In conversation with Iain Ball

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Terbium, installation view, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Terbium, installation view, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

Following a solo show at Future Gallery, London-based artist Iain Ball discusses his Rare Earth sculptures, conspiracy theories and alien lifeform.

In other interviews you’ve often spoken about Object Oriented Ontology in relation to your work. At the risk of never arriving there, we can start discussing it or cautiously circling around it. Otherwise, we can always talk about aliens.

Maybe Alien Orientated Ontology? Some years ago it was crackpot to talk about panspermia and now it seems like a very plausible model and you have Edward Snowden talking in the media about how encryption could be stopping us from making contact. I’ll admit that I’m often more convinced by conspiracy than by mainstream science so things like the Fermi Paradox, for instance make absolutely no sense to me whatsoever and I get really frustrated by them, “where are they?” like I don’t even understand what kind of question this is. If we are supposed to believe there has been no contact and no witnesses or sighting whatsoever or aliens would even behave how we should expect them to. And you have suggestions that SETI not receiving any signals is proof that nothing is out there when we are likely talking about highly advanced extra-dimensional forms.

How would you define an alien aesthetic?

Contact from other worlds is always going to be reinterpreted into the existing aesthetic of the receiving culture, so UFOs through the decades appear to correspond to the technology and aesthetic of that particular time. An alien aesthetic is invisible, in the same way that cargo cults operate within their own belief systems indifferent to the actual technological objects they are appropriating and biblical demonic entities became technologically advanced extraterrestrial drones once we accumulated that knowledge. We can’t see the aliens, they are invisible to us they don’t even have to hide, we can only see the products of our own culture and we only ever see our own aesthetic.

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Terbium, installation view, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Terbium, installation view, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

Let’s talk about image ( text or anything else really) aggregation and acceleration. What do you think of accelerationist aesthetics, or rather from which point of view do you approach it?

There are obvious connections to modernism – or some neo-modernist agenda one should be wary of. I still really like Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, the ideas that image artefacts and image signifiers of contemporary life can act as warning beacons which dispel the illusion of progress, or the Jungian idea that certain images reflect our primal past ; these perspectives reflect ideas I see in new materialism and accelerationist politics, or aesthetics – So I think in a way I try to be aware of that, to look at the broader picture and not get swept up in thinking of this time as any different – of course we have Moore’s Law and its easy to get excited, or freaked out but I mean, if accelerationist aesthetics means health goth, I’m bored already and I’m not so interested in it form a post-left economic standpoint either, It just seems very zeitgeisty with academic accreditation.

I don’t mean to discredit fashion because I think it’s super important and plays a big part in all of this, but things reach a culmination and then become absorbed, of course, then they become banal. I also identify very strongly with the post internet term, not just because I feel I was a part of that peer group from the beginning, but because I think it describes a real condition that I relate to. I think the internet becoming invisible, deskilled and no longer specialised or privileged, whilst at the same time becoming a primary interface which mediates the way we consume Art is a reality, and it’s something we would obviously all be talking about anyway. Its relation to Energy Drinks, Post-minimalism, Pop, fashion/tumblr tropes and a few privileged players within the scene should be separated from the idea of the term itself, I think. Maybe that’s true of accelerationist aesthetics also, though.

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Lanthanum, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Lanthanum, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Lanthanum, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Lanthanum, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

I agree with you, of course. The issue is not the work referenced. When this terminology becomes so engrained within the system, it becomes so powerful that sometimes it overrides the work- both conceptually and formally.

What I’m really interested in at the moment is superstition, animism, paranoia, irrational or extreme relativism and a neo-psychedelic trance like experience which isn’t understood through some hippy filter but is orientated towards some other outcome. I don’t understand pragmatism, or having a real stance in these times. I also remembered there are most probably many ways of interpreting accelerationism or accelerationist aesthetics, some which are politically and economically pragmatic, others which maybe point towards inhuman or post-human conditions, which is maybe where OOO comes in.

I’m trying to develop a new project for Praseodymium which is, in part influenced by the GCHQ document The Art of Deception – Training for Online Covert Operations that was leaked by Edward Snowden. I like this idea that there are so many false gods, so many layers of farce, like the world governments paying people to hoax UFO sightings, and US Government agents giving fake evidence to Ufologists to further obscure the whole reality of the subject, to create ambiguity. So I’m thinking a lot about PSYOPS and I think it makes a lot of sense, especially in the internet-era of context collapse and attention-based mimetic flows. I’d like my work to be a PSYOP, in a way, but more of a hypothetical one.

When I’m making my work I’m often imagining it as an ancient artefact in some weird post-human future. As an artefact I think of it as a set of conditions or parameters or algorithm which is generative and amorphous and path-dependent. I was trying to do that especially with projects like Old Earth Objects and Post.Consumer.Cult because I’m aware that future AI and pattern recognition will be a major component in how artworks are shaped. From a distance those projects can look very similar to a lot of aesthetics you see all over the place, so in order to distinguish them, the reason for their specificity is quite personal or sentimental. With regards to what gives form or uniqueness, it would have to be based on the AI making a synthesis of my consciousness, to understanding the parameters of the project enough to accelerate it and cultivate it towards the most ideal and successful outcome. I think to an extent my aesthetics could be described as accelerationist or post-human in that I am relying on an emerging phantom limb of technology to achieve that ideal state for the work to aspire to, it’s the way I think of my work moving beyond me as a live body – into the future, co-adapting to its environment and shaped by technological and cultural feedback.

Terbium also looks quite alien in the literal sense, the 3d printed objects looks like facehuggers, the Goch text is an alien typeface. Goch mostly makes forest psytrance but much of the aesthetics in Terbium are like Alien/Dark psytrance in style, I think these subdivisions; alien/dark/forest are really important right now, so working with Goch was really integral because he’s also very much into ancient aliens and conspiracy theories as well and he’s on a very similar aesthetic plateau.

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Terbium, detail, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.
Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Terbium, detail, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

Iain Ball, (Rare Earth Sculptures) Terbium, detail, Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

As you speak of this “phantom limb of technology” it strikes me how much our generation seems to be fascinated by speculative readings of the future that are primarily concerned with form, that is to say that the understanding or engagement with possibility is always somehow formalised through matter. What are your thoughts on this? Would you say that the idea of a generational heritage (related to artefacts and objects) highlights a human centric desire for posterity?

I think there is maybe an increasing amount of speculation or attention towards post-human or inhuman posterity, which is maybe related to anxiety over a perceived technological singularity and human obsolescence. In real world terms this probably amounts to thinking about how your Facebook operates after you die into understanding yourself as a social body which could operate independently from your actual body, so in a way it’s already happened and we are already acting and behaving on those terms. I saw a young woman a few seats ahead of me on a three hour coach journey yesterday tend to her social life throughout the whole trip, presented to me as a dark silhouette seen from behind operating a large screened smartphone, surfing various vines, instagrams and facebook posts, all were selfies and videos of people, always people, either her friends or possibly people she doesn’t know irl but follows and admires or aspires too.

It seems feasible that algorithms could be developed soon enough to continue a social identity after you die that operates through the cloud, especially if you were to be 3d scanned and combined with more developed artificial neural networks. I have a lot of anxiety and insecurity but maybe also disinterest over my organic self when mediated through images so I tend not to make too many selfies on the internet, but my project organisms being cultivated and acting as prosthesis and growing and developing independently after I die is very exciting to me. The least because I like to have complete control over my work and I’m usually disatisfied with other people’s re-contextualisation of it through their own photos, re-blogs, curation and through generalised loss of context.

This sounds a lot like I’m trying to say it’s my baby and I’m being overprotective and It’s all very sublime which is very problematic but I think there is an interest in it being always in a state of becoming or reaching towards this unreachable ideal state and never being content or satisfied or stabilised. Developing the right algorithms for it to continue its morphology and understanding it as this amorphous blob of diffused fragile matter that operates indifferent to human viewership and control is one way I like to understand it. Reza Negarestani wrote an essay for the book The Speculative Turn where he talks about a capitalist singularity which operates in such a way that it might break off into the realm of the inhuman which he relates to Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle. So I think in regards to any human construction that breaks off through some singularity into inhuman realms, like art or capitalism or selfies, you have to ask what form, or material this could take, that’s why I started thinking about things like an actual Winklevoss planet and actually trying to make a sculpture that could localise or track such an object.

Iain Ball, (RES) Terbium Dark Psy Energy pack, 2015 Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.

Iain Ball, (RES) Terbium Dark Psy Energy pack, 2015 Future Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Future Gallery.


So would you say that in your work there is a wish to bypass humanism by means of technology, in particular the notion of prosthesis and alternative versions of the I? If yes, does it concern you that the basis of such discourse, however interesting it may be, somehow leads to the same point, ie. pre-modernist existential concerns?

There are certainly attributes towards trying somehow, in vain, to bypass future cultural iconoclasms and preserve (perhaps artificially or through AI), and cultivate through some means the works ‘essential essence’ rather than let it become subjugated to the hybridisation of cultural transformations – but of course this kind of conservatism is inherently flawed when that ‘essence’ never existed in the first place and is entirely a false god. Im sure many people would agree that today, being aware of the constant entropic forces which act upon the form of the work to destabilize and reassemble its meaning and thus going with that flow is the best option rather than aiming for some impossible negentropic ideal.

Art’s subservience to the market, to attention and affectivity and to current tastes and fashions is myopic in that it will only be re-scrambled in the near future and what’s more these forces tend to create the effect of sanding down and whitewashing once colourful marble sculptures and removing the genitals of artistic output today in real time, so many people try to work within the framework of the current system rather than fight the tide of massive market and cultural influence. I started trying to develop works which, for their survival were dependent on the influence of high speed mutations and changes in the environment, firstly by creating works that you can’t look at directly, in that they can only be understood in relation to various proximities of associated content which is in a constant making, remaking and editing.

Later, I started making primary nuclear sculptural components which would act as mothership to a constellation of content which would, over time, cause that mothership sculpture to morphologically transform through different phase states, like the ship that changes all of its parts before returning to its original point of sail, the more stable, negentropic parts are the ones which survive environmental and cultural influence, but there is no way of telling exactly how the sculpture will look or what it will be , or what it will be doing, or used for in the future. With all of this in mind, I can at least start trying to assemble something, I think emerging AI, artifical neural networks and pattern recognition technologies will increasingly start to play a major part in this which will fundamentally change what it means to create a cultural artifact or make a conceptual artwork.

Iain Ball

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TRUST – Interview with Sonia Dermience

Nina Beier, Perfect Duty, 2014. Installation view Kunsthalle Bremen. Photo: Torben Eskerod

Nina Beier, Perfect Duty, 2014. Installation view Kunsthalle Bremen. Photo: Torben Eskerod

On August 29, the exhibition TRUST opened its doors on the occasion of Copenhagen Art Festival 2015. This joint exhibition gathers together five of Copenhagen’s biggest art venues (Den Frie Udstillingsbygning, Kunstforeningen GL STRAND, Kunsthal Charlottenburg, Nikolaj Kunsthal and Overgaden – Institut for Samtidskunst) together with several off-spaces. Through October 25, the works of 41 participating artists and a rich programme of poetic statements and performative experiments fill the cityscape of Copenhagen. During my recent stay in the city, I had the pleasure to meet Sonia Dermience, the curator behind the exhibition, who told me about this year’s edition, a megalomaniac show whose focus is on collaborative processes.

When did you start working on the exhibition? Involving Copenhagen’s five major art institutions together with 41 artists must have been a somewhat challenging project?

Everything started more than a year ago: in May 2014 me and two other curators got a request by the Copenhagen Art Festival to make a proposal for the event. Each of us were invited to stay here in Copenhagen for a few days to take a look at places and venues, to explore the city landscape, and then to make a proposal based on this experience. I sent mine around mid-July, and when I got selected I started working on the project in September. This was perfect timewise, leaving me one year to work on it.

Mikkel Carl: No Woman is an Island, 2015. Photo: Torben Eskerod.

Mikkel Carl: No Woman is an Island, 2015. Photo: Torben Eskerod.


Jessica Baxter: Do Not Feed The Artist. They Have Already Too Much To Digest, 2015. Photo: Torben Eskerod

Jessica Baxter: Do Not Feed The Artist. They Have Already Too Much To Digest, 2015. Photo: Torben Eskerod

What kind of proposal did you come up with in the first place?

The first concept I proposed has remained almost unchanged until the present day. After my first visit in Copenhagen I had this idea of working on five major kunsthalles of Copenhagen, and to add a layer of fiction on the overall project by renaming them. I guess that my proposal was completely megalomaniac – I wanted to use the whole city as a context for the exhibition. Especially this city, Copenhagen, has a strong aesthetics of a classical, occidental city with its palaces and churches – a city where you can find all the traditional places and symbols of power.

I wanted to approach the curatorial process through a historical and aesthetic reworking of the places. For example Nikolaj Kunsthal, a historical church, was rebaptized as The Temple. For me a church, or in this case, The Temple, stands for meditation, no matter what is the religious orientation. What is particularly interesting in this case is that the venue is located in a middle of a busy shopping district, leaving us two antagonistic activities: consumption and contemplation. For this space, I asked three collectives to work on these aspects, consumption and entertainment. When working on the history and the aesthetics of The Temple, I had several questions in my mind: what are our everyday collective rituals, new forms of cothinking and coproduction?

We Are The Painters. Threshold of Apparition, 2015. Installation view. Photo: Torben Eskerod

We Are The Painters. Threshold of Apparition, 2015. Installation view. Photo: Torben Eskerod


Good Times & Nocturnal News #3. Installation view. Photo: Torben Ekserod

Good Times & Nocturnal News #3. Installation view. Photo: Torben Ekserod

Overgaden Institut for Samtidskunst was named as The Exchange: in our capitalist society, the exchanged goods can also be immaterial ones – exchanging thoughts and gestures. This is the recreated identity of Overgaden Institut for Samtidskunst, which is a typical post-industrial factory-style warehouse that has been converted into an art center. For this particular place, the idea was to invite artists to collaborate together: to produce a piece together, which would develop into a collective show inside a collective show. When inviting artists I gave them some key words or some sort of a story in the beginning, a fictional basis. That’s to avoid too heavy, thematic shows where we are intended to talk about a specific topic.

Then there is The Salon (Kunstforeningen GL STRAND), which is the model image of a bourgeois house. In this exhibition, the idea is to enter in a house where the habitants don’t live anymore. What is left are the objects, a testimony of their past domestic life, which finally become the characters on the stage. There are seven rooms all in all, and for each of them I asked the artists to recreate something reminiscent of an artist studio: the visitor goes from one room to another, where you can find solo shows in a continuous series. It questions the idea of an artist studio today, and as we know, the image of this is quite nomadic today: it is more about the artist’s inner landscape.

The Palace (Kunsthal Charlottenburg) stands for the palace of culture: it’s relevant to our understanding on democratization of art. This idea derives from the royal palace: for example Louvre was the palace of the king before it was transformed into a museum. All these objects together aim to give an understanding of our surroundings, it is a sort of a curiosity cabinet, where our knowledge of the world is constructed through objects we see. Later, these palaces were opened to the public. For this kunsthalle, I requested artists particularly to work on this idea of collecting, which constitutes some sort of a repetitive pattern.

Ditte Gantriis, La Vida Loca, Body and soul, 2015. Photo: Torben Eskerod

Ditte Gantriis, La Vida Loca, Body and soul, 2015. Photo: Torben Eskerod


Nanna Debois Buhl, Botanizing on the Asphalt,2015. Photo: Torben Eskerod

Nanna Debois Buhl, Botanizing on the Asphalt,2015. Photo: Torben Eskerod

What about the title of the show?

In my first proposal I hadn’t changed the names of the places, but since the beginning I was looking for a way to link all the different venues together. I started to search for a connecting verb or a word, and finally I came up with Trust. The initial point was to make an institutional critique. For example, the idea that we’re not sure if we should trust the institutions today: most of the time when we go to see an exhibition at an art institution, we don’t know what to expect – this reflects the idea on trusting the institution and the location. What is interesting, is that the connotation of this verb is inherently positive, however implying immediately its negation: Trust – Don’t Trust.

Choice of particular words and their use play a major role in the construction of fiction. As a curator, if you do a deliberate show on a particular theme, it can easily be a straightforward demonstration against something and thus, get a political agenda. However, when working through a more poetic approach, it is easier to share the work between the curator and the artists. I give my personal reflection of the places – these places of power – and subsequently the artists have the freedom to do something else, not only by commenting.

Besides the classical venues the exhibition includes also several off-space locations, for example Torben Ribe’s installation in a pizzeria. Could you tell more about this?

By working on off-space locations, I wanted to approach the city landscape from a different point of view. In the beginning I wanted to work on generic places, for example on a parking lot or in a supermarket, and put them on the same level as the classical art institutions, the institutional places of power.

How familiar were you with the city beforehand?

It was very good that they asked me to come already in May last year to visit the city so I had the chance to take a look around before drafting my proposal. But of course in this kind of context you behave like a tourist, and accept the fact of not knowing all the small details and subtle differences. The city was like a postcard in the beginning for me, and actually, I somehow wanted to stay on that level, to follow the printed image of the postcard: what is generic here and how the city is represents occident, classical Europe. I wanted to do a proposition on this landscape, from my point of view as a tourist.

Vava Dudu, Le Poison, 2015 in Nørgaard Paa Strøget. Photo: Torben Eskerod

Vava Dudu, Le Poison, 2015 in Nørgaard Paa Strøget. Photo: Torben Eskerod


Torben Ribe, Untitled (Scrambled programme), 2015 in The Pizzeria. Photo: Torben Eskerod

Torben Ribe, Untitled (Scrambled programme), 2015 in The Pizzeria. Photo: Torben Eskerod

In 2012 you founded Komplot, where the focus is strongly on nomadic practices. I guess this background is also to be found in your proposal?

Totally, my personal curatorial practice is very nomadic. All the artists I invited to take part in the project couldn’t make it here, so they had to imagine the context and to rely on my storytelling of it. In the exhibition, we also have a lot of local artists, who obviously have a different kind of knowledge and sensibility towards the city. Here, also the idea of hospitality comes along: how do you welcome newcomers, how does a local artist position itself next to an artist coming from abroad? Along the way, some sort of a movement, a story emerged: most of the artists already knew each other beforehand and were invited to participate in the show in the very beginning, so they knew that they were taking part in something together. I see the role of the curator to create the context for the artists to work within, to give them a stimulus which they need to react to. Even with an existing piece, the artists should be able to project and imagine it in a new context, in a new framework. So all this process has been like a story, a play which has been shaping throughout the year. When starting something like this, you can never know what the outcome is.

Sofie Haesaets: Alignment. Photo: Torben Ekserod.

Sofie Haesaets: Alignment. Photo: Torben Ekserod.

Sonia Dermience (Belgium) founded Komplot in Brussels in 2002, a curatorial collective concerned with nomadic creative practices. Under the name of Catherine Vertige, she conducted extensive research into post ’68 collaborative art practices in Belgium with seminars and the two documentary films Sad In Country. In 2009 Komplot founded The Public School Brussels. Since 2010 Komplot is located in a converted warehouse dedicated to exhibitions, residencies and studios. Komplot published three issues of YEAR magazine between 2011 and 2013. Recently, Sonia Dermience re-initiated an individual curatorial practice with this exhibition, TRUST taking place in five kunsthals in Copenhagen.

Together with: Martin Erik Andersen (Denmark), Felicia Atkinson (France), Jakup Auce (Belgium), Elena Bajo (Spain), Jessica Baxter (Belgium), Nina Beier (Denmark), Maiken Bent (Denmark), Ellen Cantor (USA), Mikkel Carl (Denmark), Cel Crabeels (Belgium), Nanna Debois Buhl (Denmark), Vava Dudu (France), Sophie Dupont (Denmark), FOS (Denmark), Ditte Gantriis (Denmark), Sofie Haesaerts (Belgium), Steinar Haga Christensen (Norway), Maj Hasager (Denmark), Pernille Kapper Williams (Denmark), Ilja Karilampi (Sweden), A Kassen (Denmark), Seyran Kirmizitoprak (Belgium), Egle Kulbokaite (Sweden) Emmanuelle Lainé (France), Adriana Lara (Mexico), Jacopo Miliani (Italy), Cécile Noguès (France), Officin (Denmark), Carl Palm (Sweden), Douglas Park (UK), Angelo Plessas (Greece), Laure Prouvost (UK/France), Torben Ribe (Denmark), Ebbe Stub Wittrup (Denmark), Zin Taylor (Canada/Belgium), The After Lucy Experiment (Belgium), Harald Thys & Jos De Gruyter (Belgium), Benjamin Valenza (France/Switzerland), Loic Vanderstichelen & Jean-Paul Jacquet (Belgium), We Are The Painters (France), Atalay Yavuz (Turkey).

Copenhagen Art Festival 2015