Suzanne Treister

We're not in Kansas any more Toto..."

Catalogue essay for Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide
& Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne - 1994


In opposition to the strongly graphic Christian belief system, Judaism has only the vaguest picture of what the after-life may be, this haziness occasioned through there being no strong idea of the continuation of the individual psyche or the individual soul after the mortal coil has been departed. This leads to a mindframe in which the abstract is easily accommodated, as concepts exist within the abstract rather than wrapped up in the anthropomorphisation of the early church, for instance, the wise man with a white beard and extremely clean robes. In the beginning was the word. Would you recognise a virtual paradise?

The virtual, or even the interactive operates outside the dictates of linearity - even though each individual experience does necessarily operate within the linear time-frame. However, each interaction or manipulation suggests the manifold possibilities of the other interactions that are, at the very moment of action, not embarked on. This leads to the mental model of a positively JB Priestlian tree of potentials and choices and triggers. In my beginning there are innumerable ends. Each choice makes crowd forth the ghosts of all the other possible choices that are not made, which are bought 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. Thus certainties cease to exist and the text 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.

Within this complex of actualities and their others, all laws become suspended, as the antithesis of each law is also there, as well as a time that there was no law. In this environment histories become unanchored. Everything is up for grabs, to the extent that even the matrix for this there/nothere space - that of technology, the computer, whatever becomes unnecessary or redundant. the space has floated away, surrounded, enfolded the point that at one time anchored it, to subsume that point within it. The idea, the dream (monster) is entirely enough.

It is a new cliche of techno-talk that William Gibson, the creator of 'cyber-space' was computer illiterate when inscribing the concept in language, but in this he was prognosticating the future of this technospace, which would dissolve the machine, dissolve its own history, so that it now exists within language, within concepts, without a point of origin and with no boundaries, and which encompasses all that we have ever known. Therefore our own histories, personal and social, have to be read as the results of active choice rather than an inevitable development, which in turn demands that there be some responsibility for the choices made, as the ghosts of those routes not taken loom large.

Here/not here we have different series of works. One of computer discs/software packages that suggest/map the space and connections between the images and/or texts, there are stills from a video game that exists only outside a video game -even though puzzlingly we have to believe that they exist on a video screen- and a series of paintings that are interlinked and make up a larger work that is a representation (and only one of many possible others) of the landscape of a virtual world.The castle in the landscape of this space is not the stone expression of The Law, in the way that castles in our present space have been considered to have been- simultaneously signifying and promulgating expressions of hierarchy and structure. Rather this castle is a law unto itself. For a start it changes size rather alarmingly, and occasionally it will/has float(ed) off to become a castle in its space. In the air. Castles in the air manage the strange trick of simultaneously existing and not existing. An exemplar of this strange state being either (and both) the castle built by mad Prince Ludwig in Bavaria which expressed concretely all the castles that had never been, which in turn became, or caused, the Disney castle which in two dimensions lived in film before popping through a third dimension to appear in the USA, then back flat for the TV screen, before it (the same castle) started hovering over France.

As can be seen, once we have a virtual castle in virtual space all other 'real' castles that we have considered to be solid, mute, unmovable, become contaminated with the virtual and start to flux, move and loose focus in a most distressing manner, almost flickering out of existence if we avert our eyes.

That these are narrative paintings is indisputable, and many of the roots of the narrative - both of the paintings and the world that they are narrating - lie within the field of 'fantasy' or fantastic fiction. This is turn draws from the dark Gothic world of the fairy tale. Castles, dungeon, dragons, a context within which all is made animate. This realm has always been one that contains and articulates occluded hopes and fears, and which, through the suspension of 'ordinary' cause and effect and the acceptance of the non-linear has mapped possibilities and nightmares. It is a commonplace of pop psychology that these stories and the terrain that these stories transverse are isomorphs of the subconscious and of atavistic structures of belief and meaning.

The Victorians and the Romantics had a particular fascination for 'the land of Faery' and for the fantastic, and it is tempting to see this as a reaction to the increasingly structured systems of capital and production that were the results of the industrial revolution and its resultant technological innovations. It is fitting that a descendant of Babbages calculating engine has been the catalyst for the creation of a new space of hypothesis which has overlapped and subsumed many of the mechanics and images of the fantastic, and which is, like the world of the Grimm Brothers, 'active', in which all has, or has the potential of meaning, action, and animation. In virtual space or in the computer game the dungeon may speak, the picture change, and objects and events align themselves in (paranoid) matrixes of meaning that surround and enfold the traveller.

The causal link between the realms of the fantastic and the irrational and those of the technological is neither new nor surprising, one helping define the other as in a thesis and antithesis. Necessarily the two realms must also invade and duplicate each other, especially when 'technology' and it's developments picks up such a hallucinogenic vortex of speed to change tense as so to exist in future possibility as well as current ubiquity. This overlapping not only generates the models and languages of science fiction, but within the 'real world' it produces advanced exploratory technological cultures such as that of Nazi Germany with its combinations of rocketry and the Brothers Grimm, the auto-bahn and astrology, and the mechanisation and technologisation of blood libels, as well as the current debates and rhetorics in publications such as Mondo 2000 which combine the languages of hi tech with the millenianistic eschatologies of re-wiring and re-invention that are from both the drug cultures of the sixties and older mystic narratives of gnosis and the loss of the physical self. Any history of these milleniastic movements makes clear that more often than not they end in exploitation, destruction, and death. As if the drive towards a too concrete paradise necessarily invokes the bloody termination of those who seek (or seek to impose) that paradise.

The soft ware-packages and the paintings here recognise the false equation of 'technology' with 'rationality', or that technology is the inevitable fruit of the enlightenment. The use of the languages of the romantic - the seascape, the Bavarian castle, the library interior - inevitably draws us back to certain European contexts that are melancholy in their implication and in their histories, and which cast long and dark shadows over what are usually the sunny horizons of a techno-clean future. In their combinations of European romanticisms and the 'new' spaces of technology, inevitably previous histories of such combinations are remembered, even if within this context these are but one of many possible histories, depending on which line is pushed on the menu-board and which choice is taken.

This is not to say that these works are dystopian. That is too easy and cliched a reaction. The works as a map out areas of love and desire, even if love morphs in the space into a Gothic articulation. 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 presented as a value-free zone, one which offers the possibility of escape from the specifics of a certain narrative. An example of this is the way that 'techno-porn' is currently popular, as if the fact that the 'newness' of the format some how eradicates or erases the previous structures of value and power inscribed in the pornographic, whist it becomes only too clear - as if it has not become clear before in various histories of various revolutions, from the Beghards through to the play-power generation - that structures rebuild themselves in different contexts if the structure 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 nivarna 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 plotting how bad things have gone since way back when. 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 Treisters' 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 some of its various histories and narratives, reinforces the ambiguity and danger of Heaven in both the 'real and the 'actual' world as well as its possibilities.