Language is alive. It mutates, replicates, flies high and falls eternally short; stranded with us in the symbolic world, the one that we inhabit with our conscious minds and therefore the only one that might be said to truly exist.
Icarus was told to keep his wings away from the ocean too.
Plastic, indefinite, not a container but an active process— language shapes us as we shape it; a reflection of our own casual infinitude and inability to be defined as only one thing. And perhaps most significantly of all, language is a metaphor for itself. It is simultaneously literal and figurative, collapsing fantasy and reality into contoured vibrations and vivid squiggles.
Or ‘complicated airflow’ as Kendall Roy sez in HBO’s Succession, a Shakespearean drama of corporate patricide and prestige dick jokes that revelled in sharpening the ambiguity of words, wielding them as the increasingly meaningless signs of our divided times. The show took place behind the scenes of the news, entertainment and telecommunication industries that overarch our experience of culture and politics, casting them as the multi-headed fronts of an increasingly small number of mega-conglomerates that have both flattened the media landscape and simultaneously presided over the wholesale fragmentation of our democratic forums. HBO itself was recently folded into the newly-merged Warner Bros Discovery group, and as a result had its streaming service rebranded as MAX — a spikily anodyne mononym that distils ‘maximum’ into as few letters as possible. Here language becomes the site of capitalism’s will to push beyond the market cap and encompass a heterogenous global audience by concentrating this amorphousness, forcing words to mean what they mean by turning them inside out, making them literal even in their abstraction. For example, I recently bought a sim card from a company called Everything Everywhere. The sales assistant cheerily explained the company’s plans to expand into content, technology and ‘lifestyle’, up to the point of embodying their name completely. Meanwhile, X and Threads represent two sides of the same attempt at scaling communication to the billions through self-cancellation. The former is a compact negative, positing nihilism as edge. The latter is a hyper-designed analogy for nothingness, lowering the stakes of conversation to pineapple on pizza in a bid to restore some lost fabric of consensus. If all of this feels like a monolithic response to an increasingly shapeless world, it is also a reflection of something inherent about language itself. The need to draw lines and definitions around things, resulting in meta-terminologies like ‘interdisciplinarity’, only seems to accentuate the fact that terms like language, technology, nature, media and architecture feel increasingly interchangeable as universal codes. Meanwhile a phrase like ‘nonhuman intelligence’ is all that stands between us and the recognition that even our own consciousness does not mark the limits of the world that we inhabit.
In the same way that the explosion of digital images evaporated the old aesthetics and credulities of a world on the cusp of being able to see anything, everywhere, all the time; there is an urgent need for new forms of literacy, a new agility of navigating information and being able to think across the gulfs and specialisms of our fast-changing era. At the heart of this must be a recognition that the words we use are no less important now than ever. If anything has become clear over the past decade of digitally-inflated discourse, is that the less meaning a word has, the more powerful it is. This issue of TWIST examines ways of operating within this decay of meaning. It embraces friction and distortion as active reflexes that can direct us past the many surfaces we consume towards the textures that underly them; the grain and physics of words and images; the points at which they are both crystallised and blurred and responsive to our touch. From styles of animating the flatness of the digital screen and rewriting spectatorship as an active posture, to the bluntest edges of the climate crisis ‘debate’ and its provocation to think and act as a species— the issue is a catalogue of tools that might allow us to grasp our limited perspectives, get closer to the materials at hand, and viscerally experience a world of escalating abstraction. We didn’t go into this process with a theme or destination in mind. Instead we followed the word TWIST itself, stumbling across references and influences spanning Dante’s Inferno, Keller Easterling, Issey Miyake, Sarah Sze and Westside Gunn. Some of the figures that inspired us most we were even able to speak with, in conversations published within this edition that continued to expose and rewire our most basic assumptions about the ways ahead. The surreal, unanticipated beauty of the connections that started to emerge over the course of putting the issue together is something that continues to resist explanation. When Rainy Miller spoke about the democratic essence of ambient music, a rotor permanently clicked. Meanwhile Katharina Korbjuhn’s Paradigm Trilogy echoes like a post-genre pop song from the future, one that we cannot get our of our heads. The ground is still shifting beneath our feet. These conversations also extended to a range of Johannesburg-based artists that we’ve long admired and finally been able to chronicle in full. And finally, they include a growing ecosystem of artists and writers that we were privileged to work with and grow alongside. This issue is the latest reflection of an ongoing process. A notebook of ideas. We have no idea what the sequel will be, except an opportunity to put things into practice that are documented here.
Because TWIST is both an object and a verb. It’s a beginning and an ending, a texture and a technique. Stasis in motion. A sensation of the literal and a suspension of metaphor. But I’ve said too much already.
Thanks for reading.