Art-Making in the Technosphere
By Andy O'Clancy, Natalie Quave, Chad Stroup, Randall Lahrman, Ryan Forsythe, Jo Ellen Aragon, Carla Wilson, Francois Bereaud. All rights reserved.
They may make small involuntary movements, but it's my eyeballs that are needed to peer through the dark glass and smash the puzzle palaces. Or, am I really the figure, the body upon which this technical scene is computed?
Like a magical display.
I had a dream that I was Master of the Universe and had all the humans wake up one day not knowing the "proper" way to employ their technology anymore—no fire, no language, not even daily upkeep. What joy to watch them try and figure it all out again…
Would admixtures of leftover technologies be refunctioned merely for warmongering and ideologically predetermined forms of behavior? In my dream, an ad hoc bricolage of scavenging and whirling artistic hilarity renders the effectual tendencies of human ideological traps to comply with the proliferation of contacts through emerging technologies in ways presently constructing global subjectivities and identities salutarily futile. Old and new technological meaning systems are disembodied, transformed, and shifted into unfixed, sensuous appropriations of world solidarity. These old-new humans corkscrew the palace of reality, unchain intangible boundaries, and burn flames.
That your name was breathed over lips in this reverie, and that rumors of unfettered wanderings were also heard, is what little I can tell you. For now, that is. That is all I can tell you.
For Now. This phrase an inscription, a loving dedication to a period of time. A message submerged in the hush of indeterminate dreaming. It repeats. Fore Now: What preceded that first morning when the entire world was reset? For that morning, all the button-laden, battery-powered, bleating trappings of 21st century existence lay still as their organic employers/employees awoke, hoarse.
We the people were at once bewildered by and immediately cognizant of these appliances. They had defined the habits of yesterday. How? Why? Questions—ours to solve. We would do it by recycling and repurposing. This task seemed imperative and obvious. But first: how to manage our bodies, all those limbs and digits?
Minute by minute, pieces of our previous knowledge returned, accelerating kernels of instinct into confident habits. We walked upright, we shook hands, we embraced. We figured out how to turn the stove knob. How to light a bonfire with store-swiped matches. We grunted and coughed and waved to strangers.
All the while, these objects sat around us. Boxy and ticking, sleek and blinking, these things that did not—like us—aspirate.
We found it sad that the objects had been ranked, separated, discarded. Some basking in display window glory as others expired under freeway overpasses.
The reunion of the devices! A cooperative effort. We carted all we could, our pilgrimage ending at one site. There, we built. Phonographs, transistor radios, stopwatches, televisions, cellular telephones, laptops, screen tablets. Our useful misshapen bricks. We toiled. Arranging, stacking.
Go inside. Peer amid the archives...
Peer amid the archives, the underbelly of previously controlled information—no longer the commandment or the commencement, no longer the archiving of archives, no longer tiresome familiarity with meanings of that great technology—language. We grunt and cough and wave. Archives placed in bodies not their own.
We woke up in fantasies both disturbing and playful, at once perplexed and exhilarated, and something slightly heated and distant that we could not see touched our backs. In the short distance, our pyramid-shaped temple, a liberation of technosphere-libido. The fresh scent of your left hand, as the movements of your fingers brushed across the baffling eroticism of smudged keyboards with luminescent infatuation, elevated into seductive levels.
"Hmmm," you hmmmed, a spell of Babylonian drool irrigating my spaced out reverence.
I scrambled through mud all the way to our pyramid exhibition atop the overpass, found poise, and leaned forward, peering through the chasm. But the only distinguishable perspective was the distant day-lit entrance of abyss. When I couldn’t see anything else I pressed my nose right up to it, inhaling deeply all the latent memories of 1,000 lifetimes like a head-on collision. Still unable to make out more than a shadow, nevertheless directions were given in relation to its structure.
"Simdimowitzolopygolopy," I declared to sauntering, though stimulated, voyeuristic crowds considering our most tender pleasures, to which some translated as "On the ass of eternity sits a mottled freckle."
Desensitization of the wondrous over virtual fossils.
Grappling hands with deliberate irony, together we set off—to dream.
"Grappling hands with deliberate irony, together we set off—to dream."
End voiceover. Long shot of crowd encircling pyramid. Freeze frame. Soundtrack: dial-up modem in connection. Credits.
At the back of the theater, the projector sputters to a halt. The house lights go up.
In the balcony, a woman frowns. "But what does it mean?"
During the Q&A session, the arts reporter is scribbling notes. He's on his first big assignment and wants to prepare a thorough write-up, though he is unsure how to frame/angle his review. What has he just seen? Documentary? Performance art? He writes in shorthand, trying to record, in real time, the words of the man with the microphone.
The microphone man speaks rapidly. In the same breath, he references dimensions, physicality, the technical corpse (?) + intimacy, acoustics, and the arguable futility of language.
An audience member pipes in. "Written language or spoken language?"
"Good question," the microphone man says. "If we think about it as a code, in its own sphere..."
Snap. The reporter sighs, examining his mechanical pencil. He reaches into his pocket and removes a Dictaphone. On stage, the panel passes the microphone down the row. A bespectacled man speaks: "I wanted 'Computer Love' to play during the credits. I'd heard it on the radio recently and thought, 'You know, how prescient' But everyone else said it would clash with the overall tone of the work. Naturally," he smiles, "they vetoed my suggestion to conduct all interviews through a vocoder."
The woman next to the reporter leans into him. "A tongue-in-cheek use of synthesizer would've been overload, no?" She winks and raises her hand. "What's your next project?"
"We've written a four-act play, to be performed by a whole cast of Pepper's Ghosts."
Dear Sirs of Happy Coupling, Inc.,
I have installed my recently purchased phallusPod® as per your detailed instructions found on the Incorporeal Genius Web, and I am having a few minor issues when attempting to access the virtual vaginal cavity. Once I insert my detachable shaft into the USB port, it directs me to a file name of "analcollegeslutsgodirty&deep.html." As you might imagine, I am reasonably concerned about the wide variety of viruses that could infect my delicate hard drive and compromise the coital sculpture I am designing.
I have attempted to enlarge and rearrange the images from your online instruction manual in HCI Photo Play® version XIX, but my skills with this particular software are unfortunately less advanced than desired. It does not help matters much that certain crucial elements of the manual I downloaded were written in some sort of archaic pidgin Catalan. Do you perhaps have a fully translated instruction sample you can send via Cerebral Shuttle? Just an FYI: I am currently under contract to remain in a temporary state of Ecstatic Limblessness for the next two years, so all of my imported data must be taken as a suppository until further notice.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to assist me with this matter.
Phineas "Finny" McCarthy
Quality Control Analyst
Human Sciences Department
Allantoeides Biotechnology Laboratories
P.S. My InstaPoem™ chip from your sister company, Moderne Artistes, Ltd., is also malfunctioning. Without the proper sequences of ones and zeros, my creativity has ceased to function.
Without the proper sequences of ones and zeroes, my creativity has ceased to function; the shaft is now insignificant. Investors have been pestering me for the upgrade, and now it has been stolen. The phallusPod® V2 is guaranteed to make millions, and now I have nothing. The lock on my door has a key code that could be hacked should one be so inclined. If the fire escape was utilized, an intruder could easily coax open the locks on the windows. Or, maybe, my brick wall was dissembled and put back in place piece by piece by an anally precise enemy of mine.
Everyone knew I had many. Bricks and enemies, that is.
I checked; one of the bricks was loose and while I fondled it within the hole I also felt a loosening in the back of my brain. All of my digital security was lost to physicality.
Out there, somewhere, a portion of phallusPod® V2 is stored on a USB drive and mingling with coins and car keys in someone’s pocket.
Eyes closed, palms pressed into sockets, I tried to remember the missing segment. The mathematics of invention, the beauty of it astounds me. Version 2 was near complete. I had a demonstration scheduled in a week for a private viewing/sampling. Now I stood impotent with an incomplete shaft in my hand. Wracking my brain trying to remember the stolen code but the invasion left me lost. I couldn’t program anymore. I used to recognize the numbers, but now all I saw was
I wanted to rip my eyes out.
I wanted to rip my eyes out.
Problem is, my former sysadmin already basically did that for me after I hacked into his personal meme files, superimposed a holo of his head onto a very hung gorilla's body, and spread it across the Incorporeal Genius Web. Eight googolplex hits in the first hour.
He should have been flattered.
Obviously, he terminated my employment software as well. As frustrated as I am, the synthetic eye beads currently backed up on my external drive are far too expensive to risk destruction when I don't have the luxury of a steady income with which to replace them. Hazel with a twist of grey is so difficult to come by these days, so I'll be utilizing my braille joystick until further notice.
The upside is that this sudden freedom has allowed me more than enough time to toy with my YouCanBeABestseller!® files. Would you like to hear about the young post-adolescent adult-like novella I've been programming? I promise it'll only take a nanosecond or two to explain, though I may have to wipe your neural drive after I feed you the plot. Every Puppet Agent representing every hackney scribe is going to want to filch this brilliant idea.
Oh, please hold. I believe I'm receiving a holocall from my insignificant other.
Yes, Honey Boo, I promise to forward the sensor mail to your mother.
Of course, my hairless, precious fraction of a man—
I have not forgotten the cloned lamb in the oven.
Love you, too. Make sure you charge your external cavity overnight.
It’ll be a real bitch otherwise.
Oh dear, where were we now?
Ah yes, my work-in-progress.
Have you ever scanned Orwell's Animal Farm?
It's like that, but with people.
Do you remember people?
Do you remember people, the soft murmur of a considerate crowd?
Do you remember trees, the bark that felt like petrified flesh?
Do you remember paper printed books, the dissolute scent of aged pages?
The art expo was password encrypted and admission only allotted upon invitation. From what could be deciphered from the numerous pop-ups, tweets, and viral videos riddled across the Incorporeal Genius Web, this was not a show to be missed. There was speculation that the event could be the turning point, a moment in which we might all be brought back to the senses that we had lost. A revolution we didn't know we needed. The floating whispers hissed about a false awakening. The masses shook their heads in disbelief while calming their quivering nerves and clasping their digital shadows.
A web conference was held to discuss the potential of the viewing/sampling. Words like archaic, nostalgic, genius, heart wrenching, and terrifying floated around the conversation emanating from faces on tiny digital screens.
Do you remember the ocean, the gyrations that naturally swayed your hips?
Do you remember fire, the way it would dance in your eyes and burn in your heart?
Do you remember sex? Do you remember fucking?
When the expo finally opened and the digi-press was allowed to detail what they experienced, the digital community never received their reports. When the expo closed, the attendees logged out and never logged back on.
The expo was said to have opened their eyes to memories and experiences thought lost. There were rumors that the attendees were touched in some way. There were theories of a return to form.
Only time will tell what it was that they remembered.
For writers, musicians, and artists of all stripes, new technologies continue to open up new realms of possibility. No longer must we rely on gatekeepers who weren't going to let us through anyway. We can dedicate ourselves to the work. It's the art, man! We can skip touring maturing learning groveling selling and head straight to self-publishing our book (CreateSpace.com!), our music (BandCamp.com!), our art (DeviantArt.com!).
Barriers to entry so low even my six-year-old can put out a rock n' roll album and have it reviewed in the local alt-weekly1. Yes, anybody can do it.
But hold on—let me ask:
"Made any money yet, Son?"
Yes, when everyone makes art—or, rather, when giant corporations own the means of production and make barriers so low—not in order to democratize art, but in pursuit of the long tail, firm in the knowledge that a buck off a million books that sell one copy each is the same as a buck each from a million identical Fifty Shades of Greys—well, perhaps there is a slight devaluation of said art. Definitely there is a commodification.
Further, when everyone is an artist, then everyone must become a salesperson marketer in-house PR department peddler-merchant. What's your brand? You gotta cross-promote!
Sure, artists have self-promoted for ages—Whitman probably wasn't the first to write his own reviews—but, when Amazon controls every sale, they may insist that the thousands of hours you put into that book or album are worth precisely 99 cents.
The future of art making?
We're all doomed.
We're all doomed.
Fifty Shades of Grey is being made into a movie.
Mommy Porn. BDSM. The tampon scene.
How did it come to this? A woman writes 1,594 pages of Twilight fanfiction, self-publishes the book on the internet, changes the characters' names (in order to not be sued, of course) and now her so-called erotic fanfiction is being made into a movie. By Hollywood.
Print-on-Demand has opened Pandora's can of worms.
As an artist, I must say this: I'm tempted.
Would it be so bad penning some trashy erotic fanfic, self-publishing it on the interwebs, and riding off with jillions of smackers? To be honest, I'd rather do that than try to find one agent who'll read my—ahem—literary manuscript. Because, let's face it, Mommy Porn is in and The Classics are out. There's a built in audience willing to fork over good money for bad writing. They've lowered their expectations. They don't need The Classics anymore because it's outdated.
Plus, there's no middle man. No need for an agent these days, nor even an editor. Just a few clicks and a poorly written synopsis. My book about a teenage girl falling in love with a teenage boy who turns into a chupacabra nightly will earn me millions.
I shall sit back and bask in the glow.
"I shall sit back and bask in the glow."
Googling the above phrase returns precisely one result, from a Westport News humor column2. In this particular article, Judith Marks-White grapples with preparing a dinner party feast, when "invisible elves" could certainly do much better. "Why bother?" she wonders. "If god wanted me to cook he wouldn't have invented caterers."
In the Technosphere, do artists say such things? If it's been created designed dreamed written by someone else, and we can find it in a split second Internet search, is there need for us to expend our energies? I think of two things here: the increase in the ease with which we can plagiarize, and the decrease in the inspiration we can muster to create—given, of course, that "it's all been done before."
Once upon a time, I composed an insipid and uninspired poem. To add something anything nothing I tried Googling each line, and found places where someone else had pulled together those same words, which I attributed to those I found, even adding footnotes to every line in the original poem—essentially granting I was not the first. This process I called unplagiarizing, after Kenneth Goldsmith's uncreativity. Yes, it's all been written, and the Technosphere allows us to confirm this. Sure, maybe not always in the same order, but perhaps those who came before are due some credit. And when you can quickly scan the Internet—our source of everything ever said and done—well, elsewhere in the Westport News article, Marks-White says this:
"I am overcome with ennui and palpable inertia."
"I am overcome with ennui and palpable inertia," he drawled while lounging on the couch, his laptop resting on his slacks. He was stuck on a blank document, the white surface staring back at him in challenge. He didn't know what to do. Well, he knew what he needed to do. That, simply, was to write. But what?
He'd been a tad discouraged ever since he came up with that one brilliant idea. Genius, it was. But when he was doing research for it—"Googling," as the kids say—he found that someone had already written the story; was, in fact, already earning money from it through a self-publishing website. So then he had to come up with another idea and another when that one, too, was already taken. Ad infinitum. Or perhaps it was just ad nauseam.
What was our young writer to do next? Stare. Stare at the screen and try to come up with some original fresh and exciting idea that hasn't yet been done—knowing full well that the task was impossible. There weren't any more original ideas. Everything had already been claimed long ago, probably before he was even born.
What does that mean for writers of today? Or into the future? Yes, new technologies open up new realms of possibility. One real possibility is the realization that our fresh ideas are derivative of everything everywhere—giving us reason to quit before we ever begin.
Maybe I'll just stop right here.
April 19, 2109
I am writing to you on paper because all systems are currently down. We are in the process of defragging the main decapitulator, hoping to fuse together the intra-motherboard sensors with temporary ignition-coil fans by means of hotwiring. We're counting on this archaic procedure to help generate electricity or a jolt of some sort to help get us up and running. Frankly, we are desperate.
In the event that we break down completely, we will need you, since you are the sole expert with archival knowledge of primitive communication systems (i.e. handwritten letters, oil painting, film photography, wooden musical instruments, etc.).
Additionally, we are concerned that if current systems fail (despite warnings to department heads in light of the near-depletion of several of our unnatural resources—memos which were unfortunately ignored), the disruption of information streams will impact technospherical art making processes tremendously. Consider that our digitally enhanced images, MPEG files captured for sound bite use in online videos, and artists currently dictating words and images to screens via brain chips will have no choice but to revert to archaic and difficult-to-obtain writing instruments. The need for restructuring of hand muscles unaccustomed to gripping pens, pencils, and paintbrushes is obvious. We implore your help during this desperate time and request your expert commentary as the threat of reversion to archaic art making methods looms.
"We implore your help during this desperate time and request your expert commentary as the threat of reversion to archaic art making methods looms."
I had to read the last line of Wilson's letter several times to completely absorb it. That bastard's got some nerve. Even at the age of 114, I can still remember who it was that forced me into retirement.
"No need for the archaic forms," I was told. A fifty-year career and that was that.
I'm proudly archaic. In the depths of my shelter, I've hoarded paint and canvas. My works can't compare with those of my 20th century heroes Pollock and Kandinsky, but with only digital images of the natural world to inspire me, I do what I can. I revel in the smell and greasiness of oil paint and permanent stains on my callused fingers.
Still—I am so limited. I've read of artists, all long dead, whose mediums were "found objects," including natural wood, stones, and bones. Imagine being able to create art from the earth.
Art is dead. What once came from blood, sweat, tears, and semen is now all pixilated—might as well come from droids.
Don't "Dear Leo" me. Complete system failure is a wet dream to this old man.
Burn, baby, burn.
[System Administrator, 2012]
"Burn, baby, burn"? Could be a disco song, or Nero's Rome? Either way, the encroaching techno-sphere will ensure art's burnout as some predict. Artists have little time to embrace humanness outside the computer screen. True, technology offers speed, convenience, infinite information, but to what end? Technology seems to push aside those who are naturally more sensitive and sensual in favor of a "time is money" refrain. By embracing technology, aren't artists, by rote, embracing capitalism? Not if we resist.
Certainly, the art making canvas has shifted. Artists, by joining social networking sites or blogging, can hardly escape the pressure to self-promote. Participants are encouraged to accumulate "followers" or "friends," leaving the original artistic concept an afterthought.
Just say no? To stay abreast of current culture, online participation has become necessary, given the threat of print media extinction. Our opinions are posted on blogs, our news sent out as tweets, and our music digitally streamed. Consequently, we play the game and are subjected to it.
Humanness is devalued. Consider the thinking and solitude necessary to produce a viable work of art. Patience and focus recede as the ticker feed advances; instant gratification ensues. Art that resonates is increasingly rare. Quantity trumps quality, as does the right "hook" to sell oneself. Making a buck, and quickly, is what counts. The technosphere, by replacing real-time nature with the virtual, aims to destroy what is left of our spirituality and our souls. Perhaps the only true antidote can be found somewhere offline, in dusty, clothbound volumes, or within our own cluttered minds.
[Excerpt from a dusty drawing manual, circa 1984, found in the archives]
Sit still for hours, drawing the object upon the table. Capture its form, its essence. Notice the way light streams in, where the shadows fall.
"Sit still for hours, drawing the object upon the table. Capture its form, its essence. Notice the way light streams in, where the shadows fall."
My wife's words flow through the open walls and find me sitting beneath a tree, carving. The Lignum Vitae tree is host to the island's national flower and the hardest wood on earth, used industrially to make ship bearings. I have another purpose: earrings. The carving process is long; the wood requires a great deal of massaging before it consents to being shaped. But here, only the sun marks time. Though we now have limited solar power, the electronic buzz that dominates our Boston existence disappears on this remote part of Jamaica. I can carve uninterrupted for hours, joined only by the wind and the birds.
With our stay here so short, I know that Joan would like to join me out here so she could paint, but she is a devoted teacher and the students eager. The girls appreciate the art lessons, but also come to hear about our other lives. They dream about going to the States, "fa have dem iPad in every room and drive dem fancy cars." They are the same age as my grandson, who declined to travel here because he has “too much going on." I think three weeks without Facebook was impossible for him to fathom.
I worry about these teenagers and where the 21st century will take them. In one hundred years, who will be here to paint? To carve?
- Read "Glorious Bridge" at http://www.sdcitybeat.com/sandiego/article-10282-our-annual-critique-of-local-music-submissions.html?current_page=4
part of the San Diego State University collection
Andy O'Clancy, Natalie Quave, Chad Stroup, Randall Lahrman, Ryan Forsythe, Jo Ellen Aragon, Carla Wilson, and Francois Bereaud are students in the MFA program at San Diego State University.
This story is included in issue #46: Real Time/Virtual. Copyright © 2013 by fictioninternational. Authors of individual works retain copyright, with the restriction that subsequent publication of any text be accompanied by notice of prior publication in fictioninternational. Please contact the editor for reprinting information.
Available for purchase next year