Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau is an artist based in London whose practice incorporates both individual and collaborative projects, including The ARKA Group with Ben Jeans Houghton, the research project Bad Vibes Club, and the occasional broadcasting project Radio Anti with Ross Jardine. Through conversations, emails and attending Bad Vibes Club events, I spoke to Matthew about his approach to autonomous group activity, the public abject temperament, and the utilisation of disgust, amongst other things.
Doggerland: On Radio 4 a couple months back was the report of a burglar killed by an alligator whilst evading the police in Florida. The 22-year-old man was drowned, and then eaten by an alligator. The headline came at the end of the reports, the slot often reserved for a lighter, unexpected turn of events, whether jovial, profound or bizarre. The moral implications were explicit, and I think what still resonates with me about this particular instance is a version of what you describe on the Bad Vibes Club website as Morbid Ethics. Could you expand upon your interests and theoretical approach to this term in your research?
That is a great example of morbid ethics bubbling away under the mainstream presentation of morality. It’s a morality tale; ‘don’t burgle houses otherwise you’ll get punished’, but it’s also enjoyable as a piece of news entertainment only because of the brutality of the punishment. Being eaten by a crocodile is not currently seen as an enlightened way to deal with criminality. It’s like a Brothers Grimm fairytale. It relates to the harsh, punitive justice of a time we might like to think we’ve left behind, but it’s unthinkingly presented as a fluff piece at the end of the news.
Morbid Ethics is a very open term. It’s deliberately ambiguous about what the aim or outcome of a morbid ethics might be. It could be something productive, for example our current research for Field Broadcast is an examination of interruption as an artistic practice. It could be critical; Jonathan P. Watts’ upcoming talk at Open School East is his take on the contemporary happiness industry. Or, it could be something more ambiguous, like Daniel Oliver’s upcoming performance lecture (05.10.16 at Open School East) will be both a talk about awkwardness, and a performance that uses and produces awkwardness. Morbid Ethics is on the one hand supposed to address serious concerns, for example a post-human ethics might be the only way to think about how we act in the face of human influenced climate change. But it is also meant to allow space for a more adolescent or perverse approach to theory - I know that I enjoy the dystopian aspects of a lot of philosophy that I read, and I’m pretty certain there aren’t many people reading Nick Land’s ‘Machinic Desire’ for practical tips on how to live a better life.
Alain de Botton wrote a book called ‘Religion for Atheists’ which was about how a secular society might pick and choose the best rituals and ethical outcomes of religious practices, while dispensing with all the perversity, guilt, shame, hypocrisy and irrationality. Morbid Ethics is the opposite of that. If The Bad Vibes Club did religion, we’d deal exclusively with the perversity, guilt, shame, hypocrisy and irrationality. They’re the best bits.
DL: I’m feeling your ‘vibes’ - how does this term describe both the Bad Vibes Club and crossovers with other aspects of your practice?
Vibes is actually a pretty useful word to describe this activity. I work in music, and I always find the word vibes very annoying, but in the context of this project, it refers to ‘affect’ - as in emotions and feelings in or between people, as well as object-oriented philosophy, where the notion of vibes can be thought of as a relation between things; a sort of humming between different levels of material agency.
Vibes is also what Matthew credits to Laurence Taylor, co-founder of Open School East and pro-viber, where Bad Vibes Club was originally devised - during the first associate programme year between 2013-14 - and where BVC still maintains an ongoing programme.
My practice has lots of different parts, or ways of operating. They all kind of crossover, but not explicitly. The closest part to the BVC is probably my individual practice in which I make sculptures, drawings, performances and films that address ideas of abjection, negative affective states and the ambiguities of language and objects. These interests also inform what I do with the ARKA Group (a sculptural collaborative practice with Ben Jeans Houghton) and Radio Anti (a temporary radio station I run with Ross Jardine), but there is less of a crossover in terms of what those collaborative practices produce.
DL: ‘ The Bad Vibes Club is a collaborative research project investigating Morbid Ethics and the productive possibilities of negative states’ – if each seminar is hinged upon this notion, or the content of the discussion is responsive to these ideas in some way, and an invited guest speaker talks about these concerns, where does the exchange dynamic of collaboration occur? Is it between yourself and the speaker, integrating your own artist research and interests with writers and artists you admire? Or is it between you and the fellow participants to the event? I imagine it’s both, but I’d like to hear your take on it. Is there a need for recurrent attendance in order to generate collaborative practice?
The way in which the BVC is collaborative has changed over the three years it’s been running. In the first year, I assembled a group through open application that came to all the lectures and all the reading groups, the idea being that through meeting over time we could really attack this idea of morbid ethics and negativity together. We did that, but it was hard work to administrate. I slowly realised that however collaborative the BVC was, it would always be my project, and other people would take part when it was of interest to them.
In the second year I loosened my absurdly tight grip on the project in a few ways: people came along to the lectures and reading groups they were interested in, and different people selected texts.
One of the first contributors to BVC was the prolific Mark Fisher, who revisioned a contemporary tracing of anti-vitalism in philosophy from Jean-François Lyotard to Nick Land in ‘Anti – Vital’. Other presentations and readings have included our pal Oliver Braid on ‘The Certainty of Insignificance’, Sally O’Reilly on ‘Ambiguity’, and Joanna Bourke on the history of rape from the 19th century.