Symposium with Jesse Darling, Julian Oliver, Nadim Samman, Jenna Sutela. Organised by Elvia Wilk
Early text-based internet mediums reached out for autonomous space and flexible identity. In this self-built domain, dominated by role-playing and chat environments where anonymity and invented identities prevailed, one could present oneself as one imagined (desired) oneself to be. The communities that developed were predicated on a mutually-accepted fiction that allowed for the construction of Many Selves : 1 Body.
Such cyber-body freedom has been stifled as the internet has become a visual arena in which we are subject to constant imaging, surveillance, and the workings of the information economy. Social media profiles are stiflingly literal. The NSA wants you to be who you say you are. Today, your singular online self is locked down to your singular body – and the boundary between it and you is increasingly transparent.
But the back-end structures of social media and communications software are obscured. Your online identity tied into various platforms is constantly processed by invisible algorithms: chewing and digesting your data, condensing your information, digging and spying and advertising at an unrelenting speed. In response, there is an emerging tendency in online communities towards obscuring oneself, shrouding oneself in non-(ratio)nal information.
While in political organizations this tendency takes the form of privatization, data encryption, and alternate methods of utilizing social media, in the arts it takes the form of re-appropriating new-age philosophy, mysticism, and occult practices. These are dual tactics of opacity in the face of the widespread compulsion to reveal everything.
The return of the desires for opacity, exclusivity, and mysticism that were inherent in early online practices, when identities could be creatively invented rather than governed by algorithms in premade environments, is a manifestation of the urge to find incalculable, personal, corporeal, and subjective ways of being that cannot be capitalized upon. Can you still obscure yourself? How can you amp up the opacity of the screen separating body from self?