Spatial object, 1700 x 500, paper tubes, sound, video, 2 gold plated sculptures.
Shown at: kunstraum BERNSTEINER, Vienna 17/09 — 06/11 2014, Solo show.styleconception, Schauraum für zeitgenössisches Design und Kunst, Innsbruck AT. 28/01—06/02 2015
An algorithm is a distinct method of instructions for calculating and solving a problem or a set of problems. It consists of a number of well-defined individual steps and can, for instance, be implemented to execute a computer programme. Algorithms are the preferred control modules of our contemporary realities of life. They are effective and at the same time mysterious source codes developed by an elite of IT specialists and their formula – as in the case of the legendary Google algorithm – is as well kept a secret as the Coca Cola recipe. "We've discovered the technology of the future", read an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung not so long ago. "The right algorithm generates wealth like a gold nugget and is as powerful as a nuclear bomb."1
The writer Andrian Kreye describes algorithms as "fundamentalist key texts" that establish "cast-iron rules" beyond the control or influence of normal users.2 Robert Gast and Alexander Mühlauer go even further by holding that Google has disempowered us with its search formula: "It sorts information faster and more completely – according to principles no-one outside the corporation knows."3 To consolidate the Google cartel, a "war for data" has been going on for a long time with huge amounts of information being aggregated from many well functioning services. "Big Brother reloaded," as it were, under digital circumstances.
Beyond such dystopic Orwellian visions shared by many observers of the new digital pluriverses, a more recent media theory ascribes a specific aesthetics to the algorithmic culture. Luciana Parisi speaks of a "soft thought" peculiar to the code, which results in an aesthetics of the digital and thus in a new version of the algorithmic per se. This "new digital matrix" is reconfigured around a concept of the algorithm that is open for radical contingency and novelty and paradoxically includes the incalculable as part of its formula. "Today it is no longer possible to distinguish the aesthetic configuration from the modus operandi of cognitive capitalism, which in turn manifests itself in an ever growing heterogeneity of medial expressions. Their consolidation to a generalized background of permanent connections and disconnections as its productive engine has become indispensable. Hence, the medial production of volatile sensations and intense realities of being that are then constantly bought and sold as likes and dislikes." 4
Sylvia Eckermann's project Digital Monsters Don't Bleed sets out from this complex context of changing social paradigms and the related emergence of innovative ways of thinking and acting. Performing a dance of associative cognitive particles through the narrowing down to statics and motion picture, her installation is a metaphoric/metaphysical improvisation on the algorithm as the essential feature of a new cybernetic regime in a cyber-capitalist culture, rather than an attempt to visualize what is virtually impossible to reproduce.
Central to this material concretization of the abstract is a predominantly rectangular construction of tubes, which are "codified" in different colours and reminiscent of a complex pipeline system. In two places where the tubes seem to come to nothing, "golden people" – or rather anthropomorphic entities made of wire mesh covered in polymer – grow from the hollow pipes. Their appearance recalls the "mud people" in Fando y Lis, the 1968 debut of the post-surrealistic film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky and a seemingly low budget bricolage of one of Otto Mühl's "material actions" and L'Age d'or with a touch of Easy Rider, which, without being boring, lends Fando y Lis an apparent existential profundity it doesn't have. The film tells the story of Fando and his paraplegic girlfriend Lis who moves about on a cart equipped with an ancient phonograph. In some sort of spiritual quest the pair crosses a post-apocalyptic no-man's land in order to find the city of Tar where – according to legend – all wishes become true. But on their long and strange journey that gradually becomes the voyage's real destination they are corrupted by circumstances and eventually driven into madness. Aesthetically, Fando y Lis, which provoked scandals and led to riots when it was shown at film festivals at the time, is very much like a typical 1960s freak-out with elements such as a car dump used by the characters as a playground and sequences celebrating Action Painting in the nude.
Sylvia Eckermann took a short sequence from the film and alienated the footage heavily by re-editing the material, changing tempo, hue and saturation, and applying other effects. The gold metaphor that frames the entire video like a seam is a reference to the above mentioned comparison of the right algorithm with a gold nugget; but in an interpretative framework it is equally linked to the Baroque concept of vanitas or the futility of all human endeavours. And the deathly pounding of the sound track becomes the chronological and rhythmical pulse of the installation.
In the symbolic surroundings of Sylvia Eckermann's work, the search for an El Dorado – the leitmotif in Jodorowsky's film – may have played a role in terms of the "gold rush" feeling characterizing the high performance sectors of the algorithmic present. But the artist is not interested in a Luddite rejection of technology and scientific progress; instead, her focus is on a critical investigation of the context of algorithmic exploitation, which determines our lives even though we hardly notice it (the NSA syndrome!). Closely related to this, however, is also the idea of a techno-ecology of feelings implemented by the activation of algorithms in order to transform the modalities of feeling and sensing in cyber-capitalist culture. According to the media theorist Erich Hörl (quoting Parisi) this culture "constitutes 'the core of the new cybernetic regime of power.'" The process of cybernation, so Hörl, also shifts the traditional sense of the aesthetic as such towards a pre- and impersonal, pre-cognitive, pre-perceptive, and one could even say 'machinic' form of feeling. Perhaps "this general dehumanization of feeling represents one of the central arenas of the post-humanization currently taking place in media technologies." And it is "precisely this precarious place where our algorithm-based (media) aesthetic culture, whose novelty is yet to be clarified, is being defined" that Sylvia Eckermann addresses with Digital Monsters Don't Bleed.