Occupation/Organisation Art Platform / Record Label
Location London / Internet
Most Dismal Swamp is a transmedia art platform and record label. It’s projects, such as the forthcoming Swamp Protocol and Whale Fall (March 2019), are multi-player collaborations in defining and exploring a conceptual model: the swampscape. This model is suggested as essential to simulating, parsing and navigating what we refer to as a ‘quantum ecology’ – the entanglement of multiple and simultaneous logics, systems, temporalities, and realities. ‘A Field Guide to the Dank Enlightenment’ is a bespoke film presentation comprised of visual elements from the aforementioned projects as well as an additional narrative that clearly outlines the swampscape as a rich heuristic resource for re-thinking perceived and inherited notions of accelerated digital cultures.
The presentation will take the form of a video comprised of audio-visual elements drawn from two projects: Swamp Protocol and Whale Fall. And also a clear, essayistic narrative presentation. The presentation is unique to this proposal. Audio-visual elements include work by: Iain Ball, Lara Joy Evans, Samuel Capps, Holly Childs, Lea Collet and Marios Stamatis, core.pan, Porpentine Charity Heartscape, Will Kendrick, Rachel McRae, Benoit Ménard, Sarah Montet, Anni Nöps, Eva Papamargariti, Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Viktor Timofeev, Kyle Zeto Thorne, David Atlas, Jennifer Walton, Department of Decay, Hydra, Christopher Macinnes, Hannah Rose Stewart, Scrabulous Anomaly in the Re-write Department, Natalia Janula, Alexandra Koumantaki, Tea Strazicic, Marta Strazicic, Confraternity of Neoflagellants, Theo Triantafyllidis, Plastique Fantastique, Lewis Den Hertog, Marija Bozinovska Jones with MBJ Wetware.
Most Dismal Swamp is a platform for simulating and exploring a pervasive contemporary ecology that has come to be defined by the entanglement of multiple logics, systems, temporalities, and realities. Following the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s constitution of an analytic framework that foregrounds the relations between global cultural flows he terms ‘ethnoscapes’, ‘mediascapes’, ‘technoscapes’, ‘financescapes’, and ‘ideoscapes’, Most Dismal Swamp names and unpacks a further dimension for this new, speculative ecology: ‘swampscapes’.
The term swampscape calls upon the histories, understandings and characteristics of wetlands to form a heuristic model in order to better comprehend the technical, ecological and experiential complexities of the contemporary world. As sites that have routinely been defined negatively in the west as anomalous and horrific spaces at odds with dominant images of moral, industrial and scientific progress, swamps are uniquely positioned as a rich heuristic resource: a concept-space ripe for dredging. What speculative opportunites are swampscapes harbouring?
An essential characteristic that is key to swampscapes is their anomalous constitution ‘in a classificatory order predicated on a hard and fast distinction between land and water, time and space’. Simultaneously solid land and fluid water yet also neither, swampscapes embody a topology of muddy indistinction and taxonomic heresy (I don’t wish to invoke a ‘muddy indistinction’ as a vagary or a mystification but rather as a conceptual resource. Also, this kind of viscous indistinction might also be utilised in order to question Appadurai’s description of ‘cultural flows’ in terms of what I call an ideology of fluidity secreted within such language. Evocations of ‘fluidity’ and ‘flows’ in the language of art, criticism, technology commentary and business is ubiquitous – is it indeed accurate or appropriate? Is it perhaps indicative of a post-political inclination to veil the cultural and structural restrictions that commonly impede social and economic mobility?). This is relevant for understanding a contemporary condition that has supplanted the teleology of modernity and the fragmentation of postmodernity with the entangled simultaneity of multiple, nested logics: a quantum ecology that blurs, combines and superposes fact and fiction, nature and culture, technology and the occult, past and future, authentic and synthetic, work and play, science and mysticism, self and other, ‘dry silicon and wet biology’, online and offline, human and nonhuman. While none of these pairings cancel the other out or even legitimise binary thinking, they rather mutate and constitute an explosion of complex new relations, from which novel systems, ‘accidental megastructures’, ‘obscene creatures’, experimental socialities, dark economies, porous virtualities, techno-rituals, hybrid intelligences and unorthodox beliefs are already emerging. These relations (and how they relate) must be parsed in order to navigate the multi-reality biome, the mixed reality paradigm, of swampscapes with any agency. Such chimeric re-combinations and augmentations have entered into an evolving public lexicon with terms like ‘post-natural’, ‘post-truth’, ‘post-continuity’, ‘transtemporality’ and ‘multiverse’ gaining recent notoriety.
This brings up a further key attribute of swampscapes: their adverse navigational conditions. The uncertain terrain that swallows the tracks and restricts the progress of those who aim to forge a path through these spaces has long been a subject of aberration in western cultures. But, Most Dismal Swamp will explore the disorientation associated with swampscapes’ erasure of ‘established classical concepts of vista, horizon and landscape’ as a modality of re- orientation; as a condition for thinking in multiple dimensions. Such an exploration will help to develop methods of navigating the hyper-baroque trans-architectures of extraterritorial geopolitics, fictional infrastructures, legal mystifications, ambient intelligences and adversarial virtualities... ‘The tangles thicken’. What kind of reasoning, intuition, speculation, navigation, solidarities, altered states of consciousness and communication may emerge? Might some collective project of ‘dank enlightenment’ be fostered? If so, by whom...?
‘By the dismal tarns and pools / Where dwell the ghouls’ wrote Edgar Allan Poe, epitomising swamp-dwelling life as supernatural in character, that is, beyond the assumed limits and familiarity of the human. This is emblematic of the kind of existence swampscapes have historically been perceived to nurture. Given their supposedly inhospitable and malign environs, those who dwell within the swamp by choice or by necessity are rationalised as something inhuman; something of a kinship with the swampscape itself. As well as those that belong the realms of fiction and myth, recent history has followed suit with the designation of human residents of American wetlands as ‘swamp angels’. Acting like a backhanded compliment, the uses of such a designation of human also perform a role of normalising an unequal distribution of power: understanding those who reside in swampscapes as swamp angels can serve in the announcement of a subculture removed from civil society, unqualified for the same human rights or status of personhood. Most Dismal Swamp will thus also focus on the subcultures and swamp angels of contemporary swampscapes, whether this is nonhuman actors such as bots and ‘scan-search morlock algos’ or the ‘snowflakes’ and ‘vaporents’ who constitute a heretical ‘long tail of human (bodily) difference’. In a swampscape, personhood is a pliable notion – experimentation with its boundaries are taking place among humans, robots and geological formations, while corporations are afforded more rights than many people. Furthermore, while the blurred distinctions between technological/chemical augmentations and peoples’ bodies, even their perception of reality, is becoming increasingly commonplace, questions of what is assumed to be ‘nature’ or indeed ‘human’ are arising.
Is there some kind of uneven and combined project of collective rationality emerging from the digitally altered states wrought by the swampscape? Some kind of Dank Enlightenment?