Pummelling selfies into the online abyss and staring intently into the gaps between parentheses, Aimee Heinemann is a London-based artist creating spaces to exist inside. A first solo exhibition, COPE AGAINST COPE, opened at Peckham’s Life last week, and came with the question, “what gender is the collapsed core of a dead star?” The answer coming in a quote from a National Geographic documentary Monster Black Holes: “It’s empty because the object, or system that collapsed to form it in the first place, has shrivelled away to nothing…it no longer exists”. As the artist’s angstravanganza Tumblr tells us, it’s “literally not a thing”.
While working towards the show, Heinemann says they were “thinking about subjectified objects, feeling really disillusioned with ‘identity’ and ‘representation’” between watching documentaries about black holes, attempting self-hypnosis for anxiety, researching vitamin supplements and “feeling guilty about writing about people.” Because inspiration comes in negation –in the absence or the threat of it –whether that’s the alluring idea of being nothing or the rejection of normativity in favour of creating your own alternative space.
Having spent three days at the gallery to bring COPE AGAINST COPE to life, Heinemann pieced the work together in a way that makes it crucially dependent on that space and timeframe it exists inside –foil forms itself against surfaces, wood leans precariously and crystals glimmer incongruously amongst vast space. Sheets of A4 exhibit remnants of online findings and streams of consciousness that are as impactful as they are physically flimsy; by their very nature they’ve already ceased to exist since being committed to paper. As Heinemann puts it, “I was trying to figure out how to make something look fragile and dangerous at the same time, like it might fall apart –and that’s a threat. It’s important to me that it’s actually precarious, it doesn’t just look like it is. I’ve joked to people that they should come early because there’s more chance it won’t have ‘broken’, but it’s not really a joke.”
In this sense, the work is never quite tangible, always under threat of disappearing, embodying the “weaponised disintegration” of a collapsing star –full of potential to expire, but actively reject external influences as it does so. “People have told me before that my work won’t speak to them, that it doesn’t let them in,” they add. “I still worry about this sometimes, but I also think it’s not necessarily a worthless experience for people –like, yeah maybe the work doesn’t want to speak to you, maybe it doesn’t want to let you in.”
Here’s a list of Aimee Heinemann-recommended book titles that might help nonetheless.
The Skin Team by Jordaan Mason
AH: “A kind of dense, abstract, anti-identity ‘coming of age’ novel where nobody finds themselves, everyone gets sick and has awkward difficult sex and you’re never sure if you’re reading the voice of a boy, another boy, a girl, a building, a river, a horse, or electricity. I’d been thinking a lot about the violence of language –how nothing exists without a name, but naming is inherently violent. That’s something that comes up a lot.”
AH: “This book is based on a conference, and I’m not sure how well all the texts fit together, but there’s an amazing thread running through it linking Minimalist sculpture to post-fordism via anthropomorphised objects. I got really into this idea of art objects performing art world affective labour on behalf of their makers, which is almost certainly a huge leap, but my favourite theory facilitates that kind of reading.”
Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability by Mia Mingus
AH: “I always come back to this piece, partly because it’s very hard to internalise. I feel like I have to use it to call myself out. It takes what a lot of ‘body-positive’ rhetoric hints at (I’m increasingly suspicious of any unconditionally ______-positive ideologies) but takes it to a really necessary, difficult, uncomfortable conclusion.”
‘Contingency and Complicity’ by Reza Negarestani (from The Medium of Contingency)
AH: “This is a case of ‘I don’t know if I understand’ it but it’s been really helpful anyway’, and I just really like it as a text. There’s this idea about the trauma of contingency that really resonated with my making process, somehow.”
Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison
AH: “Grant Morrison’s run of Doom Patrol is essentially about traumatised defective queer subjects who have to be superheroes because they’re too maladjusted to do anything else. There isn’t really a redemption narrative, and saving the world doesn’t really make any of them any happier. I feel like this was my queer theory before I discovered queer theory.”
‘Generous Narcissism: And Who is Touching Back?’ by Mehron Abdollmohammadi
AH: “A really vital rebuttal to the discourse about the internet and social networking as a kind of black hole of alienation and self-absorption. Not denying narcissism but reframing and communalising it as queer becoming-unbecoming, a generous mobilisation to collapse difference. It might be very validating for your internet presence.”
‘The Autonomy of Affect’ by Brian Massumi in Parables For the Virtual
AH: “This is very much theory-as-therapy territory for me, but there’s a line in this which basically argues that there’s very little distance between happiness and sadness, all there is is intensity of affect. I mean, I think that’s what he argues. That’s the other reason for Massumi’s presence on this list –every word and line seems to negate and simultaneously reinforce the word and line preceding it. And following it. The introduction to the book is called ‘Concrete Is as Concrete Doesn’t’ so I think he’d take it as a compliment. I really love it as poetry.”
‘Preliminary Notes on Modes on Reproduction’ (in Pink and Black Attack #6)
AH: “Pink and Black Attack describes itself as an ‘anti-assimilationist queer anarchist periodical’. I’m very critical of a lot of it, but Preliminary Notes… has been really useful for me in thinking through what queer politics could look like without reinforcing or reproducing the idea of stable, cohesive, safe identities. But it also highlights the fact that it’s almost impossible to talk about identity without being complicit in its reproduction. A page from this essay actually turns up in the show.”
AH: “I’m really into melodramatic camp high-performative self-parodying displays of ‘negative’ affect, which a lot of black metal totally ends up being. A significant amount of the writing in this book ends up being about its failings as a genre: the apocalypse never comes, negation negates itself, the sound of the ancient forest is an electric guitar, to worship Satan you have to put faith in Christian theology, they’re not even very good at being Nazis, etc – which is obviously what’s interesting.”
‘Should We Be Triggered? NeuroGovernance in the Future/(Tense)’ by Kim Cunningham
AH: “I don’t know if I should even try and summarise this one: a thinking through of trauma in relation to bodies and objects and spatiality and temporality and connection and control and medical discourse and politics?” **