The first IRL exhibition of work by the Do Not Research community opened on April 23, 2022 at lower_cavity, a former paper pulp production factory turned artist-run residency and project space in Western Massachusetts.

The show is underground in a brick walled bunker coated in an earthy patina of subterranean growth. The ceilings are high. The room feels deeper than should be possible without reaching natural light. Cinder Blocks cover window shaped cavities in the walls. Fluorescent lights hum overhead. Steel beams bisect the room and run across the ceiling. On the wall across from the bunker’s entrance is Jak Ritger’s Conspiracy Corkscrew. A large, black canvas illuminated from its center presents red points on a quadricolor, gridded plane that spiral downward. Locating this from across the bunker gives a sinister sense of orientation, like locating the YOU ARE HERE mark on a floor map of the mall. The next thing you do is look around for a landmark to tell you which direction you’re facing, and there is everything and nothing to grab onto.

“We encounter conspiracy theory on a regular basis,” Ritger tells me. “The genesis of the term itself implies a removal of agency. The CIA created the term after the JFK assassination in order to corral investigative journalism that didn’t match up with their official story. The problem here is that conspiracy theories and “disinformation” are rich with counter-hegemonic narratives. Of course conspiracy theories often reinforce the beliefs of one’s political framework, but in addition, can complicate one’s understanding of history and current events. As one spirals deeper into conspiracy hoaxer narratives their core political beliefs are challenged and a distrust of the political establishment is sewn. In many ways, massive conspiracy theory communities are an expression of our wide-spread frustration with the political economy of contemporary capitalism.”

The Conspiracy Corkscrew is one of a few of Ritger’s models that present visualizations of how narrative, data and capital flow through digital information systems and offer strategies to subvert, detour or catalyze multi-directional liberation. The quadricolor grid is the politigram, a way of mapping one’s own political standing based on a series of questions that, despite one’s quest to orient themselves within the chaos, can instead have the tendency to pull a person deeper into a quagmire of conflicting ideas. Ritger stresses the fact that his works like the Corkscrew and the Parasocial Spiral published on DNR’s blog are models. “They’re about looking at what’s going on in the world and trying to create a frame of reference to make it make sense within all of this incredibly complex, chaotic, and sometimes dangerous stuff that is happening politically.” 

Ritger’s model echoes the ethos of Do Not Research, the group from which the 41 artists featured in the show were brought together. Do Not Research is a group hosted on the gaming-platform-come-pipeline-to-web3 Discord. The community formed from the chat of Joshua Citarella’s Monday night Twitch streams. Many viewers in the chat had paid $5 on Patreon to access what Citarella sometimes calls a “$5 MFA”– a syllabus of reading and viewing materials compiled by the artist and researcher of political subcultures. These materials were then discussed on Citarella’s Twitch stream, and as viewers continued to tune in on Monday nights, relationships, deeper understandings and curiosities began to form by way of group discussions, questions, and shitposting. In 2020, Citarella created the DNR Discord channel, working with DNR blog co-editors Abbey Pusz and Margo Bergamini to give the community that had grown from Citarella’s Twitch a home to continue their research and discussion outside of a few hours each Monday night. The Do Not Research blog grew out of the Discord, and since its inception has published 143 works by 110 contributors. The DNR group show at lower_cavity is the first IRL extension of DNR’s output, and presents a devirtualization of a selection of artworks created by the community and shared on the blog and their Discord’s #share-your-work channel. The exhibition is a nuanced presentation of relics synthesized by an online group of incredible skeptics. These artists work largely outside of the traditional gallery and institution supported art world, because, as the DNR mission statement states, these traditional spaces have essentially been wrought ineffective by “censorship in the mainstream met with neoliberal institutional rot met with the humanities already in crisis.” Do Not Research serves as virtually the only venue of its kind where its members can move forward with their unique, hypercurrent research, and share the work that grows out of their exploration.

From one’s place in front of Ritger’s Corkscrew the closest orientation points are sculptures by Harris Rosenblum, a self-described craft accelerationist. The objects include a 3D printed gun covered in anime girls, a silver Orc reliquary, and a glass tank fitted with tubes and filled with greenish liquid. Rosenblum calls these works “a collection of speculative objects that attempt to understand spirit and connection through the lens of the corrupted other.” He is a master of 3D printing, and draws upon a sophisticated material vocabulary to present his line of questioning in a kaleidoscope of textures ranging from sleek hydrographic film to laser etched acrylic and static grass. Ritger calls topics explored in Rosenblum’s work like 3D printed weaponry and the lore surrounding the death of Ciara Horan “really kind of dangerous. You can’t just google these things,” he says. “There isn’t any journalism on a lot of these topics.”

DNR Co-editor Abbey Pusz tells me about Rosenblum’s work and the internet as a consequence of what was thrown at it first. “You’ve got all the lowest common denominator stuff like anime, girls, and guns, you know, fantasy role playing games. These are the most discussed, most iconic parts in the internet, because they've been around long enough to generate their own network effects.” Pusz’s contribution to the show, atop a plinth across the bunker from Harris’s is a zig-zagged wooden sculpture about her DNR co-director and best friend, Margo. “It unfolds in a sort of zigzag. It’s got an American flag and a trans flag, but there is no timeline or high point to this story, Margo is much too much of a materialist for that. There really isn’t a good way to see the entire thing at once. It’s disappearing and appearing as you move around it.”

Pusz tells me that Rosenblum’s “algae-rig,” a glass cube of green liquid made from freshwater algae and spirulina cultures fixed to a single board computer mining a private Etherium chain, is the result of a discussion in DNR’s reading group. “We were reading Platform Capitalism, and people started typing out these over-hyphenated ideas of the future in the chat, so we gave ourselves a homework assignment to come up with a crazy over-hyphenated future.” The group’s “Over-hyphenated Platform Capitalism Futures” were published on the DNR blog and in Do Not Research 2021-2022, DNR’s first anthology which launched at the New Museum in June. Rosenblum took his future a step further by creating it. Titled Fully-automated-wetware-crypto-tommyknocker-realism-with-Asetic-human_computer_interfacing characteristics, Rosenblum’s future tells the story of an “Heroic 5,” tragically disappearing while attempting to break through the thickening atmosphere, automatically farmed Spirulina, and new organisms attuned to the technofungal-vegetative symbiote network that govern the ALGAcoin economy. To look at this sculpture alongside the context of its creation presents an arc worth considering. Research followed by discussion followed by synthesis and creation of artwork is a central goal of any higher arts education system, and is one frequently reached by the DNR community.

DNR’s group show opening was attended by roughly 150 people, many of whom traveled hours by car or plane to be there. Attendees were drawn from diverse pools of interest, with Youtubers like JrEeg exploring a formal art setting for the first time. The more art minded engaged with topics usually siloed to the internet in a space more familiar to them, such as Chris Chan’s Gift to Mia Hamm, a sculpture by Rachel Jax made of apples, air fresheners, Hello Kitty Pez dispensers and flash drives holding audio recordings of the 1990 WTJU Jazz Marathon and songs “Teenage Dream” and “Stronger.” This sculpture is made in reference to a gift basket allegedly given by internet legend Chris Chan to sex worker, Mia Hamm, to whom Chan is said to have lost her virginity. Toward the center of the room is Brandon Brady’s Political Compass Chair, which only works when all of the planes are present. Filip Kostic’s Closed Loop (Green), and Nick Vyssotsky & Phoebe Jenkins Mining Meaning (Quest for Validation), glow and spin from the room’s perimeter. Kostic screens DNR’s film program and heads a crit group where DNR members can meet to discuss their work. His sculpture is a series of computer cooling tubes filled with tinted fluids most often used as cooling aids for custom-built gaming computers. Here they are manipulated to create abstract forms within a heat-sculpted circuit made by the artist in reference to the niche of aestheticized gaming computers and neon works of 1960’s conceptualism. The sculpture by Vyssotsky & Jenkins is a devirtualization of the 4chan dirty bedroom contest featuring Bang energy cans and meme theory books including Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Bronze Age Mindset, and The XF Manifesto. The sculpture’s computer uses algorithmic learning to mine these books to produce a unique text. Nearby an etched bronze plaster commemorative plaque by DJ Meisner says “Bureau of Explosives and Explosives and Explosives.” Printouts of posting histories by DNR’s meme accounts and others like DJ UMBERTO ECCO line the steel beams and cover the walls.

Beyond the main gallery is a gateway flanked by two pieces, one by DNR founder Joshua Citarella and one by his longtime collaborator Brad Troemel. The body of work created between the two has been a central source of inspiration for the DNR community. Troemel’s “GRYLE’S TRANSFORMATION” straddles a line between dormroom poster and artwork poster and features memes made by the artist. A C-print by Citarella presents a reference to Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, a central text to his research and the resulting Do Not Research syllabi. A hexagonal image of the Brussels World Trade Center whose decaled windows read “THE FUTURE IS NOW” is superimposed with text that says “THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE.” Beyond this gateway is a viewing chamber.

Within the chamber is a projection of 16mm footage shot at the US Capitol on January 6th, 2021 by artist and co-organizer of DNR’s film, video, and crit programs, Tomi Faison. The footage features people carrying flags touting messaging from the Proud Boys to Libertarians to MAGA. Groups lounge on the lawn near the Capitol and look at their phones. “The vibe was sort of Coachella-like,” Faison tells me. We see faces later made famous by the day’s events like the QAnon Shaman, who was just a guy with horns and facepaint when Tomi caught him on film that afternoon. From certain vantage points, the projection moves behind the flags that are formatted like memes with top and bottom text in Impact font. Both feature 2D prints of 3D scans of Roman Classical sculptures from the Louvre. The first flag shows Zeus’s Muse of Tragedy and reads “FIRST AS TRAGEDY.” The second shows the muse of comedy, and says, “THEN AS LARP.”

The text is a riff on a quote by Karl Marx from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte in which Marx says, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” The neoclassical sculptures on the flags are a reference to the Capitol itself and a neoclassical sculpture at the site that acts as the loop point of the film. Tragedy and comedy reference the lineage of theater and democracy. These images, IRL sculptures turned digital turned printed image, tie in the process of digitization and devirtualization happening in real time as attendees at the Capitol filmed, photographed, and livestreamed the event that would be retold and memed into oblivion. Faison was loading a Bolex with 16mm film as the day unfolded. The projection plays on loop, which deteriorates the film, but preserves a sense of confusion and a tension between the historical, the aesthetic, and the legend.

I asked Tomi about her experience at the Capitol that day. “It was almost like there wasn’t an actual protest or assembly. Everyone was filming. It felt more like people filming a thing than a thing in itself,” she told me. “Early on, I noticed that when protesters advanced up the stairs of the Capitol against the police line, it was pretty lazy. They would advance a set of steps and then look at their phones again.” Faison grew up in DC, and remarked that she had never seen such little police presence at a rally or protest before. Faison physically inhabited the dissonance between the IRL happenings of the day and the digital coverage of the event. “Information was actually more effectively traveling through phones and posts than it was in the crowd. When everybody found out someone was shot, it was because of our phones, not because we were physically near it.”

In the last paragraph of Ritger’s explanation of the Conspiracy Corkscrew, he says:

“As one falls down the conspiracy spiral they come into contact with people with wildly different political backgrounds. This fusion around an affinity interest again challenges the ‘social media creates political silos' theory. The Conspiracy Corkscrew illustrates how one moves around the political compass as one descends to the Dark Compass: a zone of complete political abdication: no longer interested in any proactive political project, instead focused on myth-building and logomachy. In this way, the corkscrew illustrates how conspiracy theory communities reframe the loss of political agency as a route for power rather than challenging this dynamic with a cogent political program.”