The Long Progress Bar
September 17, 2015

We report from the 2-day festival where artists including Holly Herndon, Zach Blas and David Bandy discuss the future of art and technology

In The Writer of Modern Life, Walter Benjamin realised that “Every epoch not only dreams the next, but whilst dreaming impels it into wakefulness.” At The Long Progress Bar earlier this month, thinkers of today’s modern life reignited Benjamin’s sentiment and impelled an audience of hundreds into wakefulness. Held by digital culture agency Lighthouse in Brighton as part of the Digital Festival, the 2-day conference of talks and workshops fixed itself on reshaping the world and improving our reality. Playful and inspiring, the event facilitated a course of conversations centred around developing new methods of empowerment through collective action, art and technology.

From a pulpit-esque point in front of a congregation of radical fans of the future spoke a series of creative thinkers with innovative ideas on new ways to live. Economists, artists, musicians, activists, feminists and designers rallied together on the first day to share their experiences of radical living and promote their ideas for creating social innovation and advancing democracy. Day 2 gave the audience opportunity to contribute to the conversation around paradise politics through group sessions led by the speakers of the previous day.

As it unfolded, the festival of radical imagination described by its curator, Juha Van’t Zelfde, as “The Graham Norton show inside Berghain” developed an atmosphere that was far less celebrity chat show and far more a force majeure of hopeful progressiveness. What ran through the days and discussions was a sense of possibility for the future to come. The shared commitment to real change made the event one of collaboration, contribution and co-creation, creating a space where meaningful progress felt within reach.

The role of art and technology was positioned throughout as a crucial tool for transformation. It was economist Guy Standing who said when opening Day 2, “Artists must go from a sense of anger to a sense of joy. They can’t just object, they must offer a future.” It was around this sense of progress, hopefulness and action that the varied speakers rallied, bringing together the following highlights from the festival as a whole.

David Blandy

Blandy’s hypnotic video installation, commissioned for Bloomberg SPACE, this year offers an alternative narrative of the history of London. Performance poetry meets rap, the Greek stories of Heracles meet global financial news footage, and reality confronts perception in a mesmerising exploration of empire, civilisation, language, technology and development. ‘Hercules: Rough Cut’ is a layered amalgamation of influences that challenges established forms of knowledge about the city, and campaigns for hope.

Paul Mason

Opening the Bar was Paul Mason, former Culture and Digital Editor and current Economics Editor at Channel 4. The author of ‘PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future’ led us through his guide, advocating that to understand who we are we must employ the most important tools we have: imagination and the self. For this generation’s ability to create multiple selves, an act that can seem false and hypocritical to older generations, offers a new potentiality. “We’ve moved faster as human beings towards the goal than society has been able to catch up behind us,” he stated, but by understanding the power of creativity we can inch closer to a reality of collective social control.

 

Artists must go from a sense of anger to a sense of joy. They can’t just object, they must offer a future.

 

Guy Standing

The founder and co-President of BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network) Guy Standing explored his realisation that the concept of what we do with our time has to be changed. Citing feeling out of control in one’s own life, and the inability to balance work and leisure, he sought to identify the contemporary conflict facing the emerging mass class, the ‘Precariat’. Standing argued that it is from these struggles that a desire for paradise politics is being ignited in the young. And it is art, he demands, that accelerates agency and has the potential to paint a radically different future.Zach Blas

Where are we now with the World Wide Web? “Just as capitalism has been theorised in the past, the internet has come to stand as something of a totality,” Blas levelled. Moving beyond and against the familiar terms ‘post-digital’ and ‘post-internet’ that are so often used to conceptualise our present era of digital networks, artist, writer and theorist Zach Blas looked to find potential alternatives to the totality of the internet as a sociocultural condition. Referring to radical subversions, transgressions and inversions of the internet as the ‘Contra-Internet’, Blas both highlights the inadequacies of the online realm, suggesting that there is hope for a utopia of fairness beyond the networks that we currently know.

 

We’ve moved faster as human beings towards the goal than society has been able to catch up behind us.

 

Holly Herndon & Jam City (talk and performance)

Looking back through their email correspondence, musical collaborators Jam City and Holly Herndon embarked on a discussion of the themes and ideas that arose between them online. From their focus on the personal as political and a shared optimism that discourses are shifting towards dissent, the conversation took place, at their insistence, “in a casual way”. Asking for the lights to be dimmed to remove the barrier between themselves and the audience, the collaborative, egalitarian ideals they discussed were brought into play. Herndon’s record raises ‘new fantasies’ or ‘new ways to love’, overlapping thematically with Jam City’s conclusions on breaking the divisive, apathetic climate. Together, they advocated a desire to build new collectives through music.

The Long Progress Bar took place from 3-4th September 2015 as part of the Brighton Digital Festival. 

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