The artist duo NewfrontEars wrote this text on behalf of HAU Hebbel am Ufer in February 2022.
In March 2020, we were scheduled to present a live art installation at HAU for the festival “Spy On Me #2 – Artistic Manoeuvres for the Digital Present” in collaboration with the performance artist Oozing Gloop. We went into lockdown and bastelled* together a version for livestream via our lame broadband. It was a hot mess but it was alive and built on a raft of resistance against the circumstances. During the second stream, we were cut off by Youtube when Gloop started to eat a banana in their pants. Yes, it was sexy… but Gloop is sexy. Laughing through dismay, we felt like naughty children who had been quite literally sent to our rooms. The implications for future work and censorship were huge.
We are all infantilised by a system that employs machine learning to weed out nuance. Becoming a grown up is now an act of resistance but we can refuse to be squares in a psycho-quadratic realm of flat pixels, chips, screens, platforms and corporate servers. We are, after all, wet, wriggly, smelly beings. We have curvy thoughts and much more in common with the bacteria that inhabit us than hardware and corporations that host our digital realities.
So how do we untether ourselves from the bullshit? We should feel hopeful, look how far we have come! We are self-taught composers of our digital selves. Our many, multi-dimensional selves that exist at multiple points in digital space and time. Even beyond the grave, our data is infused with meaning to those who love us. But socially, we have been ushered inside the shopping mall and we need a route out. We need to seek out the cracks between the tectonic plates of surveillance capitalism. Picture ourselves swimming like electric fish through a radical, new, rhizomic architecture and conjure up a kind of “open map” that is accessible at any point.
Murky memories of Berlin nightlife in the late 90s remind us of this potential. With its temporary spaces and night time improvisations … fogs of vagueness, dark corners, corridors as dance floors, bars as stages and bathrooms for fabulation. We felt the city as a playground but we also knew it was unlikely to last. The vastness of the digital realm is not necessarily bound by the same story. We have the potential to build infinitely transitioning spaces. Error clubs, sound systems for whistleblowers, festivals of doubt, un-themed parks, liminal pathways. We can create new noises for new feelings. We can build the code for “ouch”. Our modes for being and moving through these spaces hold infinite possibilities, as do non-lucrative relationships with time. We can build worlds and destroy them. We can baffle the market by moving away from words or categorisation and embracing failure, amateurism and ugliness.
Real life cultural institutions like HAU allow us to be together, in the flesh and are now also inextricably and fundamentally linked to the building of a new digital network. A network which can evolve to become ecosystems for discourse, gameplay, performance and invention. This is a process but perhaps in the meantime, we can create digital entry points from the shopping mall … signalled by the “uninvited” and the “out of place”. Like the weeds and fungus that emerge between the paving slabs of a city.
In our own work, we find hope in these cues. In the awkwardness. In the space created by positioning both the real in the digital and the digital in the real. There is an absence in the awkward, an interruption that holds potential. It can even feel like a place where time itself slows down. In our avatar campaign for HAU (2017) we wanted to put the viewer at this intersection of oddness.
For many of us, we are late in beginning to rehabilitate our thinking, contesting our expectations and valuing our stories. Stories which feed the platform algorithms that, in turn, hold us to perpetual ransom. But we are soft wired to belong and we can support each other in our processes … maybe we’ll find a collective DNA that can exist outside the systems of oppression. And back in our bodies, back in our rooms, we can remind ourselves that we do not need to be a project of total certainty and that being misunderstood by the algorithms can be our cue to resist.
* Bastelled is a word we made up and have been using for 20+ years, since we heard the word basteln and found there is no English equivalent.