with Rachel Potts for Garageland magazine, 'Future' issue, London,
May 2010 (unabridged
truth is out there
artist Suzanne Treister has worked under the guise of a time-travelling
alter-ego and created research projects into links between warfare
and the occult, blurring lines between fact and fantasy. She talks
to Garageland about her recent foray into the forward march of technology
did your upbringing bear on your interest in science fiction and military
a fan of science fiction in my teens. As a child I was often told
about the Holocaust and my father's wartime experience in the French
Resistance. After the war my father went into the defence spares business.
work imagines a less rational, quite frightening future. Do you think
it's important to inhabit dystopic visions?
fiction is often about imagining the worst, sometimes acting as a
warning, but it simultaneously exists as an instruction sheet for
powers that be. There is a weird ambiguity of intention and effect
when you look at it like that. After my project HEXEN 2039 (2006)
I moved back into making works which sidestepped those potential complicities,
but then in 2009 I began working on 'MTB [MILITARY TRAINING BASE]'.
you describe the MTB exhibition at Alma Enterprises last December?
a 17 foot long drawing describing a hypothetical military training
base of the future. It was partially inspired by Jim Channon's idealistic
theories and proposals for non-lethal warfare, from his 1979 book
'First Earth Battalion', and also drew on the role-playing, simulated,
architectural, landscaped war zones used for military training in
the US now. It featured over 70 sites - reconstructions of Greek archaeological
sites, the Vatican, various amalgamated corporate HQs, an art school
building based on a bunker at Bentwaters Cold War Museum in Suffolk,
a Museum of Sex, some invented organisations and versions of the Israeli
West-Bank Barrier. There were three video training demos 'located'
at Marfa, Texas, at the ruins of the Palace of the Queen of Sheba
in Ethiopia and at the Unabomber's cabin in Montana.
was triggered while I was in San Antonio, Texas in early 2009. There
are a number of military bases in and around the city, some of which
are open to the public, and their presence permeates the place. I
visited Marfa, the small West Texan town where Donald Judd lived and
worked. He installed large works by himself and his peers on land
and in buildings vacated in 1946 by the US Military.
used to be a painter, and have used the internet and video since the
1990s. You now use a lot of drawing. How has your interest in use
of these materials developed?
into computers and new technologies in 1991 while making works about
video games. During the 90s I became involved in the world of net
politics and new media, the euphoric decade of the grassroots internet
and fantasies about a new paradigm. That's now over, power and money
are taking control and the medium, for me, is contaminated. Now when
I talk about technology I tend to prefer to do it with a stick of
graphite that can't be erased by the National Security Agency in the
hand-drawn diagrams have an air of the 'mad scientist' about them,
is this intentional?
yes. It depends which kind of 'mad' you mean. Some of those guys invent
things that improve our lives, but also destroy us. I'm beginning
to see myself as a pacifist version of the Unabomber, the 'mad' anti-technology
do have an issue with the word 'mad' though, when it is used to dismiss
intelligent responses or understandings which just happen to be beyond
the grasp of the average citizen. The expression 'conspiracy theorist'
is used to demonise people who rationally acknowledge that some human
beings sit around in closed rooms discussing and carrying out plans
that they do not tell us about.
there a drive in your work to encourage learning from past mistakes?
honestly think I believe in the human race to that extent, but I sometimes
fantasise that I can wake people up to things. There are forces out
there which make pawns of us all, like the engine of technology and
the drive to total control. Because of all the 20th century science
fiction, this stuff started to feel like a tired cliché and
we fell right in, assuming it was all exaggerated fantasy. If you're
reading this and you have any free time today I'd suggest you look
up what you might consider to be a conspiracy theory on the internet
- not the crackpot racist, or the 'we never landed on the moon' type
- and, see where that takes you.
more fantastical elements in your work seem to move it away from straight
and didactic political commentary.
not a didactic person, but the fact that the audience may not be familiar
with the material in my work doesn't mean it's all fictional. The
'fantasy' is often in the mind of the viewer.