Mind Camp (2013, biro and collage on paper)
The title of Mind Camp is taken from a very ignorant error I made when I was somewhat younger; believing it to be the English translation of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s notorious book. Of course, Hitler’s book is actually translated as ‘My Struggle’, and the remaining connection here is that which I always thought my interpretation of the title referred to: the occupation of the human mind by ideas, doctrines, logic, as a means of making them socially compatible with a system of power; that is, power that doesn’t only (or doesn’t even need to) insert its influence externally, to make sure we are compatible entities within a system, but internally (what I would later understand as what philosopher Michel Foucault termed Biopower).
The theorist Franco ‘bifo’ Berardi refers to the current stage of capitalism as ‘semiocapitalism’: a system no longer driven by mass industrial production, but by signs/communication, which is all the more evident now human life is almost completely orientated around digital communications. Berardi writes that “semiocapitalism puts [our] neurophysical energies to work, and submits them to the speed of electronic machinery. It compels our cognition, our emotional hardware to follow the rhythm of net-productivity” Capital has synchronised itself with our conscious and subconscious. It is proliferated by the “digital web…” which “…spreads and expands by progressively reducing more and more elements to a format, a standard and code that makes different segments compatible”. In such a world, brands/logos have a seemingly unlimited reach over the imagination – as we can now see all too well. , Precisely because it is internalised, Capitalism is so culturally extensive and intensive that it is hard to consider that anything may be outside of it, so that “when we sleep, we even dream of capital” (Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism).
But this means new styles of exploitation for a new organisation of power. Franco Berardi believes it is important to see the global worker no longer a proletariat but a cognitariat, as capital puts more and more of our neurophysical energies to work. Michel Foucault’s reference to the Panopticon (an architectural structure built to allow total surveillance over the ‘inmate’s to maintain order and control) as a analogy for a whole form of maintaining obedience to a power structure, is still alive and well, but perhaps need only now be used in certain circumstances, when the internalisation of power fails to work. Most of us are now governed internally, a biolpolitical intrusion of all the flows and anxieties of the political economy, depolitising us in the process, as we become the guard in the watchtower of our own lives.
Franco Berardi describes the Life of the cognitariat: “labor has become fractalised. With the end of large industrial monopolies, new workers, now delocalized in the global peripheries, start resembling computer terminals, cells in the circulation of the commodity-sign”. The worker is condemned to be a component in the constant production and consumption of signs/information.”Each individual is a cell put in constant productive connection with others by the web, which ensures a deterritorialized fractal, and fluid sociality. The cellular is the new assembly line, deprived of any carnal sociality”.
Precisely because total competition is the name of the game, social mobility has actually become harder in societies more saturated by neoliberalism, and the more we partake in our ‘daily races’ against one another, the more we exacerbate the dynamics of an every-man-for-himself system where the winners have already taken all. Yet, because of the “non-stop inertia” caused as the cognitariat’s libidinal energies are constantly wired/re-wired into the digital matrix, the anxiety of this enforced competitive state of being makes it sometimes feel impossible for us to withdaw from these dynamics; indeed Berardi speculates that only when we crash (depression/mental exhaustion) do we withdraw our libidinal energies from the reproduction of semiocapitalism. Alone together, protesting through inactivity.
Within the drawing I wanted to try to visualise mechanisms that function by appropriating these ‘neurophysical’ energies from the cognitariat, but then merely dumps them once the required labour process is over, as the wealth accumulated by semiocapital becomes the preserve of a small section within the social system, who own the rights to the sign language as “intellectual property”. The ‘cognitariat’ is in a state of constant becoming; once their mental energies have been used, they drop (perhaps mentally exhausted, in what Berardi describes as a state of depressive withdrawal), only to find themselves reattached to the constant and futile ‘career-climb’ (the prospect of falling out of reach is often unthinkable as the welfare systems there to protect the financially vulnerable becomes less and less existent).
It often seems the case that the more one sends cell phone texts, posts images/links on their Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter wall, in the aid of becoming more (more financially, socially, and identity secure), the more one actually dissapears/becomes less, as they invest mental energies in an infinitely expanding information web, whose increase in size means increasing fragmentation of identity and of communitiy, as media wedges itself between more pockets of time/space; also this expansion not only engenders further exploitation of our psychic resources, but of our material conditions, as an increase in connectivity for the financial plutocracy means a greater reduction in labour costs for profit maximisation.
As the system refines its mechanisms in this so-called recession (the global 1% highest earners have seen their profits surge during this ‘recession’ period), jobs become so scarce to the extent that more mandatory, low paid jobs are absorbed more and more into the competitive, ‘careerist’, ‘life-as-a-CV’ job market, which was initially only the reality of those who were willing the work the career treadmill in the hope of a top salary. You stand still in a world of unrestrained ruthless capitalism and the fear is that one will be wiped from the game. It is evidential that we are witnessing a race to the bottom for (to use the now-common terminology) the 99% of us, as the concentration of wealth/power becomes more refined, with a logical conclusion that renders the fiction of films such as the recent Hunger Games imaginable.
The bulwark of information that is disseminated from the concentrated power is structurally designed to divide and confuse the population it relies on to utilise mental and physical energy from. This is the the only source that passes from the top to the bottom within this piece of work. The mechanism appear almost like pinball games levers, knocking all that is below back down, whilst only allowing these ‘media bombs’ to drop downwards. Sometimes I find the mechanisms visualised in games, especially early computer games, useful metaphors for the procession of power relations in the world, especially in the digital age.
Within the brain-like part of the work (which also attempts to refer to something inflated, and still inflating; a bubble of the logos of semiocapital) all signs, all logos, all companies, all sections of capitalist reproduction are shown to be connected/dependent on each others’ existence. Just as no individual is exempt, no sign/no commonly-seen logo is exempt from a network of images that descends into the darkest networks of reproduction; some brands seem to float like little fluffy clouds in a guilt-free cyberspace, but they are just as much as part of the system as the most destructive corporations wreaking havoc to the social/environmental, and also the darkests forms of image production from violent pornography to the filming of murder.
It’s an uncomfortable truth that the language of our times that often seems innocent on face-value is part of the same logic that allows the most brutal forms of exploitation in the world. Within this drawing there is no solution, I admit this (although there is cracks appearing in the super structure). But, to quote Franco Berardi again, because I largely agree with his opinion here, “The task of the thinker [to which, in my understanding of art, would include the artist] – if thinking has a task – is not to breathe hope into hearts, but to help in understanding reality, because only understanding can bring forth new possibilities”.
The landscape being constructed from the genealogy of our culture is of course intended to be the world we have now. As much as we see the brutality of the social gradient, from the private houses, and finance skyscrapers to the corpses of the global poor as they are the first to reap the harvest of climate breakdown, and those who are cultivated to sell their bodies in whatever means as the only means to earn a living, it is still clear that nobody is safe from these destructive dynamics. The lyrics of the late Richie Edwards in the Manic Street Preachers song Motorcycle Emptiness claim that “every where’s death row, everyone’s a victim”; this is the case under a truly global capitalism. Whilst this doesn’t excuse the vast injustices, where more and more millions are being dumped on the waste pile, whilst a minority enjoy the luxuries of kings, it certainly makes the case that we all have an investment in a different the future to the bleak one the logic of capitalism has in store for us and the planet