In 1967 French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser delivered a series of three lectures as part of the ‘Philosophy Course for Scientists’ at the École Normale Supérieure, a course of initiation for non-philosophers inaugurated by Althusser and colleagues as an attempt to move philosophy from a specialist and abstract discourse towards a practical application, ‘a weapon in the ideological battle’. Delivered across the academic year they drew huge crowds from the student body, coming to a close on the eve of the eruption of riots in May 1968.
Amanda Beech’s new three-channel video installation takes the structure of Althusser’s lectures as a framework, embroiling Althusser’s political philosophy with transcripts of a CIA recruitment talk and the obsessive dissection of Hollywood realism by bloggers. These voices are interwoven into one dogmatic argument delivered by a single narrator, a gruff and urgent American, who takes aim at our trust in language and our faith in politics and art as ‘sciences’ that are capable of producing demonstrable truths.
The video opens with the crack of a gun being fired, and another, and another. The narrator is similarly abrupt and confrontational, there is no time given for orientation or explanation, as we move deeper into this indoctrination. The ‘bullet points’, auditory explosions throughout the work, both interrupt and underline his statements. On screen we are plunged through a litany of disassociated territories with a circle as a recurring figure that disrupts the screen, roving over stark exotic landscapes, at times appearing to be the lens of a covert surveillance op or the telescopic sight of a rifle.
The work tightly choreographs the viewers’ experience delivering a sensory overload that borrows from the tropes of the high-octane thriller to grip you with a different form of fear and suspense. Rather than the conspiracy of government cover-ups this is the conspiracy of reality, or at least our acceptance of a reality predicated around us. The fictional world that ‘Final Machine’ creates set us in what Beech describes as a ‘post-political reality’ where ideas are taken seriously, ‘as if philosophy was a pure and accurate description of reality’.
Beech has developed a language and internal logic across a body of work that forges a meeting point between politics, philosophy, fiction and art. ‘Final Machine’ drives forward an argument for a speculative realism that rejects any notion of order or an empiricism that supports it, specifically in an art world which props up its own truthfulness through its habitual critical modes, and moves towards a correct understanding of power.
‘Final Machine’ is highly demanding, running the risk of losing its audience through its opacity and intensity but it is this element of intrigue, intrinsic to the conspiracy thriller, that compels the viewer. The three sources interlock as they probe at our desire to comprehend, attempting to drag us sorry rookies out of the dark. Alongside the work’s force there is also this seduction, a hint that it is leading to what has been concealed from us, to the boundaries of the circle and a view of the Final Machine.
Review published by this is tomorrow, March 2013.