Is my audio okay?
I sat down with Santiago Corredor-Vergara on Zoom as he adjusted his headphones. In the morning light of my computer screen, his afternoon in Spain looked absolutely radiant – we spoke from his balcony as construction pittered about in the background, filtered through our chat about memes, and how capitalism put God on Earth.
What we mean by that: Santiago’s secret project is influenced heavily and accidentally by a history of banking in Italy which, through his philosophical approach, can be called a pre-Adam Smith flavor of capitalism, where the myth behind religious moral became concrete in monetary value. Money = God on Earth. The locale of Santiago’s ongoing work with said secret project is where major shifts in meaning-making and valuation happen, like that of the 1400s: those points in human history where we fundamentally shifted our approach towards “truth.”
Where we find ourselves post-truth and reason is where we may find memes in media increasingly valuable. Santiago speaks about this with friendly acuity in the rest of this interview:
Maya Kotomori: You mentioned post-reason society earlier. How do you approach that in your digital work?
Santiago Corredor-Vergara: Well, initially this project ( REDACTED(**)**) came up as a way to propose a left version of QAnon.
SCV: Yeah, I wrote a mini-zine for it that’s more esoterically oriented before writing a second book [with the (**)** collective -DM @pl0xi_the_arsonist for a copy] that’s more directly politically minded. It’s the sense that, if you have a post-reason society, fascist elements [of belief] explore it as a means to reach an audience that feels alienated from life. That alienation is so intimate and modern, and semiocapitalism, whatever you want to call it – it’s expropriated us from the world that we live in on a metaphysical level, where God was purged from the world as a prerequisite for capitalism to be the number one principle operating in the [physical] world.
MK: Back to the 1400’s in Italy.
SCV: Yes. So, that’s one notion – alienation as intimate. And the other notion, is that information networks have bypassed traditional institutions as a means of transmitting truth, or knowledge, and that those networks are easily hackable. The fact of the matter is, if you want to appeal to people, it has to be on an aesthetic level, not through reason. So, how do you provide a satisfying narrative/aesthetics to people, how can you explain the world? One thing that QAnon has, is that it’s very spectacular – [the narrative] reinvents a world purged of meaning with meaning, and it’s very messianic. Whoever did that…I don’t know. Very smart people.
MK: I agree! QAnon is very post-reason in a world where reason no longer comes from morals, because we used to believe in theocracies where all God was direct law – this was pre-capitalism. Now, the Italian moment you’re talking about, with banking, [basically puts] Gods on Earth, and those Gods are the ones to bestow value, and that value = 1. So, if we exchange infinite values of 1, we’re creating more truth. We’re God-fearing, in this modern world. QAnon came from an understanding of that, and a rejection of there being only one [truth] – they made their own.
SCV: Of course, the political movement is so reactionary, and horrible. It’s so impressive at the same time, how [the original QAnon] were able to create and manage lore, which is what’s missing from contemporary life. It’s creating a reason to exist, basically.
MK: That’s why memes are so powerful too. They’re a way to leverage dissonance on a completely individualized level that’s not hedonistic, because they have mass appeal.
SCV: I definitely see that. Memes are an interesting vehicle for communication because they cut through a lot of representation as a counterintuitive force. When you get a meme that’s on a level just below the surface of an idea, it resonates with you. Not just because you get the joke, but because you feel the joke – which is awesome because it circumvents some of the discursive blockages that someone might have if you explained something through reason. Memes are approachable with their aesthetics, they explain apart from reason.
MK: How did you get involved with making memes for STP?
SCV: I’ve never met Lucien in person actually, but he started following my since-removed meme page. I looked one day, and saw that STP was following, and I saw a picture of the office in New York, so I commented something like ‘yo, how could I get a job here?’ and Lucien replied like ‘message Mia.’ I emailed, and that’s how I started making memes for STP. A fortuitous turn of events!
MK: For the audiences to give you your flowers: you are the person behind the art memes on STP’s Instagram, and now you’re making an NFT series of memes as well?
SCV: Yes, exactly. We’re using a lot of the same memes that already occur on the account, and are making modifications to some. Sometimes [making memes] is difficult! You’re basically making a joke every day – it’s not always obvious.
MK: Kind of a non-question, but where do you think you get your sense of humor?
SCV: I try to make memes I would consume – a lot of other art meme pages focus on the surreal and absurd aspects of artists’ lives, or someone who’s already sort of successful, which I don’t do at all. I think my forte is thinking in theory and philosophy, and making really nerdy jokes. I would be in class last semester learning about, I dunno, Gordon Matta Clark, in some aesthetics class and I would think “I’m going to make a meme about that later.” Meme making is very intuitive , like extracting a bit from something you see in real life to apply to a more universal language. I mean, that’s what’s spectacular about memes, is their ability to transmit the particular to the universal. That’s why I use meme templates sometimes, because you can write over them, and into them, universally.
MK: I’m thinking back on what you said about metaphysics earlier! It reminds me of this thing I read…about the metaphysics of the phantom limb.
SCV: For sure.
MK: So, someone’s arm could be cut off at the elbow, and the person would still be able to feel the “ghost” of their limb, even though it’s been cut off. [The metaphysical take is] that that feeling isn’t just something that exists in your mind – but that there actually is a self beyond the [corporeal] body. It’s a phenomenon that challenges the Western idea that your ‘self’ is contained inside of your body, that your insides are inside and your outsides are outside through the idea that the self exists beyond the physical world. Even the idea of horror, like when you see someone break a bone, you’re scared and even a bit uneasy not only because you can put yourself in that person’s shoes feeling that pain, but also because something that is supposed to be the structural framework of your insides became outside.
SCV: Right, right.
MK: Memes are metaphysical in a lot of the ways you’ve expressed because they’re like breaking bones. They’re helping people laugh at being uncomfortable, through a visual language that’s so universal. You’re afraid, but you know why you’re afraid, so a joke can be felt in that metaphysical way you mentioned.
SCV: For sure. I would begin with a concept called phenomenology of the every day, which parts from the notion that an artwork “is”: if you can reduce the definition of an artwork to its most basic, then it’s an object that exists in and of itself, for itself – so there’s no reason for the artwork to exist, other than the fact that it does. That’s how I think one could think of the universe. There’s no reason for existence, basically, other than existence. When you experience the beauty in the universe – that’s what I think was so cool about modernism, is the idea that beauty can expand to include anything – anything can be considered beautiful just because existence means existence. Nothing is by accident, everything is just so.
MK: Reason is existence, period.
A little about the upcoming project:
Memes have taken on unprecedented cultural significance in the last two decades, as social media has become a ubiquitous means of communication. The significance of these seemingly insignificant images goes far beyond their obvious capacity to visually transmit a joke–memes move mountains; they’ve swayed elections after all. More importantly, it is their capacity to foster community among people invested and interested in niche topics.
Santiago, also known as @pl0xi_the_arsonist, is a 25 year old painter, who spends his time between New York City and Bogotá. He graduated from The Cooper Union in 2018 and is currently pursuing a masters in philosophy at the University of Salamanca. Santiago has been creating memes for Serving the People’s Instagram for the past year. His contribution has helped cultivate and onboard an amazing audience to [@servingthepeople](https://instagram.com/servingthepeople)’s community.
The memes Santiago creates are invested in contemporary art, theory, and highlight the traditional art world’s contradictions. These memes are a thoughtful testament to a deep appreciation for the world of art. By bringing the memes on chain, it creates a space for these pieces to exist as a collectible art and elevates them as a legitimate art form. Santiago is releasing his first NFTs on Thursday, May 19th as a series of memes, originally posted on @servingthepeople. This series reimagines the confines of what is considered art and paves the way for meme accounts and creators to retain ownership of their work. A portion of the proceeds from the secondary sale will be donated to the STP Creative Foundation.
Maya Kotomori is a 23 year old arts and entertainment journalist and pre-modern enthusiast from Riverside, California. Her work is really fun and rated E for Everyone Read It.
Visit https://www.lobus.io/stp-memes to sign up for the Meme NFT drop.