Zach Blas: Contra-Internet

Zach Blas, Contra-Internet, 2017. Installation view, Gasworks. Commissioned by Gasworks, London; Art in General, New York; and MU, Eindhoven. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Andy Keate.
Zach Blas, Jubilee 2033 (film still) 2018. Commissioned by Gasworks, London; Art in General, New York; and MU, Eindhoven.
Zach Blas, Contra-Internet, 2017. Installation view, Gasworks. Commissioned by Gasworks, London; Art in General, New York; and MU, Eindhoven. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Andy Keate.
New Commissions

Zach Blas: Contra-Internet

Zach Blas, An Art in General New Commission
Curated by Laurel Ptak

Opening Reception: Friday, January 26, 2018, 6–9pm
Exhibition: January 27–April 21, 2018

Location & Hours
Art in General
145 Plymouth Street (Map)
Dumbo, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Tuesday–Saturday, 12–6pm

Art in General presents Contra-Internet, the first-ever solo exhibition in New York by artist Zach Blas and world premiere of his new film, Jubilee 2033. Contra-Internet confronts the growing hegemony of the internet through installation, video works, CGI animation, glow-in-the-dark text, blown-glass sculptures and a single-edition publication titled The End of the Internet (As We Knew It). At the center of the exhibition is Blas’s timely science fiction film, Jubilee 2033, which presents a futuristic queer society rising from the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Silicon Valley.

Blas’s work could not be more urgent in questioning the troubling economic and power structures currently reshaping the internet amidst the controversial net neutrality repeal in the United States by the FCC. A “neutral” network during the 1980s and 90s, the internet has fast become 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-Internet appropriates 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 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 Queer Icon Award winner Susanne Sachsse and transgender performance artist and Guggenheim Fellowship awardee 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.

The film imagines 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 techies litter the streets. In the shadows of a vacant office building, however, the so-called anti-campus rises up. Led by their artificial intelligence prophet Nootropix, eager students are taught history, 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.

Contra-Internet draws on ideas from the queer, gender-critical text Contra-Sexual Manifesto by Paul Preciado, as well as feminist economic theorists J.K. Gibson-Graham’s The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), to reanimate the network’s more progressive past and speculate about forms of resistance in a time of network crisis. Other works in the exhibition consider the present state of the internet, showing that the totalitarian network of Jubilee 2033 has in many ways already begun.

In addition to the film, the exhibition includes a critical definition of the internet written by the artist and installed in glow-in-the-dark, web-safe font. An animated gif, Totality Studies, comprises 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. Three short, performative videos titled Inversion Practices (2015–16) utilize 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; plagiarizing texts to produce an anti-internet manifesto; and modeling a paranodal space (the space that exists in-between the various nodes of a network) to visualize and think through what networks frustrate, obstruct or occlude as they are constituted.

Co-commissioned by Gasworks, Art in General, and MU. Contra-Internet was presented at Gasworks in London from September–December 2017; will be shown at Art in General in New York from January–April 2018; and at MU in Eindhoven from May–July 2018. Contra-Internet is a project of Creative Capital.

A performance-lecture by the Blas questioning big data’s role in mass surveillance, Metric Mysticism, will be presented at e-flux in collaboration with Art in General on January 27. A screening series curated by Laurel Ptak that investigates technology as an active agent in the production of our subjectivity, After Effects, featuring recent video work by Zach Blas, Tyler Coburn, João Enxuto, Erica Love, Pedro Neves Marques, Wyatt Niehaus, Elizabeth Orr, Sondra Perry, Mariana Silva, and Jemima Wyman will be presented in March. More event details to be announced.

Press Coverage:

ARTFORUM. “Critics Picks: Zach Blas.” Noor, Tausif; (2 March 2018). Read Online

NEW YORK TIMES. “What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week.” Smith, Roberta; Heinrich, Will; and Schwendener, Martha (21 Februrary 2018). Read Online

E-FLUX PODCAST. “Contra-Internet with Zach Blas and Laurel Ptak.” (15 Februrary 2018). Listen on Spotify or iTunes

ASAP JOURNAL. “The Ectoplasmic Resistance of Queer: Metric Mysticism, Libidinal Art, and How to Think Beyond The Internet. A Conversation with Zach Blas.” Tumbas, Jasmina (6 Februrary 2018). Read Online

OBSERVER. “At Art in General, a Video Work Foreshadows How the Internet Will Destroy Us.” Carrigan, Margaret (29 January 2018). Read Online

ARTNEWS. “9 Art Events to Attend in New York City This Week.” (22 January 2018). Read Online

Zach Blas is an artist and writer whose practice confronts technologies of capture, security, and control. Currently, he is a Lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. Blas’s recent works respond to biometric governmentality and network hegemony. Blas has exhibited and lectured internationally, recently at Gasworks, London; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore; e-flux, New York; Whitechapel Gallery, London; and Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City. Blas’s writings can be found in Documentary Across Disciplines (The MIT Press and Haus der Kulturen der Welt); Queer: Documents of Contemporary Art (The MIT Press and Whitechapel Gallery); and e-flux journal. He is producing two books, an artist monograph, and Informatic Opacity: The Art of Defacement in Biometric Times, a theoretical study that considers biometric facial recognition as an emerging form of global governance alongside aesthetico-political refusals of recognition, such as masked protest. His work has been written about and featured in Artforum, Frieze, Art Review, Art Monthly, Mousse Magazine, The Guardian, and The New York Times. www.zachblas.info

General Support of Art in General is provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the New York State Council on the Arts with support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; the Toby D. Lewis Donor Advised Fund of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, The Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors; and by individuals. This program is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

The New Commissions Program is made possible by the Trust for Mutual Understanding; National Endowment for the Arts; Jerome Foundation; Ruth Ivor Foundation; and the Milton and Sally Avery Foundation. Support has also been provided by: Commissioners’ Circle leaders Elaine Goldman, Richard Massey, Jeffery Larsen and Joseph Bolduc; Commissioners’ Circle supporters John and Andrea Nylund and David Solo; and Commissioners’ Circle members Nader Ansary, Rob Colangelo, Don Erenberg, Roya Khadjavi-Heidari, Mary Lapides, Eric Nylund, Leslie Ruff, Steve Shane, and Diana Wege.

Special Project Support provided by Creative Capital, Arts Council England, Cockayne–Grants for the Arts, the London Community Foundation, and Thor Perplies.

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