Friday, January 23, 2009

A Canadian Cyborg in Finland

"Anti-Festival" Proposal

The project that I propose will be a performance-based art work and will be recorded in video format. Another element of the work is the inclusion of a sculpture (robotic helmet). The project is an evolution of an idea that I have been developing in a past work entitled, "Great Consumer Death Warriors Will Rule Your Face", and which I will expand upon later in this proposal. There are several interconnected themes I have been exploring in my art practice, and which will be further developed in this performance. They are mass consumerism, robotic-like behavior, the indifference of urban people, the omnipresence and expansion of technology as well as interfacing with technology which gives rise to the development of man/robot or "cyborg". By simultaneously acting as a performer as well as a participant among crowds of people in everyday urban settings, I expect that the observers will react with a variety of responses and these will be captured in video production. My robotic-like presence and performance is intended to interrupt the viewers' own tendency toward mass robotic behavior. This performance is intended to cause people to reflect on the themes I will explore, and what they mean in a modern society.

In keeping with the theme of the "ANTI FESTIVAL, 2009", I propose in my performance to be walking among urban crowds of people while performing, and as stated, this will be recorded in video format. (http://www.antifestival.com/)

The art work I propose will explore several interconnected themes as stated, for example that mass consumerism is a defining element of modern society, and this is evidenced by "brands" or "labels" in popular culture. Another major theme is the expanding inclusion of technology in all aspects of human existence, for example, the idea of the evolution of human being morphing into a "cyborg" (part human, part machine) by interfacing with multiple technologies. Could this be contributing to a move away from what it is to be human to a more machine-like and inanimate and robotic behavior?

I have found that performance art is a good medium to interrupt the indifference that has developed and defines modern urban society. Through the art of performance, the viewer is both observer, but also participant since he or she will appear in the video piece. By engaging with my performance, the somewhat robotic behavior that crowds exhibit will be temporarily disturbed, and a human response is therefore elicited.


BACKGROUND:

When walking through an urban, metropolitan center, one is subject to a set stage for human interactions in a consumer culture. Across the globe, human traffic moves through business districts, shopping centers, independent boutiques, large scale franchises, and other consumer-friendly environments resulting in mass transactions and interactions within the same context. Next to a store where a man is buying a Rolex watch we may observe a homeless person begging for money. Next to this scene, we may come across a group of street performers, musicians, and others who provide the service of entertainment for a small donation or fee. These large centers offer a wide diversity of people who engage in all sorts of behaviors, and it can be compared to a theatrical stage, or a template to work within; we walk through these centers and participate on a mass urban stage as performers. We may be begging for money, we may be spending money, we may be providing a service, or we may just want to be around other people to feel less alienated. However we may also be seeking approval or validity in some activity, or perhaps consuming a brand or label in order to express a persona of individuality.

Two years ago I started asking myself where my own placement in all of this was. I made a decision to artistically explore such questions through performance activity - to probe and disturb various urban settings. In a video I create entitled, "Great Consumer Death Warriors Will Rule Your Face", I am wearing a robot helmet which I constructed from discarded computer parts, and coupled with formal business attire, I danced and moved through shopping centers and large chain corporate stores, like "Walmart" and "McDonald's". This experience was exhilarating and did indeed disturb the construct and context in which these shopping venues operate within. I became a spectacle, an alien who was disrupting consumer activity. This performance marked the testing ground, and the beginning to what I intended to be a series of related performances. I revisited this idea with a second effort in which I walked among the business crowd in Regina's main downtown business district in a suit, briefcase in hand, and of course with my robot head. In this performance which was captured on video, I took the role of a perpetual walker, acting as one of the masses. I performed the role of an everyday businessman going about my business while simultaneously challenging the urban crowds with my robot appearance. I garnered many intriguing responses which changed the scope of what is expected in a downtown metropolitan center.

This proposal for "ANTI FESTIVAL, 2009" is an extension of this work. By coincidence, I am currently residing in Jyvaskyla, Finland and will be until June, 2009. One of the ideas I have been able to formulate during my stay in Finland is that there is a similarity of consumer behaviors and constructs in an urban environment. As I stated before, this type of setting is also a global template which offers us an environment for our cultural and consumer needs. My intent is to interact as an alien robot in such environments both in Finland and in Canada. Although both countries differ in culture and identity, they are both subject to consumerism, which in my observation, is causing societies to act one-dimensionally in their robotic responses and making them relatable on that level.

In my proposed performance, I will walk through urban centers, interacting with businesses and people while dressed in my uniform. The uniform describes a robot which represents the programmed nature of our societal behavior within a consumer culture. To quote Jean Baudrillard, "...the robot is the perfect object that sums up all the others, this is not simply because it is a simulacrum of man as a functionally efficient being; rather because, for all its humanness, it always remains quite visibly an object, and hence a slave" (The System of Objects, p. 130). The robotic behavior, and the robot that I portray in my performance, is reflective of the increasingly mindless behavior of a consumer-oriented mass society to which we are evolving. The performance therefore, is intended to act as a mirror to the behavior of the people around me, causing them to see themselves as being enslaved, and acting robotic-like by their participation in this new consumer society.

In this performance, I intend to act as a typical urban consumer, walking in his habitat, while at the same time disrupting that very role. I will not be performing a service for money like a street entertainer; I will be creating a performative metaphor relating to the consumer in a global concept. The robot can be interpreted as a programmed automaton, or perhaps a unique body in an attractive uniform. My goal is to explore the commonality of societies through the lens of consumer culture while disturbing the role one plays within its context.

To watch "Great Consumer Death Warriors Will Rule Your Face"
Visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=781pNLBstgM