Maja Cule

Rehearsals in Instability (2015) exhibition photos

2 October 2015

Rehearsals in Instability curated by Rózsa Farkas presents a group of artworks at Vienna’s Galerie Andreas Huber that display certain disbelief –instead of critique –in the situation outlined by the press release of the “current state of capitalism” and “the rising awareness of the unsustainability in this world”. The show, running September 11 to November 7 as part of the 2015 curated by_Vienna programme, deals with the understanding that although “capitalism as we conventionally know it is shifting”, its “increasing financialisation” of everything will continue: it is a “reproductive social contract”.

The works selected by Farkas take on and absorb the processes and gestures by which capitalism works –to take on possible alternatives, to locate new counter-aesthetics and in one fell swoop to have them saturated, creases stuffed, marketed and re-introduced back into an inescapable mode of value and consumer-ability. As the press release highlights, disbelief and absorbency, as opposed to critique and explanation, perhaps produces something stronger in the current climate (both Art World and socio-economic): a nod, or, at the very least, a desire and concern to ‘move beyond’. How does Art escape?

Sidsel Meineche Hansen, 'Seroquel ®' (2014). Install view. Courtesy ANDREAS HUBER, Vienna.
Sidsel Meineche Hansen, ‘Seroquel ®’ (2014). Install view. Courtesy Andreas Huber, Vienna.

Charlie Woolley makes two new works, ‘Shelf’ and ‘X’ (4 in a series) which both have shiny strips of aluminium and a sense of reification about their presentation and absorption of stereotypical counter-culture symbols. Emily Jones‘ text lifted from an unknown, un-given context and also, coated in aluminium sits on the wall. Maja Culewho’s video, ‘Facing the Same Direction‘ (2014) was shown in a solo show at London’s Arcadia Missa, which Farkas runs, is accompanied by a slate plaque on which is etched ‘Do What You Love’ in bubble-writing that’s been filled in. Sidsel Meineche Hansen displays circular and patterned works that call into vision the cyclical production of artwork and its formed subjects. The works of Christopher Kulendran Thomas and Richard Nikl literally hold up the delicacy and instability of dissemination, or how things are constantly newly mediated outwards, traded out, packaged up ‘comfortably’ and as given as “the fabric of our society”, as the press release describes. 

What do we believe in? **

Exhibition photos, top right.

The Rehearsals in Instability group exhibition is on at Vienna’s Andreas Huber, running September 11 to November 7, 2015.

Header image: Maja Čule, ‘Facing the Same Direction’ (2014) Install view. Courtesy ANDREAS HUBER.

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AFA 2 by 63rd-77th STEPS @ Bari, July 29

27 July 2015

AFA 2, an off-site project organized by 63rd-77th STEPS – Art Project Staircase, is opening at Pane e Pomodoro Beach in Bari on July 29 and running intermittently until August 12.

The project brings 13 international artists to exhibit together in Puglian capital, including 63rd-77th STEPS founder Fabio Santacroce, as well as Maja CuleMichael Assiff, Lucia LeuciBradford Kessler, and Ilya Smirnov.

Following last year’s AFA documented here, the project’s description comes as a story-like text that begins with: “Only one survived.” The ‘one’ refers to a little ant, “dazed, rusty but fair”, collecting breadcrumbs of an “authoritarian bread”. The description ends seemingly senselessly, with: “In any case, no one was in the apartment that afternoon, maybe they were all on the beach to roast their thick skins along with the unpunished lies. Meanwhile the fatty rice salad was earning flavor in the fridge.”

See the project page for details. **

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Documentation of AirBNB Pavilion @ 63rd-77th STEPS (2014)

24 December 2014

Looking at the documentation of Airbnb Pavilion‘s Community Development Meeting, there’s little that differentiates the art performance and online exhibition from the corporate residential hosting enterprise that essentially began in disaster relief. The project, headed by London-based collective of architects and “interior decorators” called fàlo (see: phallus) – including Fabrizio Ballabio, Alessandro Bava, Luis Ortega Govela, and Octave Perrault – carries on a series of globe-trotting events began at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale and resurfaced in Paris, New York and a couple online locations, eventually emerging in a defunct Novocento-style Post Office in Bari, Italy.

Realised alongside 63rd-77th STEPS founder and curator Fabio Santacroce, there are some glaring parallels to be drawn between that physical symbol of global communication in a postal service administered by a fascist government and the development strategy of Airbnb Global Head of Community Douglas Atkin. The event opened with the Community Development Meeting on November 27, the ‘performance’ presenting a first ever physical communion of local Airbnb hosts in Bari – reached via fly-posting, as well as messaging through the official website that required simulating roughly a hundred reservations. Interesting, that the breakfast that featured some of the corporate language and methods for “community building” in a Silicon Valley-style presentation would also be a first for the nearly 600 people and properties available for rent through the Airbnb portal.

The documentation to follow features grayscale image boxes of people suspended in conversation and affirmative slogans like “SHARING IS CARING” and “COMMUNITY OF HOSTS”, accompanied by smiling emojiis or a Euro sign cradling the Dollar, while the site shamelessly announces its success as built on “YOUR STORIES”. Hence, the Do More of What They Love online exhibition to accompany it, which appears less about what Atkin calls “social glue” in his The Glue Project strategy website and more about the business that can be made from it in a “venture that’s dedicated to helping people make successful communities and the loyalty that results”.

Building on the ‘Do What You Love’ culture of modern labour economics, the home for Airbnb Pavilion is not so much about the traditional notion of a community that’s tied to a physical space but the ‘home’ icon of an online portal that’s mediated in the interests of its administrator where Do More of What They Love lives. It features the video work of four artists, including Maja Cule, Juliette Bonneviot, Rosa Aiello and Keren Cytter, comparing the capital exploitation of the exchange economy that the Airbnb corporate giant represents to an indignant Aiello’s navigation of a half-blind first-person protagonist searching for her glasses in ‘First Person Leaky’ (2014). She mutters “one of the guests got particularly drunk and made it clear that my home had been broken into and a bug placed inside one of my rooms” about her “close, personal relationship” with a branch of the Communist party. Meanwhile  Cule’s ‘Facing the Same Direction‘ (2014) – premiered at London’s Arcadia Missa for the artist’s eponymous solo exhibition – follows writer and illustrator Anna Kachiyan as she seeks to raise $80,000 via an indiegogo campaign to “pursue independent interests in projects”.

A simulation of space populated by avatars in Bonneviot’s ‘Minimal jeune fille web’ (2014) features animations of young women’s bodies contemplating consumer items in silence via subtitles: “the polypropylene cap has a strong smell of petroleum, which transmits to the water and kills the concept of a healthy water bottle”. Meanwhile, Bonneviot’s CGI bodies meet Cytter’s flesh ones as a woman past her ‘prime’ considers the long-term consequences of her own objectification and eventual disappearance in ‘Der Spiegel‘ (2007): “I need to prepare, stretch my skin like a lampshade”. These are the ruminations on the capitalisation and commodification of private and intimate space set to a browser window backdrop of collages. There’s a woman posing with an exercise sheet stating, “I home share because… I don’t have to have a day job and can pursue acting & writing!”, a list of ten easy steps to “Successful Culting” and an exponentially growing graph of “Community Life Stages” taken straight from Atkin’s The Glue Project website.

It’s perhaps a little known fact that Airbnb Proper is a corporate giant that capitalised on the idealistic notion of the sharing economy in 2008. It was a brainwave that pounced on a post-GEC population with nothing but its homes to offer in exchange for a livelihood. It was the moment to turn couch-surfing into a business enterprise. All this, at the same time as the rise of social media, where the utopian ideal of a networked online culture existing outside of a capital market would eventually be drawn right back in. **

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An interview with Maja Cule

4 November 2014

When I first met Maja Cule I already knew who she was from the days when she was part of the duo Dora&Maja (with the artist Dora Budor), but I tried not to act like a fanboy. It’s hard not to be one: she is well-versed and articulate about everything including alternate economies, women issues, queer issues, Eurocentric issues, the rigidity of the social structure of the art world, time poverty, salad, horror movies, and how to survive. Those are some of the main threads running through Maja’s practice, which takes a lot of forms, though it could be said that her main work is building fictional narratives that are often only a slice away from reality.

A few weeks ago she emailed me a version of her new video ‘Facing the Same Direction’ (2014), which is the centerpiece of her current show of the same name at Arcadia Missa in London. The video is about “Doing What You Love” (DWYL), the culture of not only working your ass off to support yourself, but also smiling and making friends while you do it – and then capitalising on those smiles. The video’s main character is Alex, a woman who starts an IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign asking for $80,000 to “pursue independent interest in projects” rather than working for wages in the typical sense. Alex’s campaign launched on IndieGogo the day of the exhibition opening.

Maja Cule, 'Facing the Same Direction' (2014). Film still. Courtesy the artist.
Maja Cule, ‘Facing the Same Direction’ (2014). Film still. Courtesy the artist.

With other works in the show including a book of user comments taken from the “BIC pen for her” on Amazon, and large-scale prints of a clichéd yet unrecognisable live/work space, the theme of the crumbling work/life divide via systems like IndieGogo and Airbnb is a strong one. The so-called “sharing economy”, which has quickly become a fact of life for those in the creative industries, has also become enacted as content for various projects – from the recent Airbnb pavilion in Venice to Constant Dullaart’s purchase and distribution of instagram followers to others in the art world: “Hitching a ride is Uber, hospitality is Airbnb, and when you are interested you are a follower”.

I loved the way Maja’s video likewise became a performative intervention. When I saw it I wrote back to her, and then she wrote back too, and then I decided that in the spirit of the sharing economy we should capitalise on our relationship and turn our conversation into an interview. So we relocated the chat onto Google Docs to make it seamless – though it was actually cobbled together during breaks from ‘real’ work, whenever Maja could find wi-fi while traveling (she was in London, Serbia and New York during those weeks). And why do so many of us likewise spend our break time talking about work? Because we love what we do.

Maja Cule, Facing the Same Direction (2014) @ Arcadia Missa installation view. Courtesy the artist.
Maja Cule, Facing the Same Direction (2014) @ Arcadia Missa installation view. Courtesy the artist.

What do you expect or want to happen with the ‘Facing the Same Direction’ campaign?

Maja Cule: The campaign extends the life of Alex as a fictional character, as she interacts with Indiegogo visitors, who have mostly so far been prosumers and spammers. This is one of the comments from a visitor: “Thinking about hitting full funding? Make it count. I will market, promote, review and revise your campaign giving you my expert opinion which will boost your GoGo factor.”

In a sense Alex is more real than her online audience at the moment. The comments are kind of an SOS to Alex, to help her become more of a product than she is at the moment. Obviously the goal of this campaign is not to raise the funds – the problem is that no one is interested in interaction unless funding is the goal. There are perks and rewards for backers though. One of them is to book Alex to do a lecture, and the highest reward is to take over Alex’s highly-rated Airbnb account.

So are you compensating Alex for being part of the project? Or is she taking part because she Loves What You Do?

MC: Alex will of course receive the proceeds from the Indiegogo campaign. It was very important to me that Alex would like what we did together. I didn’t do casting calls or look for an actress, because I thought this role should be played by someone who has her own ideas about work and finds DWYL culture to be an oppressive ideology. Anna Khachiyan [a writer and illustrator] who plays the role of Alex was the only person I could imagine to do this without acting. I also love what she does.

Maja Cule, 'Facing the Same Direction' (2014). Film still. Courtesy the artist.
Maja Cule, ‘Facing the Same Direction’ (2014). Film still. Courtesy the artist.

The character asks for “the greatest number of people to participate by making the lowest possible contribution” to her campaign. What do you/ does she mean by this?

MC: That line in the script is referring to Alex’s desire to participate, she believes that if the higher number of backers would support her campaign with the smallest possible contribution would be a greater success than to have one backer support the campaign.

The main theme of the video is DWYL: that it’s somehow a shortcoming if one doesn’t embrace and feel passionate about the wage labour that one is forced to engage in to survive. Is art just like any wage labor, or is the pressure to LOVE MY WORK even higher for artists?

MC: Um, it’s more about how the idea of DWYL produced an oppressive ideology, where passion and emotion are supposed to exist 9 to 5, and success is measured in positive feelings during work hours. It’s impossible to always love what you do and it’s really not possible to be able only to love what you do. Everyone dislikes what they do at least for some period of time. I think that there is no difference between art and any other wage labor in the amount of emotional involvement and energy being put into it; it depends on the person, and their capability to be emotionally distant.

One of my favorite lines in the video is: “It’s enforced to love what you do. If you want to disagree, then that’s work too.” This makes me think that maybe we’re all too occupied with crap and constant updating for actual dissensus; do you think that the lack of unoccupied/unproductive time could explain the lack of a certain critical attitude? Distraction=capitulation?

MC: That is an interesting way to put it, as being distracted is an intensely passive state and offering a disagreeing position is the extreme opposite. Also, to be able to dislike something takes a lot of preparation, and at least 10 times more arguments than to simply like something. To dislike something is considered to be unacceptable, it’s taking up too much valuable time, it’s unproductive, unpredictable, it’s what makes a bad product. This is an example of how interaction is influenced by economy and production and its efficiency, demand and functionality.

Maja Cule, Thinner Barrel 640 pg book consiting collected user comments from “BIC for Her” Amazon page site. Courtesy the artist.
Maja Cule, Thinner Barrel 640 pg book. Courtesy the artist.

In the video there is also a reference to Airbnb. Like IndieGogo, I see a techno-utopian aspect to Airbnb — wellness, aspiration, safe adventure, and economic gain via community-building. Both websites represent the confluence of social networks with economic transactions. What interests you in particular about those platforms?

MC: I don’t think there is a utopian aspect to Airbnb that lives beyond the advertising campaigns the company makes. Community building with Airbnb is similar to that of a workplace: it’s regulated by universal politeness and financial obligations. I think that Airbnb provided substantial support to people who were renters and couldn’t afford not to work. But Airbnb in that sense is a temporary solution.

Here’s a fake slogan for Airbnb: “What difference would a 30,000 yearly grant do for an artist in NY?” The discussion about sharing economies and Airbnb always skews in this direction; while hosts are earning money, they are also raising the value of real estate and causing greater inequalities in housing market. I feel the company’s argument is like placing responsibility for climate change on a consumer. The effects Airbnb has on the housing market are tiny in comparison to a legal decision that would limit annual rent increases…..

The “universal politeness” in sharing economies that you mention reminds me of some of your projects focusing on health and well-being — like your DISLaughing Alone with Salad‘ stock image collection (2013), or the video ‘The Horizon’ (2013) where a woman dangles off a building, suggesting precarity in physical and economic wellness. How does DWYL connect to the idea of “achieving” health?

MC: The ‘laughing alone with salad’ photo series was a meme that identifies code in stock images that is not true to our experience—false representations of happiness, health, gender and pleasure. I think of these images when someone says ‘health’, at the same time I know that the image has absolutely no connection with the feeling of being healthy.

In a similar way, in the ‘Facing the Same Direction’ video, Alex is not trying to do what she loves – she is just not working. All the other characters who appear in the video, are working, from the journalists to the Apple store staff to the people waiting in the line for an iPhone 6.

Maja Cule, 'Facing the Same Direction' (2014). Film still. Courtesy the artist.
Maja Cule, ‘Facing the Same Direction’ (2014). Film still. Courtesy the artist.

Your press release for ‘Facing the Same Direction’ includes a provocation to “Fail harder”. How does the idea of capitalising off failure fit in?

MC: The phrase “Do what you love” is apparently assigned to Confucius, and it meant finding pleasure in work or any activity in a balanced way. But DWYL is the mantra of an oppressive ideology, where professional identity is the only identity, and work is the only way to experience time. The idea of love and work just shouldn’t be together. In Steve Jobs’ commencement speech he says: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” That sounds so tragic. It leaves no space for experiences outside of work.

Failure, like DWYL, is a term that got appropriated: at first it represented a basic negative result but is now often used to mean a risky action with a lot of creative potential. “Failing harder” and “learning from your mistakes” are new strategies that create attitudes towards work that are advertised as products via these mantras.

Do you ever feel like you fail?

MC: I feel freedom in doing work where it’s hard to decide if something is a success or a failure, and results are often unpredictable. If I don’t work for a while because I’m doing something else, that feels like a failure of time.

That sounds like one of the lines from the video: “Work takes up 80 per cent of your time. Every day you go and plug yourself in at the office, and yet you’re never fully charged”. I wrote you in an email that this reminds me of Jonathan Crary’s recent book 24/7, where he talks about the fact that we are never fully “off” and that that sleep is our last bastion of non-commodifiable, opaque time. What do you think? Are you ever really at rest?

MC: The line from the video that compares the body to a phone charger is an extremist view of productivity, which is completely divorced from feelings and the human capacity for different experiences. Jonathan Crary’s view of sleep as a territory that hasn’t yet been touched by markets is really interesting. I feel like the polarised view of body being in sleep/wake state is missing gray areas, the empty gaps that are necessary for processing experiences. If the human body depends on blank states to process experiences, rest, and prepare to be able to participate in new ones, that means that busy people grow to be close-minded. ‘Work less’ is the new DWYL. **

More stills and exhibition photos, top right.

Maja Cule’s Facing the Same Direction solo exhibition is on at London’s Arcadia Missa, running October 11 to November 15, 2014.

Header image: Maja Cule, ‘Facing the Same Direction’ (2014). Film still.Courtesy the artist.

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(networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS reviewed

26 September 2014

“(ò_óˇ)” marks an appropriate end to the strain of excess that (networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS embodies. Stamped on the empty last page of the anthology published by London’s Arcadia Missa and featuring contributions by 45 artists from around the (digitised) world, it tracks a six-month exhibition programme of the same name and a surplus of extra material. Press releases, installation photos, film stills, essays, artist interviews, prose, poetry, emails; these are scattered across 300+ pages of information that eschews a single-channel stream of content in favour of the more realistic overload of its stated ‘networked’ culture. Snubbing any conventional compulsion towards a straight narrative, the publication opts to map the web of collective thought from a creative cluster bound by book and fibre optics.

(networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS, ed. Arcadia Missa. Courtesy the gallery.
(networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS, ed. Arcadia Missa. Courtesy the gallery.

Sometimes it feels like there’s too much. Presenting a complexity of ideas that crash and collide with, as much as they support and strengthen each other, (networked) performs its introductory challenge to “ideology’s racket on words” in anticipating, even encouraging a total collapse of any distinction between content and form. This is, after all, a print publication littered with hyperlinks –a Soundcloud for Megan Rooney’s ‘Feeling European’ (2013), a YouTube embed for Holly White’s ‘I’m on my bike because I’m looking for you’ (2013) –that a cursor can’t click on; orginally coloured video screenshots are framed and reprinted on paper in grayscale.

“This is the end of Publishing and books are dead and boring”, announces global trade book publisher Boyd (‘B’)’s daughter Alysa (‘A’), in Bunny Rogers and Jasper Spicero’s ‘Random House’. All grown up and confronting her dad-as-Old Establishment, ‘A’ illustrates the potential for a shift in power through a text that is almost but not quite a script, in a publication that is almost, but not quite, a book.

“# – scenes where there is an alternative” says the symbol legend of ‘Random House’ as ‘A’ contradicts herself in “#The End of Small Sanctuary” sub-heading: “What you’ve got to understand is you’ve got to open your eyes to my values, I think it’s unbelievable that you’re actually listening to us”. It’s a similar sense of bewilderment that Rózsa Farkas and Harry Burke share in a conversation –also called ‘The End of Small Sanctuary’ –that actively confuses any notion of individual authorship, while revealing the irony of an internet where “interactivity doesn’t empower the user, but instead traps them in plot”.

(networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS, ed. Arcadia Missa. Courtesy the gallery.
(networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS, ed. Arcadia Missa. Courtesy the gallery.

It’s a trap of windowless metal walls and marble as ‘B’ is harangued by an attorney (‘AT’) who insists on a “more effective response to change” in a new world order where “objects are fossils from the pre-history of the attention economy”, according to Maja Cule. Because while Eleanor Ivory Weber maintains “a clean corporate office is the image of unquestionable success” in ‘A Story for Corporate Cleaners’, William Kherbek’s nameless banker in ‘The Counterparties’ bares witness to failure as he watches his “chair with its coffee stains and miserable back wheel” being carried off with a dissolving financial sector.

“The future as realistically capitalist is no longer so convincing”, announces Farkas in an extract from ‘Immanence After Networks’ for Post Media Lab, as Amalia Ulman observes the gradual disintegration of the “technical middle class” in an interview with Cadence Kinsey. Guillermo Ruiz de Loizaga instead opts to embroider “never forget class struggle” in a pillow in his poem for the ETHIRA® gallery show and iPhone app commission. It’s a symbolic gesture as inconsequential as what Ulman calls the “obvious class war” of a “rye bread with seeds” urban middle.


So go the “possible rap lyrics” of Stephen Michael McDowell’s ‘poetry ebook titled ‘tao lin’’ contribution to the Random House exhibition’s online initiative. It explores the “relation between narrative and affect” as Gabby Bess’s intimate one-sided exchange asks of the art hanging in the Gagosian, “why not put our poems there?”

(networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS, ed. Arcadia Missa. Courtesy the gallery.
(networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS, ed. Arcadia Missa. Courtesy the gallery.

Why not indeed, as the effectiveness of the word as both utilitarian and artistic communicative force used in oppression as well as disruption folds back on itself as Burke and Farkas at once point out its importance in the enforcement of ideology as “non-negotiable”, while “language, when used well, can always evade its own meaning.” Because when Dora Budor says the virtuosic artist can creatively adapt to multiple situations”, she’s suggesting that although we do “operate within, not against” (according to Elvia Wilk) a dominant online culture, it’s in hacking her father’s Comment is Free account that Huw Lemmey’s schoolgirl protagonist in ‘#nodads’ seeks to slowly destroy him –from the inside. Sure, “dad had an opinion” but in the case of Lemmey’s novella excerpt, it doesn’t count as much as the “wave of powerful butt-focussed instant sex release” that turns the mob against the London authorities in anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal revolution.

.rtfs, spreadsheets, and spam; Facebook, Twitter and iMingle; Macbooks, PCs and iPhones. These are all formats, tools and devices, elements of Jill Magid’s “mechanical weapon” to be used against an entire generation raised within an unjust organisational structure. Except that these are the artists, the queer interlocutors who’ve come to understand these constructions better than the people who constructed them. It’s here that (networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS finds hope, in refusing authority, hijacking power and using it for their own illicit ends. “(I’m an optimist, gross)”. **

(networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS, edited and published by Arcadia Missa, was launched alongside the In the Future We Will All Be Modern mini-exhibition, running September 26 to 30, 2014.

Header image: (networked) EVERY WHISPER IS A CRASH ON MY EARS, ed. Arcadia Missa. Courtesy the gallery.


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