For the Final Symposium of the MA, I had some technical difficulties in the export that meant I couldn’t attend in person. Consequently, the discussion of my work was upsettingly limited in the 5 minutes after the video.
I’d like to give some insight into the questions asked, and if anybody is further interested to discuss, please do get in touch!
Overwhelmingly there was the simple question of “Why Religion?” and “How does it link to your practice.”
The research i’ve undergone has looked into the prospects of the internet as a 3 dimensional environment. Compared to the physical world, we can manipulate and altar the physics and constructs of this man-made space. Religion has been a significant building block for social structure and control for centuries. The internet as we know it, is a global network only 30 years into its popular history. The ability for an individual to openly engage with daily free-flow information about the world around them lessens the effect of the everyday ‘Unknown’. This is an aspect I believe is a core reason for theistic belief. Fear of the ‘Unknown’.
In the UK, it is now the minority of individuals who would identify themselves as Christians. Within the space of one monarchy, British society has gone from a religious, Christian nation to a multi-cultural, pluralist, secular nation with a foundation of Christian values. The single most influential and evolutionary creation of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, has been the internet. (Subject to argument of course).
When talking about ‘the Internet’, its size and scope detracts from the discussions. ‘The Internet’ has become a blurry definition of what was originally a computer network. Technically, yes, it is still a computer network, though no one can doubt its rapid evolution to something unimaginable. (Its worth mentioning at this point that the telephone was invented in the 1890s…) The culture and philosophy surrounding this computer network is still defining itself, and will continue to do so as long as it finds new ways to be a disruptive and progressive force.
Internet culture – another blurry term that is as un-descriptive as saying “religious culture.” Religion , at least to me, is a structure (or a network) of protocols. Each different religion, whether theistic or non-theistic has its own concepts, normalities and expectations etc. The theistic Abrahamic religions show many similarities in these areas, and others such Buddhism or Hinduism do not! Coming from a non-religious person, it would seem to me that its attraction is community and a way to approach The ‘Unkown.’ Just as internet culture varies itself and develops niche communities interested in something similar, so too does religion.
Whats the Unkown? To me this is the feeling of hope, worry, expectation, dread. Essentially its the emotional response to the future. In a time where there is little information about the world outside your community, religion gives a sense of understanding and fulfilment, and most importantly a sense of protection. This future-gazing becomes less fearful when there is an almighty power watching over. The submissive values the worshipper has been taught in the community ensures that he/she believes that the almighty God’s actions are the best possible outcome, no matter the consequence. Perhaps this is best seen in fundamentalists actions rather than the average religious worshipper. I appreciate that many religious people don’t necessarily believe in everything within their religion, but instead find value, identity and community in its structure.
When I say that the Internet is comparable to Religion, I’m not trying to come across as some nugget with a grandiose philosophical theory. I simply mean that there’s a clear correlation with increasing global transparency, communication and information and the decline of religious worship. Alongside this, the way that we as the users interact with this network is comparable to the addictive and spiritual routine of some religions. How often do you read the news or check your social media on a daily basis? It’s not praying but its a vital part of understanding the community around you.
The idea of the ‘self’ is still a relatively young concept. The internet endorses originality and self-interest. Social Media is the most obvious offender in this area. As McLuhan argues, man will reflect himself in any technology that is created. Perhaps in the next century, historians and theorists will look at the way millennials used the internet as selfish and primitive, with no sense of global community. Its incredible to think that something like The Ice Bucket Challenge managed to raise close to a quarter of a billion dollars for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It was such a simple concept and it made a huge difference, whilst being a lot of fun. It bought a global social media community together, and since then there have been a number of trends that have done the same. One of the most interesting and questionable of these examples was the ability to change your profile photo to a French flag after the Bataclan attacks last year. Whilst being an overwhelming and uplifting show of support to those killed in the attacks, the weeks and months after such a show of solidarity from the world, gave a glimpse on the difference in interest. The Western world dominate the Internet in this sense. Which unfortunately means that there is an imbalanced representation for others, which can feed a negative outlook. Turkey has experienced significant attacks in recent months, yet there is a clear difference in online response which can only harm the bonds between these communities.
Anyway, I’m dragging on. I’ve looked at religion for these reasons as well as the effect religious art had on its viewers throughout history. I’m particularly inspired by the early and high Renaissance. The romantic storytelling and dramatic idealism of stained glass windows, cathedral reliefs and paintings continue to be a strong source of inspiration.
Another question that was asked – “What do you mean by the imbalance between the physical and digital?”
This is different for everyone. Perhaps I’m alone in thinking that I’m increasingly reliant on the internet and its services for more and more daily tasks. As more objects and services are linked to the internet, more of our control is given to our devices. A great example would be Hive, letting you control your heating from your phone. Or iZettle, a card machine for small businesses that links to your smartphone or tablet and works with Paypal. Or the Fitbit, that lets you calculate the precise number of steps you take each day as well as keeping a daily log of your heart activity. There are so many examples. Perhaps the imbalance I talk about is just the emergence of the internet of things.
I believe there’s a significant imbalance in friendships online and offline. There are many people who I’d love to see more regularly however have only had recent contact through social media. Many of these people live locally, yet the interaction is digital.
I’m not sure how best to describe this as an imbalance as it’s different for each person. Many people who don’t use internet services on a regular basis may not see this as an issue. However, watching television is a great example. There is an addictive quality.
I had my tutorial with Jonathan on Friday. We spoke about the logistics for the final show and the best way to present my final piece. Although I’ve had some breakthroughs in producing VR content in Unity and Blender, I’m still not entirely sure which would be best for the show. On one side, if I can get my hands on an Oculus or Vive, a PC based Unity build would make it possible for the viewer to explore the environment as they wish. However its proving difficult to get my hands on one for the final show, so I’ll have to consider a rendered equi-rectangular film to be shown on a google cardboard. (I could explore simplifying the Unity build to allow it to be app based, but it wouldn’t have the same impact as the PC version). It’ll most likely have to be a rendered film. There are benefits to both options, however conceptually and aesthetically it’d be better for the viewer to have full control of their movement.
Thinking through the presentation for VR in the gallery, there’s the important question of user experience. I’m apprehensive about the funfair/arcade-style queueing that I’ve seen at a number of exhibitions, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The emergence of the technology makes it currently very attractive to try no matter the context. This fact gives an added pressure to the outcome. Realistically, during the private view, I’ll have to be organised and if I were able to use the open world version of the work I’d have to restrict the time of each viewer’s experience depending on the interest. This can be done a number of ways though I’ve been considering a script that cancels all colliders after a certain period of time, forcing the FirstPerson to fall through the structures, ending the simulation. However, again, this is for the PC version of the work.
The other option is a 5/6 minute fixed animation on a loop. The biggest pro for this option is the quality of the final render and the fact that the headset will be portable (potentially multiple headsets). The biggest problem would be the battery life of the phones.
As for the physical door, I’m going to have to go at it with a Jigsaw and re-arrange it at Wilson Road. My other option was to try to borrow a horse box….
I’m currently working on my Symposium 2. The Research Paper settled my conceptual interests in the freedoms and restrictions of religion/spirituality and the internet. Within this I approached and considered addiction, identity, disembodiment and propaganda within this question. My interest in the relationship between user and device has been inspired by Nam June Paik’s work, which has evolved rapidly since studying his work in more detail for the paper. This time last year, we began to form our research questions, and at the time I didn’t expect it to have had such an impact on my overall practice. It has allowed me to consider the concepts in a purely academic context. ‘The Medium is the Message’, (Marshall McLuhan), and Virilio’s ‘Information Bomb’ have been important texts during this process.
In many ways, my concept hasn’t changed for the last 6 or 7 months. The idea of a Gateway, a device as access to an extension of physical space and identity. My interim exhibit ‘Congregation’ was also an attempt at exploring this idea. Aesthetically, I’ve tried to develop ideas from early in the MA such as trying to represent to multiple identities one holds online and the physical, 3-dimensional make-up of everyday information.
As i’m approaching the final weeks of the MA, I’m happy to be in a position where there are aesthetic and conceptual choices that can be made rather than rushing to finish. Though, I’m aware that its looking less likely I’ll be able to secure a headset for the final show, which makes the Unity experience I’ve been developing somewhat frustrating / partially obsolete. Depending on what happens with the headset, there may still be an 11th hour panic!! Mainly the issue of organising and rendering the film.
I’m still making changes to the work, and having been through a number of versions, in recent days, I can see significant changes happening before the final exhibition version.