We live in unsettling times. Modernism’s assertions about the ways of the world have crumbled beneath our feet. The fragments of a world as it was constructed by the project of Enlightenment are swirling about and inside of our heads, they obscure our thoughts and leave us deeply disoriented. What are facts today, anyway? What is to be considered reality and what is fiction?
Here are a thesis and a proposal: Fiction and reality are entangled in such a way that any attempt of surgically separating them becomes pointless. Fiction appears to be a central building block of that which we regard and experience as reality. Models, speculation, projection, predictions, imaging, imagining, fabulation, belief, and narratives—they all participate in the process of crafting reality, or fabricating it, rather.
The devices that we use in this operation are shrouded in impenetrable black boxes. We snap photographs with smartphones that compute the pictures more than their lenses actually see. Algorithms are knowlegeable about our future. Machines learn and communicate with each other in ways that we are not able to comprehend.
Our tools are co-writing our thoughts, but we are unable to understand their language. Our vocabulary is one of the past—not one of the present or even of the future. We are facing a crisis of narration.
Let’s lay down in the dust of this past, let’s look with projecting eyes into those enlightenment-obscuring black boxes and let’s attempt to draft a vocabulary capable of grasping today and drawing up tomorrow. Let’s forget the ‘either-or’ and embrace the ‘as-well-as’.
A recent event has shaken up the financial markets and it has shaken up the order of this series. Hence, before the launch of Episode 1, there will be an Episode 0.5 discussing this event.
Stock markets are built on the belief that they are ultimately efficient. Their function is to find the “true” value of assets and thus help economies develop and grow. “On the stock markets, the future is traded“ is a much-cited and quite possibly overused aphorism. What does that mean, exactly? The phrase is as mysterious as the stock markets themselves.
What’s that? Do I hear the thumping beat of the critical mass?! It sounds just like it. As the stock markets and the real economy seem to drift apart more than ever in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, there are events that appear to be truly stranger than fiction: In early 2021, a group of small time investors organizes on social media to challenge billion-dollar hedge funds in an epic battle fought on the steep slopes of a failing computer game retailer’s stock chart. These small time investors don’t give a damn about trading the future. Instead, their call to arms is “YOLO!“—or so the story goes.
What happens if a singular event manages to break open the slush funds of the financial markets, briefly revealing a stunning interplay of mysticism and mathematics, momentum and manipulation and thus shaking the bedrock of believe which these markets are built upon?
Let’s embrace the black swan and welcome Episode 0.5.
Oh, and don’t forget: This is not financial advice.
We are living in a visual culture, they say. But is that even true? As a visual artist, a large part of our concern regards images and seeing, naturally. But what to do when key processes of our present age withdraw from visual representation, contradict it, even? What to do, if the images we are confronted with daily pose more questions than they can provide answers? What to do if that which ultimately proves to be relevant cannot be perceived with our eyes? Have we reach the end point of that which we call a culture of the visual?
The front end of the world may be composed of images, but the back end is most certainly not. Images are always already processed, filtered, manipulated, rendered manageable. Behind those images, however, there are strings of numbers and code running the show—illegible for humans.
Episode 1 is posing the question of how to make images of things that defy visual representation, how algorithms operating in unintelligible obscurity structure our lives and what that may signify for our understanding of and access to the world, which seems to be so dependent on our visual sense.
2: Museums and Dinosaurs
3: Industrialists’ Phantasies. Architecture and Control
4: Writing the Future. Tactical Science-Fiction
5: Model Making. Catastrophe and Role-Playing Games