In Florian Cramer’s primer on the concept of the ‘post-digital’, he defines the term as describing a feeling of ‘disenchantment’ with digital cultures as well the period (very much our own) in which such cultures have become historical. He outlines some of the ways this disenchantment might be felt – as nostalgia for the fantasy of a pre-digital life, or as paranoia associated with Big Data and surveillance. He also suggests some effects of the historicisation of ‘the digital age’ – diverse and sometimes contradictory conceptions of networks and computation, and aesthetic sensibilities that vacillate between high-end, tech-heavy systems and the soft grain of low-fi and compressed forms. The post-digital, he concludes, refers very simply to that which is thought and made in the increasingly messy media environment of the contemporary.
Marian Tubbs’s practice is undoubtedly post-digital, though saying so only goes a little way in describing what she does, and what the work in turn does to us all. Her interest is not just in the moment we inhabit, nor its diffraction of our attention, but in the way that the contemporary moment continues old habits by new means – habits to do with how value floats in and settles down in natural facts, to do with how objects are assumed at once mute and magic, to do with how interpretation is inextricably linked to expectation, and to do with how the division of culture into what matters and what doesn’t is invariably in the service of a rotten, violent politic. Tubbs’s work shows the continuity of bad habits as they undergo radical transformations in the rapid sublime of the post-digital.
transmission detox, commissioned by the MCA and marking the first work made ‘online’ for the institution, brings together an inventory of Tubbs’s preoccupations (including the ‘poor image’ (to cite Hito Steyerl), plastics and synthetics, simulated ambience, vernacular criticism, vaporwave, ripped and animated text) in a multipage, networked piece. The linked logic of the work returns the reader again and again to a diagonal menu, part now-outdated iOS interface, part scraped-off clipart. Like many menus, the choices are obscured by inscrutable codes. And then, maybe not choices at all. Some icons click through to a static interface with looping ambient video. One to a camera feed of a slow party in a pot-planted gallery. One to an image overlay that bends and spins with the cursor, making a 3D tour of a 2D overlay. One to a low-res milky seascape with sudden edits of chopped-and-screwed music cut into the audio of Judith Butler speaking about the politics of the street – the way the street makes bodies in common with and vulnerable to each other. Each click to a different, eccentric URL, pointing out from the work’s networked pages to a series of one-line texts, fuzzed out by strings of numbers. The relationships between the pages, the sound, the timed responses and the reader’s cursor are all unclear – unsettlingly so.
Engaging with the work, the experience becomes one of simulated interactivity, a passage from video to still image or from link to loop and back again, with little sense of its basic operations, or of the impact a reader has on the timing or order. Such confusion of the backend operations, commands, transitions and processes is not so much a refusal to be interactive in a meaningful or productive way, but shows how interactivity itself is a complex of vague and often non-reciprocal processes between infrastructure, hardware, software and countless bodies. Against an overly-simple celebration of the democratic potentials of online environments, transmission detox offers a space for the consideration of the affects more proper to the experience of negotiating the digital: a distracted attentiveness, paranoid in the sense of desiring, requiring, producing or fearing narrative; a feeling of limited or false agency; a pleasure in the uncountable layers of form and relation.
Marian Tubbs’ practice is undoubtedly post-digital, though saying so only goes a little way in describing what she does, and what the work in turn does to us all.
Dr Astrid Lorange
Astrid Lorange is a writer and teacher from Sydney. She lectures at UNSW Art & Design, focusing on contemporary writing’s relationship to art. How Reading is Written: A Brief Index to Gertrude Stein was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2014. She has a number of poetry chapbooks, most recently Ex . She has written for the MCA, The Commercial Gallery, un Magazine and Das Superpaper, and her work has shown at 55 Sydenham Rd, 107 Projects, Artspace, Firstdraft, and the Margaret Lawrence Gallery. She is one half of Snack Syndicate and convenes the talk series Conspiracy at Minerva.