A NOTE ON JON RAFMAN AND HONOR LEVY'S NEW TIKTOK ACCOUNT

TIKTOK HEADS

Perhaps the apex of thinkwithable faciality in contemporary plasticity is the TikTok video app, which is known to be intensely focused on and gamified by the face. In effect, one has a headstart on TikTok if one is either a young girl or has an attractive or memorable look. As I recently wrote, referring to Honor Levy’s videos:

In fact, our Frankenstein movies have themselves been sublated onto zeroiqhonorlevy’s manganese physiognomical Facetune vaudeville and what will have been its clones, where every head, especially the real headz, becomes every other, facialization pushed to the point of credit spiral and complete facelessness as in the first line of Hölderlin’s Antigona

Credit swaps as facelessness is what TikTok videos facilitate, mitigate and also prohibit. Through a complex movement that perhaps remains mysterious, the multiplication of the face via the Chinese gateways, sieves and domes of the popular app is an essential moving target interface. What threatens to happen here is that eidetic Facetune variations develop and develop but then are presented within an intractable nexus, and that nexus is still best named by this moment in the Antigona itself:

Gemeinsamschwesterliches! O Ismenes haupt!

This (which I translate here) may seem like an archaic point to make about the fun of TikTok—which it may well be in other dimensions—but apart from that the nexus seems to be something more blindingly present. The upper limit of facial focalisation inside TikTok is self-evidently not so much number (eidetic variation of one face for another) but the monadic nature of having just one head and one face which Hölderlin’s insane—strictly speaking—incipit explodes.

JOHN RAFMAN AND HONOR LEVY’S NEW TIKTOK ACCOUNT

Take as an example Jon Rafman and Honor Levy’s new TikTok account (@jonrafman), which already contains a studied array of ‘facial products’. At the same time, in the context of possible facial manipulation including two-headedness, one thing is remarkable about the account, which is that nearly every single video consists of what might be called a mono-head. The eidetic variations on such heads are dizzyingly impressive and well-manufactured, the surrealism is quietly violent and the violence surreally quiet, almost mute, which is to say that meaning itself tends even when spoken by the headz to be sort of effaced right inside speech itself, as is often the case with Rafman’s work. But are these not simply monodic facial video variations from the Studio of an artist on TikTok (Rafman) rather than an acceleration using the TikTok mediative architecture itself and its bend towards something-other-than-face (Levy)? The question remains incidental, but also primary.

In other words, are even the most advanced variations made possible by this Chinese app constrained as and into mirages of the actual productiveness of pure geneo-collective intelligence? Now, there is a severe twist here since one of the videos bursts through the monodic single-face plenitude and just-so-happens to look like this:

Previously on this site we criticised Rafman’s NFT work—as a decision at least—but we might also want to say in collective clonal intelligence that this one video saves the Rafman avec Levy account and vouchsafes for the other videos simply because it apparently breaks the eidetic upper bound: vary, yes, but only ever one head.

If you’ve ever actually seen a two-headed person you’ll know what it means to say that something genuinely happens to visibility, as if variations suddenly come to be in something like pure space. Confessional mode: I did once see a conjoined twin while waiting for a transfer flight at Minneapolis airport. I was on my way to Florida and they were hanging out in the departure lounge as part of a school trip. I guess more than any other sight I can now imagine it had impossibility-to-look-at written into it like a code. I later found out they were Abby and Brittany Hensel, the most famous pair of dicephalic parapagus twins in the world.

If a genealogical limit-problem remains in place here on Rafman’s TikTok + Levy, it can be stated in brutalist form even though it hardly bears on something like the ‘quality’ of his work. There will come a point when the means of aesthetic variation are replaced by the ability of collective plasticity to have anticipated and made something else of all of these iterations in advance. In other words—in impossible words in fact—the ability of art in general to create new possibilities will have been left behind by a thinking cognition in something like artificial art to know what the limit to human variation means. Moreover, everything points to the fact that we are already at that point through pure anticipation alone—which does not mean it has taken hold as an effect of anything like world polity or legal force or ever will at the present planetary rate.

As a conceptual problem, this perhaps belongs together with the question Guillaume Pitron poses in his The Rare Metals War,

How much energy do we need to generate energy?

That is, we are starting to see the limits of our production systems aesthetic and otherwise; someday—right now we mean—more energy will be needed to produce the energy we need to make current art than is exorcised in the imaginative yield of the art itself. One can argue that art has always been just this movement of detachment from finality and finitude, but on the other hand art has also already anticipated itself as a possibility for another intelligence. In that allo-intelligence, the artistic decision itself becomes a matter of svelte indifference.

The untitled two-headed and two-armed Avalokiteśvara skinhead TikTok from June 2021 is, in terms of conventional art criticism, beautiful and beautifully strange because of all this—because all this is conceptually seeable in it, which is to say on the surface of the image. The limit to limit-variation itself is marked here as a shift, as unique limit point among other limits and as an unbound interruption. As the ‘original sound’ audio track monologue on the final lines of Waiting For Godot spools away and empties out the funny, a final word is heard equally interrupted. The word is the ghetto jargon ‘booyakasha’, but we only get as far as ‘booya—’ . . . before the video repeat plays.