Territories Within a Political Ecology: Ashley Haywood reviews ‘Hell Broth’, ‘All of Them in There’ & ‘Automated Reasoning Paradigm’ at Firstdraft

Firstdraft gallery exhibitions for February are open from 3-26 February 2016.
Hell Broth artist talks 25 Feburary 2016 6-7 pm at Firstdraft: 
13-17 Riley Street, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011.


Firstdraft’s February 2016 exhibitions—Hell Broth, All of Them in There, and Automated Reasoning Paradigm—trade and share and dream in territories within a political ecology (capitalist, socialist and other economies acting within the human Umwelt). There is linkage between the shows, each interrogating in their own way the consumer currency of things and no-things: literature, algorithms, social feeds, time, sadness, conspiracies, arrangements, the personal and the crowd, who likes it, who takes it, who eats it, who is turning away—from what?


Curated by Astrid Lorange and Vaughan W. O’Conner (2016)
– with Lily Chan, Aston Creus, Mashara Wachjudy, Eddie Hopely, Hamishi Farah, Ivan Ruhle, Zoë Sadokierski, Giselle Stanborough and Tom Melick.

Broth is a stock. A water-based brew with bones and some vegetables, which is usually made in preparation, an ingredient in itself, for something more: a recipe belonging to a recipe—to what end?

Astrid Lorange and Vaughan W. O’Conner’s curatorial writing, installed alongside the exhibited artworks, is an index and introduction, is poetry and paratext, inciting the potential of lists. The artists incorporate, theoretically or materially, the concept of the list as form, and, to some degree, the concept that there are other kinds of contemporary art that work politically to deny expectations of art. Collectively, Hell Broth invites ‘revolt’ and togetherness.

In addition to Lorange and O’Conner’s curatorial poetry, they reproduce the prose poem ‘What resembles the grave but isn’t’ by Anne Boyer as a collective artist’s statement, which is an influential paratext to the group show. Boyer’s recent collection (Garments against Women, 2015) pursues an understanding of (the endlessness of) survival, and scarcity beyond survival, from the negative and the alone in the capitalist economy of not-enough hours to be, and to be revolted and radical—to even read.

You are not alone consuming Hell Broth. You may be the bit in ‘What resembles a grave but isn’t’ where you are not alone:

… falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together …


Firstdraft, Feb, 2016
Photo of Hell Broth installation Gallery 1 (of 2); clockwise from the left: Hell Broth curatorial writing, SCHEHERAZADE by Lily Chan & Aston Creus, War Memorial by Clare Milledge, and, hanging centre, Apologies by Hamishi Farah, Firstdraft, February 2016. Image by Zan Wimberley.


When can and will we, together, resist wearing corporate logos and insincere apologies (thinking of Hamishi Farah’s work Apologies)? When can and will disillusionment become collective action, be more than looking out from, and away from, windows (Zoë Sadokierski’s 26 Views from the 7-train and 17 Views from the Trans-Mongolian, and Eddie Hopley’s c)? When will we, together, care about increasing rates of extinction (Zoë Sadokierski and Kate Sweetapple’s Avian Taxonomy works), increasing rates of anthropogenic disasters and mutations (Clare Milledge’s War Memorial)? When will we, together, take back the 24/7 hours given to our personal care and surivival, the hours we give to our own personal dystopian adventure (Lily Chan and Aston Creus’s SCHEHERAZADE)? (These are a few of the exhibited works that do cross-talk, are listing together.)

‘In the kitchen I was chopping vegetables and thinking about how discourse is a conspiracy, then how discourse is a conspiracy like ‘taste,’ then how taste is a weapon of class’ writes Anne Boyer (Garments against Women). You are more or less consuming art in the gallery space, but the ‘taste’ of Hell Broth is not palatable by necessity. These works are not the kind of conversational pieces that can be used to divide and exclude at dinner parties, but the kind that can potentially excite ‘revolt’ and togetherness.

Hell Broth resists closure and isolation in the process of combining ‘lists’, like ingredients, and in the act of making, like cooking or incantation, especially when that act is shared and amplified with others as it is here. Hell Broth is accumulating, is ‘More than the sum of parts by way of intensity’ (Lorange & O’Conner), emerging by way of small differences/disturbances with/in the whole complex twenty-first century capitalist body.


Kuba Dorabialski

All of Them in There is a video installation and essay film (2016), shot in Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania during October 2015.

Kuba Dorabialski presents a political ecology in an architectural landscape. All of Them in There is a filmic dialogue between city and household, where concrete, walls, multilayered floors and staircases, repetitive balconies and windows, are (ex)changed via the crowd, observed by the narrator.

The narrator’s voice could belong to a 1960s laboratory demonstrator, or an extended Werner Herzog documentary ‘epilogue’ (e.g. the end of Cave of Forgotten Dreams), mingled with Elias Canetti’s literary narrator who speaks as if to a stranger outside the human race in Crowds and Power (1960). Kuba Dorabialski positions you, along with his character narrator, outside the crowd, observing the life of the crowd. They can’t see you, though they are like a singular multi-eyed organism, like all the windows to their apartments, looking at each other, making one.

According to the narrator, according to Canetti, the crowd is a pack at best, a mob at worse. The crowd is inherently violent. The crowd is unpredictable in that they are so predicable that any sudden course change in direction is seen as violent to those in the privileged position of being outside the crowd—‘so you put the crowds in, you put them in, you stand back, and you survey the crowds before you’. You are in suspense, waiting, you who are sitting outside the crowd, waiting, watching the predictable mob so capable of (un)mediated sudden violence. You become surveillance.

Dorabialski presents the labour of the crowd as singular, as if labour were indistinguishable, as if the labour of the crowd delivered a singular product—wealth—so long as there is no violence.

What are they all thinking? The crowd, according to Canetti, desires growth, density, equality and direction. So you give them what they want: ‘You put the crowds in, you put them in … All of them in there’. They like it in there, the narrator will tell you. ‘They actually really like it … Their animal nature actually likes it best like this’. Do not appeal to their animal nature, the narrator will tell you. The crowd cannot exist if it is allowed to spread, allowed to be in the forest, the woods, the meadow.

Smaller details and rituals are accentuated by the stillness of the buildings: a caretaker walking up and down external stairs, checking that the outside doors to each floor are locked, a pink rug being shook over a balcony, a woman leaning out her window, walking past her window in a mass of windows. And moving clouds, too, seem of great importance.

The problem with surveillance is that you slowly start putting yourself ‘in there’ and maybe you’ll stop registering difference. And what they’re thinking is what you’re thinking, and maybe when you make eye contact you see yourself looking back wherever you turn. And maybe things start to get disturbing, get really disturbing after a time, and maybe you want to be liberated (Dorabialski gives homage to Chantal Akerman, who died while this film was being shot, and this viewer’s thoughts went to Akerman’s film Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles).

A singular pigeon is perched on a rooftop. More pigeons arrive. They become a flock. They take flight, circling the rooftop. More arrive, and the flock becomes waves in the sky (pigeons take turns as navigator dependent on skill). And maybe ‘to produce works that belong to everybody’, and maybe every living thing, we have to make new opportunities from within, so writes El Lissitzky, who continues in The Reconstruction of Architecture in the Soviet Union (1929):

One of our utopian ideas is the desire to overcome the limitations of the substructure, the earthbound … The idea of the conquest of the substructure, the earthbound, can be extended even further and calls for the conquest of gravity as such. It demands floating structures, a physical-dynamic structure.

Katy B Plummer writes for Dorabialski’s artist statement (after listing the many things ‘it’s about’): ‘I don’t know what it’s about. // I really don’t know. // You tell me. / You tell me.

Flight. I want to say, flight. The final image inspires, without spoiling the ending, desire for strange flight together.


All of Them in There (37 minute UHD video, 2016) video excerpt, curtesy of the artist.


Kynan Tan

Kynan Tan’s video installation Automated Reasoning Paradigm (2015) examines, as Kynan states, ‘human relationships with digital technologies’, and, creatively, how ‘computation senses the human’. Automated Reasoning Paradigm incorporates multiple texts, including audio-visual renderings of computational data, and interviews with artists/thinkers. The following quotes were transcribed while viewing the video artwork.

‘What is your data profile’, what is your data body (this viewer’s term); what are your ‘abstract complications’ and complexities based on ‘algorithms that society runs on’ and in turn powers more algorithms? Your data body serves servers serving your body: ‘algorithms talking to algorithms’. Your data body grows like a living thing (which may be the best way this viewer can begin to relate to her data body, or profile).

Servers need their electrical circuitry consistently kept moderately cool to survive. Your data body relies on an atmospheric temperature of around twenty-one degrees Celsius—a highly productive temperature for data making in life. As long as the hardware can breathe, your servers serving your data body will thrive between eighteen to twenty-seven degrees Celsius. This viewer knows little of her irreducible data body and the extent of her complexities—is this a problem? Therein is the felt and stated urgency behind Kynan’s work.

Our general lack of understanding of technology, or, better, our inability or unwillingness to consider ‘computational processes occurring beyond our perception’ does not neglect culture’s ability to grow. Algorithms have each other for company; code can play all day, and is continually fed by us, is continually growing and becoming more complex. Website source code visualisations (there are a number of examples online) look like botanical illustrations; similarly, software artists’ (e.g. Casey Reas) endless emergent visualisations can be easily associated to biological structures. What we may be denying culture is healthy growth. Just how is your data body is being used without your awareness or consent for lack of understanding?

Where does biology stop and technology begin in terms of a data body? (This viewer is coming from the idea that culture is a complex, nonlinear and evolutionary symbol/system of relations, of which we are an irreducible part (e.g. biosemiosis, cybernetics, emergence, complex feedback systems).) Mingling code visualisations with quotes from academic concepts and news headlines, Kynan also introduces fiction (e.g. quotes from Don DeLillo), increasing the potential for conspiracy, the potential for humanness in the nonhuman and visa versa. What is being used against my (data) body? Are my bodies co-evolving into artificial intelligence? Am I more than biological and digital information? Me_allow_edits=true/false? Automated Reasoning Paradigm is disturbing, inspires questioning, and does successfully guide the viewer toward their unknown.

Firstdraft, Feb, 2016
Installation and still image of Automated Reasoning Paradigm (2015) by Kynan Tan, 3 channel video, 2 channel sound, 14:40 loop; centre screen is a quote from White Noise by Don DeLillo: ‘It’s your whole data profile. I tapped into your history. I’m getting bracketed numbers and pulsing stars.’ / ‘What does that mean?’ / ‘You’d rather not know.’; left screen: data like pulsing stars; right screen: image of artist Andrew Brooks. Image by Zan Wimberley.


– Ashley Haywood


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