The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, its variants and quarantines have forced us to remain physically and culturally stuck in place in our current condition, “a risky interregnum – a global subsidence at the end of western hegemony.”1 Although the interregnum started decades before the authoritarian, patriarchal Trump presidency and its meltdown, American citizens’ loss of confidence in its government coupled with the pandemic further emphasized that America had lost its status as a guiding force. Progress as we knew it “has been blown off course.” 2 Moreover, as the internet and its technologies have become increasingly important during our hermetic existence, a closer look into the virtual sphere reveals that cultural time is increasingly grinding to a halt. Digital capitalism has hyper- saturated the internet with an inescapable loop of imagery and sounds stuck on repeat while the artworld is being flooded with art shaped by the “data religion” in which “algorithms that produce copies of themselves” are stripping humans of any need to “find meaning within ourselves.” 3 Reminiscent of previous interregnums, our new normal is riddled with precarity, disenchantment and an anxious stillness devoid of unique generational markers. Without any obvious replacement for guidance on progress, where do we begin to look for inspiration?
Emerging artists, Alice Morey and Emily Mulenga are two Contemporary Artists that inject the virtual sphere with their virtual exhibition, Data_Blood III to encourage dreaming and imagining of progress. Their online exhibition challenges the notion that the virtual sphere is a site where art and artists are being lost to data-driven neoliberal economies who will ultimately produce “human cogs...who can hardly pay attention, dream or doubt.” 4 Whereas previous iterations of Data_Blood consisted of in-real-life immersive installations centered on transhumanism, Morey and Mulenga’s visual language began to shift early in 2021. Much of the virtual exhibition was created in the wake of the COVID pandemic, the #metoo movement, Black Lives Matters protests and uprisings against authoritarian governments worldwide. As they grappled with the hopes and promises of the movements and the worldwide humanitarian crises, it is fitting that Data_Blood III move away from three-dimensional representations of the organic era and evolve into the era of the machine and data.
In Data_Blood III the visitor finds a grey hued virtual room, in which the neutral grey tone of liminality eliminates dichotomous black/white, man/woman, right/wrong ways of thinking and offers an indeterminate, in-between space of liminality. In this liminal space which is ‘a rendered representation of their gallery space’ the former objects which comprised Data_Blood 2.0: A Glitch, a surgical table with the pulsating non-human, side table with surgical supplies, and a hanging television in which the artists’ voices recounted the memories of the pulsating non-human, now play a pink rippling liquid where a glitch now cuts to images of the artists’ eyes. Additional tables have been added with plants as well as open file cabinets, as well as fluorescent pink and red lights in the background walls. Upon clicking on the various objects throughout in the interactive space, a series of restless/rotating messages from the artists’ cyberfeminist manifesto appear. Echoing of Donna Haraway’s 1985 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto,” 5 Morey and Mulenga use the cyborg to reject the boundaries and limitations of the oppressed body imposed by the “antagonistic dualisms” ordered by Western patriarchal/colonial tenets:
THE DATA IN OUR BLOOD IS CALLING
ONE FOOT IN CYBERSPACE
ONE FOOT IN THE WILD
WE PRIORITIZE THE PRIMAL
WE RECOGNIZE THE SACRED BOTH
GODDESSES AND CYBORG
WE HEAL OURSELVES
REACH BACK TO THE SOIL
WE WILL NOT BE SANITIZED
Data_Blood III emerges from a grey – liminal space, a borderless experimental zone of in-betweenness where “social roles and
relationships are tested and redefined” 6 and provide the potential for transition. This grey virtual space of liminality
equally encourages playful deviance from identity categories, such as gender, to be re-signified and to assume a level of agency which
has traditionally been frowned-upon in in-real-life patriarchal communities. By abstaining from using any bodies in the liminal space,
this helps eliminate the socially constructed signifiers that may influence the mind of visitors with constructed imagery which in turn
detracts from imagining. As such, Morey and Mulenga imaginatively take over and subvert the male-dominated technocratic cyberspace and
offer a backspace where visitors can join the crusade against patriarchy and explore our secret selves “in an environment of reduced
stigma and surveillance.” 7 Ostensibly a clinical and sterile environment, the artists’ swirling manifesto allows for
embracing cyberspace while ‘ONE FOOT IN THE WILD’ and prioritizing ‘THE PRIMAL’ and ‘RESIST DOMINATION’ encourages us to embrace
deconstructing and reinterpreting social and sexual categories into non-normative identities.
The current interregnum is an incredibly challenging context in which we are operating, and this essay may leave the reader with more questions than answers, which is deliberate. In keeping with Morey and Mulenga’s thought-provoking exhibition, the attempt of this essay is to explore new ways of thinking of the world around us. The value of Data_Blood III’s evolution into the virtual sphere transcends beyond the shift in social attention from the human towards machines and data. Given the shock and awe of the pandemic coupled with the disenchantment of culture during the interregnum and the period of accelerated technological change, Morey and Mulenga further extend Data_Blood III’s liminality potential in the virtual sphere to also act as a place for healing.
It is during the most tumultuous periods like these that we, as humans tend to fight-or-flight, and we are least able to identify the changes around us, who we want to become, and how to proceed. In the process of trying to avoid discomfort, we fail to notice the potential of liminal places and instead we revert to traditional concepts. The liminal space provides the betwixt and between place necessary between what is familiar and what is still unknown while offering the place that will foster contemplation for meaningful visions of the future.
Part of Alice Morey and Emily Mulenga’s legacy as Contemporary Artists through Data_Blood III will (hopefully) be to germinate this habit of seeking fresh ideas in alternative liminal spaces. What is at stake, is the risk of idealizing normalcy.
1 Norman M. Klein, “The Pandemic and the Interregnum,” in Art in the Age of Anxiety (published on the occasion of the exhibition, Art in the Age of Anxiety at Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, 2020), edited by Omar Kholeif (Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Morël Books, 2020), 233.
3 Yuval Noah Harari, Homodeus; A Brief History of Tomorrow. (Random House, 2016.) 391.
5 Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp 149-181.
6 Matthew T. Jones, “Mediated Exhibitionism: The Naked Body in Performance and Virtual Space,” in Sexuality and Culture no. 14, (2010), 255.