Wysing Arts Centre is presenting the twelfth edition of their Polyphonic annual music and sound festival, Under Ether. The event is scheduled to take place online and live at The Centre during September, 2021.
Under Ether speculates on esoteric and magical futures, comrpised of three rituals hosted across Wysing Arts Centre’s phyiscal and digitial sites. Curated by Anne Duffau, the programme includes a necw live outdoor stage with musicians FAUZIA, CAMPerVan, YA YA Bones, and other acts exploring sonic forms of optimism and resistance. UK sound artist and DJ, Ain Bailey will host a closed door workshop on shared healing, which aims to connect themes from Wysing’s summer exhibition, Version. New Art City will hold the final ritual online at WysingBroadcasts.art, reiterating the recordings from the September 4 live event into digital space.
In Steven Spielberg and Ian Watson’s 2001 film, A.I.Artificial Intelligence, the maltreatment of ‘Mecha’ child robot, David, represents a dilemma over humanity at odds with its technological mirror image. Abandoned by his adoptive parents when their biological son awakens from a coma, he’s captured by a bounty hunter and tortured for public entertainment. Georgina Tyson and Ashleigh Williams’ collaborative Babeworld project encompasses a variety of catchy millennial adages, resource guides on structural inequality, and an art practice that concerns social identities, the internet, and new models for inclusivity. As sex workers, Williams and Tyson frequently take stances on the topic, with their own Hollywood-referencing film AI: Artificial Intimacy on disembodied selves and dehumanization in online performance settings. The video captures a humanoid sex robot slowly deviating away from its creator’s intended design.
For Spielberg’s AI, the crowd is spurred by anxiety and over-speculation to protest David’s plight, booing and throwing trash at his captors in demand of his release. “He looks like a boy!” shouts a woman from the rafters, to which a bounty man counters, “We are only demolishing artificiality!” This psychological haywire comes out of friction between humanity and its artificial Self—a paradox wherein the reflection remains constant, while simultaneously re-charting. Babeworld seeks to address this tension.
For Czech curatorial platform PAF’s London festival curated by Anne Duffau on November 29, the duo contributed Rise of the Babeworldians, an autobiographical moving image piece on a incorporeal species crash-landing into capitalist society.
**How did Babeworld come about, was there a particular reason you started collaborating?
Babeworld: It began as a single project that we worked on together, just for fun, in the living room of our shared house on a pink velvet Habitat couch Ashleigh found on Gumtree. The two of us had been living together for a while. As we got to know more about each other in the little downtime we had between university and work, we recognised similarities in our experiences of class, sex work and art education. Both somewhat stagnant in our respective practices, we created this space to make, write, and share. It was a pairing that happened naturally, as we both bring different skills, and yet share the same ideals and goals.
**Your contribution to PAF London concerns corporeality in that the Babeworldians are without bodies. How does that relate to the ideas of sex and technology within your previous works?
Bw: I don’t think it does. In previous works concerning sex and technology, there’s always an emphasis on the physicality, like very visceral sounds of bodily functions, extreme close ups of usually sexualised body parts, and crudely detailed descriptions of sexual acts. The main concern when discussing sex in conjunction with technology is desensitisation. When we discuss our own experiences in this context, we rely heavily on the physical to evoke and humanise. Specifically, in regards to sex work, where 90 percent of client-provider interactions are online, which enables clients to separate the persona they are communicating with from the people we are—thereby dehumanising.
The Babeworldians, however, came from something else, probably the normative expectation of showing up physically that we feel should change. Working in most industries during a worldwide pandemic has disembodied a large portion of the world’s population. Something we have learned from this is how we have always had the resources to accommodate things—like working from home or hosting art events online.
At Babeworld, we have been utilising social media and technology to create work, share work, and network in an effort to make our art and our platform accessible. What we wanted to express through the Babeworldians was that the community and space we had procured had been an alien concept before the pandemic forced traditionalist art institutions to embrace it. We are just two millennials that grew up with the internet and had our finger on the digitally-coded pulse. So, technology is always a motif, aesthetic and reference point for anything we make.
**Is that influenced at all by your understanding of ‘post-internet species’? What does that mean exactly?
Bw: Rise of the Babeworldians is semi autobiographical, so in reality, we are post-internet artists who make work that mainly exists online. However, in this imagined reality, we are a post-internet species where our connection to and advocacy of online communities is taken so far to the extreme we cease to function as anything other than an online presence. It expresses our appreciation for the opportunities the internet has afforded us while also raising concerns about the dark side of the internet—as it still exists heavily interfered with (and influenced by) capitalism and colonialism.
**The social media performance site OnlyFans saw upwards of 200,000 users joining every day in May. Are platforms like this similar to the sex robots you discuss in your whorling.net piece? Are they manufacturing something?
Bw: Platforms like OnlyFans had existed and been used by sex workers long before. These clip-selling sites had already been using features like direct messaging. Purchasing sexual services (whether digital or IRL) have always needed a way to be customisable per client. Personas of sex workers providing services are malleable—constantly in flux, depending on a client’s wants and needs, within reason and limits, of course. It’s a personalised experience where the provider’s main goal in the client’s satisfaction, which can take many forms. This could be a scripted video, where the client is the scriptwriter, a phone call where the provider takes the role of someone the client desires, a physical meeting where the client decides on the provider’s overall appearance.
Usually the client is leading and taking an active role in constructing the fantasy, and is aware that it wouldn’t be happening if there was no financial transaction. However, sex work doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Intimacy is complicated, and lines can blur, as described in the piece, AI: Artificial Intimacy. To believe that the popularisation of OnlyFans* is driving us down a path that ultimately ends in artificial intimacy and progressing past the need for genuine and physical connection would be erasing the work and impact full-service sex workers, without whom OnlyFans wouldn’t even exist. Not to mention that transactional and artificial intimacy has been a massive part of society since the dawn of time. It has and will continue to take on many forms.
It’s important to note that sex workers use OnlyFans, and sex workers popularized it, but the platform itself doesn’t support sex workers. It has demonstrated recently with the Bella Thorne situation, and it demonstrates it daily with over-the-top censorship and the removal of sex workers from the website. It is also important to note that the increase in users joining came from full-service sex workers who lost their jobs during lockdown. They were disproportionately affected by the government’s lack of financial assistance, with the only aid coming from sex work charities and community-driven fundraising. As it entered the mainstream, the celebrities treating it like a cash grab, disregarding how sex workers are affected by their presence on the site, had people believe it was an easy way for people to make money, which inflated user sign ups.
**Community seems to be a focal point of Babeworld, can you talk about that? What defines your community?
Bw: We had both been feeling disconnected from the art world that was sold to us in art education. We had both experienced a lack of diversity in our peers and the teaching staff, which led to isolation and feeling misunderstood. Through discussing these feelings together and then sharing these thoughts online, we were connected with other people that felt the same way. The majority of our projects over the last couple of years have included members of our communities, as we believe it’s important to extend any platform we are given to other marginalised people. This gives us the opportunity to exercise accessibility within the institutions and art world we once felt disenfranchised from; to set an example of how resources should be used and how accessible creating accessibility is.
**Back to your PAF London presentation, how is community different than the corporatist society the Babeworldians are corrupting?
Bw: Community is inclusion and togetherness—a space where differences aren’t barely tolerated but accepted or even celebrated. Diversity in all sectors is necessary to ensure systems and processes that keep society functioning fairly and ethically have everyone’s best interests. The Babeworldians role and goal in this particular story are to aid the disadvantaged and oppressed in connecting with each other again so that they can form communities based on their own needs and desires. Rather than the needs and desires of a biased and influenced corporatist society.
**Last question—where did the Babeworldians come from?
Bw: The planet Babeworld is not unlike this version of Earth the Babeworldians crash landed on—existing in a neighbouring reality where their technological advancements are only marginally more progressed due to a major event that took the planet on a different course to this new planet. It was 2018, and the 10th season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race was recording its fifth episode. Fabrics were laid out—differing prints in muted tones reflective of the country theme of this week’s runway. Monique Heart’s hand hovers over a white print with small, brown, angular spots until her attention is caught by another fabric in her periphery. The brown spots were larger and less severe—rounded at the edges like the patterned flesh of a brown cow. ‘Stunning’, she thought to herself.**
A personality moving between performance, art, activism, music and more, Blanco started out as a child actor, studied art and dropped out of it (quoted, “the art world is just one big scam for rich people”), and became well known for being a noise rap poet, publishing From The Silence Of Duchamp To The Noise Of Boys. Dubbed a ‘digital warrior princess,’ the self-described “non-binary gender-queer post-homo-hop musical artist” also recently released debut album Mykki (2016) via Dogfood Music Group / !K7.
The AESTHETICS OF DISHONESTY group project is on at London’s Diaspore, opened October 7 and running to November 2.
Happening in five parts, the project brings together a series of events, performances and installations that explore “genetic transfer, parasitic systems and the technique of camouflage,” with the schedule as follows:
– Gabriel Stones presents site-specific installation exploring “fitting in, copying, structures and relationships,” Oct 7
– Jolien van Schagen + Sinead O’Dwyer explore the relationship they have with their body “through food, object, garments & performance” in ‘Wandering Wombs,’ Oct 15
– Pop-up online radio station VVFA will feature a “series of conversations performed live between fictional characters,” Oct 21
London-based curator Anne Duffau introduces us to her platform A- – -Z as well as StudioRCA Riverlight. Working on the programme for this coming year, the series will be looking at the notion of the ‘other’, bodies and public spaces, cybernetic/women and technology, exploring the possible changes to questioning and rethinking our future as well as our past.
Or be divided,
By those who see you as prey.
Or be destroyed.”
― Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower, 1993
I have been running an exploratory curatorial platform named A- – -Z for the past five years. One of the main aims is to push boundaries in what an exhibition could be, as well as what curating means – (I sometimes prefer the word cultural producer). Playing on language and words, A- – -Z is a morphic entity, it infiltrates unusual spheres, a bit like a virus. Flexible in its format, it offers a platform for practitioners to trigger experiments – looking at what’s happening in art, speculative design, music, ecology and more.
This first event set the tone for an interest in sci-fi and fiction in order to address current issues. A- – -Z disseminates works through printed matter to create alternative distribution streams, using formats such as postcards, B—Beyond with Jon Rafman or a calendar Days of the Nones with 12 artists including Emma Hart, Markus Water, Alix Marie, Tai Shani and Doggerland, or a newspaper with the fashion designer Dinu Bodiciu and Kabukimono.
For the past year, A- – -Z has been based in Nine Elms in a space called StudioRCA Riverlight, at the bottom of apartment towers close to Vauxhall. Exhibitions, discussions, and performances including DJ-ing, large-format video projections and dance have been taking place throughout. From May 2016 to September 2017, A- – -Z presented the Dusk Exhibition Series with Ifekoya, Daniel Shanken, Rehana Zaman, Chooc Ly Tan, Heather McCalden, Imran Perretta, Johann Arens, Karolina Lebek and Susannah Stark. The invited artists showed newly commissioned videos and installations for a month each, to be experienced from outside the gallery space – fully visible only during the dark hours, and shown for the first time in London. A performance and/or talk introduced the project and focused on themes including transgender, sci-fi and the post-human.
Another series I’m working on is an ongoing curatorial collaboration with the artist Tai Shani called Dark Water. So far we made two large-scale events at CGP Gallery/Dilston Grove named ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Dark Water: The Dead of Night’ – these were designed to present evenings of performances and screenings around Sci-Fi, gender, the contemporary gothic and extending our ongoing research into the notions of amorphous body through technology and inner space.
A- – -Z has made a special selection for AQNB of what it’s been currently listening to and interested in – a mood board of the instant / picks of the present:
Victoria Sin is doing something unique and they explain their aims so poetically and clearly that this video should be played on public transports and in pubs: “The labour of femininity isn’t only the performance, it’s perseverance in the face of our ascribed and inscribed precarity. It’s the struggle to be respected and have our agencies recognized. When I decide to take up space it is often seen as rude to those who are used to be making myself small.”
This talk with Angela Davis and Judith Butler on inequality moderated by Ramona Naddaff is very current and urgent – it also shows how much work is to be done in terms of including people with impairments and disabilities to public events.