Zach Blas Contra-Internet

Queer anti-capitalist sci-fi...

By Paul Clinton

Zach Blas, Jubilee 2033, film still, 2017. Commissioned by Gasworks; Art in General, New York; and MU, Eindhoven. Courtesy the artist Zach Blas, Contra-Internet, 2017. Installation view. Commissioned by Gasworks; Art in General, New York; and MU, Eindhoven. Image: Andy Keate. Courtesy the artist 

Gasworks, London, 21 September – 10 December


Although ostensibly critical of capitalism, Derek Jarman’s cult film Jubilee (1978) was originally conceived of partly as a way to make a profit out of the punk scene. It’s therefore a decidedly ambivalent feature for Zach Blas to use as the basis for his queer anti-capitalist sci-fi Jubilee 2033 (2017), the main video in his first institutional solo show.

 Where Jubilee satirised manufactured media heroes, Blas’s target is the Internet, dominated by a deregulated capitalism and increasingly consuming the world at large. Jubilee 2033 begins in the 1950s with free-market figureheads Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan, the latter accompanied by his wife Joan Mitchell. Reclining in a deco chair, a wild-eyed, mannish Rand (played by Susanne Sachsse) argues that altruism and the common good must give way to unbridled individualism. Only in this way can heroic men – supported by compliant women – achieve great things unimpeded. As Blas demonstrates, this sexist economic model already dominates the Internet: the trio are visited by Azuma Hikari, a servile CGI fembot currently commercially available as an artificial intelligence assistant, presumably marketed at men. She transports the group into the year 2033, where tech startups lie in ruins, their offices ransacked and torched. A genderless AI operative, Nootropix (played by performance artist and body builder Cassils), describes how online monopolies are giving way to a revolution that seeks to return the Internet to the early potential seen in it by cyberfeminist thinkers.

Blas’s target is the Internet, dominated by a deregulated capitalism and increasingly consuming the world at large

Throughout the show, Blas self-consciously employs Critical Art Ensemble’s technique of ‘utopian plagiarism’: the appropriation of existing cultural forms to imagine an alternative future. It’s a potent satirical tool that in the film produces many funny lines (“my heroes were the infrastructuralists”) delivered in a hammy manner that captures the rough charm of Jarman’s original. But like any oppositional strategy, it risks being shaped by the very thing it resists or appropriates. Nootropix is announced as “our black hat”, a kind of lone hacker intent on wilful destruction; aren’t such rebels simply countercultural versions of the Randian hero, like Jarman’s marketable antimarket punks? And by mirroring the destructive politics of Jubilee, is Blas saying that online capitalism must be accelerated to breaking point in order to bring about change? It’s a not unproblematic scenario, in which the most precarious members of society would doubtless be the collateral damage.

In the second of the exhibition’s two rooms, a trio of videos (Inversion Practice #1–3, 2015–16) offer absurdist strategies for working against the Internet from within, using online editing software. One screen depicts the erasure of social media platforms, leaving only the user’s words; on another, a find and replace function exchanges the word ‘capitalism’ for ‘internet’ in a range of essays on the unimaginable end of capital. These minor, less extreme gestures show just how hard it is to imagine the end of the Internet, and how we might go about doing so.


From the December 2017 issue of ArtReview