Condition: interface anxiety

Kate Vickers sees Super Vision at the Perth Festival

Super Vision

Super Vision

Experiencing the retrograde nature of human-to-technology interfaces is perhaps the condition of our time. That’s right; forget ‘the postmodern condition’ (so 70s!). We have now arrived at ‘the condition of interface anxiety.’ Hands up those few who can’t relate to this new condition. The frustration that your pronunciation is rejected by the voice recognition software when you ring ‘information’ for a telephone number; the sudden self-doubt when you’re picked at the airport for one of those ‘random explosives trace scans’ (as if suddenly you can’t be sure that you weren’t handling guns/bombs just this morning); the uncertainty when verisign.com fails to process your payment for that journal subscription. Often we never actually find out ‘what was wrong’ but are left to wonder indefinitely: was it my cookie settings, my web browser, my accent, my account balance, or did I just look suspicious? Certainly the time is ripe for creative works which can make these invisible experiences dance before our eyes. This is what Super Vision attempts to do.

Super Vision is the 9th and latest production of The Builders Association, an 11 year old performance and new media production company based in New York. The company integrates stage performances with video, sound and architectural elements. Here a desktop fills the width of the stage with computer screens and chairs spaced along it. About a metre above, another performance level is housed within a rectangular, round-edged frame. Behind is a projection surface with smaller mobile screens around the frame.

The performers sometimes appear as just another layer of the surface, at other times they are revealed to the audience against the background projections. These conjure loungeroom settings, landscapes, moving text and graphic images, depending on the needs of the narrative. At times the audience simultaneously sees a performer interacting with a computer screen on stage and a large-scale projection of the performer’s face captured web-cam style. The stage becomes a space where human presence, data and representation merge. This encapsulates something of my daily reality where those binaries of real/virtual and original/reproduction don’t behave anymore. It seems that the intent of the production shares that age-old artists’ maxim, ‘to make the invisible visible.’

To accommodate 3 narrative threads about identities challenged by computerised data collection the set changes often. The video projections, moving screens and occasional props merge effortlessnessly. Despite occasional problems with the microphones worn by the performers, the technology and performers work well together, creating a pleasing aesthetic: part CNN, part Pixel Chick and part video art shown black-box style.

Prior to the introduction of any new media components into the production, a speech is delivered by a character listed in the program as The Voice of Claritas™ performed superbly by Tanya Selvaratnam. She feeds the audience data gleaned from sales of theatre tickets for the production, outlining the audience demographic. We are told that we have “above average levels of education” and are “knowledge workers”, “professionals” and have “chic connections.” This is then contrasted with the “shall we say, eye-for-a-bargain” demographic of an outer suburbs postcode not represented in the ticket sales at all.

I scan the audience as The Voice of Claritas™ speaks. Rather than feeling constrained by their ‘data selves’, they seem to sense an image that they like and, consequently, are happy to have the data speak for them. Intended to serve as an introduction to and proof of the impact data surveillance has on our daily lives, the spiel has the converse effect. The audience is rendered immune to the full potential of the production. Perhaps the true technology of performance is that which captures an audience’s vulnerability, for it is this that provides us the opportunity to question our ideas and assumptions rather than making us comfortable with the status quo. Super Vision encompasses the paradox of the 21st century Western experience: that incurable mix of privilege and constraint that brings about the condition of interface anxiety.

Super Vision, The Builders Association and dbox; His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, 14-19 Feb 14-19

See also Jonathan Marshall’s response to Super Vision on pag 36

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg. 27

© Kate Vickers; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2006