Now that the honeymoon with social media is over, you’re more likely to hear somebody grumbling about Facebook inspiring low-level anxiety or the fatigue that comes with performing identity than a euphoric celebration of social web services. Taking this skepticism one step further is The Object of the Internet, a new installation by artists Etienne Grenier and Simon Laroche (aka Project EVA). Developed for the “The Dead Web” exhibition that is currently showing at Eastern Bloc in Montréal, the piece is a kinetic ‘vision machine’ that viewers step inside in order to surrender themselves to a kaleidoscopic abstraction of their likeness. “Once someone inserts their head into the installation and sits on the stool, it greets them with a ‘hello’, lights turn up and the mirrors are set in a position that makes the viewer see themselves on all sides,” the duo write of the beginning of the experience. Coloured LEDs flash in sync with the gradual acceleration of the surrounding mirrors and the viewer’s reflection starts dancing around their field of view. “As time progresses, the spin and light flickering and rotation climax to a very high speed, which completely dissects and blurs the viewer’s reflection.”
This smear of light trails is a zone of total acceleration and disembodiment.
On the wall alongside the installation is a quote by the late proto-blogger and cyberculture researcher Carmen Hermosillo: “I have seen many people spill their guts online, and did so myself until, at last, I began to see that I had commodified myself.” Given she made these comments in 1994, they certainly anticipated our contemporary ‘the user is the product’ moment. “The whole spin movement is driven by a motor … the slowest speed is determined by the slowest we could run it with that particular gear box. As the speed increases, the motion sickness and rotation effect fully kicks in.” Beyond massaging acceleration curves to induce “a very specific abstract dissolution and compression visual effect” the duo also mic’d up the apparatus to provide accompanying audio, “adding a phase shifting effect akin to a Leslie speaker system.”
↑ Effect through iteration: The Object of the Internet was refined through considerable assembly and component testing, “we changed motors 3 times, to get the proper strength but mostly the appropriate speed and the right visual effect we were looking for.”
While Project EVA’s initial proof-of-concept was produced with dollar store mirrors and cardboard (“to validate the idea and assess the correct distance for mirrors”) perfecting The Object of the Internet’s operation required considerable finesse. Through iterative 3D design, component research, and lasercutting and CNC production the duo was able to carefully calibrate the assembly and the effect it created. “We included CAD drawings of parts such as motors, swivel, bearings to have a smooth integration and minimize retrofitting the pieces to fit with the electronic components.”
“The Dead Web” curator Nathalie Bachand organized her exhibition around a charged question: “will the internet end soon?” Project EVA are nuanced in their assertion that their contribution not be taken literally. “We don’t think of the internet as ‘dizzying,’ at least not uniformly. The relation between its audiovisual and kinetic manifestation and the internet must not be viewed as a direct illustration of online experience.” In conjuring our flickering likeness their goal is more subversive. “We are hoping that through aggressive abstract modifications of their reflection, people will think more about the vacuity of their online existence.”