Off-Modern ManifestoProjectsPublicationsIndex of Works

 

Multitasking with Clouds (2008)
View Fullscreen Slide Show

 

Connectivities (2009)

The Black Mirror, or technoerrotics

 

My project “The Black Mirror” is about using digital devices in an improper way, and transforming their cheerful pixelated interfaces into reflective surfaces and melancholic “black mirrors.”

The black mirror—an ancient gadget used by artists, magicians and scientists from Mexico to India—offers an insight into another history of “technê” that connected art, science and magic, producing enchanted technology of wonder. European painters used black mirrors to focus on composition,  perspective and perception itself. When a digital surface becomes a black mirror it reflects upon clashing forms of modern and premodern experience framing a contemporary shadowplay of the old and the new. I took journeys through the American industrial landscape on the ship and on the train, multitasking with clouds on my digital screens. I used the digital surface as a black mirror to nature and to the contemporary anxieties on the ground, on the water and in the air. Once broken, the surface of my dysfunctional powerbook looked like a milkway spotted with forgotten stars.

My black(berry) mirror is open to chance encounters of the virtual and material worlds. It reflect different kinds of flows and connectivities, of afterlives and afterimages,  of the non-technologica virtual realities of imagination that produce an alternative new media.

This project is techno-errotic—more erratic than erotic,  engaged in errand and detour in order to question the new techno-evangelism. The making of each print is a mini-performance. The photographs are pulled out prematurely from the printer leaving the lines of passages. In collecting photographic errors I defy the understanding of photography as an art of mechanical or digital reproduction, making each print unrepeatable. An error has an aura. 

The café car is a place where strangers from the quiet car speak on their blackberries, or drink bad coffee overhearing the conversations of others. I would have belonged to the second category were it not for my camera.

“Are you photographing reflections?” asks the stranger.

I feel like a peeping Tom caught in the act.

“Would you like to borrow my Ipod?” continues the helpful stranger, who seems to understand me with half-words. “It has a bigger surface.”

The loneliness of the café car: a brunette from an Edward Hopper painting meets an extra from an old Wim Wenders movie, who didn’t make it in the art world.

Suddenly, something completely unexpected happens. The black mirror lights us, and a musical tune comes through. In confusion I almost drop my camera. My blackberry rebels against its non-instrumental use: “Hello? Are you there? Hey, how are you? Hello? Hello?”

Then there is silence. The train goes into tunnel.

The hero spills his coffee.

The heroine no longer smokes. And one of them is gay.

This is the end of technoerroticism.

 

The black mirror was an object of cross-cultural fascination, trade, conquest and sometimes misappropriation. The Aztecs used black mirrors made of obsidian or volcanic glass in divination and healing practices. If a child was suffering from “soul loss,” for example, the healer would look at the reflection of the child's image in a mirror and examine his shadows. After the discovery of the “new world,” Europeans appropriated the obsidian for anatomic theaters and occult practices, dissecting dead bodies and bringing ghosts back to life. Since the Renaissance European painters and architects— including Leonardo da Vinci and Claude Lorraine—have used their own black (or tainted) mirrors to focus on composition and perspective in the landscape and to take a respite from color. Sometimes the artists stared into the black mirror to take a break—to catch a breath, so to say—in order to purify the gaze from the excess of worldly information. The black mirror allowed them to suspend and renew vision.

In the nineteenth century, black mirrors were rescued from oblivion and found their place in the new popular culture of the picturesque. English travelers carried miniature black-mirror-like opera glasses, framing and fetishizing fragments of landscape. Absorbed by the possibility of capturing the beauties of the world in the palm of a hand, voyeurs of the picturesque left the world behind. The black mirror was protocinematic and anticipated the colors of photography. It offered an imaginary daguerrotype, effemeral like a passing mood. American doctor and spiritualist Pascal Beverly Randolph went beyond the picturesque. Believing in the mystical vitality of the black mirror, he supposedly used opium and his own and his wife’s (and mistress’s) “sexual fluids” to polish its surface. 

Modern artists from Manet to Matisse, from Sutherland to Gerhard Richter resorted to the black mirror, not to reflect an image but to reflect upon sensation itself, on the ups and downs of euphoria and melancholia, or the syncopations of modern creativity.          Black mirror became an optical instrument, an artistic tool and a metaphor for ambivalences of vision. It was also seen as proto-photographic and proto-cinematic, anticipating the new medias that would make it nearly obsolete.  For the arts and sciences of technê don’t progress in a linear fashion but rather in a zigzag, in a refracted line-with vectors towards the past and the future.

While the black mirror might dim colors, it also sharpens perspective, not framing realistic illusions but estranging perception itself. The dark taint of the mirror is at once its lack and excess. The black mirror offers a different kind of mimesis and an uncanny and anti-narcissistic form of self-reflection, in which we spy on our own phantoms in the dim internal film noir

We no longer live at the end of history, and at the time of the forward march of technology or endless growth. Ours is an off-modern moment, a moment of clashing modernities, industrial and digital. We have become accustomed to accelerated rhythms of time and the urgent demands of instant, but not intimate, communication. Surrounded by garrulous screens, we barely get a quiet moment of contemplation. The dim realm of personal chiaroscuro—have given way to the pixelated brighness of a homepage, bombarded by hits and unembarrassed by total exposure. The not-yet digitized (and expropriated) “public domain”  This new form of overexposed visuality has not been properly documented. When captured on camera,  it appears ambivalent, confusing and barely readable. Occasionally the black mirror catches the glimpses of the not-yet digitized and nearly forgotten public realm that we used to share.

Phantoms (2009)

Once upon a time, trains ran on time. These days they rarely do, but now we have a great opportunity to text about it. The rusting rails of the train fork like the roots of some wandering cosmopolitan tree. The train goes through ruins and construction sites of industrial modernity, factories, garages, service buildings that serve no purpose anymore, with the palimpsest of graffitti on their walls. This landscape is the crisis of the picturesque. The rusting wires reflected on my wireless gadget compose a baroque ornament.

The screen is supposed to be a window onto the fast digital world, not a reflection of the “snail world” of this slow train running forever behind its schedule, behind time.  With the blackberry off, I get a respite from virtual colors. Distracted from “friending” or doing work, I stay in a state of contemplative slumber. I know that nostalgia is not an answer to the speeded-up present, that time is irreversible and shadows will never conspire in the same way again. No longer a seductive digital fruit, my blackberry reveals its second life as a melancholic black mirror that brings into sharp focus the decaying non-virtual world that is passing us by.

It captures blindspots of our experience and virtual realities of imagination, those not—yet- foreclosed unreal estates, that are not to be found on any google map.

Luckily there are still a few things left that no server can help us with.


View Fullscreen Slide Show

 




Home | Book of Complaints and Comments | All works © Svetlana Boym