The Means are the Ends

The Means are the Ends

UKAI Projects draws from anarchist thought and practice in how we organize and how we get things done. We’re always a bit cautious about making this claim as:
  1. we do things (like solicit government money) that may be inconsistent with these beliefs, and
  2. the word scares the hell out of people less familiar with it.

Specifically, we draw on three principles to shape and evaluate our work.

  1. Prefiguration (The Means are the Ends)
  2. Transvaluation (Getting Old Systems to Do New Things)
  3. Polyphony (Many Points of View in Conversation With Each Other)

The month of June will see UKAI in Iceland in residency at SIM Residency (Korpulfsstadir). With the generous funding of the Canada Council, we are prototyping an approach to creating, presenting, and engaging with artistic work that is reflective of our mission of “culture for what’s coming” and we thought it would be a good case study to see how our values inform the kinds of work that we do.

Shipwreck: Iceland is a durational and processual piece where UKAI Projects, alongside local artists, create and animate immersive scenarios where audiences might encounter fragments of a changed world. In a Bakhtinian mode, visitors and local artists inhabit regions of uncertain meaning and governance. Before making determinations about the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of what unfolds, they must consummate and make whole. And by giving a shape to these shards of ecological and technological excess, they become answerable to what happens next.

Shipwreck extends from Matthew Fuller and Olga Goriunova’s Bleak Joys: Aesthetics of Ecology and Impossibility and delves into how art and media practices can address ecological realities. A significant theme is the idea of the "aesthetics of impossibility," which suggests that certain ecological realities may seem impossible to fully comprehend or represent. We are seeking to novelize the ecological, to inhabit devastation, and to place an abyss of time in dialogue with an embodied present.

Concept

We look at drawings on caves, into what Werner Herzog described as “the abyss of time” and are mystified. We know what they are – animals extant and extinct – but what do they mean? There is a kind of strange joy in inhabiting these alien consciousnesses, constructing meaning through lenses long warped into other shapes.

Might we apply this process in reverse? Might we cast audiences forward into consciousnesses shaped by new realities of climate damage, ubiquitous technologies, and institutional actors unimaginable in their reach and ambitions?

Working dialogically with six local artists in Iceland, UKAI will deploy immersive scenarios that provide community members with opportunities to occupy territories of potential devastation in order to surface and make visible the stories and postures necessary to respond. Cultural, social, economic, and environmental crises are terrains of uncertain governance, and we wish to involve audiences in aesthetically constituting their meaning and to participate in the myth-making necessary to occupy a changed world.

This is a multi-phase undertaking that includes Research & Development (Toronto, April-May 2024), Project Refinement and Presentation (Korpulfsstadir, Iceland, June 2024), presentation at the Carnival of Shipwreck in Fall 2024, and subsequent Global Touring (various locations, post-Fall 2024).

Our lives are soaked with the assumptions of modernity – ideas of progress, disenchantment, and rationalization. We hold to time as a straight line, and innovation is in service to getting to a better future faster. In a world altered ecologically, technologically, and politically, what will be the shape of time? Where will the boundaries between individual and the collective be drawn? What forms might re-enchantment take?

Process

Five artists from Canada and an accompanying documentarian will work dialogically with six artists from Iceland over a one-month period to create and evolve scenarios for public occupation and transformation. We will be introducing the artists in the coming weeks.

The boundary between creator and audience will be elided as works are occupied and altered by community members while creators respond by offering up a range of fragmented and partial glimpses into worlds reconciled to the irreconcilable and somehow finding joy in devastation.

We recoil from the complexities, contradictions, and challenges of ecological crises. Our sense-making tools are inadequate. Shipwreck is an opportunity for creators and communities to step into the overwhelming and begin developing an aesthetic capacity to assemble beauty, harmony, or expression in a changed world.

Prefiguration and Shipwreck: Iceland

Prefiguration is a concept and practice deeply rooted in anarchist thought, often associated with the idea of "building the new society within the shell of the old." It refers to the practice of enacting one's political ideals in the present, rather than waiting for a future revolution or transformative event. This approach influences both the methods and the goals of our work, suggesting that the means should reflect the desired ends.

History and Evolution

Prefiguration emerged from broader anarchist philosophies, which advocate for societies free from hierarchical and authoritarian structures. We believe in creating spaces where individuals and communities govern themselves through cooperative means.

The modern interpretation of prefiguration gained prominence during the 1960s and 1970s with the rise of the New Left, feminist movements, and countercultural groups. These movements emphasized direct action, participatory democracy, and creating alternatives to the existing social order, such as communes, collectives, and cooperative businesses.

Advancements in technology, especially in communication and organization tools, have provided new avenues for prefigurative practices. Digital platforms allow for decentralized and participatory forms of organization and action, enabling movements to spread more rapidly and inclusively.

Prefiguration and UKAI

Art making in North America has deeply internalized the moral assumptions of capitalism. Art must increasingly serve up works that are consumable and/or provide a spectacle that will garner public attention.

Shipwreck: Iceland is prefiguration in action through its approach to artistic creation and community engagement. Prefiguration involves implementing one's political and social values in current practices. We are creating immersive, participatory experiences that reflect a vision of society that values polyphony (multiple viewpoints), transvaluation (repurposing old systems for new uses), and direct engagement with ecological and technological issues. The project doesn’t just present an artistic interpretation of these issues but engages participants in a process that mirrors the collaborative, decentralized, and non-hierarchical ethos of imagining and producing “culture for what’s coming”.

A key element of prefiguration is dissolving traditional power hierarchies and fostering participatory cultures. Shipwreck: Iceland erases the conventional boundaries between the artist and the audience. Community members are not merely passive consumers but active inhabitants of the work who influence the creation process and outcome.

Shipwreck: Iceland also serves as a form of critique and re-imagination of current practices, particularly the assumptions of modernity like linear progress and rationalization. By engaging with concepts like the aesthetics of impossibility and creating scenarios of future ecological and technological realities, the project encourages participants to rethink and reshape their understandings and interactions with the world around them, aligning with UKAI’s goal of challenging and transforming existing societal structures. The integration of local Icelandic artists is central and echoes another prefigurative aspect: acting locally while thinking globally.

Prefiguration is an active design element in everything we do. We will not create a peaceful future through violence. We will not bring about compassion through hatred. Making art is a gift, and one available to any that might want to take it up. We wish to see a future that responds to the real crises we are creating, that is joyful and creative, that supports multiple perspectives in dialogue with each other, and that acknowledges the importance of the ‘local’ in dealing with the often intangible and ‘global’ challenges we face.

We’ll share out the outcomes of this process as the actual and contingent is where the power of the approach best rests.

As a note, our second annual Carnival (of Shipwreck) will run from October 22 to 26, 2024 with international music headliners, installations of our and our community's works, talks, provocations, workshops, and more! Stay tuned for the release of tickets soon and hold the dates. If you came to our last year's Carnival (of Algorithmic Culture) you know what to expect! And if you haven't, make sure to not miss this one!

 

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