Laurence Counihan

What is it like to stand at the terminus point of a future which has already been conditioned, and to stare back, with naive menace and innocent glee, at a present that you would hope to reengineer? Perhaps, and more than likely, looking back at a history that is accelerating towards its own demise would be impossible to register; the whole thing would be identifiable only as a swirling mass of chaos that tantalising provokes you to collapse into the delightful regime of its techno-capitalist excess. Is this the becoming-machinic-virtual of an inescapable capitalist realism?¹ Capitalism now presents itself as the ultimate real, the a priori state on top of which everything else must be constructed. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi describes this politico-economic system as ‘absolute capitalism’,² and states that it has the effect of instigating a feeling of ‘the slow cancellation of the future.’³ But, the future can’t be cancelled if you are standing at the end of it and looking back, and so, more precisely, this erasure of the future alludes to the negation of the contingent dimensionality of futurism itself.
Imagining further down the timeline always consists in a simultaneous action of staring back; the gambit of what the future can become is shackled by the pessimism, or rational pragmatism, of a present moment which has bombastically, and pre-emptively, announced that it has already mapped out the entirety of possibility space. If the project of constructing a post-capitalist future is to have any hope of achieving concrete manifestation, the impetus must be to look back, not in order to return to a past from the vantage point of the present (to uncover pre-capitalist modes), but, rather, a looking back at the present from the perspective of the future. I want to quote a section from a 2013 essay by Mark Fisher, on the, oft-misunderstood (as a heresy), concept of accelerationist thought, as it exists, still to my mind, as the most concise articulation of the philosophy:
A certain, perhaps now dominant, take on accelerationism has it that the position amounts to a cheerleading for the intensification of any capitalist process whatsoever, particularly the "worst," in the hope that this will bring the system to a point of terminal crisis. [...] This formulation, however, is question-begging in that it assumes what accelerationism rejects — the idea that everything produced "under" capitalism fully belongs to capitalism. By contrast, accelerationism maintains that there are desires and processes which capitalism gives rise to and feeds upon, but which it cannot contain; and it is the acceleration of these processes that will push capitalism beyond its limits.
If we are to take image as a foundational category within the regime of Art, may it be possible to accentuate, aesthetically and conceptually, aspects of its form that exceed the capitalist program? In our contemporary environment, the non-stop proliferation of images ooze into our unconscious as the dream stuff of the market, optically transfixing the human through screens, catalogues, and shop windows. Symbolic desire is rendered as an abstract potentiality of ecstatic fulfilment — little wonder that the unboxing microgenre has erupted across online video sharing platforms. The thrill of revealing and being exposed to capitalist pleasure is suspended, elongated and refactored into something which might be something else. If I walk past a shop window on a busy street and an advertisement on display grabs my attention, subsequently stimulating a purchasing decision, (or just to think positively about the associated brand), then, from a commercial point of view, it is a success. I do not desire the marketing image in and of itself, but, rather, my desire is located in the abstract manifestation of the deferred object and the purchasing of its associated affect.
However, this is but one kind of heavily-coded representation of an abstraction that can take place. One recent theory of representation, forwarded by Tristan Garcia, is grounded on the concept of representation-as-absence, as the perceiving subject always consciously and willingly absents multiple aspects of the representation’s form. In this the representation is operational as a General 5Abstract Image (GAI): an appearance that is integrated into the wider techno-social assemblage. The GAI is a systems image that 6represents and produces abstract complexity that cannot be reduced to mimetic intelligibility. Accordingly, it signals that the image, even the most intuitively identifiable symbols of brand icons, always codes for abstraction. What this means, to state it bluntly, is that images produced by capitalism subsist as a coalition of meanings and forces that surpass the supposed purity of their market function.
It is through (in order to exceed) the decadent vitality of capitalist transaction, that Pádraig Spillane’s Define Silver Lining works in accordance with. Continuing the artist’s interrogations of the affective nature of surface, these abstracted images — derived from scanning the packaging of telecommunication devices — are inserted directly into a space that typically functions to commodify visuality. Located in a ‘disused’ shop window on Cork’s Grand Parade, the formal permutations on display fixates on the abstractedallure of capitalism’s after-life. Operational within the circuity of market economy, the work integrates itself within this feedback mechanism, seeking to constructively manufacture an aesthetics of desire that exceeds the limitations of that very system.
Within the generative machinery of capitalism, there are produced, to re-echo Fisher, desiring affects that cannot be subsumed entirely within its logic. In the realm of art these can take shape as images, objects, and affects, that work to reengineer new modalities of representation (by directly smuggling themselves into the spaces of living market flows), that can be oriented towards alternative (re)animations of abstract futurity. That is to say, the abstract model located in the future — that guides our navigational systems — must be reconfigured through innovations in the development of new representational modes in, and of, the present.
The commodification of images, and images produced entirely as commodity, may not be escapable under the potential realisation of a post-capitalist platform. Although this spectre may be omnipresent (under the limitations of our current imaginings), the desiring objects and images produced by capitalism can be recoded against the system itself, by implementing a series of tactical incursions, that, if not resisting the concept of commodification itself, diagram a course towards versions of symbolic exchange that provide an exit from the singularly totalising program of market growth. Although all realms of artistic and cultural production are beholden to the market, to quote Steven Shaviro, aesthetics still remains ‘the one thing that cannot be reduced to political economy.’ Ergo, there exists a cultural consensus that aesthetic value extends beyond its strict monetary worth in a system of financial exchange. Maybe, when looking back from the future, this kind of naive thought will be nothing more than a silver lining in the historical imagining of art’s function, but, silver linings, whenever they do appear — though mostly ephemeral and often derided as consolatory — always hint at the possibility of alternative perspectives.
Laurence Counihan is an Irish-Filipino writer and critic, who is currently a PhD candidate and teaching assistant with the History of Art department at University College Cork. His research is located at the intersection between art, technology and continental philosophy. HYPERAESTHETICS text is taken from PluckProjects’ FALL/OUT catalogue for their Midsummer Festival Visual Arts Curators in Residence Programme for 2021.


¹ In the words of Mark Fisher, capitalist realism is: ‘the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is not impossible to even imagine a coherent alternative to it.’ in Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative, Zer0 Books, 2009, 2.

² Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, And: Phenomenology of the End, Semiotex(e)/MIT Press, 2015, 165-167.

³ Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, After the Future, AK Press, 2011, 13.

Mark Fisher, “‘A social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude”: Popular Culture’s Interrupted Accelerationist Dreams’, in e-flux Journal, #46, 2013.

‘This absenting is neither a conventional decision nor a power of our cognition: it is a constraint that the representing object exerts on our perception.' in Tristan Garcia, ‘In Defense of Representation’, in Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey, and Suhail Malik (eds.), Realism Materialism Art, Sternberg-Press, 2015, 250. The idea of an object, or image, exerting its will on our human perception, rewiring it towards one particular realm of(capitalist-interpolated) abstraction, reveals the potentiality for another system of representation to be recoded into the program.

The concept of the GAI and its relation to contemporary art has been theorised, in gestational form, in: Diann Bauer, Suhail Malik, and Natalia Zuluaga, ‘Operationalizing Real Abstraction: Art and the General Abstract Image’, in Gean Moreno (ed.), In the Mind, but Not from There: Real Abstraction and Contemporary Art, Verso, 2019, 203-218.

The physical exhibition of Define Silver Lining is accompanied by a QR code — an image that can only be 7decoded by computer vision — whose inclusion, in this instance, transports passers-by to another virtual/auditory dimension. The way a QR code looks is not important, only that it can function as an effectivemeans of directing perception elsewhere. As such, it exists as the prototypical exemplar of a GAI.

On the concept of an exit from the current demands of the market in relation to contemporary art, see: Suhail Malik, ‘Exit not Escape — On The Necessity of Art's Exit from Contemporary Art’, 2014. Onlinevideo available @ https://www.artandeducation.net/classroom/video/66325/suhail-malik-exit-not-escape-onthe-necessity-of-art-s-exit-from-contemporary-art

Steven Shaviro, No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism, University of Minnesota Press, 2015, 16.

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