FOMO at the ICA, 29 May 2015 – 31 May 2015 – 04

FOMO: Ashkan Sepahvand, Erika Balsom introduces Harun Farocki’s Serious Games (2009-10), FOMO Panel chaired by Hito Steyerl

Ashkan Sepahvand

I didn’t make many notes during Ashkan’s performance lecture, but this is the session that has stayed with me. He opened by showing three music videos, which I’ll need to wait for the documentation to properly cite. The first was a house music track that used a huge amount of 1990s iconography, but mixed these with post internet tropes (pot plant, MPEG glitches). The second was a more minimal electronic composition with fast scrolling digital text which appeared to be slogans from, perhaps, NASDAQ companies. The language of these was all about achievement, winning, and so on – the language of neoliberalised individualised success.

The third video was an extremely fast-cut edit that vacillated between the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders lip-syncing Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, and servicemen doing the same identical poses in their military compound in Kandahar. This created a stroboscopic effect that made the two images mix in the eye of the viewer. Texts were overlaid on this imagery, such as “against solitude”, “body discipline”. The piece is the strongest visual memory I have of the conference. (My notes say simply: “super-interesting video, look it up”).

His reading was accompanied by a slideshow of images of good-looking, predominately white couples sourced from what looked like a tropical resort’s wedding catalogue, and US soldiers in their desert headquarters, some sourced from the video. The reading was very poetic and moved through a sci-fi scenario into a future of non-corporeal, corporatized sex, and ended with a showing of Latour’s “People are still having sex” video.

This overran so questions were deferred in favour of moving straight on to a screening of Harun Farocki’s Serious Games.

In her introduction, Erika Balsom invoked Baudrillard’s claims that the (first) Gulf War did not happen and used this as a tool with which to understand Farocki’s work. Baudrilard’s claim comes from his experience of the war as totally mediatised, existing only in image form and that the images themselves were heavily controlled and edited, stripped of their violence. The actual war is both absent and hyper-visible in Farocki’s work.

Made in 2009-10, six years into the second gulf war, the piece was shot in US military training centres in California. VR and CGI are used in both training and in rehab, and the work stages and explores the relationship between war, technology and image. Baudrillard’s privileged position of a French intellectual watching TV might account for his distance from the violence of the war; it’s a spectacle for him, but not for everyone. In Farocki’s piece however, the absence of violence is a structuring device and may be an ethical position.

The spaces depicted in the training and rehab VR spaces are highly choreographed. The training scenarios are totally plannable and controllable, schematic and sanitised. They enact a fantasy of mastery over the actual circumstance of war through technology. In reality, it’s impossible to remove all contingency as these simulations do.

The work uses the phrase “asymmetrical images” in relation to “asymmetrical wars”, as both a way of talking about power, and of unbalanced subject/object relations. “The world grasped as a picture offers both more and less than the real: more control, and less contingency”.


The panel at the end of day two seemed like a hard one to run, as the presentations seemed quite difficult to draw together into a single set of themes. Editing arose as a potential entry point, with Hito Steyerl discussing “the whatever cut”, of just throwing anything into an edit in order to generate the desired affect. She also tried to posit the idea of a game-oriented social prototype that might replace actual conflict.

Eleanor Saitta mentioned “dark patterns”, design strategies that are produced in order to manipulate the user in ways that aren’t in their interests. (I’ve read about these before, to do with adding things to shopping baskets by default and other slightly dodgy practices in interface design).

A more interesting idea emerged with the discussion of “animation”. Arising from Harocki’s piece, it was discussed in terms of its meaning as “bringing to life”. This ties into the things mentioned in that Ilana Gershon article in Social Media & Society. There was later a mention of the idea of “animation verité”: animation with a truth claim. This was prompted by a question about how oculus rift models and primitives are increasingly drawn from photographs – expanded into 3D from multiple images. How does this differ from the real, if it’s entirely sourced from the real?

There was also a mention of Lazzarato’s Signs & Machines, which I think I need to add to my reading list.