Lawrence English – Cruel Optimism

CD – Room40

When we talk about sound-art, we know already that the images recalled are typically dystopian and inspired by a generic criticism of hyper-liberist and globalized society and this work also follows this pattern. Lawrence English is an Australian experimenter who has already shown his audience his familiarity to the references and the quotes of the contemporary musical avantgarde (Approaching Nothing) and to more intimate and rarefied weaves (Fable with Stephen Vitiello on Dragon’s Eye Recordings). This interpretation key, without specifically thinking of the contents, allows us to get a different meaning to the sounds. The sounds are relevant because of their formal expression: a refined style exercise. The sequences are sensitive and full of emphasis, dilated and epic, resonant but quiet too somehow. About Cruel Optimism, though the project may be considered a vibrant treatise with nothing other than its elegant stylizations, Lawrence English highlights “this is an album about power and how it may condition two fundamental aspects of humanity: obsession and fragility”. The work owns an inner coherence, related to the author’s feelings, in between a “private” and a “political” dimension. The title alludes to the theories of Lauren Berlant. According to him “a relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing”. The result of these theorical-existential weaves is involving and recalls the failure of a “good life”: the consciousnesses fold on themselves and this is a perception we can never fully trust. The Room40 label includes several artists who definitely are not easy, but still holding some grandeur, for example Taylor Deupree, Kenneth Kirschner, Richard Chartier and Marina Rosenfeld. The choice of Lawrence English confirms this artistic attitude. He does not leave the listener indifferent and is able to involve even an audience more expert and doubtful.


  • Lawrence English – Cruel Optimism
  • Cruel Optimism by Lawrence English


    Around the world and dot in red, looping networks

    Since pioneering net art works like Olia Lialina/Márton Fernezelyi’s ‘Agatha Appears’ (where the protagonists seemingly remains in the same place, but actually she jumps from one website to another, noticeable only through the URL address appearing on the screen), the real time ubiquitousness of networks has been an attractive territory for artists. ‘Around the world and dot in red‘ is a net art piece by Damjanski which uses the possibility of looping through different physical places in a new and different way. The third piece of the series ‘It’s just all now’, it is a live stream which starts in New York and is rebroadcast live from Lisbon, to Berlin, Belgrade, Los Angeles and finally back to New York with a synthetic voice reading one the IP numbers involved after the other. The consequent infinite loop is literally encircling the planet with a red dot, while at the same time the video stream looks static, re-embodying the same apparent contradictions which have inspired the net art avant-garde.


    Damjanski – Around the world and dot in red


    edited by Mateo Kries, Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, Amelie Klein Hello, Robot.: Design between Human and Machine

    Vitra Design Museum, MAK, ISBN-13: 978-3945852118, English, 328 pages, 2017, Germany

    Programmatically avoiding the lavish newness in technology design, this catalogue of the ‘Hello, Robot.’ exhibition revolves around our relationship with autonomous tech, beyond the omni-comprehensive effort of the show, ranging from pure pop to sophisticated art. Hosted first at Vitra Design Museum before landing at MAK Vienna and Design Museum Gent, it has been framed into four sections ‘Science and Fiction’, ‘Programmed to Work’, ‘Friend and Helper’, and ‘Becoming One’. Every section has been driven by open questions posed to the public, involving the sense of robot existence, and the core of the social, affective and conflicting relationship they provoke with their presence. These relationships are thoroughly discussed in this catalogue, especially through all the present grey areas. Are the relationships essentially a question of trust, since as humans we can trust and doubt at the same time, while robots are still prone to a binary logic? So Marlies Wirth notes and Bruce Sterling seems to hint in his short fiction. Should we abandon the classic division between the human and machine worlds and engage in conversations with robots, as Gesche Joost suggests? Or should we call for action, aiming to design a “broad and culturally rich palette of robots sent out into the world” as Dunne and Raby’s speculative design suggests? Or, more fundamentally, will we be able to “sustain […] bodies without organs” as Rosi Braidotti states? Probably all of the above, and even more, but always led by our critical and open biological nature.