The Prague-based collective BCAA system on the radical role of collectivity, amorphousness in art/world and why we should engage in fiction.
BCAA system is a collective based in Prague, sliding between experimental electronic music, visual art and theory. It’s almost impossible to capture the entire scale of their activities – from streamings, music production and performances to DJing. Currently, they are working on a fictional documentary dedicated to LARP players who enact a resistance group attack in a technologically heavily surveilled future landscape. An interview by Martina Poliačková with photos by India Ray.
All members of BCAA system have different professional backgrounds, why did you decide to work together as a collective? What’s the story behind the name?
Yes, it’s true, we all come from different fields – some of us are graphic designers, some are musicians or artists while others are more involved with writing or curating. Actually, the reason we first started working together is that most of us come from a small Czech town called Hradec Králové, where we met many years ago and started to hang out. We had already done some tiny cultural projects there and realised it’s really comfortable for us to work together, so we moved to Prague and founded BCAA with a couple of other friends. Thus, the collective was not formed for a specific occasion, but it emerged gradually from our longstanding friendship, collaborations and shared interests in art and music.
BCAA is an abbreviation of »based chain amino acid«, which is a supplement mostly used by sports(wo)men to surpass tiredness and raise the energy level. When we started doing music streams, three years ago, our vision was similar – we wanted to share positive feelings and create a refreshing vibe. A lot of our activities have since transformed and changed, but, in a way, we still live this spirit.
This reminds me of the early post-internet movement, when some artists made use of subversive affirmation to counter the capitalist requirements for perpetual productivity. In one of your earlier works, NOVA X-PROCESS (2017) presented at PAF festival in Olomouc, you speculated about the possibility of a post-apocalyptic future after the technological decline, yet you soon recoursed to an interest in nature and the biological substrate. Do you feel there is a particular shift in the socio-political discourse?
NOVA-X was created under the influence of OOO (ed. note: object-oriented ontology) and speculative realism – it was more techno-oriented and anti-anthropocentric/anti-humanistic, in philosophical terms; imagining a (tech) world freed from human dominance and wishes. But, in this sense, the technological scope could have very well included biological creatures too. We still address distant futures in our projects, but while during the NOVA-X PROCESS we concentrated more on envisioning the possible outcome of many a contemporary crisis, we have since definitely shifted more towards an approach of what we can do so the apocalypse will not to happen or how we can at least transform it into a sort of new beginning.
This also brings us to the idea of subversive affirmation of capitalist means in post-internet art, which you mentioned earlier. This strategy of attacking the system only from the inside hasn’t really proven to be successful. But, if we were to oversimplify, the focus of OOO and speculative realism tendencies on »outside« objects was unable to open up a functional path either.
Right now, we mostly try to spin webs of inter-species cooperation and planetary coordination (as our friend Lukáš Likavčan would say) that might bring about at least some solution to living on a damaged planet:)))). There are no strict boundaries between inside and outside, on the contrary – our inner, human, social world is constantly »intra-acting« (in Karen Barad’s words) with non-human entities and fluxes, and we need to make ourselves aware of that, for a start. So, our recent works revolve around this idea of mutual care, this connection with the more-than-human world, but in the sense of finding an »outside« also in our own feelings and vice versa. And, while NOVA X-PROCESS was definitely made under the influence of searching for the pure »outsideness«, which belonged to a certain paradigm in contemporary thinking and art that has already shifted a bit, that doesn’t mean we reject (our) earlier works.
We think it’s genuinely wrong to draw sharp lines behind every tendency and to follow the logic of ever changing trends, a behavior which, sadly, you can find way too often in the contemporary art world and which we believe to be inherently capitalist. We like to create worlds where speculations about AI can coexist with fairy tale romanticism or political art – and we love them all.
Even as a collective, you often choose to collaborate with other artists – this concept of multiplicity or hybridity is also well reflected in your artistic strategy, resulting in multifaceted environments. What is your relationship with cultural institutions?
It’s probably already obvious from the above-mentioned that collectivity and community are absolutely crucial for us. We like to think of ourselves as an open, amorphous unit, where some individual identities dissolve and merge into a new, stronger and more surprising entity. We therefore really understand the collective in terms of one being, and not as a group of individual artists forming an alliance for a specific purpose, like it usually works. Even though BCAA has 6 core (human) members, our door is always open to new, friendly collaborations and encounters. Given that both our identity and the range of our activities are not strictly defined, our artistic praxis is also versatile and easily adaptable for different environments. So, even though most of our projects are non-profit and made on a DIY basis, we are probably able to work within the environment of bigger cultural institutions too.
However, we always have to be critical of what the institutional framework brings in its wake – because going institutional means standardization and categorization, and we have often encountered attempts where people tried to put us in one box only (or tried to force us to expose »who is doing what«), and that’s definitely something we always try to flee from. Plus, while institutional support means more funding, it also creates problems relating to »dirty« money and other ethical issues connected with hierarchical questions, such as gender, class or racial inequality (or colonial history).
Perhaps this approach is most evident in your best-known piece, No~one Is an Island, an audiovisual tale presented in the form of a music compilation and video art. Assuming that music can be more emotionally touching and engaging, why do you think we need visual thinking today?
It is our opinion that you cannot separate the two. For example, an album release in the virtual sphere is often as much a visual event as an auditory one, and many contemporary artists create music themselves. In order to say something relevant about today’s world, you have to work in a much more complex manner. Because the conditions we have to deal with nowadays (from burning forests to systemic racism or fake news) are not separate events, but they arise from huge networks of interconnectedness of our contemporary world. Just look at the whole 2k20. And the structure of art should reflect on and react to this complexity, because it can work as a great mediator of these spreading and entangled problems. But in order to be able to speak about such a world, it is almost impossible to limit yourself to one single medium. Therefore, we always try to make our work diverse and elusive, so it can speak to the audience on multiple levels and through several »distributional« channels.
Why should fiction be challenging?
Fiction is and always has been a very powerful tool for human beings. We need narratives about our world in order to believe that there is meaning. Our world is built on fictional narratives, many of them evil, false or toxic. But since you can’t suppress their productive potential, we believe it is more fruitful to get involved with their production and to team up with them in order to create also some other than gloomy futures The narratives and characters we help bring into this world are thus not meant to be seen as simple metaphors or avatars but more as potentialities, tendencies and ideas that could gain control over their own, new story, independent of our intentions. And this uncertainty and uncontrollability makes fiction so creative but also so challenging and deeply beautiful, because it doesn’t stop at mirroring the world, but it truly contributes to its (re)making.