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Mark Harvey
Credits: Mark Harvey

Dear Oblivia


Dear Oblivia,

It’s three years to the day since our time together.

I enter the big old industrial building, hang my coat up, take my shoes off and walk into the studio with Oblivia. Tracksuit on, ready for action. Ready for our experiments. Ready for the next two weeks. Who knows what will happen.

‘Ready, go!’

I look back at the memories implanted through my body, my ears, my olfactory perception and my imaginings and I sincerely miss it. I miss the professionalism, the trust, the openness and what is to me this good Finnish humour. There is something about the humour.

We sit there in a circle, I feel like a beached whale. I enjoy it. I imagined being as happy as a Titirangi bus waiting for passengers in the sun. We talk. ‘What do we feel like doing?’ We reflect on world politics.  Ahh, world politics. I can feel it through my inner arms.

It’s a time of a massive election, a time of transformation in my own country, Aotearoa New Zealand. A time of standing up against monetarist inequality. This is always on my mind, no matter how far I am away from home in the studio of Oblivia. A home away from home.

‘Yes, that’s it.’ Neoliberalism. This is what we all agree we will explore and reflect on in our 2 weeks together.

I reflect on the Finnish experiments with the Universal Basic Income and how folks there have kept telling me it wasn’t so popular. I am ghosted by the philosophies of Milton Friedman, the guru of Chicago neoliberalism, and how he too wanted a UBI. He wanted to privatise public services and put it back on to us all to pay for it all from our UBI. He liked meritocracy. But, as shown in my own country, every time public services have been privatised they become more expensive and the inequality statistics and poverty levels get excited. It appears his model is deeply flawed, especially if the UBI is not very much. So much for meritocracy.

But how do we perform neoliberalism without being fiscal reformers ourselves, as embodied state ideological apparatuses? This is our challenge. We will embody it and become it’s psychic alter ego. Tools for the bank trade.

We move. We move.

We think. We move. We reflect.

We jiggle. We stutter and shutter.

It has me thinking about the notions of public bias and group-think and how so often it is very hard to move a massive body of people to take on opinions that can free them from the constraints of admiring things like being extremely rich, expensive cars, corporate success and PR that conceals the dark underbelly of economic rationalism at all costs. Paul Verhaeghe’s book What about me? (2012) reminds me that in the West we have replaced religion with economic rationalism – that all things must be justified for their monetary economic value and effectiveness, towards mantras of accountability and endless growth at all costs. What happened to balance and other things like solidarity he asks?

Our bodies become investment portfolios.

Through a series of long improvisations, our bodies feel like they become the mechanisations of automated financial algorithms. The ironies of the embodied essence of serving the economy above all else. The sell. The deal. The bull market. Financial collapse and ruination at the end of the day.

We have gone there. With a handshake and a smile.

We appear to have voted the right-leaning neoliberal party out of government in my country. But there is uncertainty if it really is going to change the government. It all depends on a small populist party, who could go either way. They want to know who has the best deal to offer them a coalition with. Perhaps we will end up with the softer side of the same neoliberal coin? …an Obama style government – a nice smile but the rich still get richer.

We explore possibilities for days and days.

Something is coming.

Something busy and something undercurrent.

Our bodies are like tall buildings in an urban stockmarket landscape. Bankers go scurrying for the latest profit margin. Again and again, we test it out. We begin to act as one. One fiscal body.

The bank is coming.

We are all listening to it. It takes me a moment to get there but I arrive there too.

Our investments take hold.

The fiscal steamroller is here. And we are flattened.

We find solidarity on the floor.

This is only a start for what we have been creating. I realise just what a long, long time is needed to refine and craft this movement situation in the room. I am here for only 2 weeks, yet we need 6 months. For me, big respect goes out to Oblivia and the intricate and highly careful way in which they develop the work. It’s something I’m sure many cannot see when they watch their work. It’s a process that operates through deep tissue somatics, conceptual reflections and this good Finnish humour. And it asks questions. Questions about our sense of being, about solidarity and togetherness and how we are after all ecologically and intricately connected.

I say goodbye at the end of one more day in the studio. I do hope we can work together again.

Since then the centre-left parties formed a coalition with the populist party in my country and the banks were happy because the populists and the Labour party prevented any undoing of neoliberalism. The country is happy on TV, but inequality and poverty remain high. 

This is unfinished.

While working with them I received some DNA test results. It told me I have 1% Finnish DNA. It must have become part of me while working with you Oblivia.

I miss you Oblivia.

Kind wishes and Aroha mai from Hikurangi, Aotearoa,

  • Mark