The Real Thing

A visit to the Tate Britain last night to attend Urbanomic's Late at Tate jamboree 'The Real Thing': an evening of art works and discussion linked to a currently active point of discussion in philosophy, Speculative Realism. On the basis of the discussion and the information circulated SR directs itself towards thinking about that which exists before, outside of and after Human experience. As an emergent field of inquiry and question making it seems to be a less historically specific investigation of issues broached by aspects of posthumanist thought. Iain Hamilton Grant offered the view that it was in part addressing itself towards the 'architecture of the ontology of illuminationism' whilst Mark Fisher of K-Punk emphasized SR as a discourse that thought through, encountered and responded to the reality that is finitude, cosmic catastrophe and solar death. Although somewhat nihilistic in scope, the panel discussion maintained that such a perspective opened up a productive space for the imagination, hence the implication that the work of writers such as Lovecraft deal with many of the issues raised. Indeed I came away from the talk thinking that Lovecraft's 'From Beyond' (1920) could act as something of a touchstone text for Speculative Realism (with Crawford Tillinghast becoming its figurehead....)

The piece exhibited included film, sound works, projections and 'curatorial interventions': the descriptive notes to the great British masters were re-written taking the form of an extended critique of the sublime and its associated aesthetics. Amanda Beech's film Sanity Assassin was a post-Manson creepy crawl through a radically spatialized LA under Adorno's intellectual shadow. The city as vacuum (another SR motif?) appeared also in Mikko Canini's The Black Sun Rise: a drift through a seemingly abandoned London. Despite the post-apocalyptic overtones which intersected with some of the discussion, this wasn't an abandoned cityscape but was a site of architecture that existed independently of human presence, as if pre-empting aspects of Hamilton's observation.

The main point of interest for me was the promise of sound work by Florian Hecker and William Bennett of Whitehouse. Hecker's Speculative Solution, an exploration of Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude, was a was a collage of noise and frequently changing, discordant sound sources which lead to the familiar incongruity of noise events: a large group of people not really knowing how to respond. There's not enough to directly engage with but its too intrusive to be merely in the background. Disjointed conversations and the attempt to listen.

Bennet's piece, Extralinguistic Sequencing, a collaboration with Mimsy DeBlois used 'processed voice recordings and disorienting language patterns to expose an extralinguistic reality operating beneath 'meaning'. This Burroughsian exploration of the 'sub-voice' took the form of intermittent NLP-esque instructions and statements. They were like Whitehouse lyrics without the shrieking slabs of white noise. Intermittance seemed to the key concept here. Sat there in the Tate Octagon waiting for the next gnomic statement was like waiting for a wave. I suspect some of this frustration was part of the plan. Some kind of odd death tease rather than the usual high volume obliteration that goes with much of Bennett's other work.



Primer article on Speculative Realism: