Cosmopolis and Abstraction

In David Cronenberg’s recently released film adaptation of Don Dillio’s ‘Cosmopolis’, a 21st representation of abstract expressionism is the frame to a now almost familiar posthumanism. The opening credits shows a Jackson Pollock drip timelapse, while the final credits show cropped fragments of Mark Rothko’s colour fields. Cosmopolis is the story of Eric Packer, a billionaire through freakish financial genius or through chance access to a language of zeros and ones, who takes a journey across Manhattan in his customized limousine. But as the references to abstraction allude, the journey and the man are more then narrative devices. As the limousine makes its way through a frenzied Manhattan, the level of abstraction intensifies. Human qualities are liquified and a machine like intelligence grows behind the flesh of expressionless faces. Packer meets with his advisors in sporadic chance meetings across the city.

One interlocutor reveals to Packer that a Mark Rothko painting will soon come to auction and that he should buy it and fullfill a long term desire. In response Packer calculates that instead of a single Rothko, he would prefer to purchase the entire Rothko Chapel. Rather than just owning a mere Rothko object, Packer wants to own the abstraction of the spiritual experience that others feel in the chapel itself. He wants to own the affect that emerges from art, the affect that he can no longer feel from the sensual world. He can only desire to own desire but not desire itself.

‘If they sell me the chapel, I’ll keep it intact’

Another dialogue reveals that, just as historical painting lost its narrative, so to has time and the contemporary condition become pure abstraction. Money is talking to itself. The advisor theoretician claims to know nothing of this strange abstraction even as it concerns her every thought. She reveals how shameless she is in the presence of anything that calls itself an idea. While the focus for science and philosophy has been the extraction of knowledge for humans, so to has art left behind a concern with objects and their materials, for a conceptualism that places human trauma in discursive and coded systems, to be reformatted and archived  for future generations.

‘Cyber capital creates the future’

In a third reference to abstract painting, a rougue artist / activist attacks Packer with a cream pie, and claims that he is an action painter. He is remaking the action of abstraction into a slapstick gesture of ironic humiliation. The expression of abstraction is further distilled into a spasmodic twitch between the non-meaning of the absurd, and the desire to escape meaninglessness and to activate art into a tool for social change.

‘I cremed Fidel three times in six days when he is in Bucharest last year. I am action painter of creme pies’

These leakages of meaning flow from the histories and metaphors of abstract expressionism and seep into the ‘real’ worlds of information, money and desire. These contemporary expressions have for decades been reduced to code. There is no longer any signifier in this system, only signs in and of themselves. To cut this repetition short, the algorithmic code no longer has an endpoint where decoding takes place. Instead the code feeds it own autocatalysis, slowly erasing all other extraneous referents. In the end Packer seeks out and is confronted with his nemesis. He is faced with an obsolete model of human, who failed in his attempts to meet the requirements of code. All that is left is for the obsolete, desperate human to kill Packer and his practices of finacial abstraction.

In Cosmopolis, abstract expressionism reflects the transgressive states of mind in a posthumanism that is constantly attempting to replace the human back at the centre of all meaning. The desire for spiritual solace, the evaporation of objects into the black-hole of desireless coded information and the re-assertion of old legacies into moments of extreme bodily convulsion will be recurrent themes unless a posthumanism where ‘rocks and winds, germs and words, are all seen as different manifestations of this dynamic material reality… they all represent the different ways in which this single matter energy expresses itself’.

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