Zach Blas: Contra-Internet
Art in General
January 27 - April 21, 2018
Review by Grace Storey
At the center of London-based artist and writer Zach Blas’ debut US solo show is a 28-minute long film, ‘Jubilee 2033’. Inspired by the opening sequence of Derek Jarman’s seminal queer punk film ‘Jubilee’ (1978) - in which Queen Elizabeth I travels 400 years into the future to behold a dystopian vision of London ruled by the Monarch of Punk—Blas’ film imagines the jubilee of the internet in 2033, and evidences his broader endeavour ‘to explore contemporary technology in relationship to feminism and queerness’.
‘Jubilee 2033’ traces a fictional LSD trip experienced in 1955 by three protagonists: Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan and Joan Mitchell, guided by Azuma, a ‘digital assistant’ from 2017, to observe the future of a capitalist networked society. The end of the internet is signaled through images of Silicon Valley corporations engulfed in flames: the Facebook campus, Google-Plex, and Palantir Technologies (a data-analytics firm that markets software to government agencies and corporations), alongside the ‘Last Whole Earth Catalogue’ (which Steve Jobs termed ‘Google in paperback form’).
Two glass globes entitled Palantir, which flank the screen, take their name from both the software company and J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional seeing stones, described in ‘The Lord of The Rings’ as a tool of communication, and a portal to view events across time and location. Blas’ spheres are etched with lines that map alternate visions of the internet’s demise. ‘Palantir: Killed Internet’ depicts channels of communication terminated by government intervention, while ‘Palantir: Disappeared Internet’, envisages an internet ‘so much a part of your presence that you won’t even sense it’. This concept of the totalitarian network is reinforced by a fluorescent sigil, ‘The Seal of the Absolute’ which spans the gallery floor, directly implicating the viewer.
Emerging from these post-apocalyptic ruins, the film’s concluding sequence imagines an alternative network. An androgynous Artificial-Intelligence prophet Nootropix, named after the cognitive-enhancement drug, reads from ‘The End of the Internet (As We Knew It)’, a single-edition book displayed within the exhibition, which outlines a futuristic, queer society. Nootropix proceeds to perform a mesmerising dance to Andrea Bocelli’s rousing ‘Con Te Partito’ (Elon Musk’s favourite song), attempting to penetrate the network with a luminescent blue digital-dildo, eventually shattering the grid into minuscule fragments. This gesture references Beatriz Preciado’s ‘dildotectonics’, expounded in her ‘Contrasexual Manifesto’ (2002), whereby she argues that while a penis can be substituted for a dildo, sexuality is not defined by anatomy. Blas proposes cyber-feminism as a site of liberation, and imagines a system outside this authoritarian web of power, ‘a network fairer than the one we live in now.’
Other works in the exhibition challenge the conception of the internet as a ubiquitous entity. ‘Totality Study #2: Internet’ is an animated gif comprising 3D globes, whose skins comprise stock images of the world-wide-web: Blas asks ‘why is it that when you Google Image search ‘the internet’, you get the word ‘totality’? ’ In three performative-videos entitled ‘Inversion Practices’, Blas attempts to subvert and manipulate the network. To a soundtrack including Le Tigre’s ‘Get Off the Internet’ and Joe Meek’s ‘I Hear a New World’, the works trace Blas’s on-screen activity, whereby he erases screengrabs of social media posts in Photoshop, manipulates a paranodal space in Maya, and plagiarises extracts of texts by queer and radical theorists to create a ‘Contra-Internet’ manifesto.
While ‘Post-Internet art’ was founded upon what Morgan Quaintance terms ‘an uncritical acceptance of the digitisation of the world narrative’, Blas’s ‘Contra-Internet’ utilises and subverts digital technology and science-fiction as a tool to challenge a capitalist network, and envision a more democratic future. As Nootropix suggests, ‘if we were to dissolve the image that looms in the network foreground… what shadowy network forms might come forward?... to discover or create a world of network difference’.