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Find the lover you deserve: How right-wing America’s favourite theory affects your love life


Photograph: Giselle Stanborough as 'Lozein'

Giselle Stanborough is an Australian artist based in Sydney, New South Wales. She is coming to London next week to perform as part of Block Universe, London’s leading international performance art festival, which runs from 26 May - 3 June in major institutions and unique locations across the city. For Giselle’s UK debut, she will present a work called Lozein: Find the lover you deserve, which takes the form of a comedic durational TED-style talk lasting four hours. Giselle adopts the persona of a motivational speaker who plays with the dubious language of self-help online tutorials purporting to have the knowledge and technology required to improve your love life, as informed by right-wing American’s favourite author.

Lozein: Find the lover you deserve takes place on the 31 May from 5-9pm at UCL’s Senate House. For more information and tickets, please visit the Block Universe website.

Can you tell us a bit about the contemporary art scene in Australia?

The contemporary art scene is Australia is very broad, and we are a tight knit community with a diverse set of creative concerns. There are many insightful artists dealing with the ongoing impact of colonization and the history of Aboriginal dispossession, as well as many who explore issues of cultural identity and diaspora. There is a renewed interest in exploring Australia’s relationship with other countries in the region, and in discovering ways to respectfully frame our collaborations across culture and language. Unfortunately, in the last few years there have been a series of government cuts to the arts. As distressing as this has been, it has also been invigorating to see the community galvanize against it, which I think is related to a broadening international investigation into what art can to do critique and counteract the politics of austerity.

Tell us a bit about your practice and how you developed the concept of Lozein: Find the lover you deserve?

My practice can be broadly described as intermedia. I often make expansive works that contain performative elements and utilise physical space as well as online space to explore the connection between the two. I don’t really think of it as ‘IRL vs. URL’, because that is not the dynamic that resonates with me under techno-capitalism. In my work I try to model the relationship between cyber space and meat space as a kind of Mobius strip; if you push far enough in either URL or IRL direction, sooner or later you find yourself in the same spot but on the opposite side.

You’ve spoken in the past about the influence Ayn Rand has had on your practice. Can you tell us a bit more about her ideas and how they feed into your work?

I was watching a documentary in which it was stated that according to the US Library of Congress, Atlas Shrugged was voted the most influential book in America after the Bible. I was skeptical at first but like any self-respecting millennial, I googled it. I discovered it was true, and from there I was drawn by my own morbid curiosity into a Rand themed cyber sink hole, spending hours lurking on some of the most loathsome reactionary forums on the internet, populated by young conservatives who hold Rand up as their grand philosopher. I was particularly interested in the love affair between Rand and Nathaniel Brandon, who went on to become a founding father of Self-Esteem psychology, which is an ideology that has strong derivations from Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, but has arguably eclipsed it in terms of popularity and influence.

As a Millennial, I was used to Boomers bemoaning self-esteem psychology as the root of my generation’s alleged inadequacies, but I hadn’t thought about it as a strategy to encourage adherence to individualism and capitalism, precisely because self-esteem psychology seemed to intersect with ubiquitous concepts like self-love and self-care to obfuscate its political dimensions. Obviously, self-care remains an import part of self-preservation under institutionalized oppressive practices. But what about when oppressive practices and ideologies are branded as self-love? All of a sudden, those self-love memes and in particular their relationships to the platforms that profit from their dissemination such as Instagram and Facebook had a new kind of potent ambiguity to me.

What is the relationship between self-love and love? How does technology function to define these relationships and to manufacture consent? I came across a Rand quote where she described love as an ‘economy of virtues’, and it got me thinking about the ways in which data and self-quantification function to turn everything into a numeric economy, even things that are fraught with complexity and contradiction like sexual desire and friendship. What are the implications of this ‘love as trade’ equation for an idea of love as radical identification beyond quantifiable rationalization? What about Agapē? What about love as identification through struggle? There is no space for that in a model of love as virtue exchange. Why does Eros cohere so neatly with the economic metaphor and what does that have to do with erotic love as the paradigmatic form of love under techo-capitalism? How do corporations utilise this bind to promote the erotic model and profit from the user’s adherence? How much of this adherence have I already internalised?

Apologies for asking so many questions, but the Lozein performance goes for a while so I get to cover a lot of ground.

Lozein: find the lover you deserve addresses society’s current desire for the self interested pursuit of happiness. Can you tell us a bit more about the type of language and imagery that you utilise in this series?

Ayn Rand has another interesting quote that I utilise in the work which is “Before you learn to say ‘I love you’, you must first learn to say the I’’. I have a dark sense of humour so to me it is a bit funny that this Neoliberal obsession with the self cohabits so nicely with the self-quantification movement, where what we consume is our self in bits of data, like our steps and our sleep cycles or our selfies. We deeply want technology to tell us who we are. It is as if psychoanalysis never happened, and the thought of our subjectivity as unknown to us, or even worse unknowable, is a kind of heresy. This is one of the paradoxes of omnipresent corporate surveillance. Yes, we fear being watched all the time but we fear being unseen even more. Our screens are like a mirror and we have to go through the mirror stage every day just to regain our subjectivity. This is our model of happiness under techno capitalism, and happiness is obligatory. The language and imagery I use are heavily derived from tech product launches and motivational speakers. These two modes of performativity have their ultimate synthesis in the form of the TED talk, which I think is the latest in a long history of very dubious forms of public oratory and should be viewed with suspicion.

Technology plays such an important role in most people’s love lives, or in their search for a lover. Apps designed to match us with partners actually prefer we stay on the site as customers in order to have options to review. How do you deal with this paradox of technological support in relation to real life interactions in your work?

In terms of my real life interactions, I think I deal with it poorly because I am still single. Being an artist is such a privilege because you get to set a frame around your time and space to engage in a methodical investigation into things that are important to you, and the best part is because its art, you can chose your own methods. Lozein is a way for me to investigate these paradoxes.

Can you tell us a bit more about your upcoming performance with Block Universe and what audiences should expect?

The audiences can expect something a bit like a TED talk, but a bit weirder and much, much longer. I hope there are parts that trigger moments of reflection and introspection for you where your trail off into your own thoughts but then come back in. For me, listening to another person talk has always been a good entry point into my own conflicting points of view and unlike a book or an article or something where you can put it down and go away and then come back to the exact same point, when it’s a real person talking to you and you drift into yourself, those lost moments of communication can never be recuperated. I don’t think that is bad, I don’t expect or want your absolute attention throughout the whole performance, it’s these moments of drifting connection and disconnection with the voice of the other and the voice of your own consciousness that I am interested in creating.

What are you most excited about to experience as part of Block Universe during your time in London?

I am SO excited about Block Universe and meeting all the other fantastic artists! I have been following them on Instagram so it is going to be that weird URL to IRL stepping out of the screen moment, like when you meet your Tindr match. In terms of tourism in London, I can’t wait to buy all my friends Prince Harry and Meghan Markle themed souvenirs! Who doesn’t love 'love', right?  

gisellestanborough.com
@Lozein_official

Block Universe launches over the May Bank Holiday weekend, with internationally acclaimed artist Maria Hassabi’s live installation at The Store X 180 The Strand, on 26 & 27 May from 11am - 7pm. Free of charge. For the full programme and tickets, please visit blockuniverse.co.uk