Best known for defining an era in experimental music with his 2011 Apple audio software-created album Far Side Virtual, enigmatic artist James Ferraro has developed his oeuvre around making the familiar world of technology into something strange, esoteric and scary. Whether in interpreting consumer states via the eerie kitsch of vaporwave’s corporate muzak in a PS1 elevator, or scoring a live ensemble rendition of a dystopic imaginary in ‘Burning Prius,’ the itinerant United States artist’s preoccupation with human engineering and techno-capitalism has carried across disciplines.
For his debut solo exhibition at Stockholm’s Loyal Gallery, which just ended on August 26, Ferraro’s Extinction Renaissance features video and digital prints — as well as limited edition music on USB sticks and an epic poem — that mediate a number of known totems of the Anthropocene. A flatscreen TV projects a CGI being climbing a piece of square earth that’s almost flat except for the hilly landscape spelling ‘GLUTEN,’ while being assaulted by swarms of flying fidget spinners. Banners and posters proclaim the ‘climate change generation’ and promote abandoned multi-storey condos in a ‘crispr meadow.’ Potted health food wheatgrass flanks a depiction of a ‘call center ai,’ while some dry wheat — a so-called ‘pillar of civilization’ — lies discarded in a corner on the floor.
It’s within the backdrop of this paradoxically-titled show, one of dying renewal, that Ferraro shares some of his thoughts with AQNB via email, on the illusion of progress and systemic decay.
James Ferraro: I think, once we have effectively overcome those agents of terrestrial balance, like war and famine, which have traditionally limited our capability of achieving a true artificial state, the drive for self termination or exit will increase, manifesting in a series of political movements that will eventually lead to a reign of terror-type situation.
The world as a malfunctioning IoT [Internet of Things] plexus will see the EU and other type governing structures tank and we will adopt a form of neo-feudalism ruled by the tech elite that will provide cyber real estate and universal basic income in exchange for data production. At that point the incarnation of the web will have been completed.
** I’m curious about the use of the fidget spinner, and other references to very contemporary technological developments and trends (Alexa, Amazon, bitcoin). As an artist, often drawing so definitively on something of the moment is best avoided for fear of becoming dated. Your work has always felt very ‘expendable’ in this way; that its impermanence is part of this ultra-consumerist, throw away culture your work points to. Would you agree with that ?
JF: I wouldn’t agree with that, on the basis that I think Alexa has historical implications that make it more than just a trend. Siri or Alexa are reflections of what we deem mandatory in the interest of our survival in an artificial state. It’s also a disjunct vision of Silicon Valley to democratize the lifestyle of feudal lords and provide a middle class simulacrum via cheap automation and autistic AI assistants, which I find significant.
** Your music since The Skaters, maybe even during that time, has been heavily concerned with technology and the human experience within that. And it’s been progressing from this gleefully fetishistic fascination with technology with, say, Farside Virtual to violence and destruction in NYC, Hell 3:00 AM, ‘Burning Prius’ etcetera and now a pretty definitive end-times theme in ‘Extinction Renaissance,’ do you have any hope in the future of humanity-at-large at this point in time?
JF: For me, hope doesn’t have anything to do with it because in my view it would be a partial denial of the fact that we are, for the most part, the engineers of our systemic decay. The dysgenic civilization of the present, if you decide to see it that way, is a product of conscious decision-making. We are the designers of the destroyed meme we call reality.
** Carrying on with this ongoing interest in technology in your work, I’m reminded of a quote by William Gibson who alludes a little to his own soft Luddism — “I’ve never really been very interested in computers themselves. I don’t watch them; I watch how people behave around them.” How interested are you in using and consuming technology yourself, do you relate to this quote at all?
JF: Yeah, of course, nobody can really avoid observing that in the 21st century. But I wouldn’t go as far as to call Gibson a Luddite… I think he’s referring to how the behavior surrounding that emerging symbiosis between humanity and its cyber prostheses overshadows its intended technological purpose, which is something I observe and relate to. **