Choreographed vape performance featuring Zach Vaughn, Elle Powell, and Zachary Burdick.
Sub-Ohm Conversation with Kristi McGuire &
Christopher Meerdo for CocoHunday
Kristi McGuire: I’m starting with the vape performance, even though you more-or-less told me not to worry about the vape performance because it’s an ephemeral installation that presently only exists in your mind, until you outsource the labor. But I think maybe there’s something about choreographing the vape—vaping, like smoking cigarettes c. 1999, is a form of social architecture—in this sense, it’s less a performance and more a cornice, a decorative motif (performance, I’d argue, borrowing from Peggy Phelan, only exists at the moment you try to document it and then poof; “vape” is literally from the inside, the Latin for “body heat,” always with you, even if you only inhale every now and again). It’s pretty Rococo, as consumerist adornments go. What’s making you want to collaborate with the synchronized vapors/vapers? Is it because the device locates us in a diffuse kind of capitalism—one based on the fact that technology is now almost too emptied out of meaning to do anything particular with, short of lighting it on fire and looking for smoke signals?
Christopher Meerdo: I am really interested in your notion of social architecture with this piece. I have been imagining the performance along a hierarchical mode of organization occupying nesting spheres: the performers syncing with each other in front of a live audience; the members of the performance, who also belong to an articulated and nuanced vape subculture, which exists and emerges IRL via the web; and lastly, locating the performance as embedded in the larger sphere of national citizenship relative to the geopolitical presence of American-Russian bilateralism. The latter is expressed within the performance via an audio recording of the synchronized swim routine executed by Russia’s “angels” at the 2016 games in Rio. Here, I’m referring to the vape community and other net subcultural modalities as critical linguistic and ideological nuclei, and I’m pointing to recent reenactments of subversive Cold War-era double entendres and euphemisms within these spaces (functioning in what I see as an updated proxy war). There is a holistic and technologically transcendent quality to the vape community and I am curious about how it can function in antithetical and perhaps resistant ways, as compared to hard-edged, alt-right online movements, despite emerging from similar internet zones.
I am also interested how vaping moves from a hacking community online to a physical space (vape shops, meetups, and competitions) and then ends in an ephemeral distillation of the body—through a kind of metaphysic of smoke—literally pushing an embodied dimension out into a space. I am both referencing the presence of this techno-spiritual dimension/analogous structure in vaping and the promise of transcendence/liberation/comfort/tranquility, etc. within consumer culture (and neoliberal technological innovation) in the show’s title, Sub-Ohm. By vape definition, Sub-Ohm is a type of advanced vape construction that requires a high degree of electronic knowledge to achieve and results in mega-vape cloud capabilities in the vape devices. I was also thinking about the traditional meditative mantra om, considered to be “the sound of existence.” Sub- also has its own connotations within BDSM communities that play well here, too—specifically if we think about the voluntary or involuntary subordinate positions that capitalism produces relative to technology: NSA/Prism data and metadata caches, the validity of voting mechanisms, or net neutrality.
Lastly, going back to this idea of techno-spiritual analogs, we should get into not just the metaphysics of bodies, but objects, as well. I have been really excitedly reading about animism and how it could be a corollary to the Internet of Things. The basic principle of animism—the attribution of a soul or spiritual dimension to inanimate objects—acts as an organizing structure. The IoT has a strange relationship with Cartesian dualism and complicates my (and assumedly many others’) hard materialist worldviews.