Engaging with Iain Ball’s work requires research. There are words I’d never heard before, clusters of reference points drawn from a breadth of information that seems endless. It probably is. Take the ongoing Energy Pangea project as an example. ‘Europium’, ‘Thulium’, ‘Promethium’. They’re titles of works drawn from the periodic table, more specifically the 15 Lanthanides, otherwise known as ‘rare earth elements’ but paradoxically plentiful as part of the planet’s crust. They’re a substance that both makes up and is extracted from the ground of the globe –a self-consuming entity.
“Information is growing like deforestation and we want to burn shit”, Ball reads at his PHILIPS2013 [The Guts]: Revision 2012 talk at Lima Zulu two years ago. It follows a narrative that defies reason, linking an increase in UFO sightings to a shift in the planet’s magnetic poles and comparing it to Dutch technology company Philips’ ‘Vision 2015’ strategic plan. In using “alien’s as an access point” Ball illustrates the equally irrational and confounding nature of human history where “black swan events are the virus and the blood of progress”. It’s an idea drawn from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s theory of a societal tendency towards rationalising the emergence of an unexpected occurrence (say, the rise of the internet or economic collapse) into a logical sequence of events. But nothing makes sense and nothing is predictable.
“I want to show each project as if they’re simultaneously held together and broken apart,” Ball tells me via type. He’s London-based but reluctant to speak in person or on the phone, eventually agreeing to a real-time online doc conversation only to self-consciously draft and paste his answers in blocks, while I wait, over an interview that lasts nearly three hours. “Each project container is its own dimension with its own set of laws or physics, which could expand infinitely or destroy itself”, Ball says re the difficulty of trying to talk about his practice in general terms. That’s particularly as he relates his work to Bruno Latour’s concept of “blackboxing“, whereby greater scientific insight only leads to greater complexity and increased obscurity –the black box being its outward simplification.
Starting at “beacons of ‘we’re all fucked’, basically” (as mentioned in an interview with Matthew Drage) and ending with the aestheticisation of a bewildering network of destruction and reconstruction, Ball’s newest addition to his Energy Pangea Rare Earth Sculpture series ‘Lanthanum’ sounds impenetrable but the aim is accessibility; it seems abstract but is, in fact, fairly literal. Launching at Obikà Mozzarella Bar in London’s Canary Wharf business centre as part of OPENYOURKIMONO’s digital commissions –the project will emerge online as the Centre for Youth Consciousness (CYC) on September 4. It’s a “sculpture-object/device” generated by the “reverse swarm-funding” of the aforementioned hypothetical organisation brought into existence by pure potential –whether it’s made material or not.
Lanthanum derives from a Greek word that means, “to lie hidden”. The thing about rare earth elements is they’re seldom found as concentrated, economically exploitable deposits. They’re dispersed and diffused. The Toyota Prius is thought to be the biggest exploiter of Lanthanides in the world: “each project-object is held together by its ability to work as a closed system, but they have a multitude of parts, each of those parts is also a black box”.
Your work seems more like a process rather than a concept and I say concept but I see now that it’s not necessarily, or at all, conceptual work.
IB: It’s very hard to describe a total concept, like having an artist statement or general theme. I often struggle with how to brand ‘Iain Ball’. It’s easier for me to develop different entities for the holding of the work, each with its own concept, philosophy, politic. But I would go as far as to say that, even within each container, it isn’t necessarily clear if there is an overriding ‘concept’, as each project is comprised of many parts. I want to show each project as if they’re simultaneously held together and broken apart, so there may be many conflicting concepts and information strands within.
A word like ‘concept’ is a bit like using the word ‘commodity’, like asking ‘what is the product of this? What is the concept?’ I could talk about concepts within each container, I could talk about the ‘concept’ of Philips2013 but its just a style, the concepts are totally affective.
That answer doesn’t surprise me, especially considering the density of the work and in the way it functions kind of like a network, or nodes that are, or can be, somehow related but also might not be.
IB: Yes, which might reduce the idea of what I’m doing to a very simplified assemblage of things… If it’s just things I like or fetishise; things that intrigue me and I find a way to draw them in and create a brand/project from this random assemblage or pattern rec[ognition] of interests, fetishes and concerns, it becomes maybe less complex and is demystified, ornamental, self-centred.
I’m all too aware of that, so I think the true density of the work must lie somewhere else, which might be something nonhuman, or post human or post-Anthropocene. And the only way I can see this is through some kind of morphology, like its a science or chemistry or something, alchemy…that fusing together of these parts actually does something, like I’m making some working model or energy transducer; converting one thing into something else, or reprogramming, re-branding, computing…
Is this ‘reprogramming’ an attempt to make a working model in response to a model that isn’t working?
IB: It’s also not really that either, or maybe it’s about trying to find some tangibility within the idea of a working model or closed system… but then the reality is that it’s very fragile, unconvincing and transparent. There’s no real pragmatism, it’s maybe more about applying multiple filters or perspectives on top of the current order, or unveiling, revealing what’s underneath. But then it’s not even clear which mode is being performed/legitimate/serious or exactly what is happening or going on, everything being another surface critique.
You mention commodity and demystification. When you talked to Matthew Drage about providing an “alternative business model”, or attempting to with Phillips2013, would you not say that by reducing your work to a series of symbols, it’s an attempt to understand and demystify existing destructive structures in terms of consumerism, or economics and geopolitics?
IB: I can’t say that my intention is to demystify or expose destructive structures per se. Destructive structures are everywhere, I could make ‘personal’ work about destructive thought processes and in many ways I am, the personal struggles are all embedded within but they could be channeled in a de-personalised and abstract manner.
Destructive structures are as important as constructive ones so I don’t try to paint the world as out of balance, or sick and in need of healing unless I become fascinated by the phenomena, or aesthetic, or politic/style of the world being represented in such a way. I want to work with that, as a material, or style, or critique. Much of the time it’s about a fascination, or finding a way into something, like working with terms like ‘geopolitics; and trying to find out how I attach new narratives or meanings or keep it intact with an object like geopolitics. Even gaining access to something like Philips, or seeing what happens if I work with eco/bio language.
It’s interesting that you talk about a political style in terms of its materiality. That sounds rather speculative, what’s your relationship with those ideas?
IB: Much of the time it’s related to fetish, like reading radical traditionalist philosophy like Julius Evola, because it’s like, the other side. OOO[Object Oriented Ontology]/Speculative Realism/Latour has of course influenced me. I think politics has a pragmatism I’m not interested in when its presents itself as demanding specific outcomes and results. Like, I don’t see why listening to Sunny Day Real Estate is any less political than listening to Anti Flag; where the former is personal/emotional and the latter is sociopolitical and class conscious. Maybe that’s a very entitled perspective, of course; shit circumstances and oppression might change that but they also may not. I go for plasticity, uncertainty, mutations, weird antagonisms.
I do remember seeing somewhere you mentioning that your practice started with this idea of total collapse, your art as a means for coming to terms with it.
IB: I’m interested in the role that crisis or collapse has in making space for new innovations, transformations of consciousness and as personal/cultural/spiritual evolution, which is a kind of a Jungian/Shamanic perspective. It’s somewhat related to individualist-anarchism as well; like being in a state of constant antagonism/revolt with yourself and the world as structures arise, demanding attack and reform. My work seems very taxonomized, ordered and named, of course, but in reality it definitely feels like it’s totally ephemeral, undefined and on the verge of total collapse.
Can you tell me something about the OYK event?
IB: The new sculpture/project I’m working on for this show is based on the idea of a reverse-engineering process to make sculpture possible, or reverse- swarm funding… I decided on a speculative organisation called ‘The Centre for Youth Consciousness’, which doesn’t and probably won’t exist.
But imagining that it does or could exist, the idea is that the potential for ‘The Centre for Youth Consciousness’ to be a real entity could actually fabricate and lay down the material/conceptual framework for the manufacture of sculpture. This then double flips back upon itself…the sculpture becomes real from the potential of ‘The Centre for Youth Consciousness’ to function. Then it provides an access/gateway to source potential people/entities to actually come together to make ‘The Centre for Youth Consciousness’ a real autonomous thing, which would enhance the legitimacy of the sculpture. But it’s also likely that this won’t happen, so the sculpture is already legitimised/crafted from all of this potential energy and ‘The Centre for Youth Consciousness’ narrative…
It also has all these other conflicting components, because it’s a table sculpture developed for a Mozzarella Bar, which is very weird, I think. But the idea is that it acts as a stealth object, hacking/infecting strange environments and posing as normcore/corporate launch. And yes, it’s also a rare earth sculpture, so it manages to fit within Energy Pangea, in that it does what the other RES’s do…but its like a fragmented narrative. At the same time, the model for working through the rare earth list is pretty solid right now, like I’m likely to do it for the rest of my life. **
Iain Ball’s OPENYOURKIMONO commission Rare Earth Sculpture ‘Lanthanum’ (2014) launches at Obikà Mozzarella Bar and online at the Centre for Youth Consciousness on September 4, 2014.
Header image: Iain Ball. Courtesy the artist.