LIVING IN A LOOP
Giovanni Carmine, 2009
Monograph, Service après-vente, HEAD Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design – Genève
Not all that long ago the virtual world of “Second Life” was one of the favourite themes of the mass media. In fact, this online video game – claiming to be a virtual 3D world created by its users – seemed to have the ability to channel and realize all the hopes and wishes of those who decided to play it, as advertised by the slogan “Your World, Your Imagination.” It thus ended up as the projection of a parallel “better” or at least different world: a world of infinite possibilities where anybody could act out his most unscrupulous and wildest fantasies and transform himself into the chimerical self he had always wanted to be.
In reality, even someone who has only briefly made his way through the virtual jungle soon finds that “Second Life” has very little to do with a utopian and anarchic space: it is in fact a commercial space. The rules of the market govern even here ; the multinationals sell their products and bombard us with advertising. In “Second Life,” money is the real key that grants you access to your own fantasies and it is the true purpose behind the game. Therefore, the avatars who populate the videogame, if they choose not to acquire virtual money directly by way of your credit card, are also constrained to work in this parallel world.
There is nevertheless a way to escape: there are some platforms on which the avatars can halt and automatically start dancing. Fixed on these for a few hours the player receives several “linden” – the currency in the game – with which he can buy clothing, land, furniture or varied sex gadgets. As a result, the world of “Second Life” is populated by awkward dancers who look more like virtual zombies. At the same time, however, they are also digital projections of real people from around the globe who leave their computer switched on for hours for the purpose of virtually enriching themselves.
Beyond an apparent formal similarity, due to the aesthetics of 3D simulation, the dancing avatars of “Second Life” seem to share other characteristics with the people who animate the works of the collectif_fact. Not only are they placed in an abstract space, although definitely traceable back to the real thing, but they also seem to be destined to act perpetually with the same monotony: they are trapped and constrained in an endless loop. There is a big difference, however: the aim of the Genevan artists is not to enrich themselves by exploiting other people’s dreams. It is, instead, to utilize digital techniques and the resulting aesthetics (with vintage virtual simulation features) for the purpose of social critique while at the same time challenging the revolutionary potential of art. They do so not without a certain measure of irony that almost develops into a grotesque parody of reality.
Accordingly, the participants in this demonstration marching in the streets of the video On Stage (2007) are the mouthpieces of highly disparate demands. One sign reads “Another Europe is possible,” while others fly the flag of Communist Revival or the banner of the Corsican separatist movement. Some speak on behalf of animal rights, but the supporters of peer to peer networks are present too. Also mixed into this heterogeneous mass are demonstrators for the arts that carry a painting entitled “On est tous coupables” (“We are all guilty”) by Ben Vautier, an existentialist poster (“I’m desperate”) as in the photos of Gillian Wearing, or donning the yellow T-shirt of the inevitable assistant of Gianni Motti in his role of media activist and saboteur. All this continues until a sudden movement breaks off the march and the camera films the legs of those who take flight. What really happened, however, remains hidden from the spectator who instantly resorts to conjecture (the explosion of a bomb? an attack by neofascists?), then promptly interrupted by the resumption of the demonstration which continues notwithstanding the odd heterogeneous nature of its intentions.
The absurd thus becomes perpetual motion captured by a virtual camera, the same camera that flies over the suburban homes in habitA (2003). The inhabitants of this urban periphery, idyllic but suspended in a black and menacing space, are yellow sihouettes, devoid of any identifying features beyond their pastime activities in which they are engaged (mowing lawns, playing on a swing). This world, so strange but also so present in our daily life, is revealed by the collectif_fact in its tragic banality, destroying that desire for indiv iduality incar- nated by the small bourgeois dream of the single-family home.
The centre of interest here is not only free time but also the world of work. Therefore it is with a sly, quiet sweep of the camera that the collectif_fact reveals the inside of an office building. In the best Kafkaesque tradition, ce qui arrive (2005), shows an enormous edifice composed of corridors with grey-blue carpeting and conference rooms decorated with rubber plants. Only later, when in a moment of lucidity we manage to drop the state of hypnosis generated by the slow tracking shot, do we realize that this place is in fact a disturbing illusion. A place born of the combination of impersonal, prefabricated office architecture, a series of small incidents, elements from the world of aviation, such as the yellow rubber inflatable slides, and panic-stricken, but motionless people. ce qui arrive therefore reveals itself to be an immense virtual tableau vivant, which subliminally evokes in the spectator the iconic images of the attacks on the Twin Towers. However, at the same time – as the Virilian flavour of its title suggests – it is also a critique on the omnipresent, paranoiac theme of security, linked to the instigation of a feeling of fear and danger hanging constantly over the contemporary world.