Graffiti in Istanbul, Turkey. Source: Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung
Graffiti in Istanbul, Turkey. Source: Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung

“I waste my time with an excess of punctuality.”

Violette Leduc, Mad in Pursuit, (1971)

“I’m just afraid ‘today’ is too much for me, too gripping, too boundless, and that this pathological agitation will be a part of my ‘today’ until its final hour.”

Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina, (1971)

“The only people more stupid than those who stand in the way of history are those who prostrate themselves before it.”

Alaa Abd El-Fattah, “The Birth of a Brave New World 1: Between Uber and The Luddites” (2016) in You Have Not Yet Been Defeated, (2021)

I fear that I’ve conjured a general anxiety amongst my friends. They have begun sending panicked messages whenever they are more than five minutes late to meet me. Sometimes they even call, breathlessly, to apologise. And although those closest to me know I dislike waiting and being waited for, I did not conjure this petty tyranny on purpose. I consider lateness as nothing beyond a minor annoyance, if that at all. Attempts to pinpoint where this dislike of lateness comes from usually end in memories of my being scolded. My mother—a woman of God, a former cop—used to profess that the time of others is sacred. She believed, and instilled in me as truth, that it demonstrates discipline and respectability for one to be thirty minutes early than ever ten minutes late. Her proposition is, at its core, ridiculous: that one must always be early for that is from where dignity is derived. I have begun thinking more closely about the resonances of lateness, or the political power of being slow. First, as a potentially unconscious strategy of Decolonial Hacker, but also as a reaction to some of the conversations I have endured over the last year, where I have been looked at like a luddite for not adopting or taking in my stride developments in the art world which I find wholly repugnant.

A man tells me that the art world’s present bend toward embracing blockchain and crypto is a train that will leave with or without me on it. There is snideness to his words: that the conductor is about to blow their whistle, previous conductors have already blown their whistles, that this whistle I’m hearing is the last. An ultimatum dressed up as advice. But my impulse is not to get on the train. In fact, I’d rather like to blow it up.

He speaks of NFTs as a form of revolutionary chattel that shifts the balance of power in the art market toward artists, as an expansion in the possibilities of how they can earn money, and thus being an entirely good thing. Everest Pipkin has written on why utopian framings of NFTs—and crypto more broadly—are pernicious: that they obfuscate and impede how we ought to imagine and strategise ways out of existing social inequalities, not to mention the immediate consequences participating has on the climate catastrophe. In the end, crypto-art and NFTs represent the further refining of the ways in which the market already regulates the logic of accumulation and possession under capitalism. There’s not much use arguing against those who want to make money—our conditions of existence dictate that much. To quote the artist Jesse Darling, “The point is the money, not the object. And I’m all for people making money, but let’s not talk about that shit like it’s art.”

Web3, with its grift that users can assert proprietary ownership over a piece of the imagined digital landscape, might calcify a similar logic. If the object of Web3 is to syphon power and influence away from Big Tech, why does it appear that we’re now doing the same thing these companies have always done—carve out and acquire property—only in more fragmented ways touted as “decentralised” and “autonomous”? And, why must we be quick to adapt ourselves to these ‘new’ regimes of accumulation, under the particularly gross metaphor of the internet being a landscape we must conquer? Nothing about these technologies is liberatory or ideologically advanced to the extent of figuring them as the emancipatory tools that they promise to be. Aligning yourself with Web3 and the crypto marketplace is at best a short-term salve. It may feel as though you operate on a piece of land beyond the surveillance of Zuckerberg You might even make a quick buck. But without advancing the principles of collective bargaining, one risks the creation of another world that exists only in service of private wealth and accumulation. Colonialism and capitalism grow stronger through shifting into forms that trick us into believing what’s happening is their antithesis. The consensus, it appears, is that shaping the world on these terms, in this moral image, is ok.

Ten months have passed since Decolonial Hacker began. We have published nine long-form texts traversing a range of subjects: setting out new principles for governance at MCA Australia, bringing to light how the severance clause operates in the New Museum Union’s contract, and explicating how the relationship between hip-hop and state mediations of culture by the Cuban Rap Agency inscribe a national artistic grammar on the island nation, to name a few.

What began as a project that sought to document a list of structural grievances and misdoings about cultural institutions is slowly moving into a field that is beyond the immediate, obvious purview of the art world. Museums and their fraught working conditions are only a constitutive part of a greater depravity, and our activism and thinking must grapple with this larger reality even if the art world is the reference point we have familiar to us as cultural workers.

In the first months of Decolonial Hacker’s publication period, I had the feeling that a large part of our audience was expecting ‘call outs’ on particular directors and institutions which could easily circulate as industry gossip. I do not wish to indulge this tabloid mentality. It is an insult to the rigour, research, and personal experiences of the authors. If all one can do is read their essays and mine them for scandal, then they have entirely missed the point of how this platform conceives critique, and the type of thinking this platform seeks to advance. To be more direct, we have been concerned—and will continue to be concerned—with what it means to imagine and work toward the annihilation of unjust structures. Yet this work, I have realised, will continue to be framed as scandalous and too radical by some. For instance: before the publication of a particular essay last year, the Australia Council for the Arts—this project’s funding body—was contacted by a museum director who, knowing only that a text was being written about their institution, sought to quash the piece. This went so far as the Federal Government portfolio issuing a ‘please explain’ to the Council, with the substantive question being whether public money had been misappropriated in funding Decolonial Hacker.

I share these anecdotes and arguments to say that there are so many things about ‘culture’ and the industry that mediates it that enrage me. Certainly, I have become less interested in the idea that the art world or its institutions can be reformed. Going forward, I will continue to resist the pressure of Decolonial Hacker becoming a program that is fast, reactionary, and gossip-oriented. I hope that the work done here feels measured, illuminating, and intellectually expansive. This work, however, does not have the man I spoke of earlier in mind. Nor his friends already on the train, the museum director, the Government. They sneer at the stained and battered concrete platform I stand on, yet it remains the vantage point from which I can see the passage of history most clearly. So get on the train, I want to tell them, get on the damn train.“

Dance little asshole dance
oh he gets elected, like a Calvinist
He says, I have these guts
Men, I have these guts.

+ + +

Having dedicated whole
regions to the destruction
you inspire, the
logic will be to go on doing it
doing it. Having proceeded by
the logic
of your per-
sonal vaccuum
you will perceive your continued
as an excuse to go on. having
gone on
as you have. And so one continues.”

From Alice Notley’s, Logic, (2011).

Blowing Up The Train
00:00 - 00:00
27 January 2022
Editorial by Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung

Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung is a writer, cultural worker, and founding editor of Decolonial Hacker. In 2023, he was the Asymmetry Curatorial Fellow at Whitechapel Gallery, London, where he curated the exhibition Anna Mendelssohn: Speak, Poetess. Eugene has been a curator-in-residence at Delfina Foundation, and was previously part of the curatorial and public program teams at the Julia Stoschek Foundation and documenta fifteen, respectively. In 2021, he won the International Award for Art Criticism (IAAC). Eugene holds degrees in art history, gender studies, and law from the University of Sydney.