My father in-law drove me to the Milwaukee airport a few weeks ago on the Wednesday before Memorial Day. Iâ€™d never seen so much activity at Mitchell International Airport. Typically, at 7 PM on a Wednesday, it feels like a private airstrip. This time it felt like, well, LaGuardia, save for the number of travelers in Green Bay Packers jerseys. As it turned out, one of the Packer players, Donald Driver, won the television dance competition â€œDancing with the Stars,â€ the night before and everyone was on a cloud. Half the airport had Driver #80 jerseys and the other half was toting the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with its supplemental front-page inset hailing Driverâ€™s victory.
Because of traffic my father in-law couldnâ€™t drop me off curbside and had to stop instead in the far lane. I ran across traffic with my luggage like a digital frog, dashing and darting abruptly until a Chevy Suburban slammed on its brakes and stopped me in my tracks. The New York side of me expected a physical altercation or at least mighty insult, but instead the middle-aged dad politely waved me on. For his generosity, I beckoned him to go first. He then waived me on again..and back-and-forth for a good minute. I imagined we looked like those two overly polite Disney chipmunks, Dale and Chip. After a few more seconds of dancing, I finally made a dash..and so did he. And the Chevy’s massive grill put my luggage into the fender of a cab five feet in front of us. It was a clean hit; all luggage and no flesh. My suitcase was upended but in one piece. Still, the driver got out and it turned into a scene of excessive brotherly considerateness. No honking, no screaming, but an embarrassingly intense rush of Packer-jerseyed Samaritans coming to my aid.
â€œNo worriesâ€¦Iâ€™m fineâ€
I grabbed my rolling bag from the asphalt and hurried into the terminal before the benevolent suffocated me in compassion.
I jogged all the way to the security line, which was as long as I’d ever seen it in Milwaukee. Almost as long as the average one at LaGuardia, though, as always, much slower moving.
In addition to the tendency for Wisconsinitesâ€™Â to be exceedingly thorough in performing routine tasks, the process of getting through MKE security is gummed up by a state-of-the-art body scanner that everyone must pass through one at a time. To boot, I was behind what appeared to be the University of Wisconsin girlsâ€™ softball team. I had to consider that if I had been selfish enough to walk out in front of the Suburban without hesitation when he waived me on, I would have overtaken the Lady Badgers and saved a half an hour. Oh well.
In line, people started getting anxious. As the chatter escalated and people began sharing their thoughts with strangers â€“ the beginning of any revolt â€“ I mentioned the absurdity of Milwaukee possessing a top-notch body scanner when they donâ€™t have one at LAX or LaGuardia. A guy behind me claimed that the scanner was made possible by the “generosity” of the recent economic stimulus as well as a surplus due to the airportâ€™s good financial management.
By that logic, if Peoria, Illinois had a budget surplus and a little bit of irrational insecurity, the city might just erect a surface-to-air-defense system at the airport whether they needed it or not. Meanwhile LaGuardia, the financial sieve that it probably is, would continue use something like the honor system that make its lines go so fast.
After a good 45 minutes I made it to the conveyors. Super efficient; no belt, no loose change, slip-ons and keys in a pocket of my shoulder bag. After going through the body scanner I waited for my effects when an agent asked me to follow him to a back area. He was holding my shoulder bag in his right hand and a small black case in his left.
It was an open pack of 100 razor blades.
â€œWhy on earth are you bringing these through security?â€
â€œThey were for an art project and I forgot to take them out.â€
â€œRazor bladesâ€¦for art?â€
â€œAn accessory to art making, actually.â€
â€œHmm,â€ he said in the most stoically judgmental way. The way only a good Lutheran can.
After talking about it with a supervisor the man came back and told me I could go but that he would be taking the blades and that I shouldnâ€™t try anything so foolish again.
His disapproval aroused my shame.
I cowered into Nonna Bartolottaâ€™s to order an Irish whisky before the flight and help forget the experience.
As I sipped Bushmills, I ranted on the inside:
â€œI once traveled from JFK to Charles de Gaulle via Heathrow, post 9-11, with a box cutter in my coat pocket, and THIS guy at Milwaukee airport is going to bust my chops about some razor bladesâ€¦I made it through security at LaGuardia with a bottle of turpentine, and heâ€™s going to treat me like I returned his daughter late on prom night with her sweater on inside out?!?â€
Later, calmer, I landed at LaGuardia, deboarded and went to meet my wife who was waiting with the car. Outside, I saw her Â waiving at me from across two busy lanes of traffic. I tried to dash across, but I couldnâ€™t catch an opening. From the curb I threatened to lurch out with my body, sort of playing chicken with the cabbies, but it was clear theyâ€™d run me down if I tried. New York driving is a free-for-all and its drivers don’t conform to any informal social welfare system for the greater good. Systems are New York’s only ensurance of Â greater good, and because of this there are rarely accidents caused by people expecting another car to stop out of pure kindness.
Walking fifty feet up to that safeguard called the crosswalk, it occurred to me that Wisconsin, which just confirmed its support for a conservative, some might say, socially insensitive governor, is partially regulated by an informal, de facto welfare state where everyone considers â€“ perhaps a little too much â€“ the well-being of the next guy. Chicken-or-egg, who knows, but it seems government regulation might be undesirable to some in Wisconsin because most are so busy regulating each other informally that any more imposed order on top of all that Chip-and-Dale politeness might inspire people to run into oncoming traffic to regain a sense of liberty and individualism.
My wife drove us home in some pretty nasty traffic. We finally reached our exit at Morgan/Meeker on the BQE and stopped at a red light at the bottom of the ramp. She was anxious from the white-knuckled driving and I leaned over to kiss her forehead. As I did, the light changed and a symphony of impatient car horns sounded.Â No informal, unwritten civil code; just rules penned by politicians and enforced by public officials. Green light means itâ€™s time to devour those who hesitate for a split second, like “hike” means itâ€™s time to annihilate the opposing team in football. Good will is irrelevant when youâ€™re playing to win and you’ve subcontracted all your rules to referees.
Iâ€™m sure that our Wisconsin license plate and the Green Bay Packers bumper sticker didnâ€™t arouse any sympathy, either.
When I was young my dad used to school me at Trivial Pursuit every time we played. I went on thinking he was a singular genius for a couple of decades.
My reverence flagged only when I realized all the questions in the game were written by baby boomers; the answer was always Jefferson Airplane, G. Gordon Liddy or Robert McNamara. At some point, probably when I started teaching college, I came to realize that his McNamara is my Condoleezza Rice; his Liddy is my Linda Tripp; his Syd Barret is my Jeff Mangum, etc., etc. Generations are structurally parallel to each other.
My students donâ€™t know this yet, and as a result they treat me like Iâ€™m Doris Kearns Goodwin when I reveal what is a fairly superficial knowledge of George W. Bushâ€™s cabinet, or the cast of various John Hughes films.
And thatâ€™s one of the best aspects of aging: ordinary, trivial information gleaned by osmosis eventually passes for legitimate historical knowledge.
Iâ€™m more aware of this osmotic knowledge when in New York. I donâ€™t watch any scripted television or queue up for summer blockbuster movies, but I still know about shows like PsychÂ andÂ Burn NoticeÂ only because I wait for subway trains. A fragmented and superficial education in contemporary pop culture comes with one’s New York address.
In Wisconsin Iâ€™m blind to pop culture. There are no subway posters and where I live, no billboards. If I stumble into a Gap for some socks I may be forced to learn a new song by the Shins or Snow Patrol, but otherwise I have no connection to what others in the world are up to if I don’t turn on a television or open a magazine.
This topic came up with some friends in New York. It turned out that we had all heard of the show Breaking BadÂ but couldnâ€™t say anything about its nature other than the guy in it was also in the movie, Drive. It occurred to us that we didn’t even know people who knew people in New York who watchedÂ Pscyh or Corazon Caliente, yet everyone at the table knew both shows to the depth that I do Condoleeza Rice, which is to say, not very.
The question of who was watching shows like Burn Notice andÂ Breaking Bad simmered in my head for a few weeks when some acquaintances in Wisconsin urged me, without my provocation, to watch Breaking Bad.Â
â€œItâ€™s amazing, you gotta check it out. Itâ€™s totally unique.â€
After the recommendation, all five of them dove into a conversation aboutÂ Breaking Bad’s merits and left me in the dust.Â I contemplated the elegance and ease of five individuals sharing consciousness through a television show. I was momentarily jealous that they had a conversational topic to share, so sat out the round sifting for pumpernickel chips in the bar snack mix. The mix had been removed of all the good stuff leaving mostly pretzels and some goldfish crumbs. This forced the revelation that in a place like Cedarburg, Wisconsin, where the culture is relatively homogenous, sharing consciousness is easier than it is in New York.
I interjected having seen a poster of Burn Notice on the Nassau subway stop where someone had scratched a vagina in ball-point pen between the legs of its starâ€¦whose name I didnâ€™t know.I didn’t realize for several beers that I had my shows confused.
Writing this from a subway platform at Nassau and Manhattan Avenues, under a poster for Rock Star beverage and a superhero movie set to explode, an eclectic crowd mills on the platform. Asians carry Asian-language newspapers under their arms; Polish women tote the Polish daily Nowy Dziennik, and kids of a million backgrounds are drinking various energy drinks.
Iâ€™m about to shoehorn onto a train with the most diverse cross section of individuals on any train in the world, who themselves live within most Byzantine network of pop-media advertising anywhere else. I wonder how elegantly all this diversity interfaces. Does anyone know who watches Burn Notice? How much consciousness do we share in New York versus a one-bar town in Iowa? How much of this NYC multitude ends up inside of me superficially through osmosis, and how much through engaged scholarship?
I have no idea what “Nowy Dziennik” translates to, nor will I ever know what Burn Notice is about.
They always say that New York is a melting pot, but I think sometimes itâ€™s more like the lava lamp on Grace Slickâ€™s nightstand.
I should probably ask the woman to my left how to say â€œhelloâ€ in Polish.
I was dying for some Thai food that would make my eyes swell and my forehead sweat. The kind that lets you know three hours later how often you pick your nose. I wanted SriPraPhai, or any of five neighborhood places that make me cough from the ambient chili in the air when I walk inside to pick up my order.
But I was in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, where my ethnic choices are limited to nachos at a bar and grille, fried cheese curds and pretzel nibs (if those count as German,) or gelatinous Chinese from a restaurant that recently moved into a space occupied by a furniture store. Funny, thereâ€™s a jewelry store in town that inexplicably occupies a gaudily ornate and out-of-place Chinese Pagoda. Iâ€™ve always thought the two businesses should trade digs.
On my way to a lonely complex of box stores that rise like ominous commercial silos from the pastures along Highway 43, I spotted a promising option: â€œNoodles and Company.â€ I fantasized that it was a Phá»Ÿ restaurant as I drove past. Sure it was in a sanitized strip mall with a loopy corporate looking sign, but in Cedarburg one would put up a sign if they were selling weed out of their basement. Itâ€™s standard issue.
First, I went to the Michaelâ€™s hobby store, the only place within 20 miles to buy art supplies, salivating in anticipation of peppery noodles. In the aisles, kind ladies politely smiled and I charged past them machine-gunning head nods back, crazed by a jones for hot chilies and a fear of the dopamine-sapping low that overcomes me when I stay inside a large craft store for more than five minutes. Taylor Dayneâ€™s 1987 hit â€œTell it to my Heartâ€ was playing, giving me even less time before I cratered. I overpaid for some matte medium and exploded out the building in under three minutes like a ten year old coming up for air after grabbing thrown pocket change from the bottom of a pool. I aimed my mother-in-lawâ€™s SUV, with its personalized plates announcing her by name, D-O-R-E-E-N, and headed for â€œNoodles and Company.â€
Surprisingly there was a line. And there were siracha bottles on each of the well-spaced tables. Two promising signs. A teenager who would be played by Paul Dano in the movie about his life gave me a lukewarm smile with his fingers poised over a keypad to enter my order. Not a promising sign.
The menu featured â€œBacon, Mac & Cheeseburger,â€ â€œWisconsin Mac and Cheese,â€ â€œBeef Stroganoff,â€ and a couple of perfunctory pan-Asian style dishes, â€œBangkok Curryâ€ and â€œJapanese Pan Noodles.â€ I honestly thought Beef Stroganoff was something only my grandmother on my dadâ€™s side made. I thought it was her own recipe. I grudgingly ordered some pan noodles, took a number and sat down at a clean table by a window looking out on a mattress superstore, recognizing that in the greater scheme of foody pretense, offering a beef stroganoff dish was a fairly advanced move.
Paul Danoâ€™s girlfriend arrived with a disappointing stir-fry of bland noodles and sautÃ©ed vegetables, a pack of soy sauce and a fork and knife set. The plate was sprinkled with black sesame seeds, the cheap signifier for Asian food of any sort. Put sesame seeds on a bratwurst and itâ€™s an â€œAsian Dog.â€ I had to go back to the counter to ask for chopsticks. Udon noodles with a fork? Really? When I did, Paul Dano looked at me like a dog does when you hide food behind your back.
â€œDo you have chopsticks?â€
â€œMaybeâ€¦Iâ€™ll check in the back.â€
Dano came back a few minutes later with a pair of basswood sticks in a paper sheath. The girl who brought out my tray was looking at me now, and so were two people waiting in line to be served. I felt like an alien troublemaker.
I ate my noodles alone without reading material. And my table was too far away from the others to see what others were reading, to look into purses, or to overhear conversations; all favorite New York pastimes that almost make up for having to dine like chickens in a Perdue plant. I thought of Ray Liottaâ€™s line at the end of Goodfellas, â€œRight after I got here I ordered spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles with ketchup.â€
Four days later, I got my chance to eat like a penned chicken, when my wife and I tried a popular restaurant in Long Island City. It was really dark..either that or my cones had reset to Milwaukee dining light levels. I started talking to my wife in my loud voice, not realizing the lack of a 12-foot buffer between tables that Iâ€™m used to at my local fine dining establishment in Wisco. I ramped up into a magnificent polemic about a writer who wrote a lazy review of a recent exhibition. My wife moved my glass of water toward her in anticipation wild hand motions. Before I could reach my Al Pacino-scent-of-a-woman finale, a head appeared from my blind spot.
I couldnâ€™t make him out in the dark, but my stomach jumped into my throat. I felt as found out as Rumpelstiltskin. My rant was wine-fuelled, ad-hominem and not meant for anyone who didnâ€™t know me well enough to know why I hate riding in the back of pickup trucks.
â€œI overheard your, uh, conversation.â€
I took my candle and brought it up to his face sheepishly. â€œJOHN! How much of that did you hear…and how much hush money do you want?â€
â€œIt happened 14 inches from my head, I couldnâ€™t help it. I could taste your hostility in my root vegetable gratin. I’m kidding..Donâ€™tâ€™ worry, Â I’m on your side, but you have to know everyone’s reading over your shoulder on a New York subway in rush hour and hearing your conversation at dinner. That’s part of the fun of living like sardines.”
“..I always say penned chickens.”
December 28, 2011 · Print This Article
In thinking about hybridity, performance artist Sebastian Alvarez seemed like an important person to talk to. For instance, I saw a piece of his at the Hyde Park Art Center in which a series of different people looked up at the camera, their faces surrounded in a sea of dirt. They seemed to be part of the earth, speaking through it, while nevertheless remaining distinct. In other work Alvarez has done, he photographs the body mid-flight, sometimes it is ascending, sometimes it hovers almost perpendicular to the ground, frozen impossibly in defiance against gravity. I find his work to be tremendously hopeful, walking a line between the tension of consumer audiences and transformative experience. Where do we position ourselves? Are those distinctions (between body and earth, self and other) as vivid as we would like to presume?
Caroline Picard:Â What happened to your impression of dirt once you ate it in public?
Sebastian Alvarez:Â Soil is always hard to grasp. Especially if it comes from Central Park in New York. The first time I tried eating soil was, like many of us, at a very early age. Unfortunately, I do not have a clear memory of that moment but I remember seeing a photograph of my face decorated with dirt around my mouth. Perhaps it was really chocolate but I prefer to think that it was soil because I was in a park. Years later, my second interaction with this organic matter happened in a desperate situation as I was hitchhiking to Cuzco, Peru from the south of Brazil. It was in a late afternoon after not being able to find a ride nor anything to eat. Upon arriving to a small farm in an isolated area, I stole some potatoes I found laying on a piece of burlap fabric. After franticly running without any reason â€” since nobody saw me â€” I stopped away from the farm and contemplated the three little sad potatoes in my dirty hands. Having no utensils to boil the rather miniscule potatoes, I gave a bite to one of them, realizing that I could not even chew it. Obviously, they were hard as rocks due to the cold weather. So after spitting the tuber out, I craved something soft and tasty. Without thinking it twice, I grabbed a bunch of soil with my left hand I took it into my mouth, and I clearly remember thinking that I wanted this soil to be delicious and nutritious. I thought it so emphatically that I could no longer pay attention to the particles going through my throat. Its texture was actually soft and pleasant on account of the fact that it was topsoil and it did not contain any pieces of rock. One handful was enough to bring me into a silent state of mind where I began perceiving my surroundings as a nurturing space. Seconds after this peaceful sensation, my mind started sending me the common human thoughts that would populate any civilized person’s mind: What am I doing? I really need to find something to eat, and am I going to get sick or die? All these questions kept reconfiguring themselves in my head as I felt the satisfactory sensation of having experienced something transformative. Hours later after walking on a small road again, I was picked up by a generous farmer with an old truck and driven to the nearest town, Mirador Caracoto. During this micro-road trip, I kept the soil incident to myself. Once in the town, I was able to sell a couple of jackets I had in my backpack and eventually made it to my “final destination.” I tell this story because it reveals values that are central to my art practice. Journeying as an exploration of the unknown, acknowledgment of ignorance, and transformation are points that guide and organize my understanding of what I do as an artist.
Five years later when I became acquainted with performance art I thought of contextualizing my experience with soil in a “performance video.” However, when I did it for the camera I became very conscious of the situation I was creating and how contrived it was. The scenario I constructed was completely different. This time I was in New York, and created a prologue to accompany the act of eating dirt. The first part of the video was about the occasional nauseous feeling I have when being overexposed to advertisements and consumer culture. The second part is about entering a public park (Central Park) to eat soil. The area where my friendly cameraperson and I spontaneously decided to shoot was actually closed for maintenance. I obviously felt tempted to jump the fence and ended up removing a piece of grass to eat a small portion of the aforementioned substance. A few pedestrians walking their dogs saw me and noted the presence of the camera, creating that typical mediated environment/situation that weakens the authenticity of such normally undocumented events. I never felt the same serenity as that first time at the farm again because I became too aware of my actions, and slightly paranoid to be penalized for jumping the fence and defacing public property.
Being born in a culture that has always defined Earth as a mother and the Sun as a father, I developed an appreciation and respect for these beliefs. However, when the Mother Earth icon was imported into western culture, it became a component of the linguistic structure of patriarchal dominance. Thus, perpetuating the image of the mother as unconditionally generous, fertile and inexhaustibly abundant.Â When I moved to the United States, one of the things that I paid attention to in language was the relation between the word “dirt” and “dirty,” especially because dirt is often used interchangeably with the word soil. So, whether soil is dirt or an aspect of Mother Earth is personally irrelevant, the essential part to me is how the metaphor that defines the relationship between us and the “natural world” creates a different engagement with our surroundings. Perhaps, this is why I find the metaphor of “eating soil as a way of reconnecting with a source” fascinating. For instance, if you research some of the cultures that have embraced geophagia â€” that is the practice of eating earthy or soil-like substances such as clay and chalk â€” you will find out that the elements that make up soil are potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and manganese which are also present in the human body. In many parts of the developing world there is earth even available for purchase that is intended for consumption; they consider geophagy to be a beneficial, nutritional approach to promote well-being. Of course, I am aware that the contemporary condition of soil in many places of the world is deplorable and highly toxic. I am further aware that there is a significant difference between the soil I ate on a small farm in Peru and the dirt from a metropolitan public park where there is the potential encounter with dog excrement, 70’s heroin needles, or fingers of gangster victims that did not pay their dues.
CP: Is there a difference between performance and presentation for you?
SA:Â Although these two are similar in that they both comprise an event in which an individual or group of individuals behave in a particular way for another group of individuals, they are slightly different to me in terms of how they make the recipient individuals feel. Presentations, as we usually know them, carry a didacticism that make us focus on the content of what is being presented rather than the presenter. Performances, on the other hand, bring our attention to the performer (his/her physical, emotional, and kinesthetic characteristics that I perceive as organic) and the contextual features around him/her or them (architecture and props, which I perceive as inorganic, when they happen indoors). After engaging into different forms of investigation (both formally and informally) about performative genres (which I perceive as modes of communication) I see them as forms of channeling energy. Today, one can play semantically in order to find new possibilities, and expand upon notions. For instance, one could say performers perform, and presenters present or performers present and presenters perform. One could also think performances present performers, presentations perform presenters, and so on. To me, presenting implies a detachment from what is being presented. It is a humbler approach to communicating an idea or intention. Most religious and devotional rituals involve presenting an offering (whether something tangible or intangible) to a worshipped being. This makes me ponder the idea of the audience as a worshipped entity receiving the offerings of a performer. In any case, however the performers or presenters decide to interact with their audience (whether they are physically present or not), I believe it is important to allow the energy that is being conjured to be transmitted as intended, unless they are dealing with unknown forces outside their cognition and this is the intention.
CP:Â How do you consider the audience/performer relationship? Is this a dynamic that is porous? And where is the power located?Â
SA:Â There a long list of sociologists, philosophers, dramaturges, performance theorists and researchers who have dealt with the audience/performer subject in multiple ways. To me, it is important to have an understanding of the origins of theater, performing arts, sports, and social gatherings as well as how the relationship between the performer and the audience changed into one of producer and consumer. There are specific instances that mark the breaking down of traditional boundaries between actors and spectators. For instance, the formation of the Living Theater in New York by Julian Beck and Judith Malina changed how the audience was engaged through direct personal and physical contact. Likewise, when Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal (influenced by theorist and educator Paulo Freire) developed the Theatre of the Oppressed, within which performance was intended to entertain, educate, and raise consciousness. I am obviously omitting the extensive list of people, events, movements, and disciplines that have contributed to what we categorize today as relational aesthetics, participatory art, and social practices. However, whether one is aware of this information or not, these contributions are already engrained in the sphere of human cognition.
But anyway, most of us with Internet access are aware of the omnipresence of videos depicting different kind of events, open source lectures, webinars, presentations, performances, and practices that share the process of how subjects and objects are made. The ones showing rows of seated spectators facing a raised platform particularly fascinate me. In the broadest terms, the “performer-presenter” may be seen as an enthusiast, or critic of society. In âš«â– â–¼, one of my current projects in process, I explore this setup, the body language of the presenter and the audience, and their potential to alienate. From my perspective, presenters perform an almost priestly role when in front of a large screen or projection that informs the audience or devotees in a semiotic mass. However one sees it, I think there is a consensus about the need to gain greater awareness of the implications of systematic image distribution in power-saturated contexts and human relations â€“ particularly in this media-laden society.
CP:Â What is the relationship between shape and identity? I’m partly asking because the way you use shapes quite often in your work–circles and triangles and squares…
SA:Â In this project, I began by acknowledging these historic associations:
a. the circle, the one, the point, the center, the ellipse, the circus, the circuit, the speaker, the divine, the sun, the transmutation, the emotion, the liquid, the circulatory system.
b. the square, the quartet, the structure, the area, the perimeter, the room, the site, the group, the audience, the collective, the concentration, the cardinal points, the mundane, the solid, the digestive system.
c. the triangle, the trio, the creation, the interaction, the elements, the magic, the media, the message, the subject, the intellect, the illumination, the direction, the gas, the nervous system.
1. the logo: the word, the discourse, the argument, the rhetoric, the religion, the emblem, the identity, the transcultural diffusion, the union and interrelation of three physical states of water (solid, liquid, and gaseous).
The logo (1.) is an inverted 17th century “sign” that illustrates the blending of geometric shapes, and elemental symbols. Then, it was used by medieval alchemists to represent the elements and forces needed for magical work in order to reach physical and spiritual transformation, and immortality. Today, these concerns are that of transhumanists who explore bio-enhancement technologies (intellectual and physical) and the elimination of aging. Some even seek the elimination of death such as Ray Kurzweil and his sympathizers. Whether we like it or not, our human condition is transforming and non-biological intelligences are growing exponentially.
Adopting the alchemical sign as a logo/brand is a way of bringing attention to the subject of transformation. To me, this is a way of coming to terms with a personal feeling that I think we all share: the feeling of being driven by a larger force beyond oneâ€™s control. When appropriating the alchemical sign as a logo I thought of myself as a corporate force that imparts, shares, and distributes information. Using the alchemical symbol upside down is my way of acknowledging a return to the basic, to innocence. What I mean by basic is my prelinguistic life, before I was educated. Hence, I am interested how we educate the “uneducated,” how infants acquire language, and how we are constrained in our use of language by our particular social and psychological realities.
The inspiration for âš«â– â–¼ emerged after watching several hours of web conferences, and online lectures on subjects I am passionate about. Also contributing to the impetus for the project were my notes and memories on how I have been feeling inside authoritarian architecture â€” mostly churches and military sites, classrooms, and various institutional sites since childhood. Some memories, which I perceive as “light,” are more personal, comical and embarrassing; for instance, when things collapsed in strictly controlled situations or in demonstrations of vulnerability in public. The other memories, which I perceive as “dark,” are aggressive and fear inciting; for example, acts of civic disobedience and public panic. Here, I specifically refer to the attacks of the two main rebel groups, Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, who operated most forcefully in their effort to destabilize and overthrow the Peruvian government.
I also include my memories as an audience member in large sport events, massive music concerts, raves, mosh pits, in addition to intimate-level events such as presentations/performances in small venues, galleries, and studios. All these social assemblages (cultural or sub-cultural) are highly affected by the architecture in which they take place. I like to think about the physical states of water â€” liquid, solid, and gaseous â€” as an analogy that provides a different way of understanding different types of social gatherings. Consequently, I think of water containers, and temperature. What happens when you boil water? What happens when you freeze water? Can certain places solidify us? Which places keep us moving and flowing? In what place do we boil and become gaseous? How is in charge of the temperature?
Online, we articulate ourselves as databases in social networks. In doing so, we use our names as our brand, our logo. I began paying attention to this when I started a blog called Wanderlustmind where I was aiming to collect relevant information and archive my digressions over the Internet. By using the template provided by the semantic publishing platform, I became statistically aware of my â€œfollowersâ€™â€ locations, their traffic, and their preferences. Similarly, when performing or witnessing a performance, I also pay attention to the structural characteristics of an audience. This makes me wonder if blogging has awakened a desire to know more about my audience or if it is a natural tendency I have. Regardless, once I wanted to “boost my traffic,” I opened a page for my blog in the popular “Book of Faces.” Here, as part of a community of millions of sentient beings entrapped in a platform created by the idiosyncrasy of a Harvard sophomore, I pondered existentialism once again and therefore the questionnaire began. What behavior am I adopting? Which model am I following? Am I becoming a hybrid of machine and organism? Am I aware of what produces major changes in my cognition? Am I really able to perceive this transformation during my lifetime? Did I abandon the religion I was brought up in so that I can be indoctrinated into a new one prophesying technological utopianism? Will my grandchildren meet humans who were born in times where the Internet did not exist? Is it worth having children considering the current conditions of the media environment? Will I bio-engineer my own children? Do I already have children? Are they blogs or social networks that I maintain daily? What do I feed them? Is my affection enough as a simple XOXO?
As I press the keyboard and quantify myself through a luminescent screen that stores binary numbers and manipulates data, I associate my writing (or your reading) to the comfort and anonymity of a passive audience member sitting in the dark. Obviously, as you read these words in a rectangular display composed of liquid crystals (that is if you did not use a inkjet or laser printer to print this on paper), there are people around the world who are still reading books illuminated by a candle. Should everyone use the Internet? Are there other forms of networking we are ignoring or dismissing? Should indigenous people conform to the dominating attitude of the patriarchic media? Can these groups participate in the decision making process of how technology should operate? Should cultures that have not come up with “new technologies” be consigned to history? Wouldn’t you be concerned if the same nations that brought you sugar, processed foods, GMO’s, and mass pollution were offering you new useful technologies?
This week: Our final installment in the Open Engagement series. This week we talk to Jule Ault!