Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hon's Artist Book; a book with a face of loneliness - the paradox of social networking and alienation.

Ballpoint pen drawing illustrating social navigation;
virtual information spaces and places accessed.
Living in an information age, with thriving digital technology and the growing impact of social media, presents new creative challenges, options and solutions for contemporary artists exploring artists books. It is in particular the studies of the 1990’s that interest me. Scholars termed it the “internet paradox”, the contradiction between an increased opportunity to connect and a lack of human contact. The question asked therefore is, does the Internet make us lonely, or are lonely people more attracted to the Internet - for more information follow the link to a report on what the epidemic of loneliness is doing to our souls and society, written by Stephen Marchie titled  Is Facebook making US Lonely
'Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information' (Stephen Marchie: May 2012).

One of the most noteworthy findings, they wrote,’ “was the tendency for neurotic and lonely individuals to spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely individuals.” And they found that neurotics are more likely to prefer to use the wall, while extroverts tend to use chat features in addition to the wall (Stephen Marchie: May 2012).
The main character, Des Esseintes, in the book titled Against Nature – published in 1884, I am referencing for my artists book, withdraws from society. In his irritable state, sensitive to anything and everything, he dreamt of ‘a desert hermitage equipped with all modern conveniences, a snugly heated ark on dry land in which he may take refuge from the incessant deluge of human stupidity’. A new existence beckoned – he would immerse himself in the peaceful silence of his country retreat. The hero is impotent and misogynist – he seeks out even richer more dazzling and dangerous pleasures – becoming even more eccentric.  It brings out something of the theatrical director in him. What is more he has access to resources to indulge his vanities. The author depicts a world in which the main character withdraws from society (at the turn of the 20th century) – a feeling prevalent amongst us at the dawn of the 21st century. For most of us however, it is an opportunity to withdraw and connect via the Internet – a world awaits, beyond the constraints and boundaries imposed by emotional and physical limitations.

A considerable part of Facebook’s appeal stems from its miraculous fusion of distance with intimacy, or the illusion of distance with the illusion of intimacy. Our online communities become engines of self-image, and self-image becomes the engine of community. The real danger with Facebook is not that it allows us to isolate ourselves, but that by mixing our appetite for isolation with our vanity, it threatens to alter the very nature of solitude (noccolo and donkey; April of 2012)..

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, Des Esseintes, the novel’s hero, sleeps during the day, to take advantage of the still of the night – ‘holding that night afforded greater intimacy and isolation and that the mind was truly roused and stimulated only by awareness of the dark…….the world is dark, silent and dead. The information superhighway (social networks etc.) is a means to escape reality - surfing the net in search of self-fulfillment – in itself an alienating experience (withdrawing into ones own fortress).  The time of day is of no consequence when one surfs the superhighway.

'Among 18-to-34-year-olds, nearly half check out Facebook minutes after waking up, and 28 percent do so before getting out of bed. The relentlessness is what is so new, so potentially transformative. Facebook never takes a break. We never take a break. Human beings have always created elaborate acts of self-presentation. But not all the time, not very morning, before we even pour a cup of coffee' (noccolo and donkey; April of 2012).

It must be said that we are therefore lonely because we want to be lonely. We have made ourselves lonely. Robert D. Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone (published in 2000), attributed the dramatic post-war decline of social capital - the strength and value of interpersonal networks—to numerous interconnected trends in American life: suburban sprawl, television’s dominance over culture, the self-absorption of the Baby Boomers, the disintegration of the traditional family.

'Facebook, of course, puts the pursuit of happiness front and center in our digital life. Its capacity to redefine our very concepts of identity and personal fulfillment is much more worrisome than the data-mining and privacy practices that have aroused anxieties about the company. Solitude used to be good for self-reflection and self-reinvention. But now we are left thinking about who we are all the time, without ever really thinking about who we are. Facebook denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for a while, the chance to disconnect'  (noccolo and donkey; April of 2012).

Two of the most compelling critics of Facebook—neither of them a Luddite—concentrate on exactly this point. Jaron Lanier, the author of You Are Not a Gadget, was one of the inventors of virtual-reality technology. His view of where social media are taking us reads like dystopian science fiction: “I fear that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process.” Lanier argues that Facebook imprisons us in the business of self-presenting, and this, to his mind, is the site’s crucial and fatally unacceptable downside (noccolo and donkey; April of 2012).

Huysmans books are full of retreats – exploring solitude, the yearning individual in a valueless world. He attempted a book that would banish that world. Central to the book is one decadent character referred to above. As an author Huysmans had a passion for reproducing and commissioning copies and more importantly he had a fine collection of finely bound books. He is a bibliophile – lover of book as object, overcomes the reader. The hero in his novel does not read, instead he is obsessed about the paper quality and the bindings.
Installation of Artists Books by Penny Payne.
Exhibited at FADA Gallery last week.
 2012 B Tech Visual Arts student.
In the context of my anticipated artists book, it is important to note that we live in a digital era, the impact of digital technology and other key influences are changing our environment in which information is sourced, processed and distributed. We therefore need to ask - will digital media change the dynamics of the book from an object, which is bound by a beginning, middle and an end? Tablets have also had a stronger negative impact on the market for hard copy magazines and books
The paradox referred to in the opening paragraph of this blog post (with reference to social media) can also be applied to the dissemination of information in the future – when we wish to read do we connect or disconnect with hardcopy in hand for the couch. The following study conducted in Australia anticipates the transformation of accessing and the dissemination of information, as we know it.

Installation of artists books by Penny Payne.
FADA B Tech Visual Arts Student.
2012 yearend exhibition.
Book as a cultural concept’ (cluster 1), ‘generational change’ (cluster 4) and ‘eBook and digital technology’ (cluster 5) have been used to identify the vertical axis for the matrix.  This looks at the way the cultural concept of the book is changing from traditional formats at the bottom of the axis to the transformative formats at the top. The workshops showed great interest in the potential for the book to be transformed in the future by the fluidity of its boundaries in a digital environment. The changes being seen include the way multi-media platforms may change the book’s content from traditional textual material supported by illustrations to a textual content that is ever-changing and supported by audio, video and content that is co-created by users in collaboration with authors and publishers. This axis therefore, addresses the significant uncertainties relating to the adoption of new technology and its transformative power – driven by generational change, the social media and the future of reading, which – among other things – may change the way consumers engage with books in their many different formats. An extract from a publication of an Authors and agents workshop held in February of 2011 in Australia.

The installation of artists books featured here is the work of Penny Payne, a B Tech student at the university of Johannesburg - exhibited at the FADA Gallery last week. The Cube installation represents the balance of the body, mind and soul. The tablets for each wall is intellect, psyche  and spirit.  Text from the artist's Statement at the exhibition.
Each wall has been created around specific experiences remembrances, discovery of identity and anxieties.  The book as an object becomes a symbolic format not only in being a container for stories but distorting and disfiguring the book to form a narrative itself. 
I use books frames and boxes to create pieces which portray a growth and an understanding of self and the struggle to find identity by transforming books from the past and constructing them into symbols and metaphoric images. The construction of this wall, with its infestation of book art, channels the search for my identity.

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