Interview with Beatriz García, Láudano Magazine, Spain. August 2017
BG: HEXEN 2.0 does not predict the future; from my understanding, it's a tool that speculates possible and external futures. How did you come up with the idea?
ST: You are right, HEXEN 2.0 is not about predicting the future, it is a tool to hypothesize alternative futures through gaining a deeper understanding of the past, present and possible futures.
I first came up with the idea while I was reading about the histories of cybernetics and the Macy Conferences in the aftermath of the Second World War and wanted to make a project that showed how these ideas were at the root of many current systems, in particular the controlling feedback loops of Web 2.0. This was the central thread that got me started.
In order to present a big picture background history I started with 5 interconnected diagrams: From ARPANET to DARWARS via the Internet; The Computer - From the Antikythera Mechanism to Quantum Telepathology; From MKULTRA via the Counterculture to Technogaianism; From Diogenes of Sinope to Anarcho-Primitivism and the Unabomber via Science-Fiction; From National Socialism via Cybernetics and the Macy Conferences to Neo-Totalitarianism.
Alongside the diagrams I made 30 photo text works about each member of the core group of the Macy Conferences in order to more fully show each person's different trajectory of research and how it led to their involvement in the conferences. After that I had the idea to take the components of the diagrams and turn them into tarot cards so they would become interactive.
BG: In ‘The Castle of crossed destinies’ by Italo Calvino, the writer used tarot for developing different stories in the book. Do you see HEXEN 2.0 as a tool to engage creativity and inspire artists or rather, as an artistic device for generating debate? How should people use it?
ST: HEXEN 2.0 is an art work and a tool for generating debate. Several universities around the world are now using it as a teaching tool.
BG: In your cards you use historical figures, most of them from the post-war period, for tarot arcana: Death is John von Neumann from the Manhattan Project, The Magician is Timothy Leary and the Hermit (to my surprise) is the neo-luddite Unabomber, who was famous for sending bomb cards to universities and flight companies from the 70s to the 90s. Do you think that institutions such as CIA or NATO and people like Thoreau or Unabomber can be considered archetypes? Could you tell us about the creative process beyond HEXEN 2.0?
ST: I fitted these people, institutions and ideas into boxes as best I could in order for the tarot system of interpretation to be applied to their analysis and cross referencing with each other. I am not specifically into the idea of archetypes and would not see fitting them into archetypical boxes as useful in itself. I guess I used a reductive categorisation process in order to trigger an analytical process, to be able to expand outwards again to other, perhaps new, ideas.
BG: If you created HEXEN 3.0 now, would there be new situations and known figures? Which arcana would Brexit be? And Trump? And Snowden? Would Higgs boson be the World?
ST: Brexit and Trump, no, these types of things were not depicted in HEXEN 2.0. it was a very particular set of histories, except for, ironically, when it comes to Snowden, because I finished HEXEN 2.0 in 2011 and then shortly afterwards along came Snowden with his revelations, which were one of the key things the project had been trying to alert people to the realities of. The major changes that would be relevant to a HEXEN 3.0 project lie more in the developing areas of quantum computing, artificial intelligence and superintelligences, and how and by whom these may be applied and determine our futures.
BG: There is a word that comes to my mind when I think about your work, especially HEXEN 2.0 and your previous project HEXEN 2039. The word is ‘connection’: a net of interconnected ideas, thoughts, past-present-future, the old and new technologies, the occult and the earth-matters. Do you agree? Could you tell us about the relationship between both projects?
ST: An ongoing focus of my work is the relationship between new technologies, society, alternative belief systems and the potential futures of humanity. HEXEN 2039 was trying to imagine and anticipate possible new technologies for psychological warfare whilst HEXEN 2.0 illuminated histories and possible futures of mass control. Both collated and re-presented a mass of historical material in order for people to be able to more clearly see larger histories which are often difficult to get a handle on, to enable civilian audiences to become more informed and empowered. 'Forewarned is forearmed', as they say.
BG: The Occult is very present in your work, not only in HEXEN but also in other projects on alchemy, Kabbalah and diagrammatic drawings. When did you start being interested in The Occult? Is the Paranormal and the mystic stuff an artistic tool for you or you are a believer as well?
ST: The so called occult entered both HEXEN projects in different ways and for different reasons. HEXEN 2039 included a lot of occult research carried out by the US and Soviet militaries as part of their respective and competing Cold War mind control programs, whilst HEXEN 2.0 used the system of the Tarot as an analytical tool. Stylistically many of my drawings look alchemical and this is of course intentional and necessary.
It is a mistake to see the occult and non-occult in binary opposition. Belief has nothing to do with it. Science is continually moving into areas previously ascribed to the so called occult. To ignore the one in favour of the other is reductivist.
BG: Talking about The Occult, the mind and the machine: some theorists refer to the internet as a kind of collective unconsciousness, do you agree? Do you think that unconsciousness is out of our control and, consequently, the internet as well?
ST: Not really, but it's because governments saw the early internet as an arena out of its control and which could go out of control that it sought to impose controlling mechanisms. I would dispute the unconsciousness of it, if one had to make an analogy I would say the internet has become a kind of parallel universe.
BG: You have said in many interviews that even though your work is political you are not an artist-activist. Why? Can the Future be changed by the way we discuss and investigate its connections to the past and present?
ST: It's just language isn't it. If you want to call me an activist that's ok. As I see it I make art that hopes to improve the world, I don't take direct action on governments or corporations and that is not all my work is about. But I hope that through my work I can help people envision and make a better future in various ways, even if only in their heads.
BG: Most of your work is focused on criticising social control and the surveillance mechanisms. Do you think that Big Brother is watching us and its law is a Google algorithm? Are social networks like Facebook weapons of the Power?
ST: Most of my work is not focused on criticizing social control and surveillance mechanisms, it's mainly HEXEN 2.0 (2009-11) and to some extent Post-Surveillance Art (2014) that do this (see: http://www.suzannetreister.net/ for all works).
As I said earlier, an ongoing focus of my work is the relationship between new technologies, society, alternative belief systems and the potential futures of humanity. I have always been the kind of person who likes to sit on the front seat of the top deck of the bus to see where we are going.
Algorithms are computer code, used for millions of different ends. They are the invisible cybernetic underlying reality of our daily lives, with varying functions and effects, some good, some bad, some indifferent, just like any other scientific development. What was revealed to me by the Snowden revelations and the continued success of facebook and other social media was that many people seem to actually want to be watched. They probably want to be controlled too and they seem to love the NSA.
Google will be interesting to watch when the singularity approaches, because they might get there first. After that it's anybody's guess.
BG: In HEXEN 2.0, movements and celebrities from anarcho-primitivism, luddites and technophobia are represented as well. Would you say that the only way to escape from an apocalyptic future is becoming the Hermit arcana, leave the internet and social networks and come back to life, how it was before the world wide web? Do we need to return to old technologies in order to think about the new ones?
ST: It was important to present the historical and current arguments of anti-technology and anti-civilisation thinkers in HEXEN 2.0, but despite what might work best for human survival in the long term, I don't think the people taking us forwards are planning to go backwards unless the apocalypse or some techno disaster happens first. But that could be as simple as China totally refusing to sell rare earth metals to the rest of the world before they can catch up with their own local mining.
BG: Some dystopic literature and art has been visionary. Could artists be a sort of mediums, oracles or shamans?
ST: I hope so.
BG: 'Neuromancer' by William Gibson was a big influence on your work in the 90s. Which other book or writer inspires your present projects?
ST: It was reading 'Neuromancer' in 1991 that provided the final trigger to get out of my chair and buy my first computer to make art on. Since then I wouldn't say any writers have had quite the same effect.
BG: Some people consider you a conspiracy theorist because of the topics you work on: MKUltra Project, drug experiments and paranormal, Nazi stuff... How do you feel about this?
ST: Irritated and disappointed. These people are simply showing themselves to be the kind of people who would be the worst kind of uninformed crazy conspiracy theorists themselves if they had the imagination. They are people who barricade themselves inside spaces of their own small knowledge of the world and presume that anything they don't already know about is either not worth knowing about or doesn't really exist. I am sorry, but they are the people on the middle of the bus, not cool enough to sit at the back or curious enough to sit at the front. The disappointment is because these are the people I would love to reach.
BG: In the 90s you created Rosalind Brodsky, your alter ego, in order to investigate and work on the memory of your family and the horror of the Holocaust. Could you please tell us about this Project on ancestors and time travel? In the end, Tarot is another way of travelling not to the past, but to different future timelines, isn’t it?
ST: Yes I suppose you could say the tarot is a form of time travel.
Time Travelling with Rosalind Brodsky, which began in1995 and continued until 2006, was a multimedia project which included a group of time travel costumes, devices, videos, a diary, posters, psychoanalytic case histories, watercolours, cookery tv shows, a band with 8 music tracks, a website and an interactive cd rom. The cd rom was followed by a series of research projects, of which HEXEN 2039 (2006) was the final one.
Here is Brodsky's biography, written at the beginning:
Rosalind Brodsky suffers from delusions, particularly in relation to fantasies of time travel. Born in 1970, Brodsky is an artist/film-maker living and working in London. She has a part time job in the New Technologies and Multimedia department of a London art school. In her more delusional moments Brodsky believes herself to be working in the 21st century as a researcher at the Institute of Militronics and Advanced Time Interventionality.
The Institute, IMATI, is working with virtual technologies which render the users' bodies invisible in their own time and space. The main function of IMATI is to develop virtual simulations of key moments in history. Researchers at the Institute then carry out simulated interventions/experiments within these virtual times/worlds.
The results of these ‘interactions’ are made available to the government, various market research companies and selected universities. Within academia there is heated controversy as to the relevance of this form of ‘anthropological’ research. During her time at the Institute it was uncertain as to whether Brodsky had discovered the secret of authentic time travel. If indeed she had, these secrets were not made available to other researchers at the Institute.
In 2058 Rosalind Brodsky died, leaving her costumes, her time travelling diary, her home in Bavaria and much of her research material and other paraphernalia to the Institute. The Institute, in gratitude to the wealth of Brodsky’s contribution to time travel research, organised the memorial tour you are about to embark upon today. As a result, careful study of the diary has revealed that Brodsky’s delusions were unleashed precisely on June 30th 1995, whilst on a summer holiday in Paris, during a preliminary session with the psychoanalyst, Julia Kristeva.
Rosalind Brodsky comes from a mixed background, part Anglo-Christian, part Eastern European Jewish. Brodsky fetishizes history. She becomes a necrophiliac invader of the spaces containing the deaths of her ancestors, through the privileged violence of technology. Brodsky has previously been quoted as saying,
"Sometimes I look for my ancestors in VR.
Brodsky has also travelled in time to undergo analysis with Freud, Jung, Klein, Kristeva and Lacan, paid for with the profits from sales of her feature vibrators, album sales of her band, 'Rosalind Brodsky and the Satellites of Lvov' and her TV show, 'Rosalind Brodsky's Time Travelling Cookery Show'. She has also made research trips to various film and TV sets of the 20th Century.