Deep Art Horizons: A Dialogue with Desearch Repartment
Desearch Repartment is a syndicate for satirical excellence and they begin their modest proposals from the insight that artists, as neoliberal natives, are exemplars of competitive self-actualization and flexibility. Their happiness innovations make us see the innumerable ways that artist can neutralize and commodify social justice and political dissent, and as such, are in an ideal position for global leadership in volatile times. Often in partnership with various groups and organizations, DR produce gallery exhibitions, workshops, digital images and videos based on a new world order called the Essential Happiness Possibility. Central to this is an embodiment program called YAGA—a spiritual exercise merged with caffeinated durational performance art—that emerges from a set of core values (the Status Quo Elements). Working with these values and practices, DR spirals out into a range of issues around migration, the contemporary Gilded Age, asymmetric warfare, resource extraction and the quest for happiness. Their work is also a relentless expose of the dissonance between the sophisticated ideals of the art world and its sycophantic devotion to power structures.
Peter Conlin: If YAGA principles were applied to yacht design, what would it look like? A precedent is Scientology’s sea organization approach which uses ships as facilities for personal development. But I am most interested in how Desearch values relate to Venus, which is a yacht designed by Philippe Starck for Steve Jobs. The boat looks like giant floating Apple product (an IPhone or a white mac), and was produced out of a synergy of these two male master-minds both inspired by the ideal that emptiness is more important than fullness, especially in deriving luxury objects. Is there a connection between political austerity and design austerity favored by avant-garde plutocrats? What is it about this blank minimal style that has figured so strongly in neoliberal aesthetics, exemplified in domestic interiors and digital devices? It seems like the whiteness of galleries has been transposed onto aspirational living spaces and technology, and then rebounded back into exhibition rooms. In Starck’s words, designing the yacht for the world’s most powerful man “was more than an honor,” it was “a sacrament.” Jobs responded by saying the design was “beyond all my dreams.” How might Desearch take us all beyond our dreams? In contemporary society, can power’s beauty be otherwise? While it can be easy to mock this kind of minimal look, perhaps it is a wish to assuage certain anxieties. Desearch has stated that: “There is such an excess of content in the world today, so much so that we are interested in the empty space around the content.” Is this the emptiness of Venus?
Desearch Repartment: The Caffeine Centre for Spiritual FulFILLment is an ocean liner that, much like Scientology’s “sea organization,” is focused on personal and spiritual development as well as a transport system linking all our other global institutions. Here passengers connect with the sea and the earth and themselves through the dual-duel energy of oil and coffee. This oil-rig ship taps into the seabed, and taps into each person, teaching us how to frack and self-frack. Using principles of force feeling and minimalism, another word for money, we penetrate the ideas in the world and minimalize other people’s profit and make everything one with our currency converter (e.g. $1,000,000 = 1M or one minimalism).
Each ship has the capacity to collect two drowning refugees from each country, and we offer them their choice: they can work on an oil rig at sea or be sponsored to be part of the Ai Weiwei “Global Compassion Exhibit,” which provides housing and allows us to publicly display our benevolence towards these people in difficulty.
Our one-of-a-kind yacht, our Authorship, is much more exclusive. Here design is like a sacrament, and minimalism drives ideation. It is a tender that docks periodically on the much larger CCSF, also known fondly as the Friendship, where it refuels and brings guests to attend special cultural events put on by the refugees.
Our other yacht, the Censorship, also hosts the annual Geneva Convention yacht party, naturally on Lake Geneva. Sipping drinks with names like “Don’t Stir the Boat” and “Mixed Metaphor” guests can enjoy party games like Charades and “Human Rights Against Humanity”. Censoring the most recent Geneva convention, a nostalgic document from 1949, and its additional protocols from the swingin’ ’70s, makes for a fun ice breaker. Speaking of icebreakers, the artisanal ice that cools the refreshing party drinks was collected by the CCSF Friendship on one of its oil runs to the Arctic!
Our fleet is engaged in empty space work, specifically looking at the ways we can collectively extract oil and meaning from all things. The future of energy for us is oil, as we have found a correlation between oil and money, making economic sustainability possible for those most in need – those with the most needs! At the top of the Status Quo pyramid the more essential elements you have the more it costs to sustain them. Instead of calling them the 1% we like to think of them as the minimalists. They are one, with everything!
They one. Won love.
Heart and soul
PC: What are the first steps in learning to say Yes? How can Status Quo Elements get me a job? Floating over Desearch is the spirit of Thatcher channelled by Oprah and Silicon Valley HR gurus. How do you respond to the quote “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul”? It’s pretty clear you are focused on the neoliberal soul (via the neck), and the method is irony. It’s a kind of symbolic realm of conflict (especially inner conflict), a strange kind of fun on unstable ground with clouds of uncomfortable humour. Ok – this sharing economy and affirmative corporate culture is an extractivist disaster (psychic and environmental). Its happy humanism is built on brutality; but in your workshops does satire extend from negation to alternatives and opposition? Do you guys do yoga for real?
DR: Learning to say yes is easy when you have no other choice. The first step is getting a flexible neck. If you have the right foundational Status Quo Elements such as Home, Nourish, Land, Air, Hydrate, Chemistry, or Freedom, you likely have a job already! With the mid-level elements, like Migrate, Connections, Democracy, Security, Story, or Content, your position let’s your true individuality come shining through. If you are lacking in a diversity of exclusive top-level elements like Complacency, Translate, Maximize, Take, Yes, White, or Immaterial you still might have the right kind of precarity to fit in with the new flexible world order. Of course, in our system we use people as currency because as you know, people have different values!
Through desearch we intend to charge the art world with Neoliberal crimes (against humanity); using satire as a method leads people to believe we are joking. But we are not, we are serious. In our desearch we highlight inane and arbitrary modes of recognizing value and illustrate how themes of social justice and political dissent are absorbed, neutralized and commodified in art. Our anti-disciplinary processes quantify the art world on its own terms using formulaic art, fluctuating terminology and signposts of success as our mediums.
For us the art isn’t our activism. We engage in projects outside of our art practice. Though within our political activism there is often a feeling of hopelessness, or doubt in how much of an impact we have versus the amount of damage done by being a privileged person in this world. The magic of being able to make real changes in our fake world does translate into a feeling of empowerment somehow, like maybe we could end oppression…by redistributing suffering to those who most benefit from inequality. As two white North American people that might include us?
PC: A particular focus of Desearch is on the ways that ethics, progressive politics and forms of subversion are embraced by corporate culture and the art world. This can be seen as hypocrisy, bids for legitimation (the need to present power and wealth as a force for common good) and post-avant-garde habits, but is there something more? There’s a Walter Benjamin idea that special commodities are alluring because they are like a frozen or distorted promise of another life. Reified fantasies of social transformation lie at the basis of capitalist life. It goes deep and moves through what challenges it, that’s why it works. Do you see it like this? Can satire thaw these promises, contribute to bringing people together in a different way than the commodified sociality featured in your pieces?
DR: The Desearch Repartment’s foray into the arctic is indeed a search for frozen promises. Capitalism is like a fast-moving glacier eroding the landscape, while picking up pieces of rock and anything in its path (and everything is in its path) and using these fragments as tools to further flatten the landscape. Our strategies, we hope, serve to chip away at and melt the capitalist/neoliberal/austerity ice to expose these rocky political histories, these future erratics, swallowed up inside. In geology, erratics are pieces of rock that are dislocated, carried to their current location by glacial ice and deposited due to melting. When the glacier of the Mayflower plowed into Patuxet perhaps it was they who dropped the erratic, Plymouth Rock, to further underscore their own colonial movements. The Desearch Repartment attempts to chip away at the commodification and camouflaging of human injustices and oppression at play in contemporary life by highlighting the structures that are holding these political and social realities in place.
With this work we intend to melt all the glaciers and icebergs, freeing all the erratics! Much like the capitalistic approach to global warming, we are less interested in sustainable structures, as we are looking forward to living our lives out on a yacht. All the erratics will be released from their frozen prisons, though they will soon find themselves at the bottom of the ocean likely to be consumed back into the earth’s core and be reconstituted and discovered by future drilling societies. Just another chapter in our durational futures. That’s what we call progress!
PC: Is it possible to change neoliberalism from within? There are different versions of this such as Brian Massumi’s (see Power at the End of the Economy) where the deregulation side of neoliberalism, within a larger pivot from discipline to control, has opened a more unpredictable space, feral sympathies. etc; or Michel Feher’s (“Self-Appreciation or The Aspirations of Human Capital”) thesis that there has been an economic shift from profit to investment, and this corresponds to a related psychic shift from satisfaction to self-esteem which is inculcated in neoliberal norms (human capital). With this emphasis on modes of self-investment, a political strategy ought to work with this potential rather than reject the framework altogether. The overall idea is that neoliberalism has opened Pandora’s box. Sometimes I think we forget how rigid and fixed social organization was even 3 decades ago, and so the argument goes, the ‘dynamic hierarchies’ and free for all that neoliberalism has engineered also can result in possibilities. These approaches (largely following on from Foucault) see neoliberalism within an epochal epistemology, a regime of the self—you cannot opt out of it even if you disagree any more than you can wish away a time of global warming and network connectivity, “we are all neoliberals now.” And within this the project is then to redirect, redefine, and lots of verbs beginning with “re-“.
DR: An attempt at redirecting and redefining what is leaking out of Pandora’s box is this beautiful slam poetry comprised of keywords that trigger surveillance by the NSA. The only thing we have left to say is what not to say.
Recall – the denial of service was a smart home grown plot to leave us stranded – Resistant – the IRA has an ETA for the FARC and their IED. The TTP gave the CDC H1N1, when the SWAT went DDOS on the PLO – Recruitment – of a hezbollah plane in the fundamentalist Iraq attack – a disaster – warning us that cyber terror is not just a virus – Relief – human to human riot – attacks the sick initiative – like a pirate worm – resistant – Response – artistic assassins, a powder (white) chemical burn. I standoff, on foot and mouth – Recovery – a border gang working at the US Consulate blacks out our power – our exposure to nuclear threat – is a Police cloud – cops attack and execute initiatives
Resocializing social media
PC: How much of an effect do you think social media has had on contemporary art— is it an epiphenomena or something more profound in which we could say things like ‘art after social media’? At the very least it seems to have drastically incorporated post-relational and social practices in a perfect storm. Desearch art takes certain implications of social media and online culture in general, perhaps social media as ideology, and spatializes them in the gallery with extended proportions. It’s like you are re-socializing social media, and in so doing, releasing some of its monstrous effects (I mean ‘incredible potential for transforming lives’). Does Desearch look at the forms and styles of corporate social platforms (with their affective feeds, demands for mandatory connectivity, icons and protocols) as the cultural logic of, as you put it, ‘fashionably late capitalism’?
DS: Yes. We are bringing life to our news feed, as it nourishes us. The rich vitamin Bs provides us with the 5 essential complexes: Boredom, Browsing, Body, Babies, Bloodstains, Brainwashing and Bigotry – take your pick. We believe in group selfie embodiment work for visual content production in four dimensions because as J. Edgar H. always said, “The more lenses present, the truer the document.” This “real-life” content boosts our news feed, offering more opportunities for more likes and shares, further shaping and moulding the content into a community social sculpture.
Orwell with art fairs
PC: In thinking of the Desearch approach in this light, I see you as the creators of dystopian worlds through implementations of the Essential Happiness Possibility and all the other affirmation and flexibilization pathways that you are constantly developing. The satire aggregates into something of a world view—the cult of smiles, bright open spaces and espresso-based drinks mixes with rendition rides to black sites. To me the work is akin to forms of science fiction, with views of a brave near future reflecting current realities; but instead of space operas and uncanny cities, you work with contemporary art forms: post-relational exchanges, fictive perfume brands, logos and taglines, promotional videos, imaginary managerial systems, self-help programs and spiritual practices, etc. It’s a critical dystopian approach (like Orwell or Huxley with art fairs), where dark fantasies illuminate what is really going on, actioning our filters and neoliberal fantasies. Do you see it like this? Is it mistaken to see it as an ethical Santiago Sierra, or is something very different going on?
DR: Yes, we see everything you see, because we’ve tapped your brain and we hope you’ve enjoyed tapping ours. As our former professor Mary Jane Jacob and Jacquelynn Baas, who endlessly have inspired us, said in Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, “while current art discourse incorporates critiques of colonialism and paternalism, there is not yet the language to analyze the yearning of the heart to merge and to address suffering.” We didn’t do any historical research, we didn’t need to because we had our own experiences, privileged as they may seem, they connected us with important institutions and people. As we began seeing certain things, we noticed that they were important, then we saw importance all around us.
Images courtesy of Desearch Repartment.