Lately this blog serves as a place for me to start some sort of articulation of ideas about art/ media projects…specifically ones that connect to larger themes I am exploring about digital art practices and pedagogy. I’m interested in how people are using technology, how they are producing things that say something about our relationships with technology. I am of the mind that we can learn from artists….that artists can reveal things that others can not see or perhaps do not realize in the same way. Within my own work I am critical of technology, yet I intentionally use the technology…hopefully addressing tensions that exist…a desire to be both with and without it and our inevitable dependency on “it”…the struggle for a harmonious relationship with “it”. I think we have to be careful of “it”…we need to be in charge of our own filters. As McLuhan stated in 1969, we need to recognize that technology is in fact an extension of the human body, an extension of ourselves. We need to see ourselves in the technology….but I’d rather we be in charge of how we go about seeing our reflection, rather than “it” being the one in charge.
I saw We Live in Public a couple of weeks ago and although I immediately knew it was a film relevant to my conceptual meanderings on this blog, I chose to let it stew in my brain for awhile before commenting. I’m still unsure what to think….so I guess I’ll just use this post to think out loud/ in public about some things….
The documentary film about Josh Harris (internet pioneer, digital Warhol, master manipulator, etc.) and Quiet, a Big Brother/ Truman Show-esque social participatory art project that occurred in New York during the advent of the millennium, is definitely a cautionary tale about the power of the internet and self-surveillance. But after watching Josh Harris, the subject of the film, speak in Q&A with the director Ondi Timoner following the premiere and in related press interviews…I am more inclined to think that it is not only a cautionary tale about technology but of people in charge of technology, specifically those who are unaware of themselves and resistant to ethics and basic morals. I think you have to watch the film to understand where I am going with this….
And from watching the body language in the interviews with Josh Harris and Ondi Timoner the director, I can’t help but wonder if she is the real genius. Timoner has created a compelling film about a man who is disturbed yet brilliant, crazy enough to believe and do things that no one else could. In the end, I find myself more interested in his lack of emotional willingness to connect to others and his pursuit of “deconstructing the self” (a quote from Harris himself). It’s as if she is “one up on him”…Yes, he foresaw the future of the internet and society’s desire for “15 minutes of fame a day” via Facebook and MySpace…but rather than find an opportunity to instigate dialogue and/ or teach a lesson, he instead now wants to build a wired city in Los Angeles and take over the media to make millions, denying any social responsibility and taking the role of the puppeteer up above.
On the other hand, what he did with technology in the 1990s was revolutionary, a democratization of a television-run culture. But art? I know the title of artist is being stretched and expanded more and more these days but even if he were to be defined as an artist….is that necessarily a good thing? How are we to understand an “artist” with a vision but without a conscience? In one of the interviews, Harris speaks of himself as now leaning towards being a mad scientist / artist….does this mastermind remind anyone else of Hitler?
Therapy sessions never hurt anyone, just sayin’…
Finally (maybe), what most disturbs me is the sense that “this” (apocalyptic self-surveillance society) is where “it” (the technology) is going and that the “world will self-destruct” (another quote by Harris) so let’s just go with it. Technological determinism/ singularity and all that jazz… But in We Live in Public, what is revealed is that technology doesn’t overpower humanity on its own, it needs human hands. Regardless of what I think, it is in your best interests, as well as the interests of your fellow human beings, to watch this film.