TECHNO-IMAGINATIONS: INTERNET LORE IN ASIA
TECHNO-IMAGINATIONS INTERNET LORE IN cccadfa
Curatorial Statement - Nancy Mauro-Flude in collaboration with Eric Kerr, Asia Research Institute
Folklore straddles a slew of dichotomies: tradition and modernity, nation and individual, official and subaltern, truth and rumour, high culture and outside art, science and mythology. Online, these dichotomies are thrown into disarray. Memes are not passed down generations but passed across. Records of fabricated histories are visible for all to see but do not detract from the message. Peers create their own generations as information is iteratively modified by each user. Time speeds up: messages are sent and received faster, with less cost, and transform almost immediately as with, for example, memes made from the same clip with new music or text. This type of lore is intertextual by nature.
Often sharing memes is in jest, if we recall “Cybergoth Dance Party” remixes we are able to glimpse at how laughter is a source of healing. The remixes feature alternative captions such as ‘Goths Dance to Anything’. Even taken out of context the dancers seem to catch the beat of the traditional panpipes in the spanish version of Kung Fu Fighting. Originally uploaded by YouTuber gNarLu cEe, on September 7th, 2011. The video of young cybergoths dancing underneath an overpass gained over 4.2 million views and 11,800 comments in five year period, is testament to the benefits of enjoyment and laughter’s healing properties.
This surrender to hilarity is not entirely malevolent. At the same time, rumour and “fake news” are propagated by governments and individual actors alike in a reordering of folklore’s relationship to truth- or soothsaying. The “folk”, who formerly embodied the spirit of a nation are now diffuse and always changing, driven more by the Church of tabs than of state. In 1988, Resisting the smear campaign against their subculture - and warning us of hyperbole - Public Enemy chanted “False media, we don’t need it do we?”. This was thirty years ago.
Despite this Sisyphean struggle for truth, which often needs to be won anew with each iteration, who has the right to speak Internet lore, to tell or repeat a story where authenticity is opaque and fleeting? Calculating machines play an increasingly dominant role in influencing our desires and fears, concerns and prejudices. Beyond the elite language of computer subculture 1337 / leet sp33k and endless torrent of memes, of post-internet discourse, situating Internet Lore in Asia opens up pathways to re-think these mechanisms.
Digital folklore encompasses gifs, memes, contemporary home computing practices, described in Digital Folklore as ‘online amateur culture, DIY electronics, dirtstyle, typo-nihilism, memes and chatbots’ (Espenschied and Lialina 2009). It employs critical making, its exponents are tuned to the ability to customise artisanal code. They wrestle with software, and get close to the metal (Brunton and Coleman 2014). In Internet lore in Asia (2018) we are embracing the medium of the Internet as heterogeneous, rather than the quaint uses of prepackaged vernacular computing software. We ask: What role have internets played in storytelling, in constructing narratives, and forming and shaping communities?
Internet lore in Asia (2018) builds on these cultural practices, situated within the region. It emphasizes the plurality of internets and of multilingual internets and communities. It gives equal footing to traditional healthcare practices that, sometimes awkwardly, migrate online as to hacktivists, trolls, and digital natives. The workshop and exhibition brought together scholars, artists, writers, film-makers, coders, game-makers, and storytellers to pursue these ideas collaboratively and in the spirit of continuing conversation.
The presentations by artists in 'Techno-Imaginations: Internet Lore in Asia' each speak to lore in their own way, informing a critical rethinking of existing discourse on digital folklore moving into the contemporary realm of internet lore. Like the presentations, which took the form of five-minute provocations rather than already-completed research papers, most of the exhibitions were works in progress. We aimed through this to contribute to the embryonic development of projects and writing rather than publicize existing work, suffice to say this event was forward looking.
Addressing communication strategies for real-time computer-mediated creative collaboration, Alex Mitchell’s demonstrated 'Monstrous Weather’d' a custom software exhibit - a netprov (networked improvisation) screen-based hypertextual retelling/adaptation, was weaving together a coherent narrative from the fragmented collection of stories shared across the Internet. The project examines how computer mediation can enhance communication and coordination in situations such as live musical improvisational performances and improvisational storytelling, where groups of people need to work together to come up with a creative solution to an ill-defined problem under time constraints. This was remedied by designing experimental computer-based tools for creative collaboration, and studying the use of these tools by creative practitioners in real contexts of use. Mitchell (2018) discussed ‘(Re)Writing the Internet through Collaborative Storytelling' and shared his investigations into the use of various structural devices, equivalent to literary devices such as imagery, allusion, and choice of language, that can be used by designers of interactive media to slow down the perception of the user while engaging with an interactive work so as to create a similar effect as that of poetic or literary language on a reader of a literary work.
Storytelling ran as a red stitch (although frequently a contested one – especially by the theorists in the room) that threaded the event together. But should ‘Internet lore’ be considered a tricky or fraught supplement? There is no doubt it challenges, destabilises, relativises, pluralises single notions of true culture and reason. For postcolonial diasporas struggling for recognition, what then constitutes cultural appropriation, when is it acceptable and when is it regarded as taboo? Taken out of context, transgressions of certain stories told by those uninitiated, can become a source of offence, especially for Kamini Ramachandran (2019) who hosted a live storytelling circle. Among other things, participants in the session asked: What does it mean to be initiated online, does this really acquire an authentic voice?
Highlighting the intangible way stories propagate themselves online, Briony Kidd’s talk 'Supernaturalize Me: Of fake ghosts and monsters…and how we become them online' (2018) focused on a trope that lends itself to discourse on multiple platforms, in the most direct and observable way through social media and reimagines the continuing conversation about real life “self-mythologisation” and presentation online. Kidd’s short noir film ‘Room at the Top of the Stairs’ (2010) was screened as a part of the exhibition. Set in Tasmania, the mythology develops around a young woman who becomes the protagonist’s nemesis, purely because the rumours about her seem to occupy so much ‘space’ in the house in spite of her physical absence. Such inhabitations are “invisible technologies” that are “pivotal in shaping everyday life and do so often through the body” (Michael, 2000 p.108).
Actions considered transgressive thrive in such settings, this statement is especially true when we encounter Eugene Soh a.k.a. DUDE’s 'Puppy Poop Run', a multiplayer virtual reality experience which draws on internet culture’s obsession with the faecal. Contrasting with the typically sterile and vapour wave aesthetic typic of the medium, visitors were able to interact with each other at the site in real time, regardless of their locations in the world, in which traces of their interaction were visualised by spreading faecal matter. A digital footprint visualised by puppy excrement. 'Puppy Poop' ran on http://gallery.sg a virtual gallery built on a multi-player gaming platform.
Film maker and writer Katrina Irawati Graham discussed the folklore of the 'Kuntilanak and the locus of authenticity in folklore in the digital space', raising questions of legitimacy and agency as to who can share oral history. Also questioning why tragic female ghosts such as Kuntilanak and Pontianak are so prominent in Asian folklore. This narrative contrasts with the healing balm of 'White Song’ (2006), Irawati Graham’s short film which depicts the most famous of Indonesian ghosts, the Kuntilanak, in the haunting of a young woman. Told from the ghost's perspective, the film reclaims the humanity of a supernatural creature by exploring ancestral intersections, the yearnings of a dead woman and those of a living one. Makes invisible things visible, connections between the presence of the supernatural and the politics of female artists working with technology; voices that have always been talking - but haven't always been heard, to be able to rewrite these archetypes.
The narrative of soothsaying is continued in Nancy Mauro-Flude’s 'Aerial’s Cypher', a custom access Wi-Fi portal/email performance, in which users are haunted by virtual entities (such as Pontianak, Kuntilinank or Matianak) that are in the process of gathering data to add to and inform their’ feministic internet vernacular. Reappraising computer networks – the Internet - through a performative lens, audiences are provided with direct contact to the strategies used in networked space, guided by chatbots masquerading as 'matianak ghosts' who poetically illuminate the complexity of uninformed consent strategies typically used in online database user/client communications. In an era of increasing activities emergent in artificial intelligence (AI) industry developments, and other nonhuman technological agents, the work is a metaphor for the capacity of our technologies to both read and write new realities.
Continuing on with software collage Paolo Casani (2018) highlighted digital methods in research design to explore machine learning techniques using natural language processing, in his poster display 'From personal experience to digital expression: an eclectic narrative'. The research project takes a personal look at the metaphors inherent in a networked life juxtaposing, on one hand, the quantitative manifestations and expression of traits of self and identity on Twitter, and on the other, qualitative subjective experience of digital technologies through personal testimonies gathered using semi-structured interviews. This is a multi-layered account on the subjective impact of digital technologies, where traditional interview practices are enmeshed with current social media analytics that use computational linguistic methods for textual analysis. Casani’s deflects his object investigation back onto the arbiter, looking at “how academics use, experience and express their subjectivity over digital media platforms (Casani, 2018).” Generating a wide horizon of insights into internet lore and life expressed through critical ideas around what constitutes subjectivity beyond the formal frame in which they are protected.
Eric Kerr and Olivier Perriquet’s 'Haw Par Villa' (2018) is a 3D model projection of the artefacts, sculptures, dioramas, and environments of the Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore. The park is a sculptural sketchbook, a corporeal form of storytelling through objects, at once a materialization of collective memory and the product of an individual imagination and vision. As with the park, as you walk through the 3D models, you realize that each perspective modifies the expression of the statues and transforms the scene. Rather than prescribing one interpretation, the scenes submit themselves to the eye of the viewer. Their art-philosophy collaboration explores how this process unfolds through new technologies of 3D reconstruction and how this might cause us to reflect on our own memories both collective and individual. They ask: What are the relationships between lore, objects, and places? To what extent is internet lore ephemeral and to what extent is it scaffolded by the material infrastructures that undergird it?
Performing the Internet in 'My Malaysian Uncles are Reddit Conspiracy Lurkers' Teik-Kim Pok through still image projection gave a live recital of news, memes and conspiracy discussions and a patchwork of personal anecdotes lifted from the WhatsApp archives from his Malaysian relatives. Reflecting on how ‘lore’ has been generated on a human level in his extended Southeast Asian family grapevine. Memories and pictures unwittingly becoming memes proliferated across the Internet from the digital palm of their hands, migrating easily through boundaries of personal, political, speculative conspiracy. As the final presentation, throwing the role of lore into high relief, Pok then enacted a script, an algorithm of instructions not to a machine but instead to the audience:
close our eyes
return to the moment
hold up our index finger to our mouth
give it a gentle kiss
blow it into the abyss of the internet ...
Folklore connotes the dispelling of worries (its etymological roots in several languages confirm this). What are the lessons of internet lore? Folklore can function to dispel a community’s maladies. It serves a curative function as therapeutic. It also tends to have a lesson or moral which morphs over time or is reinterpreted in new surroundings In the examples applied in this case study, the artist, the humanities scholar, the media theorist, the truth-teller, the soothsayer, were all speaking as much to the present as to the past and therefore internet lore is as much a reflection of current situations as of predictive technologies. The people involved in the event who were already software literate were thus able to help those whom were not, in an experiential manner, to tune into the fact one has the capacity to customise code. By exhibiting new forms of cultural production that are technologically savvy, code was artisanal, bringing deeper insight into ways around disproportionate access to digital literacy and to acknowledging the value in wrestling with software, and “getting close to the metal” (Brunton & Coleman 2014).