The following is an excerpt from an essay entitled “After London; or Apparitions of nested time” that appeared in THE END, the final issue of KAPSULA magazine in September 2016. A pdf of the entire issue is available for free download here.
The event occurred on December 12, 2015. I had been living in London for three years. My work visa was nearing its expiration date and my employer had agreed to sponsor me for a new one. On this day, I had just sat down to eat lunch at my desk when I received an email informing me of the failure of my application. Stricken, I immediately left the office. It was an unusually bright winter’s day and I felt overly visible to the people milling about the streets of Islington. I walked quickly, trying not to cry, failing. I stopped in a small public square, surrounded on all sides by black wrought iron fencing and tall white-trimmed Victorian houses. The park contained a circular path, oak trees, a gazebo and some low stone steps upon which I sat. In this setting I experienced a series of simultaneous and contradictory visions, which the following text describes. Twenty minutes or so passed before I left the park, returned to my desk and the soup that had only just gone cold. In that time, it was as if the planes of space and time that formed the horizon lines of past and future were folded in and under themselves, surrounding me in irregular geometries like those of a crumpled piece of paper.
It would be several months before I would ultimately lose my leave to remain in the United Kingdom in March, 2016. Although this moment held fast in my memory as the definitive marker of the end, I dismissed these revelations as simply the side effects of personal grief. However, given recent events and the newly precarious status of the three million European nationals living in the U.K., I wonder whether such experience might be prescient. There is no return; perhaps all that is left is to convert this event into an affirmative split, to commit to the belief that “happening is when appearing is the same thing as disappearing” (Badiou 2005). It is under these auspices that I wish to note the following exchanges between my body and various non-human elements:
3. The houses that surrounded the square became lighter. The even forms of the bricks, windows and doors were unchanged, but their material heft had evaporated; they perched on the pavement like pieces of a paper diorama that might at any moment tip and land silently in undamaged wholes. The previous autumn, the South London Gallery was subsumed in In-Between: Thomas Hirschhorn’s frenetic sculpture of false walls assembled with packing tape, shards of cracked Styrofoam tumbling from the ceiling, and piles of rubble lovingly composed of painted cardboard bricks. Within the material fray, a quote from Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks was scrawled on a banner: “Destruction is difficult; indeed it is as difficult as creation.” The astonishing intricacy and awesome scale of Hirschhorn’s work created a triumphant, euphoric portrait of disaster that seemed to speak to a widespread contemporary craving for collapse. There is a gleeful tenor to the nihilistic language of accelerationist theory (Avanessian and McKay 2014, 4) that is not dissimilar to the spectacle of mainstream disaster movies (indeed Hollywood has provided cinema audiences at least six separate high definition visions of the destruction of London’s great landmarks in the last five years). However, the presence of Gramsci’s weighty words suggests that Hirschhorn in fact explores something far more complex. Discussing the exhibition, the artist disclosed his lack of concern for the art object as it came to be exhibited: “My idea is not to make something impressive […] my idea is to work a lot” (Hirschhorn 2015). At once affirmative and ambivalent towards precarity, In-Between wavers between the lightness of its materials and the immense labour required to assemble and ultimately disassemble its components—operating, as promised, in-between a slow struggle to revise hegemonic systems and a burning desire to accelerate them into precipitating their own ruination (Reed 2014, 523).