Exclusive: The Berlin artist takes a fruity 90s-vibing holiday in his new video
“People make jokes of what they’re scared of.” That’s Steven Warwick, the Berlin-based artist behind Heatsick paraphrasing Freud, on the dark and satirical world of RE-ENGINEERING, his second LP released on PAN. A UK-born visual artist and performer, who came from his early days in noise with London’s Birds of Delay to embrace a sound that oscillates along the lines of, but never quite intersects with, dance music. It’s a crumbling and uncanny version of it that rests on some very clear philosophical, theoretical, even architectural concepts, reaching across sexuality-in-flux on his INTERSEX LP in 2011, flâneur and Baudrillard on Déviation in 2012.
For this year’s RE-ENGINEERING, anyone vaguely engaged in contemporary art discourse will recognise the markers. The new materialist album cover of a line-etched stainless steel plate, a misappropriated Yves Saint Laurent logo reading ‘HEATSICK’ and the twelve stars of the European Union. Art. Commerce. Politics. It comes with a ‘manifesto’ of sorts, a statement referencing the “motifs”, “emerging markets” and “cybernetic feedback” of forms captured and dissolved.
Tracks like "SPECULATIVE", "ACCELERATIONISTA" and "E-SCAPE" make explicit, playful reference to an existing art lexicon. Artist Hanne Lippard mimics an-all-too-familiar automated announcement on the title-track as she recites, “Modern life is still rubbish, you say. Modern rubbish is still life” at an unvarying pitch over repeated, simulated exhalations and an unobtrusive monophonic synth tone. Her distinctive vocal register surfaces again, scrambled and in fragments, on "WATERMARK", echoing the androgynous female voiceover of a DIS Magazine mix introduction (“this is a PAN…”). It’s an audio imitation of the branding of the multimedia art site’s DIS images, which in turn emulates the corporate stock photo libraries of the likes of Getty Images. “Welcome to L-O-L”.
A reflection of a reflection, RE-ENGINEERING presents an infinite feedback loop of theoretical discussion in a repetitive, refracted album of presets, field recordings and sound effects littered with references to Bruno Latour, Manuel DeLanda, liquid anti-criminal systems and a Champagne cocktail. An ecology of “modern detritus”, Warwick’s examinations are so explicit yet so cyclical that it’s hard to see, not only where he stands ideologically but where the music is going sonically; his ideas as nebulous as the constant state of flux that appears to define art right now. This is a moving, fluid, mass that is obfuscated, camouflaged and dispersed across an acoustic space meant to be absorbed in any sequence you like. Hence the album stream on Pitchfork, a free download on rollingstone.com and a video premiere for ‘MIMOSA’ by Lippard on Dazed Digital. “Remoulded, reshaped, re-branded, rebooted”, Heatsick replicates his intellectual reality and imagines its total and inevitable collapse: “relax, it’s only a crisis.”
Dazed Digital: You’ve talked about sounding ‘of the moment’ and not being ashamed ot it.
Steven Warwick: I guess I’m just talking about what’s happening in the world today, just trying to reflect that either visually, sonically or by contributing to conversations which have been happening.
DD: Is that why you work with loops, giving feedback while truncating them?
Steven Warwick: Yeah it’s good to provide some interference; try to sort of send them careering off in a way.
I’d call the album a bundle of multiplicities, nestling amongst each other and interlinking with each other. You can play around with the sequence. I’ve got my sequence for it, which I’ve presented in the record, but I’m going to put it out there and its going to be available via soundcloud, or someone will put it onto YouTube or, especially with the algorithms on soundcloud, how someone’s going to listen to it is going to change the formation. I guess I’m just saying that I’m okay with that.
DD: If you’re okay with that, then what made you release an album?
Steven Warwick: Well, it’s like if you’re an artist, even if you’re in this neo-materialist or post-internet discourse, people are still going to be showing in galleries, aren’t they? So why shouldn’t I make a record? It’s almost like a vessel to carry something and then it’ll be distributed online and people can digest it that way. Different people are going to be listening to it in different ways. There’s not really one way of listening so I may as well accommodate for different modes of reception.
“When I talk about the album being a record about the self, it is a bit of a satire.”
DD: When you think about the fact that the long-player format only really exists because a piece of vinyl could only hold so many songs, it makes sense that the form should shift with new technologies.
Steven Warwick: Yeah, that’s kind of why I said in the statement that people don’t really listen to records in the same way anymore. We have a different experience of it. Even in how I presented the songs, they’re not defined. I tried to keep them as loose as possible and throw them out there like eleven blobs into the world.
What I find funny about a lot of the current art discourse, talking about interconnectivity, Bruno Latour and network theory, is that there’s a kind of mass movement. I almost find that there’s almost a collapse between the artist and the art itself. They’ve become one thing, a singularity, and I wonder how conscious that is in a way.
It seems the current art movement is very much moving as a large mass and kind of floating around speculatively. You know, players floating around on the stock market. It’s almost like people are shares and that’s where there’s a general collapse, which kind of fascinates me and obviously scares me a little bit.
DD: This focus on the self, in terms of RE-ENGINEERING, is it a way of, not only acknowledging your own complicity but also the very personal effect this total collapse could have?
Steven Warwick: When I talk about the album being a record about the self, it is a bit of a satire. But it’s a very real thing of, ‘how does one participate in the grander scheme of things?’ That’s like the whole climate change thing or the idea of charity. There’s The Soul of a Man Under Socialism by Oscar Wilde, where you can give someone some money but ultimately its more about you alleviating your guilt than making someone’s life better, because they’re still going to be there tomorrow. What’s more important is to look at the grander scheme of society, this totality, of course, [laughs].To try and reform something, to try and change that very system, which I think is more important.
DD: Do you think that reasoning could not also be an evasion?
Steven Warwick: No, because then the impetus is on you to think of an alternative, or to try and think of a way around it. Your discomfort and your mild crisis in that situation is ten times more interesting than taking some kind of cognitive bandaid by giving away a bit of your wealth. Don’t you agree?
Surely, it’s better to have a mild crisis and take yourself, albeit briefly, out of a situation. Actually, you’re putting yourself fully into a situation and you’re looking at how you are very much implicated in this. This mild discomfort is way more important than giving fifty pence, shrugging your shoulders and putting your iPod back on.
DD: I guess you could apply that reasoning to your scepticism, problematising of contemporary art discourse.
Steven Warwick: I just don’t think it’s quite as easy to define the enemy like that. I’m just participating and I think it’s better to participate, or to contribute, providing feedback, I’m being affected and I’m affecting what I’m contributing towards.
It’s also this idea where I feel like FOMO [‘fear of missing out’] is a modern condition and one that we’re really preoccupied with. People are scared of being left out or they’re scared of not commenting because there’s been an enforcement that you have to comment, you have to give feedback. You have to give feedback on whether your coffee was good, whether a gig was good, on whether your train line had a good service, whether this blog was useful. Ultimately, I just find it a record, which is about participation and I’m genuinely trying to reflect on that. **