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Talking Self-Aware Art And Realistic Apocalypses With Jesse Darling

The artist's recent exhibition, "Not Long Now," resembles a resource-starved disaster scenario.

Installation view of ‘Not Long Now’ at Limazulu, London.

A cursory glance at Jesse Darling’s expansive body of work reveals extensive cross-media, cross-platform bursts of objects, images, video, performance, writing, rants, raves, posts, poetry, and a handful of selfies semi-collected for public viewing on her personal blog archive bravenewwhatever.tumblr.com.

For her latest exhibition, Not Long Now at Limazulu, a live/work project space in London, Jesse continues to explore structures and their context through a series of sculptural works. Resembling a jury-rigged hospital interior in the midst of a resource-starved disaster scenario, Not Long Now resembles less the futuristic collapse fantasy and tech fetishism of recent Hollywood fare like ElysiumOblivionAfter Earth et al., and more so an abstracted analog of the ‘current situation.' 

If Darling’s work seems disparate or, at times, half-complete, it is entirely intentional, or, in the least, it is self-aware of and embraces it’s own ‘in progress’ status. It is often the nature of younger artists engaged in similar dialogues as Jesse to favor output and ubiquity over singular objects or monumental statements. Quite the opposite of a dilettante however, Darling relentlessly explores the nature of living in a time of over-acceleration and financial and societal instability by embracing these traumas and externalizing them wherever, whenever and however she can.

Hyper-awareness is a foundational element to Darling’s body of work. The examination of context bleeds through in some form in each post, every video and across most social media networks. With this in mind, approaching Darling’s work is less about the appreciation of a singular image, object or text (though the latter being some of my favorite hybrid observational/academic essays exploring the ramifications of networked culture post-social media on gender, the military industrial complex and global spectacle and the commodification cycle of the avant-garde), and more so about getting caught up in the constantly updating feed, accepting the acceleration and hashing it out over why you’re here, what you’re bringing to the table, and what your specific table is actually made of.

The Creators Project talked with Darling about her recent work, and revelled in the piles along with her.

Detail of work from ‘Not Long Now’

The Creators Project: Your work is wholly aware and at times entirely concerned with the minutiae of the structures and systems that formulate it into being. From your own body to the materials of construction, your medium can be seen as the physical and sociological architecture of these structures and your method the pulling apart and examining of its components.

In the past, you have compared ideological and digital network structures to physical architectures (as seen in "Arcades, Mall Rats and Tumblr Thugs"). With this in mind, can you speak about some of the materials you used and the construction process in making the works in your latest show Not Long Now at Limazulu? How do the specific materials relate outside of themselves, with one another, and with you?

Jesse Darling: I guess I feel like the materials and objects in my installations are inextricable from the context surrounding them. During the install, I stayed at Limazulu (which is a communal living project as well as a gallery space) for a kind of unofficial residency, and this was very much part of it somehow.

There were some concrete resources available through this community which I couldn't have done without (tool loan, skill-share, second opinions), but mostly I was thinking a lot about the mesh or network or connective tissue of community, analogized in the sculptures by the connective electrical wiring. All the sculptures were connected together and kept alive, or alight, by this connection; plugged into a single source, united by the grid.

For me there's also a poetic sense to the materials; using steel tube and aluminum cable and bungee cords to support inflatable packing sachets, sheet plastic and insulation materials (all things that are supposed to keep other things whole or clean or safe or warm) feels truthful and good and sad and complicated, like hold tight my darlings, you know?

Limazulu is in the warehouse district of Tottenham (one of the poorer London boroughs), part of which is still used for light industry and manufacturing. I found a lot of the materials around there—for example, I found the sash windows out the back of the unit, where a restorer had put them out in some kind of glass graveyard for the waste disposal. The whitewash is something you see on windows all over London where shops have gone out of business, but the paint I'm using is the paint that gets used for galleries and art fairs.

It's important to me that I'm using materials that are more or less common and that some of the stuff is found or repurposed; franchise capitalism and urban waste are kind of parallel local ecologies and I want to acknowledge my circumstances and my surroundings, that I am a product of the nurtured nature that is life today. It's a way to acknowledge that there's a world outside the white box, and to allow this world to seep in.

The title of this show, Not Long Now, along with this idea of an interconnected support network that may be on its last legs (the IV drip-like structures, the reliance of the work on a single power source, the white-washed windows) implies instability with the threat of an impending collapse, exemplified in the ad-hoc, unrefined construction of the work. In this regard, Not Long Now feels like a work of speculative or capitalist realism. Can you shed some light on how you feel this near-future narrative may actually end up playing out in the real world?

Yeah, like a lot of others, I feel like I'm figuring out a way to deal, philosophically and emotionally, with the fact that our habitus as a species is on the verge of collapse. But the collapse is relative, you know? We've had a good innings with capitalism and growth ideologies and now we've depleted the ecosystem and community ties that might have allowed us to pull through.

The scientist James Lovelock reckons we've got about 20 years left before the whole thing comes crashing down, you know—that's the timescale. I don't believe in any kind of utopic or dystopic futurity, really; like the apocalypse is very real, and happening right now, and we created it and can even predict how it will go. In this sense, speculative realism feels like this utterly decadent form of philosophy, like real fall-of-Rome stuff: I'd rather be transparent about the fact that I'm praying. By praying, I mean making work, you know?

All of us working right now in the collapse of everything (art market, urban infrastructures, global ecosystems), I guess we do it because we can't escape our fervor—we're a faithful species—and maybe because we believe it will protect us, very much like performing votive rituals or whatever. It doesn't make any sense beyond that. I don't make monolithic objects because they won't necessarily outlast me; my works are gonna collapse at some point like everything else, or they'll die when I do, and that's ok with me. Nodads lifestyle.

Installation view of 'Not Long Now’ at Limazulu, London

You tend to value transparency in your work; using your own body as the subject/object or embracing an undeniably hand-made/de-skilled aesthetic in your physical works. You seem to use these methods, in a way, to embody and subsequently externalize the ramifications of various structural/societal/financial pressures. These are often shown as being traumatic in one light, but transformative in another, showing that the individual comes out of these scenarios changed, but ultimately still with agency. You become an avatar for this change, in part by embracing gender fluidity, amongst other elements, in your personae and performances. Do you have any thoughts on how the perception of self has changed in light of these recent and forthcoming global traumas, both personally and at large?

Whenever any artist talks about cultural trauma, what they're really talking about—or at least, what they're also talking about—is their own trauma, which is totally inseparable of course, and why shouldn't it be? I mean it's useful to think about trauma, rupture, loss, damage—but those words suggest that an ideal trajectory exists in which things could have or should have gone otherwise, which I don't really believe in.

I feel like human beings are basically adaptable and resilient, and I think we survive by doing this whole thing of shrugging off the rupture and embracing the damage as a necessary part of some longitudinal process in which there are no rights and wrongs as seen from space or whatever. That's my strategy, anyway. Of course my survival strategy is inseparable from my philosophy of a lifeworld, so in that sense I'm an avatar for my own politics as far as it's possible to be.

I take that pretty seriously somehow: to live your truth in the world and be the change you want to etc etc neoliberal-greeting-card-Facebook-banner-corporate-NGO-coffee-mug—you know the score. I'm into prototypes, though. Like before the truth became the cliché, somebody somewhere was out there shouting about that shit in the void.

‘Not Long Now’ has closed at Limazulu, but keep an eye out for an upcoming essay in the much anticipated You Are Here: Art After the Internet publication, a Drake karaoke cover video premiering on Dis, an ebook with the continually growing Klaus Von Nichtssagend gallery through their Klaus_eBooks project, as well as being included in the ‘Surplus Living’ group exhibition at KM Temporaer opening March 13th in Berlin.