Interview with curator Liz Bruchet for Proof Magazine, 2009

LB. Your work is primarily concerned with what you refer to as “control methodologies.” Can you explain what that term signifies for you?

Control methodologies are the elements that make up systems of control and they are explored within my work in a number of ways, by exploring the control of information by fusing real and fictional information into works that have a certain viability; by exploring the human desire to control the environment; exploring methods of psychological and sensory control both in the content and the delivery of the work; and by instilling doubt in the authorship of the work by using fictional alter egos and anonymous groups who take on the appearance of the author.

LB. The Notes series are as unsettling as they are enticing. I think it comes from your careful manipulation of media – the soundscapes, computerized voice-overs, the pixilated visual texture of digital video – that you quite seamlessly stitch together to create something that is on the one hand quite disarming and on the other hand intoxicating and familiar.

Can you talk a bit about your process and some of the influences you draw on?

CT. My process begins with a lot of research. For Notes I looked at theories behind new forms of radical communities and some actual plans for controlling the environment such as re-wilding projects which are taking place all over the world. I also explored ideas around fear and anxiety and how they are used to control and also motivate us to control and I considered the language of fear and control. From this research I constructed a series of short texts which I then fine-tuned to become the text for the videos. In these texts I identify various ideas for video clips and I then appropriate footage for the videos and begin to edit them.

LB. So you take existing practices as your starting point, move through their ideologies and start your own ‘production’ with text as your starting point, rather than imagery?

CT. Yes I do the research and then develop my own piece of text and identify the ideas for the exact kind of footage that I want to use. I then re-edit the text and work on the sound as I go along and the process continues until the whole video and its language has been honed down. Sometimes the footage that I discover provides additional ideas and I re-write the text to incorporate it.

In some instances I construct the music, other times I appropriate it – but in both cases the music functions to entice, mesmerize and draw the viewer in.

It should be remembered that this working methodology and the manipulation of other people’s home video footage is also itself about control. Also the pixelated footage allows for me to create works that are difficult to read in terms of chronology. They look a little bit like 16mm film, but are pixelated and obviously digital. I re-film the footage, remove the frames and insert glitches – partly to unify the material and partly to make its source and time of production unclear.  I want the viewer to question whether this is a document from a parallel world or something from our past, to question the reality of what they are seeing; who is this group, where is the artist in all of it?

LB. The Notes series marks quite a dramatic shift in your practice. Your earlier work was performance-based and revolved around the activities of particular alter egos, for instances the Man From Below, who attempts to build a safe environment underground. The Notes project, however, gives voice to a mysterious collective through a series of video montages. What prompted this shift in your practice?

CT. With the Man From Below project and some earlier works I worked with various alter egos to create videos and performances that enact themes of control over the environment, and its relationship to fear and anxiety. These alter egos would always present a set of solutions for moving underground, repurposing the surface (in the MFB’s case) or removing all forms of “dangerous nature” and then constructing one’s own animals (in my project Lets Start Again). These characters were absurd and their proposals likely to fail so that the results were often quite safe. I realised that I needed change my approach in order to move the work forward.

So I moved away from using just the alter egos and instead took on the role of various groups to propose paranoid control solutions that this time were more believable and unsettling with no obvious moment of revelation when their fictional nature becomes apparent. I also became interested in ideas for new forms of radical community and group such as the community without community discussed by Nancy and Agamben and the multitude and swarm-like action described by Hardt and Negri – I was curious to see how these ideas could be visualised.

By using large amounts of found footage I was able to make the proposed actions appear as if they were being orchestrated by people on a mass scale. I’m interested in an authorial approach because it allows me to continuously change roles and make proposals contradict each other – on one hand proposing a method of control and on the other hand proposing a way out of the structures of control. My interest in exploring the boundaries, paradoxes and fears related to control  is still a key backbone to the work.

LB. To what extent are these Notes still concerned with ideas of identity that are inherently being proposed in any performance?

CT. I think that the working methodology employed in Notes comments on ideas of identity in a few ways: firstly by using an authorial approach and taking on the persona and voice of an anonymous community I am able to build messaging models which undermine distinctions between authorship and anonymity, between the individual and the collective voice and between fact and fiction.

But I’m also interested in how all of us build our identities and how this process can be exercised through the role of the artist.  So the attempt to subvert society’s obsessions, fears and anxieties by taking on the role of groups who over-identify with them also becomes a question about the identity of the artist and their place in this debate.

LB. Yet you do so in a way that is quite evasive and circular, playing with the notion of identity in a way that is both self-referrential and undetermined as much as you play with the actual identity of the participants.

LB.The application of technology is a consistent theme in your work. You have cited Brian Holmes’ writing on virtualized forms of control as influential to your practice. Can you tell me a bit about how his ideas circulate in this work?

CT. Brian Holmes has written about forms of cybernetic control and biopolitical control and explored how an art practice can be subversive within conditions of control. He suggests that one method that can be effective is using over-identification. Instead of making works that directly critique control methodologies he suggests making works that embrace them and enact them further as a act of subversion. This strategy can be seen in many of the Notes video transmissions.

LB. On closer inspection, a lot of your source materials are quite benign and depict activities generally considered productive, things like outdoor sports, hobbies, DIY activities and wildlife preservation projects. How do these leisure or well-intended activities relate to the idea of control you are critiquing?

CT. To some extent I am playing with people’s paranoia of the sub-versive activities undertaken by these types of ‘unknown’ groups. The kind of paranoia that could prompt bans on watering gardens or using a rock wall. But I am also interested in how mundane leisure activities can be destabilized to become sub-versive , that the activities of ‘real’ everyday life actually have  potential disruptive agendas.

It is important that these normal activities can be re-written as subversive actions, playing with the viewers’ anxiety that arises out of the proposals – which are on the one hand solutions to society’s fears and on the other proposals for paranoid dystopias.

LB. So you re-present the conditions of these terrifying but somewhat irrational situations and then apply your own frameworks…additional forms of manipulation… it so as to foster another kind of anxiousness – which enables you to highlight – in a very experiential way — the underlying methods of control at work.

CT: Yes that’s right

LB. I’m still uncertain of the extent to which we, as viewers, are in the end being manipulated or are being empowered to think critically. Can you talk a bit about how you work with ideas of factuality and fiction and to your own position on the message?

CT. I think that the notion of the real and the use of fiction are increasingly becoming blurred. Fiction often being used in the construction of histories – Boris Groys has recently proposed that in the conditions of the ending of history a key way for an artist to work is by creating forms of documentary that represent the state of society. I see the works in Notes as a kind of parallel documentary of society’s conditions and our relationship with control, fear and anxiety. I see these works as documents of the potential outcomes of these conditions so that the viewer is both drawn in to the works but also reminded of society’s absurdities and contradictions.

LB. Despite the very critical line of inquiry, I found moments of humour in your work – absurd juxtapositions of words and images or instances where you seem to poke fun at fringe activities and so-called alternative lifestyles. What role does humour play in your work?

CT. Humour has always played a role in my work – to a more subtle degree with the new works than in the alter ego projects. I think there is potential for critique in the absurdities that arise from the human desire to control things – particularly with regards to our relationship with the environment. One minute we attempt to control it and use it for our own means and at the next minute we attempt to save it…but in quite a half hearted way.

Governments seem to harness environmental issues and our ambivalence toward them and use them to generate fear and anxiety and by extension effect control over  populations. My works often propose extreme and sometimes humourous solutions for ‘saving’ the environment that over-identify with the expectation of environmental disaster as a means of questioning society’s genuine motivations for change.

LB. The material in the second Notes series seems to me to have the effect of being more instructional – almost like a secondary level of training geared at sub-groups or targeted populations within a larger group. Can you talk a bit about the difference in intention between the Notes 1 and Notes 2 series?

CT. In Notes 2 I looked particularly at some extreme plans for control that have already existed or are suspected to exist. The videos are definitely more instructional and devise various control solutions that in each case are aimed at particular groups.

One group I researched was the movement who support complete technological singularity. In the Singularity video I look at how such a concern might be achieved by harnessing DIY surgery techniques. Technological singularity could become the ultimate form of control where all biological things become somehow digital, pre-emptable and trackable whilst at the same time making the body’s organs predictable engineered things – this dystopian desire matches the utopian dream for eternal life.

The video Ionosphere plays out the conspiracy theory related to the US government’s project HAARP in Alaska – HAARP is a park full of Tesla conductors that apparently can manipulate the weather by affecting the earth’s ionosphere. In the video I look at how homemade Tesla conductors can be used to manipulate temperatures to minus 70 degrees and replenish the environment.

The video Navstevnici, made on a residency in the Czech Republic, looks at the paranoia of meteor impact (which was a key plot line in the Czech TV series called Navstevnici) and proposes a plan to embrace the immanent impact by destroying the surrounding environment and maintaining an incendiary condition. This video also outlines a plan to avoid the impact by tunneling to the Adriatic Sea and constructing an island from the remaining earth. This was an actual plan during the communist era in which the government had planned a 400 mile tunnel to the Adriatic sea where they would construct a new island as a Czech holiday resort. The plan was abandoned when the Austrian government refused to let them tunnel beneath Austria.

LB. Can you tell me about your forthcoming projects?

CT. In my new project I am taking on the identity of a new group called the Zapisale, who operate as an anonymous art group with a short manifesto. In the first part of the project I am looking at how to operate beyond all forms of control both as an artist and as a subversive group and how to move beyond some of the forms of control proposed in the previous two Notes series. The project takes Brian Holmes’ concept of the noosphere (the invisible sphere of virtual control mechanisms and electromagnetic pulses that sits above the biosphere) as its starting point.

The project is also loosely based on the MIT book ‘The Coming Insurrection’ written by an anonymous group called ‘The Invisible Committee,’ which outlines plans for operating outside control structures and identifies methods of obstructing various forms of virtualised control mechanisms.