The Internet is the today’s ever-growing virtual space that, more than ever, enhance the human free will. Anybody assumes a role in the web and silently stand on the side of an argument the latter may shows. We more than ever build our personal thoughts around images, pictures, scenes, etc. but yet step aside when it comes to taking action. People are becoming entities behind the screen. Many individuals’ behaviours in front of the screen, asserts the relation of alienation between human beings and reality, through the virtual life, or as I like to name it, “Virtuality”. People have the propensity to detach any real fact from the actual life because of the simple fact that it is seen within a dimension we do not consider true. We cannot see (or touch) The Internet. Virtuality exists in our minds; therefore, it is intangible.
Nowadays the internet allows us to see many different places on the planet, in a matter of seconds and priceless. Countries and oceans are covered by readily available information, which is proposed by the endless archive of the net, such as Wikipedia.
Anyone can watch a relatively live picture taken somewhere in the world, by a ‘click’ on programmes such as Google Earth or Google Street View. It is tremendous how any of us can suddenly become a witness and an uninterested observer of reality, solely because felt distant from the spectator’s one. The screen creates a barrier between the viewer and reality, towards the fact virtually transmitted.
The relation between the ‘Virtuality’ and Reality has become a sensitive topic under many artists and theorists’ consideration.
Lewis Baltz was an American artist and photographer who became a significant figure in the New Topographics movement of the late 1970’s. He predicted “that more and more artists will use the internet as source, especially as ‘virtual reality’ overtakes what we believe to be our reality” (Shore R. 2014 p.13). The rapport between people and ‘Virtuality’ increasingly becomes the allegory of the individual’s alienation towards actual facts. As Baltz stated, many artists are using the internet as means to prove this theory, and some of them are doing so through Google Earth and Google Streets View images.
For instance, David Thomas Smith’s “Anthropocene” series of 2009-2010, uses satellite images taken to evidence “sites and centres of Global Capitalism” linked with “oil, precious metals, consumer cultures and excess” (Shore R. 2014). The series take its title from the proposed epoch that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems. The artist creates a graphic pattern to enhance the human’s influence towards the physiology of the earth. He shows how the anthropologic creature (us) has modified rivers, mountains, seas and so on, by redesigning the land’s reticulate. The photos illustrate how the human has become intrinsic on the planet, but yet not entirely understood by people. Dr Colin Waters, a principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and one of the authors of the study published in Science on Thursday, stated that “People are environmentally aware these days but maybe the information is not available to them to show the scale of changes that are happening”. I question, are not videos, advertising and visual information about environmental catastrophes that actually bombard us every day through our devices, enough information to make us quit wasting and thus caring more about out planet? I believe people does not react to them, because of their virtual provenience.
Another artwork to take into consideration to justify this theory is the Jon Rafman’s “9-eye” project started in 2008 and still ongoing, which was presented in “The Net” lecture I had last week. The artist captures screenshots from Google Streets View, and shows them as they were taken, not to compromise the “authenticity of the images” (Rafman J. cited from Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, 2014). He said that the fragments of reality, are “captured by indifferent cameras by chance” (Rafman J. cited from Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, 2014). These cameras are 9 in total, and they equip in the body of volatile robots created by Google. Rafman interprets these machines as the notion of a God, “who does not act in History, is indifferent to reality and just observe it” (Rafman J. cited from Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, 2014). As a matter of fact, the individual behind the screen embodies the uncaring entity. The Google Street View’s design option “Report the Problem” (in front of anything suspicious, and potentially dangerous), is an encouragement to “wash your hands from reality” (Rafman J. cited from Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, 2014) and alienate yourself. This concept is related to my previous post “Assembly Line and Human Interaction”. In fact, Rafman emphasizes the people’s blurred faces feature in the pictures taken on the Google’s application, as “the poetic of how we see reality” (Rafman J. cited from Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, 2014). We all, in a way, see blurred faces while being in public spaces with other people when we constantly avoid any human interaction. However, as people, we are not apathetic at the sight of these pictures, besides we interpret them and “see stories and narratives” (Rafman J. cited from Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, 2014). Despite the camera, we take a moral stand and see beauty in these images. Yet, the power of Rafman’s project is about the tension of modernity within the human “performance”, and it enhances the distortion of reality through the Virtuality that we were analyzing until now.
The virtual world reproduces reality, getting the human perception close to its concept, via letting us traveling through the imaginary wire fence structure of the Net, but far from its actual meaning.
By Nicole Afonso Alves Calistri, 2016
Contemporary Art Museum St Louis 2014, “Artist Talk: Jon Rafman”, online source available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdZ03VdCxPY accessed on 2/02/2016
Shore R., 2014, “Post-photography: The Artist With A Camera”, p.13
Vaughan A. 2016, “Human impact has pushed Earth into the Anthropocene, scientists say”, The Guardian, online source available from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/07/human-impact-has-pushed-earth-into-the-anthropocene-scientists-say accessed on 7/02/2016
Biography and further readings
“Post-photography: The Artist With A Camera”, by Robert Shore, 2014, published by Laurance King Publishing Ltd.
You, the world and I (.com) A video by Jon Rafman which take his artistic research further.
Artists who did similar projects: Google’s Mapping Tools Spawn New Breed of Art Projects