When I enter the arebyte Gallery, I am immediately confronted with Ami Clarke’s Lag Lag Lag, a multi-screen installation displaying the structural model of BPA (Bisphenol A). This compound is a synthetic oestrogen which is a byproduct in plastic manufacturing processes. Its molecules have been recently found in water supplies around the world and are linked to hormonal imbalance. We are consuming molecules of plastic and are bodies are becoming such. BPA is beautifully modelled, a sculptural work in its own right, which is peacefully rotating on the screen. Underneath it, there is a looped script. I managed to grasp a sentence “Capitalism as a state of contingency becomes modus operandi.”
When Lag Lag Lag’s screen switches, it shows fluctuations in stock pice of the top 100 polluting companies in the world, the same big stakeholders who are responsible for over 70% of Earth’s pollutions. These statistics are accompanied by sentiment analysis of Tweets, also showing different datasets which are being analysed; emotional, joy, disgust, fear, sadness. Most often used in marketing for specific audience targeting, it indicates how our minute online actions can also be used to influence the already violent financial market.
Clarke’s virtual reality work, Derivative, could as well be a digital trip to London in the aftermath of capitalism. Right after entering the experience, one can hear birds singing into the void and the wind carrying sand throughout the city maze. Its particles make up conical slopes in the corners between translucent buildings, which break up the surroundings into diamond-shaped fragments. I overcome them, slide a few inches above the ground by moving my thumb forward on the VR controller, which is increasingly making me lightheaded. The environment is blanketed with orange, eerie fog, reminiscent of the scenery from Blade Runner.
Further, the monotony of the landscape is interrupted by glimmering writing above the water surface. I set it as my destination, and move forward to it. The city is larger than it seems and it takes me a while to get close enough to read it. Still, I encounter no other living thing, only the lasers scanning through the buildings and my body, as if looking for sings of life. Eventually, I get to the end of the city, where I read the neon-green gothic script:
Welcome to the Offshore City
the city within the city
the tax haven
within the heart of Britain
Now I know what this place is and I dive further into the Offshore City, the tax haven for foreign investors, the headquarters for international companies, the slowly-beating heart of the world economy, supported by an invisible pump of the market. This time I am following a massive, burning sun and I encounter places modelled on London’s recognisable landmarks, such as Number 1 Poultry in Cheapside, an infamous suicide spot for depressed bankers, and, at the same time, one of the City’s oldest addresses, named “The Heart of the City”.
By using the lens of finance, Clarke points to both micro- and macro-scale of the environmental disaster and provides an unusual exploration of it. The accompanying rationalisation and monetisation feeds off the situation, and the capitalist system is shown as merciless and capable of using any opportunity to monetise on the dying planet. The lifeless scenery of Derivative directs attention to the inability of capitalist, finance-driven system to deal with its own creation in the light of planetary future.
Only halfway through my time at arebyte, I realise that there are more pairs of eyes in the space than I thought. In three places in the exhibition space, there are installations made of prosthetic eyeballs, glued to the wall, their pupils fixated on various areas in the space. On the one hand, their synthetic, static gaze is reminiscent of the the all-seeing eyes of the CCTV cameras, on the other, they suggest disembodiment as in the sentiment analysis, whereby feelings are mechanically extracted and translated into data. Are we becoming cyborgs, or have we become them already?
The exhibition is a complex puzzle. It tackles difficult subjects, speculating in language, social media and economy. It is a powerful and slightly depressing, but intriguing picture. This dystopian vision of the future prompts questions; is it possible to re-imagine it? Can we come up with new narratives and stories and use speculation as a tool for revisioning the future? Where am I, as a viewer, positioned in the power relations imposed by the corporations and what freedoms do I have? At the time when the issues relating to the climate crisis are debated more than ever before, Ami Clarke’s The Underlying enters the conversation to problematise it through the exploration of technology, proposing a multilayered analysis of human and non-human agencies in the environmental catastrophe.
The above dystopian playlist was made in response to the exhibition. Recommended: listen while reading the review or on your way to the show.
The Underlying. Ami Clarke. Runs until Sat 16 Nov 2019.