Interview with Joseph Nechvatal – Part 3

by Taney Roniger

madOnna cOl bambino. 2011. by Joseph Nechvatal. 66×44” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas

TR: Let’s turn back to Immersion Into Noise. I just want to say that I found the chapter on Paleolithic cave art, where you describe your descent into the Lascaux cave (among others) so moving and so powerful.

JN: Thank you. I do think that’s sort of the core of the book, and I try to make the case for the art of noise visually based on that, because I think it was the most concrete example – in immersive terms – that I experienced and that I could write about first-hand. I mean, as you can tell in the book I tried to write about visual noise from my travels and experiences. But yes, the cave of Lascaux was a transformative moment.

TR: One of the things I was struck by in this chapter was the element of danger inherent in making the descent into those caves. I mean, it wasn’t exactly like stepping into the studio for a day’s work for these early artists. I wonder if there’s something of that element of danger, or fear, or incomprehensible enormousness that attracts us to the internet. I think you’ve touched on this somewhere.

JN: I have talked about how computers stimulate us almost like sublime vastness, which is both enticing and scary. Your typical sublime reaction to enormity is a mix of attraction and fear. There is a reinterest in sublime art, as you might know, in Brooklyn with the metal group Liturgy and the movement called transcendental black metal music. They’re connecting music back to the vastness of nature. It’s almost Wagnerian in intentionality. And I found that very moving, and it was one of the influences on my show at Galerie Richard – nOise anusmOs.

TR: What were some of your other influences? How did you come up with the theme for this show?

JN: I was listening to a lot of that, and I was listening to a lot of Roland Kirk and late John Coltrane – all this avant-garde sax, and I was reading Manuel da Landa’s book Philosophy and Simulation, in which he goes really into the cellular automaton as a general principle in the basis of geology, on the basis of tribal organizations and more – a whole historical re-analysis through the cellular automata principle, which is, again, using simple elements with enough frequency that emergent properties pop up. So he uses this as a principle of emergent social organization. So I was reading that, I was listening to this music, and I was in the south of France staying in a house in the country. I would look at the flowers and the seeds.

TR: And Speculative Realism? Did that play a role?

JN: Yeah. I’d already been reading Speculative Realism the year before, and actually I mention Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude, which is the one that got me started into Speculative Realism. He’s in a couple of footnotes in Immersion Into Noise. Actually, that book prepared me for all the other stuff.

TR: It seems there is, with Speculative Realism, a reintroduction of metaphysics into a climate that’s been hostile toward it for some time now…Metaphysics is now okay again.

JN: Yes. I think that’s the key thing. It’s a hodge-podge. And in fact, Ray Brassier, who is the translator of the Quentin Meillassoux book, and who I’ve read (he has a book on nihilism, and he wrote a piece on noise music), he actually says that it’s not a real movement, and that you can’t lump these philosophers together. You have object oriented ontology, you have some neo-vitalism, you have transcendental materialism, and you have an interest in science fiction. No, it’s a real hodge-podge, which I think is just grand. But depending on how rigid you are as a philosopher, people could be put off by that. I was prepared for this by Deleuze, because for him philosophy is the creation of new concepts.


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