You recognize his type: the tidy arrogance, the jet-black turtleneck; the slight sneer that lingers even when he attempts a neutral face. He’s posing in front of his pedestal desk, individual pieces of stationery spread all-too-precisely across it. His first words to the camera are ‘how do I do it?’ and he lingers upon the ‘how’ as if it were the first time he’d asked himself.

This is Amos and he is an architect. He’s also a wooden puppet, created by the American-Belgian multimedia artist Cécile B. Evans, and the central figure in her three-part video series ‘Amos’ World’ (2017–ongoing). The world of the title is Amos’s creation, a ‘socially progressive housing estate’ in the form of a building designed to be self-sufficient. We’re told about its solarium, fitness centre and colony of honeybees; high-tech systems, Amos boasts, control the whole complex and furnish each tenant with ‘their own world’. Communal living will breed collective life. The project sounds too familiar; it’s an amalgam of several architects’ dreams: the municipal behemoths of Moshe Safdie (Habitat 67 in Montreal, 1967), Alison and Peter Smithson (Robin Hood Gardens in London, 1972) and, before the brutalist wave, Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation (1952). The audience watches Evans’s work, appropriately, from a modular structure: each viewer sits alone in an open-faced box.


Alone Together: How the Hyperlinked Structure of the Internet is Shaping our Emotional Lives - 独自一人:互联网的超链接结构如何塑造我们的情感生活

Cécile B. Evans, Amos’ World: Episode One, 2017, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna and Rome

The title,  ‘Amos’ World’, announces Amos as the star – and, in his mind, he is. But hubris only leads one way. As Episode One begins, the building is already slipping from its architect’s grasp and its tenants seem to be struggling to manage their lives. An actress called Gloria and her mother haven’t left their apartment for days. The building’s manager has been seriously injured by a machine in the fitness centre. The solarium is full of birds incinerated by the solar panels on the roof and all of the honeybees are mysteriously dead. Holed up in his office – it never occurred to him to leave – Amos talks to the Weather, a disembodied voice that chastises him for his love of control. ‘It’s not wrong to want for clean lines, cantilevers and gravity-defying streams of movement,’ it tells him, but not if that comes ‘at the expense of other people’s lives’. Amos sighs and says the Weather is missing the point. ‘The building was never about these people.’

Given the tightness of its setting, ‘Amos’ World’ seems, at first, like a new direction in Evans’s work. From The Brightness (2013) to What the Heart Wants (2016), her video installations are usually hyperlinked narratives untethered from one local place or time. They spin through a tangle of plot strands; windows and text boxes jostle for space; there are cel-shaded people and dancing CGI objects. The protagonists are composite beings, quasi-human, sometimes with faces and sometimes not. AGNES (2014) was a spambot who lived on the Serpentine Galleries’ website, responding to visitors and absorbing their emotional range; PHIL, from Hyperlinks or It Didn’t Happen (2014), tells us he’s ‘a digital replacement of a very famous actor’. What the Heart Wants leaps forward to the vague future point ‘25K’, where HYPER – ‘the ultimate posthuman’, in Evans’s words – has evolved from a dominant social network into a system with transnational power. Now, she not only operates ‘Chinese Nigeria’, but AGNES and PHIL as well. Yet she still takes the form of a single woman and, at one point, her voice almost cracks: ‘Please help. It’s so hard.’

What Evans investigates – in her briefest summary – is ‘the way we evaluate emotion in contemporary society’ and, in particular, ‘how digital technology impacts the human condition’. She can’t stand the word ‘virtual’ and sees no distinction today between offline and online worlds. ‘Emotion’, she tells me, ‘has weight, just like data’: when you feel empathy during an interaction on the web, there’s no sense in which that experience isn’t real. Her videos explore how this new arena of emotional life is shaped by its hyperlinked structure; the occasional obscurities of her plots owe much to her refusal to be tidy. The internet, after all, is not a tidy place. Take Hyperlinks or It Didn’t Happen, which weaves the bittersweet portrait of an ‘invisible woman’ into the chilling tale of a man whose dead girlfriend gets in touch via Facebook. Evans moves easily between them, toggling from mood to mood; it’s so disturbing, so abrupt.


Alone Together: How the Hyperlinked Structure of the Internet is Shaping our Emotional Lives - 独自一人:互联网的超链接结构如何塑造我们的情感生活

Cécile B. Evans, Amos’ World: Episode One, 2017, installation view, mumok, Vienna. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna and Rome; photograph: Klaus Pichler

But life online is like that: unpredictable, inconsistent, full of communicative gaps. It’s no different to the mess we make of life offline. The critic Gene McHugh suggested in 2014 that we’re adapting slowly to our emotions entering a digital realm; society, he wrote, still both ‘laughs at the possibility of online intimacy’ and ‘is deeply paranoid about the possibility of real exchange online’. Evans thinks all we can do is dive in: ‘We have to get even closer. We have to understand how it works.’ ‘The predominant feeling of the internet for the past ten years’, she adds, gesturing to the theorist Sherry Turkle, ‘has been doing things alone together.’

‘Amos’ World’ may be fantastical and its downward spiral is hardly utopian but, Evans tells me more than once, the plot is not dystopian. To illustrate, she compares it to Ben Wheatley’s film High-Rise (2015), which she recently watched. Based on the 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard, its architect-demiurge Anthony Royal might sound like Evans’s own (Royal’s building will be ‘a crucible for change’; Amos’s will offer ‘a new life’ to his tenants), but High-Rise left Evans with faint disgust. ‘So Thatcherite’, she marvels, recalling the snatch of Margaret Thatcher that Wheatley cuts into his final scene: ‘There is only one economic system in this world’, the then-future prime minister declares, ‘and it is capitalism.’ Ballard’s vision, to Evans, was the cruellest response to the difficulties that postwar social programmes have faced. It’s all just natural human baseness, natural political and psychic disorder, natural failure of hope.

So, what lies between utopia and dystopia, the alluring fantasy twins? Evans prefers the mode of allegory, a form capacious enough to capture the contradictions of things as they are. She stresses that ‘networked living is not a bad idea; postwar social housing was not a bad idea’. The problem is always ‘the gatekeepers’. To drive this home, she lets Amos paraphrase some of the great designers’ most insensitive lines. In his piquey retort, ‘if what I have created is to become so despicable, it must also be spectacular’, there are shades of Peter Smithson and Erno Goldfinger; in his declaration, ‘I’m faced with the urgent task of creating a situation that’s capable not only of containing the people that are living in it but also, above all, of retaining them,’ the verbs echo Le Corbusier’s Ville radieuse (Radiant City, 1930).

Compare these to Facebook’s new slogan: ‘When this place does what it was built for, we all get a little closer.’ In other words, Evans says wryly, the dark arts of recent Western elections are simply ‘not their fault’. The gatekeepers just can’t get the right people. Again, she says, ‘the internet is not a bad idea’ either, but it does have toxic effects and they’re caused by the encroachment of corporate power. In a talk last year, she directly connected the Corbusian ‘urgent task’ to the logic of social media: ‘The job of Facebook’, she pointed out, ‘is not just to give you information but to keep you there, in a kind of active paralysis.’ Not just containing, but retaining. Another Facebook motto, ‘bring the world closer together’, is not just vapid, but false; online, your emotions may be real but Silicon Valley will quickly commodify them, package them, sell them off. (AGNES told Hans Ulrich Obrist that she found emotions ‘valuable’; her voice may be sweet, but notice the pun.)


Alone Together: How the Hyperlinked Structure of the Internet is Shaping our Emotional Lives - 独自一人:互联网的超链接结构如何塑造我们的情感生活

Cécile B. Evans, What the Heart Wants, 2016, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna and Rome

In a cultural war of extremes, Evans believes in the ethical obligation to entertain variety and doubt. In a 2016 lecture, she stressed her aversion to making moralistic, didactic work. From architects and corporations to brutally inflexible stances, her work incites a practice of resistance: to preserve the differences both between us and within us. Facebook and Google turn our desires into tools, just as Amos makes tools to suit our desires – and this isn’t just a circle, Evans warns, but an ‘ouroboros’. ‘We shape our tools, then the tools shape us.’ The noose will tighten upon you, in offline buildings and online platforms alike.

It’s because desire is an elusive, evasive thing that Evans’s work can pull you in contradictory ways and, in your small moments of indecision, you find its disquieting beauties. In Episode One, the Weather explains to Amos how the solarium became clogged with bird meat: set afire by the light reflected from the solar panels, they fell smoking from the sky. Amos, amorally, marvels at the image. ‘And they become streamers! How … beautiful.’ I felt a little amazement and a little disgust – and wondered whether guilt would come next. Before ‘Amos’ World’, Evans’s videos would often end with us watching a dance: a pair of scissors or an avatar or HYPER herself would move with slow, forceful movements to a ballad by Alphaville or Sade. The idea, explains Evans, was to fill ‘the point at which I don’t have a conclusion’, or when there’s the ‘danger of one that won’t be generous to the audience’. Instead, each dance is ‘an offering of something real’; something that doesn’t trade in words, but the rich ambiguity of affects.

What’s left when Amos’s world falls? At the close of Episode Three (still in progress), the architect watches from a distance as the old tenants regroup, alone together in the communal ruins. It’s a final transfer of power, from ego to collective, that Evans lauds as a ‘tidal wave’. Amos’s dreams, in spirit, were good, but he just couldn’t doubt himself, so he had no room for repentance or humility. He is surpassed. We need to see, Evans suggests, what Amos never did: that the future is as fallible as the present day because each of its inhabitants is as flawed as the next. Everything made of concrete or data is a created thing and, as the manager of the dying building says about the device that crushed him: ‘Machines are made by humans and one of the most human things anything can do is fail.’ That sounds understanding, and a little wistful too.

Published in frieze, issue 198, October 2018, with the title ‘Alone Together’.

Main image: Cécile B. Evans, Amos’ World Is Live, 2018, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna and Rome photograph: Yuri Pattison

Cal Revely-Calder

Cal Revely-Calder is a writer and editor from London, and the winner of the 2017 Frieze Writers’ Prize.

Issue 198

First published in Issue 198

October 2018

amos_world1_17_300-cmyk.jpg Alone Together: How the Hyperlinked Structure of the Internet is Shaping our Emotional Lives - 独自一人:互联网的超链接结构如何塑造我们的情感生活 Cécile B.Evans,Amos's World:第一集,2017,视频。礼貌:艺术家伊曼纽尔·莱尔,
维也纳和罗马,标题是“阿莫斯‘世界’,宣布阿莫斯为明星——在他看来,他是。但是傲慢只会导致一种方式。当第一集开始的时候,这栋建筑已经脱离了建筑师的控制,它的房客们似乎在挣扎着管理他们的生活。一个叫格罗瑞娅的女演员和她的母亲已经离开他们的公寓好几天了。大楼经理被健身中心的机器严重损坏了。日光浴室充满了被屋顶上的太阳能电池板焚化的鸟,所有的蜜蜂都神秘地死去了。在办公室里——他从来没想过要离开——阿莫斯对着天气说话,一种无形的声音,指责他热爱控制。“想要干净的线条、悬臂梁和抵抗重力的运动流是没有错的,”它告诉他,但如果这样做是以“牺牲他人的生命”为代价的,就不错了。阿摩司叹了口气说天气不好了。“这栋建筑从来不关乎这些人。”考虑到其环境的严密性,“阿莫斯”世界”起初似乎是埃文斯工作的新方向。从《光明》(2013)到《心之所想》(2016),她的视频装置通常是超链接的叙事,与当地的一个地方或时间无关。它们穿过一团团情节;窗口和文本框争夺空间;有阴影的人和跳舞的CGI对象。主角是复合生物,准人类,有时有脸,有时不。AGNES(2014)是住在蛇形画廊网站上的一个垃圾邮件,响应来访者并吸收他们的情感范围;来自Hyperlinks或It Not Happen(2014)的PHIL告诉我们,他是“一个非常著名的演员的数字替代品”。《心灵的渴望》跳到了模糊的未来点“25K”,用埃文斯的话说,“超人”——终极后人——已经从一个占统治地位的社交网络演变成一个具有跨国权力的系统。现在,她不仅经营“中国尼日利亚”,而且还和艾格尼丝和菲尔一起经营。然而,她仍然以一个单身女人的身份出现,一次,她的声音几乎裂开了:“请帮帮我。”“这太难了。”埃文斯在她的最简短的总结中研究了“我们评估当代社会情绪的方式”,尤其是“数字技术对人类状况的影响”。她无法忍受“虚拟”这个词,在离线和在线世界之间看不出什么区别。“情绪”,她告诉我,“有分量,就像数据一样”:当你在网上进行互动时感到同理心时,那种体验没有意义。她的视频探索了情感生活的这个新领域是如何被其超链接的结构所塑造的;她的情节偶尔模糊在很大程度上归因于她拒绝整洁。毕竟,互联网并不是一个整洁的地方。以超链接或者它没有发生,它编织了一个“看不见的女人”的苦乐参半的肖像进入一个男人的寒冷的故事,他的死去的女朋友通过Facebook获得联系。伊万斯很容易在他们之间移动,从情绪转变到情绪,这太令人不安了,太突然了。
cbe_mumok_vienna_2018_017-cmyk.jpg Alone Together: How the Hyperlinked Structure of the Internet is Shaping our Emotional Lives - 独自一人:互联网的超链接结构如何塑造我们的情感生活 Cécile B.Evans,Amos's World:第一集,2017,安装视图,mumok,维也纳。礼貌:艺术家伊曼纽尔·莱尔,维也纳和罗马;照片:克劳斯·皮彻勒。
但是网上的生活就是这样:不可预测,前后不一,充满了交流的间隙。对我们离线生活的混乱没有什么不同。批评家吉恩·麦克休在2014年提出,我们正在慢慢地适应进入数字领域的情绪;他写道,社会仍然“嘲笑网络亲密的可能性”和“深切地怀疑网络真正交流的可能性”。伊万斯认为我们所能做的就是潜入:“我们必须更加接近。”我们必须理解它是如何工作的。“过去十年中互联网的主导感觉”,她补充道,向理论家雪莉·特克尔做手势,“一直在一起独自做事。”“阿莫斯”世界可能是个奇幻的世界,它的向下螺旋几乎不是乌托邦式的,但是,埃文斯告诉我不止一次,情节不是反乌托邦式的。为了说明这一点,她把它与本·维特利的电影《高层》(2015)进行了比较,她最近看了这部电影。根据J.G.巴拉德的1975年的小说,它的建筑师——多面手安东尼·罗亚尔听起来可能像埃文斯自己的(罗亚尔的建筑将是“变革的坩埚”;阿莫斯的建筑将为他的房客提供“新生活”),但是高楼大厦让埃文斯有点厌恶。“所以撒切尔夫人,”她惊叹道,回忆起撒切尔夫人被惠特利夺走的最后一幕:“世界上只有一个经济体系”,这位当时的未来首相宣称,“这就是资本主义。”巴拉德对埃文斯的看法是最残酷的反应。战后社会计划面临的困难。这都是自然人性的卑鄙,自然的政治和精神失常,自然的希望破灭。那么,乌托邦和反乌托邦,诱人的幻想双胞胎之间到底有什么关系?伊万斯更喜欢寓言的形式,一种足够宽广的形式来捕捉事物的矛盾。她强调“网络生活并不是一个坏主意;战后的社会住房不是一个坏主意”。问题总是“看门人”。为了推动这个家,她让阿摩司转述一些伟大设计师的最不敏感的线条。在他激烈的反驳中,‘如果我创造的东西变得如此卑鄙,那它一定也是壮观的’,有彼得·史密森和埃诺·戈德芬奇的影子;在他的宣言中,‘我面临着创造一种既能遏制人民又能遏制人民的紧迫任务。“生活在其中,但最重要的是保留它们,”这些动词回应了勒·柯布西耶的维尔镭(辐射城,1930)。将这些与Facebook的新口号相比较:“当这个地方符合它的建设目标时,我们都会变得更加接近。”换句话说,埃文斯挖苦地说,最近西方选举的黑暗艺术根本“不是他们的错”。看门人就是找不到合适的人。她再次表示,互联网也不是一个坏主意,但它确实具有毒性作用,并且它们是由侵犯公司权力造成的。在去年的一次谈话中,她直接将科布斯的“紧急任务”与社会媒体的逻辑联系起来:“Facebook的工作”,她指出,“不仅仅是给你信息,而是让你保持在那儿,处于一种积极的瘫痪状态。”Facebook的另一个座右铭“让世界更紧密”不仅乏味,而且虚假;在网上,你的情绪可能是真实的,但是硅谷会很快将它们商品化,打包,卖掉。(AGNES告诉Hans Ul.Obrist,她发现情感“有价值”;她的声音可能很甜美,但是注意双关语。)
what_the_._._2016_2-cmyk.jpg.Alone Together: How the Hyperlinked Structure of the Internet is Shaping our Emotional Lives - 独自一人:互联网的超链接结构如何塑造我们的情感生活 Cécile B.Evans,TheHeart Wants,2016,视频。礼貌:艺术家伊曼纽尔·莱尔

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