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Superconversations Day 26: Keith Tilford responds to Dis, "Styles and Customs in the 2020s”


Timur Si-Qin, Selection Display: Ancestral Prayer, 2012
Display banners, Tibetan prayer flags
(Source: Dis Magazine)

There are still humans dwelling down in the hot depths, but it’s getting hard to recognize them…Their meatbrains sit at the core of a haze of personality, much of it virtualized on stacked layers of structured reality far from their physical bodies…Some have vitrified themselves to await an uncertain posthuman future. Others have modified their core identities to better cope with the changed demands of reality. Among these are beings whom nobody from a previous century would recognize as human—human/corporation half-breeds, zombie clades dehumanized by their own optimizations, angels and devils of software, slyly self-aware financial instruments. Even their popular fictions are self-deconstructing these days.

— Charles Stross, Accelerondo

3D nano-printing and synthesized institutional structures, labor camps, the end of oil, the financialization of emotions, mass student loan default, enhanced fuckability metrics, a generation travelling headlong into Full Artifice Personality…The crowdsourced bric-a-brac that is DIS Magazine’s “Styles and Customs of the 2020’s” attempts a picturesque of the coming decade—some of which could actually be absorbed as probable. That is if we are to also accept as probable the June 3rd predictions of Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil, who remains convinced of certain looming events, among them the hybridization of cloud computing with human thought by 2030. Yet with its sight set only on emerging problems, DIS merely provides us with a watered down and equally undesirable version of Earth’s early phases in Charles Stross’ Accelerando, which instead of setting the stage for the time of Singularity and Metrioshka Brains seems more comfortable liberally combining plot lines from episodes of Black Mirror with Mad Max and the Culture Industry, so that even the speculative global implementation of UBI has a socially retarding outcome. None of these crowdsourced contributions depict (or seem to want to depict) a viable future. Or rather, it is a viable future for DIS Magazine and its content, perfectly describing the kinds of readers it might hope to attract if not outright engineer through the directed marketing of derivatives on a 21st century Surplus Inanity.

It is not so much the future that is forecast by DIS editors, but a hyperbole of the present. Forever now for more of the same, only more so: “The future is a season.”, “The future does not exist but in snapshots.”, “The future is layered and inconsistent.”, “The future is widely reproduced and distributed.” As a series of speculative musings, “Styles and Customs of the 2020’s” is as incoherent as HUO’s curated collection of statements about the future in The Future Will Be…, from which the contributors have stridently lifted a generous helping of their sentences (11 to be exact). The case of these “predictions” have only succeeded in creating a dry script art world version of Coffee and Cigarettes. “All we can really hope for is some good designer drugs that actually wake us up from the matrix” is not precisely what Foucault may have had in mind when he wrote that “[p]erhaps someday we will no longer know what madness was.” [1]

The faint flickering of a silver lining regarding a finance driven reform of the gallery system resulting in the death of Contemporary Art still seems to figure it as being replaced by itself in inverted form, with the DIS 2020’s functioning as nothing more than Contemporary Art’s ideological mirror. It is already among Contemporary Art’s deficits that it cannot or does not want to think the future and therefore remains inadequate to the temporality of a present which it complacently fetishizes. Peter Osborne, for instance, in the style of an Adornian fugue that is his Anywhere or Not at All, laments that artists should no longer attempt to invest in horizons, because ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall (to give it an historically assignable date), it has become impossible to politically or artistically compete with Capitalism’s adepts at fabricating horizons of expectation. With the neoliberal manipulation of biopolitical subjects, the most that art’s dwindling arsenal can hope to be left with according to Osborne are “experimental practices of negation” that can occasionally “puncture” Capitalism’s horizons of expectation.

Katja Novitskova, Innate Disposition, 2012
Digital print plastic cutout displays
(source Dis Magazine)

If it happens that a decade awaits us which is to be “wholly concerned with artifice”, this is perhaps one thing we can actually look forward to. Certainly not in the form of a generation prepared to do this “in the tradition of Lana Del Rey and Instagram filters”, but a generation informed by epistemic advances that see cognition as having always been artifice [2] and a generation of artists who, instead of approaching art as “authentic recreation” or autonomous negation, have finally decided to affirm it as an artificial, institutional practice. Only when this counter-hegemonic claim gathers enough force can Contemporary Art and its totalizing rule truly be dispensed with, so that those concrete assemblages we still know and visit as “art institutions” are able to be repurposed from within. In this possible future, art ought to understand itself from the synthetic perspective of a multi-modal thought form with a cognitive role, and Contemporary Art as a saturated meta-genre of generic indeterminacy to be superceded. [3] This is because in spite of its mixture of perspectives, its affirmations of multiplicity and its fixation on difference, Contemporary Art is consensus dressed in the garb of a platform for debate. Its problems lay as much in treating the practice of art as an honorific as in its consecration within the model of an ethics of difference. Concerning the latter, Francois Laruelle—even though he wagers on the efficacy of a mystically overextended metaphor that leads to baroque and improbable sets of ‘solutions’ [4] —is quite right to have critically indicated the myriad ways in which the concept of difference has invaded contemporary thinking and become thematized to a degree that one can now say The Difference as one would The Dialectic [5] Exiting or escaping this logic would seem to require a kind of science of art and a science of the image, and with this the possibility of examining art as a form of simulation and model construction. [6] This would be a similar move to the one made by Laruelle in his pursuit of a “science of philosophy”, which radicalizes (in idiosyncratic form) the position of Louis Althusser, who anticipated a non-philosophical theory of philosophy. In this way, Contemporary Art’s obsession with aesthetic experience, negative freedoms and difference might be replaced with more adequate methodological constraints as well as discourses sufficient to understanding and supporting them. [7]

If the future is to be anything worthy of our attention it can only be intelligible as a collective task, since as a temporal vector it is without question oblique, shifting, and obsidian to cognition. And since it demands to be thought and not simply cynically addressed, it will take the cunning of philosophy’s razor and the exactitude of a scientific ‘theoretical vision’ to pierce and make use of its contingencies. Philosophies conditioned by universally oriented political thought and action, or artistic practices interested in their intersections with the topologies of the political can do better than a Beckettian ethics and a militancy of incompletion self-medicating on fidelity to dead signifiers. If ‘constructing the present’ is to actually mean something for politics then it is in need of a post-capitalist horizon towards which that collective activity can be oriented. It remains defeatist to insist that we should neither invest in horizons nor in thinking about the future with the claim that ‘we need to first fix the problems in the present’. (In its other mode, space exploration and the colonization of habitable planets is refracted through ideology as a useless fantasy since ‘we have so many problems to fix here on Earth’). In Nick Srnicek’s estimation, the construction of a post-capitalist future must first involve the hyperstitional embedding of a minimal utopian content “as an active force in the present”, creating “a positive and abstract coordinate to render our present actions intelligible”. In this way, the future can be mapped as an “immanent and navigational program”, such that by pluralizing the destination we revise our point of arrival and the conditions of our point of departure.

Just as experimental practices of negation operating within the logic of Contemporary Art can only occasionally puncture Capitalism’s horizons of expectation, satire about what the future might be can only occasionally offer an adequate substitute for the collective responsibility of thinking how it ought to be. Capitalism is an acephalous and directionless intelligence; its horizons and the false affordances they generate suit only its own ends. The contributors of DIS cannot really be faulted for anticipating or exaggerating certain possible outcomes in relation to such ends. Yet the absence of any corrective gesture begs the question of what future(s) the contributors do want. Attempting to evaluate this from the fragments of “Styles and Customs of the 2020’s” only results in the dim outline of a DIS-oriented, politically ambiguous future contributing to a collective apathy: “All degrees become obsolete except for curation, which is taught in primary school; a trend in child curators bolsters a surge in crafts-based art and pottery. Curation becomes the highest art form and artists must become publicists for curators in order to survive.”

Welcome to the 2016 Berlin Biennale.

Keith Tilford is a writer and artist living in Brooklyn, NY. He is a co-organizer of Fixing the Future.


[1] Michel Foucault, “Madness, the Absence of Work”, in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Winter, 1995), pp. 290-298.

[2] For an in depth analysis of cognition as artifice and artificial general intelligence, see Reza Negarestani’s essay in the forthcoming Alleys of Your Mind: Augmented Intelligence and its Traumas, ed. Matteo Pasquinelli (Meson, 2015).

[3] I take the nomination of Contemporary Art as a “meta-genre of generic indeterminacy” from the critical project of Suhail Malik which also affirms art as an institutional practice that is artificial. See his indispensable On the Necessity of Art’s Exit from Contemporary Art, (Urbanomic, forthcoming 2015).

[4] I am thinking in particular of his notion of “superposition”, which takes the wave particle duality as justification for the poetic license to map natural language onto quantum algebra.

[5] See Laruelle’s Philosophies of Difference, trans. Rocco Gangle, (Bloomsbury, 2011).

[6] It seems to me that historical precedent for this can be found in Adrian Piper’s seminal essay “In Support of Meta-Art”, the writings of Robert Smithson, and the collective output of the artists, critics, and theorists associated with the New Tendencies movement. The artist Amanda Beech is currently engaged in an analogous project, especially concerning contemporary art’s ethic of difference. See her essay “Concept Without Difference: The Promise of the Generic” in Realism, Materialism, Art, Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey, Suhail Malik, eds., (Sternberg, 2015). I have explored this elsewhere in my paper “Laruelle, Art, and the Scientific Model”.

[7] It was out of an agreement upon these conditions that I became a founding member of Fixing the Future along with Diann Bauer, Josh Johnson, Suhail Malik, and Mohammad Salemy. We even have our own crowdsourced predictions in the form of Salemy’s contribution to the e-flux Supercommunity. See “Art After the Machines”.


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Hi Keith - DIS’s contribution might be better taken as a kind of phantasmagorical realism before being cynical. I think it works quite well as a weapon pointed at the teleological approach that monopolizes future-oriented thought hoping for a master vision to come down and unify positivist notions of historical progress on a planetary scale. It’s likewise a quite hilarious warning against the anti-teleogical semantic meltdowns of our present - which nevertheless have to be accounted for in any future projection. Yes there is some brutal realism in it, but it is frankly quite funny for not resolving into gargantuan claims. In the end for many of us still buried by collapsed or bloody future visions from the past, it’s only responsible to maintain an element of slapstick within any attempt to project more futures from where we’re standing now.


Hi Brian. I think I was fairly clear as to why I consider the DIS piece to be insufficient. I do not think that it “works quite well as a weapon”, although I am not going to contest the fact that it is quite funny. If it is a matter of conceding that it is a work of phantasmagorical realism before being cynical, this really does not change very much. What’s more, I nowhere advocated a “future-oriented thought hoping for a master vision”, and if combating this is what could actually be extracted as a point of convergence between myself and the contributors to the DIS piece, I still think it is possible to maintain a sense of humor without having to wear a clown nose as a substitute for analysis.

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