performance for people-bodies, performance for/with projected and onscreen video
essay by Kristian Vistrup Madsen
In June, Kristian Vistrup Madsen deliver-performs a lecture titled "Why I Can't Write Fiction: On real-life experiences and the question of presence in art and writing" for Nordens Biskops Arnö's Debutant Seminar, June 2018. Below are stills from performance and video followed by segments from Kristian's speaking/writing as they, in the frame of this digital page, parse alias personae Live1 and Freshy presents: alias personae Live2 (presented by Olympia Bukkakis) and Zander presents: alias personae Live3 (presented by SomoS) in reverse-chronological order.
"Actually intimacy, as it would begin to dawn on me, means something very different to Zander, looks very different to Zander. I mean: if we were to have a group chat, the colour of the speech bubbles would revert to blue.
What’s weird about Zander is that there is no difference between how he speaks and how he texts. His tone of voice, therefore, is more like graphic design: it bears no relation to what is said. That is, the physical reality of the body is subordinate to a matrix of mediated presences of which the body is just one.
This confuses me too, so let me unpack: When you are in front of a screen – regardless of who or how many people you communicate with – your body is physically alone. And this is the reason for its subordinance, because you don’t feel alone, quite, or rather these very mediated interactions constitute what you have come to know as togetherness: being non-alone. This is a concept I’ll now use. It is not a devaluation of togetherness but its icon."
"Just as Zander and I were not really together, not really alone, but non-alone – and for very different reasons: from Zander, I’m looking to spin a fiction, but to Zander, reality doesn’t exist. As we begin to patch up our derailment, and I learn about Zander’s Online Bildungsreise, I come to understand what this really means. Zander’s art, in his own words, is about what he owes the internet; what all those hours invested yielded in return. The recognition of a cause of nothing less than a different way of existing; of speaking without sound, of being simultaneously never and always 'there'; never and always alone.
From witnessing Zander IRL I finally understood this – the guiding paradigm of the post-internet – not as a theoretical provocation but simple description: no difference between URL and IRL, no difference between representation and presence, screen and physicality, being and signification. What happens to fiction when reality is always already mediated? Zander doesn’t care about the real world. He wanted me to read him like an art work, so I did. I will:
When Zander was 10 years old he won an award among thousands of users for making the best room on a massively multi-player online game called Virtual Magic Kingdom. This is probably where the Facebook Messenger decoration impulse came from. After Disney, it was chatroom Survivor. A snake with a cute picture, Zander won again. He was the one who everybody liked, he told me, because he seemed innocent. The reality of the game was that there was no card he wouldn’t play, it’s just that innocence was his strongest one, and it worked."
"His next avatar was on Cam4, a public webcam masturbation channel. Let’s be real: Zander has an amazing body. Large and muscular, kind of off the charts. The story of the boy who, since age 10, has devoted himself to one virtual identity after the other – the scrawny kid’s classic escape from the brutal world of real-life children into the virtual – is incongruent with the Herculean man, so immensely physically present, although seated at a safe distance from me.
But Cam4 makes it all come together: this body constructed as a way of winning yet another game. Like the Stitch hats of Magic Kingdom, on this platform ab-apparel is the ultimate currency. And just as the sleight deadpan of his voice is detached from the words that it speaks, so his gorgeous torso is an image (on Cam4 decapitated), an isolated component that contributes to a whole in the same way that a desktop computer needs a keyboard. The endeavour to privilege randomised cam-life and its affective attachments, I think, is the strongest aspect of Zander’s art.
Online, being and discourse take place in the same breath (the same push of the enter-button). When Zander speaks (texts), that is the essence of his presence – completely irrespective of his body. When he is tired, an electric sigh takes him into a forward fold and I count the knots of his spine as they protrude through intelligent fabric."
"I almost wish I had met Zander on the internet now in the same way as one would want to read a novel in its original language. Hearing his story was a kind of revelation as to where post-internet art comes from: building the non-alone out of aloneness, that is, making a strength out of what might have been a weakness. For hours and hours, years and years."
— Kristian Vistrup Madsen