Gabriel Acevedo Velarde, Cliente Secreto [Secret customer], video, 4min, 2013, courtesy of the artist and Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid

The Anachronistic Returns of Psychedelia
or Staging Television in Times of Accelerationism

Issue no5
okt / nov 2017
REMIX
Gabriel Acevedo Velarde, Cliente Secreto [Secret customer], video, 4min, 2013, courtesy of the artist and Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid

The screen is trembling. A pile of shattered glass reflects against the General’s sword. His sword sways like a whip. The Clergyman begins to crawl as a pathetic animal moving through a ragged cityscape. His every move inflicted by an insomniac desire for the General’s wife. We are watching La Coquille et le Clergyman /The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), directed by filmmaker, film theorist and journalist, Germaine Dulac (1882-1942). The director’s interpretation of Antonin Artaud’s scenario induces the ecstatic binds of torment. It does so by emitting oscillations of a schizo-scientific imagination into regimes of abstinence as spectral sanitization.

The film may be re-visited as an absurdist estimation of the present-day metabolism of televisual culture. For, it reveals the crossing of signals within the Television’s vacuum chamber (The Unconscious) and into the “real” world as a crystalline tipping point. The crystal itself is something that draws us closer to both the inner mechanisms of Television as well as the real-deal of hallucinogenic experience. The LSD trip is first a change in the degree of bodily time and emotional speed. The deadly Television fabricates a similar experience as doses of mutant exhaustion—of being in many places and times, while the body is still held together by a couch. Both are intertidal realms—the interstice where dreamtime consciousness acquires a cinematic body. And yet the alchemy of Television dissuades abstraction from possessing a depth of field.

Pierre Huyghe L'Expédition Scintillante, Act 2 (light show), 2002 Photograph by Marcus J. Leith Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC) Courtesy of the artist and Raven Row, London

I

In sites of contemporary cultural production, the psychedelic impulse is often manufactured as a pleasurable fallacy without politics—at best expressed as canon and at worst as product. The ongoing group show Reflections from Damaged Life: An Exhibition on Psychedelia curated by Lars Bang Larsen at Raven Row, London, exposes singular artistic practices that treat “the psychedelic” as language-form. By asking where psychedelic art may be locatable rather than its clichéd “when”, the exhibition moves across thresholds of estrangement, re-enchantment and an aesthetic of transgression.

The hypnotic flesh of Marta Minujín and Guillermo Beilinson’s psychedelic zine Lo Inadvertido (The Inattentiveness) produced in Buenos Aires in 1969 is illustrative of lives immersed in substance-usage, Eastern mysticism, poetry and Euro-American Rock. Yet, the zine itself also gestures toward the “suffering” of Hypergraphia—A frenzied thingness between the author and the act of writing. Learning Site’s (Cecilia Wendt and Rikke Luther) House of Welfare is an exponential ride of economic speculation chronicled through the destructive fantasy of oyster mushrooms ensconced in a papier-mâché termite mound. Further on, artist, writer and former art editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, Robert Horvitz’s drawing-scores engulf the walls as throbbing sensations of a neural current. Brilliantly corresponding with the soul-body refractions of Jordan Belson’s films from the 1950s to early 70s.

Learning Site (Rikke Luther with Jaime Stapleton) House of Welfare, 2013 Photograph by Marcus J. Leith Courtesy of the artists and Raven Row, London

While the psychedelic experience in its historical conjuncture with Euro-American hippiedom and counter-culture strategies (1) weighed towards therapeutic reason rather than systemic revision, the Television of today borrows from its lineage to support a simulation of “freedom” within a pathogenic techno-capital order.

Anathema (2011) by The Otolith Group (founded in 2002 by Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar) reveals that when “making contact” with Liquid-Crystal Display (LCD) and touchscreen systems, we are dealing with lubricated screens that are no longer touched by touch. Instead, they perform as grafted skins overstrained with cosmetic excess. Within this regime of haptic consumership the hand has already transfigured into a digital tentacle (2) . And as Lacan has indicated, Television (3) manifests as a site multiple-projections that refuse social mirroring. Like the vampire body, it emits no shadow.

The Otolith Group Anathema, 2011 Photograph by Marcus J. Leith Courtesy of the artists and Raven Row, London

The tacit autocracy of user-generated content and its erotics of interactivity are an algorithmic contagion that can only prompt a de-materialized stasis. Capitalism has shattered and re-combined as a chimerical force, while we—its architects and audience—subsist as emotional fields of disaggregation.

II

The moon bulges from a corner of the frame, approaching its darkness from the sidelines. What does it mean when the moon is streaming outside a window but also radiating from a projection screen?

Judy Radul, THIS IS TELEVISION 16 mm film, colour, silent, 10:08, photo by D. Young courtesy of the artist and daad Gallerie, Berlin

Judy Radul’s solo exhibition This is Television at the daadgallerie in Berlin brings together an immersive scenography on the subject formation of Television—its spellbinding immediacy and material circuitry. In this double staging, the Moon and the Television, emerge as bodies of emission and amplification. They perform an auratic operation by casting a halo upon things to renew their place in fiction. A set of pitchers and basins borrowed from the Filmstudio Babelsberg are slowly spinning and acquire a bluish hue. As the detritus of cinema, these “props” from the oldest film studio in the world reveal a dramaturgy of missing origins. And yet, they also set up a false proximity to the silver screen, in the manner that we perceive lunar stability. An adaptation from Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900 forms the para-text to Radul’s visual thread, they interlace, like kindred spirits blazing into synchrony.

Judy Radul, VIDEO STILL colour photograph, steel brace, Gulf War Era TV: David Lynch on David Letterman, $100,000 Pyramid, Bob Simon calls CBS from Saudi Arabia, Jan 16, 1991, photo by Krzysztof Zielinski courtesy of the artist and daad Gallerie, Berlin

Across the room, Video Still a large-scale print presents frozen footage of David Lynch on Letterman, $100,000 Pyramid—an American television game show and war correspondent Bob Simon calling the CBS bureau from Saudi Arabia on the eve of operation desert storm. The effect is almost holographic, the content of television passed through a mind-bending prism and then suspended as “airtime.”

III

Gabriel Acevedo Velarde, Cinema sincopado [Syncopated cinema], carved acrylic, wood, 26 x 26 x 1.5 cm. 2013, courtesy of the artist and Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid

I approach a row of engraved signs, titled Cinema sincopado (Syncopated Cinema). From a distance they appear to be bureaucratic nameplates but on closer view they are optical mazes cast in copper. The irregular folded into regularity. This is the opening scene of Gabriel Acevedo Velarde’s exhibition Ciudadano Paranormal (Paranormal Citizen) at Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.

One is immediately conscious that in this delusional present-ness, the nature of things may be sensed only through conjuring—since the truth has dissolved into an enigma (4) and officiality remains the most enduring drug.

But we are only in the first of other scenes of projection.

Acevedo Velarde asks the seemingly banal question: Who really lives in the state? His film Paranormal Citizen unfolds with a television show featuring several Peruvian public sector employees—cleaners, a janitor, a vocational trainer, etc.—who report to television presenter Dr. Anthony Choy (5) of spirit presences at their workplaces. Here, we are introduced to black and white portraits of 19th century colonial buildings that now house state departments “managing” the Nation. The film’s protagonists indiscernibly move between talk show chatter and speech rituals in a psychotherapy session, describing nocturnal scenarios of clandestine shadows rustling in the basement of the Palace of Justice, a tapping keyboard in the ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the Ministry of Labour: whispered conversations are heard—they claim a space but yield no bodies. The seating chosen for this black cube is an assortment of office chairs cataloging the Reina Sofia’s history in and as “furniture”. Hence, the uneasy confidence and temporal artifice of the talk show set are resonant with the spatial choreography of the black cube and the museum.

Gabriel Acevedo Velarde, Ciudadano Paranormal [Paranormal citizen], video, 1h 2min, 2013, courtesy of the artist and Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid

The confessional matrix of haunting within Paranormal Citizen conveys that where the presence of the State is perceptible only through vignettes of persistent breakdown, it is registered as a phantasmal mnemonic agent. Its authority dwells as blockage within the circulation of an aspirational life. As the demonic will of administration lulls the mind till it blurs its own critical potential with rituals of participation, we must recall that the State is in many senses the ultimate “Undead”.

Against the backdrop of emotional management schemes operative within both Television and Pharmacology, the most revealing instant in The Seashell and the Clergyman involves a room full of uniformed cleaners polishing a crystal globe in which the head of the Clergyman lays immersed. This delirious latency of decapitation, the moment of being neither fully alive nor efficiently dead is the ubiquitous modern spell of an anesthetic existence.

Yours,

Natasha Ginwala

Berlin, November 2013

NOTES

  1. The recent exhibition, The Whole Earth. California and the Disappearance of the Outside curated by Anselm Franke and Diedrich Diederichsen at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) considered the ‘planetary’ impact and ideological correspondences of Californian counterculture, cybernetics, psychedelia and self-management through the conflated register of the “blue planet” image and the Whole Earth Catalog.

  2. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The extensions of Man, pp. 129-130, The MIT Press, Reprint edition (1994)

  3. Jacques Lacan, Television (1973), an interview aired on the French TV network O.R.T.F. under the title, Psychoanalysis.

  4. Franco Berardi (Bifo), Time, Acceleration, and Violence, e-flux journal #27, September 2011

  5. Dr. Anthony Choy is an attorney, radio host of the popular show Viaje a otra dimensión (Trip to Another Dimension), and has more recently been chief researcher at the Peruvian Air Forces’ UFO office, closely following “The Chulucanas Incident.”


Natasha Ginwala, is a curator, researcher and writer based in Berlin and Amsterdam. She is a member of the artistic team of the 8th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art. During the coming months she will occasionally send us a letter reporting on her current research experiences. After visits to shows in London, Berlin and Madrid the first letter is devoted to the entanglements of psychedelia and the culture(s) of Television.

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