Suzanne Treister plans to save the world with her Technoshamanic Systems
Interviewed by DAMN magazine in February 2020, shortly before the unforeseen year to follow, Suzanne Treister speculated that her work came from a need to predict what comes next – "I want to know all the secrets of the universe, all the future potentials of technology […] since my teens I've had a fantasy of saving the world ¹." Treister’s new series, Technoshamanic Systems, deals in these potentials, constructing delicate card houses out of what ifs. Saving the world takes shape as uncertainty and faith, posing questions without answers and offering answers without questions.
Technoshamanic Systems, Diagrams, Tree of Life 01 (2020-21)
The diagrams of Suzanne Treister’s Technoshamanic Systems are beautiful candy-floss structures of Information. Childlike ink and watercolour paintings present “microcosmic non-colonialist plans toward s a techno-spiritual imaginary of alternative visions of survival on earth and inhabitation of the cosmos².” It’s a sprawling project broken into thirteen groupings of Treister’s utopic paintings: Project Diagrams, Earth Eco Systems and Architectures, Reinvented Technologies, Interplanetary Social Structures, Designs for Spacecraft, Apparel, Interplanetary Space Habitations, Interplanetary Meditation and Biospheres Islands, Crystal Architectures, Vultures, Rituals, Stars and Visions.
The Project Diagrams reflect Treister’s worldbuilding, maps that she creates to guide the viewer through the Systems. Herconnecting arrows and lines prepare us to see a logical (and illogical), and factual (and counter-factual) sequence of data – a life cycle of the cell, prepared and processed for us to understand. Whimsical and borderline administrative, the Project Diagrams appropriate the form and language of ‘information’. But Treister’s ‘information’ obfuscates. She connects art theory with the structures of molecules and early international laws with occult knowledge. Her wide-ranging ideas are outlined in deliberately academic language, vague multisyllabic terms that appear in journal articles and biennale manifestos, echoing the verbiage of the corporate-art-military -industrial complex.
To the uninitiated, it is difficult to parse what is established information and what is speculation.
And that’s the point: since the late ‘80s, the artist has researched and explored hidden power, unravelling conspiracy theories and weaving her own. Beginning in 1995, her slightly unhinged time-travelling alter ego, Rosalind Brodsky, manipulated the historical players of the 20th century. Focussing on emerging digital media, Treister’s investigations have spanned everything from classified CIA military programs and occultism to the NATO cataloguing system and the history of art (a part of her residency at CERN, the Swiss physics institute and birthplace of the World Wide Web). Her work has engaged in a complex dialogue with the imaging and acceptance of knowledge, bringing attention to how even virtual form and geometry create and legitimise power. The 2019 projects SURVIVOR (F) and THE ESCAPIST BHST (BLACK HOLE SPACE TIME) also played on the organisation of intelligence, subverting Feynman Charts and Tree diagrams, as well as the Kabballah. The intricate watercolours tell the story of an enigmatic cosmic entity, a post-human consciousness capable of outrunning the charts and maps of human intelligence. THE ESCAPIST is an agent of ‘diagrammatology’, the critical analysis of ‘forms’ of knowledge that W J T Mitchell called for in 1981³. This study of schema acknowledges and questions the distances between the ‘visible forms’ and the Platonic ‘ideals which they resemble⁴.’
Technoshamanic Systems, Diagram, Ethical Questions Concerning Space Law (2020-21)
Suzanne Treister stretches and distorts the ‘shadows and reflections’ of these converted ideas into new chimeric forms. In the Technoshamanic Systems, she uses childlike pastel colours and rough lines to draw the viewer into what seems to be a simplified and legible world. But when the viewer reads the abstract and corporate language, the effect is jarring. The contrast propels the viewer into questioning the legitimacy of all her language and diagrams, and the systems they structure. By prettifying and candy-flossing the corporate and legal language, Treister blurs the lines between societal goals and fantasy. Technoshamanic Systems encourage the viewer to look beyond the affectations of Information; to perceive the imaginary foundation that all these systems – whether military, corporate, or institutional – rest on. Like Peter Pan’s shadow, Treister’s ‘reflected’ images wander away from their Platonic ideals and take on mischievous lives of their own. Unstitched from its ‘owner’, Information wanders into dreams of the second star to the right.
Technoshamanic Systems takes the dreams of THE ESCAPIST (BHST) further. Ostensibly using diagrams as a traditional ideological messaging tool, Treister’s SYSTEMS makes plans for a cosmic ‒ and comic ‒ retro-futurist utopia. Rather than using the ‘informational’ as critique, a post-human exploration of alternative language, or even as an aesthetic quotation, Treister offers the Project Diagrams as mandala – a meditation.
The Escapist BHST (Black Hole Spacetime), Cosmic Rays (2018-2019)
While exposing the shallowness of the corporate futurist fantasy, Treister offers her own seductive vision of the future. Like a cosmic Gorilla Girl, her anti-authoritarian space age could be the stage for Barbie as Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. A bastard grandchild of Russian Cosmism, Hilma af Klint and Barbarella, the Technoshamanic Systems anticipate the mystical futurism of a 2021 TikTok Astrology girl. In an age of privatised, (literally) phallic space travel, Suzanne Treister is painting VW hippie wagons to cross the galaxy in – space tourism for Grimes, rather than Elon. In her Apparel paintings, the loosely painted figures sport antlers or elaborate headdresses, ghostly green and purple priestesses of the Technoshamanic. The future is dressed in shimmering burlesque leotards and halter straps, like extras on Doja Cat’s Planet Her or Janelle Monaé’s Dirty Computer. Treister’s alien bodies float in the page, languidly extending into planets and UFOs around them, the lines between animal, vegetable, and mineral dissipating into the ether. Technoshamanic Systems’ ‘alternative futures’ blur hierarchy and distinction, imagining new constellations of sacred geometry far from next week’s IPO and next year’s billionaire boy.
Suzanne Treister is finally making plans to save the world, but like the aliens in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, she is looking for questions not answers. Rather than searching for the ‘Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’, Technoshamanic Systems question how we formulate these search terms. Like the reoccurring Kabbalah form, the Technoshamanic Systems are infinite, concentric constructions – a psychedelic political platform that directs us to take two steps forward, one step to the side, and a leap into the abyss.