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Allen Feldman: ‘The Digital Miniature: Private Perceptions in a Public Space’

‘The Digital Miniature: Private Perceptions in a Public Space’ (excerpt)
Allen Feldman 2001

Bam, Under_Score, Next Wave Festival, New York,

Haig’s Web Devolution goes one step further than Fossil and meniscus , not only is the act of coding denatured here it is now a form of magical and superstitious manipulation, the erection of the digital signifier as a fetishized power object and the web page as a candomble or voodoo altar for obscure rights and hysterical divination. Haig correlates the automaton with the pinball machine and with voodoo altars. The Web is treated like a 19th century penny arcade side show devoted to evolutionary gambling and chance in which the accumulation of points permits one to move to the next evolutionary stage of pseudo-consciousness. Web-evolution discourse places evolution on sale, discounts genetic transformation, and it is comparable to voodooism in its labile manipulation of allegory, it’s playing with the zombification of its adherents. The pairing of the web with the figure of the zombie should be taken seriously. Zombification in its African and Caribbean contexts can be ethnologically defined as unconscious, or hypnotically induced involuntary labor service. Anthropologists have noted a particular link between zombie beliefs and exploitative colonial economies that can apply to the current web economy. In the imperial epoch colonizing and penetrative international economic systems were experienced by colonial subjects as all-consuming mechanisms in which workers become digestive fodder for the maws of manufacture. Labor under such industrial economies was experienced by African and West Indian colonial subjects as a living death and as a process of being consumed or wasted, similar to the process of zombification. Haig interrogates the web for similar dynamics of capture and will-sapping servitude.

This work bounces the viewer off the corners of the computer frame like a pin ball machine, indeed it set up like a game with lots of flashing lights and effects and signage that add nothing to any function nor deliver a message with any clarity. The viewer who enters his site is repeatedly returned to previous frames all of which frustrate and sends the message that unless you survive this particular site, its obstacles of signs, black spaces and cul de sac hyper links you do not deserve to progress to the next evolutionary stage. So the site is a survival game with no resolution other than shutting off of the screen itself; it is stasis posing as hectic movement. As such it becomes an allegory of the net, a perpetual motor of signage supplanting signing, of the slippage of links that constantly take you elsewhere but return one to the same. This site links web evolution to navigation and puts navigation into crisis, thereby challenging the idea of progress that is embedded in the ideology of web exploration. Thus all the casino-capitalism of the web is parodied here; there are empty white slots in which to insert one’s name, to answer yes/no, and even a mimicry of credit card registration that when clicked returns one to a previous frame. The web is depicted as analogous to candomble, voodoo or Santeria where all personas and signs exist in a condition of substitution and displacement, and in which there in no terminal stoppage of signs, for eschatology, the terminal point of coded sequence or evolution, itself is but one more commodity bought and sold on the web. As in da Rimini, geniwate and Mez the web is postulated as a mythic terrain in which historical time is suspended but substituted by unending sign navigation. Haig’ s web page is set up as a skull laden alter decorated with objects of power, the site itself is advertised as a new powerful search engine one that searches out evolution. Thus we are given the narrative of the grail search, of cosmological navigation, of the epic journey for a new location, for what has been promised or lost. Here the viewer becomes a detective filtering through myriads of signs and their deflection searching for clues. The fictive character and false resolution of the exploration narrative is indicated by the sign-scape littered with Star Trek /Star Wars residue and debris. The latter serve as defunct codes of power and voyage, and of the empty efficacy of the high technology journey. This is a junkyard of an already outdated, imagined and exhausted future that has already passed. Web Devolution concurs with many other presentations about the imperial legacy of the internet; its investment in the metaphors of navigation, exploration discovery, wealth and reward, which imbue the web with the idea of progress and yet renders it complicit with older geographies of conquest, imperial agendas and colonial logics. The emptiness of the navigation act, the falsification of the map, the fiction of direction, the identification of progress with informational terrains traversed, the circularity of the exploration are repeatedly pushed into the visual field by many of these artists. Only by exiting the myth of digital expansion, mastery and colonization implied by the allegories of navigation, exploration and search, can we hope to come to terms with the historical experiences of new technology that lay beyond the myths of geographical and digital compass.