Within the state of apparent exception, in the field of consumer experience, some curious services have emerged. A tourism company started offering remote nature walks. It works as follows: the client, closed at home, is connected via the internet to a person (who has a camera attached to their head) who walks instead of them, on a mountain, in a desert or anywhere. The client can communicate with the person and ask them to bend over to pick up a stone, to turn left, run, look at the horizon line and so on.
Some time ago, a report made by one of the Portuguese generalist information channels showed a conductor conducting an orchestra remotely, from a different space. It was in fact a commercial advertising manoeuvre by a telecommunications company to promote 5G technology - which is currently being installed. In addition to associating the brand with the latest technology (the «state-of-the-art»), the strategy is to establish a validation network within the traditionally more critical sections of society, confusing the business agenda with the art, for a slow process of habituation and, later on, dependency.
In recent times, and also due to the circumstances of physical isolation, the «online» has gained even more importance as a platform for communications, transactions and services, to the point that one cannot question the conditions and the price of its use, its limitations and violence.
Marshall McLuhan who foresaw the creation of the network, and some of the disruptions and pain associated with the electronic and technological environment, in a 1968 text, about the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov's previous experiences in the field of conditioned reflexes (performed with dogs) wrote: «The portentous discovery he made was that any controlled environment, any man-made environment, is a conditioner that creates non-perceptive somnambulists.»
These electronic environments, with gadgets and floating, fragmented, opaque images, carrying their own agenda, are the show´s maintenance facilitators. Everywhere, at every moment of opportunity to deepen and develop culture, ecology, cohabitation and dialogue between meanings and states, new political setbacks arise, fuelled by financial interests. A new app is developed for instantaneous distraction. The numbness and consumption of images and systems (many of which have already lost any symbolic reference) continues. But the artist does not give in and rejoices with the novelties of perception. Access the online art sales platform, fulfil the criteria and feed the content of their expected self-representation in the social network. The artist then comments on the topics of the moment, which in turn are capitalized on by the spectacle, well articulated by curators, directors of museums, theatres and other places where the feedback and justification of the specie’s rumination are confused with the publicity of the imitators themselves.
Back to the social network, everything can be facilitated again - from the invitation to the last exhibition, through the reading of advertising and disinformation in the shape of newsfeed, to the extension of totalitarian regimes in power. In the midst of online activity, free access to knowledge, data (financial, economic and political activity), independent journalism and activism tools and channels are also promoted.
To operate, to act and to function «online» is mostly to be wrapped in images, in an amputation of several senses (that Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence are still far from filling, if that will be ever an objective). And being in this constant relationship with images is also being in a continuous redefinition of the relationship with everything that is «offline». At the limit, when all human, artistic, communicative, relational activity within and between species, aims to fill content spaces and serve the «online» (composed of a network of devices, communicating machines, high-speed routes, apparatus, neurological implants), the «online» as a map (and as in a certain tale by Jorge Luis Borges) will cover the «offline» world, until it becomes the world.
The philosopher Vilém Flusser in his work foresaw some of these dynamics imprinted on the difficulty we currently have in deciphering, dismantling and criticizing what he defined as the «technical image». He explained that, unlike the traditional image (which ontologically is an abstraction of phenomena in the world and which precedes the text), the technical image is a third-order abstraction (of symbols derived from traditional images derived from the world). As they appear to be ends in themselves, by retaining a quality and definition that seems to mean the world without the need for decoding, technical images hide reality, delude us with supposed objectivity.
In this issue dedicated to the «offline», it is important to understand which artistic and critical discourses operate in the dismantling of these technical images «on» and «offline». What kind of analogue, subversive, invisible production takes place outside the network, alternatives to the existing mechanisms of self-representation and justification? And what contribution and space does artistic activity still have to question the paradigm of visual capitalism, characterized by a connection of disconnections, in an environment that annihilates part of the perception, imagination, rationality and magic that characterize the human being?
^ McLuhan, Marshall; Fiore, Quentin (2001). War and Peace in the Global Village. Corte Madera: Gingko Press, page 71.
^ An investigation report published recently by The Guardian, exposed the inaction of a social network company in dealing with fake user profiles and disinformation in a large scale: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/apr/12/facebook-loophole-state-backed-manipulation
^ Vilém Flusser (2000). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books.