Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Residency 2, Day 7: ‘It’s all about the truth, nothing but the truth. End of' - Steve McQueen

Visiting my mother today in person and being able to spend time with her alone was very different to communicating through video-call. (The use of video-calls during the Covid year(s) was very welcome of course.) The situation today was emotionally loaded because this was the first time in two years it was possible to sit together. Many have lost loved ones, were unable to be around them whilst they died, and had inadequate funeral events afterwards. I'd wondered if Covid would get our mother but it didn't. On a lighter note I kept thinking of Beckett's Molloy with his mother: this seems to be the territory we are heading into.

For sure virtual reality, with ever improving headsets, bandwidth, effects, and all other kinds of telepresence, seems special but what is it about being in the actual proximity of another that is important? The answer to this question is treated as obvious, but is it really all the sensory stuff, being able to hold a hand in this case for example, that matters? Though human beings are highly visual creatures much attention is given to the importance of touch, smell and so on too. All those effects, including haptic ones which rely on feedback loops and subtle interaction, have the potential to be mediated over a distance in ways which are less lossy though. The geeks will provide suitable interfaces and channels for all this in the future, and in the past much work has been done anyway. Apart for certain specialist functions, whether there would be any point in doing so is an overlooked question. Aren't we getting into Borges fable territory here? Perhaps it is simply the knowledge of being in the same space, close to the other, that matters. Maybe it is this simple, cerebral, 'left-brain' fact that counts, and not all the perceptive aspects. And, knowing that the actual space is occupied by others we might expect to find there, and the objects, landscape and architecture we might expect to find there, could be important too. The suggestion is probably one to annoy the many cod-psychologists, pub philosophers and would-be experts. Here is my practice-based hypothesis anyway: it is not touch, scent, 6th haptic senses etc. which make proximity to others special (not only meant in the positive sense) compared to mediated communication but the knowledge that we could touch, or do more, with that other.

As I drove past wind-turbines on the hills near Inchigeelagh today, simultaneously thinking about a plan to go up Carrauntoohil in a few weeks, I recalled that it was common to see crosses, with depictions of yer suffocating Jesus character nailed on to them, on peaks around Ireland. Wind turbines are replacing these now. The turbines are astonishing in scale and in their seeming purity and elegance, in design terms. As well as being on the top of hills, Jesus-on-the-cross was always a bit over the top. Such a violent but also, arguably, erotic image. Presumably, of all depictions, this one should require a 'trigger warning' or should have been censored. At worse Jesus on the cross is like propaganda for a suicide cult. Or maybe no worse than Grand Theft Auto. Are the turbines icons for some new religion? Not scientism but maybe techn-ism: over-belief in magical technical solutions to global systemic problems?

For petty reasons no doubt, I resented having Google Maps guide me around in an English or North American accent. There were three others to choose from (Indian, Australian and Nigerian), so I selected the last of these. Now I am directed by an ostensibly female Nigerian voice. It's pleasing but intuitively I feel uneasy about it too. Is there something (overused word alert) 'problematic' about the using accents from other cultures, given historical and current power relations, colonial pasts, and so on? Simulating accents, when humans do it with each other, can be complimentary, important in performance say, a natural inclination even, but also it is a key means of lampooning, of mocking and stereotyping others. Personally, I am drawn to the way many Nigerians speak, and, for example, how 'the' is pronounced as 'dee'. Words comes across very clearly and the accent is useful when listening out for directions whilst driving. In Cork growing up we could not deal with 'th' very well either, so 'the' was pronounced 'de' and 'three' became 'tree'. The English are not good at their 'th's either of course and speak them as 'v's (often), and 'r' sounds become 'w's. 'Three' in England can sound like 'free' and 'the' becomes 'vee'. Would it be better if technology spoke back in neutral 'robotic' voices, or if a variety of unique non-descript accents could be invented instead? I don't know.

I have asked three very different individuals to 'crit' the work I am doing here at Uillinn.

Screens everywhere, but nature is doing okay

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