“ ‘Ideology’ can designate anything from a contemplative attitude that misrecognises its dependence on social reality to an action-orientated set of beliefs, from the indispensible medium through which individuals live out their relations to a social structure to false ideas which legitimate a dominant political power”. [i] – Slavoj Zizek
In the exhibition ‘Machinery of Violence’, advertising posters used on out door poster drums and hoarding feature and abstract, neutral grey colour field constructed by overlaying multiple images with reduced opacity. These loaded images are taken from contemporary pop-culture, news, documentary, pornographic, propaganda and tech sources with aim to articulate a sense of incomprehensibility of cultural narrative and the complexity of the events which the purveyors of such material deem relevant. All stories conflate with numerous others somewhere along the line and are actively reduced, isolated or obfuscated to satisfy an existing narrative protocol that drives our mainstream media culture. These ‘non-images’ describe the information saturation that defines the ‘developed’ world we live in. The viewer’s inability to decipher an entire image echoes this culture of distraction that debilitates collective political agency by concealing the fractured nature of events in favour of multiple linear stand-alone strands.
In the foreground of the show, four children’s kimonos accompany these works featuring repeat patterns constructed from appropriated and manipulated logos of various multinational corporations. The examples in question use the logos of Monsanto, the largest GMO manufacturer in the world. Nasdaq, the second largest stock exchange in the world (after the New York Stock Exchange), News Corporation the American multi-national media company founded by Rupert Murdoch and Academi (formerly Black Water and XE) the private security and intelligence firm whose employ is populated by CIA and US Military veterans are one of the US army’s biggest non-manufacturing private contactors.
The motive for these combined appropriations is derived from boy’s Kimonos from The Montgomery Collection of Japanese Art; these garments dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century are “decorated with graphically explicit military designs or other symbols of modern times, such as cars, trains and airplanes”[ii]. With the benefit of cultural and historic distance from their context of origin, these garments inspired intrigue because they unambiguously articulated the dominant ideology of Japan at the time albeit in a reductive manner. Coming from a culture that was in a state of flux, excited by the opening up of cultural and economic exchange with the United States and Europe, the country had until relatively recently before that point been internationally introspective, as this cultural exchange inevitably affected a shift in the political fabric of Japan a traditional class structure which deferred it’s respects to the military was observed as the dominant class was gradually transgressed to other models of social order. While other examples in the collection do not iterate the military deference to the same extent the aspirations of modernity are reflected also reflected in designs whish were the result of cyclical influence from and over European styles at the time that latterly resulted in the Japanese adoption of Western dress as it has come to be understand.
To cite Zizek’s definition, these garments are demonstrative of the ‘contemplative attitude’ and ‘social reality’ of their context of origin so loyally that they function as instruments of indoctrination. After all, a child has to train to adhere to the social structure that legitimises the political powers and to do so the cultural products that are designed for their use and consumption must iterate those values. To visually articulate a bridge between these culturally distant models and our own contemporary context the work is intended to demonstrate how the use of clothing as an instrument of ideological transmission is an archetypal tendency, that the most mundane object can be given explicit agency to reinforce an ideological agenda irrespective of ones temporal or geographic context.
Since the late nineteen seventies Neo-liberal economic policy and increasingly abstract financialisation has provided the dominant ideology that our society experiences. The parties who possess real power within this framework have been emboldened since the financial crisis of 2008. Their ideological supremacy has advanced to an extent that many once thought inconceivable as we transition from a twentieth century model of welfare state, tax-payer owned public services, social mobility and secure employment conditions to the current system promoting debt and precarity as necessities of a social condition reliant on a rhetoric that demonises the former, communitarian values as conservative obsolescence.
“In the wake of the Neoliberal proclamation of the end of class struggle, only social categories remaining are winner and loser. No more capitalists and workers; no more exploiters and exploited. Either you are strong and smart, or you deserve your misery.”[iii]
This description by Franco Berardi alludes to the essence of social Darwinist logic that accompanies and justifies such activity in the eyes of those who assert it’s value with a failure to acknowledge hereditary privilege or lack thereof. The religiosity with which such politicians and commentators who represent our dominant powers, speak about the need to ‘stimulate the economy’, ‘encourage growth’, ‘restore confidence’ etc., etc. is tied up in the promotion of the individualism, discouraging the value of community of shared thought and values in order to promote the a sense of self that is predicated on a culture of consumption and an ability to manage ones finances. Inextricable from this logic as it has been enacted for decades now is the progress of privatisation. This is sold to the wider population under the auspices of ‘efficiency’, a word that has become political and journalistic shorthand for profit as the logic of economic growth has replaced civic wellbeing as a driving force of our political agenda. This has now entered institutions such as health care and welfare and has ran in tandem with the progressive deregulation of the financial sector, fostering a lobbying culture which has stimulated cultures of monopoly, as politicians defer to experts and ‘captains of industry’ whose advice inevitably serves to benefit there own interests as they assume control of state assets at the expense of the interests of anyone who could perceivably be negatively affected by their action.
As I see it, Monsanto and Academi represent a certain end point or beginning of an end point in the logic of pervasive privatisation and financial extraction. Academi (formerly Black Water and XE) has built a legitimised industry for mercenary activity. While the rhetoric that surrounds British or American military interventions is usually couched in a language that that conjures up a perception of existential threat to the values define our respective nationalisms. This poorly regulated privatisation of such a function demonstrates that the commercial endeavour has penetrated the logic of militarism in a more immediate way than we may have formerly believed as population. When such fundamental operations of the state have succumbed to such intrusions, what we may traditionally perceive to be the dominant political power in the form of governments has been compromised by their complicity in the propagation of the economic and legislative structure that legitimises such transparent corporatisation of a basic function of state. This ‘pragmatic’ acknowledgment of military conflict as an unavoidable activity necessitated by the states very existence and is therefore an avenue in which capital should be extracted through marketisation and becomes a symptom of both the ‘contemplative attitude that misrecognises its dependence on social reality’ and the ‘an action-orientated set of beliefs’ that is couched in the assertions of our political power brokers.
While food production is not a function of the state but simply an essential consumable that have always had a market value, the efforts and successes of powerful companies to lobby governments for their own gain is demonstrative of the survivalist character of the neoliberal condition described by Berardi. The USA is the world’s largest economy and largest agricultural exporter in the world. Monsanto are the biggest company in this market place as the biggest manufacturer and distributer of genetically modified seeds in the world. By ruthlessly exploiting the strictures of copyright and intellectual property law to monopolise and regulate the agriculture they enforce a monopoly on practices that have been open for millennia. The culture of political deference to large corporations of this ilk harnesses the agri-tech giant with significant lobbying power that has a geo-political manifestation achieved through it’s relationship with trans-national institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). By being so influential within the agricultural market an inordinate amount of our well-known branded consumables are made with their products and so a control of this market becomes a much greater control than that which can be usurped with simple will and a refocusing of purchasing power.
These ‘winners’ ability to excel in the inventive if ethically questionable marketization of their respective fields in an increasingly assertive fashion is symptomatic of the ideology of our times. Within this cult of neo-liberal, debt based economics the stock market is the space that is played and rigged to determine values of companies and the value of currency and essentially the value of everything that matters when one submits in full to the a faith in the established political powers which determine the shape of our social structures. As a company that administrates major stock exchanges in several of the world’s largest economies, Nasdaq represents a real power over the collective consciousness because the lubricate and validate the system of economic power that is used to back up the ‘pragmatism’ employed by the neo-liberal logic. Similarly, News Corp. as a major purveyor of news content, they exercise a power over the information we can access as a public with ease. They and their ilk possess a significant influence on our collective consciousness by determining the value of stories and crucially, the boundaries of any given narrative. As a publicly tradable company they are deferent to the system legitimised by the likes of Nasdaq, this understanding leads to mutually beneficial relationship whereby the logic of import that legitimises such deference to The Stock Market is reinforced by a narrative propagated by businesses such as News Corp. This symbiotic relationship between the two firmly designates them as being representative of what Zizek determines to be an ‘indispensible medium through which individuals live out their relations to a social structure’.
The garments on display in the exhibition riff on the Montgomery examples to demonstrate how the values of abstract finance and privatisation have embedded themselves in our material culture by virtue of their monopoly on our prevailing political logic. By drawing a line between our contemporary ‘globalised’ conditions the work serves to articulate how these values are integrated in to our material existence. In the same way that the Japanese garments deferred to militarism and aspirations of modernity these garments defer to winners in the ideological reality that we are situated in. the intent is to contribute to a critical discussion that engages a questioning of how and why our material culture is as much an instrument of expression and reinforcement of an ideology that defines us even if we reject it. Militarism defined the hierarchy of class structure in Japan before it made a transition away from feudalism, thus there was no ambiguity as to who was the dominant political power. In our context, the nature of the distribution of power in an age of privatisation, abstract finance and corporate lobby is deliberately obscured, the collaging of form, motif and ‘non-imagery’ presented serves to illustrate this dynamic of obfuscated power in a fashion more explicit than we are used to. These companies have been chosen because they represent the financialisation of essential social structures but the proposition is not that they represent this culture in whole or control it in entirety, more so that their activity and influence is symptomatic of an ideological reality that is propagated and reinforced by established routines in our material and media culture.
[i] Mapping Ideology pg.3 – Slavoj Žižek
[iii] Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide pg.51 – Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi