Becoming The Other is an installment of the study of identity and psychogeography, developed and initiated by Æther Sofia and Æther Haga. The noncommercial space Æther Sofia was funded by the artist Voin de Voin in 2016. In September 2018 he and Marie Civikov created the sibling space Æther Haga in The Hague. To come closer and draw a clearer portrait of the present state of the European citizenship and revisit its values, Æther engages with the discourse of self-and-other through language, exhibitions, happenings, workshops, and public interventions. Crucial are questions of European transpersonal identity and imaginary ideas. For the Becoming The Other project, Voin de Voin and Marie Civikov work closely with their longtime collaborator Andrew Fremont Smith.
Becoming The Other is a discourse into the relationship between the individual and the society, of the self and the other, engaging, exploring, decomposing, and reconsidering new forms of togetherness toward a potential future. Becoming The Other is a transmission of nonlinear sur(real) fields of the impossible as that emerges in live conjuncture. Here, Voin, Marie, and Andrew explain how the space Æther and the Becoming The Other project came about and how to find a common ground in this territory.
Schlosspost: What is Æther? Was there an initial idea, and how did Æther materialize?
Voin de Voin: The initial idea was to insert a piece of autonomous ground in the stone wall for reflection on topics and ideas that are not yet necessarily exploited or twisted. What I mean by this is we see our practice as »sperm washers« that engage the processes of life preservation. In order to create an »innocent,« »brand new,« »immaculate« conception to the world, you need to cleanse it from diseases, viruses, poisons, and bad omen – then you can teach it to talk.
In a world of post-spiritual, post-political, post-apocalyptic phases, we appear as mediators of psyche-states – From Greek Psyche -ψυχικός (psukhikós), »relative to the soul, spirit, mind.« So we are the construction workers of the soul in a mine factory, where until the very last breath we remain determined to look for treasure and light. And sometimes our alchemist affliction holds up the hope that even if we come to our last breath; we will transform it from suffocation to ecstasy – as we are always a breath away from that altered state of being, we just have lost the practice (of breathing); closer to the primal source.
»In order to create an »innocent,« »brand new,« »immaculate« conception to the world, you need to cleanse it from diseases, viruses, poisons, and bad omen – then you can teach it to talk.«Voin de Voin
Schlosspost: Recently you opened Æther Haga, a sibling space in the Netherland with the aim to support the exchange between the two art scenes, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.,
Marie Civikov: Æther Haga was born from a combination of a concurrence of circumstances and wishes regarding the exchange between the two extremes of Europe. In my hometown The Hague, where I was born, I was given the opportunity to move into a studio that at first sight already demanded to function as an exhibition space. That it would be an extension of Æther Sofia was a logical step. Thanks to the network that Voin has built up in Western Europe over the past decades, the space in Sofia presents a lot of work by artists who have their roots there. In The Hague, we want to turn this around to a large extent.
Schlosspost: Would you describe Æther as a particular new European territory or thinking?
Voin de Voin: Land is an entity indivisible by regimes or borders. We belong to the same evolution right now (sadly that includes the industrial devolution), so we didn’t appear to connect anything or anyone. Æther appears in pure response of the morphic call-to point out and state emergency!
And yes, Europe is our playground; and yes, it’s a great opportunity for us to look at time as liner thing (chronological process) as well as the liner meridian east west Europe in its two polar sides.
I would never allow myself to describe Æther as a territory or a field of thinking, as this would come back to the constructs that society requests in order to enter the new normal – and we want to get away from it, as much as we can. Being and thinking should not be separated processes. Perhaps that’s a big shift in problematizing the subject of the Other – it’s the separation from body and mind/thinking and doing/seeing and believing.
Schlosspost: Your practice as Voin de Voin has its roots in visual art and fashion and ranges from performance to installation to curating, incorporating your research in collective rituals, psychogeography, sociology, psychology, and new media. The project Becoming The Other seems to be a continuation of your artistic research. The question of the psychic state mind and the psychical state body plays a crucial role. Is Becoming The Other a contemporary examination of the body-mind problem that has its roots in the heart of the European Enlightenment?
Voin de Voin: The good thing about being in the arts is that whatever you do is somehow a continuation of something else that began some time ago. It is still difficult for me to label myself what I do exactly, and how I come to it. But I know that if I have an idea I find the ways, the means and eventually the medium to express it. Lots is prescribed in the body I feel, in the contemporary body, which I will call it less of a psychic body, but more of a schizophrenic one, as its very conditioned by the common diseases like stress, visual and information overload, representations of thoughts – the fact that everything is so literal in its manifestation nowadays, bearing its labels, brands, logos or promo codes, leaves less space for the body to unfold its inner space and incorporate inner stages and give space to imagination to do its magic and fill the gaps or create new meaning. That’s why we feel exhausted, uninspired, and bored of participating in the collective, and we find that freedom in the technological possibility to connect and state connectivity. But that is a trick – it is not physical – we disconnect from our own body weather, just because we wear body temperature gadgets and appliances that measure that for us.
Enlightenment is an ancient thing, way before the European idea was formed and the way we recognize it in its in present formation. More I would say we are back in the Dark middle ages, and progress is controlled and not encouraged. Enlightenment is a call back of the »new people« who have become slaves of cooperative thinking and business models, they look for a higher experience in life, but all they actually praise is cash-so yeah -there is no enlightenment here-we problematize the effects of capitalism-not the good old utopian proposition of European unity and glorification.
Enlightenment is an ancient thing, way before the European idea was formed and the way we recognize it in its in present formation. (…). Enlightenment is a call back of the »new people« who have become slaves of cooperative thinking and business models (…). Voin de Voin
Schlosspost: Andrew, you combine social and political analysis with experimental sound art work, postdramatic performance and theater. You give workshops in Lacanian psychoanalytic approaches to social discourse. Do you approach the topic Becoming The Other differently than Voin and Marie? Is there something particular that you add to this process? You live in New York – is this non-European perspective important?
Andrew Fremont Smith: My approach is to problematize the question of what is at stake at this time with the desire (which arises with the sentence structure and signifier of) Becoming the Other. What does this question evoke and why? Fear, hopes, escapism, temporary identification with the other so as to gain energy, new bridges of complex identification, new sensitive feelings and why? … etc. There are no final answers. But openings into the relationship of the unconscious and what Lacan called the Real, only further ways into the daylight of reason and the night of the soul. When he lived in Los Angeles, Bertolt Brecht once noted in his journal: »in America everything is under development, yet nothing develops.« I think he gets to something here that inspires us to reflect on what kind of development we would want (anywhere). And what impasses arise, however strange and unaccountable, by falling back on the terms of the dominant way of understanding today. How to even begin to think that passion … returning to the start. As a New Yorker a certain sense of romance, open future, gritty realism and flexibility in working with/fighting and finding ways forward with difficult unpredictable circumstances is built in to the system so to speak. Voin and I have collaborated many times.
I think European and American nationalism are some of the worst sensibilities humanity faces. If I had my wish, I would seek all to be free of these mesmerizing group psychologies.
What I want to do is create spaces for authentic reflection on the problems of our times. The desire to »become other« is a widespread cultural reflex in all of the western world. For many reasons. It’s often a way to gain libidinal energy (»mojo« of the other) and keep the system running as it is, with only superficial changes. I seek to investigate what is at stake at the level of the unconscious if at all possible.
»I think European and American nationalism are some of the worst sensibilities humanity faces.« Andrew Fremont Smith
Schlosspost: The project Becoming The Other aims to unfolding and reshaping ideas related to European heritage its history, philosophy, and politics. Therefore you use and adapt concepts coming from mysticism, psychoanalysis, speculative thoughts, and accelerationism? How do you make use of this concepts in the context of your art practice?
Voin de Voin: I truly believe everything that you listed above is incorporated in the artists’ practices we work with and have selected for our publication A Self-guide to Becoming the Other.
I think artists are the filterers of all this residue processes and the beings that are mostly unafraid and willing to show their insights and processes. Perhaps a therapeutic way to heal oneself and its surroundings. The self-guide is exactly an internal map and critical perspective on the direction things are heading, a view point of analysis of the Now via artistic practices/projects/reflections.
Andrew Fremont Smith: For me, the work of art is something of a dialectical process. It calls for allowing the imagination to breathe and then simultaneously arriving at a horizon or form into which one can play with ideas in a limited set. This then becomes a way to see what is unconsciously at stake. To start to find the inner rhyme and reason, let’s say, and what it then calls for, as such in the work to play with, create a new torsion, etc. At which point one turns again and into the work. And out into the invitation to think again. The gaze is shifted in important ways.
Schlosspost: One work you will present at the Soft Power Palace festival is called un_re_ dis_COVER EUROPA, a game created to be played with the visitors of the festival. It uses facts of history, economy art tradition and others in order to configure an example of New European Identity. How does this New European Identity looks like?
Voin de Voin: We still don’t know – we are there to find out.
Marie Civikov: Yes, that is the question and the result can vary with each group of players. Just like real life is a game, in which we are all more or less dependent on each other.
Andrew Fremont Smith: Games can themselves pose the question of winners and losers in a certain light. What exchange arises may be surprising!
Schlosspost: I want to take up a question by the object-oriented philosopher Ray Brassier: »What does it mean to orient oneself toward the future? Is the future worth investing in? In other words, what sort of investment can we collectively have towards the future, not just as individual but as a species?«
Andrew Fremont Smith: The question of the future cannot be addressed in a form of naive realism (limited nondialectical absorption in »things as they are«). There must be the strange sweaty wrong foot and that is the Freudian slip. We must be willing to speak and hear the logic of the unconscious. That takes work and is beyond the security of knowing as we may think or want to believe. However one has been taught in university.
»We must be willing to speak and hear the logic of the unconscious.« Andrew Fremont Smith
Marie Civikov: Maybe a great cliché, but not for nothing: Start with a wish for an investment in the future in the present. Spoken, desired, and philosophized, there is enough to be able to act on it for a long time and simultaneously. Invest in contact, substantial contact, with the other.
Voin de Voin: biospiritualgeopoliticalmentalosurealisticoncreateanthropologicretrofuturistic.
Schlosspost: Is Becoming The Other a spiritual or political thought? When we ask »What can we make of ourselves?« or »How can we transform ourselves and our world?« this question also addresses domains regarding dangerous totalitarian ideologies. When is Becoming and Transforming a process of deliberation, and when of determination?
Andrew Fremont Smith: Ultimately there is no way around that at times; advances take courage.
Voin de Voin: This is the biggest challenge for me personally: To incorporate political and spiritual thought in one – to form one’s own personal politics and set the agenda.
Marie Civikov: The striving to make essential contact with the other without judgment and possibly resulting in an increase in the ability to understand each other’s motives in life, could be interpreted as a combination of a spiritual and political thought. Making the essential contact as the spiritual and its influence that results in mutual understanding that creates space for a world in which we could deal with each other with respect regardless of the different ideas we hold, as the political.
That is what it would look like in the ideal world. In the world as I regularly really see it around me, in which people who speak out against unjust corrupt systems are literally gagged and others are given an open platform to proclaim hatred, consultation is sometimes no longer an option, but determined action is necessary.
»The striving to make essential contact with the other without judgment and possibly resulting in an increase in the ability to understand each other’s motives in life, could be interpreted as a combination of a spiritual and political thought.« Marie Civikov
Schlosspost: In my opinion it is very important to articulate precisely what we don’t want to become. Before we overcome an opposition we have to be capable of articulating it correctly. i.e. forms of racial and ethnic separation, racism and xenophobia call for systems of control and manipulation. This restricts our freedom of thinking…
Andrew Fremont Smith: Certainly, but as much as one may want to banish such things from thought processes per se, this reflex generally today in the context of capitalist discourse produces an injunction towards correctness and »being woke« as practically a religious order of hyperindividualism. This tends to reproduce the repression, in a strange double twist, at times, without necessarily meaning to. We will investigate this process.
»Being politically correct I already became what I didn’t want to become.« Voin de Voin
Marie Civikov: Although with the following answer I more or less contradict the second part of my answer to the previous question; if we want to be precise in expressing what we do not want to become, it is first of all, when we talk about »we,« important to investigate who »we« mean by that. And that if there exists a »we« who talks about systems of control, of racism and xenophobia, there is also a »they« and that this is perhaps a first step toward the awareness that in nearly every person there are racist and xenophobic thoughts, consciously or unconsciously. So which of our »we« has the biggest right to control the aforementioned systems of control and manipulation? Let »us« carefully consider an answer to this question and then perhaps come to the conclusion of »none of us.«
Voin de Voin: Being politically correct, I already became what I didn’t want to become.
Those classifications need different surge and rapture – a different treatment. The constant deconstruction and also analytical language carries lots of dangers in itself. By saying this I say we all have become what we avoided becoming. If there are only two ways to go, one will always be the wrong one, but if there a multiple ways – then the journey will have a great purpose at the end.
Parts of the Becoming The Other project will be presented during the Soft Power Palace festival, which takes place at Kunstgebäude Stuttgart November 8–11, 2018.
The interview was conducted by Denise Helene Sumi