1:1 / Re-calculating Virtual Ratios / Opacity
Symposium | 23 October, 2013
“We fully accept that the divide between the digital and the real is meaningless.” This observation has become banal today, an object of consensus. Material (real) and virtual (digital) worlds have become inextricably interwoven. They’ve been mixed in proportion to each other, cross-pollinating across a now-invisible colon separating 1 : 1 entities.

The comingling of Physical : Virtual depends on their initial framing as symmetrical bodies, partners in a proportional exchange. Two people sit on opposite ends of a seesaw, and the plank remains horizontal. One click equals one behavior. One real person equals one online identity. Reality : Representation?

To collapse a dichotomy is to deconstruct the opposition between equally-weighted and formerly mutually-exclusive concepts. Yet there’s a prototypical philosophical problem at stake – deconstructing deeply-rooted value systems often entrenches them deeper. Is the separation (the colon : ) between material and virtual really gone, or has it just been made transparent? The cleaner the glass between you and your virtual existence becomes, the easier it is to forget that the virtual world is a construct that can be manipulated independently of physical existence.

Re-calculating the 1 : 1 ratio of material to virtual, of body to self, could make unequal, hidden power structures visible, even if it requires temporarily reinstating an explicit dichotomy that allows a ratio to be calculated. This is both a mathematical endeavor and a phenomenological one. Mathematical mutual exclusion may be inherent in the architecture of the internet – 0s and 1s – but by skewing the ratios we imagine and theorize, it is possible to rewrite subjective, corporeal human experience into the codes within which we exist. Experience is not math. The human body is not symmetrical

Organized by Evlia Wilk
Session 1 : Opacity

Participants include Jenna Sutela, Nadim Samman, Jesse Darling and Luke Munn

Early text-based internet mediums reached out for autonomous space and flexible identity. In this self-built domain, dominated by role-playing and chat environments where anonymity and invented identities prevailed, one could present oneself as one imagined (desired) oneself to be. The communities that developed were predicated on a mutually-accepted fiction that allowed for the construction of Many Selves : 1 Body.

Such cyber-body freedom has been stifled as the internet has become a visual arena where we are subject to constant imaging, surveillance, and the workings of the information economy. Social media profiles are stiflingly literal. The NSA wants you to be who you say you are. Today, your singular online self is locked down to your singular body – and the boundary between it and you is increasingly transparent.

But the back-end structures of social media and communications software are obscured. Your online identity tied into various platforms is constantly processed by invisible algorithms: chewing and digesting your data, condensing your information, digging and spying and advertising at an unrelenting speed. In response, there is an emerging tendency in online communities towards obscuring oneself, shrouding oneself in non-(ratio)nal information.

While in political organizations this tendency takes the form of privatization, data encryption, and alternate methods of utilizing social media, in the arts it takes the form of re-appropriating new-age philosophy, mysticism, and occult practices. These are dual tactics of opacity in the face of the widespread compulsion to reveal everything.

The return of the desires for opacity, exclusivity, and mysticism that were inherent in early online practices, when identities could be creatively invented rather than governed by algorithms in premade environments, is a manifestation of the urge to find incalculable, personal, corporeal, and subjective ways of being that cannot be capitalized upon. Can we still obscure ourselves? How can we amp up the opacity of the screen separating body from self?