Decolonialising The Archive: Morehshin Allahyari

Morehshin Allahyari & Daniel Rourke - #Additivism talk at Sonic Acts Academy, photo by Pieter Kers
By Nastassja Simensky “Oil is the undercurrent of all narrations not only to the political but also that of the ethics of life on earth” Reza Negarastani. Artists Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke have just been awarded the prestigious Vilém Flusser Residency for Artistic Research in Berlin for their expansive project #Additivism, which centres around the 3D Additivist Manifesto: a call to push additive manufacturing technologies like 3D printing to their limits, and beyond the realm of the speculative. Nastassja Simensky talks to Allahyari about oil, digital colonialism, and dark Goddesses. Nastassja Simensky (NS): You are here at Sonic Acts to give a workshop and talk about #Additivism, your collaborative project with Daniel Rourke. During the Vilém Flusser Residency in Berlin you will be working towards completing the 3D Additivist Cookbook. Is there anything you are working on after that? Morehshin Allahyari (MA): Right now I am thinking through concepts of Dark Goddesses. It stems from both Donna Haraway, but also Gorgon and Medusa. I was reading today about how Haraway talked about this as the time to take back the dark goddesses, and think about them as dreadful, in order to embrace them as an element for cure. I love that. I have also been reading Reza Negarastani's Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, a science fiction I have been really inspired by. There is a whole section in the book where he talks about ‘dark goddesses’ but also the radical outside and desertification as concepts; and this thing he calls dustism. He comes to it from the perspective of jihadists and terrorists, how they want to flatten the earth, with this idea of ‘desertification’ as a way to restart something. There are a lot of speculative and poetic ways of thinking about this. Where I am at the moment is thinking about the darkness of destruction, something I want to expand by embracing these dark and fearful goddesses. NS: A lot has been written about 3D printing as a future technology. Typically it prints in wood, metals, resins and proteins, but plastics are the most common material used. How does the materiality of plastic relate to geology and time? MA: I find it interesting to think about deep time, via the number of years it will take for oil to be formed, and then the use of crude oil as a raw material for plastic. Once plastic is created it will stay in the environment for many, many years. We are going to be stuck with it and it is going to be stuck with us. That cycle and relationship is really interesting to me. When I was working on my project Material Speculation, I didn't want plastic to be a discussion point. Even though those relationships exist in the work, I wanted to use resin. I don't know if you've ever touched resin, but if you hold it, it has a stone-like density to it. NS: Can you explain your metaphorical ideas of the material, as well as practical ones, in that plastic will be sticking around for a while? MA: One thing Daniel Rourke and I talk about a lot in #Additivism is that we don't think the way to respond [to the plastics problem] is to say ‘let’s recycle things and save the world by figuring out how to get rid of plastic'. Donna Haraway talks about this with the Chthulhucene too: Let’s embrace this shitty thing we are living in instead of thinking about solving solutions solely from that environmentalist, singularity way of thinking about the future. Let’s think about the horror we are already in, embrace the plastic, and think about another way to deal with it. NS: For you is it important acknowledging you are already living in the ruins of something and using that perspective to move forward, rather than searching for a Utopian solution? MA: I always talk about this, and how much I actually don't believe in us as humans. I don't think in our form as humans, in the way we exist now, we are ever going to be able to change. Something much more radical and fundamental has to change so that the conditions we are experiencing can also change. I’m interested in how Haraway thinks about this other-than-human way of being. NS: Is there an important difference between large institutions creating digital archives, models and artefacts as opposed to people openly sharing things they feel are historically or culturally significant? MA: There is hype around using 3D printers and 3D scanners as a way to save the cultural heritage of the world. We are living in a very interesting but also dark experience of digital colonialism. There are companies, particularly tech companies, becoming leaders in 'saving' this cultural heritage. But no-one knows where all these files are ending up. Who has access to them? What is the profit or benefit? I don't believe that a company does this because they have an emotional or personal connection to these places. That's a problem. NS: Do you think with a solely institutional perspective there is a risk that complex historical narratives can be flattened or skewed? MA: Did you see that they are going to recreate Palmyra in London? This is first of all, a kind of colonialism; second, this completely removes a layer of information, including the reason why ISIS destroyed this place. The US military had a direct influence on the war in Iraq and on the formation of ISIS as a group, right? So it means completely removing all of these things and becoming a hero for these issues. Taking the hero role is very problematic. With my project [Material Speculation] it’s been very complicated. I am from Iran and I grew up there but I have lived in the US for nearly eight years. Even for me, with all this history that is my culture, I never interpret this project from the point of view of nationalism - I don't care about that. I never want to sell these pieces. I never want to have a life-size version of these pieces anywhere in the West. If I could make one to go back in the Mosul museum, just as a gesture, that would then make sense. But this is disorienting, and is very problematic. I find it depressing to see so many companies taking very clear positions of ‘them’ and ‘us’ and this story of 'we are going to save it'. NS: Is releasing work on the internet a way to navigate that? MA: Releasing on the web is the best solution for me, because it doesn’t have this geography; it doesn’t have place-ness in it. Sharing that is really important for me. It’s one of the only ways to de-colonialise it. One of the things that happened when Material Speculation was developing was the Paris attacks, and the refugee crisis. The project started to take all these turns through the press – 'this artist is also fighting ISIS'. It was the last thing I wanted my project to be about. I am reconstructing something that was lost. There is a resistance to the removal of history and memory through the use of this technology, but it’s also of practical use. When your project gets hijacked for certain politics, when it becomes uncomfortable – that’s what the real world is about. It’s important for me to talk, reflect back, rethink, and redefine. NS: You prefer acknowledgement and embracing things rather than creating distance: can you elaborate on that position? MA: If we could all just agree that we are shitty and cruel and not holy as a species – which doesn't mean we have to have a depressing way of thinking about the world – we could define or redefine something that is bigger than us, or beyond our imagination. It’s a good way of thinking about #Additivism because it goes beyond 3D printing, but also because of the complexity. There is no right or wrong, or black and white, and it’s good to work in the space in between. It is too simplistic to see it as binary. I don't have a solution and I never look for one. Being able to imagine things is the most important thing.

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