Boundless Conversations - Anthony Elliot Baker in Conversation with Tiana Jefferies.
And we’re just trying to pick socks that match while it’s still going.
Self awareness, but both really.
What was he saying?
So the images that have been rehashed into a landscape?
Yeah… They’re like colour field paintings. But the initial idea gets turned into something else.
And the form and the content are...
It then becomes a material, because the program the original video footage are manually chopped out every frame and so those frames get rendered through this program which are assigned one of those pictures that are collected to a brightness, creating a picture mosaic. So then both of these two things come into this one not-thing together.
And each is a channel in your installation.
Just that initial idea becomes something else. I know what it is – a new idea.
Yeah I totally get that like it’s almost as if it’s a rehashing of an experience.
And what I was writing was saying that’s my idea of recursion.
Yeah I wanted to ask you about that actually.
I’m trying to avoid going down that mathematical and visually recognisable path, of like this is what recursivity is like it’s self-referential you can see, you know like a Russian doll you can it’s blatantly visually obvious.
I guess outside of consciousness there’s not really any recursion in our lives that isn’t digital or mathematical.
And they’re both virtual
And they’re maybe the only ways we can visualise this abstract idea.
That feedback in the work with the CCTV camera when it makes the Fibonacci symbol – it occurs in these places that are from nature.
I don’t know if it’s just the way time and space works.
Yeah is it a natural phenomenon?
Like cause shits always expanding and moving.
And I wonder if realities are recursive as well.
Yeah exactly. That’s only our perception of the universe through with our limited senses. So you just don’t fucking know. You need to recursively step out of the human experience.
Apparently our eyesight has evolved to the point where we find human faces the most attractive. If we had better eyesight people would be uglier, and if it was worse people would be blurry and that’s not very attractive either. So maybe our consciousness has also evolved to the point where we can function to the best of our abilities without understanding and perceiving everything – but just enough to get by.
There’s perceptual blindness too. Where things will change right in front of your eyes and you don’t even notice. In that video there was 1, 2, or 3 extra frames on one of them. So they were both 1 second long going “You are you are you are” but after a while, like car blinkers at a set of lights and they go in out of synchronicity. You’ll see they go beep beep beep beep and then they’ll line up and they’ll all flash for a few times at the same time and then vanish off and do their own thing again.
And we can’t perceive that change?
It is more noticeable. But because that video would span out over 20 minutes it would reset itself. So the rhythm at times was 1 2 1 2, and then over time it would be [clicks fingers]. But you don’t notice the change in the frames until after the fact.
I guess that proves that like…
It’s more common visually though.
I guess that was kind of done a bit in pop art when you create illusions that your brain can’t fully grasp? I guess it just proves that disconnect between our brains and our eyes.
And what we think, and what we care about. Alva Noë, who I read a lot, he talks about why we can’t pick up on details in dreams because we don’t need them. A lot of visual stuff – 99% of what you visually remember in a dream, the brain doesn’t need them or our body doesn’t need them. You just wake up with some kind of shit feeling to try and figure out.
And it’s always a feeling that’s attached to an action. It’s never what you remember of the action and that’s all there is to it. I always remember a feeling of disgust or guilt or something and I remember the action involved in it.
I had a dream ages ago that I killed someone accidentally. I got rid of a body and didn’t tell anyone.
I wonder if that’s a good simulation of what you’d do in that situation? I don’t think you could bet that you’d do the same thing.
Dream Tony is a different person. And then months later it came back, and it was really real. I had another one recently I had this super cool car. And I forgot about this and had to pick it up off some mafia guy who lived at Bridgeman Downs.
Do you think you can tell something about your subconscious through these dreams?
Is that what you’re trying to do with this recursivity and getting people to watch themselves in these situations. Are you trying to access some kind of subconscious?
No I think I’m just trying to make a metaphor for my experiences with ketamine and meta-cognition – like being able to think about your thinking. So it’s like meta-awareness, or a hyper-awareness more than anything. But that’s asking way too much of people. It sort of gets lost on most people. It’s not an institutional thing in education where we get taught about our feelings and how to deal with them and how to think about our thoughts. It’s like, learn about this fake history and some fucken trigonometry.
But if we understood how to think or if we notice how we think…
And our effect on how we interact and how things make us feel.
So you were able to do that through ketamine?
Yeah it took a lot for me. I didn’t even have much empathy for myself. So I was just a menace. So moods would get the best of me growing up. And so ketamine slows your brain down – it’s a dissociative anaesthetic but also a hallucinogenic after a certain amount. But what happens in the brain is the glutamate receptors get stuff up there and it stimulates this thing that produces BDNF – brain derived neurotrophic factor. It’s a hormone in your brain that sends a signal to make the brain grow neuroplasticity. It brings you down to a baseline where you can cognitively reassign your behaviour. Or clinicians can come in and reconfigure, retrain your cognitive patterns.
Because we develop pathways through experiences and develop automatic reactions to situations and you can re-write that through this process?
If you think about PTSD - you know, you freak out, and war vets will hear a bomb blast if something triggers some kind of paranoia - you can sort of not while you’re high. But after the fact for the next week, you have this distance between yourself, and that’s in wiggly brackets yourself – and you. If that makes sense. So I’d be in a third person sort of way perceiving myself talking to you. And you can be like “hang on what are you saying fuckwit?”
Like an out-of body experience where you’re watching yourself but in yourself at the same time. Was that a pleasant experience?
Yeah, yeah. But a the same time you come to the realisation [of] how you got there in the first place, so it’s sort of like humbling.
It sounds like maybe the point that people are trying to get through to with meditation, transcendental meditation is meant to allow yourself to watch yourself.
It’s like being chucked on a rocket to get there. People can try [for] years and years. I think I’ve always been aware of – what do you call that world… not this world. But that really got me in tune with shit.
And I guess the work is now not trying to recreate that for other people but maybe trying to explore how to represent that?
I’m still trying to figure that out, because it feels like I’ll never get there. You can never recreate the feeling of dissociation, or psychosis or paranoia to the point where you have hallucinations and stuff. But you can sort of simulate effects, like a feeling of complete dread, and confusion and delusion to an extent.
And I totally get those things through your work. If I hadn’t known about these experiences you’ve had I don’t know that I’d connect them with those experiences because I haven’t had those experiences. But I guess, is it a way of holding on, like these moments of intensity are so intangible, is it maybe a way of holding onto them or making it tangible in a way?
I think just coming here straight after, or during, I was still going through the treatment. I wish I could leave it all behind, but they fucken enable you here to be – again everything in that clinical world they say no that’s bad, that’s bad don’t go thinking about that, here they’re like yeah keep up the good work.
What kind of things?
You know, just like – it is good revisiting those bad thoughts and feelings and stuff. And reinterpreting them and creating new meanings and stuff. But also I don’t wanna be doing that forever.
At a certain point you’ve gotta kinda let go.
It’s been 5 years or more, 6 years. I’d like to think I’m normal now.
We met when I was in second year, or maybe I was in first year I don’t know…
2015 or ‘16 or something.
Feel like you seemed normal then.
[laughs] I think I am. As weird as it sounds. There’s that record there. There’s something grounding about it. It’s just a wider perspective on things.
Yeah I’m almost jealous in a way because you must understand, or, I don’t know, like that broader…
It’s weird. Yeah I don’t know. I was thinking about some people I know, and it’s crazy. I think we lost track of that question.
We talk about this ‘watching of the self’ and I wanted to know where that interest came from? There is another tangent I was thinking about though and it was when I first met you, you were super into performance. You, yourself, doing performance, videoing and interacting with these objects that you made. And now the focus has shifted onto the audience as a performer as well. And I wanted to know what shifted there?
Half of it was old age. I’ve had things I’ve wanted to do with performance, but it has to be right. It has to feel right. And that just hasn’t felt right for quite some time.
That makes sense. It takes a lot for an action to be able to symbolise the feeling and be able to translate that.
It’s really draining too. The stuff I was doing was painful. I felt at times a shitload of adrenaline or dopamine, but after it was completely drained for a week or two. I was trying to pass the things I was feeling and finding out in those performances on through the work by proxy. It was a closer connection. Because all art, the artist makes it, puts it out in the world, and then it’s experienced by proxy. When they can interact and get a visceral feeling then I usually chuck in a bit of brain numbing in there – that’s why I use a lot of sound. I think it’s a closer connection between the author and the audience.
When it’s not a performance?
When I make interactive or participatory work.
I see performance as me as the performer having a more direct relationship with the work than the audience ever will and feels like it’s more for me, and less about putting something into the world. When you create these installations or situations or experiences it really is sharing something more directly.
I always find that you make something and you find it’s not really about what you thought it was when you made it. In that way, it’s like the audience brings their own pre-existing notions and then walk away with something else.
We had a chat about that a couple of years ago at Archie’s talk. And I was kinda like “this guy gets it”.
Yeah that’s right.
It’s not about what the artist intends for you to understand – it really is about a place in the middle where you bring your preconceived ideas and maybe the work brings some kind of content or stimulus, and this bit in between is the art experience.
He was doing a whole bunch of auto-ethnographic stuff too. Perhaps that’s like the institution saying “this is what it’s about”. And that’s what I feel like I’m fighting, or struggling with – that notion of what non-art-inclined people bring to art. What was that tattoo show with Kat Von D [LA Ink, ed.] and people would be like “this tattoo represents my … “ [inaudible]. So it’s that notion, I don’t like it.
There’s another language that we’ve invented for art. This whole idea of making something because you can’t put it into words and that then being – having a language project onto that seems paradoxical.
Then that’s dictated by an economic standpoint too. And institutional as well. We were taught about the symbolism of [inaudible] art and what that means.
There’s aesthetic economics as well. And people are really excited and delving into the negative side of emotions and aesthetics and the feelings they evoke, but it’s sort of a side-show alley freak show. It’s sort of exploited.
It’s romanticised and fetishised. But it’s put into this box of auto-ethnography I guess, but it’s not fair for the artist who’s just trying to make shit. Because aren’t we all auto-ethnographic artists? Aren’t we all making something that’s unique to our experiences?
One way or another you’re head’s like a fucking washing machine.
And we’re just trying to pick socks that match while it’s still going.
It’s like this big processing thing. That might be another problem I have – I’m trying to dissociate authorship. But I probably can’t do that either.
Yeah it’s hard. I think I’ve been trying to make something that lets people have a subjective experience, but I’ve realised it’s determined by my subjective decisions. So I don’t know how fair that is on people. Do you ever think about getting into a state – I don’t know what a dissociated state would be like – but do you ever think about making or thinking of artworks or ideas for artworks in that state?
Doesn’t happen as much anymore. But I’ve got no real control over it. So I’ve tried to fuck with that. For a while last year I was documenting how many pills I needed when I was taking some pills – valium and some other shit. I don’t know, but I was documenting the pills – thrown onto, it was like a print. And so that didn’t eventuate into anything because I – was too many factors. Too many factors like I needed a picture at the time. I needed a camera. And I needed to remember to do it. I wasn’t just like a regular dosage, it was more like when I realise that shits going down that path of badness and then like document it.
And that’s not a state where you’re able to think about organising these things like documentation.
And you’re sort of nihilistic too – like fuck it who cares. Those performances were me trying to get into a dissociative state through a repetitive task and through pain tolerance and stuff.
Do you think you achieved that?
Yeah. To an extent. I would say yes actually.
It sounds like you did from what you were doing and how exhausted you were after.
I think the best time for it to work was – you saw that video where I was swinging a mirror ball around and drawing with my feet. I was drawing a circle or a planet. There was charcoal on a canvas under me and a camera pointing down, and I was just spinning this mirror ball around and around and getting super fucking dizzy. And I was so hot and dizzy that I ended up throwing up. And I think through that I achieved a dissociated state.
What does that feel like?
You’re just not aware. It’s sort of like a flow state, and can be super-human. You can just smash through pain or a task.
Like a self-awareness that you lose?
Sounds enjoyable – but like it’s super intense.
It can get you into trouble in real life.
I’m thinking about a social self governance situation more than a meta-awareness. I can’t do this because I’ll be ostracized. So I’ll just shut up and not say my opinion.
Does being aware of that help make decisions?
If you’re aware of being aware of that ….
Is self awareness an aesthetic?
I don’t know, cause it means so many different things in my head
Aesthetics or self awareness?
Self awareness, but both really.
Sometimes I think I don’t understand it; I fucken get it; or like I got it, but now fuck, what are you doing, a PhD and not understanding aesthetics?
But that's what keeps me going, not understanding stuff. I think that's why I like your work, because I don't understand it.
Me neither like I'll happily admit that I don't understand shit. Even my own stuff.
But that doesn't discredit it or make it any less valuable or poignant. It still has an ability to communicate this intensity.
That’s why found objects are good hey.
Cause they’re not ours.
Yeah look at this moment that the world produced that I was not apart of, and has this aesthetic value that is totally unique.
I remember Chris [Bennie] was asking me about found aesthetics and them being an institutional critique but I didn't really agree with what he was trying to say about me.
What was he saying?
He was trying to interrogate where I was coming from, but my attitude is more what we were talking about before: this is cool, check this out.
Just allowing subjectivity. Yeah that’s what I like about found objects. I’ve decided to include [them] but I haven’t dictated every form or crevice of that object. So maybe there’s something democratic about that. You can connect these movements to death of the author.
I read that recently. I really like it.
I think it’s the same sentiment. This understanding that the author’s intention is not the be all end all and allowing a multitude of understandings and interpretations.
Cause this cage is pretty fixed but as culture changed the meaning of that cage is going to change.
I think that’s why art is special, it’s not defined by its properties and not its functional value. It’s this changing thing that changes with you.
You mentioned Dan Graham the other night. I think it’s a good example of what you’re doing in your work, except maybe you’re expanding on this experience of making people watch themselves and be aware of themselves in a public setting but additionally bringing in all these ideas of digitalisation and surveillance.
I think that digital just becomes another virtuality or virtual reality - like not the real. The idea of the mental world and the psychic world vs the digital world.
XYZ ARI would like to thank Tim Fairless for his assistance in the preparation of this manuscript.
Edited for clarity.