SM Thesis outline v2

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OBJECTIVES - What do you want to make?

I am interested in discourse as a material practice, and the relationship between history and evidence. In particular, I am interested in the fabrication of physical artifacts and objects that are used to attest to a particular history or reality. This takes the form of religious relics, forgeries, fake news, or manipulated photography and how these artefacts enact an objective history and subsequently bring into being (or become the reality of) the present. I would like to further explore this kind of material intervention as it relates to the justification of power structures and to propaganda.

Objectives include (for work):
Create film in defense of alternative material history, that also operates as propaganda through worldmaking, and stands in direct opposition to International Nationalist propaganda.
Likely, exploring poetics/resistance that exist during dystopic periods.

Some research questions include (for written thesis):
-how does propaganda circulate/operate in media and how can it be countered
-how can aesthetic languages of power be applied/co-opted by the left?
-how can art be meaningfully politicized if politics are already aestheticized
-how do economic realities determine political priorities?
-can an aesthetic language operate upon a weltanschauung along the lines that a verbal languages operates according to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and what responsibilities does that suggest for artists?

CONTEXT - Relation to a larger context

Jonas Staal speaks of propaganda as the performance of power (Staal; PhD thesis). Performance suggests both the exercise of power as well as the staging/aesthetic representation of power. Though Staal does not explicitly state it, this dual meaning of propaganda can be understood to have a special significance in contemporary artistic propaganda: where the aesthetic representation of power and its exercise collapse into one. In the case of lens-based media, Levi Strauss speaks about photography as providing the semblance of evidence rather than evidence itself, and how photography is used to establish an ideology (ideology as an objective reality that does not permit any other viewpoint) (Strauss; Between the Eyes). Similarly, Alain Badiou speaks of the need for the semblance of the passion for the real, where one’s passion for the real must be staged in a fiction or public theatre for it to be accepted as evidence of the real (i.e. Stalin show trials) (Badiou; The Century). This ties in closely with Vilem Flusser’s thesis that images have established themselves as the causes of events, rather than their illustration or documentation (Flusser; Lectures). Where images were once illustrations to orient the individual in the world, the viewer now uses their world experience to orient themselves in the image; the image itself becomes the source of reality. Flusser argues that this brings about a peculiar situation where logical discourse or political consciousness (as a product of linear or written consciousness) are no longer helpful for our orientation, suggesting a post-history. Boris Groys compares the digital image to the Byzantine icon. The digital image is provided by data, which is invisible to us, and to which we entrust faith that it offers us a true representation of its content. A religious-like leap of faith is suggested in our relationship to the contemporary image heightening the mysticism and magic surrounding images. In this case, the image becomes the concrete reality and the world becomes its pretext (what would have been once called idolatry).Images claim to reveal the world but in the act of limiting what they illustrate, they also hide it. Flusser identifies this as the inner dialectic of the image. When an image’s ontology becomes the source of reality while also being a fabrication, what does that suggest for our understanding of the world? In the context of the above, images become their own source of political power.

OUTCOMES - Why do you want to make it?

Overwhelmingly, contemporary developments in propaganda are discussed in relation to the rise of far-right and fascist movements (see BAK, see e-flux). Recent works have deconstructed contemporary right-wing propaganda and its visual methods, including Staal’s Steve Bannon: A Propaganda Retrospective; David Tschitschkan’s destroyed work in Kiev, Adam Curtis’ Hypernormalization, Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies, Metahaven’s Possessed. Other examples include Trevor Paglen, Lidwien van de Ven… Few artists, however, actively create propaganda in support of left-wing ideologies that can circulate outside of the art world (as right-wing propaganda does). Some noteworthy examples include Staal’s New World Summit that creates a forum for marginalized or excluded groups (i.e. Agamben’s homo sacer) from our demotractic system and imagines alternative possibilities to democratic processes. His work is explicitly understood to be propaganda in defence of emancipatory politics. In Yael Bartana’s film “…and Europe will be Stunned”, Bartana uses utopian artistic language borrowed from Nazi and Zionist films to postulate a return of Polish Jews to Poland, going as far as exploring it’s practical possibility outside the film. Other artists I might mention are Jordi Colomer, Burak Delier, Etcetera, Superflex…

-Interested in exploring the use of (archaic?) utopic language in dystopic world (where everything is privatized).
-Interested in the instrumentalization of art, albeit jeopardizing its autonomy. See Stephen Wright (Toward a Lexicon of Usership), Boris Groys (Going Public).
-Interested in exploring image and its role in world-making, its ambiguous position as low-meaning/devalued (as per Groys; Going Public or Steyerl; Poor Image; or Bejamin; Mechanical Reproduction) coupled (paradoxically?) to its cultural primacy and authority.

METHODOLOGY - How do you plan to make it?

Short film that takes up the above as its subject. Not sure about its content or form. As far as form is concerned, I’m interested in pursuing artistic strategies that enact their own propositions rather than merely representing them. Stephen Wright calls these 1:1 practices that are “both what they are, and propositions of what they are” as a mode of action to overcome processes of representation that obstruct our direct engagement with the world (Write, 2013, p. 276). I am interested in this as a strategy of dissemination and knowledge production that moves beyond the gallery. I am further interested in examining their potential to be used for socially engaged work including the re-appropriation of public space, the decentralization political activity, and the subversion of capital-driven markets. This strategy has of course been criticized for jeopardizing the principle of the autonomy of art, but even art’s autonomy as a question interests me. Some examples include the video/film work of Yael Bartana and Christoph Schlingensief.

I am similarly interested in the works of artists who engage in the creation of alternative narratives and fake news, explicitly presented to an audience as fact. Having received several labels including Parafiction (Lambert-Beatty, 2009) and Overidentification (BAVO, 2007), these practices attempt to intervene in public discourse often through direct participation and by introducing fiction experienced as fact. As fictions experienced as fact, they leverage how belief operates on the audience; as believed fictions they produce something rather than just describing it. This in turn is problematic given the current condition of fake-news, alternative facts and post-truth, and whether it is appropriate for artists to contribute to misinformation, regardless of intentions. Can fake news and post-truth be used by artists as effective strategies for knowledge production or activism? Examples include the work of the Yes Men, Michael Blum, and the Atlas Group.


-finalize content of work (and this very schedule!) by month’s end

-refine content plan with advisor support
-map out all technical details + get in contact with resources, actors, composers, etc.

-map out technical details continued

-all resources/people/support secured by month’s end

-film testing, film planning

-being writing thesis

-complete thesis
-contingency filming
-if any, voice over recording, sound composition

-edit of film
-printing/construction of any supporting work
-exhibition layout plan


TECHNICAL SUPPORT - Who can help you and how?

Sound – Evan P?
Equipment – Budgetcam?

RELATION to previous practice

1st year work dealt with:
-recreation and role-playing of propagandistic images through gaming
-terroristic images as staged/performative images subject to aesthetic criticism
-neo-orientalism as the abstraction of territory through drone images
-imaging of alternative possibilities to history that collapse ‘otherization’ through fictional archeologies.

My current thesis proposes to take on propaganda more explicitly and situate it within contemporary social developments.


Theoretical: Alain Badiou, Boris Groys, Vilem Flusser, Pierre Bourdieau, Jonas Staal
Artistic: Borges (Tlon Urbis…) Umberto Eco (Baudolino), Yael Bartana (What if Women Ruled the Wolrd), Christoph Schlingensief (Auslander Raus) Jordi Colomer (Unete!)