Estimated reading time: 4 minutes —
LONDON, 30 March — Like Peter Sellers’ “Chauncey Gardiner” in Hal Ashby’s 1979 film Being There, artist savant SaveMe Oh has once again, knowingly or otherwise, advanced the cultural dialog through her work. Few in virtual space have had the accidental vision or unintended clarity about 21st century new media that Oh regularly stumbles upon. With her echolalic mantra “ME ME ME” as deafening as it is repetitive and one-note, she provokes, indeed demands, a consideration of coping mechanisms in the century of new media pollution. If not its Banksy, then she surely is the virtual world’s Chauncey Gardiner.
Stephen Spielberg’s 2002 adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1956 short story The Minority Report has been legendary for it’s prognostication on our visual culture future. When, in the fullness of time, Spielberg’s vision becomes a vision of the future, now past, and almost necessarily mostly “wrong” in it’s “predictions” about culture, the film will exist as little more than a minor footnote. It will have been much more than that. This film is a focus on ideas and concerns about how we will navigate the coming augmented reality forest.
Envisioned for ages, but realizable only in 2007’s nexus of hardware, software, and display, multitouch exploded onto the public stage that year with 3 remarkable devices: Apple’s iPhone, Microsoft’s Surface, and Perceptive Pixel’s 16 foot long multitouch computing wall. When I met with Jeff Han, formerly of NYU and later founder of Perceptive Pixel, in 2007 I, like so many who spoke to him, brought up Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Han explained to me, for the millionth time no doubt, that while Cruise’ “Multi-Gesture” was very cinematic, that it was, in fact, not the way we’d really want to work. “We don’t want multi-gesture, we want multi-touch.” Considering our corporeal, tactile nature, I replied “oh, like a surgeon, you wouldn’t want her waving a scalpel in thin air, she’d want force-feedback against a surface.” “Exactly,” replied Han.
Beyond multi-gesture / multi-touch, Minority Report’s other bold vision was a world polluted by a personalized, augmented reality forest. To escape imprisonment via retinal scan, Cruise’ character has eye replacement surgery and moves through a future-tech mediated space being constantly mis-identified as the former owner of the eyes, and shown advertising targeted to that person. Perhaps our identity has always colored our experience of the world, and perhaps, paradoxically, no two people have ever experienced the same events the same way. When I see red lips, is my perception, and my lifelong experiential milieu different from yours? A little? A lot? When Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken hear a political speech, do they each hear a different speech? What about when Limbaugh and Franken both hear a symphony? Is that “neutral” experience also colored by their ideological frameworks, aesthetic sensibilities, and lifelong weavings of cultural experience, sensitivity and appreciation?
All of which is an overwrought, dramatic, indeed bombastic way of saying that for the 1st time in my 3 years of virtual life, I “muted” someone today. I was more relieved and calm after I erased SaveMe Oh and her visual pollution from my experience of our performance at Trafalgar Square, but it was unsettling in that I was taking the “real” virtual space and making a “fake?” version of it for my personal consumption. For all my immersion in virtuality, for all my “setting time of day,” this felt somehow “wrong.” In the past the Limbaughs and Frankens have always experienced the same event differently, in the future we will not only perceive the stimulus differently, but we will redesign the stimulus to evoke the perception of our choice. The “earbud army” has already sonically reengineered the landscape for some time now, but the radical alteration of visual space is, I think, a much more emergent phenomena.
Today artists tinker with Augmented Reality, placing The Goddess of Democracy in Tienanmen Square… or Tahrir Square… tomorrow our every step in physical or virtual space will not only receive an onslaught of visual media from artists, but from governments and marketers galore. The ability to “mute” SaveMe Oh, like the crappy privacy settings on Facebook, is but the first step in the coming age of finer grained and more complex “visual perception settings.” It was my sense today that the majority of participants actually enjoyed Oh’s “show,” so they wouldn’t need to adjust her settings. For those who didn’t want to see it, or in my own case where we were attempting to participate in the global, 6-continent event Dance Anywhere and I wanted to see and document the work in Virtual Trafalgar Square, a single click revisualizes the space.
As I’m new to “muting” or “blocking” users, relaxing at Gallery Xue / London after the performance, I practiced muting and unmuting on gallerist Xue Faith. The images below are from Firestorm 4.0.1 and are essentially the same with Exodus or Viewer 3.
Speeding down a highway today you can attend or not attend to a billboard, but their sheer scale demands, at least for the moment of passing it, some degree of retinal attention. Tomorrow, like an army of visual ants, we may opt-in or opt-out of myriad visual possibilities. In today’s media world it is less common to actually pay for content, and more common to get it “free” for the price of viewing ads or being data mined. Perhaps tomorrow our enhanced vision will come at the price of required opt-in of visual materials.
As we become Tom Cruise in the augmented reality forest, perhaps our visual future will contain both fine-grained choice of the visual content of the spaces we inhabit, as well as media sponsored and government enforced visual coercion similar to that experienced by Malcom McDowell’s character Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange.