with Josie Demuth, La
Bouche, Issue 3, September 2009
The Rosalind Brodsky project was quite rightly described in 2002 by
Art in America as 'One of the most sustained fantasy trips of contemporary
art', to what extent was the 2006 incarnation of the project 'HEXEN
2039' adventure fantasy and to what extent was it based on real facts?
introduction to 'HEXEN 2039' goes like this: 'HEXEN 2039 reveals links
between conspiracy theories, occult groups, Chernobyl, witchcraft,
the US film industry, British Intelligence agencies, Soviet brainwashing,
behaviour control experiments of the US Army and recent practices
of its Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (PSYOP),
in light of alarming new research in contemporary neuroscience. HEXEN2039
charts Brodsky's para-scientific research towards the development
of new mind control technologies for the British Military. The results
of HEXEN 2039 were utilised between 2040 and 2045 in the development
of a range of non-lethal weapons for remote alteration of belief patterns
in the subject.' The first sentence describes areas into which I carried
out extensive research and the findings are based on authorised documented
information. Most of the ways I have connected the information are
real, some are hypothetical. The last section is of course science
fiction, but as in much sci-fi it's not pure invention or fantasy
but based on reasonable projection. HEXEN 2039 took into account the
cutting edges of scientific development and perceived current directions
of UK and US government and the military, as it looked in 2006, the
year I worked on the project. My interest in fantasy is about an interest
in the edges of the possible, rather than the kind of fantasy associated
with ideas of escapism or the paranormal.
Where does your preoccupation with the military/secret services derive
my father. He was a member of the French Resistance in WW2 and escaped
to the UK towards the end of the war where he worked with the Polish
Government in Exile in London. When the war ended he set up a company
dealing in military spare parts which he ran until his retirement
a couple of years ago at the age of 95. Although I knew it wasnÕt
his first choice of career - which had been derailed by the war -
I had a lot of problems with that. My father lost his parents in the
Holocaust in Poland and of course that had a great effect on me too.
When I was seven I set up my own secret agency. I kept notes in a
small gold and red plastic file recording suspicious events in our
North London neighbourhood. The file had a built in pencil. It was
kind of like an early iphone I guess... ok it had fewer powers but
at least no one could hack into my messages. Then when I was a teenager
I went along with a group of friends to what I'd thought was a club
but which turned out to be an extreme right wing militaristic Jewish
youth group. I stayed out of some sort of perversity and for two years
spent my Sunday evenings learning a lot about how fundamentalists
think and feel. The father of one of the boys had been in the Stern
Gang. For a long time I've been interested in the cross over area
between the military and the everyday, of the civilian, the blurry
area between war and peace. That's where the weird stuff happens,
where the warrior classes start encroaching on the rest of us; whether
it's the CIA testing LSD on civilians or employing the services of
occult practitioners or where science is used for military ends or
just plain old boring security agencies sweeping up our personal data
from emails and sites like Facebook and putting millions of cameras
on our streets. Not only is this an area where we can become victims
and where we have to become vigilant, but it's also an area we can
try and reclaim control of. When I look back, most of my art projects
have in one way or another taken place in this zone, in this overlap.
Your work is very unique and you seem to be a pioneer in your field
of art but is there anyone who your work has been influenced by?
I left art school in the early 80s things like narrativity, historical
subject matter and sci-fi were taboo in most mainstream contemporary
art circles, now all that's commonplace. In terms of influence I was
always more affected by literature, political history, sci-fi, scientific
theory and ideas of the future, stuff mostly outside of art. That
doesn't mean I haven't admired a whole load of artists but I generally
haven't wanted to make work like them. When postmodern theory started
to influence the art world I was already using appropriated images,
not to assert the 'death of the author', but to make up alternative
historical narratives with for example material from the Soviet Union,
where I'd been in '83, from science fiction and from religious and
other imagery from older art. Likewise when I started making art with
a computer in 1991, following on from paintings about video games
I'd made in the late 80s, people either didn't get the references
or warned me that I would be taken over by the machine. And they were
right in a way they didn't anticipate because now twenty years later
most of these people have been absorbed and are determined by new
technologies and still haven't the foggiest it was all created by
the military. I now spend more time with an HB pencil, since the computer
and the web is no longer a space of resistance or freedom from censorship
and surveillance. Not that anyone can totally avoid any of that anymore
in any case.
Have you come across any brick walls making political art? Does it
make it more difficult to get shows/reviews/funding etc..?
that I am aware of. I think the major roadblock is with collectors.
My work is seldom an attractive proposition to corporations or people
wanting just pretty pictures on their walls. But in any case my work
is not only political. It's certainly not didactic or agitprop, however
its subject matter does tend to have only a niche appeal although
recently that is beginning to change, which may or may not be a good
What's the best thing artistically about having an alter ego?
I created Rosalind Brodsky in 1995 it really opened things out for
me. Instead of making work about something, I was also now part of
that something, even though it wasn't actually me but an imaginary
version of me. I had a cookery TV show, a band, I got psychoanalysed
by Freud, Jung, Klein, Lacan and Kristeva, I travelled through time
and space and got to design my own time travel costumes and equipment,
to make music videos and meet people from the past, present and future.
For the f'irst five years it was a rollercoaster. Then after bringing
out the cd rom (No Other Symptoms: Time Travelling with Rosalind Brodsky')
I realised I'd finished with the biographical part of the project
and needed to move on. Brodsky's employer, until her death in 2058,
was a military research institute (IMATI) based in South London and
their activites had never been made completely clear. We knew there
was a lot of hostility from academia, to the extent that in the cd
rom the institute was surrounded by an armed group of university professors,
but as to the nature of their research, it was never spelled out.
In many ways developing a series of hypothetical military research
projects (of which 'HEXEN 2039' is one) has been more rewarding than
the first part of the Brodsky project, although increasingly she gets
left out of the picture to the extent that I mostly forget she's involved.
I guess we have become one person again, it's me doing all the research
and it doesn't involve time travelling any more. You could say I've
become a sort of cyborg, me and my cyberspace avatar, now happily
living as one in South London after years in Australia, New York and
Berlin. In most of my more recent projects I've appropriated some
of her strategies and not credited her at all.
What's Rosalind's favourite project so far?
have to admit it's HEXEN 2039.
the sequel to HEXEN is in development, I can't divulge too much about
it right now, but if there are no technical hitches it'll be on at
the Science Museum in London in 2011. But right now I'm working on
a new project called 'MTB' which stands for Military Training Base.
It's going to be an installation at Alma Enterprises in South London.
The opening is Friday the 13th of November. All welcome.