"Conversation X" was an installation I created for the BankART A.I.R 2017. The main theme was the blurred line between fact and fiction. The post-truth world we now live in where community is fractured by people's own defined truths. The technology that was supposed to bring us together that has tribalized many. The "If you don't agree with me you're a moron, a sucker for believing the information you consume" mentality.
Within this climate it's hard to find consensus, a shared reality and many problems exist, stuck in suspension of fear and distrust. I have no answers to speak of but wanted to provoke thoughts about unpleasant things we face as a species going forward.
I'm convinced there are smart people out there who can do great things in an effort to save us from ourselves. The question is will things become too dire and chaos run rampant so quickly that those smart people won't have the opportunity to do much of anything. Time will tell but, time is running out.
Perhaps our favorite diversion. I see drugs ultimately used in a way similar to the ideas Aldous Huxley describes in "Brave New World". His drug was an amalgamation of the morphine pictured on the left, the alcohol in the small boxes and cocaine on the right. He called it SOMA:
“..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon...”
My twist on that idea is a series of colored pills taken throughout the day to keep oneself from feeling no discomfort, which you can see in the pill box.
Hanging from the ceiling is a curtain of squares. They are images I made of non descript everyday scenes and altered using Deep Dream software. You select an image and a set of filters and the software looks for images and shapes it has been taught to recognize within that image. Next, take that altered image and feed it to the software again and the results become more surreal the more times you process an image. These images were processed at least 20 times and as high as 70 times.
I chose its use as a metaphor for so many people being plugged into or using a device almost constantly all day. Often they are feeding themselves the same information over and over again. Like the Deep Dream software, I feel one's worldview can become quite distorted when in a feedback loop. It's one of the bigger factors I feel causes a lot division these days. The shiny back on each image is there to either reflect your distorted self or simply as something shiny to catch your attention and keep you amused.
GET WOKE (PEACE, LOVE, BEAUTY, HAPPINESS)
The term "get woke" has become popular lately as a way to tell someone to really see the truth. Not to be fooled by the smoke and mirrors that we are bombarded with in order to not think about difficult subjects.
The slogan sits on top of a booth that has a video collage loop playing called "PEACE, LOVE, BEAUTY, HAPPINESS" as a warning. The video is actually another form of diversion, a difficult one to break from, inspired by George Orwell's novel "1984". In the book Orwell spoke of doublethink and Newspeak which are closely tied to the idea of doublespeak. Words that essentially lose their meaning and are replaced with euphemisms and vague language that can often turn the word into its opposite meaning.
"PEACE, LOVE, BEAUTY, HAPPINESS"
THIS VIDEO CONTAINS EXTREME IMAGES OF GRAPHIC SEX AND VIOLENCE
Below is the video shown in the booth. It's less than a minute long but shown in a nonstop loop. All the video clips shown are actual events. There is no fictional material except, I suppose the pornography, yet the sex is real.
Reactions varied from disgust and an inability to watch, to those who sat for a few minutes and said that while they were shocked at first they found themselves desensitized rather quickly. I found all the responses I heard equally interesting and personally identify with those who felt desensitized quickly.
My opinion is that this is what's intentionally fed to people everyday on all media platforms in an effort to create a sense of apathy. Apathetic people generally are not prone to rally for change.
SUPPRESSION OF FREE SPEECH
The effigy hanging from the ceiling is symbolic of the suppression of free speech. Once the ability to speak the truth is gone we are forced to live in a completely fabricated world. Reality can not be spoken or written about, so it logically doesn't exist.
Made of newspaper and dressed to look like (my idea of) a reporter, the figure has no hands, so it can't write. It has no feet, so it can't walk. Finally, it is hung with the neck broken, so it can no longer speak. Many journalists are mutilated in this manner in parts of Mexico by drug syndicates, for example, to send a clear message about exposing truth to others. I fear this is happening faster than we care to (or can) think about, less violently, with a handful of corporations owning much of the mass (and increasingly local) media and deciding what and how much information is disseminated to the public.
One of the bigger problems we face that grows day by day is the ability to discern what is real. This is connected to the sections above. The mirror reads on the black side "This side is White" and on the white side "This side is Black" and on the bottom "Reality". There is a narrow portion of mirror for a person to look at themselves in the eyes as they absorb or deny these fabrications. It's said that the more you tell a lie the more people will eventually accept it as truth.
This depiction of a graffitied wall reads "Hours of Overtime Per Month". Japan has made a legal maximum of 90 hours of overtime per month after basically having no restrictions. Mental health professionals have indicated that 90 hours is still very unhealthy. People commit suicide in the country due to work related stress caused by overtime. I feel the USA and other developed countries are heading in, if not already, the same direction.
Much of this overtime in Japan is needless, keeps people from their families and in my opinion is a form of slavery, since a majority of it is mandatory. A very real mental health crisis in both advanced and third world nations. In this nightmare scenario a total of 160 hours of overtime a month is determined to be acceptable.
SMALL NUMBER, BIG PROBLEMS
Two degrees celsius is the amount of rise in global temperature that could alter life on earth significantly. Over the last 10,000 years it's fluctuated about one degree celsius and left the planet fairly stable. We have seen an increase in the last 100 years or so that's moved faster than the last 10,000 and if the trend continues, sometime by the end of the 21st century a rise of 2 degrees will result in major problems for earth.
Sea levels will rise making many coastal cities worldwide inhabitable, major droughts will occur in other areas, mass migrations of people in a quest to survive will be inevitable. Political strife, chaos and violence are sure to happen with these events. Some say it's too late, while others say with swift action now we can stay below the threshold. With corporate power and deregulation steadily increasing, personally, I'm not too optimistic.
SIX WEEK BLACKOUT
I find this to be one of the more sinister and frightening things we don't think enough about. Our dependence on electricity (no matter its source) is staggering. From household conveniences to financial markets, to transportation and telecommunications, the thought of being without electricity for any prolonged period of time is unthinkable.
My feeling is this will be the target of terror attacks in the near future. Imagine the chaos in a major city like Tokyo, New York or London to name a few, going completely black for 6 weeks. It would be anarchy. People would easily panic and turn on each other very quickly. Survival would be brutal and fear at levels much higher than one bomb or a few planes (as horrific as those methods are) could cause.
I have very little faith that governments have a solid plan of action should this happen. A likely scenario would be martial law, curfews, small rations of food and other measures to suppress, not aide, millions of panicked people. Blacked out on the map below is an area a little bigger than the greater Tokyo area with over 10 million people that are completely dependent on electricty.
In the USA the lower 90% of wage earners make roughly $35,000 a year. The top 1% make about $1.4 million a year or nearly 40 times more than than the lower 90%. To really stagger your brain, the top 0.1% make close to $6.8 million a year; close to 200 times more than the bottom 90%. That is an incredibly unhealthy concentration of wealth.
Personally, when I was a teenager in the 1980's I made about $7-8 an hour at various part time jobs. Some 30 years later I don't think it's much higher for most service industry jobs (the majority of jobs). This doesn't even take into consideration underdeveloped countries where people survive on $1 or $2 a day.
Without having studied economics it's clear to me something is very wrong. The core concept to me is we are brainwashed, stuck in a cult mentality. Values are twisted and distorted to have us believe wealth equals virtue and intelligence, which I can assure you, is far from the truth. The notion of climbing the ladder and leaving the dregs to join the elites is honorable, though really, happens to a very small amount of people.
Joining the elites...that's a funny joke. Take some time to think deeply about the idea that something like 400 families in the world are in possession of roughly 80% or more of the world's wealth. That's quite an elite club. It feels amoral.
NATURAL RESOURCES COMMODIFIED
Not even a thought experiment, the commodification of natural resources is real and likely to grow worse over time. As public lands are sold off to corporations they will legally own the resources within them, water, for example.
When we look at a U.S. city like Flint in the state of Michigan that has gone over two years with non potable water, it's not hard to imagine a bankrupted city being bought by a corporation. Of course we pay for water through taxes now, but it's a minor expense. However, corporations exist for one reason: to make money for investors. So with a city like Flint, investing in infrastructure to supply clean potable water will require a return. A profitable one in which you, the consumer, will pay for. You'll have no choice.
You can extend this idea to air as deregulation increases and more pollution is spewed into the atmosphere. The corporation that owns land with clean air may well put it on the market to be pumped into your home and office. Since it would likely be a non competitive market they could charge whatever they want. Can't afford it? Too bad.
Take a deep breath of fresh air (owned by Monsanto), have a refreshing water (owned by Coca Cola) and smile!
Speaking of pollution, as you may know Japan experienced one of the world's worst nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, hours after suffering one of the largest recorded earthquakes and tsunamis, which crippled the Fukushima plant.
More than six years later and it's still a very precarious and dangerous problem that has not been solved. This piece is tongue in cheek as a major clothing chain in Japan is named Uniqlo (this is not a criticism of Uniqlo; it was just easy to riff on their name and what they sell to make my point). I thought of a worse case scenario in which all 54 nuclear reactors in Japan melted down and large swaths of the country became radioactive. This would be fashion for the future.
It also illustrates the fact that an island nation like Japan doesn't have many options to produce energy due to it's size and terrain. Nuclear energy makes sense but at what cost? Poster shown on wall to give a sense of size and the design I created.
Our biggest existential threat is all out nuclear war. The Doomsday Clock was started in 1947 and its primary purpose is to represent how close we are to destroying civilization, primarily by means of nuclear war, though other factors are considered like climate destruction, cyber catastrophe, etc. It's an analogy of how world events change and move us closer to a nuclear conflict, with midnight being the end.
Theses are technologies humans have created that will potentially doom us. The clock has been as close as 2 minutes to midnight in 1953 and as far as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991. In 2017 it was recently set to two and a half minutes to midnight. I was surprised at how many people didn't know about it and how shocked they were when I explained what it was.
I decorated the clock to be cute and harmless as lots of signage in Japan warning of danger is designed that way. I read that it's psychologically easier to digest alarming information when it's presented in a non menacing way. There is also a big influence from the late great musician Prince and his hit song "1999" in the design.
If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time to look over this project. It was my first attempt at something like this and I was happy with the results. I started with some pretty lofty ideas that became very complicated, regional and felt too much like I was speaking from a soap box.
While it's rough and not so sophisticated, I was able to narrow in on some big themes that I think are universal. I was fortunate to have quite a few interesting conversations and learned a bit about the Japanese perspective on these issues, which was my main goal. Most people I met had similar concerns but these subjects are not so regularly discussed in my experience in Japan.
Culturally, I think people usually don't want to bring up strong opinions on matters like these with others who may be of higher status or work for a corporation and fear being criticized. Of course, among friends and family these things are discussed but I have a strong feeling it's different than westerners ways of addressing the same concerns. That's just a personal opinion based on my observations.
It was a great experience overall and I have to thank Mr. Ikeda, the director of BankART and the whole staff for giving me the opportunity and assistance to complete this project.