifiably female subjects into a deepening history of servitude and unquestioning compliance. This not only problematic for it mirroring retrograde gendered arrangements of imbalance and inequality in humans, but it is establishing such a precedent in nonhumans- the sort of thing from which dystopias are dreamed. Much of the control and initiative to shape artificial service assistants or ambient intelligence lies with tech workers, a traditionally male held domain. This is tied up with the tendency for contemporary society to applaud, glamorise and bestow incredible riches, cultural impact and power upon the tech heroes that design these systems. Gender politics are already at play in how we think, speak about and regard service technologies today. This can hardly get simpler as each iteration brings advanced complexities to the fore.
The final point I want to bring up around artificial intelligence is more currently tangible, gaining greater exposure with every scandal that hits the headlines. This is the surveillance, algorithmic profiling and hijackable features that are embedded in, or accompany, the technology we use today. I have a lot of slightly paranoid discussions about how my internet searches will suddenly create relentless advertising, despite my interest in dog beds or toilet seats being largely one-off. I’m not a toilet seat connoisseur or collector, you know- can’t we go back to pop up ads that fill up the screen, strobe crazy colours and say I’m today’s lucky winner??!
Tech ethics researcher Katja De Vries argues that the way in which we experience ourselves necessarily goes through a moment of technical mediation- the apparatus we use, those adornments and additions to ourselves in a physical sense and the way in which an online portrayal of ourselves defines a sense of who we are. She argues that there is growing societal concern around the impact of algorithmic, computational profiling on our sense of identity. (2) This is most obviously occurring online, in which algorithms thrive on reconfiguration of human identity, claiming alleged infatuation with toilet seats at the flimsiest of diagnoses.
This type of thing poses a sense of existential questioning around who or what influences or manufactures a sense of self and even opens up the possibility of preference-based discrimination through increasingly detailed, cross referenced and nuanced examinations of our behaviour through artificial intelligence. With a massive source of information from which to compare us among many, many others like and unlike us- the internet- the way in which algorithms capture us is not a perfect reflection. Rather, a new twist is generated in our stories, and who we appear to be from an outside point of view.
That all being said- I leave you now to enjoy the film!” 


  1. Grace, Katja, John Salvatier, Allan Dafoe, Baobao Zhang, and Owain Evans. ‘When Will AI Exceed Human Performance? Evidence from AI Experts’. ArXiv:1705.08807 [Cs], 24 May 2017. http://arxiv.org/abs/1705.08807
  2. Vries, Katja de. ‘Identity, Profiling Algorithms and a World of Ambient Intelligence’. Ethics and Information Technology 12, no. 1 (1 March 2010): 71–85. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-009-9215-9.

An interference: red and blue



Recalling physicist Richard Feynman’s double-slit experiment, quantum particles take all possible paths in the universe to travel from one locus to another. Transmitted through an intermediary screen, they collect in representational bands at their terminus, made tangible through the sensorium of our world. The principles of superposition enliven these multitudinous passages, before their petrification makes way to existence. Our very act of observation excises all possible potentiate histories, and the most improbable paths tend to neutralise one another in an incomprehensibly limitless contestation of actual determinacies. Such is the act of quantum interference. After Hawking and Mlodinow (2010): “Quantum physics tell us… through our observation of the present, the (unobserved) past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.”[1] Looking, noting, participating, measuring; all are gestures in our repertoire of quantum agency. At any given moment, an infinite flowering of being collapses in on itself synchronously, antithetical occurrence and disappearance as a universal law of matter.

With two audiovisual tracks spliced together, the triptych video screens of Youjia Lu’s Super(im)position (2018)[2] cycle in and out, phasic openings onto a zone of corrupted subjecthood. Each interfacing wall features the artist, an unclothed female figure seized in temporal abeyance. The inverted negative processing suggests a plane of narcosis, saturated in strobing binaries of red and blue. Subtle gestures mark each screen in a staccato fashion, resisting a discernable narrative, only small eruptions of bodily amplitude. The figure is cut through at each frame, unresolved. Lu performs relentlessly as these vitreous selves. Atomised possibilities for an identity, a chronology, lie outside each frame. They remain in fact with the artist, unable to be transduced into these phantasms. Through her video technique, Lu has nullified familiar symbolic referents, dissembling idioms found in cinema and film. What remains are pluralities at work, an unhinged timeline made visible- but not lexical. Once could have been words, now an utterance in disarray. From around the installation runs a polyphonic shudder, like the deadened battering of moth wings at a windowpane.

The experiential affect might have touched visitors softly, if Lu had not layered her elements with such conscious antagonism. Her videos arrest the unexpecting and unprepared into a dissensus that-paradoxically- unites them. For each new spectator, a diverse suite of visceral reactions pool into discomfort, on the doorstep of horror. Indeterminacy represented: this is a supernatural vision of disorienting, unknowable liminality.

Untitled_Red and Blue_Still01_Web-Res

A man with Tourette’s sensibility enters the space. More attuned to variance in light and sound than most, his refractory tolerance for strobe has been exhausted, spent on a rare cinema excursion that was deemed worthy of the physical consequences. He baulks, apprehended by corporeal premonition. At times, his body expresses aesthetic judgement in a dance of muscular contortions. The dance comes unbidden, though he might temporarily suppress it. As he moves past the large-scale screens, a red and blue glow bathes his face. There are no physical tells. Somehow, this work makes a latent refuge out of its oscillating stimuli. His predeterminations fall away, and he is unburdened, if momentarily.

A harried medical doctor arrives, straight from the bustling intensity of neurosurgical rounds. She steps into the space without hesitation. In her brusqueness, one is reminded of the necessary detachment that comes with diagnostic imaging. These tableaux show processions of catastrophic pathology, or coy deviations that creep from a baseline norm. In them, she must decipher omens. Sometimes her patients see things, hear things, that fracture reality. They reach past our world of commons into a superimposed other, a perceptual singularity received only by them. The doctor moves quickly to an adjoining space. The work of the day crowds in on her, unbearably. Super(im)position confronts her, and the others, with all those aborted happenings compressed into the artist’s own, quantum lore.

 This text was written by Jessica Laraine Williams (jlogos.net) in conjunction with Super(im)position (2018), commissioned by the artist Youjia Lu

[1] Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam Books, 2010, pg 106.

[2] Youjia Lu, Super(im)position (2018), video installation, Kings Artist-Run Gallery, 12 May 2018–2 Jun 2018.

Images: Youjia Lu, Super(im)position (2018), video installation. With the artist’s permission.


The Plague: Panel


Transcript of panel presentation for Melbourne Art Book Fair 2018, Art+ Australia Journal Issue Two: The Plague.

“… I’m Jess. I operate out of the Victorian College of the Arts over the road from the National Gallery of Victoria.  I’ve now worked as a physiotherapist for close to a decade whilst undertaking my studies in Fine Arts, and I’m undertaking my PhD part time, which- to get a bit to technical- is an investigation of the agents and agencies in transdisciplinary digital art production. An agent is a person or thing that takes an active role or produces a particular effect in a given situation. For my contribution to this issue of Art+ Australia, I pulled out one particular type of agent: that is, the non human, artificial intelligence or A.I.

Who is affected? Well, it’s all of you humans out there! Those without an Internet connection are probably ok, though… In my essay, I tell the story of a semi-fictional A.I, whose function is to curate and share online media. This particular computer program- which doesn’t quite exist yet-uses a neural network, one of the most powerful machine learning architectures modelled after the animal or human brain. These systems are able to predict human behavior through the gathering of information over time- learning by experience, in other words. These systems do exist- take self driving cars, of recent controversy, for example. In my scenario, I wonder what would happen if an automated artificial intelligence replaced human labour in tastemaking visual media? What if such an entity needed to farm and control social media shares in order to retain resilience, presence, in fact, to ensure its own survival on the social web? In my piece for the journal, this entity begins to commandeer our online visual culture, feeding back to us an increasingly homogeneous diet of images and media.

Aside from the obviously dystopian, science fiction tone of my story, its concerns have their roots in the here and now. These near future speculations are the sort of thing we see in frequently bleak series like Westworld and Black Mirror, yet they are part of a potentially real horizon beyond humanity. This has some people a bit worried- and not just the conspiracy theorists! Take the Future of Humanity Institute, operating at the University of Oxford. Their entire mission is the study of existential risks – events that endanger the survival of Earth-originating, intelligent life or that threaten to drastically and permanently destroy our potential for realising a valuable future. This includes the machine-human impact (or cybernetic relationships) of future technologies, such as advancements in artifical intelligence. As Norbert Wiener, originator of the term cybernetics has warned us: “To turn a machine off effectively, we must be in possession of information as to whether the danger point has come.” If any of you saw that recent short clip of the Boston Dynamics robot dog opening a door and marching out into the unknown-maybe it already has, and the end is nigh! With all this in mind, I wanted to work with the journal’s theme of Plague to conjure an insidious epidemic of activity, brewing up on the peripheries unseen, before it begins to infiltrate mainstream awareness and affect human behaviour. In fact I’m speaking from experience, as this infiltration via fringe culture is how the story first came about.

It happened before the editor Ted Colless asked me to write for the journal. It was sparked in a conversation we’d had years earlier, when I had made up a bit of jargon for an art project I was working on. As a kind of online Choose-Your-Own adventure, or Web page maze, I wanted my title to suggest many choices, unfurling moments of consequence in a labyrinth of potential options- this is, as we are all no doubt familiar with, the experience of cruising the Internet, clicking on through the chains of links and offshoots in the everyday searches most of us all do without much thought. I cobbled together the word “hypersition”, hoping it would encompass hyperactivity and multiple positions, and we could leave it at that.

Ted informed me however, that alas, “hyperstition” was an existing neologism- a cobbled together word-once notorious for its use by a particular group of people, though it had been a while since he had last heard about them. Their term “hyperstition”, so similar to my “hypersition”, seemed to be one among many experimental terminologies, bandied about by a transdisciplinary group of rogue academics, theorists, writers, artists and philosophers operating around The University of Warwick during the ’90s. They called themselves the Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit- CCRU, for short. I think their definition of their term “hyperstition” gives us a good demonstration of their experimental and unorthodox ideas, articulated as follows:

1. Defined as an element of effective culture that makes itself real
2. Fictional quantity functional as a time-travelling device
3. Coincidence intensifier
4. Call to the Old Ones

Well, I was definitely curious then… As you can imagine, there was an almost mystical, cultish quality about the work that the CCRU did in the 90s. It was deliberately obtuse and shrouded in abstract language like this, but it is possible to identify distinct themes within much of their writings, conferences, and events. They were strongly interested in ideas around cybernetics, science-fiction, futurism, and contributed significantly to ideas around accelerationism: intensifying capitalism to an end point of totalisation or collapse.

It did initially seem that the collective that was working under the 90’s CCRU umbrella had disbanded and fragmented into obscurity, along with one of their most notorious ringleaders, the philosopher Nick Land. Ted told me back then that the enigmatic Land had either gone legitimately a little crazy- he did have a bit of maverick reputation- or he had just staged his insanity before disappearing from the scene and from conservative academia. Ted then went on to recommend me read Nick Land’s anthology, Fanged Noumena. Now, this book isn’t the easiest read, maybe we can use the term ‘read’ a bit loosely here. It’s full of cryptic glyphs and long tracts of dense and feverish writings. It’s more of a visual assault than a casual experience. If we could give this kind of thing a genre title, we could fit it into the category of Speculative Fiction.

Speculative Fiction is described by its advocates as a particular scheme of thinking and writing, one that reflects the shifting and dynamic nature of the universe itself. Speculative fiction can be viewed as space in which thought can be unshackled from experienced, prescriptive reality. Other futures open up through our imaginings and ideas, giving us agency in creation. Hence, you might find that many pieces of speculative writing may not seem linked to stable rationality or straightforward literary structures. They push the envelope for conveying a nugget of condensed, linear meaning to the reader, and might not always be taken as examples of writing that are in good, and proper taste. Luckily, Art + Australia’s platforms for writing allow us to test those borders that might be considered in good, and proper taste.

Now- I took up Ted’s recommendation, tried reading Nick Land’s book, and wrote a blog post about it early last year. I had thought this was a relatively innocuous thing to do, perhaps there might have been some people on Twitter that would take an interest in such obscurities, and so I went ahead and shared the post to social media.

Like a swarm, like an epidemic, they started to come out of the proverbial woodwork. Attracted like deep sea fish to the lure of hash tags and the mention of their guru’s name, Nick Land, a mass of affiliated people started surfacing within my Twitter feed. I was quite suddenly being offered clandestine links to anonymously maintained Google Drive accounts, and strange manifestos sent my way. Like Ben Woodard describes in this issue of Art and Australia, it seems that “the pockets of collectivity that seemed like such a novelty in the 1990s became infinitely pluralised in the 2000s”. I had come into contact with a previously unseen network of self labelled technoscience enthusiasts, cyberpunks, rave nihilists, xenofeminists, occulture connoisseurs… a whole assortment of verbose niche dwellers, all rallying around the ideals of the CCRU. Indeed, it would seem like some of them are writers, artists, philosophers who have contributed to past and current articles for the Art + Australia journal. It can be very hard to tell, since they all have a tendency to mask themselves behind glitchy avatars and codified pseudonyms when posting online.

Through contact with this newly discovered subculture, I realised that Nick Land himself appears to be very much alive, active and posting tidbits from somewhere in Shanghai to a global community of the faithful, made up of acolytes new and old. As an unfortunate side effect, I also experienced contact with what Ben’s article charts- this mass mobilisation and enablement of neoreactionaries and the alt right movement online. Neoreactionaries are the ugly underbelly of extreme right wing capitalism, a confusing and controversial spin off from that CCRU accelerationist proposal. Behind their veil of anonymity, their vitriol is rife across social media, packaged up in meme imagery, and hate speech across sites such as 4chan, Reddit and Twitter.

Eventually, this Twitter swarm brought me in contact with the artificial intelligence called Archillect. Archillect is a real life image miner, the muse for my contribution to the journal. Just like my exaggerated characterisation, Archillect actively sifts through the meta data of human image sharing behaviours on social media. Described as a ‘she’ by her human creator Murak Pak, she acts like a prosthesis for our Internet behaviours, sharing images she predicts we’ll like based on her learned experience. These fairly edgy, quite techno cool images and gifs caught my attention as they were being spread and shared this particular Twitter community. Like a virus, it seemed that these selections were contagious, spreading from point to point in a network of happy and willing supporters. For fans of a cybernetic future, the rise of AI’s agency and independence signals possible entry into the posthuman era. Posthumanism has been described as a”huge shift in the nature of society and our bodies, a mutation brought about by the exposure to simulated images in the traditional media, and the slow penetration of daily life by gadgets from contact lenses to personal computers.” I don’t know about you all, but the infiltration of culture, behavior and society all sounds pretty familiar, to me, it’s our lived experience as of right now…”

More on reading CCRU outputs, Fanged Noumena and Nick Land here.


– “Hyperstition”: (now defunct) CCRU.net website
-Terranova, Tiziana. ‘Posthuman Unbounded: Artificial Evolution and High-Tech Subcultures’. In The Cybercultures Reader, edited by Barbara Kennedy and David Bell, 268–79. London : Routledge, 2000.
-Brits, Baylee, Prudence Gibson, and Amy Ireland, eds. ‘Introduction’. In Aesthetics After Finitude, pg 7–20. re.press, 2016.
-Wiener, Norbert. Cybernetics, or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. [Electronic Resource]. New York : M.I.T. Press, 1961, pg 176.

You are SLAVES & PIRATES: South Channel Fort


The tensions of artifice runs a charge through the invitation, extending out from the relational collegiality we had established a few years ago. Marita and I had been tossed together like salad condiments, based on a shared interest in communications dispersed across geospatial rifts, from node to node in the entangled Web. Our respective practitioner circles had connected us based on this twin investigation; in my case, perhaps out of sympathy for my lack of other associates working in the fields of new media and digital art. As a regional and independent practitioner, Marita had made her own inroads towards reviving the Telematic Embrace, and we were both nostalgic for Roy Ascott’s technoetic optimism, one that had sparkled amongst the pages of Leonardo Journal through the decades. Ascott’s heady and spiritual utopias enmesh material, historical and cultural remediations of the winding and endlessly morphing forms of technological advancement. Pushing back against what we felt was a climate laced with posthuman paranoia, Marita and I felt buoyant with new vitality in the tactical technologists, the social justice practitioners, and that unrelenting acceleration in the landscape of networked media. This acceleration was sure to wipe clean any obsolete and brittle attempts to enclose the field of digital art, even those established just ten years ago.

Now, years later, as the boat shredded out from the pier with a filmy salt spray, I remembered grimly that I couldn’t swim.

My blue GPS marker showed up on a contiguous green blob, hedged in by that same shade of Google blue around all sides. The directional arc attached to my blue-dot-avatar disclosed a facing toward north west. Its proprietary length, pivoted around a stationary axis, might sweep over the entirety of the small land mass quite comfortably.  Along with myself and Marita, our little landing party comprised creatives, children and someone approximating an official. He knew the clandestine history of South Channel Fort, and he held a set of keys to the subterranean complex it contained. In this, our group also facilitated (and was facilitated by) canonical representation of the island. As he perpetuated the established lore and occupancy of the site, I found myself irresistibly drifting to the fringes of hearing, dipping in and out of comprehension and narrative alignment. I circled and circled the island, past our colleagues in a dogged cartographic pilgrimage. My own consternations and fictions stopped those gaps in knowing the function, real or imagined, of the structures I encountered. A slurred interface between operational and archival objects was a very tangible phenomena throughout all contact with the island and its perimeter.

During one of my ambulatory tracings, I watched the Spirit of Tasmania glide noiselessly past from the dark, circular impression of an absent naval gun. The silently whirring weather station at my back siphoned its data from the atmosphere, bits held in suspension for unseen interpreters to discern and extrapolate. Sound came mostly from the burbling human visitors, and a disgruntled audience of birds. The birds came with species categorizations and placards to announce their legitimate, recognized presence at the site.

I tried to commit some of this factual anchorage to memory, something that would help me consolidate the experience into linearity and retelling afterwards- my partner, an avian biologist, might have held some small stake in such details- but the attempts fell flat and lifeless. As if a kind of resonant materialisation of this sense, white bird bones and powdered organic detritus littered nearly every exposed surface of the island. I examined a thick and sturdy little bone, reminded of the human radii I had studied in my anatomy classes, wedged in among the grotesquerie of medical school vitrines. Despite the ragged array of natural interventions at this place, I felt the same clinical detachment as I had to those formaldehyde soaked and neatly enclosed specimens. The bone’s topography appeared pocked yet ran smooth under the fingertips, and I envisaged, from the many petrels clutching rocky aspects around us, the avian leg that had housed it before rotting away. In my anatomy classes, we had watched our demonstrator artfully strip membranous fascia and clinging strands of grey-brown tendons from human legs, desperate to retain the visual contours of these interior landmarks for future recall. Anatomy exams demand a canonical and agreed upon rhetoric of natural structures. We were anxious not to falter in upholding such a tightly regulated story.

As sedimented intersectionality crunched underfoot, I pulled the park notes out from within a purpose-built wooden box. It was accompanied by Carlton Dry bottles and tightly rolled fragments of serviettes. The literature of this bureaucratic authority celebrated the invasion of natural ecologies, recuperating the site in a siege of elemental transmutation. Skirting caveats, dodging permits, a habitat was formed. The occupying artist, however, received no such concessions to occupancy. The evacuated notes went on, a display of large headers reassuringly announcing an interest of Public (and thus, tax paying) integrity. The ‘why’ of an artificial island, the ‘how’ it was built, and who lived there. The monitoring of gun emplacements, and for distant foreign silhouettes on the encircling sea horizon. A mesh of stakeholders attempting to demarcate their own particular pickets of the island’s significance. This mesh continued to swell and bloat under the strata of our presence on the island that day, and perched atop this blistering mass was our own mix of specificities. We brought a governance to the narrative ourselves, which was possible to assert under the headers of



Questions, and Interrogations


Colonial Identity

Scuba Diving

Ludology and Role Playing Games

Unwritten (until now), this collective lens was carried around and unrolled in conversation over the uppermost impressions of island history. We each felt an emotional response as an inextricable textuality in that story, fusing with the invisible actual, the amorphic ‘real thing’ that this place was about. In me, I felt multitudinous scrutiny. Diminutive fairy penguins nervously peered out under sandy fortifications. I felt the eyes of hobby fishermen, a gaze quite apart from the generosity given by our creative colleagues. These interlopers seemed to infringe and destabilise the cosmos of generative storytelling we were weaving in chatting and daydreams. Bobbing out at sea, shuttered behind sunglasses, fishing rods in hands. Jostling past, demanding access and enforcing the usual   protocols of park visitation. Try not to think about it; just look. Just see. To me, they were analogues for those invisible frames outside yet inside, demanding permissions and protections, artifice greedily squatting over artifice, making transactions out of retrograde paranoia and a national park out of a man made ruin.