Number: 94 Boredom
By its very conditions, modernity is boring; boredom may be, at least from a psychological view, modernity itself. The material plentitude and sheer crowdedness of modern life noted by Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay “Against Interpretation” have in the intervening decades only been compounded by further globalized consumerism and the inundating excess of contemporary visual culture, both online and IRL.
Number: 94 features contributions from critics, artists, poets, and others documenting and investigating a range of affective states related to boredom and attention: tedium, languor, decision fatigue, ambivalence, alienation. In addressing these feelings—each of which defies the paradigmatic binaries of thought and emotion, subject and object—boredom is examined not only as a mood but also as a psychic symptom of advanced capitalism, a tool for meditation, and an ethical challenge in a time of visual and informational oversaturation.
In her essay “Boredom and Capitalism (According to Wikipedia),” interdisciplinary artist Sarrita Hunn employs the “uncreative” method of reassembling text gleaned from the openly edited, online encyclopedia in an attempt at shedding light on the underlying logistics of collective consciousness. Along the way, she traces a lineage of critical thought from Marx through Erich Fromm and Guy Debord concerning labor, the Industrial Revolution, and the “rigged game” of culture. Elsewhere, critic and scholar Dr. Jordan Amirkhani considers writings by another figure associated with the Frankfurt School, Walter Benjamin, who once called boredom “the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience.”
Poet and artist CC Calloway’s diptych the economy of means captures a moment of distraction between lovers, and Joe Nolan discusses ennui and ecstasy with masked provocateur Johnny Invective, the self-proclaimed “art critic and vandal for hire” who recently returned to Nashville’s art scene after a mysterious hiatus. In a conversation with Katy Henriksen, Brooklyn-based artist Sara Greenberger Rafferty compares her role to that of a comedian as “someone who is simultaneously entertaining and participating in cultural critique.” For certain works including some on view earlier this year in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in the exhibition Tailored Content, Rafferty has printed photographs on thick sheets of Plexiglas, evoking the screen-objects that have become ubiquitous in everyday life, as well as the immaterial, temporary images they bear.
Troubled but tempted by the prospect of viewing art through text messages and streaming services, Lisa Williamson questions the limits of interpretation in the age of analytics. Others pursue more uncompromising methods. Determined to temporarily resist the allure of screens and the streams of information they promise, artist Liz Clayton Scofield reports back from a self-imposed hyperactivity detox in which their phone is turned off for three days. The resulting text is part personal essay, part performance documentation, with Scofield’s own speculations and anxieties animating the experiment.
In an essay from the Jan./Feb. 2015 issue of Art Papers, British writer and curator Shumon Basar writes about becoming bored with studying architecture: “I want you to know that by the end of this sentence, you may have lost interest. Why? Because I am about to write about losing interest.” I could say something similar about Number: 94: I want you to know that by the end of this issue, you may become bored, because you are about to read about boredom. But the conversations, images, and ideas contained here are ultimately more expansive and engaging than that, since boredom is inevitably a space to wrestle with what Hunn’s found-text essay describes as the “experience of time and problems of meaning” that characterize human life. Or, as Basar poetically concludes, “Boredom is an irradiation of the soul.”
— Logan Lockner, Guest Editor