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