Trusting your gut is hard when it seems to be an alien residing inside you. You could try an artificial gut feeling instead, comprised of an algorithm ready to replace your wavering emotions with the certainty of data. Is that the future promised by Libertarian Silicon Valley evangelists, or a past immortalized by the Soviet Union as an externalized and centralized collective instinct? Can the problem of instinct be solved? Questions like these arise from reading Anna Zett’s writing, published by Brussels’ Divided Publishing on October 8 as a collection of essays entitled Artificial Gut Feeling. For most of the book, you get to witness history sputter shards of future on living bodies. Like the Berlin-based artist’s memories of an abusive East German elementary school teacher in the introduction, history “tends to fall back onto itself until it collapses”.
Zett touches on some themes already familiar from their video work, such as the unreliably scorekeeping body of boxing in ‘Circuit Training’, and the entanglements of narrative and political projects through dinosaur fiction-as-imperialist creation myth in ‘This Unwieldy Object’. The violation of physical autonomy is often discussed, as in the edited and censored conversation-cum-essay ‘A Situation’ with fellow artist and writer Hannah Black. In the standout piece, titled ‘Nothing Left Undone’, Zett tries on some strategic ideas from Daoism and finds them eerily applicable to everyone, from tyrants to freelancers. As Zett puts it, “One doesn’t try to execute a particular action from start to end. One doesn’t spend time resisting anyone else’s actions. One chills out, is attentive, reactive, ever-elusive.” Said description evokes a nostalgia for an era before climate crisis—with post-internet art being its last bastion—where a Cagean detachment still made sense. But what that era overlooked is that such a cagey attitude adds up to little more than a prelude for Succession-level gaslighting. Zett continues: “I can only hurt you physically, all other damage is damage you do to yourself.”
At its height, the author makes you follow their labyrinthine thinking all the way to a rabbit hole where nothing but new holes appear, and then we have to move again. Sometimes the headiness reaches Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia levels. Most of Zett’s essays reward repeated reading; like noise music, a structure suddenly appears from the static. “I’m here for the flow”, Zett states, but to get into that flow you need to want it first. Artificial Gut Feeling won’t leave you with slogans reaffirming your worldview or Twitter-ready sound bites. Instead it imbues a desire to re-watch Mad Max in the gymnasium of your childhood school with Foucault lectures from YouTube superimposed on the screen. Both activities will make you realize being wired all the time makes you tired. And so Zett looks for solace from a variety of spaces: feminist communities, other texts, boxing, myths, and science fiction. No place is ever safe, full stop, but simply another site for negotiation. The issue of power keeps popping up. Zett writes, “The more my power is wanted, the more I get the feeling that power is actually indistinguishable from care.” It figures that they produce their texts through a complicated web of collaborations and projects. For example, ’Nothing Left Undone’ was originally commissioned for a “choreographic exhibition and publication” in Warsaw, after which it was picked again “for and during rehearsals” of a “participatory performance” in Berlin. These are not the writings of a solitary author holed up in their study but of someone who uses text as an elastic tool to negotiate, rehearse (ideas, bodies), and perform with others.
As with everything Zett does—from video to the essays—they manage to embody and convert their experiences, contexts, and histories into deeply stimulating art, this time in text form. While Artificial Gut Feeling mostly stems from their personal explorations, the book is no autofiction. Zett is aware how spelling out your individual experience is not enough because it’s so random. “My goal is to one day have my body successfully make a statement that doesn’t originate in the provincial, privileged, randomly unique story of my life”, they claim. In the conversation with Black that makes up ‘A Situation’, Zett admits to being competitive. Sometimes it comes through in the writing, as in the dizzying narrative of ‘Taube’ that concerns itself with the meaning of and legends around doves and pigeons. Getting hit with its rapid-fire delivery is akin to nursing drinks with the narrator and thinking to oneself, “how can I compete with that?” But then, you don’t have to, either in real life or on page, but just listen—if you want.**