15/04/2017 - 15/05/2017
Wayshrines I, II, & III (an avatar manifesto) is a combination of appropriated media, screen recordings, and performance in digital environments in which the avatar exists as a replacement for the physical being. Wayshrines attempts to overturn power structures that exist within a web-based reality by appropriating and reinterpreting virtual representations. The work calls into question the alternative moral code that exists when confronting the immortal digital body.
Your video 'Wayshrines I, II, & III (an avatar manifesto)' frequently contrasts familiar digital appearances or 'avatars' with cyborg theory, emotional intelligence and even hints at techno-romanticism, all of which suggest a conflict, a deepening of the feeling of the digital self as opposed to a flattening of experience or a simplification of reality. Could you say something about the sort of conflicts you have encountered through your research and development of the Manifesto and how the 'user' or 'player' - if that is the Self - finds itself adapting under these conditions of conflict?
As I researched and constructed the skeleton for Wayshrines, I found constant contradiction. If the digital world is truly a smaller mirror of the real, it contains all of the same issues of human nature, however, with infinite bounds.
Wayshrines begins by imagining a dystopian future in which humans have lost all instinct, fear, and knowledge of a physical world. It alludes to the banality of violence within a virtual space, where death is imitated as a canned experience or an absurd exercise.
In a space where there is no death—a space where narrative has no merit without the passage of time and time has no urgency without the eventuality of death—we must recreate death to instill meaning into our virtual experiences. This death-dilemma continually arose in each field of my digital research. I noticed that there is a constant play between the knowledge of immortality of an avatar, that it will always respawn, but also an element of immersion, or a suspension of disbelief: a sense of loss, and perhaps a processing of one’s own eventual demise.
Wayshrines features the newest iteration of Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider series. She has typically stood as the idol of male sexuality within video game culture since its inception. She represents a fissure between feminism and the patriarchal appropriation of feminism into entertainment and commodity. This was the basis of the final section of Wayshrines. The stark white background suggests a nirvana or heaven the female avatar has reached but cannot leave. One woman asks, "How can I feel despair when I'm in such a beautiful place?” The woman-as-adventurer, scientist, and action hero would at first seem a triumph for feminism, however, she has of course been fetishized. Her power has become an object of sexual fantasy just the same, which begs the question: are women and femme persons accepted by mainstream patriarchy only when they’ve been successfully fetishized to the point of acceptability?
It seems that human nature will always be at odds with the environment of the virtual, as we compulsively invent more realities to further complicate with human emotion. However, the avatar serves as our digital counterpart, a successful survivor of each digital trend. It’s no wonder that the avatar has persisted through years of technological innovation. It is now the phoenix rising from a world of gimmickry, duplicity, and heteronormative fantasy, using transmutation as survival strategy.
The Wayshrines world is peppered with references to the chauvinist and colonial constructions in which online gaming and social encounters take place; from the appropriation of the Wild West myth into numerous virtual sites of permanent online violence and adventure, to the manga party girls who exist for the up-skirt photograph opportunity and are consigned to repeat mono-roles ad infinitum as virtual sex servants in a male playground. Would a feminist gaming experience consist in hacking the pre-existent chauvinist amphitheatres of online gaming, or in the construction of different environments which challenge or escape this baggage?
I find that appropriating as a tool is still underutilized, that there is already too much information we have not yet fully digested, to merit the construction of new environments. The careful combing and redistribution of the mess we’ve made could take 8 times as long as we’ve been a conscious species. I find power in reclamation. To turn something on its head is to change perspective.
However, to be careful and calculated has never been a trait of the human condition. In her essay “Too Much World: is the Internet Dead?” Hito Steyerl asks the question: “Why not slowly withdraw from an undead internet to build a few others next to it?” This could mean freedom from the burdens of the current network: the spam, malware and viruses, the racism and sexism, but these are themes that persist with or without the internet, all the digital realm seems to do is exacerbate these issues. My hesitation in creating new environments is not a fear of the unknown but a fear of human nature in tandem with the dismissive unshocked-shock culture of the internet, the constant barrage of information, and the infinite scroll.
We currently seem to be standing at an extremely fertile period in the future of digital art production - something we endeavour to reflect in our programming at The Unstitute. How do you see your own practice developing after the fact of the 'Manifesto', and what projects do you have coming up?
Before and after creating Wayshrines I’ve never considered my work as “digital art” although it deals with our digital experiences. At this point in time, society has seamlessly migrated to the digital, and continues to live as a hybrid creature, existing in both physical and virtual reality. My work is a reaction to the state in which we find ourselves: as divided between and intertwined within two simultaneous realities. My newest projects involve this notion of hybridity, of translation between worlds.
Recently, I created a series called Gamut Performance which involved the 3D printing of popular LAB colorspace models such as sRGB and Adobe RGB 1998. Each gamut performance takes the shape of a nearly-geometric object, born out of a loss in translation from digital to physical. The result is an incomplete version of what was intended—an artifact of the digital realm, partially realized. The resulting objects are sharp, awkward, and unsound, akin to a geode, bismuth, or some geological anomaly that holds an unexpected geometry. This summer, I’ll be showing my videos and sculptural work at The Muted Horn in Cleveland, Ohio, ROY G BIV gallery in my hometown of Columbus, as well as a group show DEMO Project in Springfield, Illinois. I'm also currently working on a mock mail-order catalog of "internet-derived objects."
The Projection Room at The Unstitute offers a virtual environment for creative experiments and self-empowerment over archaic creative institutions. See who has been selected this month, and find out more about their creative practice. Consider applying to the Participation Programme at The Unstitute.