alexandra barancová


Beyond Interpassivity: a parcours to liberation from the burden of enjoyment

by Alexandra Barancová & Jae Perris

01. The unattainable desire for nothingness

If a void, or place, is made, as it would in your house, it will soon be filled. An attribute then of this place, is it’s own desire to eliminate itself. To create it, it takes immense energy, whether from a physicist or a zen-master. And yet when we chance upon one of our own, it’s cherished until forgotten in occupancy. Our world is created by, and surrounded by things, human or otherwise, all of which maddened by the functions they ensure. A bare field is functionless, our railways useless without cars, and a child is a waste without occupying a classroom. This mania causes them to line up in symbiotic chains, asking more of the next, and next. Like a chaotic ratchet, it floods without thought, clicking up the rungs of ‘innovation’, a sanctimonious praxis of self-justification. These thoughts flow through my mind as I approach the exhibition. Only realising this meandering when a gust catches me and pulls me off course. These truths only escape me for the day, just as the gust my step. And as I’ve promised them an appearance for too long, I enter the building.

02. Performing reality

[Deep Self description 1: Step inside and take a selfie.]

I was there. And I mean I was there. I made my way through the productions and I caught the eyes of strangers. I walked the sullied, burdened walk, and heard breathed suspicions of interest about the exhibition. Sooner than I’d hoped, my pace quickened and using as many turns as I did steps the crowd gave way. I broke fast for home. I’ve practiced this kind of participation often enough that others rarely see my performances as a tired reality. My need to connect outweighing my unwillingness to distance myself from the tyranny of efficiencies. Where text, image, and video, seem to supplant even my most cherished memories. ‘Pics or it didn’t happen’, once an adolescent mutter turned a waking mantra. The machine turns, and the futility of these events is dazzlingly obvious.

03. A reality beyond itself, no longer real

Though this time the suspicious breaths followed, even as the burden waned. And here they replace my own. When I gave it my image, I thought lightly of it; The moment carried me further than my caution, as it would yours when the idea of a photograph seems as mundane as eating. And now, my presence is felt. Not through the chords of a memory, or as the thought that I’d left something behind that catches another’s presence. But sparsely to this; a presence created by an illusion of me. A simulation of a could-be me.

[Deep Self description 2: Your image now gains a new reality. In this work we make use of a deep neural network to transform your selfie to a myriad others in which you wear different expressions. The system generates images different to those at the moment the shutter shut. Through this piece we question the meaning of reality in the contemporary world. In a world where technology can (almost) instantaneously manipulate traces of the present/past-to-be, what is left of human reality?]

They explained how my photo was to be fed to a series of digital linkages, connected on an unfathomable scale, coerced into subjecting my face, and faces, to postures of four distinct emotions. A reduction of me, but none-the-less an impressive trick. And when the remained image stared back my(?) uncanny smile, frowned, turned fiercely angry, and then transformed to a wide-eyed manic, I was to think of my disdain for not only this self portrait but of all self portraits.

04. On (human) passivity

I guess this was why I hastened for the exit. The large warehouse-like space was dimly lit, with the only brilliance about the innumerable collection of the same four expressions projected on the wall. The strangers on the wall became as vague as the strangers around me. I questioned my certainty in reading both aspects of the same, the inscriptions of the wall, and the practiced expressions of the wandering crowd, it all blurred to one. The wall was full. The wall was full yet empty. Given my own experience, I knew there was nothing to be believed in the convincing faces that smiled, grinned, frowned and cried straight at me. Mere constructions devoid of lived references. Constructions lacking traces of reality. Representations of fictions invented by nobody.

05. Indexing experiences

I’d done enough, my conscience cleared. We were headed for the next thing, a movie, or a drink, or some social rudiment. Thinking back, I can’t help but feel silly about having refused to go see the movie just because I had it saved on my hard-drive back home. Was it that by owning it, some part of me had already seen it? I’d never watched it, but tucked away in storage it was there to be watched at a later moment, which might never come. So interpassive of me. What if I were to refuse to participate in everything, just because it was stored somewhere else, outside of me? Would the knowledge of this proxy be sufficient to supplant my enjoyment of the experience? By extension would I then become merely a table of contents pointing to these proxies, but not granting myself access to any of them? With my now digitised face, the reduction of me, could it serve the same function? If the self portraits that people so willingly take and post fulfil their social debt, could the images generated by this Deep Self not do the same for me? Never having to take a photo to prove my presence, to perform, would shed weight from my being.

06. Deja vu

I’d later be tagged in a photo on Instagram by a friend. A selfie of me, pulling an expression I had no recollection of making. It was by Deep Self, the art piece I’d encountered at the exhibition earlier. What a shit name. I revisit again the idea of removing myself from the equation, shedding the obligation to perform myself to prove my presence. This doesn’t seem too far fetched. All it would take is the technology to capture my experiences, my proxy – the performer – and an audience. It would be a social presence, online or otherwise, that negotiates my social debt for my benefit, but without me. But what of the strangers on the wall? If I can take myself out of the equation, could the same not be done for them? Actors and audience, they have the same needs as I, I imagine. Say then, these people are replaced by proxy one by one. Eventually we’re left with just a self-contained system that trades in imagined social debt. A closed system of consumption outside of human reach. Not granting humans the possibility to experience or consume any of its products. Isolated machines of subjectivity.

07. Ghost liquidity of selfies

Thus my disdain is an idea that portraits beget portraits, ego begets ego, and that memory is not sufficient to our needs of memory. We all yell our portraits harder than the day before, forgetting to breath, as the chorus of our sorrows, drowns out any hope of receiving them. You can be instagram famous, a viral hit, but more sincerely the loudest dedication to the place that receives you; the eyes and the ears of the resonant chamber. In this microcosm that I’ve constructed, human access to interpassivity has eliminated itself; once all consumption and capacity for enjoyment has been outsourced to other non-human entities (say, digital linkages), interpassivity excludes its own possibility. All enjoyment is delegated to non-human interlocutors, there is therefore no more enjoyment to be had. Perhaps we reach a form of nothingness this way, liberated from the burden of enjoyment. The uncanny faces stare into empty space.