our literal speed is a text & art enterprise located in Selma, Alabama
"7 March 1965" presented by Our Literal Speed, Interview with Louretta Wimberly, 10 August 2013, Selma, Alabama (detail). Generously supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
Back before they invented the iPhone or Facebook or Twitter or the concept of recruiting an unstable rental agent to be leader of the free world, back then, in those—to put it lyrically—antediluvian days, before all those bright young folks came up with all of their big, bursting, billion dollar ideas, a few would-be academics and would-be artists came up with an idea that turned out to be pretty much worthless as far as lifestyle enhancement is concerned, though still oddly enduring in its own peculiar way. It's called Our Literal Speed and if you’ve already made it this far then you must be at least a bit curious about what OLS is, or was, or might be. Well, you're in luck, your piqued curiosity will soon be more than assuaged.
The animating impetus behind OLS? Mainly, it was a burgeoning sense among a handful of untenured, underemployed workers in the fields of visual art and higher education that mandatory artfulness and mandatory inventiveness were about to enter the mainstream of academia in a major way. At the time, it seemed as if a technological revolution were breaking out all around us, but even though the way you communicated, the way you bought stuff, the way you traveled—even the way you dated—were all transforming explosively, back in 2005 the way you’d work as an academic was still being imagined as remaining more or less the same as it was during the Ford administration. To us, this was wrong and shortsighted.
We could already guess where these changes would probably lead: university administrators, official funding entities and wealthy patrons of the arts & humanities would no doubt be bound to interpret the 21st century as an era ripe for collaborative, "experimental," entrepreneurial innovation located somewhere between art and research. These activities would be couched, we figured, in a platitudinous devotion to various progressive social causes with a healthy dose of scientism thrown in to drum up an aura of intellectual gravitas. We concluded that the humanities would start acting a lot less like the "critical," self-serious, self-critical, Derridean business that we knew (and actually loved), and a lot more like ART and other lesser forms of mainstream entertainment. To OLS, it wasn't a matter of arguing whether this explosion of art-ifying and social media-fueled self-promotion was good or bad (though bad), it was already happening embryonically, and we needed to try to understand its implications and develop ways to outrun it, reconfigure it, disable it, or otherwise not simply chug Neoliberalism's unique cocktail of creative creative destruction until we were stupefied. So, beginning in February of 2006, we began producing slightly non-standard, mildly unexpected, though avowedly non-carnivalesque experiences within "straight" academic contexts—and, conversely, to the extent that we could, we began producing pedagogical scenarios within that netherworld of freeze-dried political "art-ivism," hedge fund after-after parties and rampant economic/artistic nepotism known as the art industry-scape.
We also anticipated that our distressed Kulturbolschewismus from the Deep South might leave a few folks perplexed along the way, but that was one of the basic ideas from the beginning: we wanted OLS to make OLS. Forever and ever and ever and then some. Now, if you asked us, "What is OLS?" The best answer has always been: OLS is OLS. It's not about anything. It's not thematizing something, or expressing anything, or representing a repressed narrative, or critically analyzing culture, etc. (though those are all perfectly good things to do). We wanted something that existed to be what it is instead of anything else. The idea was that we wanted any description or synopsis of the project to come up short. We wanted something that could not be explained in a press release, advertised with a blurb or accounted for in a CV line. Instead, OLS was imagined fundamentally as a perpetual traitor to any established "brand identity"; it was created as an infinite anti-brand: anytime it started to become "successful" at anything, anytime it established its general capacity in any critical, curatorial, or artistic endeavor, then that aspect of the enterprise needed to be sidelined and new, more problematic directions explored. Call it the Peter Principle of Aesthetics. As a result, over time, you get more and more of what we do relatively badly and less and less of what we do relatively well. It has also increasingly become necessary to "do OLS" without announcing to anyone ahead of time that one is "doing OLS," and it hasn't always been pretty.
In fact, to be honest, it's been a horrendous experience at times. Looking back over OLS—for the people serially involved in it—is akin to surveying the smoking, twisted machinic corpses on a demolition derby track. So much damage, so little salvation. So, why do it? A good question, that. One we've been forced to ponder a good bit, and the best answer we've come up with goes something like this: we want a culture that feels as if it has genuine possibility. Think High Bolshevik Moscow. Think High CNT Barcelona. Now, you say: middle class existence in the United States is so far removed from such experiences that it's a self-deluding joke to even think about invoking them. Maybe so. You may be right, but we figure culture is not culture unless it's a culture worth impairing your middle-class lifestyle over. And that kind of culture, a culture that is something more than a hodgepodge of mildly diverting bureaucratic sign management and/or Diet Kanye—a culture that might actually be worthy of the name PROLET-KULTURA, a culture that might temporarily extricate our mind from thudding, prideful mediocrity, THAT KIND OF CULTURE only seems possible today when culture itself is contested in all of its major and minor expressions, in all of its official and unofficial embodiments.
When everything is contested and nothing is accepted—not the lecturing, not the publicity generating, not the informational email sending, not the advertisement approving, not the editorial board organizing, not the secondary art world employment avoiding, not the curating, not the part-time academic job taking, not the post-event meal seeking, not the object making, not the 401K padding, not the crypto-formalism adulating, not the (justified) white supremacy charging, not the difference and identity fetishizing, not the social media template manipulating, not the accompanying essay writing, etc—when none of these actions can assume the status of being the way things are appropriately done; when there is no default setting for anything, anywhere, anytime; when sincere and voracious doubt is the principal medium of your enterprise, then cultural value, whatever it might be, must be "achieved" over and over again, rather than paraded around like a Carl's Jr. float at the Rose Parade. We believe that everything must be contested and re-contested and contested some more until that bright and shining moment when OLS will cease to exist. Then we'll all be able to kick back on the Strato-cliner, throw a Maker's down our collective gullets and declare: Nice work y'all. Now our dissenting culture is running as smooth as the chorus in a Porter Wagoner ballad and Comrade Lunacharsky's up there smiling down on us from his perch next to Saint Peter.
These days we have more than a decade's worth of mitigated failures and qualified successes to contemplate, and this website is dedicated to remembering them, and to remembering that sustained invisibility and apparent childishness often yield more meaningful paths to more meaningful things than the exquisitely visible seriousness of our professionalized and publicized lives. Not always, but often enough.