Desire Of Codes: Exploring The Role Of The Spectator As Subject
How has our information-laden networked culture affected how we appreciate art? When everything is transformed or reduced to information, does it affect how we experience our world and ourselves? There’s no doubt that we’ve shifted our engagement with and understanding of ideas, origination and inspiration, especially in the context of creative work. Our world has become much more transparent, and we have become acutely aware of how connected everything actually is, and how these phenomena inform art-making. It could be said, however, that this move towards transparency and awareness has been in response to more traditional art works or cultural objects that are products of a more obscured, inscrutable art-making practice (i.e. the lone artist genius toiling away in an attic, shrouded in mystery). So, what happens when the artistic experience, and by extension the spectators who are part of it, becomes aware of itself and its audience, reading them as pure information? Do we lose something of ourselves?
In Desire of Codes, a new three-part installation by Seiko Mikami, the artist engages with the way our memories have been affected by a culture predicated on the collection and dispersal of information. The installation is comprised of a large white room filled with black filaments tipped with light sensors protruding from the walls, robotic camera arms and a large polygonal video wall. The space in general has a sterile quality sapped of all humanity, leaving a bleak white room that appears to be primarily inhabited by technology. As spectators enter the space, the sensors and the cameras track their movements, compiling video of all the installation visitors. While the sensors take in information that is less apparent to human perception, the cameras track the more obvious movements of the spectators through the space. The recordings are abstracted and recombined, then projected onto the polygonal video wall.
The visitors’ presence becomes the material for the art itself. Their own surveillance becomes obvious to them, as the camera is inescapable while the audience is within the space of the installation. They are subject to the ever-roving eye of the art, reducing them to material. By abstracting and recombining the installation’s visitation history, their presence turns into mere data. Individuals cannot be gleaned from the screen, but become simply aspects of a more complex design. Individual representations are impossible to surmise. The projections look a lot like insect vision. Inspiration or experience is replaced with the superficial information of surveillance that is recorded from the sensors and cameras.
Spectators as people are filtered out, yet retained as material for an expressive abstraction. Even the history of visitors is largely forgotten in favor of their role as material. What’s more, individuals are then experiencing themselves as an abstraction, or as a single node of a complex visualization, in which they only exist as information. They are approaching themselves as an aesthetic, rather than as individuals appreciating a work of art on their own terms. It’s not so much that we become superficial entities by way of reducing ourselves to information, but something is lost in our individual identity when everything is only considered as raw material or sterile information. We become mere segments or fragments of a network or a system instead of people with histories and identities.
What an installation like this does is remind us that as much as we elevate the importance of information sharing and collecting in our society, we must not forget our own humanity in the face of it. We must become masters of that information sharing, and creators of networks ourselves, rather than be at the mercy of that same process. Awareness should not limit or reduce who we are as individuals but instead empower those aspects that we consider more human. We must retain the more human aspect of information in the form of knowledge, art and history, or we will become mere segments in a more complex system of connections.