Journal - Summer 2012
Axis of Hexis: An Interview with Suzanne Treister
Greek word hexis means coherence or cohesion, not just understood as
a structural unity, but the source of all qualities in a body. Thus
hexis is defined by producing tensional mo-tion in a body or across
(Lars Bang Larsen, introduction, pp 6-7, 'HEXEN 2.0' Black Dog Publishing,
to the fascinating world of Suzanne Treister, the creator of HEXEN 2.0.
This deck is different than anything you've seen before. Make yourself
comfortable and let your mind roam into the clouds of possibility as
you read this interview!
Suzanne! Your new tarot deck is wildly different from other tarot decks
in content. What inspired you to connect with the tarot this way?
Treister: Well I'm interested in ways that things connect. A previous
project, HEXEN 2039, investigated links between the military and the
occult. For a while I've been curious about the tarot but until recently
I hadn't investigated its history or how it operated. For several years
though I had been working with the idea of alchemical drawings. I made
a series of works which transcribed front pages of international daily
newspapers into alchemical drawings, as a way of reframing the world
as if animated by strange forces, powers and belief systems, redeploying
the languages and intentions of alchemy: the transmutation of materials
and essences and the revealed understanding of the world as a text,
as a realm of powers and correspondences which, if properly understood,
will allow man to take on transformative power. So in that sense making
work with and about the tarot was a natural next step.
do you envision people working with or studying this deck?
ST: I familiarised
myself with interpretations for each of the cards in order to decide
which historical figure, event or organisation etc. to use for each,
because my intention is for the cards to be used to look at interpretations
of history and for the imagining of possible futures, rather than for
individual personal readings. I think this is feasible if the reader
or a group of readers working together are prepared, if necessary, to
carry out a little research into some of the subject areas they may
not already be overly familiar with. The HEXEN 2.0 book is useful in
this sense in that it maps out broad histories connecting together all
the material featured in the cards as well as additional information
on Macy Conferences attendees as well as some background reading material
in the form of reverse drawn book covers, more of which are online on
my website. I have tried to put as much relevant information into each
card as possible and I guess I have a crazy hope that the sorts of ideas
that might come through a traditional interpretation using a more traditional
tarot in a personal reading might also apply on a more general level
with the HEXEN 2.0 tarot. At the very least I hope the cards may have
an educational function. Having said that I sat around last night with
a couple of London art world luminaries and at the end of the evening
we got out the cards and did personal readings which, due to the nature
of the cards, ended up being more about where these people were in terms
of possible conflicts with their personal/political values, than issues
in their personal/private lives.
Tarot is an approximately 500 year old card game that later became used
for divination. HEXEN 2.0 takes the Tarot in a new direction. Do you
see the possibility of the tarot being used for new and innovative applications
I can see its potential to be used, as I have mentioned above, as a
means towards a discourse on the past, present and future of the world.
Obviously I haven't been able to include the entire universe or all
of human knowledge in the HEXEN 2.0 deck (I look forward to seeing someone
have another go at that), and I have chosen to focus on selected trajectories
of history, but given the nature of the tarot one could say that a universalism
is already inherently implied in the gaps between information provided,
the names of the cards, and their traditional interpretive texts. I'm
hoping that the cards can provoke unlikely starting points and ways
of short circuiting preconceptions and ingrained paths of discussion.
The HEXEN 2.0 cards are meant to be used as a tool, allowing thought
to take unexpected turns and directions and perhaps result in ideas
for 'positive' action in the world. I know to many people I will sound
like a crazed idealist here.
one of the introductory essays in the book, Lars Bang Larsen describes
your placement of "unwritten genealogies" in an "epistemologically
virgin format." The theme of HEXEN 2.0 revolves around the results
of the Macy Conferences held in New York City from 1946-1953. Please
explain to readers why this event is the anchor of HEXEN 2.0, and what
kind of enlightenment can the individual seek when examining the deck?
Macy Conferences, which were sponsored by the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation
in New York, evolved in the aftermath of WWII. They aimed to generate
new connections between engineering, computing, biology, mathematics,
psychology, psychiatry, and all the social sciences. The Macy Conferences
attendees consisted of leading figures of post-war science and social
science, some of whom had contributed to the construction and use of
nuclear weapons, some of whom went on to carry out CIA funded military
research into the psychological effects of LSD and its potential as
a tool for interrogation and psychological manipulation in such projects
as the CIA's MKULTRA program, and others who later rejected military
funding of their work.
attendees were responsible for the development and dissemination of
the idea of cybernetics, "the science of control and communication
in the animal and the machine, in society and in individual human beings"
(Norbert Wiener), as a model of understanding and controlling the world.
The idea was to avert another world war, and another programme of mass
human extermination. But as with any new scientific theory or invention
the uses of cybernetic ideas have been both positive and negative and
the outcomes are with us now and ongoing. This in particular is one
of the things I had been thinking about and that I wanted to raise in
HEXEN 2.0 for a broad audience, not only an art world audience.
is a really hard concept to explain in a short space because it applies
in so many different ways across numerous disciplines and there is no
single agreed definition, but the American Society for Cybernetics has
a great webpage with diverse interpretations from a range of scientists.
thing to grasp is the idea of a feedback loop, like that of a thermostat.
Information (e.g. the external temperature) is measured and fed back,
and this feedback affects the running of the machine (or the person)
so that a situation of control or stabilisation can be achieved. It
also applies to the workings of guided missiles. And then there is second
order cybernetics, where the observer is included in the loop.
of certain phenomena in our present culture, for example the internet,
can be seen in terms of cybernetic feedback loops and I am interested
how these feedback loops enable a certain type of corporate and government
control of society. I am especially interested in how this is going
to pan out in the future. The future doesn't just happen; obviously
to a certain extent we engineer it according to our actions. Even as
non-politicians we're not completely powerless. That's why I like to
keep a look out, I don't want to live in a control society, I don't
want a corporation or a government to know where we all are and who
our friends are at any given point, or to be able to lock us out of
our data if/when the only storage available is on the Cloud or Intercloud.
I'd like to work out how to avoid that happening. We also need to work
out how to carry out collective action without corporate tools like
Facebook. I think we should all take time to try and see where we might
same time cybernetics and ideas of feedback loops may hold the key to
working out alternative ways forward, possible ways out of impending
global crises perhaps? Some scientists started on this a while back,
for example Stafford Beer, with his ideas for a factory controlled by
the computational power of the Irish Sea, or for the enrolling of naturally
occurring adaptive systems, such as ponds, into human projects. In 1948
the ecologist Evelyn Hutchinson talked about circular causal systems
in ecology. (1)
used a notably occult device to explore modern strands of human organization.
This leads me to wonder if you feel that the overarching philosophies
of Rationalism and Scientism (drivers of exploration, science and the
economy since the late 1700s) are eroding, or failing as a philosophical
foundation for post-industrial development?
a philosophical foundation for post-industrial development they are
still performing pretty well for a lot of people, whilst simultaneously
leading all of us into a potentially disastrous situation in terms of
life on and of the planet, while ironically in terms of the planet,
it's the scientists who, realistically, if they can figure it out in
time, might be the only ones capable of finding the solution to it all.
In terms of the erosion of belief in those structures, I don't see this
as a particularly recent phenomenon. Many writers, thinkers and communities
have long advocated a differently balanced approach to life, but for
people in control, people at the top, it is an understatement to say
that this is usually unworkable, unprofitable and undesirable. On the
other hand, the US military have flirted with ideas of the occult for
some time but I think they may have given up on it.
2.0 presents a range of obscured facts, organizations and individuals
that may lead to the awareness of new truths. Do you perceive new cultural
and philosophical paradigms emerging from the strife and convulsions
of the past few decades?
ST: I get
concerned that many people are retreating into a kind of retro fetishism;
often tokenistic re-enactments of aspects of the 1960s and 70s which
may make them feel better but aren't necessarily helping out on a larger
scale. It's easy enough to grow your own vegetables, for example, if
you can afford a place with a garden or a plot of land. Industrialisation
may have caused a lot of problems but technology isn't going to go backwards
unless there is a global apocalypse and all the data warehouses are
switched off and all the military research institutes are shut down.
That would be one solution though, which is explored by members of various
movements such as the Anarcho-Primitivists.
the psychologist James Hillman wrote a book called, 'We've Had a Hundred
Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse'. It would be sad
to think that in 100 years time the same could be said of the way people
collect endless reusable cloth carrier bags. Clearly that is not going
to solve any of the global financial, ecological or social messes we
are in. There are new cultural and philosophical paradigms being thought
up out there, I'm just not sure they're workable, but here and there
people are trying to do stuff. Clearly we don't want a new totalitarian
system, so things have to happen on other levels. I know some people
who have been working on a few ideas for a while and I've invited three
of them over to London this summer to talk at a series of public events.
the progress of Western socio-political decision-making since the Macy
Conferences served to help society while failing the individual?
a huge question. There are many different types of individual at various
levels of empowerment and it's not possible for me to generalise. So
many things have changed since then on many levels. You can start by
asking who are the kinds of people that want to help society and who
are the kinds of people that want to help individuals, and what might
their agendas be. Then you can analyse all of the political systems
and government directives and social welfare, cultural, military, agricultural
and educational agendas and methodologies that have arisen all over
the Western world since WW2 and see where you get to. HEXEN 2.0 might
provide a possible starting point for that kind of investigation.
saw a write up about the HEXEN 2.0 deck on 'the tarot room' site http://thetarotroom.com/page/2/
where the writer says, "I've been using it to ask questions about
the political, social, and economic situations weĠre facing today and
have come up with some truly remarkable readings."
you have any public events, gallery exhibits, or art shows in the near
of the works from HEXEN 2.0 will be in a show called 'Mutatis Mutandis',
curated by Catherine David at the Secession in Vienna from 29th June
29 until 2nd September 2012, and from July 28th I have organised a series
of events and exhibits over four consecutive weekends at Raven Row,
an art space in London. The title of the project is 'THE REAL TRUTH
A WORLD'S FAIR' and more info can be found at: www.ravenrow.org nearer
the time. In January-February 2013 HEXEN 2.0 will be showing at P.P.O.W
gallery in New York.
- it's been a real treat. Thank you very much for giving this interview.
Bio-Suzanne Treister was
born in 1958 in London. Initially recognized in the 1980s as a painter,
she became a pioneer in the digital/new media/web based field from the
beginning of the 1990s. Treister has since evolved a large body of work
that encompasses drawing, video, installation and photography. Her practice
engages with eccentric narratives and unconventional bodies of research
to reveal the structures that bind power, identity and knowledge. Often
spanning several years, her projects comprise fantastic reinterpretations
of given taxonomies that suggest the existence of surreptitious, unseen
forces at work in the world, whether corporate, military or paranormal.