Artist Julie Andreyev’s *glisten) HIVE, a project for the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad exhibition “CODE Live 2” at Emily Carr University, compellingly engaged a variety of issues around media, communication, technology and animal experience. In it, Twitter posts about animal consciousness were projected in a real-time exhibition space, producing an experience that was both sensory and studious.
One point of entry into Andreyev’s project comes via Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that we encounter our humanity through our technologies—that we need to recognize technology as an extension of the human body, an extension of ourselves. In recent writings, Richard Cavell has applied this theory to digital communication, reiterating a significant point from McLuhan’s often undervalued theories: in any communication, it is the sender who is sent.
The task then—in considering this artwork and otherwise—is for us to understand our reflection within the technologies we use to communicate with one another. Is it possible that digital technology might enable us to better understand our current selves? Perhaps we can know ourselves through technology by first learning to understand “other” beings?
Past projects in Andreyev’s Animal Lover series examined the distinct being of an animal through the use of digital technologies, converging on questions that address modern relationships with animals. Their goal was to offer representations of humans reflecting on the subjective experience of animals.
Continuing an exploration of these themes, *glisten) HIVE visualized real-time online communication about animal consciousness. Participants were asked to tweet what their companion animals might be thinking, feeling or doing. Snippets of text messages were then generated into swarms of social-insect patterns and projected on semi-transparent screens within the gallery space. The concept of emergence—of complexity arising out of many simple interactions—was exemplified in the visual arrangement of the text. The artist’s statement described an emergent pattern as a “collective effect” in which “each organism is primarily reliant on the movement of others in its immediate vicinity.” Accordingly, the configuration of each string of text depended on the movement of its neighbouring messages. And similarly, the animal thoughts represented were dependent on the perceptive abilities of their human companions.
The sensory experience of *glisten) HIVE was heightened by a processed soundscape of bells and flute, layered with low blips and constant pulses, and the recorded voice of Tom, the artist’s dog. As the text enlarged, certain words and phrases become legible: Sometimes when I’m anxious at night I puke in the morning; If you close your eyes no one can see you; Maybe there’ll be some fun today *hopeful*. Except for the small amount of light emanating from the projection, the room was pitch-black. As the swarm of tweets became slower in pace and reduced in size, the volume of the sound lessened, and it felt like a quiet summer night. The technologically busied mind became subdued and the words transformed to floating dots receding into darkness. As new visitors approached the screens, digital sensors were retriggered and a feedback loop instigated the projection once again.
Andreyev’s swarming patterns for this work existed within four large network configurations spanning a wall of screens. When viewing all configurations at once, I was reminded of the collaborative nature of the work and its many contributors. The interactive design resembled Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Vectorial Elevation, situated simultaneously over English Bay in Vancouver—another installation dependent on collective online interaction.
Overall, *glisten) HIVE oscillated between a spatial representation of a supposedly simple animal’s mind and an extremely complex system that ventured beyond any individual state of being.