New Absurdism w/ Charlotte Kent

A conversation about the absurd and virtual art

Published August 4, 2023
USURPATOR is joined in conversation with Charlotte Kent—arts writer, professor, Editor-at-Large at the Brooklyn Rail, and visiting expert on the absurd. She joins us to discuss the absurd, Surrealism, Dada,  its connection (or lack thereof) to internet art, and our routinized cognitive habits that shape our experience of virtual environments. 

Read Charlotte’s column on the Brooklyn Rail here, or visit her website.

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USURPATOR: So excited to have you! Just to give a quick intro—you are a professor of visual culture, Editor-at-Large at the Brooklyn Rail, arts writer, and a visiting expert on the absurd. I guess I’ll start off with the absurd. I know that this is a large part of your focus, but I was wondering how long you've been diving into this topic, and how it feeds into the other parts of your work?

CHARLOTTE KENT: I started seriously thinking about the absurd about four years ago. It came out of some other research that I had been doing. I've been working on it in the background of things that most people know me to be writing about. Most people know me as someone who writes about art and technology, especially in the context of emergent technologies like blockchain and so forth. But in the background has been this ongoing project on the absurd. Part one is coming out in winter of 2024, I've been working on this edited collection with a colleague Katherine Guinness. That's really a series of texts written by artists and scholars in a variety of different forms, genres, and formats on their approach to the absurd. It kind of  decentralizes the absurd as opposed to just being how I think of the absurd though, I do have an essay in there and I co-wrote the introduction with Katherine. But, in the meantime, it's been an ongoing thread in my scholarship.


The absurd is a politic for me. So, it's a part of aesthetics as politics that I'm interested in. I'm certainly not alone in this, there are other people who've been thinking about the absurd, e-flux did a whole thing on it in 2019. It's this recurring but sort of subtle aesthetic that emerges, I think part of it is because it's a way of dealing with radical change. Typically, in my experience, artists are not committed to the absurd—it's not as if everything they do is the absurd—which is one of the reasons why I think it's a lesser recognized practice. It's often one thing or part of what they do. Also, they're not a group of artists; it's not like there's this movement of the absurd. Even though we think of the absurdist playwrights post-World War II as being a group, they were not connected to each other; they didn't live in the same place, they often didn't know about each other. It was the work of this scholar Martin Esslin who put them together and called it the “theater of the absurd.” So, I'm cautious about suggesting that it's in any way a movement, or in any way this major statement. But, I just think it's an interesting way of thinking through some of the real issues with hegemonic structures that are pervasive in contemporary culture that seem so big and impossible to think outside of. The absurd provides us a way of breaking that up a little bit.

U: I was wondering if this feeds into other focuses of yours, like media studies and virtual art, or if the absurd infiltrates into virtual spaces, or if it’s even maximized through the virtual.

CK: Yeah, certainly the projects that I'm looking at are often dealing with technology in some way. That's difficult because, of course, I take technology in a broad sense, right? I don't think of technology as just being computers, but I'm not going so far in this project as to say that language is a technology, although that is true and has already been written about. But I do think of how the artist Mary Mattingly has written about gaffers tape, like 3M tape. We use it to wrap packages, that's really common. That's a technology, it's a really complicated product. It uses all kinds of unexpected earth minerals for its production, it has plastic in it. That's a technology, but it's not an obvious one, it’s not an example that might come at the forefront, but it's a way of pulling out a thread. But more to the point of your question, of course they overlap.

To take an older project, for example, Keith and Mindy Obadike’s “Blackness For Sale” from 2001 is a project that was posted on eBay. The object for sale was Keith Obadike's blackness, and they presented the benefits and the warnings of what it is to purchase this blackness. After four days, eBay forcefully took it down. It is an absurd project, and part of its absurdity speaks to the issues of online commerce. But beyond that, Keith Obadike has spoken particularly of the weird language around the internet during that time, he was noticing a lot of colonial language. The project is also obviously speaking to this issue of systemic racism and the issues of this notion of blackness. Those two things are going together. In an interesting way, I feel like Dread Scott really picked up on that in Fall 2021 when he did an NFT called “White Male For Sale” which he did, and he specifically talked about it as being an absurd project. He noticed this word “fungible” that has reappeared in common discourse, and the last time that word had been regularly used was in the context of the market for enslaved people. All of a sudden, in the context of this liberating technology, we get this word that has a straight line back to this complicated, racist history and is now being presented in this highly utopian way, especially at that time in the context of NFTs and blockchain. He puts that into question in a very interesting way, the piece is a video of this super norm-core white guy—khakis, blue button up shirt—on this box on a street corner in Brooklyn. But the work then got auctioned at Christie's. Part of the whole project are these photos that get disseminated of the auctioneer at Christie's auctioning off “White Male For Sale”.

So, does the absurd directly speak to technology? No, because in some ways, the absurd never directly speaks to anything. What it winds up doing is presenting the world essentially as it is, but taking it on its own terms to an extreme that allows us to see the problems with what is. I find that a really interesting thing, in the context that I and many others are concerned about the way things are. But in that same way, you do not get granted emancipation as it were, it is not within the structure of things to give you that which is not within the structure. You are supposed to play a particular part, you have to fit within these particular roles. You need to consume in the manner that is this 24/7 clock, on and so forth. To exercise yourself out of that is a total rupture. It becomes unthinkable.

I think what the absurd does is it takes us to the edge; where you start to see the breakdown of the system itself as already not being a functioning system. It's not that it provides comfort in the fact that you're breaking something, rather, it allows you to see that the thing is already broken. And now, without providing an answer, it asks you to think up “What next?”

U: When you talk about the thing that's broken, or the thing that you're being brought to the edge of, is that social structure?

CK: Yeah, let's call them social structures, but social is something very distinct and it's this place that is not politics, and it isn't aesthetics. It's the space of the labor, it's the managing of life's necessities. So yes, it presents social issues, but those social ones are often economic, political philosophies. The philosophy gets tweaked in order to be realized within the social. Ecological issues are part of social issues because of the fact that…

U: We exist socially, in an ecological environment?

CK: Yeah, I typically say that the absurd confronts hegemonic structures to crack them and show you where the cracks are that might potentially allow for new thoughts.

U: Yeah, I guess I have this idea that I was unaware of up until now—I know that existentialist philosophers talk about the absurd a lot, like Camus, and I don't know if Sartre ever did, but it seems relevant to his work.

CK: Sartre totally did, and it was over Camus’ positioning of the absurd that their friendship completely dissolved. Existentialism itself, people like to bring it back to ancient times through a connection to skepticism, but the way we typically mean it is a 19th century philosophy. So the absurd has its relationship to that, its “big moment” is existential despair post-World War II. I tend to think of things in the long term, so I don't think that 80 years was really that long ago. I can imagine if we still happen to be living on this planet and haven’t destroyed everything in 500 years, this will all be an absurd moment. There isn't a distinction between the Dada of 100 years ago and now, it's just this absurd moment that’s happened in a big way across this period of time, but I don't think it has to be framed purely within existential anxiety. In part, I guess I'm cautious of that. And again, I'm still thinking through some of this stuff. Am I ever that far away from existentialism? No. I think one of the things about framing it through the existential is that it can become super navel-gazing. But, one thing that I appreciate at least about the contemporary absurd, is the way in which it's actually not. It's this weirdly generous act that is not about the identity of the artist and their way in which existentialism can be associated with despair.

U: Because, when I think of existentialism, I think about the self. It's usually navel-gazing or inward-looking. It's based in this existential anxiety or angst that we have within the self, which is then, in turn, directing itself outwards. But in the way that you were describing existentialism as it directly relates to the absurd, it seems more outwardly directed from the get-go. Instead of dealing with ourselves so far as we are being-in-the-world, and in our subjectivity and intersubjectivity insofar as it is engaging in its environment, it's more just dealing with how we are existing in our culture and in our social structures point blank.

CK: Yeah, I appreciate the way in which the absurd is mutual. Often when an artist is doing an absurdist project, they have to get involved in the thing that they are critiquing, right? You had to be on eBay, which was the problematic space being discussed in order to enact the thing that would allow the audience to observe the space of the problem. I think what I appreciated about that is how the artist becomes culpable, there’s a recognition that we are all culpable in this space. That you, as the audience, are not only being shown that “you’re bad, you’re wrong,” the artist is participating in a mutual act of saying “here we are in this space, that's problematic.” That’s why I call it generous, in a space where, right now, there's so much antagonism especially around these major issues where there's a sense that there's right and there's wrong. It's really difficult for any of us who are in this incredibly privileged space of North America or Europe to be really comfortable taking the position of being right. Our entire lives are built off of so many wrongs.

I think that’s one of the reasons that I appreciate and defend artists using technology. The artists that I tend to write about are very aware of the problems inherent to the technologies they're using. They are steeped in the material infrastructure of the system they have chosen to use, and they seriously recognize the psychosocial, environmental, and political implications of the space in which they operate. Obviously, there are other kinds of artists like photographers, painters, installation artists, and filmmakers who do this; I'm not saying it’s only the artists using computational technologies who are aware of these things. But, there's a way in which any lasting practice using a computer has to come face to face with some of these issues because they just come at you—the obsolescence, the layers of material infrastructure, the deeply troubling physiological reactions we have to extended periods with computers—and they start to address those. That's really one of the reasons I appreciate writing about many of those projects, because the lens of the computer or the device can be taken so unthinkingly, so haphazardly. We've become so used to it, it's become a naturalized part of our everyday life. To create some distance and some conversation around that is really helpful, in terms of really closing some important questions around the way in which these devices have been socialized, or the way in which the presumption of everything from the price, to obsolescence, to user design, to systems design; all of these things could be otherwise. But the fact that they could be otherwise is so important for us to consider. It seems impossible that they could be any other way. And so, we get lost in this. To me, that’s the most dangerous place to be in. On some level, this is very Hannah Arendt, but this thinking is really crucial. Thinking is the space of being a person, is the space of being political, of being a citizen. But it’s distinct from the necessity of labor and managing the necessities of life. Like, yes, you need a job, you need health insurance, you have to take out the trash. I get it, those are real things. Managing those is what Hannah Arendt refers to as the social life—labor.

When people critique the online 24/7 society, the rabbit hole of social media and so forth, and the way in which it's not just entertainment for you, but it's data gathering for various data brokers and companies and so on. Part of the concern is the reason we go there, because they are places of non-thought. We go to be able to zone out, to be able to relax. Those are places of relaxation that are necessary in a life of labor. But, that is not a space of thought, unless you decide to become critical of it, take time away to think it through or whatever. It’s not a space of questioning where you are in the society you're in, and how your politics are, and so forth.

U: I see what you mean, how it's so inconceivable to imagine things being another way, and these spaces try their very best to keep us as comfortable or placated as possible. I mean, it's hard for me to do that. I work in user experience and it’s hard to break out from what you've been prescribed, this virtual life that we've all lived or we've all learned to live.

CK: Yeah, I'll give you an example, just to stick with the virtual for a moment. I understand why what I'm about to describe is the way it is, and every single time it drives me totally bananas: why are there doors and windows in virtual spaces? Like, there's no need.

U: Which virtual spaces are you talking about?

CK: Any of the metaverse spaces or environments. You don’t need a door. And again, I understand why it is, I understand skeuomorphism. But also…make it different! You have the ability. This is why people love videogames, you have the ability of zooming about or leaping through great spaces and flying. Then, you go into one of those art shows in virtual spaces, and it's a cube with virtual art hanging on the walls. Why do you need to do that? We already have that. Now, I'm often in some variation of a white cube and I walk through a door and I look at digital art. It’s so silly.


But just to say, there are people who push back against this. I really appreciate Epoch Gallery, precisely because they took the notion of the virtual as a space for art seriously, and the space itself is a part of the artwork. So the artworks get embedded into a virtual environment that is designed as an artwork itself, and the entire package becomes an edition series. If you want to buy the art, you don't buy a single art object that's in the space, you buy the entire show. It's a totally different model, and it’s a Web3 model, it's NFTs. But I think it's really brilliant because it is truly decentralized and distributed. The entire thing is put together, it’s a group exhibition. The prices get split equally among all the artists; which speaks to something that many people have always known about group shows, that when a work sells, it doesn't just sell because that one artist did that one good work. It's often because it's in this context with all these other artists. It’s the communal space of the group exhibition that enables a work to sell.

So, rather than reinforcing that individualist idea that a single work sold, the nice thing about Epoch Gallery is how it does this model of buying the exhibition; but as an edition series, it remains affordable. That's novel, that's meaningful.

U: I hear all the time, or I see this referenced semi-regularly, how internet art has its roots in Surrealism and Dada. I know that's something both you and I have studied or written about in some capacity. I was wondering what your take on this was, on what these roots are, how they've grown, and what elements are still remaining in between Surrealism, Dada and current internet art.

CK: Yeah, are there relationships? Totally. Are there relationships in the way people like to hand-wave about Dada and Surrealism? No, most of the time no. First of all, one of the most common ways in which we see Surrealism get brought up in the context of generative art is because of chance, the use of chance. There's a whole lot of hand-waving gestures towards Dada, Surrealism, and the avant garde around generative art. Typically, it has to do with the notion of chance, and I really disagree with it in the sense that the Dada artists were using chance in the sense of unexpected materials and unexpected practices to produce unexpected artistic products. But that is not what is happening with the use of chance in generative art. Second, Surrealism was using the notion of chance in a very Freudian way, in the sense of really inviting slips as a way of discovering the hidden self. That's not what's happening with generative art. Or if it is, none of the artists are really doing that intentionally.

Now, there are scholars who disagree with me, and I do think one could make interesting arguments around the notion that the use of large model generators, what is commonly referred to these days as AI, that their output is a product of an unidentifiable series of events extracting information, including out of the latent space. There's some very easy correlations to be made there, these large model generators reveal a type of unconscious of the society. So, if we want to talk about how chance relates to Surrealism in the context of large model generated art, I can potentially see that, not so much in the sense of generative art or algorithmic art that's been made so popular in the NFT space. I think that Surrealism can be relevant, but is often not relevant in the way that it's being presented. This is why I think I'm a big believer that it's important to know history, not simply because that makes you some good or better person, but because it informs how that history does or does not apply to what it is you're doing.

The Dada and Surrealist movements were really different, the context in which they were seeking to understand certain things is just so different now. Pop psychology was not a thing for the Surrealists. It is almost unimaginable that anyone has gotten to the age of consciousness and not done some pop psychology quiz in which they discover some secret self. So, is that really an avant-garde thing to do right now? No. Are there things that Surrealism was touching on that could potentially be brought forward in interesting ways? I'm sure there are.

U: I mean, in terms of what you were talking about—the historical context—I don't want to say that people don't understand Surrealism, but you do see it being kind of bastardized. People will call anything Surrealist that's otherworldly or doesn't really make all that much sense to them. But there is this intentional context behind the Surrealist philosophy and the things they were trying to create. People make Dada and Surrealism out to be completely synonymous, when there is actually progression in between those two movements and there's significant differentiation between them. So I've never really understood when people say that internet art has roots in Surrealism. But granted, I haven't particularly done that much research or tried to find out the answer to my question.

CK: I think one of the other things that's difficult is when you say “internet art”, I think about net art, like 1990s net art. And I wouldn’t associate 1990s net art with Surrealism, I would associate it with street art. That's how I teach it to my students. It's a form of street art, of the information superhighway as being a place where you can do weird, crazy things or hack systems; a lot of those artists in the 1990s were super into that. It’s also interesting to connect net art to something like Fluxus, but l especially really like the associations of street art. I think it's very concrete.

It's really hard to be a romantic these days, and Surrealism very much reached back into that 19th century Romanticism and transformed it sufficiently that people often don't even realize the relationships that exist between the two. One of the things that really bugs me is the way in which people attach to the surface of Surrealism, by which I mean like the surface of the imagery and don't recognize that imagery evolved out of a certain type of thinking. That thinking was responding to this much earlier moment. If we dive into the thinking around Surrealism for our contemporary, we might not find it in you know, melting computers, we might find it in something quite different and I think there's work to be done there. I think that Surrealism remains really important, it's clear because of the way people are attached to it. There's some good work that could be done to articulate why what appears to be Neosurrealism is more like a simulacrum of Surrealism, and it deserves better.

U: I agree, and to me, this goes into something else that I was thinking about when I was reading your column on the language that we use in virtual art.  The language that we use to define the movement puts it into all of these categories that aren't super defined. You know, we have net art, post-internet art, NFT art, computer art, new media, New Aesthetic, “the intersection of art and technology.” I guess I don't really know if these are all just marketing terms or if they actually do describe meaningful movements or subcultures within the space.

CK: I mean, because these are not artworks that had incredible markets, they're not really marketing terms. They're terms meant to particular moments and attempts to focus on something about the practice. I mean, I get why a number of us are uncomfortable with the term digital art, but I also get why it's a useful term. It's something I struggle with when I'm writing about these things. I want to be intentional in what I'm saying, but I also don't want to become some narrow minded grammarian who's obsessed with the preposition at the end of the sentence to the default of any sense making. I think we're living in a moment right now, where because so much of this is new, what I can do is put these issues out there. For instance, I'm using this word AI—not a great word, I don’t like this word. I think it obscures something really important, and I have to say that basically every single time I write an article that's about AI because I need to clarify that. But if I'm not talking to a bunch of people who are deep in this conversation already, who already know these issues, I also have to use words that aren't going to make somebody who's reading be like “Wait, what is she talking about?” If you're going to switch terms on people, you need to define the term. If you're going to change how a term is being used, you better be really clear about not only what you now mean for that term, but why it was important to change it. Otherwise you're just creating needless work.

I think it'll be really interesting in the long run to see how many of these terms are still relevant. What I believe should happen is for some of these art practices to stop being referred to exclusively by the technology that they might be using. Not to say that it's not important the technology that they're using, but I think there's this weird overemphasis of the technology at the default of what the art is actually doing or what it’s about. For example, when I am talking about artworks that are VR experiences or in metaverse spaces, I will often talk about them as digital installations. I do that because I think that those are really useful for discourse around installation art with clear theorizing around the psychosocial aesthetic impact for audiences to be in those kinds of environments that are totally appropriate for the experience. So, there are different types of installation art right now, but if we want to talk about how they materialize, it becomes useful to then talk about the systems they use.

U: Yeah, that feeds into a question that I was going to ask about this very topic, but particularly in terms of AI. In your article called Art’s Intelligence: AI and Human Systems you write: “Emily Tucker, the Executive Director at the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, announced in Spring 2022 that the center would no longer use the terms AI, artificial intelligence, or machine learning because those terms ‘obfuscate, alienate, and glamorize.’” This made me think about how right now, when there's art that is made partly through AI, we call it AI art. I don't know to what extent we're attributing that as a medium, or if it’s considered a collaboration between the artist in the AI, which would make the AI an artist in its own right.

CK: Yeah, I think these are points of huge dispute right now. I think artists themselves have different relationships to it. The first thing I will say is, we’ve been using AI for a really long time. Photoshop uses AI. So there's this issue around the term, AI is already pervasive. It's in Google searches, it's in all kinds of things. Depending on what the project is, maybe they've already been using AI and it wasn't referred to as AI. Right now, when we talk about AI, the larger general discourse is referring to these large model generators—DALL-E, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and so on.

This gets tricky because there's a couple of different things that happen. First, people get really engaged with the prompts, negotiating how they're going to develop a certain type of language, particularly in text-to-image generation, to produce certain types of effects. I think what's interesting about that is the current discomfort that people often have about sharing their prompts. It really reminds me of the way in which artists used recipe books for how they produced their tempera and their oils and all of that stuff. They had recipe books and they were really, really valuable secrets. There’s something kin there around not sharing how you make your prompts. But at the same time, there are artists who do a prompt, get an output, they select an aspect or keep playing with it, then they take it into Photoshop and keep doing stuff with it. That's a different variation on that. There's this other version of that, which is basically conceptual art, where the output isn’t really the point. The point is kind of the context in which the output has been positioned. Sterling Crispin did this project called “Spectacle” which really speaks to that, and there's a few others as well. So, in each of those different practices, there's something different going on. I've heard artists talk about it as a collaboration. I've heard artists talk about it as a symbiosis, which I think is a relationship that's akin to a feedback loop going on, especially among writers who use ChatGPT as a part of their process, the way in which they are being informed by it. And then there are some who simply use these generators as a tool.

I am intrigued by the vast hubbub around: “Is it an artist? Is it a tool? Is it destroying our world?” Like… why does it exist? Why are these generators here? I get it, they're here. I'm not suggesting they go away. I would just like to know, why? What is this about? Did people spend this much money and this much time just so that people could put in funny words and get funny pictures? No. So, what are these machines here for? The fact that this question is not on the table and being discussed, that's weird. That's obscure.

U: I also wanted to ask you about the environment through which we typically encounter digital art. I feel like my opinions on this are biased, in terms of how I encounter it in my day to day life, but my assumption is that virtual art is now so much more accessible to us. It's fully integrated into our feeds; when I go on Twitter, I read a quippy joke, then the next post is someone's artwork. It gives me the feeling that the art is much more fleeting, and there's a lot less intentionality that goes into engaging with it.

I know that digital artists can actively create these really immersive experiences where they control the parameters of what's going on, or set up the browser in a way that they have more control over the environment in which the spectator is experiencing their art. But on the whole, my assumption is that it requires less conscious, intentional engagement. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on that.

CK: I think you're right. That's true across the board in web spaces, but it's always a tricky question. Different art practices speak of different types of context, a separated space, one distinct from your everyday life. But others don't. That's one of the things that's challenging about mainstream contemporary art. What happened in the last 50 years was this plurality of potential context in which to engage with art, and the question of what happens when art is placed into different kinds of context. The same object can be placed into different contexts. So, in an interesting way, the internet kind of foregrounds that. The reason I think you're asking the question is because of a flattening that often gets talked about around being online. The way you go from reading a newspaper, to watching a YouTube video, to having ads pop up. There's no distinct space, you're constantly in it. On one hand, it's complicated because if we recognize the signs or context clues of a genre or experience, we are very good at recognizing what kind of space it should be taking place within. We can move ourselves from “I'm supposed to shop here” to “I'm supposed to read this.” We can figure that out very quickly.

On the other hand, I can unconditionally say that many people are actually not good at distinguishing between different types of online spaces because they haven’t been visually trained to notice subtle distinctions between similar, yet different types of sites. This becomes problematic because what happened with so-called Web2 and the sort of privatization of internet spaces was the way in which they became spaces of commerce and trade, where it is important that you stay on the site in order to extract data and produce a behind-the-scenes data market. Everything starts to get flattened into market and exchange and the ideas associated with it include “What am I getting? What are you giving me? What am I trading?” Art, or at least the art that I find interesting, specifically requires a different kind of mentality from that. If you are engaging, if you are default to that kind of mentality, you will miss out on the art as an opportunity to engage in a materialized thought-object.

I don't think that's just a problem for the arts. I think it's a larger social problem. On one level, it would be important to solve it for art, I actually think it's less important to solve it for art than it is to solve it in other kinds of spaces.

U: For the internet in general, or for things outside of the internet as well?

CK: I'm going to say for the internet in general. I think the spreading of the market into all kinds of spaces is questionable. It's irritating when I'm on the subway and I'm surrounded by ads, I can't escape it. I understand why they're there. I understand that we don't provide our transportation infrastructure sufficient funds to be able to support itself without that kind of economic scaffolding.

U: I guess it's just a reality of the structure that we've created that we now find ourselves in. And again, like what you were talking about before, it's hard to imagine how things could have gone a different way. I know that we have all these new and old political ideas reframing how things could be changed, but they’re all very hotly debated.

CK: Yeah, Web3 is a really nice idea that is not going to be what many people thought it was going to be two years ago. It always seemed clear that it wasn't going to work out that way.

U: People were very hopeful. It’s kind of easy to dunk on these things, when people are very hopeful and have a lot of optimistic will. For a while everyone was like “Yeah guys, we're all going to do it and soon everything's going to be a decentralized autonomous organization. Just you wait and see!” It's easy to be like, “Yeah, whatever, shut up.” I guess I wasn't really reading all that much properly critical literature or commentary on that space. But it seems like Web3 discourse just kind of fizzled out, and I’m not exactly sure why.

CK: There was some good writing done on it and also some great art projects about the problems with it. I wrote an article for Burlington Contemporary in 2021 about how the rhetoric surrounding blockchain was problematic in the sense that it was not doing what it was claiming to do. Furtherfield, based in London, had already presented some really interesting ideas around this and tried to identify them and articulate them in ways that could allow for people to actually respond to them. There were some of the important projects that I spoke about in that article in Burlington Contemporary, and others as well. I think some of the early FeralFile shows did that, too. I do think that there was a certain amount of discourse in the art space that was engaged with blockchain that was also questioning it.

One of the issues with a decentralized politic is the necessity for time. Speed is a problem if you want people at different levels of access to be able to participate. It is a luxury to be able to have not only incredibly high speed internet, but also to have time away from labor to be able to participate in certain types of conversations. The speed that was evident in the blockchain hype space of 2021/2022 undermined some of the potential of its politics to really present itself. That being said, this is a technology that's been around for a dozen years. It's still there, it's still being adopted in a number of different ways. I'm not overly concerned that it has disappeared. If anything, the quietness of it is a really good moment to do the work of investigating how it is effective, what we've already noticed is wrong, and what we can do to adapt and change and address that.

But it wasn't treated as a politic, it was treated as a marketplace. So when the market started to fade, the interest and the inherent politics of the technology stopped being considered. And that's the problem.

U: I think that maybe my exposure to it was kind of skewed because I did feel very adjacent to these spaces. It did seem apparent all along that these people had ample time because they all already had cushy jobs or they were working from home. They had a lot of time to be building these things, which is a massive luxury.

CK: I will say, just to own my own culpability, it seems very likely to me that the place where the politic is being taken most seriously is outside of North America and Europe, where this technology really has meaningful potential for shifting social life. The problem is that those artists and those communities were not the focus of the conversation, and I'm including myself in this because I also did not do a good enough job. It is true that I have asked people to direct me towards projects in South America, and I want to just recognize that Colborn Bell introduced me to Crypto Argentina, and conversations with them have been really enlightening in terms of what it's done for those artists and for their communities because they take what they are getting when they sell work. And let's be clear, the down market in NFTs is down for North America and Europe. It is still money that is meaningful in places where there's so much economic instability. I think that's important. I was horrified last year when I discovered that, in the summer, there had been this massive NFT summit in West Africa with all of these artists from across a number of West African countries with big art scenes, and I hadn't known about it. That was horrifying to me, in the sense that I was involved enough and trying to know what was going on, and I didn't know about that. To think about what my filter bubble was keeping me from, that's where I'm concerned. I think if we were to be able to investigate what is happening in those spaces, we could actually learn something.

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USURPATOR is an online magazine sharing essays and interviews about the user experience of our current virtual landscape

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