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Edward Colles: Freak

© Edward Colless 2003

(catalog essay for ‘Human Aquatic Breeding Centre’, Perth Institiute of Contemporary Art. 2003)

More than idle pastime on the Web, Google whacking is a sport now, with its own scoring system. How do you “whack” the legendary Google search engine? It seems relatively simple: type two words into Google’s search bar with the objective of getting one hit, but one hit only – that’s to say one single result on a search through more than three billion Web pages indexed by Google. Success is seeing the statement in the upper right hand corner of the Google search result window: “Results 1 -1 of 1″.

If there were an internet game inverse to whacking – scoring the most hits off two words – there would be a good chance that the words “Pamela Anderson” would be at the top of the stack. She is not only a screen star but also a Web star. Screen stars may be subjects of gossip and scandal, or perhaps instruments of romantic or masturbatory fantasy, or the target of a stalker’s obsession. But, ironically, this fetishisation of the persona guarantees the inviolate nature of their screen presence. No matter how promiscuous they may be with their publicity, the star is -on screen or in print -still virtuously remote from their fans. And no matter how young these stars may be, they are old-fashioned, unattainable objects of desire.

However, no matter how old she may be as screen material, as a Web idol Pamela Anderson is new-fashioned and available. She has crossed over into a zone where desire is installed as an extended cyber-semiotic trade rather than being epitomised in an imaginary or psychological identification; where the spasms and flows of love or lust are performed through uploading and downloading data; and where copulation is rendered as the interface of software with wetware. We may not be able to possess her (nor her kind), but we can certainly share her around. In fact, we recognise that she is singularly and yet endlessly used goods. But this is not to say that the user function is inscribed on her identity, or image, from outside as a degradation or mediation; rather, this function is constitutive and exhaustive; it is serial and recombinant. Pamela Anderson is neither more nor less than what we do with her, as we incorporate her in our server space or our disk drive. Our drive is also a function of her Web presence. There is neither Pamela as fetish nor us as fetishists but rather a hybrid of the user and the used-a remix of consumption and production – which confounds objectification and deletes fetishism from the program.

Ian Haig thinks of Pamela Anderson as a string of DNA code engineered through the World Wide Web. “She captures the euphoric information spread of the Web,” he explains, “…she is an information amphibian, coming out of one medium into another to lay her eggs.” Haig’s portrayal of her in his schizoid Web shrine, presents her as more – or perhaps other – than human: not just a surgically enhanced body, but a cybernetic portal. Net geeks might idealise her as a Web goddess (there is an extensive pantheon already), but Haig describes her in sci-fi idiom as “the sign of a newly evolving life form”. His exhibition simulates the mad science of a bio-tech research laboratory, with an array of forty or so synthetic, detached, fantastically enlarged and open vulvae (converted pink plastic toddler pools), pumping a swill of breast-milk and sperm through an undulating circuit of tentacle-like umbilical chords. The console, through which the website can be navigated, is an artificial brain processing the mad genetic material of the cyberamphibian, and conducting the process of insemination and incubation among these bio-dynamic breeding vats. This obscene techno-fantasy is only barely organic, let alone human. It is a sexily sadistic alien apparatus, hatching a clone army of Pamelas who might supersede the species of bimbo they were modelled on. “I’ve always thought of sexuality,” says Haig, “as an alien technology.”

Haig has been interested in these sadomasochistic technological prostheses for some time. He has devised a spermbank donation machine, with a feeder conduit at convenient height, resembling a sinister autoteller. A helmet that directs tumour-inducing microwave radiation into the brain, activated as the wearer moves throughout an installation of video monitors. A toilet with robotic arms that menacingly enclose the user in programmed audiovisual stimuli. (“Scenes of nature,” he explains, “that are pornography for your bowels”.) And he has a project for an interactive work that can electrocute the viewer! Take a so called “natural” function – sex or defecation – that becomes encrusted with technological improvements: it gets so overdesigned, according to Haig, so overdetermined that the function cannot be performed any more efficiently. It can’t “progress”. So it goes backward or sideward. In Haig’s work, these functions become regressive, perverted, or deliriously overproductive and hence alien, disfigured or fantastic. The internet, for instance, is a fantastic convulsion or delirium of communication, of writing and reading: “it’s a massive, interconnected garbage heap in which we get hopelessly lost,” he adds.

Haig sourced much of the content of his Pamela Web shrine from other Pamela sites, faithful to their misspelled and incoherent fanaticisms. But he took a perverse, regressive step in assembling it: he composed it for one of the very first versions of the internet browser, Netscape. 1.0. Dating from the early 1990s, Netscape 1.0 is, by today’s standards, hopelessly obsolete and crude; with no animation, very limited font range and page composition, and a uniform dull grey background. Much of what might be authored in recent versions of Dreamweaver won’t translate back. In order to compose for Netscape 1,0. Haig needed not to deskill but to reskill in an obsolete and redundant application, which is a truly perverse endeavour in an environment inspired by the competitive demand to stay up to date with the latest versions of software. As a result, his Web shrine has a hilariously anachronistic style. But the dysfunction of both page design and the site architecture is energised by a visionary rage, which surges into lunatic overstatement of erotic affection for Pamela. The email responses to his site ask, “are you on drugs?” ,”is this for real?”

Haig’s website is antagonistic and incomprehensible to its visitors not by sabotage but by affirming the unprecedented access to global communication paranoids and schizos can enjoy along with evangelists, educators, critics and artists. The cyberamphibian Pamela may sound like an extraordinary maniacal sexual fantasy; but Haig locates it at the essence of the quotidian culture of the internet. He is fond of J.G. Ballard’s description of science fiction as being not to do with accounts of scientific marvels, but with their permeation through everyday life. And as Haig points out, “there’s nothing more freaky than everyday life”.