No matter how hard one tries to ridicule multimedia, interactivity and online presence, there are trillions of real estate agents, CompSci students, Star Trek fans, cyberpunks, digital artists and WIRED subscribers to whom such sarcastic folly falls on deaf ears. To the list of Christians, parents and junkies, we now must add ‘digitalists’ as yet another sub-species of rabid, compulsive fundamentalists whose enlightened state is “I just don’t understand.” Like, if I don’t believe in God, how can I understand Christianity? If I haven’t had a kid, how can I really speak about social concern? If I haven’t taken smack, how can I say it’s bad?
Ian Haig’s Web Devolution—subtitled a “Digital Evangelist Web Cult Project”—firmly and deftly targets this incredulous mania of belief which has caused otherwise rational persons to make the most outrageous, extravagant and embarrassing claims for ‘new technologies.’ Presented as an installation, Web Devolution set itself up as a crackpot media station positioned in the centre of the gallery. Its ugly vertical assemblage resembled a mutation between a monstrously customised ghettoblaster, a Santiero altar, a Christian zealot’s placard and a homeless person’s commandeered shopping trolley. Cheap loudspeakers played a barrage of digitally processed noise (expertly crafted by electroacoustic composer Philip Samartzis) which served to intensify the effect of the station being a broadcast beacon desperately drawing all toward its higher cause of cyberbabble. Festooned with grafittied slogans and scraps of logo images, this was less an art object offered to further creativity in new technologies and more a piece of junk vomited forth from the overproduction of crappy new media art.
The actual online project lay buried in a maze of frantically flashing links displayed on a monitor nestled amongst this noisy pile of garbage. Once online, one truly gets lost in a world of sloganeering that evokes the balderdash of everyone from Negroponte to Stelarc to Leary to Lucas. The targets are obvious—Star Wars, Heaven’s Gate, Mastercard, Yahoo—but it truly is fun to know that when you click on a link labelled “Chewbacca” that right there is the punch line. You either get it or you don’t. Similar dumb jokes are embedded in the visual/iconic/linguistic hyper-narrative of the project: links go nowhere, images are grunge-res, mystical passwords are void, pull down menus give absurd options, animated GIFs flash their nothingness. All these non-sequitur pathways constitute a colon of digital Babel which is less concerned with contemplating the higher states of consciousness achieved by online/interactive exchange and more intent on reflecting the deluded aimlessness so typical of web navigation. Referencing Devo’s theory of devolution and its sardonic reflection of cultural exchange, Web Devolution celebrates the retrogressive puerility which lies at the heart of the nerdy ponderousness we call ‘being digital.’
But don’t miss the point here. Like anyone who has looked realistically at the digital and/or online technologies we have used for at least 8 years (and sound people have the jump on all you eyeballers), Haig is not a Neo-Luddite. Technology is all around us. Plumbing, road maintenance and air travel are complex marvels of human ingenuity and chaotic organisation—but I ain’t signing up for a 3-day conference on radical re-inventions of S-bends. Whereas so much New Media Art quite pathetically imports some ‘heavy concept’ via a few scanned images and hypertext links with hot buttons (take your pick of ‘hot topics’: surveillance, the body, medical science, glitches, crash, viruses, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, the city, consumerism, corporate control, ecology, etc), Web Devolution astutely probes the hysterical and frighteningly uncritical support of the most banal effects of new technologies.