Bernshammar, September 13, 2023
Dear Suse, Dear Kyle,
In the beautiful conversations that I had with you both some days ago, we talked about many things: ornament, dirt, hope, the uncanny, playfulness, forests, fear of the future, the Kibbutz, tacit knowledge, and East German architecture.
We did not expressly talk about the unintelligible, but for some strange reason, it was what I came to think of after our conversations. It was a long time ago since the unintelligible was treasured. Today, the unintelligible trigger neither fascination, nor humility. It’s just annoying. The whole notion of the unintelligible seems somewhat obsolete today, when everything is supposed to be smooth and user-friendly.
Things we fail to grasp make us feel lost, insufficient, and awkward. One way to improve our relationship with the unintelligible is to practice: we can practice to bear with the unintelligible, simply by accepting that we cannot grasp it. We can also practice listening, seeing, and imagining without the urge to simplify. But instead, we have developed strategies to escape the feeling of awkwardness. One is to use the strategy of simplification. This will assure a frictionless understanding of everything. It transforms love into exchange, quality into quantity, forests into tree plantations, humans into brands, and unconventional thinking into neuropsychiatric disabilities. It makes everything as smooth and user-friendly as a smartphone.
It is commonly said that ”the world is constantly becoming more complex”, that ”we should only expect the unexpected”, and so on. In fact, the opposite is true: The world is constantly becoming less complex, and we should only expect the expected. This is what simplification is all about: to reduce what you don’t understand until it begins to look like something you understand because you’ve seen it before. Technologies like Chat GPT don’t give us anything that is new. They are designed to make our lives effortless. They just repeat what has already been said, over and over again.
Simplifications may seem dull, but harmless. They’re not. Here are five disastrous consequences of simplifications:
1. They encourage thoughtlessness.
2. They make us receptive to totalitarianism.
3. They translate nature into resource.
4. They transform biologically diverse habitats into monocultures.
5. They will make the planet unlivable or they will bore us to death.
Kyle and Suse, I think that the differences are greater than the similarities between your works. I wonder how they will react on one another. One similarity, however, is that they are genuinely anti-smooth, and as far as I can tell, they contain no simplifications. I would like to thank you, Suse, for reminding us that we don’t only have eyes, but also hands. We should use them more: to play, to imagine, to explore, that is, to understand. Kyle, your works make me think of the deep time of the earth. I admire how you stay with the trouble of not fully understanding. I think we all should do that more often, to become more attentive and humble.
Letter from Jens Soneryd to Suse Bauer and Kyle Fitzpatrick. Savoy. 15 September–14 October, 2023. Åplus, Berlin.