International Necronautical Society (INS)

Founded in 1999 by Tom McCarthy, the International Necronautical Society is an expansive, networked organisation that slides between the worlds of art, fiction, philosophy and media.

In 2002, Vargas Organisation, London was appointed official agent of the INS Department of Propaganda. Most INS propaganda functions are now discharged by the INS Bulletin.

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Formed through the appropriation and repurposing of a variety of art forms and cultural 'moments', in particular the now-defunct structures and procedures of early twentieth century avant-gardes (the manifesto, autocratic top-down management etc.) and political organisations (the Soviet-style committee, sub-committee and sub-sub-committee, Hearings, Reports etc.), the INS spreads itself as both conceit and actuality (often blurring these into one another) via a series of residencies, publications, lectures and performances and collaborations with other artists and institutions.

What they say about the INS

On December 14, 1999, readers of the Times happened upon a manifesto. But unlike the Futurist manifesto, published eighty years eariler in Le Figaro, the insert announcing the birth of the International Necronautical Society was not the expression of a simple “artistic movement”: drawing from sources of radicalism, filtered through a deliberately corporate irony, the initial declaration of the INS was cast in the dominant forms of its era—that is, the language of entrepreneurship, mass communication, and conspiracy theories. Onto these forms and not entirely without violence, it grafted key terms from the world of artistic avant-gardes and modernist poetry: death, sacrifice, transcendence, transgression, secrecy. This unconventional collage brought about a collision between two irreconcilable worlds (for what brand in the world would want to associate its image, intimately or otherwise, with death?) and two mutually countermanding forms (the manifesto, associated with the avant-gardes, and business. “Death is a type of space which we intend to map, enter, colonize, and eventually inhabit,” stated this first public declaration. Note that death here is presented as a territory that can be occupied, rather than as a “moment” cranking out a “before” and an “after.” This places us at the antipodes of an idealist vision in which death still represents a fall or an ascent—in other words, a movement from one plane to another. Whereas metaphysics is constructed around precisely this verticality, the intellectual position of the necronaut takes as its starting point the horizontalization of death.

So, while Dorian Gray projects his perfect image into the world, Necronauts keep faith with the "rotting flesh- assemblage hanging in his attic"; as Ernest Shackleton forces his dominance fantasy onto the indifferent polar expanse, Necronauts concern themselves with the 'blackened, frostbitten toes he and his crew were forced to chop from their own feet, cook on their stove and eat.' And so on. Like Chuck Ramkissoon, they have a motto: 'We are all Necronauts, always, already,' which is recycled Derrida (as 'blood like champagne' is recycled Dostoevsky). That is to say, we are all death-marked creatures, defined by matter — though most of us most of the time pretend not to be.

The INS Declaration ... sits within the British tradition of the comedy of bureaucratic procedure. The bureaucratic comedy is activated by the undoing of form by matter, the intrinsically futile attempt to organize unruly matter into rational form. Think of the spiraling vortices of disaster that occur when Basil Fawlty or David Brent or Alan Partridge attempts to control the stubborn realities of matter itself — the car won’t start, the tree won’t budge, the stain won’t shift. And the tighter matter is grabbed the better to control it, the sooner it shoots away, like a wet bar of soap. The detail — the lanyard, the stanchion, the emailed instruction — is the grip, the setup that allows the punch line to work.

When bureaucratic comedy edges into slapstick, it becomes death’s dress rehearsal; the trip, the spill, and the fall are prototypical acts. As the Declaration has it (quoting Paul de Man), 'the falling man is...“a thing in the grip of gravity,” the end point of all gravity being the grave.' In assuming the structure of the bureaucratic comedy — in setting up the setup — the INS navigates the space of death, makes its members literal 'necronauts'.

It is possible to think of the INS as a cultural narrative, a viral entity that exists because of a growing number of participants and collaborations with fellow artists and writers. Many people fail to see the point of the INS's weird research and read it as an ironic joke or a ridiculous mission of mapping death in the style of an expedition ... Without addressing allegations of necrophilia [the INS] considers death only as a space of representation, a realm to be explored and brought out by means of a set of practices such as drawings, maps, texts and speeches (craft as the INS calls it) ... As a tactical and philosophical hybrid between Futurist farce and agit-prop manipulation of the communications network, the INS functions as a complete artwork. The combination of ananchronistic artistic models like the manifesto ... the recuperation of discourses obsessed by control structures (governmental agencies, secret services, party committees) all represent a parody of a totalising project about knowledge, not death.

... it generally stands as a cipher for the outer limit of description, for the point at which the code breaks down‚ a point that is often alive, as McCarthy points out, with secret desires ... It seems that this is what the INS stands for: a horror of finished truths and a compulsive probing of the possibilities and failures of language ... The INS is a group of rogue agents who have infiltrated the worlds of art, literary criticism and philosophy.

From the appropriation of bureaucratic language to meticulous reporting and documentation, everything about the INS has Kafkaesque overtones ... belongs to the conceptual lineage of groups such as Laibach and the associated Neue Slovenische Kunst.

McCarthy is good ... the synapses of his fertile imagination zap him from Melville to Aeschylus to the Kipper Twins ... Rilke's terrifying Duino angels as World Trade Centre artists and/or Trojan Horse terrorists.

International Necronautical Society (INS): the semi-fictional, quasi-totalitarian conceptual art collective that McCarthy founded in 1999 with a pastiche manifesto in The Times. ‘All cults of authenticity,’ it declares, ‘should be abandoned.’

Cod-situationist posturing ... Why don't you all kill yourselves?

Issued by Anthony Auerbach, INS Chief of Propaganda (Archiving and Epistemological Critique) via official agents.

Official INS propaganda may be freely distributed, distorted, appropriated or adapted as the reader sees fit.