Heaven in a Box
Catalogue essay for exhibition 'Q.Would you recognise a virtual paradise' at Mizuma Art Gallery, Tokyo, Japan. 1995
The virtual and the interactive operate outside linear dictates, even though each individual moment or choice does necessarily operate within linear time.... after another. However each choice we make suggests the ghosts of all the other possible choices that are not made at that moment, and which are brought into being through not being done: this ghostly host multiplied at each stage of the progress, existing in the same space and time of the actual choices made: Therefore rather than a line of occurrences there is a multi-dimensional tree of possibilities. Thus certainties cease to exist and the text that we are following or writing becomes one of all the other texts that can be inscribed, erased and re-inscribed within the multi-dimensional realms of the hypertext, each narrative simultaneously there/not there – this multi-generation taking place in a space that is also there/not there. That is the space of the virtual. That is the space of these works by Suzanne Treister.
this complex of actualities and their ghosts, all laws become
suspended, the antithesis of each law is also there, as well as a
simultaneous absence of the law. In this environment histories become
unanchored. Everything is up for grabs, to the extent that the matrix
for this space – that of technology, the computer, becomes unnecessary
or redundant. The virtual space has floated away, surrounded, enfolded
the point that at one time anchored it (that of technology), and has
subsumed that point within it. The idea is now entirely enough: It is a
new cliché of techno-talk that William Gibson, the creator of
“cyberspace” was computer illiterate when he was writing the book that
gave us the idea of “cyberspace”. In this he was prognosticating
the future of this space, which would dissolve the machine that
generated it. Now the concept, the space, exists within language
without a point of origin and with no boundaries.
is not to say that these works are dystopian. That is too easy and
clichéd a reaction. The works map out areas of love and desire, even if
love morphs in the space into a Gothic expression. Rather they
celebrate the possibilities of this space that is now all around us,
but remind us that slates are never wiped clean. Currently there is a
great temptation to see the possible spaces of technology as a
value-free zone, one which offers the possibility of escape from the
specifics of a certain narrative. For instance the way that
“techno-porn” is currently popular: as if the fact that the “newness”
of the format somehow eradicates or erases the previous structures of
value and power. It is only too clear though - as if it has not become
clear before in various histories of various revolutions - that
structures rebuild themselves in different contexts if the structure's
history is merely forgotten or ignored, rather than actively dismantled.
A virtual paradise is a complex thing full of contradictions, ambiguities and monsters. It is not the uncomplicated idiot nirvana of the techno-dorks with smart drugs and disease free virtual sex, neither is it the necessarily evil dehumanised space of the two-culture dystopians to whom any innovation defines a space of anxiety. Rather the virtual paradise - which we may not recognise to be a paradise at all - is a space of play, but a space in which play has to be taken seriously since all decisions have their actions and reactions and nothing is without implication. The dungeons have their dragons, and the dragons have teeth, and dragons teeth when cast to the ground grow into soldiers as Jason found in pursuit of the golden fleece. The virtual world is also not virtual, it is actual. In both the bodies of action that constitute play have shadows; a virtual paradise is the product of various actions, reactions and interactions, as well as containing and reproducing these. Technology has too often been a final solution, and Suzanne Treister's work, in suggesting the many possibilities that this space has generated, and in mapping its spread into and over and within the realms of language and imagination and articulating its various histories and narratives, reinforces the ambiguity and danger of Heaven in both the “real” and the “actual” world, as well as its many possibilities.
Richard Grayson 1995