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The Conditions of Possibility: Tributes to Marina Vishmidt 1976-2024 (I)

By Mute Collective, 6 June 2024

Marina Vishmidt, a much loved and deeply formative contributor for our magazine from its early years, tragically passed away at the end of April. The scale, originality and influence of Marina’s achievement — as well as the playful and irreverent ways in which she partook in and shaped collective life — has been documented in many recent writings (lucid and affecting Instagram posts, articles, obituaries and Substacks, which are ongoing). As a community of writers and artists who grew, struggled and lived with her, we want to join this collective celebration by contributing our memories, hoping in this way to bear witness to the enormity of her role in our lives and work and the chasm she leaves behind. Our tributes hope, in their small ways, to honour the spirit with which she sought to change our world and the force and ingenuity with which she did so. We, Mute’s contributing editors, release our ‘festival of Marina’ in two parts, with the first followed later this Summer in part II. Our title echoes Marina’s own passionate commitment to expanding 'the conditions of possibility', in whatever way they seem to present themselves

 

Marina Vishmidt: We Exist

By Dimitra Kotouza

 

Marina and I met at a 2002 squat party in Hackney where various Mute editors, writers and friends lived, mingled and played loud, sublimely dissonant electric guitars. I was only just getting to know everyone and I was infatuated. We chatted about Adorno and psychoanalysis in one of many discussions that helped dislocate my canonical social science education—but not just that. Marina stood out among the many intellectually intense people I met that day, for her witty use of language was unlike anyone else’s. She was never boring—there were evidently strict standards against clichés—and her expansive vocabulary was never decorative, ostentatious or secretive, just incisive. Her humour surfaced the abstract violence and ridiculousness of quotidian life in capitalism. It was disturbing and gratifying.

A few months later, we connected during a quite difficult period of her life, when I was also temporarily homeless. She gave me a home in her shared rented flat in Dalston, from which she was going to have to move out soon, so we found a relatively cheap ex-council flat in Dalston and moved into it together in 2004. Over the following few years we shared friends, books, films, music, food, childhood memories, fantasies, injuries and fears, a Siberian hamster called Svetlana that Marina loved taking out of its luxury cage, and of course lots of life and home admin, including various repair projects. As it happens in such situations, we also sometimes had fights.

Marina used to get lots of carrots from a Hackney City Farm vegetable box, which she made into really good carrot cakes. There was a hatch in the flat, a little window from the kitchen to the living room, through which cake and shared food were often served. She commented on this gendered separation and connection of spaces, but even though we both tried to minimise reproductive work, my avoidance of the kitchen superseded hers. So, I ended up being frequently fed.

 

Marina making notes and doodles on a shared utility bill on the dinner table. A corner of the hatch is visible on the top left.

Despite the complexities of living together, over that time, and even more so as years passed, my admiration and respect for Marina grew. Raised in Queens, New York, mostly by her Ukrainian Jewish grandmother, she fashioned herself through intense love of radical culture and politics, and she arrived in the UK already a scholar in all that, through grants and a transfer to Oxford. Marina always seemed to know where she wanted to be and how to get there by mobilising the scarcest of resources, and of course her plentiful intelligence. You couldn’t tell how she achieved all that—she produced thought provoking cultural criticism and conspired a variety of collaborative projects while seemingly cosying in her bed listening to music. And while I was an almost nihilistic hater of institutions and class barriers, Marina held no grudges, never invested in a self-righteous personal standpoint—she just cut through fences. And then she dedicated her life’s theoretical work to that fence cutting and creating what she more recently called critical infrastructures, for which one vulnerable, though usually unwilling, host are art institutions.

Marina’s gifts to me, more often than not, were in the genre of surreal children’s literature, or, in fact, macabre humour camouflaged as such: H. Belloc, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll… She knew we both loved Edward Gorey. The cute, sometimes strange looking, soft toy animals Marina has always been so enamoured by were, by contrast, carefully looked after, placed on display, and only touched softly, not to be damaged by too much contact.

After Marina completed a round of treatments for spinal cancer in 2020, despite the toll it took on her body, she was determined to remain physically active. Several times since then, including last summer, we spent hours walking and talking in London's parks and marshes. Though fatigue would eventually set in, she still found the strength to meet other friends and walk a few more miles. When my daughter and I visited her and Danny in Vienna last October, we went to the Prater fairground together. Full of excitement, she was the only one among us eager to experience the fastest thrill ride, and she did. Marina fought fiercely so that this terrible illness would not stop her enjoying life. She continued to write, teach, and develop new concepts with as much, if not more, intensity than before.

 

The day I learned Marina was in hospital indefinitely, I felt the need to watch Daisies, a Věra Chytilová 1966 film we had watched together more than once. It was a bit like being with her, feeling enticed to dress glamorously, lie, shoplift, devour, make a mess: we deserve all that we can take, and more.

God Bless Marina Vishmidt and all who sailed with her. 

 

The cover of one of Marina’s favourite albums, by Red Krayola.

 

Intricate Negations

By Anthony Iles

I met Marina in 2002 at a series of film screenings I'd programmed at IniVA in Shoreditch at which I offered the audience payment for watching films about work. I’d seen this as an experiment the consequences of which I couldn’t predict, but Marina immediately saw something cogent, way beyond my own humble understandings, in the (however meagre) material effort to break with, point up and displace the existing division of labour in the arts. I brought an interest in rereading the legacy of conceptual art and institutional critique through post-autonomist work refusal theory, Marina brought Wages for Housework and feminist film history, we shared insights into Mierle Laderman Ukeles' seminal probing of gender and labour together. Group discussions at the event and after turned around shared hatred of work, self-exploitation in the arts, antagonism and the fervent desire for better remuneration and firmer forms of self-organisation to underwrite our shared commitment to the emerging arts and politics which might address our times. This was a first encounter with Marina’s sharp wit, tireless engagement and commitment to negation of the status quo whose consequences we were to pursue relentlessly together and separately through writing, talking, screening films and organising together in an endless conversation with others which will continue to unravel for me far into the future. In each formation and to each project she brought a sparkling intelligence, conviviality, humour and spontaneity which, if not accompanied with her constant probing encouragement would have long left me in the dust. ‘You must write for Mute’, she said at that very first meeting. And for the many years before we worked together we shared a mutual and electrifying enthusiasm for Mute – for its evolving constellation of intellectual and social effervescence, for the lively working out of self-understanding it brought to our shared struggles and experiences with precarious work, constantly threatening unemployment and ever more scarce and poor quality housing in rapidly contracting London of the early-2000s. Marina was an artist-filmmaker when I met her, working at the Rio and then the Lux Cinemas, also occasionally working as a film extra. We were both on the cusp of becoming tentatively regular writers and editors. Seemingly austere, at times blunt and sarcastic, with a surgical ability to go directly to the heart of the matter in ways which always raised the stakes, Marina had a knack for collaboration and thoughtfulness which I came to understand eventually as boundless, always expanding in scope, ambition and beyond boundaries imposed by social conventions, geographies or mortal reserves of energy. As I began to work as an Assistant Editor at Mute in 2005, Marina and I were often in conversation, I would have an idea for an article and she would complete it with the perfect writer, P. Valentine's article, 'The Gender Rift in Communisation', was a memorable instance of this magic at work.

 

Poster by Marina Vishmidt and Anthony Iles with Paul Abbott, 2016

Mutual love of obscure film and wide-ranging conversations about the politics of work resulted in beginning a series of peripatetic screenings in 2008 as Full Unemployment Cinema. With Chris, John, Caterina, Marina and I would watch films, develop programmes, find venues, make pamphlets, print and distribute flyers, challenging ourselves to develop the critique of gendered and racialised work further, while keeping work refusal and humour central. Marina would introduce us to Luisa and Grace and we would press gang our mutual friend Jakob, and many others into bringing or sharing their films, giving occasional talks or introductions. After tons of screenings at squatted, self-organised and otherwise free venues, we found a stable home for a while at Colorama, a squatted former camera film processing warehouse, where our amazing youthful hosts purpose built sloping seating with a bar and eventually moved the whole thing outdoors to the-soon-to-be-cast-into-undead-regen-oblivion Heygate Estate for a series of twilight screenings.

For Marina, everything was up for scrutiny and transformation. She believed and practised that to think and speak about something was to transform it, whether ideas or relations, requiring a responsibility to actively refashion the object until it not only gave up its essence and name, but further until it was rendered completely plastic.

Poster for a discussion event with the Group for Conceptual Politics at the Kunstpavilion, Innsbruck, designed by Anthony Iles and Marina Vishmidt

This application of the principle of plasticity began to be applied to our working situation around 2012, as two isolated freelancers, splitting ourselves between churning out edited articles and books at home and short events, teaching gigs and talks in Europe, we made a concerted pact to incorporate the other into any paid commissions or travel plans, to build up a repertoire of shared writing (often initially cobbled together as talks), reading and publishing together which, given a solid-enough funded residency we thought we might yet turn into a small book. Our first article together for Variant Magazine, 'Work Work Your Thoughts and Therein See a Siege' (2011), was a synthesis of us working through interconnections between art, value, labour, developed through uncountable conversations with colleagues at Mute, friends' works and writings, and our shared reading of Theodor Adorno's Aesthetic Theory. In the end this common plan: 'Hard Stops and Plastic Givens', amounted to about ten different presentations and talks, a residency, three edited books, four co-authored articles... but we never made a book in this sense of shared writing, because Marina's sheer rate of publication and my own were so out of step. To write together we each had to be calm and stubborn. The articles we wrote together and the thoughts shared through reading together will remain by far the most ambitious and challenging projects I ever attempted. The practice of writing in common took place alongside two co-edited books (Anguish Language (Archive Books, 2018), Look at Hazards Look at Losses, (Mute/Kuda.org, 2017)), our PhD projects, our FUC screenings and pamphlets, her co-authored book with Kerstin Stakemeir, Reproducing Autonomy (Mute, 2016), another, as yet to be completed book, on the concept of Subsumption which, with Mattin, I am yet to complete editing and she contributor and emergency support muse to the entire project. Trips too numerous to fully communicate: to Warsaw, Poland with poets Sean Bonney and Sacha Kahir, musician Mattin, and others; to Berlin with the Anguish Language crew; to Munich with our FUC comrades hosted by the lovely people at Lothringer 13; to Novi Sad twice with the amazing Kuda.org crew; to Zagreb with MaMa's Petar Milat, Tomislav Medak and Marcel Mars; to Copenhagen once with the FUC crew and once with the Anguish Language crew, always fastidiously organised and knitted into the fabric of local struggles there by Jakob Jakobsen. The carousel of organising, writing, fixing arrangements, meetings, making flyers posters and quick readers for participants, outings to the local zoo, park, monuments, museums or social centres, constantly shuffled shared roles and responsibilities, to the extent that looking back it is simply a blur of everyone steering the unfolding situation with only occasionally specific insights, actions or anecdotes being attributable to singular persons. But what I remember is that throughout Marina could always make time for a quick improvement, timely correction or laser-sharp intervention which raised the stakes of whatever endeavour I had blundered my way into. We also DJ'd together many times at house and movement parties, a Cesura//Accesso benefit gig at Limehouse Town Hall being one of the more successful combinations of our dancefloor eclecticism: I brought Addison Groove, Azealia Banks and Augustus Pablo, Marina brought DJ Milton, Whitehouse, U.S. Girls and Senya. If we had become as rich in cash as we were in friendships and music from this constant storm of activity and energy we could have each retired in our mid-30s. For me this period of activity led to a serious downturn, the cessation of Mute, painful life events and completing a PhD nearly finished me off.

Drawing by Johnny Spencer, from johnnyspencer.info

After Marina was first diagnosed with cancer I no longer wanted to continue to mount further work on her always overladen desk. She continued to work unabated, and produced bigger, better and ever more complex thought and writing both alone and with others. We worked together on one final book, a reader on Speculation for the Whitechapel and MIT Press series, Documents of Contemporary Art (2022), drawing on the conceptual density of her monograph, Speculation as a Mode of Production (Brill, 2018). And apart from this spent many happy times meeting on picket lines and parks, taking trips and holidays, sharing heartbreak, health downturns and our struggles at work together. One of the most memorable and joyful of these will remain the boat trip over the briny deep at Leigh-on-sea in December, helmed by skipper Graham Harwood; Marina, Saskia, Danny and myself aboard and Olive the dog diving gleefully through the icy waters chasing ducks as we raced alongside the marsh bank, tears of freezing fear and laughter streaming down our cheeks. These joyful outings became our primary means of communion, a sign I took of maturation of our friendship, or my inability to keep up with Marina's workload. Having loved working together but hating work itself, we settled for a rich midden of camaraderie and mutual support.

After the long-delayed, laborious, much transformed, bookification of Marina's PhD (Brill, 2018), Marina asked me to help her launch the book together at a regular seminar, Marxism in Culture, of which Marina was a stalwart attendee, sometime convener, frequent respondent and speaker. I stressed a lot about this event, I broke my computer writing notes on the train, printed them, lost them, wrote them out by hand, determined to do justice to Marina's incredibly complex synthetic book on the politics of art, labour, finance and philosophy, the finest compendium of her thought so far. Marina arrived, grace personified, completely unprepared and she winged it by simply thinking aloud to a visibly gobsmacked audience, leaving me fielding questions directed to the book. Why defend someone else's book? Because Marina felt so little responsibility to account for what had been already done, and was always motivated instead by what was still to do, and what remained to be undone. She had signed a copy for me with the dedication, 'To many intricate negations to come', as always absolutely punctual with her precise clarification encompassing everything we had been doing and would ever do together. Marina, there were, there are and there will be always so many more negations to come for us, I am so grateful to share in them the adventures of our lives together.

Poster for a Full Unemployment Cinema collaboration with the Copenhagen Commune,  2012

Marin’ogy

By Josephine Berry

I walked past Trieu Nails on Roman Road last week, and was hit yet again by the shock of losing Marina. We had only visited this nail bar a few Christmas holidays ago, after she suggested it as a mini celebration for reaching the end of term at Goldsmiths where we worked together on the Culture Industry MA (recently axed in the latest round of barbaric neoliberal ‘restructures’). She’d read reviews (!), and in her inestimable connoisseurship of nail art, decided we should grace the establishment – she with her glamourpuss paws, me with my unvarnished talons. Marina had no problem splicing elaborate manicures with hard hitting politics, a mad love of fluffy rodents with the intense study of Karl Marx, Carla Lonzi and Theodor Adorno. The more I thought about it as I passed, the more I realised that this was not an anomaly, but somehow coherent. In a recent text she had kindly read for me, as one of the precious pairs of eyes who can reliably deem whether a piece of writing stands up, she picked out a quote by Adorno about art’s defining ability to ‘thank’ existence for prefiguring the utopia that inheres within it. She liked this part best I think. Adorno, quoting Stendhal, says that this ability is art’s promesse du bonheur, one that is nevertheless a “diminishing resource, since existence increasingly mirrors itself.” The ‘happiness’ we find in a capitalist reality, self-enclosed within its own commodity forms, is false. Manicures are, perhaps, an example of this. So, Adorno concludes, “art has to break its promise in order to keep it.” I understand this to mean, art in modernity has to withhold its kisses to reality in order not to reflect false happiness; in order to hold out for an earthly utopia that is within our capacity to reach. Marina acted accordingly….. almost without exception, and the nails perhaps were this exception. She withheld her kisses to reality in her forensically scrupulous analytical writing – never duped by art’s frequent descents into liberal compromise during the Blairite era, nor skin-deep analyses of a fascist creep that overlook the deeper history of capitalism’s racist and sexist labour apartheid and xenophobic nationalism, nor did she fall for simplistic ideas around assembling precarious bodies in lieu of making political demands, nor that ‘care’ should be dissociated from antagonism. But Marina’s desire to savour the happiness that inheres, however obscurely, in our tattered world was as infinite as her acid critique; this was the fuel her critique ran on. The nails and fluffy animals were perhaps Marina’s way of fulfilling her critical promise, while allowing herself to break it momentarily. Perhaps these sparkles and creatures she enjoyed so much give us a glimpse of her exorbitant utopianism, a reflection of her faith and capacity for profound and joyful liberation.

 

Marina in the Superkillen Park, Copenhagen, 2016
 
Marina's Articles for Mute 
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2001. Can You Bear It?. Mute. 10 December. https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/can-you-bear-it
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2002. Pack to the FutureMute. Vo.1, No.24. 10 May, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/pack-to-future
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2003. Minima Cartographia or The Patient Becomes the Agent. Mute, 16 July. https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/minima-cartographia-or-patient-becomes-agent
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2004. Time Keeps on Slipping (Some Recently Projected Videotapes by Alexander Kluge). Mute, 25 February, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/time-keeps-slipping-some-recently-projected-videotapes-alexander-kluge
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2005. Enjoy Your System! Mute, 14 September, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/enjoy-your-system
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2005. Precarious StraitsMute, Vol.1 No.29, 8 February, 
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2006. Maybe the People Would be the TimesMute, 5 January.
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2007. The Dutch Are Weeping in Four Universal Pictorial Languages At LeastMute, 2 May, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/dutch-are-weeping-four-universal-pictorial-languages-least
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2010. Creation MythMute, 28 July, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/creation-myth
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2012. Everyone Has a Business Inside ThemMute, Vol.3, No.3, 14 March, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/everyone-has-business-inside-them
 
Vishmidt, Marina. 2013. Permanent Reproductive Crisis: An Interview with Silvia Federici.Mute, 7 March, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/permanent-reproductive-crisis-interview-silvia-federici
 
Books Authored or Edited by Marina
 
Vishmidt, Marina, Walsh, Jo; Francis, Mary Anne and Sykes, Lewis, eds. Media Mutandis: A NODE.London Reader - A Survey of Media Arts, Technologies and Politics. OpenMute Press, 2006, https://www.metamute.org/shop/openmute-press/media-mutandis-node.london-reader-survey-media-arts-technologies-and-politics
Vishmidt, Marina, Stakemeir, Kerstin, 2016. Reproducing Autonomy, Mute Books, https://www.metamute.org/shop/mute-books/reproduci...
 

Vishmidt, Marina, Iles, Anthony, eds. 2017. Look at Hazards, Look at Losses. Mute and Kuda.org, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/books/look-hazards-look-losses

Mute Articles Featuring Marina
 
Hedditch, Em. 2004 Now that We are Persons. 12 January, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/now-we-are-persons
 
Mattar, Mira. 2011. Out of the Past: Interview with Cinenova [Marina Vishmidt and Emma Hedditch] Mute,  28 June, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/out-past-interview-cinenova
 
 

Marina Vishmidt and Anthony Iles, Double Sided Poster on the theme of machines for an exhibition at Transmission Gallery, 2012