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The Rhizomatic Thread of Radical Imagination with Anna Soz
NCO 046
2023-04-16
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by
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In this interview, multidisciplinary artist Anna Soz speaks about the common thread that connects her works, striving for radical imagination and emancipation through constant transformative processes. She explores the themes of speculative analysis of reality, exploring the intersections of politics, nature, culture, and identity, often bordering on a hard and radical nihilism in relation to contemporary society. Anna delves into the meaning of the term "xenopoetics" when describing her work and how it reflects the process of evaluating a relationship with the agency of a stranger, foreigner, guest, the Other.

N: You have one of the most incredible resumes and careers I have seen in a long time. From researcher to curator, photographer, poet, editor and audiovisual director, writer, philosopher, visual artist, makeup artist, jewelry designer, and multidisciplinary digital artist… Your work spans an impressive range of disciplines, but a common thread I see throughout is the theme of speculative analysis of reality, exploring the intersections of politics, nature, culture, and identity.

Often this exploration borders on a hard and radical nihilism in relation to contemporary society. Is this something you can relate to? How would you describe the connecting thread between all of your trans-disciplinary works?

A: Well, I think investigating the layers between faith and nihilism has been very interesting since Nietzsche or even forever. And now, as we are stuck in the capitalist modern system everything is really about a question of the nature of value and its difference from meaning. As infamously stated by Mark Fisher: “It's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” And I feel like we are experiencing those imaginary ends of the world(s) every single day.

I personally love digging into the various nihilistic models traced in the mass culture – from the optimistic nihilism concept formulated on the sci-pop YouTube channel Kurzgesagt to the radical antihumanist position of Nick Land a.k.a. the demon-father of accelerationism. 

I find it so symbolic that you asked that question actually as recently I enrolled in the seminar at The New Centre for Research and Practice with a philosopher Peter Wolfendale, whose thoughts and reflections always fascinate me. The seminar sessions are called “Exuberance and Extinction: On Why Anything Matters”. So, during the meetings, we are discussing value/meaning and action/perception tension as well as a substitute for immortality, cosmological annihilation, and its’ disenchantment of nature, considering the role that personal mortality, personal autonomy, and the architecture of selfhood and desire play in securing the possibility of meaning.

And I would really love to recommend to everyone watching the lecture with almost the same name as our seminar sessions – the one on Projekt Atol’s YouTube channel named “Why Does Anything Matter?”. This lecture finishes with the phrase by Peter Wolfendale: “Aesthetics without ethics is empty, ethics without aesthetics is blind”. So, the process of investigating nihilist models is here to also reconsider the relationship between aesthetics and ethics and to exhibit an essential connection between the value of beauty and the flourishing of freedom.

When speaking about the thread, web, or rhizome that connects all of my works I would say, mainly, it is a striving for radical imagination and emancipation through constant transformative processes.

N: Can you tell us about your background and how you would define yourself in your own words? Can you expand on the use of the word xenopoetics when describing your work?

A: I would define myself as a person of extreme curiosity in theoretical and practical aspects of life.

I have a background in journalism, cultural analysis, and media research where I investigated how public information sources shape the audience’s perception of news and other materials. While studying in Sweden I was digging more into ecofeminist concepts and thoughts and then shifted to cyber and xenofeminist agendas. Also, I worked in the IT sphere for a while and even though I would definitely not call this experience pleasing I think it was meant to be. It really helped me to explore techno-capitalist realities from the inside. At some point, I enrolled in a local art school where I met many beautiful like-minded people and was initiated into an art career fully, I would say.

Anyhow everything I have ever studied, done, or experienced influenced my current path. My practice is very much shaped by cyberpositive and cybergothic tendencies and thus I’ve always been interested in representation politics and agency inside digital environments. In my artistic, curatorial, and research practice I am trying to reflect on those issues through re-assembling and re-feeling processes, through asking questions rather than giving direct answers.

The history of the term "xenopoetics" is actually a fascinating one. It first appears in Kristen Alvanson’s preface to Cyclonopedia theory-fiction work written by philosopher Reza Negarestani. Kristen Alvanson would describe xenopoetics as “[having] something to do with composing out of distorted materials”. For her, xenopoetics is a form of communication that is inseparable from unknowing: the undoing of knowledge and knowability is the fundamental condition of xenopoetic creativity. The prefix xeno- (from Ancient Greek ξένος / xénos – stranger) leads us to the figure of a stranger, foreigner, guest, the Other. For me, the process of evaluating a relationship with the agency of a stranger is brilliantly stated in Octavia Bulter’s sci-fi trilogy Xenogenesis, where we can also find traces of decolonial and feminist legacy. Xenopoetics as a process redescribes the human subject removing it from its self-dominant position whilst paying attention to the agency of nonhuman, inhuman, and more-than-human forces.  

Theorist and experimental writer Amy Ireland who is also a part of the xenofeminist initiative Laboria Cubonics states that the structure that connects xenopoetics to xenofeminism is a rift. She says that both of them are vehemently against the vicissitudes of identity and its politics; both understand time, social forces and material processes in a complex, non-linear way; both are methodologically pragmatic and uncompromisingly materialist, and they both inhabit a certain abstract, cosmological perspective. For Amy Ireland, xenopoetics and xenofeminism co-determine one another. And I couldn't agree more on that.

To get out of the labyrinth we are trapped in, we have to lose selves and redescribe selves through multiple transitions and lenses of Other. I do believe that future(s) is (are) trans.

N: In your Electr0d project, you materialize your creations in the form of wearables. Could you tell us about your link with fashion and why this medium is relevant to your practice?

A: As I am all into the concept of transversality, I am always looking for new ways and mediums to develop and affirm my thoughts and reflections. I have been making wearable things for as long as I can remember but in an art community for a while there has been a kind of stigma on the very idea of producing something that could not be labeled as high-brow art. I started the Electr0d project not only to be able to post more utilitarian items that I create but also to blur the definitions between art, design, fashion, and whatever really. When it comes to design and fashion, I really want to celebrate the emancipatory potential of these practices – to be able to express selves freely and, yet again, to move forward to the path of radical imagination.

When making wearable items I am not only working with metal, I interact a lot with found objects and fabrics (most of the time those fabrics are leftovers from mass production) through sewing, soldering, reassembling, reapproaching. Sewing and weaving processes have not only practical but a huge metaphoric dimension to me – here I am very much inspired by Sadie Plant’s work The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics.

Currently, I am working on a new small collection that will connect metal work, found objects, and colorful hair pieces gifted by my friend – a talented hair artist from Kyiv Taisiia Povalii who is based in Antwerp now.

Also, sewing and making things always has been a form of meditation for me and it also has a very personal touch to it. My mother was the person who introduced sewing and embroidery to me when I was little. And ever since it was our magical and intimate witchcraft ritual – to create something. For several last years, my mother has been struggling with serious mental illness and sometimes I feel like sewing/making something in dialogue is the last thread that weaves us together.

N: Can you tell us about your zine Talking Cure? How did it come about, and what does it feature?

A: Talking Cure project is a reflection on the catastrophic and unstable reality we all live in, a striving to connect voices, reflections, meanings, and intuitions into some kind of polyphony. I see it as a speculative method that operates through {paralinguistic} action and different interactions. By aiming to think of what “talking” means in the widest sense possible, there comes the process of mediating the term “cure” in the context of liberation, re-being, re-feeling. With this initiative, we would really love to reimagine the strategies of the future by showcasing artistic practices, writings, and experiments.

The name of the project emerged during the time when I was participating in Reza Negarestani’s seminars at The New Center for Research & Practice. While studying Freud’s legacy, I remembered the origin of the talking cure concept and decided that this was the very term for the practice I would like to develop as a curator. Healing and transitioning through connectivity, discussion, and compassion.

From the most recent posts I would like to highlight the project we made together with Iranian artist Alireza Mohammadi. Alireza and I met online last year and decided to collaborate almost right away. I was fascinated by Alireza’s way of thinking and describing burning reality through collaging found, appropriated, and personal footage in a medium of Instagram stories.

The first iteration of our project In Public Space №7: Fringe is a three-chapter narrative where the viewer can navigate through the very process of communication to the physical intervention of Alireza’s digital collages into the public space. The second iteration took place when we first met in real life in Istanbul this January. This one, In Public Space №7 Plus, was a more concise and clear political statement that we decided to develop through minimal technical resources and participatory actions.

N: In your off-site solo show "It’s Full of Speed or Nothing," you utilize car parts and silicone materials that give a distinctive organic fleshy outcome. In the accompanying text, you note that the drive for speed and efficiency often comes at the expense of deeper connections with ourselves, each other, and the natural world. Can you expand on this? What inspired you for this project?

A: I've been thinking about this project for the past few years, and in all that time it has been constantly changing. In general, it all started with the fact that I collected photographs of weird and rumpled cars that I met on the streets, and I was going to make a zine from this collection. What I saw in these cars is a reflection of reality, a flattened, squeezed, strange, shattered dream of a comfortable utilitarian future. Then I moved on to the idea that I would like to interact more with the found objects – fragments and parts of cars.

On the one hand, I was interested in the image of the machine and its transformation in the context of art history, so, for example, in this project, I could not resist making an homage to Marcel Duchamp and his work Bicycle Wheel. On the other hand, I am very concerned about technological acceleration and the place of humans and other agents in these processes. The place of bodies in this whirlwind of transformations and time loops, necropolitical drives, expressed in wars, spirals of violence, and changes in ecosystems. I use the word body here as a collecting vessel, containing all the fragments and adhesions of everyday life, as a witness to convergent transformations, experiencing at once a feeling of unbearable speed and the end of history.

This offsite project was only the first iteration of my reflections, later these reflections turned into the objects Cat's Cradle and Airbag 1,2, which were presented at Terminal B exhibition organized by the curatorial collective Plague, as well as into the work that was presented in the offsite project Tombe de Van.

N: Your Lonelycatland project looks at digital curation within Instagram. With your background in media research, can you give us your take on digital curation in the current internet era?

A: For me, this project is something opposite of digital curation actually. It is something like anti-posting on Instagram, where I would like to reach as few viewers as possible. Everyone writes and nobody reads. As once stated by philosopher Boris Groys, today everyone has a virtual gallery with the only viewer – self.

So, lonelycatland project is my autonomous space where I am trying to investigate the gaze in different aspects, gaze to self, to others, and inside out. And also to be way less serious about everything and just exist in my secret/non-secret archive of everyday life.

N: Finally, what's on your mind today? What can we expect from your projects in the near future?

A: My mind right now is overwhelmed, twisted, pulsating, excited but sometimes I see the great beauty of this whirl. I recently moved to Paris so now I am experiencing another transitional period where I need to start a new life from point Zero, navigate through new intuitions and at the same time develop previous practice. Currently, I am working on several research-based projects, one of which is exploring the cyberfeminist club archive, that will end with an exhibition project. At the same time, I am continuing to experiment with mediums daily and quench my ever-lasting thirst for knowledge.

Beyond that I am being in constant dialogue with fellow artists and thinkers and I hope that those conversations will turn into new projects on Talking Cure platform or elsewhere.

All images courtesy of Anna Soz.
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