Oct 15-29, 2022
In response to the prompt “Internet,” an image of a stage with a closed, red curtain appeared on the glowing screen. I was waiting with baited anticipation for the show to begin. Perhaps it had just ended? In response to the prompt “death”, multiple images of a cabaret singer adorned with a pink, feather boa appeared. Face unrecognisable, features smeared. Pressing enter, the audible click of the keyboard, produced several more variations of the same protagonist, centre stage, caught in a moment, perhaps an encore, perhaps mid set. Images conjured from text inputs into a machine program built from humans, generating an equivalent plethora of narratives. On face value, these .png files stacked in overlapping piles on the screen, seem otherworldly, but airy in their approach, easy to shrug off as more “visual noise” on the Internet. However, if one thinks about the inherent bias of such programs, their capacity for broader use looking towards the future, coupled with the propensity for images to sway emotion and influence seen on socials and in mainstream media, an ominous cloud hovers, that warrants exploration.
In the Post Truth world, we are reminded of the vaudevillian act of such cabaret singers, dancers, acrobats and musicians previously associated with the hedonistic escapism and rebellion of bohemians in Paris and Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin in the early 20th Century.
The Internet could be seen as a spectacular stage show. The glitz, glamour and decadence of the stage not unlike the glistening façade of the glossy devices used to access the Internet. Users become protagonists of their own performances, in a world of desire where the digital merging and melding of image and text, coupled with the ease of rapid dissemination of information world-wide via vast networks, becomes powerful drivers of (mis)information, consumption, and detritus.
Data collected as users click, swipe and scroll, generates market driven algorithms that are fed back in one never ending loop, to nurture what the machine believes the user desires. Our “real” selves, being fed by our “virtual” data profiles, dictated by a machine that we then enact in our daily life. The screen becomes a stage to enact a glossy narrative with the machine becoming the director, ultimately produced by single figure heads in power of social media sites.
Like the Haruspex, I found myself dissecting the machine generated images, the text code being spliced, like the entrails of image carcasses lying dormant in the great cloud, to generate new visual and aural meditations. The suspended prints acting as stage sets, image files ripped from the virtual screen, floating within a real space to navigate and contemplate. The accompanying sound file, an alternate manifestation of the data code of the printed images. To hear the sound is to see the image, a further abstraction of the virtual space. The viewer becomes the central protagonist of their own show. The Internet and Artificial Intelligence is impossible to ignore, as the distinction between real and virtual becomes porous, but perhaps an Artist can challenge the power dynamic.
A coda in music is the concluding passage to a piece or movement, typically forming an addition to the basic structure. I view this work not as a final passage, but as a departing point to elicit some remnant of hope and beauty in an anxious world.
 In penning Goodbye to Berlin in 1929, the twilight of the jazz age, Christopher Isherwood travelled to Berlin to pursue its vibrant gay scene. Isherwood’s work was a key influence for the film I Am a Camera and the stage musical (1966) and film adaptation of Cabaret (1972).