The prefix, ‘contra-’ designates the oppositional, the illicit. The title of Zach Blas’ show, ‘Contra-Internet’ then, affirms the internet as the hegemonic network, the principal arena of political control where social possibility is dictated, mediated and constrained. ‘Contra-Internet’ asks: how can we think beyond or outside the internet? What happens when the internet dies?
In the blacked-out gallery, the central work, ‘Jubilee 2033’ (2017), is a science fiction film installation with two blown glass orbs reinforcing the demiurgic set-up, their surfaces rendered with a networked pattern, and a large vinyl insignia occupies the floor. ‘Jubilee 2033’ is set in the Silicon Valley of 2033, named the Silicon Zone. Utilising Ayn Rand’s early philosophy of Objectivism – which emboldened self-interest and the laissez-faire – the Silicon Zone is the imagined future of Rand’s thought, where the ‘internet of things’ slips into our environments.
‘Jubilee 2033’ features Ayn Rand, economist Alan Greenspan and painter Joan Mitchell. Together they pamper the grand debates: the futurity of capitalism, the efficacy of strike, the authenticity of art. The three ingest LSD prior to a reading by Rand in which she demands a strike against self-immolation. The reading doubles as a kind of conjuring, from behind a black Bauhaus grid, an azure mist summons the form of Azuma – the Artificial Intelligence. Azuma demonstrates the see-through marketing principles of the internet we think we know well: intimacy, self-fulfilment, protection. Notably, Azuma is the first character for the Gatebox virtual home robot, essentially: a hologram girl in a jar.
If the first half of ‘Jubilee 2033’ demonstrates the wretched compatibility of Rand’s thesis of self-interest with its reality today in the internet as lived environment; the second half considers action after the internet’s collapse. AI prophet, Nootropix (played by artist Cassils), reads from the publication The End of the Internet (As We Knew It) - displayed upon a pedestal in the gallery. Nootropix informs zealous students of the history of executing contra-, through politics, art and counter-infrastructure. Nootropix embodies contra-objectivism, contra-sexual, contra-ideology, contra-internet. Exercising contra-internet uses the very facility of the network you are opposing; thus, in Blas’ show, structural and conceptual reflections coruscate: readings are droll and extravagant. Abrupt editing and sound assimilate the representation of the internet: grandly connected, superficially benevolent.
If the internet is partly superstructure, Blas’ second room accounts for substructure. A testing ground of sorts, ‘Inversion Practices’ (2015-16) shows subversive tactics that apply queer and feminist theory. Each screen presents desktop action including: erasing images of social media posts, plagiarising queer and radical economic theory to produce a manifesto, and working with animators to model paranodal space – the negative space between the nodes of a network.
To critique the internet is to go deep on structure. Blas unstitches the redundancy of the early internet as facilitating participatory democracy. Liberated of its stale fallacy, Blas goes further; ‘Contra-Internet’ is a project whose abilities exist on the social margins of the internet. It is the paranode, a site of futurity that reveals itself when we finally think outside the internet.