How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Emergence of a Neo-Feudalist Digital Oligarchy

Hi everyone, don’t panic, this is just your run of the mill project breakdown. So put down those pitchforks, pick up that adventurous spirit, and relax, while I tell you all about why I do the things I do.

Leandra via Nostalgia 2022, Inkjet Print

November last year I was able to participate in a show at The Hue and Cry Collective. Located out in Geelong, the show was 55 artists each responding to a chapter from Italo Calvinos Invisible Cities. I was given the city Leandra, a chapter talking about tiny invisible gods arguing over the essence of a place.

Initially I had a lot of bombastic ideas, including altered reality and massive A1 lino cuts. Eventually time and good sense got the better of me and I settled on an A3 linocut. As I planned out my lino image on illustrator, I began to play around with some of the features I hadn’t before. I’ve been interested in learning 3D modelling for a while, and as I was trying to get the perspective for the building accurate I came across Illustrators 3D tool. This feature is very CPU intensive, and would send my laptop into a frenzy trying to render anything even slightly complicated. But the aesthetic it created was very reminiscent of pre rendered Super Nintendo and PS1 backgrounds, giving it an incredibly nostalgic feeling. I used inbuilt and community sourced open use textures, as well as making some of my own, adding to the kitsch feel of the work.

The process is fairly simple on the surface. Creating shapes with the line tool, and then converting them to 3D objects. It’s hard to describe the specific ways in which the process is busted as hell. Basically each shape get’s it own orientation, and then the lighting works off of that orientation? So the game becomes keeping track of what angles you used to orient objects, and using that to create consistent lighting. In a proper 3d program, the orientation and lighting are not linked like this, so yeah it would be much easier in blender or something like that.

but look at it! it’s charming? right?

My interest as of this last few years has been in the digital world, and how it ties into our life in the flesh dimension. While trying to find a conceptual framework to approach these ideas with, I came across Koskelas paper Cam Era’ — the contemporary urban Panopticon. Koskela outlines a comparison between the panopticon prison structure and urban CCTV surveillance, using Foucault’s analysis of the panopticon as a structure of power as a reference point. It didn’t seem a leap at all to apply this comparison to digital environments. Both in reference to the individuals position of anonymous power, but also in relation to an individuals existence in heavily monitored digital environment.

This friction between simultaneous experiences online was something I felt worth exploring. How we can simultaneously feel so powerful looking through the screen, but also be increasingly vulnerable as data harvesting techniques improve. I wanted to explore this by having a jovial, goofy looking image lead to an in depth analysis of the panoptic nature of the online experience. This would be reached through scanning the code located on the image, which I set up before even beginning to write.

When I began the writing process though, what felt more natural and powerful to me, was to write a story. I felt through a narrative format I could still create that jarring tension between being watched and feeling in control. If you don’t have access to a QR code scanner for some reason, you can click the button below and read the story.

I didn’t want to explain every facet of my story, instead leaving breadcrumbs for people to investigate. An attempt to weave environmental storytelling into a text based work, I trust the reader to use the internet to pull apart the messages in the story through independent research.

Both aesthetically and practically I want this work to be the entree for a story. I want to capture the sickeningly naive facade of the digital corporate, using it to present honest, heartfelt and earnest stories. There is a great sense of freedom just saying what I want to say after years of trying to convey ideas through images. I start feeling like I’m 18 again, writing sad poems on Tumblr just for my friends.

References:

  1. Koskela, H 2002, ‘‘Cam Era’ — the contemporary urban Panopticon’, Surveillance and Society, vol. 1, no. 3.
  2. Data Brokers 2022, television program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, CBS Broadcast Centre, 17 April

STOP, THIEF!

Ok so first off, what were you doing pointing a camera at my work? What are you some kind of art thief! To prison with you!

Your cell is small, slightly wider at the back, the rough concrete floor reaching out past the metal bars to a meter high railing. Emerging from the pit beyond the rail is an ominous glass structure, your own image shifting on the surface. The obelisk stirs, suddenly every corner of your cell is illuminated. Frozen in place, you wait for the light to dissipate, but the feeling of being observed won’t leave your bones.

Years have passed, your sentence served, rehabilitated and forgiven in the eyes of god and the law.

The cashier at the convenience store rummages for your change, you wave them off

“It’s fine keep it!” you chirp in an overly positive tone, so as not to sound even the slightest bit passive aggressive.

A yellowing Dahua IP 5mp Turret swivels to catch the top of your head as you squeeze through the barely open sliding doors.

There’s a park on your path home, it’s quarter to five, the magic hour. You squint, holding your shopping free hand up to block the light, so you can admire the government sanctioned sculpture erected by [revered local artist]. Two long slender bronze figures, each resting their head on the others shoulder, stand patiently in front of you. Eyes wondering down you notice weeds pushing through the cracks in the brittle base of the structure.

Your eyes follow the cracks on the rough concrete, reaching out to the edge of the path. A pair of sodden sneakers with muddied blue denim spilling over onto them. They belong to a stranger, standing, transfixed on a phone thirty centimeters in front of their face. They tap the screen, bring the phone closer, extend there arms back out, and repeat.

You keep walking home.

A Doorbird D2101KV regards you silently as you pass into the foyer of your apartment building. A neighbour stops you, they’ve just returned from a classic car show. Not wanting to offend, you feign interest.

“Oh that sounds neat, I’ll have to go sometime!”

Adhesive marble vinyl peels from the corners of your kitchen counter. Shopping unpacked, you turn your tv on and volume down, sitting at your desk.

Out of your window you notice a duel pair of Annke Nightcroma NCA500s, they’re set up in front of the hotel opposite your apartment. Framing the front entrance, they provide a total 180 degree field of vision. They’re blissfully unaware of your existance.

You think about that TedTalk, the one that said unproductive people face their desks toward windows, or maybe the later led to the former. You can’t remember.

Your phone recognises you and springs to life with a satisfying click, you open [PREFERRED SOCIAL MEDIA APPLICATION].

Emanuel got engaged.

Adél is having a baby.

[Revered local artist] is having a show.

SAVE EASY WITH TO THE DOLLAR ROUND UP ON [FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS] NEW APP!

Emmett posted a selfie from a party last night.

Fatimah also posted a selfie from a party last night. In the background you see Emmett.

You must have missed Emanuels engagement party last night.

DON’T MISS OUT THIS SUNDAY LAST CHANCE TO CATCH THE INFAMOUS [LOCAL AREA] CLASSIC CAR SHOW!

Michael posted a flat block of colour in solidarity with an issue you’ve been meaning to read up on.

Sara got a new tattoo. You [like/thumbs up/upvote/comment] on the image.

SUPER EXCLUSIVE FLASH DAY AT [ADJECTIVE] [NOUN] TATTOO STUDIO! DON’T MISS OUT!

An old high school friend who’s name you’ve forgotten is giving their new partner a soft open, the caption reads “days with you 😍”

Meme about working in construction and being over 50 posted by your estranged uncle.

Meme you don’t understand, posted by your twelve year old nephew.

GET IN NOW ON THE GROUND FLOOR OF A NEW BLOCKCHAIN BASED MARKET DISRUPTING REVOLUTION!

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO OWN THE CONCEPT OF THE RIGHTS TO A DIGITAL META OBJECT LOCATED IN YOUR NEW CYBER LOCAL?

SICK AND TIRED OF THE CORNERS OF THE ADHESIVE MARBLE VINYL ON YOUR KITCHEN COUNTERTOP PEELING UP?

A RUMBLING EXISTENTIAL DREAD RISING TO A CRESCENDO OF ENNUI DEEP WITHIN YOUR BONES?

BUY NOW! WHAT IS IT? WHO KNOWS, BUT YOU DON’T WANT TO ASK AND SEEM LIKE A BIG IDIOT NOW DO YOU?


It’s approaching, bed time. Ten thousand bees rumble through your cavernous skull, rubbing their bristly bodies against the inside of your cornea.

You reach down beside your bed, blindly rummaging for a thin cord. With the phone on charge, your morning is safe from introspection.

Neon rectangles dance under your eyelids against a deep dark, as the bees retire for the evening.

Posted from my iPhone