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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