Safety Propagandist #5: Aleksander Hardashnakov
Adam Lehrer Corresponds With Our Fifth Safety Propagandist, the Toronto-based artist and he who channels righteous anger forth from the cosmos into the culture, Aleksander Hardashnakov
Aleksander Hardashnakov is an artist based in Toronto. I first became aware of his ectomplasmically beautiful and narratively opaque paintings upon his duo show with artist and SP friend Darja Bajagić in 2016. Since then, I’ve been consistently blown away by his paintings. They reverberate with antagonism and conflict, love and hate, and the eternal connections between life and death. Figures appear in them, and vanish before you. They grapple with evil and lust while questing for spiritual renewal. They make me feel alive while at the same time they remind me that my death is on the horizon. They inspire tearful rejoice.
Aleksander came of age in the early 2000s as a graffiti writer, and the sensibility of opposition and anti-statism inherent to its culture stays with him. He’s run two separate art spaces in Toronto totally independent of art world patronage and thus is free to resist it and tell it to go fuck itself. As an artist, an intellectual, and a spectator of the microcosmic death spectacle, this stance is one that I identify with. We all are looking for our brothers-in-arms, are we not? Well, dear readers, I assume that most of you who subscribe to this here ‘Stack consider me some kind of guiding light, yes? A sort of mentor in all things based? On the other end, some of you probably follow me solely because you hate and are repulsed by me, but are driven back once more due to some innate masochistic fetish in which you consume your own hate like freshly laid out lines of cocaine waiting to be inhaled with $100 dollar bills. Whatever your reasons are for following me, rest assured that if you’re with me, you’re with Aleksander, too.
Believe it or not, I try to keep the work on here briefer than the writing I publish in more established literary journals. The ‘Stack, after all, is a medium of brevity, of small ideas injected directly into an audience’s collective unconscious. However, some ideas are simply too important to leave on the chopping block. In what can only be interpreted as evidence of the art world’s limited taste, this is Aleksander’s first interview in English. I consider him to be both an incredible artist AND a brilliant thinker brimming in courage and clear-headed engagement with this sick world. So once again, Safety Propaganda gives you a “Safety Propagandist.” A conversation of real substance and content. Would you rather go read another 4,000 word essay by that simpering moron Paul B. Preciado about how “emancipatory” breaking statues is, or whatever, in ArtForum? Or, do you want to chew on the real? That’s what I thought. Enjoy the interview with Aleksander.
Adam Lehrer: Do you believe in ghosts? If so, what are the ghosts that haunt you?
Aleksander Hardashnakov: Yes, I believe in ghosts. It's clear that there are forces that exist beyond our comprehension and perception. Maybe what makes a ghost a ghost is that they are always just out of frame, one step ahead, or behind. We are trying to grasp at them, uncover them, capture their likenesses to prove or disprove some idea, some math or science, just as it looks like we are about to bring what haunts us into focus, it blurs again. That's both necessary and a total disaster. It's like a never ending war. We only think we want to know what haunts us but whenever we get close to seeing it, we turn away. We desire its absence more than its presence. Perhaps that's because what haunts us is ourselves, or repressed selves, our ancient selves, pre-civilized. Today a good example of this type of ghost hunter are the anti-fascists, chasing their tails like confused cartoon dogs.
Another form of ghost I think of is best described by my memory of a tv show from the 80's called Polka Dot Door. There were two main characters, a man and a woman and a mysterious third character called Pokeroo, some green furry giraffe-like thing. Pokeroo was always on the way, each episode one of the hosts would miss Pokeroo’s appearance every time. I can't remember if it was the woman or the man. I think the man, he would say, “aw shucks I missed Pokeroo again?!” a response that was meant to delight the child viewer. My sister was totally terrified of seeing Pokeroo. The anticipation both excited her and made her sick with anxiety. So much so that Pokeroo was a spectre haunting her childhood. She closed her eyes and never saw it, I could fuck with her just my uttering the word Pokeroo. To this day she hasn't seen it. I saw Pokeroo and saw my sister never see. for her it is a ghost.
Also in the more traditional sense of the spirit realm, I believe in ghosts. I met one, in Paris. Shortly thereafter while I was still confused by the ghost, I was accosted by a gangster telling me that it was “Training Day”and I was to be Ethan Hawke and he Denzel, 24 hours in Paris with him, before I could be free to enjoy that haunted city. I have many "forced" OBE's, some people call it astral projection, oftentimes when I am returning to my physical body there are some spirits hovering attempting to take control of me. Poltergeists. I have to fight them off in order to reclaim myself. I’m undefeated. They look like semi-translucent plastic bags floating on the wind in slow motion, glistening and wet. They are weak but nonetheless fighting them exhausts me.
The psychic ghosts that haunt me, I believe haunt us all. They are the collective pain and suffering of all, from all of time, who exist somewhere where time doesn't. But I don't think we should empower them, they are weaker than we think. At least that's my hope.
AL: You have been trapped in your home country of Canada, which has become a kind of apotheosis of neoliberal managerial hell under lockdown. Sorry about that, it sounds rough. But has this isolation done anything interesting to your work? Or has it done the opposite? What happens when the artist is pushed inside and forced to retreat inwards?
AH: In the early days of spring, a year ago when the lockdowns were fresh, there was this euphoric feeling in the air. So many families out for walks together, smiling at strangers, some momentary sense that (as the libtard saying goes), "we were all in this together." I remember thinking about how strange it was, that it was surely some form of calm before the storm. It's been worse, we might know how to rebuild after a storm, see what’s broken, instead it's this long drawn out mist of ceaseless, arbitrary, bureaucratic hell. I don't think that’s a big surprise,
Houellebecq predicted exactly that near the beginning. I know I’m not original in saying it but it feels extraordinarily similar to the response to 9/11 and the theatrically stupid fear mongering that flowed like shit from the bowels of mainstream media during the first decade of this century. Just like with 9/11, the erosion of civil liberties and encroachment of basic freedoms are clearly here to stay.
Anyway, I'd done a solo show in Warsaw in October of 2019, I haven't painted since September of 2019. Normally I take a break between painting, maybe six months. If I paint all the time I'll go crazy, or my work will become monotonous and boring. If not to viewers then to myself.
Lots of people want artists to know what they are doing, what they are saying. A lot of artists don't have a clue, they are morons who follow whimsy, trapped in desire, drunkenly leaning towards something that someone else can put into words, I say that lovingly. I like to completely forget how to paint before I start again because I'm not really a painter, and softly reject becoming one. I don't care about brushes and paint and technique. I want to figure it out anew every time, so that I'm entertained. My mother always critiqued art on the basis of whether or not it felt to her like the artist was just masturbating or if they were articulating coherent ideas. She favored the latter. I'm more a masturbator than an artist.
I've always been a bit of an antisocial person who dislikes human contact. So the atomization and alienation that I see isn't something I am personally fazed by. I’m conflicted because I think the lockdown has been terrible for people, I think it's criminal, not at all about health policy. I am 100% anti-lockdown and anti-mask. I say conflicted because I got into making music, alone and with one friend, I've spent the last year obsessively working on it. Everyday for hours on end. I doubt I would've dedicated my time to music were it not for covid. I’ll put it this way, I've made the best of this bullshit virus. It has been a very productive and interesting year for me.
AL: Your 2017 exhibition at Rodolph Jannsen, Everybody Became the Ground, really kind of warped my subjectivity in exciting ways. Those images were utterly hallucinatory, but way more so in a K-Hole/sleep deprivation kind of way than a psilocybin kind of way, you feel me? "Aborting Delta (With Wendy H)" has an in utero baby depicted sitting in this Giger-esque claw looking chair in front of half a human body standing on top of a woman writhing in anguish. Are these images purely based in the recesses of imagination? Do you use visual stimuli to jettison the imagination?
AH: That show Everybody Became the Ground was weird in the sense that all the work presented was culled from three separate shows I’d done before the show at Rodolphe. One in Oslo, a solo called A Hole In The Life, and show I did with Darja Bajagic called Softer Than Stone And Sick In Your Mind at Croy Nielson in Berlin and another show in Berlin at Croy Nielsen organized by Ben Schumacher called From Whose Ground Heaven And Hell Compare at least that's the work that the gallery website has presented. I can't remember the show at Rodolphe’s very well. What I'm getting at is how all the shows I did at Rodolphe Janssen gallery functioned more as clearance sale shows.
The work you are talking about was from the 1857 show, "Aborting Delta (with Wendy H)," came about through my old neighbor offering me some canvas he had been storing since the ‘90's. Paintings his ex-girlfriend had made at art school in Toronto. The columns, the half body and the figure on the ground were mostly hers, I painted over shit that I thought sucked and worked on her figures until they looked better. I added the baby and Giger looking hand chair thing. She’d named her painting “Aborting Delta,” so I kept that and credited her as a collaborator.
I've never been in a k-hole but I'm definitely familiar with sleep deprivation. My thing (if you want to call it that) is being plagued by unwanted OBE's since I was a child (as I mentioned before). I'm not talking about a few weird “dreams” I'm talking about thousands of times. Astral plane hell. It started when I was seven or eight and it never stopped. I see, hear, feel, very intense things in a really synesthesia way. That space (or whatever you want to call it) is definitely a source for some of the visual content of my work, but I try to mix it with all of this other stuff that has no connection to those experiences. I'll make a portrait of someone that exists, I'll paint a ‘90's Gucci ad next to some abstraction or paint a postcard style picture of a stealth bomber. I want a macro reading of my art as a whole at some point down the line, if anyone ever cares to do so.
Yes and no, the images are from my imagination but also from found images, other people's work, known and unknown, friends, family, lovers, the internet, books..fiction and nonfiction, children's books. Dreams/nightmares, also the idea of dreams and nightmares in a psychoanalytic sense or maybe in a surrealist sense. No limits. I'm a thief. I want more and more, I want to eat up all the ideas, I don't want to narrow my focus and develop an easily identifiable “Aleksander style.” I want to make art for the world in a delusionally grand sense. Big dumb basic themes, love and death and pain and pleasure and whatever else. Sometimes I want to channel something, act more as a filter than an artist. Other times I want to indulge some kind of dictatorial impulse and force a vision onto people. I want both things, or better yet, all things.
One thing I understand clearly is that I fully reject the idea that artists are meant to be easily digestible. Ok you can make a beautiful formal picture, I'm not against that, i'm not saying artwork has to be purely antagonistic, it can be many different things. However, in the last decade, the rise of the idea that art is meant to be educational, overly explained, safe and correct ideas to be presented at museums and galleries with the implicit and often explicit “good liberal values” as the meat of the work, or interpreted by some fucking useless flaccid apologetic curator is fucking disgusting. I’ll paint whatever I want, you know what I mean? Like, who's going to stop me? the art world and those that try to “cancel” people for painting something that doesn’t appear to be their “personal lived experience” is a joke. If people don't understand how pathetic and weak that position is, that it only undermines them and not the “canceled” then they are lost. I mostly pity them. Even if they ride that woke-wave to prominence, riches and power, or whatever they are after, they can have it. They are goofs.
AL: Did you really have the Transient Global Amnesia that was referred to in the text of the N M I N ant? exhibition? If so, what is this like? If not, what interests you about the concept.
AH: Yes the global transient amnesia was real. But I think it functions just as well if it's not real. Truly what's interesting about it is the un-realness of the real experience, a poetic pseudo-condition. Disorienting to say the least. In the moment - which in a sense is just one brief moment you are trapped in - it feels like you are trying to grasp at something important but the mechanism that holds the important thing together is opaque and slippery. It keeps falling away from you and reappearing again. It is unknowable but you need to know. It’s a glitch. God presses stop, rewind and play over and over. Yet you can only sense an unfinished sketch reconstructed through others describing your condition to you. I remember the story I was told about myself and what happened. I like to poeticize it, but I'd be lying if I told you I had a real grasp of the actual time I spent locked into the glitch. Perhaps that's the real poetics of it, that while it's happening it's only the glitch, everything else is gone. When u come out of it the inverse is true. I should also mention that the doctors did not tell me what happened was called transient global amnesia. That part was me taking creative liberties, I don't think they understood what had happened. I found out about global transient amnesia much later and recognized the exact symptoms. Immediately after the episode I didn't tell anyone what had happened, I was scared I would be hospitalized or be deemed mentally unstable. I was also scared that I was losing my mind. So I tried to forget about it ever happening.
The title for that show was from a dream I had in London. A transhumanist nightmare but told to me through a narrated soliloquy by a David Attenborough type figure addressing the fate of ants. The title is meant to read like someone slurring “and am I an ant?” Something about gods and men. Levels of perception, the fear some people have that we are creating AI that will view us as nothing more than ants. The way we often look down on things as lesser than us when they represent something beneath or beyond us. I woke imagining, questioning myself as an ant working away on a project much larger than I can understand. For better or worse.
AL: What is your relationship with memory? There seems to be a fluidity and amorphousness expressed in your painting that alludes to the characters of memories, dreams, and fantasies.
AH: I like that memory is malleable. People always have this idea that the past is fixed. I don't think that's true. Our understanding of time seems incomplete. We use it just enough to make sense of things on the surface. That trite idea that we are the stories we tell ourselves, is pretty accurate. What's happened in the past can be altered and forever reinterpreted in order to create new meaning or new direction or new feelings about what oneself is. People often tell themselves such awful or boring stories. Or pretend that they have none.
My relationship to memory insofar as my work goes is complicated but not uncomfortable. My memories are fairly non-linear, they are jumbled. Perhaps I am just bad with dates. When I tell a story from my past, everything happened when I was 9-years-old. Like some magic exists in the number. And certainly things did happen when I was nine.. I think artists are mostly sick. I don't really mean that in a DSM kind of way. It's just that sickness to me represents the yellowing at the edge of the page, exposure to elements, and experiences that alter one's senses, it could be a virus taking away your ability to taste, it could also be something psychic that manifests in ways that aren't overt. Being the fool consciously or through a type of productive idiocy, speaking truths from the outskirts. Visions that are sometimes mirages or plausible futures and sometimes aren't.
Artists are fuckups. I think they embed the stories they tell themselves, that humanity tells itself, in their work. Those stories used to be a lot more dynamic and interesting, I believe they can be that again. But currently the stories are flimsily disguised propaganda, placid product designs, content creators telling the most neutered and commoditized clickbait using the language of therapy or faux emancipation. Many artists have become easily digestible PC ID-POL trauma grifters stroked by art world mystifiers all with the aim of getting invited to the right after party or “yacht scum” gala. It's enough to make people feel like they're not artists or don't want to be. Fair enough. If I was a fairly lucid young person today I'd be totally horrified by what passes as art now...the obsession with being “correct.” The fact that most artists can’t recognize that Alex Jones or Donald Trump are artists themselves in the fool-performer tradition is fucking insane to me. All I can gather from it is that most people self-identifying as artists now really aren't artists at all.
AL: There is the sense of a deterioration or a vanishing in your work. You even used a reference to Mariah Carey's song "Vanishing" in a painting from that aforementioned show. What is this trying to express? Perhaps we are all vanishing. Perhaps we are blurring out of focus and losing ourselves into the phantasmagoria of our screens (whoa, far out)?
AH: I made a satirical instagram story post not too long ago lamenting my fate, asking why i'm not in the “best collections!” and the “best museum!” and said something about that Mariah painting, as though that's the one that should put me over the top. That song got burned into me as a kid. Like clockwork orange style. Forced listening experience. I won't go into the seedy details of that. Have you read the lyrics?
If I could recapture
All of the memories
and bring them to life
Surely I would
Hear the distant laughter
Wasn't it you and me
Surviving the night
You're fading out of my sight
You can read those lyrics as a key. They are applicable to so many facets of life. Love, memory, entropy. The failing, diminishing returns, the desire to reanimate. Distant laughter can be read as both something innocent and playful, as well as menacing. I think again of the figure of the fool. Wasn't it you and me, the biblical story of man, Adam and Eve, fall from graceful ignorance into the horrific/thrilling realm of knowledge. Surviving the night, it's the project of all life at such an elemental level, the ants working for a future that comes after each individual ant's life. You're fading out of my sight, swiftly, “everybody becomes the ground.” Ground in the sense that we become earth, from that ground we build our lives. Everything's destiny is to drift away. The lyrics however personal they may be for me are applicable to all and everything. Art at its best functions this way, it is personal and at the same time becomes the ground and lays the groundwork for what comes next. I don't even mean that in a grand way necessarily, it can be baby steps, we all build off everything that came before we entered our current consciousness.
It’s more literally applicable to the current condition of humanity as well, a collective suicide of sorts, trying desperately to reanimate ourselves in and through machines that attempt to encode our humanness. In doing so that project distorts and undermines the messy sacredness of humanity itself. It seems to me at best to be more about tragic loss than about some optimistic step towards immortality. Maybe I’m reactionary there. I don't believe in the project to defeat entropy. I'm romantic about loss, for me loss enriches our spirits. It makes our ghosts powerful and awesome, an awesomeness that is reasonably terrifying. Modern life, accelerated through the anti-human response to a virus, seems to be an anti-entropy project in certain respects. I think it's inherently psychopathic, the men who underpin the cybernetic dreamscape playing out before our eyes are psychopaths and we are in many ways following the story they've told, the story they are writing. However tragic, I sense rebirth in tragedy, regardless of whether or not humans or earth as a hospitable planet survive, the future is effectively unknown to us, which allows us a form of space for liberation. The uncertainty or perceived uncertainty is what imbues us with our creative spirit. I revel in my small position as an idiot.
AL: Out of curiosity, are you into Artaud? I don't know why but I feel like I detect some Artaudianisms.
AH: I’m a little bit familiar with Artaud, I'd be lying if I said I'd read him or researched him closely. Maybe I just know some basics, the Theater of Cruelty stuff. My mother loves Shakespeare and would take me to see plays when I was a child. She went to school in her forties to study English while she worked part time as a nurse. I remember her writing essays, doing the readings, she made friends with some interesting young men who for a time became like family.
Anyway, we live in an Artaudian world altogether, no? The stage has collapsed, or rather the world is a stage. This could be interpreted in many different ways, everything from the individually performative nature of online life in the 21st century, to the ways in which public life has been reduced to a sort of comi-tragic “theater of cruelty.” Nonlinear nightmares. Endless farcical "protest", rooted in real traumas that will never be addressed properly through the narrow and manipulated forms those "protests" take. We seem to act as though it's the 1960s. It's not. I read ”The Spurt of Blood” at some point, or maybe saying “I read” it is not the right descriptor. I looked at it. I can see how my paintings fit. I made some that attempted to address theater in a fairly direct way, for that show Ben Schumacher organized at Croy Nielsen called From Whose Ground Heaven And Hell Compare there's a line in Hamlet that I was thinking about, “O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else? And shall I couple Hell?” The paintings could certainly be read as Artaudian both in their content/figuration and in their allusion to expanding or doing away with the traditional stage. Nightmares that are omnipresent, our wanting to figure out “what's happening” (I think of the Trump quote, “shut it down until we can figure out what's going on”). A forever state of being, of wonder, and impossibility, it's the ever repeating fever dream where we must face the impossibility at the heart of the cosmos. Or simply it’s about our not knowing what death is while we live life.
AL: We're both in the art world and we both hate it. I have been able to carve out a career by being incredibly antagonistic towards it, its politics, its fraudulent leftist activism, and I guess it's worked out or whatever. But I do feel it would be difficult to be a visual artist right now, because the art world touches every lever of its production. From the tiniest galleries to the largest, there's one art world. How have you managed to stay within it, but also refuse to be recuperated into it as a machine?
AH: The art world, hard to imagine anyone who likes it. Some artists know who everyone is, who the “important” people are. Going to the bar or an opening or the after party or a dinner is work for them, they pretend work is a drag, but they relish it privately; secretly they are recording everything, spies, snitches, shit talking gossip fetishists. Enjoying their little power position with limp dicks and dried up dusty holes. They turn on and fuck nothing but themselves. It's of course not just artists, it's the writers and the gallerists and the collectors etc etc. the real “surviving the art world” is being around that shit and not becoming totally cynical and turned off. I guess there's different ways of doing that. I can only speak for myself. I'm slow, I don't know who anyone is and I don't give a shit. To be perfectly honest I got into art as a means of weaning myself off a life dedicated obsessively to graffiti. Paying your dues in graffiti is a lot more straightforward and also a lot harder. I came into art blissfully ignorant and was amazed by how soft it all was. Not many artists these days have been punched in the head, which I think also explains a lot. For me producing a lot of work, putting my head down minding my own business and being self motivated is what I naturally understand. My naivety and disinterest in art world coolness has served me well. You find some artist friends you like and run with it. I've been lucky, I’m a high school dropout who went to art school for a year and a half when I could be accepted as what's called a “mature student” meaning at the age of 23, I didn't need a high school diploma. Decided art school was an anti-creative place and dropped out. Then a couple years later when I finally weaned myself off graffiti a friend from the school and I got a studio and he suggested we open a gallery. He did everything! He invited every artist we did shows with, I lurked, performed janitorial and hosting duties. Meeting those artists represented my arts education. Which was really lovely, much better than school. That was in 2010 or 2011 until around 2014.
I don't believe my work has actually been taken on by the machinery of the art world. I'm not unaware that many artists are familiar with my work, and I sell just enough to exist from it thankfully. But I have no “collector” collectors (if you know what I mean). A very close friend who has been successful enough to buy several of my works is the closest thing I have to a collector. And he is totally outside the art world.
To put what I mean when I say I've not been taken on by the machinery of the art world into context, I've been doing solo shows and group shows fairly consistently since 2011, by any standards I've shown a lot and had enough solo shows. You are literally the first person who has ever asked to interview me about my work. No art magazine has ever written about my work. Not even a blurb. And nobody has ever written about any of my shows, with the exception of an artist/critic in Oslo who wrote about my show in 1857 for a local newspaper. It's only in Norwegian so I've got no clue what he said. Apparently he liked the show though.
I used to be at a loss for why this was, I couldn't understand it. At this point I'm happy about it. If I had to make a guess, I’d say it's due to the fact that I have no discernible style, I think all my work looks like I made it, there are repeating themes and symbols and whatnot, even series of paintings that get close to having a formula but there's not a single painting that anyone could point to and say that's my style. My style is to be a chameleon for as long as possible. I do this to grow my tree as big as I can, I want all possible branches. I want freedom. When someone starts trying to box me in I get aggravated. It's clear that if you get known for having a recognizable personal style you do much better in terms of selling and being folded into the system. I think most artists, and this is not meant in any way as an insult, dedicate themselves to developing a style, a look, a methodology, a subject matter. I really don't do that. Dealers can more easily sell work that can be immediately recognized. It's basic art world rules of success. I reject this idea from the outset. More so because I’m a natural born idiot, by which I mean I can't for the life of me remember from one painting to the next how I made them. I am incapable of having a real formula. Which is both a good and bad way to be.
The other side of it is that in that same time period, roughly a decade ago, I've started two art spaces that were both funded out of pocket in Toronto, a city the art world does not care about. Not that we give them much reason to. The Loon still exists although covid may have killed it. Neither of the spaces ever got any arts grants or funding, neither did I as an artist. I poured a ton of money into those spaces as did the other collaborators. So when you ask how I refuse to be recuperated into it as a machine. My answer is two fold. Firstly It doesn't seem to be all that interested in my work. Secondly with the help of a small community and a few close friends, I made my own space outside of it. Especially The Loon, it’s off on its own little island, nobody in the art world with any power gives a flying fuck about what we do.
There's an old term we used to have in graffiti that's completely antiquated now. I've been thinking about writing about it for a book myself and fellow artist Oliver Roberts (who has been running The Loon the past couple years) are working on, the term is “stamplicking” or “stamplicker”. In graffiti, someone who painted under bridges, took pics and then sent the pictures to magazines (or later posted them on internet forums) was derided as a stamplicker; they were the type that if you visited their hometown they were nowhere to be seen, and yet from a magazine you got the impression they were ubiquitous. Fakes. The whole world is stamplickers now. Some people equate success or value with online visibility and representation, at this point I admit they are correct. You could argue I'm lost in some personal futile micro resistance. I bring it up not because I'm against self publishing, that would be idiotic but because I think I'm still a hold-out to the idea of not being a sell-out. I believe in the idea of authenticity. Of doing the work that then leads to being recognized.
AL: I know you're familiar with my theory of “crypto-transgression,” and I think I can read it into your work. Your images have much ambiguity and seductive opacity, but there is the implication of something violent and confrontational in there as well. Would you say this is accurate?
AH: Your description of crypto-transgression could fit my work quite well. Going back to what I already said, I'm interested in large basic topics, things that could strike a chord with anyone. Love, sex, violence, death, one of the things I find most detestable in art is when it feels like something is made exclusively to be situated in the preexisting art narratives, when it is addressing some elitist art world only esoteric conversation. I hate the way most people write about art, using language that is meant to mystify or confuse the reader into thinking the work is about something other than the complete lack of content that it actually represents. So many artists learned a vocabulary in some boring post-secondary bachelors or masters program and then forever hide behind that. They make shows like they’re doing school assignments, read some text, then make some art that they can pretend reflects or expounds on the text's ideas. Name drop some shit, quote someone who's done the thinking for them and then act like they're contributing something. If you ever point out that it's nonsense they say “you just don't get it.” I’ll put it really plainly, if your show needs an overly explanatory text, your work almost always sucks. It's like that IQ curve meme, you know the one I mean? Where the idiot and the genius have the same outlook, but the smart person in the middle has the “correct” position. So much art, so many artists, are smart. And so many smart people make horrible things.
Sometimes I think the hidden meaning in the work I'm making, or the cryptic transgression can be hidden in plain sight. Because no one can see anymore, they're trained like monkeys to recognize a swastika. When they see a swastika their brain melts, they go blind with dumb-rage. That whole Listserv shit with Darja and Boyd’s show was such a perfect illustration of how moronic artists are these days. Those people working like little Stasi freaks to cancel their show was real sicko shit. I made a painting of a nude woman basically tied down, she's got no hands or head, you can't see her feet, her legs are spread and on top of her kind of collage style is a Tamagotchi keychain pet. I don't think there is anything excessively cryptic about that work. It's titled “pet” for christ's sake. I think the left, or liberals, or the bulk of the art world left of capital, however you want to define them, are essentially scared of ideas. They are petrified of words and images. I think they are almost all pussies. You can see them flinch if you say a “bad” word, it's nuts. They won't engage with anything that remotely challenges the correct woke narrative. That's what the art world represents now. Propagandists for left capital, little more than that. Even the ones who think they aren't that often functionally are.
I feel like the blackpill is a continual process, there’s this thing in graffiti when you are starting out, you think you are a king, thats what a toy is, “toy” being the terminology used to describe a newcomer who acts out of pocket and does stupid shit. When you are a toy you think you are a king, and as you get better you continually realize when you look back at what you were doing, how bad you were. You think, now I'm good, now I've figured it out. Eventually if you last long enough you realize that you are a toy forever. Truly the only kings that exist are dead kings. Maybe I'm trying to talk about sacrifice and god-making. My point is that every time you think you've hit bottom, see clearly, you are fooling yourself, there's a next black pill coming.
My first blackpill came as a teen interested in Iran-Contra and CIA facilitated drug smuggling. That shit knocked my socks off, so when 9/11 happened a few years later, I was not shocked. That shit seemed inevitable to me, I remember arguing with people about it, how something like that could happen. In my youthful naivety I thought, well damn, the world is pouring out sympathy for America. I was telling people, this is a great opportunity, maybe it's time people took a hard look at American foreign policy and not just American FP, but all global imperialism. The history of the CIA and what's been going on the last 70 years can paint a fairly clear picture of global power politics and the fallout from secret wars and endless coups. Nobody wanted to hear that shit. I'm not trying to act like I was the only person saying that, or that I had some original insight. It seemed obvious. People were furious at me for pointing out that potentiality. Of course we all know how that played out. Please bare with me. Imagine the whole world pouring out well wishes for America?! You know? That was wild and beautiful and potent. The speed and ferocity with which all that good will was squandered was astonishing. That's what shock and awe was about. At this point I think you have to be pretty stupid not to recognize all this shit is in a very real sense planned to accomplish exactly what it does. Mass wealth transfers over and over again, and the enslavement of the poor.
Anyway, all I'm trying to get at is how back then, after the complete futility of the worlds largest protests, after the Patriot Act and the never ending wars against abstract concepts, resulting in the death and suffering of how fucking many people now? Ghost enemies, pointing at terrorists and responding with terrorism to create more terror. All these different types of wars designed to “fail” I was pretty fucking blackpilled, so much so that I mostly retreated into theft and graffiti and not thinking too much beyond the day to day petty hustle, I was consumed by. I’m not trying to romanticize, It's just what I did. I think that that retreat is a very real effect of the blackpill. This shit now is even worse! I can’t believe how much worse it's gotten since 2000. Its fucking nuts. Everything has accelerated, people go through the highs and lows so quickly, from delusional hope in sell-out politicians like Bernie, to blackpilled, insert new trending meaningless hashtag “post left” to whatever the fuck else. It's a whirlwind. As I see it, it’s eye on the prize. Who is benefiting from all this bullshit? The fucking burnout time is crazy, people get fired up and flame out in days, hoping from one trending item to the next, racking up clicks, dollars in the tech-freaks hands. And don't those beady eyed tech-oligarchs look hollow and light? Like you could blow them off your palm like flakes of dandruff you scratched from your peeling scalp? I don't know, you read about Rand, the cybernetic psychos, it all starts to feel crazy-making. And a turn-on too. But the only place interesting writing, podcasts, criticism etc happens is on the same internet. Are we building another one? People imagine the shit like it's all magical. When it’s wires all around the earth. All around our bodies. You play footsie with your phone charger at night don't you. Don't we. microchips-in-chimps-heads. Gates foundation eugenicists, the Nazis didn't lose the war, you feel me? It’s all backwards, the “anti-fascist,” “population-contol-woke-Nazi-hunters” are the continuation of the rebranded eugenicist movement, since there’s no more actual 3rd Reich Nazis, the libs as a direct continuation of the Nazi project have resurrected the Nazi ghost to hunt down. All this shows us is that what they are truly afraid of is themselves.
I said it the first time I saw a white lib bitch (male, female or other) post some BLM infographic on Instagram, the degree to which these people think they're “doing the work” is the degree to which they are outing themselves as the pathetically soft racists that they are. Shit, at least give me the sexiness of the SS skull. Night Porter teen wet dreams. Part of why the artist panic over Darja and Boyd is so idiotic is because it’s obvious that the fear these goofs show in their little cancel cults is directly proportionate to the degree they repress their inherent fascistic tendencies and desires. I'm not scared of a swastika you pussies. Get a grip. I know I'm a degenerate/delinquent with a kind soul, I don't need to pretend to be moral, it's in my heart. All that these Listserv type art-police morons are is boring censorship pervs, they're trying to make everything else as boring as they are. Fuck them.
The wires, the wires...Some nasty bitch bondage planet nightmare, it trips me out. You get all the bullshit artists yelling about “Trump is a fascist,” working to elect the fucking same establishment who is responsible for the absolute horrendous criminality of the past decades with bonds that buckle it together dribbling back centuries. It’s beyond idiotic. It is truly sickness, the horrors unending. Relentless self appointed kings and queens of suffering and trauma. Real sufferers-are-sinners-are-saints. Fuck off all you trick whore charlatans. What a wonderful little shell-game to have it all masquerading under the cover of “anti-fascism” and “anti-racism” and “Me Too,” awe inspiring. Anyone who's paid even a little bit of attention the past 20 years or beyond, should be able to recognize what “electing” people like Biden/Harris represents. But people live in little bubbles of nowness psy-op’d into oblivion. I'm always trying to tell people, the ID-POL stuff, its weak-making poison. It exists to drain you, it only props up ghouls. I want people to truly understand that wokeness as an umbrella term for all the left/lib/elites politics of “social justice” is 100% the enemy of people everywhere. That wokeness is deployed to undermine the only material struggle that really matters: elites versus everyone.
I make art in all ways. Straight antagonism, crypto transgression. Serious paintings about love. About body horror, about pain, violence, rage, religion, serenity. All of it. Maybe the best way to describe the way I use this idea and terminology you've come up with is that I try to be a moving target. I don't think anyone can be sure what any one painting is about. Multiple plausible narratives. Because that's representative of human beings. We are not fixed. We don't develop or learn an idea and then stay frozen, some may try but decay will break them eventually. I want to try and express what being human is. I don't want to dedicate my life's work to anything other than humanity. I believe that there is an anti-humanity force constantly trying to undermine our hope and our striving for something collectively beyond bare life, to borrow Agamben's term. It's the people who want to stay masked-up, stay inside, live without a body. Fuck that, I want to do what AI can’t. God as the only real antidote to the black pill.
AL: Are there other artists working right now that you feel connected to? Who is based right now?
AH: I’ll be honest, no, I don't feel connected to artists right now. There are artists that I think are making great work. But I feel pretty alienated from all of it. I'm interested in finding some alternative avenues for the things I make. Maybe that'll take the form of books, or music or podcasts or whatever else, hopefully I'll have the chance and energy to do some more shows.
I think the most based and creative thing I've come across recently is the Ghost Jail podcast. It's very inspiring to me. It’s ideas, experiences, rants, poetry, music, feelings. A wonderful concoction. It makes me feel a similar energy that coursed through me when I came across “behold a pale white horse” but for now, 2021, self aware, intense and serious while clearly and passionately holding onto hope and humour.
AL: What are you working on these days?
AH: I’m working on some new paintings, I was going to do a show of drawings in New York, small intimate type stuff, Covid world felt like the moment for that. Something quiet. Then I don't know, that moment passed. I have so much anger, so much love; too much for the drawings now. The drawings are going to stay in piles, boxed up, waiting. I don't want to show them. I think I should make these paintings and show them instead.. Fuck it, paintings again. I’m working on this book with Oliver Roberts. It's a book of art in the world. All Toronto. A street art book for lack of a better term. It's about friendship, walking the city, trying to communicate and express things, the streets. Poetry, urgency, a requiem, our separate and joint relationships to the city and its inhabitants and architecture, the changing landscape. An experimental art book. I'm also working on a lot of music stuff. Producing a friends album which is piano based folk-ish music if I had to give a general description. I’m going to release a couple solo albums of my music. Trying to be a folk-pop star or some shit. I have no music training or education. Can't read it, play no instruments. So I'm trying to figure it out as I go. Trying to become a rockstar at the spry age of 38 is a sexy look I think. Maybe I’ll fucking NFT an album, with drawings and an essay or something like that.
AL: This one is for my readers, people love this shit: you can hold an afterlife dinner and MDMA party with five people. Artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, philosophers, politicians, whoever. Who are they? What do you talk about? Who is the best dancer? And what music would you play?
AH: Shit these type questions are really hard. The second last high school I went to before dropping out (I went to four high schools) was this freaky dyke marxist alternative school. The students told the teachers that the school had too many of the same types of demographics, so the next year they started letting in types like me, which basically meant kids that listened to rap and wore baggy jeans and whatnot. They interviewed me to see if I made the cut, the last question they asked was something like, “If I could have dinner with one historical figure dead or alive who would it be?” I said J Edgar Hoover. Because he had all the dirt on everyone and was a closeted cross dresser, which seemed like an interesting combination of things to me. They let me in. Anyway, this time around we’ll leave him in the grave.
I'm for sure going to have to invite my girl Marilyn Monroe. I love her, and I deeply respect her self destruction as a fuck you to the Hollywood studio system. I think she's misunderstood. And I'm really into the golden era Hollywood, American postwar height of psychoanalytic tragic-madness shit. In that vein I'll also invite Wilhelm Reich but late, post-war Wilhelm cast out of the Psychoanalytic Association, arrested by FBI; the orgone freak Reich, we are springing him from jail so he can die in our loving arms. Christine Chubbuck, she was a tv news reporter in Sarasota Florida who shot and killed herself on a live broadcast, there's a movie made about her that I never watched. I don't want to watch it, it probably sucks. I was interested for a time in women who commit suicide. I think she really represents an extreme version of a femcel. Which is far less talked about than their male counterparts. I think people like her represent some early recognition of the doom and gloom of the modern world. Canaries in coal mines. Sorry this dinner party is fucking bleak. Ray Johnson. Another suicide. Oops. But he is fun, sort of. I gotta liven up the room, I'm hosting a seriously morose dinner. I got one more, hmmm...i'll go with Jesus, (saying “go with Jesus” is forever a good look). Because I'm a happily self-hating Jew who wants to meet that particular Jew. Also this dinner is a compassionate affair, they do MDMA PTSD therapy right? Personally MDMA makes me intensely fragile, sad and suicidal, during and long after. Even at Berghain. I'm more into smoking cigarettes. We are going to talk about, love, death, resurrection, the cosmos, sex, lust, power, all the good shit. Sorry if that's not specific enough but that's all I got.
1. The hiss of transference, 2018
2. Lucid nightmare, 2018
3. Ghost, 2019
4. Horse skull, 2016
5. Aborting delta (with Wendy H?), 1990 – 2016
6. Assorted cut-outs, 2016
7. Mariah Carey, vanishing, 1994, 2019
8. picture of Artaud (not by Aleksander)
9. Babyface, 2014
10. “the art world” in all its vileness and evil (not by Aleksander)
11. Giorgio Agamben meme (not by Aleksander)
The Safety Propagandist interviews are a series of Email correspondences between artist, writer and Safety Propaganda curator Adam Lehrer with artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, dissidents, crackpots, sorcerers, outsiders, weirdos and more. The courageous ones. The ones who won’t be silenced.