Zach Blas: Contra-Internet @ Gasworks
Framed by existing works in animation, moving image and vinyl text, the exhibition confronts the growing hegemony of the internet.
A ‘neutral’ network during the 1980s and 90s, the internet is fast becoming the principle instrument of accelerated capitalism, surveillance and control: an infrastructure that it is increasingly difficult to imagine an outside of or alternative to. Counter to this, Contra-Internetappropriates queer and feminist approaches to technology and science fiction to reanimate the network’s more progressive past and speculate about forms of resistance to the internet of the present and near future.
Roughly based on the opening sequence of British filmmaker Derek Jarman’s seminal 1978 queer punk film Jubilee, Blas’s Jubilee 2033 (2017), starring Susanne Sachsse and Cassils, is set in the Silicon Valley of 2033. Known as the Silicon Zone, it is the imagined future of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand’s early thought, as advanced in her novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). Following decades of deregulation, the internet has become an omnipotent ‘internet of things’, defined by the principles of self-interest and laissez-faire that underpin Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.
This has given rise to an oppressive, neo-neoliberal, supra-state monopoly that polices the internet, which is indistinguishable from the world as everything falls apart. Flames encircle ransacked office buildings, riots abound, and the corpses of dead techies litter the streets. In the shadows of a vacant office building, however, the so-called anti-campus rises up. Led by their AI prophet Nootropix, eager students are taught history, politics, art and counter-infrastructure after the collapse of the internet. It is a philosophy against the legacy of Rand: contra-objectivism, contra-Californian ideology, contra-sexual, contra-internet.
In addition to this commission, existing works consider the present state of the internet, showing that the totalitarian network of Jubilee 2033 has in many ways already begun. A critical definition of the internet written by the artist is installed as vinyl lettering in a web-safe font; while Totality Studies (2015) comprises an animated .gif that show 3D globes with stock images as their skins. These spinning icons demonstrate that recent popular imagery of the internet always seems to convey the same message: that it’s big, and it’s everywhere.
Resisting these and other visions of internet supremacy, three short, performative videos titled Inversion Practices (2015–16) utilise various conceptual-technical tactics to abandon and subvert the internet. These include strategies as diverse as erasing images of social media posts in Adobe Photoshop; plagiarising queer and radical economic theory to produce an anti-internet manifesto; and working with animators to model paranodal space (the space that exists in-between the various nodes of a network) as a way to visualise and think through what networks frustrate, obstruct or occlude as they are constituted.