A Note on Ed Fornieles and Unconsciousness Raising

Last night, as part of the new day job, I was at a talk given by Ed Fornieles at London’s Anise Gallery.

Giving an impressively cogent overview of his “post-internet” art works to date, I found an intriguing thread connecting two works in particular that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about overnight.

The first work was a “performance” — or “Facebook LARP” — called Dorm Daze for which Fornieles scraped the Facebook data of American college students to construct a community of fictitious characters before documenting their interactions together over a period of time and constructing a twisted coming-of-age drama out of the results.

The second, much more recent work, was Cel — a similarly intensive performance work that lasted 72 hours in which participants were invited to adopted hyper-aggressive patriarchal characters and archetypes drawn from personality profiles scraped from the likes of 4chan and Reddit. The participants would embody these personas completely for the duration of their time enclosed in a cell constructed in Fornieles’ studio.

With a rigorous system of subtle communication for the giving and acknowledging of consent, Fornieles described Cel as a sort of inversion of “second-wave feminist discourses”.

With this in mind, it seemed like each work took on the form of a kind of Artaudian consciousness raising session through which oppressions and violences were acknowledged and considered not through their open and collective discussion but through the open and collective performance of their affects. (You can read more about the project here.)

I asked Ed a question after the talk about the implications of what appears to be a form of unconsciousness raising — something I explored here previously in my posts on Westworld.

With the talk being organised as part of the School of Speculation‘s summer school public lecture programme and orbiting the school’s dedication to “critical design”, there was a sense in which the typical use of these social media platforms — or, indeed, real life spaces — were being used to explore the sorts of “defacialisation” that Mark Fisher would write about.

I wondered to what extend he saw these experiments and explorations of contemporary cruelty and community having an impact on not only how we think about the spaces we inhabit online but also how we might design new ones.

Fornieles has already explored these implications in other art works — particularly Babble and Truth Table for which he has designed such alternative systems of communication — but did not have an immediate answer to what was, admittedly, an enormous question.

So, those questions remains — what are the broader implications of using social media in this way and, even, designing social media platforms that actively undermine the performative Self-consolidation of the likes of Facebook? What is it to actively use technologically to deconstruct and perforate your own sense of self?

Fornieles’ work is, I think, the best attempt I’ve seen at answering these questions, and it gets terrifyingly close with providing us with answers that we might not yet be entirely ready for…

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