Suzanne Treister



Interview with Josie Demuth, La Bouche, Issue 3, September 2009


JD: The Rosalind Brodsky project was quite rightly described in 2002 by Art in America as 'One of the most sustained fantasy trips of contemporary art', to what extent was the 2006 incarnation of the project 'HEXEN 2039' adventure fantasy and to what extent was it based on real facts?

ST: The introduction to 'HEXEN 2039' goes like this: 'HEXEN 2039 reveals links between conspiracy theories, occult groups, Chernobyl, witchcraft, the US film industry, British Intelligence agencies, Soviet brainwashing, behaviour control experiments of the US Army and recent practices of its Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (PSYOP), in light of alarming new research in contemporary neuroscience. HEXEN2039 charts Brodsky's para-scientific research towards the development of new mind control technologies for the British Military. The results of HEXEN 2039 were utilised between 2040 and 2045 in the development of a range of non-lethal weapons for remote alteration of belief patterns in the subject.' The first sentence describes areas into which I carried out extensive research and the findings are based on authorised documented information. Most of the ways I have connected the information are real, some are hypothetical. The last section is of course science fiction, but as in much sci-fi it's not pure invention or fantasy but based on reasonable projection. HEXEN 2039 took into account the cutting edges of scientific development and perceived current directions of UK and US government and the military, as it looked in 2006, the year I worked on the project. My interest in fantasy is about an interest in the edges of the possible, rather than the kind of fantasy associated with ideas of escapism or the paranormal.

JD: Where does your preoccupation with the military/secret services derive from?

ST: Originally my father. He was a member of the French Resistance in WW2 and escaped to the UK towards the end of the war where he worked with the Polish Government in Exile in London. When the war ended he set up a company dealing in military spare parts which he ran until his retirement a couple of years ago at the age of 95. Although I knew it wasnÕt his first choice of career - which had been derailed by the war - I had a lot of problems with that. My father lost his parents in the Holocaust in Poland and of course that had a great effect on me too. When I was seven I set up my own secret agency. I kept notes in a small gold and red plastic file recording suspicious events in our North London neighbourhood. The file had a built in pencil. It was kind of like an early iphone I guess... ok it had fewer powers but at least no one could hack into my messages. Then when I was a teenager I went along with a group of friends to what I'd thought was a club but which turned out to be an extreme right wing militaristic Jewish youth group. I stayed out of some sort of perversity and for two years spent my Sunday evenings learning a lot about how fundamentalists think and feel. The father of one of the boys had been in the Stern Gang. For a long time I've been interested in the cross over area between the military and the everyday, of the civilian, the blurry area between war and peace. That's where the weird stuff happens, where the warrior classes start encroaching on the rest of us; whether it's the CIA testing LSD on civilians or employing the services of occult practitioners or where science is used for military ends or just plain old boring security agencies sweeping up our personal data from emails and sites like Facebook and putting millions of cameras on our streets. Not only is this an area where we can become victims and where we have to become vigilant, but it's also an area we can try and reclaim control of. When I look back, most of my art projects have in one way or another taken place in this zone, in this overlap.

JD: Your work is very unique and you seem to be a pioneer in your field of art but is there anyone who your work has been influenced by?

ST: When I left art school in the early 80s things like narrativity, historical subject matter and sci-fi were taboo in most mainstream contemporary art circles, now all that's commonplace. In terms of influence I was always more affected by literature, political history, sci-fi, scientific theory and ideas of the future, stuff mostly outside of art. That doesn't mean I haven't admired a whole load of artists but I generally haven't wanted to make work like them. When postmodern theory started to influence the art world I was already using appropriated images, not to assert the 'death of the author', but to make up alternative historical narratives with for example material from the Soviet Union, where I'd been in '83, from science fiction and from religious and other imagery from older art. Likewise when I started making art with a computer in 1991, following on from paintings about video games I'd made in the late 80s, people either didn't get the references or warned me that I would be taken over by the machine. And they were right in a way they didn't anticipate because now twenty years later most of these people have been absorbed and are determined by new technologies and still haven't the foggiest it was all created by the military. I now spend more time with an HB pencil, since the computer and the web is no longer a space of resistance or freedom from censorship and surveillance. Not that anyone can totally avoid any of that anymore in any case.

JD: Have you come across any brick walls making political art? Does it make it more difficult to get shows/reviews/funding etc..?

ST: Not that I am aware of. I think the major roadblock is with collectors. My work is seldom an attractive proposition to corporations or people wanting just pretty pictures on their walls. But in any case my work is not only political. It's certainly not didactic or agitprop, however its subject matter does tend to have only a niche appeal although recently that is beginning to change, which may or may not be a good sign.

JD: What's the best thing artistically about having an alter ego?

ST: When I created Rosalind Brodsky in 1995 it really opened things out for me. Instead of making work about something, I was also now part of that something, even though it wasn't actually me but an imaginary version of me. I had a cookery TV show, a band, I got psychoanalysed by Freud, Jung, Klein, Lacan and Kristeva, I travelled through time and space and got to design my own time travel costumes and equipment, to make music videos and meet people from the past, present and future. For the f'irst five years it was a rollercoaster. Then after bringing out the cd rom (No Other Symptoms: Time Travelling with Rosalind Brodsky') I realised I'd finished with the biographical part of the project and needed to move on. Brodsky's employer, until her death in 2058, was a military research institute (IMATI) based in South London and their activites had never been made completely clear. We knew there was a lot of hostility from academia, to the extent that in the cd rom the institute was surrounded by an armed group of university professors, but as to the nature of their research, it was never spelled out. In many ways developing a series of hypothetical military research projects (of which 'HEXEN 2039' is one) has been more rewarding than the first part of the Brodsky project, although increasingly she gets left out of the picture to the extent that I mostly forget she's involved. I guess we have become one person again, it's me doing all the research and it doesn't involve time travelling any more. You could say I've become a sort of cyborg, me and my cyberspace avatar, now happily living as one in South London after years in Australia, New York and Berlin. In most of my more recent projects I've appropriated some of her strategies and not credited her at all.

JD: What's Rosalind's favourite project so far?

ST: I'd have to admit it's HEXEN 2039.

JD: What's next?

ST: Well, the sequel to HEXEN is in development, I can't divulge too much about it right now, but if there are no technical hitches it'll be on at the Science Museum in London in 2011. But right now I'm working on a new project called 'MTB' which stands for Military Training Base. It's going to be an installation at Alma Enterprises in South London. The opening is Friday the 13th of November. All welcome.


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