[NetBehaviour] Accelerationism

Edward Picot edward at edwardpicot.com
Mon Apr 25 14:54:42 CEST 2016

I can kind of see where Accelerationism's coming from - assuming that I 
understand Accelerationism correctly, which I more than likely don't. 
After you've repeated a certain number of times the usual breast-beating 
and groaning about the commodification of personal space and 
relationships, the world-domination of monster Web-based corporations, 
the failure of monetarist democracy to deliver either equality or 
political enfranchisement, the destructiveness of the endless-growth 
model of capitalism, the damage it does to our environment, the damage 
being done to our minds and our souls as the online/virtual/social 
media/gaming/dating app world comes to dominate our attention more and 
more thoroughly at the expense of the here-and-now, etc. etc. - after 
you've repeated those things a certain number of times, they start to 
feel not only tiresome and futile, but inadequate as a response to the 
situation in which we find ourselves. You can't keep simply rejecting 
and vilifying the new reality which is now our everyday world. You have 
to find a way of responding to it, representing it, coming to term with 
it, living in it. So perhaps the answer is to embrace it. Instead of 
running for the hills, ride the surf. Go with it. Use its energy. Find 
ways of making it work for you. As Rob says in his article about 
Accelerationist art, the idea is to 'grab the wheel rather than slam on 
the brakes'.

The example of Futurism, however, is a deterring one. The 
Accelerationists, from what I can gather, are at pains to say that 
they're not like the Futurists, but the parallels are difficult to 
ignore - here's Wikipedia's take: 'The Futurists admired speed, 
technology, youth and violence, the car, the airplane and the industrial 
city, all that represented the technological triumph of humanity over 
nature... They repudiated the cult of the past and all imitation... 
dismissed art critics as useless, rebelled against harmony and good 
taste, swept away all the themes and subjects of all previous art, and 
gloried in science.' And despite their objectionable ideas, the 
Futurists produced some strikingly original and challenging work. Their 
determination to embrace the new and their contempt for 'established' 
art with its traditions, its nostalgia, its sentimentality about nature 
and landscape, its distrust of urban environments and technology, 
allowed them to wipe the artistic slate (almost) clean and stake a big 
claim for themselves in an area into which (almost) nobody had ventured 
before. And like the Accelerationists, their agenda was political as 
well as artistic. Of course it's difficult to discuss the political 
aspects of their ideas now without flinching at their Fascist tendencies 
- actually 'tendencies' is putting it mildly - "We will glorify war — 
the world's only hygiene — militarism, patriotism, the destructive 
gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn 
for woman." But the feeling behind this inhumane super-macho posturing 
was that just as existing art, existing criticism and existing aesthetic 
perspectives were not only inadequate but rotten to the core, based on 
falsehoods, and needing to be junked before anything of real value could 
be constructed, so too with society and its values - everything would 
have to be smashed to pieces and scoured clean by technology, war, or 
better still techno-war, and only then could proper foundations be put 
in place and a proper society be constructed.

The problem is, of course, that when society actually reaches the 
melting-point, what follows is not a rebirth, a clean slate, a chance to 
start all over again, but terrible human suffering on a massive scale, 
followed by a slow and painful, often tyrannical, process of 
reconstruction. The meltdown-and-rebirth process has been envisioned 
before: here is the poet Robert Graves writing in the 1961 edition of 
The White Goddess: 'No: there seems no escape from our difficulties 
until the industrial system breaks down for some reason or other, as it 
nearly did in Europe during the Second World War, and nature reasserts 
herself with grass and trees among the ruins.' But the reality, as we 
ought to be able to see with the benefit of fifty years of hindsight, is 
more likely to look like post-revolutionary Russia or China than some 
kind of return to primal innocence, assuming that there ever was such a 
thing as primal innocence.

Of course, the Accelerationists would probably argue that the 
let's-crank-everything-up-until-it-breaks philosophy, or the 
let's-step-on-the-gas-until-we-achieve-escape-velocity philosophy, are 
only minor strands of what they've got to say, and perhaps only 
expressed by a few nutcases on the fringe of the movement. Just as 
important is the attempt to create some kind of new hacktivist politics 
that gets beyond the 'folk politics' of the Occupy movement. Just 
sitting down and protesting isn't enough: that's been demonstrated. 
Sure, you get on the news, but getting on the news isn't enough either. 
Everybody forgets you after a few days. Enthusiasm wanes. People have 
got their ordinary lives to get on with. The protest either fizzles out, 
or it's kept going by a few diehard cranks, and it becomes part of the 
landscape, so familiar that its meaning gets rubbed away. What did the 
occupation at St Pauls achieve? What did the Greenham Common protests 
achieve? In order to actually change things, you have to find a way of 
getting inside the machinery and turning it against itself.

Well, maybe - but what kind of things are we talking about? The two that 
come most readily to mind are BitCoin and 3D printing. Both of these, it 
seems, get inside the system and change the rules, and they both have 
enormous potential to remodel the socio-economic landscape, but whether 
the net effects will be beneficial or detrimental remains to be seen. Is 
BitCoin going to render the money-markets obsolete and put banks out of 
business, and if so is the BitCoin model more democratic or less 
democratic than the existing one? Is 3D printing going to allow 
technological advances to spread rapidly and inexpensively to the poorer 
parts of the world, or is it just going to put millions of blue-collar 
workers out of a job, or both?

I've probably got all this quite wrong. I wouldn't be at all surprised 
if someone who actually knows something about Accelerationism, such as 
Rob, were to tell me that actually my description of it is a long way 
wide of the mark. But let's go back to Accelerationist aesthetics for a 
moment. What makes a work Accelerationist, and what would exclude it? 
What about Annie Abrahams' recent video, 'Besides, compressed by 
communication' (https://vimeo.com/160074657)? A screen is split into 
two, and in the two sides of the screen different objects are placed at 
different times, creating a kind of visual dialogue. Simultaneously, two 
female voices are having a discussion, usually about the effects of 
digital communication and social media on our society and consciousness. 
Is this an Accelerationist piece? It certainly addresses the subject of 
digital acceleration and the effect it's having on our lives. But I 
would suggest that it isn't Accelerationist, because it talks about 
these effects rather than embodying them, its meanings aren't confined 
to that subject, and it wasn't constructed by repurposing bits of 
digital technology.

What about Ruth's work 'Time Is Speeding Up' 
(http://gtp.ruthcatlow.net/) from the 'We are Not Alone' show? The title 
itself suggests that it might be Accelerationist - acceleration is its 
theme. And again, part of the meaning of the piece is to do with digital 
communication and social media. Visitors to the gallery are invited to 
stand in front of the camera and have their pictures taken, thus 
becoming part of the piece, but as the Geological Time Piece - the 
programme at the heart of the installation - compresses more and more 
images of the installation into the same display-time as the show 
progresses, so each selfie becomes more and more compressed until all of 
the participants are reduced to flickers, a comment on the way that the 
digital continuum sucks in our individual voices and merges them into a 
torrent of anonymity. But although it comments on digital culture, uses 
a specially-commissioned bit of programming, and links to its own 
Twitter account,  'Time is Speeding Up' is at least as much about the 
human feeling that time is going by faster and faster as we get older as 
it is about digital culture - and that's a feeling, of course, which has 
been with us since pre-digital days. It also uses the non-digital as 
well as the digital elements - for example the sunlight on the gallery 
wall plays an extremely important part. So I would say that it isn't 
thoroughly Accelerationist, because it isn't built entirely from new 
technology and it isn't thoroughly focussed on new technology in terms 
of its subject matter.

Looking at the examples of Accelerationist art in Rob's article, you get 
a slightly different feel. 'The Promise of Total Automation', for 
example - the title sounds a bit like a manifesto, a bit like barmy 
science-fiction. I only know the piece from the photograph in the 
article, but it looks tongue-in-cheek and witty, especially the two 
machines/consoles on the right hand side, one of them looking heroically 
optimistic, throwing out its chest, with its nose or control stick 
jutting up into the air, while the other, with a drooping-down nose, 
looks glumly at its own feet. The 'Xenofeminism gif', just below in the 
article, has got a similar vibe to it. A woman who looks partly like a 
science-fiction robot, partly like something out of Japanese Manga, 
partly like Mickey Mouse, partly like a cyborg insect, with her arms 
flung out and her breasts radiating circles of power - retro and 
futuristic both at the same time, over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek, but 
also using new technology, in the shape of the gif.

Is this Accelerationist art? Using digital technology to comment on 
itself, and to play with ideas about how we envision the future? If so, 
it's difficult to object to it, but there may be certain inbuilt 
limitations in terms of its tone and subject matter. Is it possible to 
create Accelerationist art which directs our attention to the non-human 
world - geological timescales and the perspective they offer on our own 
lives - sunlight and the way it moves across a wall - in the same way 
that Ruth's 'Time is Speeding Up' does? And is it possible to create 
Accelerationist art that has the same still, contemplative, mindful 
quality as Annie's 'Besides, compressed by communication' - a piece 
which seems to slow time down and intensify our awareness of the 
here-and-now, of insignificant particular things like ashtrays and 
plastic bags, and of aesthetic considerations like the way two objects 
placed alongside each other can create both a balance and a dissonance - 
is it possible for Accelerationist art to do this, rather than speeding 
time up and overwhelming us with heroic and vertiginous ideas about the 

One last remark. I'd been trying to write something on this subject for 
three days, but every time I paused for breath I found that a new crop 
of posts had sprouted up on NetBehaviour, either people saying some of 
the things I had  been intending to say, or people saying things I 
hadn't thought of and making me rethink my own ideas. Not to mention the 
extra comments a bits of artwork that are popping up on Neterarti. It's 
impossible to keep up, but it's also profoundly inspiring and exciting. 
Which may mean, I think, that this project/debate itself is an example 
of Accelerationism - it's commenting on digital culture, it's using 
digital media as its means of expression, it exemplifies the information 
overload which is now part of our everyday lives, but at the same time 
it attempts to rebuild that information overload into a new form, to 
make something positive out of it.

- Edward

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