Ashers to Ashers: Who is behind ReTech?
by Angela Yuriko Smith
Who is Behind Retech?
My first reaction when I stumbled onto “thoughtcriminal” Asher’s ReTech.org website was shock. It was like falling through a clickbait rabbit hole to land in a dystopian wonderland. The experience was very much alive with edgy audio, flickering graphics and the feeling of sentient awareness that filtered through the screen and into my tiny office.
My second reaction, as I paged through his images of cyberpunk dolls, steampunk mechanisms and ansibles, was appreciation. Here was something truly unique—but familiar. I was looking into a strange world I knew well. It was as if Anthony Burgess, Philip K. Dick and George Orwell all got together and had babies. This would be their nuclear family... with an emphasis on nuclear. This is wonderful aberration, not “Doubleplus Good Rightwise Properthink.”
Meet Asher “from 2071...”
Art vs Artist
In Asher’s own words: The stuff I make, to me, is certainly a culmination of the moment that it's conceived and the time it takes to create. All the shit I've done, seen, experienced, thought/imagined, has undoubtedly brought this point into focus, but that's true of every decision we make. It's our own personal multiverse hell.
But once done, that is the splitting point that a piece is no longer part of me, most certainly no longer part of my future path. We have a shared past but the piece is, for me, in a state of quantum superposition. For me it exists and completes our path. For everyone else it does not exist and cannot be called art until at least one other person reaches it and has, on some level, an emotional reaction that causes them to create a memory about it. When the piece becomes part of their story, at that moment, I'd say it's art.
Pragmatically, so I can do stuff like eat, I'd like that moment to be a sale. Any artist who says otherwise is most likely saying what they think people expect. We need to eat. The rest, someone loving it, someone hating it, being moved, inspired, questioning, thinking, talking about it… all of that other potential is (after the pragmatic reality) pure gravy and gives my fragile Id justification for waking up tomorrow. I don't like to say art has a life of its own, that sounds like artwank and me trying to find justification of my work and my life.
Art will, by the nature of my view, have to have a path of its own once someone else has changed it from something I made into that art definition. From that point forward it does sort of have its own path. And from that point forward all the new interactions are other states of potential that, hopefully, have little to do with me. Instead they're about other people, their interactions, their new memories.
Angela: Tell me what an ansible is and how you came to be a part of them?
Asher: This is such a huge question. Asimov first coined the term for a device that could communicate directly across any distance to another. Don’t ask me which book, I honestly do not recall, the term has just always been part of my vocabulary. In This Island Earth (1955) an Interocitor is built and to me is just another type. In my psyche, my private world, these are all created using spooky attraction at a distance with paired particles. Often the model name will indicate what type of particle pairing we’re using for that model. In that world, I’ve always seen TVs, screens, dishes, etc as being part of this networking. When I first saw Brazil and 12 Monkeys I nearly wept, there, on screen, were these beautiful screen devices that all fit in perfectly with the Ansibles. There’s an aesthetic that ignores design and beauty (Apple/Ivy) and becomes its own sort of design aesthetic.
Angela: Is their an element of sentience in your work? It feels alive.
Asher: Personally, I believe that any organized system, whether mechanical, electronic, or organic, has some form of self identity and life. Sentient? Some things are, some are not. I’ve met humans while I was grocery shopping that I sincerely doubt are actually sentient. But I would defy you to prove to me that systems like Facebook's servers are not actually alive by even somewhat narrow definitions of that term.
Angela: How and when did you decide to create the art you do?
Asher: Started making my own action figures at 8 yrs old. I took apart my first radio at 7 to repair the belt, my first TV at 9 to replace a tube. So somewhere around 8.5ish was when I started. I’m not so sure you ever say: “I’m going to become an artist.” If you do, it’s probably good sense to immediately go to a 30 day intake for a psych eval. Some of the pieces I’ve made this year were in my head since I was in my teens. Most exist within the framework of a very dystopian, Orwellian, bio-terror future that has been with me since I had nightmares about it as a very small boy.
Angela: Your work is bigger than just your physical creations. You've created a back story, a vivid online presence and shroud the entire process with mystery. Which came first—the creations or their world?
Asher: Yes. To me they’re synonymous. The pieces are in my head. It just takes a shitload of time to find all the stuff that goes into making them (95% on average reclaimed materials). Sometimes I just give up on them. Most often though building them gets them out of the noggin and gives me some more room to sleep. There’s no mystery, I just don’t think I have anything to do with the art. I’m just some guy on the back end of it that has no meaning to the work.
Angela: Pretend to be a fortune teller. What is the future of mankind?
Asher: We’re down to 1% of our present population. AI will be in full stage of growth to be the next epoch on Earth. It will go to the stars and leave us to our pollution, our bio hack gentrification, and our immaturity to deal with the bed we made. Some will make it, there are always remnants of the previous epochs living here still. The Earth will survive, perhaps not very habitable for us.
Angela: What place will art have in that future?
Asher: It’s the only thing humans do that transcends time and borders. Art will always have a place as long as there are humans.
Angela: You are notably elusive. Please tell me where we can find you as much as possible.
Asher: In 2020 I’m doing a couple of the Oddities and Curiosities Expo dates. I may be doing another gallery gig. https://retech.org is updated when I can remember to do so. There’s more story there. I know the GUI is not standard, but I like the way it feels.
Copyright © 2019 by Angela Yuriko Smith