Evan Roth: Voices over the Horizon (courtesy Carroll / Fletcher)
Evan Roth: Voices over the Horizon (courtesy Carroll / Fletcher)


26 March 2015

In progress. All of this will make sense one day. By Juha van 't Zelfde.

Hello Ghostmodernity by Metahaevn
Hello Ghostmodernity by Metahaevn

A spectre is haunting the UK. Two separate apparitions of ghosts in the spectrum of high art and technology this week: the spectacular ‘Haunted Machines’ conference in Manchester on Friday, and the beautiful looking new exhibition ‘Voices over the Horizon’ by American artists Evan Roth, opening in London next week.

Let me try to tl;dr it for you:

“The continued proliferation of connected devices,” reads the announcement of Haunted Machines, “and the narratives driving them forward has been running parallel to stories of surveillance, hacking and black boxes. While designers and technologists talk about ‘magic’ and ‘enchantment’ in regard to these devices, we forget that magic is a form of deception; a sleight of hand. Thinkers, writers, designers and artists are beginning to refer more and more to a new time of hauntings and the supernatural in respect of this new technological climate.”

I love this, and am reminded of one the most impressive conference closings I have experienced live, a story by ‘Internet Jesus’ Warren Ellis about electromagnetic hauntings in the cognitive cities of the future.

In his new exhibition Voices over the Horizon, Evan Roth "presents the findings of his paranormal investigations into the Internet. Using ghost-hunting technologies and rituals, Roth ventures into the Internet’s physical landscape to reconnect with a network changed by monetisation, centralisation and surveillance. Often described as the search for disembodied human energy, ghost hunting for Roth becomes an apt way to describe our daily interactions with the Internet – a world seemingly invisible yet swarming all around us.

“Like his 19th century counterparts whose urgent enquiries into the supernatural were often conducted on sites of assumed paranormal activity, Roth made a recent pilgrimage to Cornwall on the south-westerly tip of the UK, one of the world’s most important telecommunications hubs dating back to the very first trans-Atlantic telegraph cables laid there in 1870. Today, fibre-optic Internet cabling connecting the United States to Europe ascends from the depths of the Atlantic basin onto the Cornish coast carrying 25% of the world’s Internet traffic. Zigzagging and disappearing through several small beach towns, here the physical Internet meets a picturesque, untamed landscape, long steeped in tales of both communication technologies and the paranormal. Voices Over the Horizon reveals loss and an unconventional search to seek out optimism and inspiration in an increasingly dark Internet landscape.”

The plot thickens.

While writing this, I remembered the ‘Hello Ghostmodernity’ image from Metahaven in Keller Easterling’s book ‘Subtraction’ (as pictured above), and this tweet:

Daniel of Metahaven spoke passionately at Lighthouse last year about their future film ‘Possessed’. In his talk, he spoke about Snapchat, the company whose logo is… a ghost! “In Snapchat,” he says, “users can send pictures to one another like in any messaging application. But the pictures disappear within seconds and cannot be held on to. The person who invented this idea of disappearing pictures was a dreamer, someone with a true sense of what communication is doing to us and how we are chasing shadows, how we want something to last, but just can’t. And Snapchat designs that process for us. The company’s logo, a little ghost, inspired the London-based artist and writer Jesse Darling to recently coin the term ghostmodernity for the things Snapchat stands for, helps us do, and how it lets us live. And if a 25-year old in London with an ultimate proficiency in all things affective labor, internet, and social media with no permanent residency, living on the cutting edge of an erupting volcano, can come up with a word like ghostmodernity, then this shows us once again that Pope Francis is not that far off mark with his exorcisms. Ours is an age of possession, precisely because it becomes harder to hold on to anything.”

I effing love the word ‘ghostmodernism’.

Looking in Google Scholar I found the article “The Age of Ghost-Modernism?” by Romanian Bogdan Lepădatu. It has an incredibly dry synopsis, but since this is the place where I will park the things I discover on the web and do not yet understand I will add it anyway:

“The hollow closure of post-modernity’s neo-liberal formative context and codifying social practices is what I refer to as „ghost-” or „spectral modernity”. According to Schumpeter’s classification, this commodified, irreflexive and „eternal now” that we keep traversing at ever-increasing speed is the fourth (and final!) Kondratieff long-wave of capitalist cycles. After the trinity of the Industrial Revolution (1780s – 1842), the „Railroad-ization” (1842 – 1897) and the „Innovative Revolution” (1898 – end of the 1930s) we are now traversing another trinity: Modernity – Post-Modernity – Ghost-Modernity (spanning the two Great Depressions, and brought about by arguably the most revered trinity since the advent of the cult of Christianity: privatisation, de-regulation and global economic „liberalization”).”

Sounds very much like the “erratic Marxist” Yanis Varoufakis, albeit not so elegant.

I am not sure how we got here, what it exactly means and where it will lead to, but having been trained as an economist in university before coming out of the closet as a cultural promoter, I am amused and enthused by the connection made by the various disparate people between technology, capitalism and possession.

I wish I could be at FutureEverything. I cannot wait to see ‘Possessed’. And I will definitely visit Evan Roth.

A spectre is haunting, and I hope it wins.

Juha van ’t Zelfde is on Twitter and Tumblr.



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