Pandemonium, do androids dream of? by Ami Clarke
The work conists of:
VR environment with sound work (scroll down for 3D capture)
twitter bot @trackntracer, deployed as a ‘research assistant’
online dashboard on the Beyond Matter ZKM Karlsruhe site https://pandemonium.beyondmatter.eu/
The work was developed during the Beyond Matter residency at art and media organisation: ZKM, Karlsruhe Germany, with material also developed during a ‘risk’ related residency at Radar, Loughborough, with an essay that addresses many of the key themes, that you can read here.
During the Beyond Matter residency Ami Clarke was interviewed by Felix Koberstein (ZKM) just after having discussed the work with the artist and theoretician Emily Rosamond, who lent the work some great insights included in the interview.
You can download the publication accompanying the Beyond Matter residency here *Beyond Matter, Within Space. Curatorial and Art Mediation Techniques on the Verge of Virtual Reality*, which offers a comprehensive overview of the multifaceted research activities conducted by the Beyond Matter partners and takes a deeper look at the enfoldments of virtual reality. In interviews, scholarly essays, and other texts, the authors document the project outcomes and expand on its theoretical foundations.
The work takes the defining medium of our age: ‘animation’ (Deborah Levitt) to the next level in VR. Utilising the affects of a cartoon world, where the unlikely is entirely probable, a troop of deer break into a syncopated dance routine, whilst flying plastic gloop speaks of ‘emergence’, in a world that has become way too lively by far.
The thorny question of emergence is oft-imagined as an untapped burst of creative potential, with Silicon Valley valorising emergent properties in order to profit from unethically derived data, whilst the reality that disruption and mutation brings forth, is often far from beneficial for humans. Drawing from the markets oft-used phrase of animal spirits, to describe the ‘inexpressible’ drive: the life source of the markets – the work engages with what this might mean if we took vitalism to an absurd degree, to grasp something of the ‘vital realism’ that our technologically assisted sensorial range now affords, as we emerge in synthesis with our environment.
Pandemonium in 'Immerse!' - curated by Corina L. Apostol (Tallinn Art Hall) and Lívia Nolasco-Rózsás (ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe)
Tallinn Art Hall will open major international exhibition Immerse! at its Lasnamäe Pavilion
Pandemonium, do androids dream of? nests like a bad weather gift shop snow globe in The Underlying situating the viewer in the heart of a strangely familiar deserted city (London), inviting the participant to explore an eerily decimated financial district (City of London Corporation, around Bank) reclaimed by a virtual wilding, way too lively by far – a pandemonium - where the kinds of animal spirits often associated with the markets get re-calibrated to address the climate crisis.
Animal behaviours* have always been used to describe the ‘inexpressible’ drive, the life source, of the market. But, whilst the animal spirits of the economist Keynes ‘Low Animal Spirits’ drive the market through bullish opportunistic behaviours, the critters in Pandemonium roam the deserted financial district, and speak of ‘zoonotic spillover’ – viral jumps between animal and human - that exemplify the interdependencies revealed by the pandemic. That evade categorisation by almost becoming their own species, live as kin with their humanoid siblings, point to a nature that is naturally queer, and to a synchronised desire to do things differently – that takes account of contingency to develop fluid data practices that are consensual and oscillate between being in/visible, as necessary.
The work consists of a VR environment with an accompanying twitter bot @trackntracer, deployed as a ‘research assistant’ - taking the temperature of public debate, rt’ing mentions of track and trace since Nov 20 - and online dashboard (see above) that draws out important issues to do with: privacy, agency, and trust, revealed by the app. During the pandemic these issues that crystallize around the new oil that is data – whether 'biomedical' or 'behavioural analysis' – became spoken about in the public realm with a little more understanding of how these datasets go on to inform the quite different realities the future holds for people. You can read the essay written during the 'risk' related residency at Radar Loughborough 2020, that addresses many key issues brought to light by the app here. The dashboard also provides a site to consider how govt comms, social media, and other forms of news distribution, influence the outcomes of strategies built to moderate risk during a crisis. It draws upon the re-insurance industry Metabiota's expertise, configured for their Epidemic Preparedness Index, as a means to address many of the intersectional complexities that converge in crisis. The dashboard is an ongoing project, that is also informed by issues regarding the handling of DATA during the pandemic, as a way of grasping the importance of this also to be found in the challenges of climage change.
* Writing in the Economist in November 2021, Mike Bird - Asia business and finance editor, writes: “hyenas, vultures, lions and wildebeest featured in January 2021 in an imaginative description by Thomas Friedman, an American commentator, of the feeding frenzy over a handful of American stocks. Referring to GameStop, a consumer-electronics retailer at the centre of the frenzy, Mr Friedman said the stock would eventually go back to four to five dollars". Depictions that perpetuate the myth of the market through a process of naturalisation as “the circle of life”.
The track and trace apps quite naturally exceed all previous anxieties regarding surveillance, reaching across bio-medical practice to behavioural analysis, and, at the same time, held the promise of a pragmatic approach, which, seemingly, when used in combination with measures such as mask wearing, social distancing protocols and an effective vaccination programme, promised a return to being able to co-mingle, once again.
The often un-acknowledged role of data - the new oil - central to the dual requirements of the app, where concerns re trust, privacy and agency are poorly addressed by current practices and legislation - resulted in a void quickly filled by conspiracy theories. As a result, the twitter bot @trackntracer shows a volatile feed where concerns crystallize around biomedical data, privacy, personal freedoms, and a wild variety of conspiritualities, as conspiracy theory meets the wellness industry. Many of which relate to data management and analysis that raise security and privacy concerns, with worries about mission creep made possible by the financial underpinnings of the app. See my writing on this during the residency on Risk, Radar, Loughborough University 2021. The online dashboard informs the VR work and draws on the contradictions within data practice today. It references the Epidemic Preparedness Index produced by virus hunters working with the re-insurance company Metabiota that naturally include: socio-economic issues with levels of trust in government, as well as pollution of the mediasphere, in their appraisal of ‘preparedness’. The dashboard shows sentiment and emotion analysis of the twitter feed, with air pollution local to ZKM.
360 degree capture from inside the VR - player pov
(please note that the actual VR environment is an immersive 3-dimensional space - the experience is not like a video at all)
An Ami Clarke: Xeno-Studio production.
Special thanks to Luke Weston for all his assistance,
as well as Diana Finley, Rob Prouse, Junnichi Suko, and Francois Kirmann Gamaury.
Thanks also to AccuCities for their enormous generosity.
Special thanks to Lívia Nolasco-Rozsas and Felix Koberstein at ZKM.