Suzanne Treister



ATA Quarterly Journal - Summer 2012

The Axis of Hexis: An Interview with Suzanne Treister

"...the 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 several bodies."
(Lars Bang Larsen, introduction, pp 6-7, 'HEXEN 2.0' Black Dog Publishing, 2012)

Welcome 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!

QJ: Greetings Suzanne! Your new tarot deck is wildly different from other tarot decks in content. What inspired you to connect with the tarot this way?

Suzanne 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.

QJ: How 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.

QJ: The 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 besides divination?

ST: Yes, 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.

QJ: In 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?

ST: The 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.

Macy Conferences 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.

Cybernetics 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.

The main 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.

The operation 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 be headed.

At the 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)

QJ: You've 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?

ST: As 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.

QJ: HEXEN 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.

In 1993 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.

QJ: Has the progress of Western socio-political decision-making since the Macy Conferences served to help society while failing the individual?

ST: That's 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.

I just saw a write up about the HEXEN 2.0 deck on 'the tarot room' site 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."

QJ: Do you have any public events, gallery exhibits, or art shows in the near future?

ST: Some 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: nearer the time. In January-February 2013 HEXEN 2.0 will be showing at P.P.O.W gallery in New York.

QJ: Suzanne - it's been a real treat. Thank you very much for giving this interview.

Artist 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.



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