James Ferraro Talks Phases, Fads and Fidget Spinners

James Ferraro – the man, the myth, the legend – speaks to SLEEK about his first ever visual art show at LOYAL gallery in Stockholm.

Photo by Elsa Henderson

James Ferraro is a man of many talents. If you don’t know him by name, you’ll probably recognise one of his many musical pseudonyms. The man behind aliases Bodyguard, Edward Flex, K2 and Bebetune$, (among about 30 others), and making up one half of The Skaters as well as Lamborghini Crystal, Ferraro has earned something of a godlike reputation in the world of electronic music. He’s been dubbed an “idiosyncratic experimentalist”, is widely regarded as the king of vaporwave and his philosophic outlook has been aligned with Jean Baudrillard. His often-dystopian musical ventures demonstrate a unique exploration of modern life, delving into concerns of technology and consumer society. His 2011 album, “Far Side Virtual”utilises sounds of modern life – computer bleeps, ringtones and the Skype login sound – and was created on Garageband.

News of Ferraro’s venture into visual art came as no great surprise – ever transcending artistic boundaries, his conceptual synthesis of modern existence seemed almost destined for the visual realm. “Extinction Renaissance”Ferraro’s first show of visual work, takes place at LOYAL gallery in Stockholm, where the artist has been in residence this summer. While it may be his debut solo exhibition, Ferraro is no stranger to the gallery circuit – he live scored “Burning Prius” in collaboration with Maxwell Sterling, showed a series of sound installations at MoMA PS1 and has been previously featured at LOYAL alongside Takeshi Murata and Ben Jones.

“Extinction Renaissance” features video, digital prints and a very limited number of USB releases of new music, and if the trailer is anything to go by, it promises to be quintessentially Ferraro. In light of the current exhibition, SLEEK caught up with the infamous artist to talk musings and motivations.

James Ferraro, 3D Printed Slum & Gluten Free Wheat Biome, 2017, Digital print on canvas, 24 x 39 in, 60 x 100 cm
James Ferraro, 3D Printed Slum & Gluten Free Wheat Biome, 2017, Digital print on canvas, 24 x 39 in, 60 x 100 cm

You haven’t given much away about this project; so far all we have is the ambiguous trailer and the tagline “3D printed biome for the nomadic gluten intolerant.” Tell us about your motivations and inspiration for “Extinction Renaissance”.

There’s a range of subjects addressed in the show, but the main focus is on an emergent humanity within the grasp of nomadic disassociation. It’s meant to be an articulation on how our world view is one of simultaneous technological decadence and decline, turning away from civilisation while also building it paradoxically. This is the psychology of the subject at hand, hence, “Extinction Renaissance”. One main element of that is the gluten free movement. As the concept emerges and integrates into cities, it begins to represent an agrarian awakening where humanity has opted to transfer all of its faith into the mechanisms of its artificial systems, disassociating from the pivotal role of wheat – the literal pillar of civilisation – and as we further commit to that disregard we breed a mutated doctrine of humanism and nihilism. We are anthropogenic nomads, the soil is alien and is eroded by our untethered illusion of freedom.

“Fidget spinners are saturated in deep malaise, and I see their popularity as a mass desire to escape and exit societal discontentment” – James Ferraro

How long has the project been in progress? What’s your creative process been like for your first visual work and how has it differed from music production?

I’ve always applied certain ideas to one or the other. Creation and composition for me springs forth as ideas and have the freedom to be musical or not depending on an instinct – the decision comes naturally. I think music can be overburdened by its need to be pleasurable; there’s so much tonality in music it’s almost abusive. Also it deceivingly takes on the appearance of a process rather than a self-contained idea, so for me there is visual art to escape that totality. The outcome is closer to writing, which is something I spend a lot of time doing.

James Ferraro, Still from Video, 9/11 Simulation in Roblox Environment, 2017

What three words would you use to categorise the outcome of this project?

River of Taurine

The fidget spinners on the website’s front and the digital print addressing the “climate change generation” immediately locate the work within the context of our current timeframe. This is categoric of much of your work, which includes markers for location within a certain consciousness (consumerism, post 9/11, etc.) What does the iconography of the fidget spinner represent?

I think the fidget spinner is the perfect reduction of all consumer desire, all consumer conquest stripped of its elaborate shell and revealed for what those impulses really are: an endlessly spinning mechanic desire in a finite loop of temporary stimulation. It dies, and you feed it more momentum. A vehicle for momentary presence and its minimalism could only exist within a decadent world of simultaneous decline and prosperity, where all satiation is grossly met. Fidget spinners are saturated in deep malaise, and I see their popularity as a mass desire to escape and exit societal discontentment.

How do you relate to the term “post-internet”?

As a singular entity, the internet is dead. It has metastasised into every part of life and become a myriad of different cultural and physical meanings. Internet(s) or internet of things, that plurality is significant I think. So I relate to it in that way.

James Ferraro, Extinction Renaissance- 3D printed biome for the nomadic gluten intolerant
James Ferraro, Extinction Renaissance- 3D printed biome for the nomadic gluten intolerant

You’ve got a way with words – your Twitter is both a stream-of-consciousness and a grounds for hypothesis. Your ability to substantially summarise current concerns into couplets [“fidget evolution”, “suburban nausea”, “send nukes”] is completely on point. How have words shaped “Extinction Renaissance”, including its title?

Everything I do usually starts out as a poetic text, including this show, which originated as a poem entitled “Oldowan”. It’s sort of a meditation on “Roblox”, which is a chamber of social compression. It plugs random souls into its endless Hobbesian enclosure, where millions of online avatars provide digital prehension and direct links to synapses, then tortured by unlatched human instincts as they run around retrograding into resource hoarding and simulated killing in a low-bit CGI environment. Socially saturated to the point of being like mass solitary confinement, we can’t circumvent our instinct through the aid of simulation, they persist in their thirst even in artificiality but we sublimate fields of murder in primitive graphics powered by taurine, and populate them as nomadic spirits existing without territoriality and possessing both serfdom and godhood. This was the impetus of the video work.

Which pressing contemporary concerns have most informed the work?

The work is ladened with references to Winsun 3D, and artificial IKEA soil grids, digital drawings printed on synthetic canvas. I’m trying to articulate the connection between cheaper cost of building materials and what I believe to be its inherent link to simulacrum, it propagates simulacra and as overpopulation and limited space within cities become an increasing reality, 3D printing emerges in the nick of time to save us from ourselves, but I think this intensifies the process of becoming wholly dissociative our situation is nomadic and paradoxical. The belief of eternal growth and the symbiosis of survival and inevitable destitution is mapped out in all the countless agents we produce that render the world into this complex. We create bubbles of technological decadence within an overall existential collapse, we are gods of a simulacra shrine worshipping a foregone earth whose fate we predetermined. We are a million malfunctioning GPS receivers in an abyss of traffic, complicit in the urges that sustain us while simultaneously ending us.

Extinction Renaissance” by James Ferraro is on display at LOYAL gallery in Stockholm until 26 August 2017

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