The speculative-fiction-but-uncomfortably-close-to-real-life satire is published by Arcadia Missa and comes with a blurb that cites a definition of Big Data:
“Big data (n) is high-volume, high-velocity and/ or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation.”
Most of the time, you don’t really know where you are in All The Things. It could be Berlin where author Sarah M Harrison is based; a park, a supermarket, something called a Simulated Employment Zone. Mostly, though, the novella, first published by London’s Arcadia Missa Publishing in February and now in its second limited run, is located in an apartment where main protagonist Tanya lives in the pantry while her AirBNB holiday-rental guests Beau and Brad smoke bongs in the kitchen. A person called Yoni talks at her from a floor down through the “shit pipe”, while Tanya’s ex Bonky’s pet rodent called Celia crawls over her “sore swollen hormonal tits”. Sometimes she’s comforted by Yoni’s stories. Sometimes they’re boring. Sometimes Tanya chats online with Eggie. Sometimes she sends emails of meaningful childhood anecdotes to someone called Cutlery Jane. Sometimes Tanya’s a lesbian. Sometimes, maybe not.
Time in All the Things is as difficult to place as location. Macro- and micro- states converge to create a kind of tension, where its era feels somehow stuck. Some parts are almost poetry –appearing in proto-form in an earlier publication of untitled poems and “excerpts from a novel” called Channels of Elimination in 2014 –others are monotonous and evocative gestures to meaningful moments of eroticism in repetition: “Hand anus hand anus hand hand finger anus hand anus hand anus anus cock anus cock anus cock anus cock hand cock hand cock cock cock cock…” and so on.
This first book by Australian-born Harrison is one consisting of fragments. A sort of snapshot of an existence that doesn’t ascribe to any notion of linearity or narrative, instead giving over to insight: “Yoni, it is not that I have anything against couples per-se, it is just that, they make me nervous, I don’t feel like I can trust them.” The existence presented here is one that’s funny yet bleak, familiar but different. It’s slightly off. The interwoven life of resigned cynic Tanya and the selfish, solipsistic people around her are presented in pieces of prose, poetry, dialogue, chats, emails, lists ordered alphabetically. Two-dimensional identities are blurred across bounds –personal, gendered, sexual, professional –and given depth despite their meanness: “She’s the sort of person who thinks that you become an artist by making art.”
Harrison’s is a universe that’s astutely constructed within a sensory space that’s both dulled by the marketing language of MacBook Pros and workplace initiatives, and heightened by its attention to the minor details of mundanity on the margins: “Yoni and Tanya dress up in ugly, awkward, slutty outfits, then smoke several weak joints before leaving the house.” Sex and bodily functions are entwined here in an at times macabre but always droll depiction of modern humanity; shrink-wrapped faux meat products, and a clump of horrifying black hair in the shower drain that threatens to strangle them all.
Trapped somewhere between a notion of the present-day and a monstrous close-view of a very near future, All The Things carries its reader through the squeamish particulars of the drudgery of daily life and abjection. The people that live it here are vulgar and sometimes cruel, and the most felt feeling throughout is hurt: “Her pain took up all the space, all the things, everything always her pain.” It meanders with little plot and a deliberately unsatisfying end on a note that surely has meaning but also doesn’t, as testament, perhaps, to its own brilliant soft nihilism that languishes in misery: “Cigarette to scab”. **
Some of us, who either were too young or too unfazed to remember the last total solar eclipse, expected the earth to get completely dark while the moon passed between us and the sun. Rather than complete blackout, we noticed a slight change in directness of the sun’s rays. For the evening of performances and readings on at Berlin’s Flutgraben e.V. on March 22, the organisers of After the Eclipse, Ebba Fransén Waldhör and Imri Kahn, perhaps dedicated the evening in this artist-run space to the astrological event, not in terms of the sublime, but rather as an ordinary moment of interference.
Anna Zett begins the evening preparing for her performance as she prepares for a boxing match. As she wraps red wrist wraps around her fists, she repeats, “how can you have a dialogue within a monologue?” The long strands of blood red sparring fabric, and the ritualistic, methodical way they are tightly wound on to the body to allow for the sport’s skillful (yet violent) physical interaction. With a similar method, Zett overlaps the complexities in our everyday interaction between mental and physical (neurotransmitters and the nervous system), Zett draws attention to the value of this communication, persistently failing, persistently under threat by sudden knockout– or a host of diseases, malicious intent, or the unpredicted, violent interventions of applied science.
In a reading also heavily concerned with communication and its failures, Imri Kahn reads what he found in an archive in a recent trip to Jerusalem– a medieval debate between a pen and a pair of scissors over their relative superiority as instruments of writing. Which makes more meaning, that which inscribes or that which excises? Written by Shem Tov Ardutiel in Christian Spain of the mid-14th Century, the unusual rhymed narrative is an allegory from a darkening political atmosphere filled with motifs fitting the occasion of the eclipse: loss of speech, hostile surroundings, self-contradiction. The main characters battle, through dialogue, through sheer function, between preservation and evisceration of meaning and representation.
Dealing again with preservation and loss, Hannah Black’s performance is in some way a critique of Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. The artist-writer remembers a year spent on both coasts of the United States, as if the space between each side is enough to separate one version of the self from another -the architecture, the weather, the history of a place can split a person between, in Black’s own words, “animal and miracle”. Through this coupling she movingly recalls a Summers day spent in the Harvard Poetry Library, the “the historic campus with generous scholarships and beautiful light”. In juxtaposing her surroundings with her real condition of eating “trash for breakfast”, she is astonished by its resplendent architecture which, as Black points out, maintains its status as one of history’s greatest constructions with an air of being “built invisibly, built by no one”. This appearance becomes the site for critique, as it’s in this library that she makes vivid the very political struggle of remembrance. In a shaft of this beautiful light, she contemplates “the knowledge, and the suppression of the knowledge”, which is redeemed only by, as Black puts it, “the knowledge of the suppression of the knowledge”.
In another take on this interplay, the opposite of the suppression of knowledge is its enhancement. This appears to be the premise under which the characters of Elvia Wilk’s novel-in-progress operate, as they seem to spend the weekend experimenting with nootropics and developing a comedown machine that facilitates both physical rejuvenation and ethical reflection. Quantifying the self is taken beyond bodily performance into the realm of ethics. Yet, as these characters retrace their intoxicated steps through a paperless trail of audio and video recordings, online banking transactions, they seemingly reach an all-too-human impasse: as they try to reach a ‘real’ doctor, an artificial intelligence-powered phone service interferes.
Also dealing with the failures of communication, in her performance Sarah M. Harrison seems to wonder, how all this failure looks to the outside world. This idiom used to be an expression referring to people at large, but (perhaps it is the eclipse) lately, the outside world seems more distant, less familiar. One of Harrison’s protagonists feels this disjuncture acutely, and brings this to a head as her main character finds notes from her sister’s tarot reading. She recites it out loud, announcing it to be the most beautiful poem she has ever read. It concludes, as the evening of performances did, with a conspicuous sense of hope: as if all this trouble with messages, memory and meaning were just a series of ordinary interferences, no match for our persistence in making sense of it all:
“…magic in little things in life little steps see the doors opening opened through account to others time to open up to others.” **
Flaming Times is bringing a new exhibition – or “utopian visioning exercise” – called We want a future that outlives our past to Sydney’s Taylor Square on March 5.
The art exhibition takes place in front of the old toilet block at Taylor Square, populated by seedy, urine-stained brick blocks that are now in the talks of being turned into…cafes. The show describes itself as: “A collection of notices from noticeboards sourced from multiple queer utopian future worlds as envisioned by a flaming rainbow of curent (sic) queer artists and makers.”