Opening Remarks to ‘Dialogues on CoreCore & the Contemporary Online Avant-Garde’*

0nty, Feb 5th, 2024 —

[1] Notes from All Things Are Nothing to Us, Dec 2nd, 2023

“If there is a politics to CoreCore, it can be found in the effects of negativity” — Persis Bekkering, On CoreCore, Negation, and the Unconscious 

An arts student, a philosopher, a psychoanalyst, a TikToker, and a meme admin walk into a lecture hall : the premise of a contrived joke ; and the cohort of the event myself and Dylan Smith of On My Computer hosted in December of 2023 in New York’s School of Visual Arts. The event, which we dubbed (after Stirner) ‘All Things Are Nothing to Us’, was dedicated to the topic of “CoreCore”, the now-somewhat-passé metatrend of internet DIY cinema that dominated TikTok between 2021-2022. What follows is some notes and reflections from the night of the conference serving as a stage-setting for the book at large — bearing in mind, of course, that this is a matter of recounting, paraphrasing, summarizing ; and authors should be taken at their own word first and foremost. 

The event gathered Louis Morelle, Persis Bekkering, John Michael, CoIncellpro10 (who arrived wearing a Renaissance knight’s helmet), Eddie Hewer, Kali Masoch and Flatline Construct, as well as myself and Dylan Smith, for a live panel discussion. Prior to the conversation, we showcased a screening of CoreCore, experimental, and ‘internet cinema’ video works, with contributions from Dylan Cherry, Eddie Hewer, Mason Noel, John Rising, LevelsofNuance, Coincellpro7, Tanner Masseth, Artificialsilkg1rl, Dallemimi, Crisis Acting, Coincellpro10, Dana Dawud (DansDansRev), Redacted Cut, and Alice Aster. Mason Noel, Eddie Hewer, John Rising, and Dylan Cherry are all established CoreCore artists (Noel and Rising are credited as the ‘fathers’ of the genre); while Dawud, Redacted, and Coincellpro represented later developments in internet cinema. Dawud, a Palestinian writer and filmmaker, gave us the privilege of premiering her powerful short film PalCoreCore ; while Redacted Cut premiered the first excerpts of his ongoing internet cinema project RNG ; Coincellpro and colleagues presented selections of their collective work Coin Celleil, released in September 2023; and Alice Aster, a wide ranging multimedia artist, situationist, and puppeteer screened her short film Are You Tired of Being a Failure Because You Are Broken as a Person?

It was largely agreed by the panelists that CoreCore was intricately caught up in negativity, lack. This was firstly thematic, in terms of CoreCore’s treatment of the usual-suspect ‘absences’, the hauntological consequences of industrial society and the prospective anxieties of supermodernity; the imminence of collapse, the contradictions of capital, the loss of identity and spiritual life, war, environmental disasters etc. etc. etc. etc. CoreCore is concerned with negativity as an ‘image’, it has contributed to ‘picturing’ the negative. But it was also agreed that CoreCore is caught up with negativity in another, subtler sense, that CoreCore is formally negative, i.e. that its filmic form as such is constituted by some kind of negativity. CoreCore was (seemingly) both ‘about’ negativity, and ‘of’ negativity — both ‘about’ nothing, and nothing — both ‘about’ everything and everything. As Paige Bradley suggested in her 2023 essay “Band of Outsiders” for ArtForum, it remains to be seen whether or not capturing the collapse of meaning as form can be something more than merely re-stating collapse — but this begs the question which might provide an answer, namely, the very question of ‘collapse as form’ per se…  

This point was triangulated from various angles and contained the most disagreement amongst panelists. An opening remark from Eddie Hewer was that CoreCore was foundationally negative as per its genealogy: his contention was that CoreCore, if it is to be treated as a bone fide genre, remains unique in that it does not emerge from any community grounded in the technical sense of existing in relationship to any particular placehood. Instead, CoreCore emerged from a digital space –TikTok– which in being a corporatized, surveilled, and commodified landscape of eternal transit, is in fact closer to what Marc Augé deems a ‘non-place’; a negation of place particular to the institutions and infrastructures of late capitalism. The context of Hewer’s observation was critical : how could the genre amount to something like a movement if it was from the outset without place — a movement by whom, from where? Coincellpro10 countered, from the depths of his Renaissance helmet, that the ‘place’ from which CoreCore emerged may be nothing more than a contingent mixture of available tools (the universalized, if rudimentary editing suite designed to meld into a TikTok user’s consumer experience) and a nexus of thematic anxieties centering around loneliness, anthropocenic decay, terminal capitalism and eschatological ruminations — i.e. that CoreCore was just an ‘effect’ of capitalist superstructure. What’s worse, CoIncellpro10 suggested, was that the fantasy of a ‘radical corecore’ was just yet another post-60’s Leftist delusion of revolutionary potential through personal expression (to this point, it was replied: ‘core’ is actually the apotheosis of individual-identity-as-solution, and CoreCore is antagonistic to ‘personal identity’ ; but — more on this later). Flatline Construct suggested, via Zoom call, that contra Hewer, in fact CoreCore did have a ‘place’, but a sort of ‘belonging to non-belonging’ — to convert his suggestion to Augean terms, a ‘non-place’ can still constitute a space, a social ordering. This would be a kind of language of commiseration, a collective, reactionary nostalgia for the imagined lost-object of a fantasy capitalism sans alienation; or, more directly, the classical phantasmatic move of imagining an obstacle so as to sustain desire.  

This was the position most critical of CoreCore, advanced by Flatline Construct and Kali Masoch: namely, that CoreCore was in fact just a reactionary ‘lost-object-core’, that its negativity was the external distance between the subject of CoreCore and the pre-capitalist ‘lost object’ established by its imagery of collapse and alienation. In this volume, Kali Masoch’s CoreCore: The Art of Acceleration articulates some of this perspective. John Michael, at some point, made a somewhat similar observation: CoreCore has dealt with collapse in a purely ‘overdetermined’ way, mixing together the disparate psychic apprehensions and anxieties of capitalism without really amounting to any sort of program or solution ; succeeding only in creating some kind of shared experience or language of said overdetermination. CoreCore may have succeeded in ‘smashing the reification’ of the commodity in the form of ‘cores’ through the disordered form of this overdetermined method, but a ‘revolutionary online’ remains ambiguous…  John Michael articulates all this, much better and in his own words, in this volume in Extinction, Decadence, Whites: Allegory. Louis Morelle suggested that, as far as the average internet user is concerned, CoreCore’s greatest potential might be its unveiling of the production-forces underlying the user’s everyday experience. But whether or not this ‘shared experience’ of non-belonging amounted to a breaking-out-of the logic of the timeline, or a nostalgic reinvestment into the image of the lost-object, remained contested.    

Meanwhile, Dylan Smith of On My Computer argued that the genre was in fact just getting started, representing a sort of emergent Tiqqunean ‘invisible party’ infiltrating the infrastructures of the late-capitalist information-superhighways. This perspective, arguably the most optimistic amongst the panelists, and elaborated in Dylan’s Opening Statement, was that CoreCore remains a ‘revolutionary state of consciousness’, a shared experience of emptiness which indexes the final stages of capitalist alienation. To interpret Dylan, I sense in his perspective the intuition that CoreCore is a ‘canary in the coalmine’ for extreme conditions of alienation finally reaching a stage at which a foundational alternative might be collectively apprehended. This view, which is certainly energizing, seems largely lost on the genre’s main progenitors. Mason Noel has identified CoreCore’s practical utility in avoiding censorship, but to my knowledge, despite his occasional references to Tiqqun, does not see CoreCore as the beginning of a new school or program ; John Rising assumes a more documentarian approach, while Dylan Cherry and Eddie Hewer remain more concerned with the medium as a space for personal expression. This is not to say, however, that the genre is not unwittingly the first shockwave of a greater upheaval, but it remains to me unclear if this is the case.  

The notion that CoreCore was concerned with a ‘lost object’ came into conflict with the position (advanced largely by myself) that CoreCore’s fundamental feature was its lack of any ‘external distance’, i.e. its purely non-referential form, its complete prohibition of representation in terms of oppositional logic. This perspective was perhaps the most strictly formalist, almost structuralist, in its identification of CoreCore’s negativity. In this view, CoreCore’s “radical” nature is restricted only to its relationship to its predecessor ‘Core’ and the repudiation of its logic.  Core, in this view, represents a logic of Hegelian ‘Understanding’, i.e. pre-dialectical thought, in which an object requires an external ‘---core’ suffix to be authenticated. The proliferation of cores represented the reification of everyday life into voided categories of identity, producing a sterile field of ‘nothing’ which corecore rendered productive by sublating core as such through not an external reflection, but an internal self-reflection (this is what gives it its ‘meta’ status) — in this view, the negativity of ‘corecore’ is actually positive, since it is a speculative grasping of the gap between Core and its object (cottagecore vs. cottage) as the constitutive condition of Core per se. The negativity of corecore is the arriving at the ‘notion’ of core and the abandoning of the oppositional logic of identity and reification that ran rampant in the ‘core’ era of the late 2010s. This perspective is fleshed out in ‘CoreCore & the Return of Speculative Irony’ in this volume. This quite formalist approach, while dovetailing with an account of ideological reification and a critique of irony, did not deem CoreCore to be a ‘political movement’ in the sense of an organized program, merely a movement of thought, and did not evaluate its radical potential with much optimism beyond the dialectical potential inherent in the act of its production (less so its consumption), at a particular moment of history. Meanwhile, the genre proves vulnerable to being co-opted. Because CoreCore’s foundational gesture is the total rejection of Cores / identities / beings ; it naturally becomes attractive to those seeking out a Universality, substance, or Being — because it negates being about ‘things’, it lands on the knife-point of seeming to be a positive everything, and a negative nothing — the reaction Hegel finds typical in the doctrine of the Absolute as Being. For this reason CoreCore was initially a very ripe elixir to the fanboys of network spirituality, singularity, God-AI, and whatever. Its ‘anti-genre’ status also served as a ready screen upon which various fantasies might be projected. 

It is inevitable that those who wished CoreCore to be some kind of ‘image of nothing’, i.e. those who reduced CoreCore to a weakly allegorical medium designed to indefinitely ogle eschatological objects as a ‘finite rendering of an infinite thing’ or ‘an image of the unthinkable’ and so on; will find themselves dissatisfied and eventually disavow CoreCore tout-court. Disavowal is precisely the means to perpetuate a self-defeating activity. The purpose of reducing CoreCore to a finite rendering of an external, excessive object is to avoid the encounter with said object — the finite determination can infinitely ‘approach’ this object from the outside, never confronting the terminus of its own identity. And we are already seeing this materialize. The aspects of CoreCore most concerned with merely picturing collapse have balkanized and regressed back to ‘core’ — something like ‘nostalgiacore’, for example, predated CoreCore, was incorporated into its aesthetic language, and now has been re-derived from it in a regressive arc. An interesting reversal of “nostalgiacore’s” regression has been the rise of ‘noun-posting’, which is a sort of absurdist post-corecore innovation of ‘core’ ; whereby arbitrary video clips are paused to present the objects they mention as static frames — nounposting is not so much ‘about’ an object the way core is ‘about’ a core; as it is ‘about being about cores’, a reflexive, sardonic redoubling of core’s logic.… But this is all a bit of a digression — 

A couple of the panelists, maybe in an effort to reground the discussion, recalled one of Mason Noel’s original series of CoreCore edits, which listed the locations of american power substations. Noel later earned a visit from the FBI, and it’s not a stretch of the imagination to guess the two were connected. This pointed to a dimension of CoreCore more rarely discussed: its utility in practical forms of resistance. In a conversation I had with Noel via Instagram, he expressed reticence in participating in our conference because, to his mind, the utility of CoreCore was that its incomprehensibility could operate as a shield protecting forms of resistance from methods of surveillance. And indeed, his contribution to this volume remains characteristically inscrutable: a single selfie, totally devoid of identity or context. Attempting to disambiguate CoreCore (i.e. what myself and all us annoying academic types are trying to do all the time) risks inadvertently defanging its radical potential. When this point was brought up, Alice Aster intervened from the audience, advising any would-be radicals to engage in practical forms of community organizing before sabotaging national infrastructure and earning a lengthy prison sentence. Dana Dawud’s film PalCoreCore, which premiered at the panel event, informs both perspectives. Dawud, a Palestinian artist, presents a montage of footage of Palestinian resistance, sourced largely from social media — in her own words, to construct a “life affirming” and “living testament” to Palestian endurance; the film serving as a “bastion against the death-image” of Palestinians solely as victims of violence (Dana Dawud, Reflections on Palcorecore). The film’s adherence to CoreCore’s non-narrative structure and disordered montage might, ostensibly, shield it from some forms of censorship, as per Noel. It certainly indicates that at least some have found a non-reactionary use for the genre.   

Persis Bekkering, who graciously flew across the Atlantic to lend her voice to our bizarre DIY conference, advanced what was, to my mind, the boldest and most unique perspective on CoreCore, despite its recruitment of familiar Freudian language. Her intervention was a sort of psychoanalytic naturalization of the phenomenon : CoreCore was fundamentally negative, but only because it was structurally capturing the metonymic, differential negativity of the Unconscious through its free-associational structure. In her description, the ‘alienation’ which CoreCore grasped was the psychoanalytic, inherent alienation of the subject ; and CoreCore’s negativity carried the double-meaning of Freudian Verneinung. On the one hand Verneinung allows the subject to behold a traumatic object while simultaneously maintaining repression (the mother, repressed formally as not-mother, allows for the beholding of the positive content of mother per se); on the other hand Verneinung represents the very condition of possibility for an object as such, as it represents the severing-from the production of Jouissance, the precondition for an object to be ‘differentiable’ from subjective contamination. And contained in this Freudian naturalization there was, curiously, almost all the perspectives of the respective panelists: the negation preserving repression indexed CoreCore’s reactionary potential and articulated its choices in theme, while the productive role of negation indexed its generative potential in irrupting structures of reification and expressing dialectical movement. Its reflexivity, meanwhile, could be cast as a confrontation with this role of Verneinung in thought — I find this intervention to be bold because it so neatly cannibalizes the various angles on CoreCore in a framework dissociable from any particular historicity; when it is precisely the historicity of CoreCore which lends it its significance, its clamor. The historically contingent perspectives on CoreCore offered by John Michael, myself, Kali Masoch, Dylan Smith and also Louis Morelle (who locates CoreCore viz-a-viz postmodernity, hypersemiotic overload, cultural exhaustion, and so on) are implicitly challenged by the Freudian notion that CoreCore is only secondarily ‘historical’, being primarily a matter of something as ahistorically ontogenetic as Verneinung. While, in my personal view, this approach loses some of the critical edge of a more historical approach, it does indicate a gap left to be filled — that is to say, an actually philosophical account of CoreCore, an account of how CoreCore, as film, deals with sense ; rather than a critical account of CoreCore’s position, development, or its internal ideological logic. This remains to be seen. Persis’ perspective is articulated fully in this volume in CoreCore, Negation, and the Unconscious.  

The conversation was therefore caught somewhere between a postmortem of a micro-macro-micro-trend, and a dialogue preliminary to a manifesto — CoreCore, not being quite alive, was either unborn or dead, a genre of dissolution whose status as protean or decayed proved ambiguous…Turning off the Zoom link and walking home from my University Library after the event had concluded, I was struck that the discussion had in some sense been a rough reiteration of the litigation of the negative, namely to ask whether the negative is productive, generative, etc. or rather primarily concerned with obfuscation, stalling, and so on — read: Hegel contra Deleuze, again…? 

[2] Anyway : Does this Book Even Deserve to Exist?

“None of this actually demanded any explanation. Commentary is an interaction, not an unfolding of secret meanings.” — Louis Morelle, Notes for a Préface on CoreCore

It is almost inappropriate to create a book like this — a book whose static, physical, two dimensional frame cannot but violate its twin foci of (1)CoreCore, i.e. video work and film, which is composed of movement; and (2) the online, which is both in perpetual movement and requires no external, IRL supplement in order to be interpreted. A book is necessarily somewhat gatekeeping and archivization. We can’t afford to give the book away, and it can’t be updated after we print it. The interaction already happened — it happened on December 2nd. So why make this book?  

I can speak only to my own motivations, as the editor of the volume, when I invite the reader to treat this book primarily as an obstacle. I am intimately aware of the inner-workings of the academic cultural-interpretation-machine, having participated in those institutions for many years, and we are by my estimation less than a year away from the first academic article being published by some Anthropologist or cultural theorist on the subject of CoreCore. The progenitors of the genre are already being contacted by MA and PhD students. On its face there is nothing wrong with this. But soon, there will be a minor stratum of academic literature on CoreCore, and academics will read that literature, and when more is written, they will cite that new literature, and so on and so forth; and the distance between the cultural object and the scope of interpretation will widen until the artists, autodidacts, shitposters, and so on will have to demand passage before crossing. So by obstacle, what I mean is that this book’s intended function is to introduce a toll-booth of sorts into the cannibalistic citational loop. The cost of this toll-booth is that this book does not simply offer a ‘transduction’ of CoreCore into text — it imports its difficulties into its form. The design of this book was entirely composed with this aim in mind. This book, for me, is a staged intervention in the interaction between culture-writer and culture. 

Bearing in mind Redacted Cut’s wonderful observation that CoreCore assigns primacy to the position of the editor (See, About Redacted Films), as opposed to the conventional film’s cinematographer, the major design choices were in terms of form and structure. This book can be read in any order, perused, discarded, and picked up again: it is a meandering survey, a discography, a collage, it has no overarching perspective or thesis. The texts are treated as images. Design elements are incorporated into their layout, in some cases, they are directly imported as screenshots, or they are printed, scanned, and then imported, they are scarred with rain, scrawl, and other files — what you see in the book is the intersection of various stages and mechanisms of production. Some of the texts might be a bit hard to read or look at — but so is CoreCore, and so are images. URL’s and QR codes are incorporated throughout the book, most of which are functional : scan your phone over the pages and you might open up some line of flight into a video, audio, or website. This book is also not just about CoreCore, since CoreCore, itself, is not ‘about corecore’ — it hovers between a survey of grassroots online art, an anthology of experimental and critical essays, and a para-academic volume of conference proceedings. And indeed, while certainly being ‘para-academic’, this text invites the reader to take each work seriously without an academically editorial perspective. Many of the written works are experimental, difficult, and are composed from individuals both inside and outside the ‘institutions of writing’. Anthropologists should think of this book as written by interlocutors

An exciting variety of artistic methods and philosophies are featured. Nick Vyssotsky’s La La La La, Knight, Devil, and Death, as well as Melencolia feature a fascinating decades-in-the-making curation of online images superimposed with renditions of Albrecht Burer’s paintings redone in the style of wojak-meme archetypes. Edson Javier’s CURSED IMAGE ARCHIVE, originally a video work, is here decomposed into a series of still images archiving the strata of online material that subsists below the surface of auto-suggestions, through a methodology of online archeology we might call a ‘reverse censorship curation’. Machine Yearning’s film Ways of a Swamp is a combination of text-video-AI and LLM technology crafted into subtle Lovecraftian and Southern-Gothic atmospheres. Filmmakers Louis Higgins, Dana Dawud, and Redacted Cut present reflections on how CoreCore has come to inform their respective works, in terms of method, form, and political thrust. Internet artist Societyiftextwall features a selection of their ongoing project Digital Repository of the Utopian Impulse, and deploys memetic and diagrammatic imagery to amass an ever-growing map/syllabus of Utopian literature. Alice Aster offers a sweeping multimedia project, Are You Tired of Being a Failure Because You Are Broken as a Person?, which has assumed the form of a film, a script, and now a series of still images, in which a surrealist and esoteric journey through cyber-possession, trauma, and recovery is charted across a truly unique graphic design language. Soham Adhikari’s experimental essay, 𒃻 𒅘𒁀 𒄿𒈬𒊒, deploys a mixture of prose and word art in an interesting exploration of -among other things- corecore through a Deleuzean lens. Jordi Guerrero and Tommaso Campagna offer a manifesto of sorts to their project The Void, a collective, practice-based research project on tactical video and experimental Television. Orion Arnold’s piece, a live rendition of the december 2nd conference itself, incorporates textual elements which are en vivo quotations from the panelists themselves. John Robin-Bold’s Science Fiction is a screenshot of a Youtube Video whose upload-date is indefinitely delayed, persisting on the website despite remaining forever absent. Nicholas Sanchez’s pieces, as well as included a still from his 2023 film IS THIS CRINGE, involve a collage mixture of online imagery and his situationist live performances. Chaotic Rhizomatic’s A CoreCore Love Letter to the Scene is a disorienting, arresting post / piece that operates both as an aesthetic work and a schematic mapping of a niche community’s network of artists. Jomel’s Birth of The Screen, The Obscura and The Multi-touch showcase an installation art piece that functions as a striking, more traditional juxtaposition of the human body and the infiltration of modern technology. Nikolaos Sakkadakis’ Instancing Variations (featured on cover) and Spatial Metaphor for Human Exile leverage generative data manipulation to produce striking, pseudo-typographical and cosmic patterns. There simply isn’t room to discuss the over forty artists and writers individually — but an exploration of each work yields a new vector of creativity and design.    

A recurring motif in this volume’s design is the asterisk. The asterisk is an ancient symbol, found as early as the Ice Age, and its various meanings crystallize neatly around the themes of this volume : at once, the asterisk is deployed to omit, to indicate the use of censorship, to indicate the presence of something in excess of the text, to indicate exception, to indicate emphasis, to indicate zero, and other instances of a change in level or order, of a flight or departure from a series… 

And so — *