The slow cancellation of the past (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 30)

This is the thirtieth instalment of a collaborative effort by the Journal of Visual Culture and the Harun Farocki Institut, initiated by the COVID-19 crisis. The call sent to JVC’s editorial board, and a wide selection of previous contributors and members of its extended communities, described the task as follows: „There is a lot of spontaneous, ad hoc opinion-making and premature commentary around, as to be expected. However, the ethics and politics of artistic and theoretical practice to be pursued in this situation should oblige us to stay cautious and to intervene with care in the discussion. As one of JVC’s editors, Brooke Belisle, explains: ‚We are not looking for sensationalism, but rather, moments of reflection that: make connections between what’s happening now and the larger intellectual contexts that our readership shares; offer small ways to be reflective and to draw on tools we have and things we know instead of just feeling numb and overwhelmed; help serve as intellectual community for one another while we are isolated; support the work of being thoughtful and trying to find/make meaning…which is always a collective endeavour, even if we are forced to be apart.'“ TH


The slow cancellation of the past

By Bahar Noorizadeh



As I write this text, some countries have already entered their second, more severe, peak of the pandemic. The hustle and bustle down the streets indicate, however, that our psyches have plummeted from the heights of emergency, in a 4-6 month drag, into the lows of normalcy and good-old lethargy: One more reminder that there is nothing more out of touch with reality than human consciousness.

Since the surge of sentimental prose, self-indulgent commentary, and naive optimism are finally on the wane, we can recall that neither the pandemic nor the revolution granted a clean slate. While existence was forcing our bodies into a halt, creating the illusion of a tabula rasa, in Lebanon flames rose again on the streets as the currency dived into a freefall. A white police officer in Minneapolis with a history of misconduct pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 9 straight minutes towards death. In Jerusalem’s Old City the Israeli police shot and killed Eyad Rawhi Al-Halaq on his way to his special educational needs school. China effectively rode the chaos to pass national security laws in Hong Kong, crushing any hope for the city’s autonomy. The recession is well underway and abolition is left an unfinished project: People are dismantling monuments to slave trading patriarchs of Euro-Amerikkka, trundling them down to the canals where their ships once used to dock.

In “Statues Also Die” (1953) Chris Marker argues that European culture, product of the removal of Sub-Saharan African masks and sculptures to the European museum, is the carcass of African exuberance: “When men die, they enter into history. When statues die, they turn into art. This botany of death is what we call culture.” Statues of colonialist forefathers at the hearts of Belgian, British, and American empires, in contrast, are alive. More than cities, London, Ghent; Richmond, Virginia are museums of white supremacy where these monuments rightfully belong. Defacing and dislodging them to the river is the first step in exterminating the life captured in these objects. The danger is however in perceiving the empty pedestals left behind as clean slates. There is more to make a true break in the imperialist signifying chain. “An object is dead when the living glance trained upon it has disappeared,” reminds Marker. Because while the artwork disappears, the museum lives long.

The pandemic itself, as one (key) instance in a long pattern of “Disaster Capitalism”[1], is not an opportunity to bank on, nor a new way forward. Its only vocation: not to occupy the future, but to cancel the past.

In hopes of breaking away from what Mark Fisher prophesied as our “slow cancellation of the future”[2]—a tape stuck on repeat, where cultural tropes resurface like a retrospective runway of 20th century—dozen variations on the theme of future have spurned out of the fields of art, design and humanities in the past decade: science-fiction, gulf and cino-futurisms (after afro-futurism), speculative design and speculative fiction. Along with Fisher, artist-designer-thinkers problematized a sense of fatigue with our collective imagination, and so they reinhabited alternative educational programs (micro think-and-do-tanks) in design studios of major global cities. In a way, the correct diagnosis of the shortcomings of 20th century critical discourse in offering constructive toolkits for the future, is responded to with ardent, touch-and-go workshop-format design models that pride themselves in breaking from the standard historical malaise. In the duration of a few weeks to few months, these programs ask their participants to respond with practical proposals to dire issues—be it the pandemic or the environment—that are an accumulation of centuries of capitalization intertwined with racial and colonial injustice. To even begin to correctly identify the problem, however, one requires durational, long-term research. And as much as one can co-opt, and make best of, precarious pedagogy’s modus operandi, knowledge demands its own protracted process. Appeals to sci-fi then become an escape to the future. Is it surprising that, as the economic philosopher Philip Mirowski asserts, the most overused and prosaic conceptual jargons—neoliberalism and the free market per se—are the most understudied and misunderstood objects of research today?[3] Contrary to Fisher’s proposition, in 2020 we may have too much future indeed and not enough the past.

Of course the quest for forging institutional memory is tied to the plight of public education and its aggravating funding crises and over-reliance on the private sector. The emergence of design-studio as the paradigmatic para-educational model is itself a symptom of such pecuniary exigencies in departments of critical thought. At the risk of sounding even more grim, as I’m writing this text, the pandemic has effectively put the faith of several universities in the UK in peril. Goldsmiths, Exeter, Warwick and Sussex in the past few weeks announced massive cuts to their precarious teaching staff—many of them PhD researchers of the same institutions. Goldsmiths has even refused to use the government’s furlough scheme to support its most vulnerable workers. Since 70% of educational labour is handled by these casualised staff, this means doubling the workload of an already overtaxed permanent faculty. This all is taking place against a backdrop of a rapidly gentrified education, disposing of its black and ethnic minority UK students, with astronomical international fees that appeal only to a narrow profit-generating group graced with powerful passports. This week the only black faculty member on a permanent contract at Goldsmiths Art department, Evan Ifekoya, withdrew their labour to take a stand against institutional racial biases pervading the department in a majority white university.

The transient nature of knowledge production today, whether in the solution-averse casualised university or the history-averse design program, is a matter of its exacerbating devaluation. Sustenance of grounded research requires investment, that is, raising the credit-worthiness of discredited forms of knowledge. As walking talking “projects in need of investment”[4], as Michel Feher describes the financialized subject to be, here we can begin to think about our investee positions in academia in more tactical terms: To work on the level of changing the definition of what’s bankable and what’s not. That is, to convince investors—including ourselves as investors in state apparatuses of our countries of residence—of the “attractiveness” of history.

Widespread discussions around prison abolition these days are directly related to this approach. Not only abolition would encourage a reinvestment of capital funds away from the police-prison nexus into development of social structures (housing, health care, education,) but equally essential, abolitionism works on the redistribution of the “unproductive time” of incarceration—turned productive via unsalaried prison labour—into sustaining those life-affirming and time-intensive projects. This supposedly idle time, so far, has been reserved for those called by Achille Mbembe in his Critique of Black Reason (2013)[5] the “Superfluous Humanity”, namely, “those that are unable to be exploited at all”: A condition that is catching up with us in all spheres of automated production. Disqualified even for exploitation and undeserving of wage, the factory streamlines into prison, taking a quick stop at the office. Abolitionist ethics, in essence, imagines the reallocation of this surplus carceral time into the maintenance—and slowing down—of care-based infrastructures.

As schematic as this may sound, it might give us a sense of direction and a cause worth fighting for within our universities while they last.


[1] Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” (2007), New York: Metropolitan Books
[2] Mark Fisher, “Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?” (2009), London: Zero Books
[3] Philip Mirowski, “Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown” (2014), London: Verso.
[4] Michel Feher, “Rated Agency: Investee Politics in a Speculative Age” (2018), New York: Zone Books.
[5] Achille Mbembe, “Critique of Black Reason” (2017) Durham: Duke University Press.


Bahar Noorizadeh is an artist, writer and filmmaker. Her current research examines the intersections of finance, Contemporary Art and emerging technology, building on the notion of “Weird Economies” to precipitate a cross-disciplinary approach to alternative economics and post-financialization imaginaries. She is pursuing this as a PhD candidate in Art at Goldsmiths, University of London where she holds a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship.


17.06.2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the „anti-climate lobby“ (via Arts of the Working Class): „The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‚an atlas of human suffering‘ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‚rapid, deep and immediate‘ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.“


The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.“ Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): „[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, „the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.“

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the „inertness, hiding behind the European Wall“ (via L’Internationale): „Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‚radical political engagement‘ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.“


Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): „[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.“

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that „It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt“ (via Politico): „Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‚peripheries,‘ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‚deeply concerned.‘ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‚balanced‘ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.“

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on „Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail“ (via Your Art and e-flux notes): „At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.“

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