TEXT CAMP is Next Wave’s flagship arts writing mentorship program. The latest post in our Text Camp Typewriter series is from Matilda Dixon Smith who is mentored by Katia Pase of Going Down Swinging.
“Ruminations on reality: curating the self in a virtual realm”
When you don’t have a body, you’re a discarnate being; you have a very different relationship to the world around you. And this, I think, has been one of the big effects of the electric age, it has deprived people, really, of their private identity.
When Marshall McLuhan addressed the advancing electric age in 1977, I doubt even he knew how prophetic his deductions were. How could McLuhan know that, nearly 40 years later, the ‘discarnate being’ would reign supreme – that the private identity would be exposed in an unimaginable, sprawling network of communication?
There’s this incredibly self-serving pleasure offered to us tech-savvy masses: the Google self-search. Just type your name into the blinking box and Google sifts through its databases and spits out a sort of virtual report card – the search engine results page. To me, the outcome is a mush of gratification and discomfort. When we spend so much time interacting online – our lives logged, recorded, catalogued – it often seems as though the internet knows us best; it knows what’s most important, who we are most connected to, where we are most valued. The internet is our new, virtual projection of self. We curate our own online profiles, broadcast our valuable social connections, and as we link, like and re-post, we determine what is most important and share it with the world.
Giselle Stanborough’s upcoming work for Next Wave Festival 2014, Nice2MeCh@, interrogates this very tension between public and private. Giselle aims to ‘tap into the search for connection with others’ as she interacts with festival-goers via online dating and social networking sites and arranges to meet, view and discuss the artwork at Next Wave in person – IRL, if you will. ‘As an artist, I was just getting a bit lonely and frustrated that most of the audience for emerging contemporary art seemed to be from an elite group that were themselves active players in the creation and dissemination of emerging contemporary art,’ Giselle explains.
Motivated by an awestruck appreciation of Giselle’s moxie, I quizzed her on the project. My first thought was a dark one: how can you know what will happen when you agree to meet strangers, in person, intimately, for the sake of art? ‘I feel 50% fine and 50% terrified,’ Giselle confides.
Giselle likens the experiment – engineering contemporary art ‘meet-cutes’ between herself and festival-goers – to ‘asking someone if they could take me to a football game and explain to me why it’s such a big deal. I really don’t get it. But I would never ever go on my own because that would be way, way too intimidating and no one has ever asked me to [a game]. Though, if someone said, “come with me”, I would go.’
Giselle’s work, and her salient observations about ‘living in a time of self-curated realities’, echo the observations of the aforementioned McLuhan, and other thinkers of technological determinism – thinkers Giselle touts as major influences. In 1990, Neil Postman addressed the notion of ‘Informing Ourselves to Death’; he declared that ‘too much information can be very dangerous, because it can lead to a situation of meaninglessness, that is, people not having any basis for knowing what is relevant.’
I can see the link between Postman’s premonitions and Nice2MeCh@. Giselle explains, frankly, that she hopes for nothing less than ‘greater happiness. I hope to make people’s lives richer and hope to have mine enriched.’ The idea of connecting with someone else’s notions of meaning and relevance – of navigating together the complicated discourse of ‘importance’ we are deluged in – is extremely appealing. Giselle’s optimism about the project is tinged with cynicism: ‘Let’s call it selfish altruism,’ she jokes.
This search for enrichment touches me, particularly as I reflect on my own life. These days I operate with a hyperactive sense of discovery – and by extension, of self-definition. Who I am is so intrinsically linked to what I know, and I feel constant pressure to prove that, via a twisted network of portals for expression. I need to make sure people see the ‘me’ I want them to see: to know that, as a twentysomething female who enjoys television, I have an opinion on Lena Dunham’s GIRLS; to understand that I know little about politics, but find Christopher Pyne hilariously creepy. And there are so many ways of doing it – Facebook, Twitter, whatever – that my projection of self seems potentially infinite.
Giselle’s Nice2MeCh@ both amplifies and soothes this tussle for identity; though she is accessing the portals, they are a means to an end. ‘Like any media technology, social media giveth and taketh away,’ she explains. ‘Sometimes I think the danger as users is that we can forget that it is actually not here for us and our friends.’ Giselle’s determination to take connection and discovery off the web – to step back into reality – eases some of my discomfort.
TEXT CAMP is Next Wave’s flagship arts writing mentorship program. It aims to support the next generation of arts writers in Australia by providing professional development opportunities, brokering new relationships with peers and industry professionals and offering young writers the chance to see their work reach new readership. Next Wave’s emerging arts writers have been invited to respond to the theme of New Grand Narrative by seeking out alternative narratives within Next Wave Festival and beyond.
Matilda is a writer, editor and theatre director in Melbourne. She is completely obsessed with theatre, television, film and books — arts reviewing merely feeds her compulsion. Matilda has written for Herald Sun, Time Out Melbourne, Farrago magazine, Living the Dream magazine and You’re Dripping Egg, a review blog Matilda co-founded in 2010. After five years roaming the halls of Melbourne University, Matilda is enjoying the flexibility of freelance writing, editing and directing. She is currently You’re Dripping Egg’s editor-in-chief, and an editorial assistant at Executive Media. Follow her via her Website or twitter @mdixonsmith