Building My Internet Universe

An Ode to South African Artists in Vaporwave

“I perform online for myself and for those watching.”


Hey guys, welcome to my channel. If you’re new to my channel, I hope you like it and subscribe. My name is Natalie Paneng and today I am going to give you a tour of the open tabs of my Internet universe: breaking down the Internet, my alter-egos and my thoughts on embodiment. Along with this I present my recent work called Vaporwave Response Computer (2019) which pays special attention to the use of the Internet micro-genre Vaporwave. Here is a footnote which explains Vaporwave for those who are a bit behind on their Internet-art lingo (footnote 1); additionally the project is presented using a didactic approach, offering the viewer/participant basic definitions of the genre in a video format. The video What Is Vaporwave  (in the linked app) acts as an exploration of the genre with added visual aids to illustrate. Overall the work explores a way to respond to, archive and drive Internet based creative research.

Why choose the Internet as my stage?

Lizelle Bisschoff in The Future is Digital: An Introduction to African Digital Arts speaks about how African artists are utilising the digital space to create, recreate and publicise new perspectives of Africa in inventive and socio-culturally conscious ways (Bisschoff, 2017). The Internet as a platform has served as a space that offers me as a practicing performance and internet artist a certain agency to embody alternate characters that reference South African cultural norms but in non-real constructed worlds. In this it has given me not only the scope to construct worlds around the characters, but to engage them as a multiplicity of personae built on real world reflections and interactions. In 2016 I started this practice with a series called Hello Nice. In this work I performed as a alter-ego named Nice who explored the meaning of Internet aesthetics such as glitch art, gifs and Vaporwave memes. Using Youtube as a platform I was able to perform for a public audience. I used Nice to ask questions and create a new context where she had authority over the answers that repeatedly pointed to a decolonial and South African specific context for largely Euro-American positions on aesthetics. In response to Bisschoff I attempted not only to recreate and publicize existing perspectives on Africa, but also to shift a dialogue into decolonial criticism through my performance practice.

Bisschoff goes on to speak about how access to technology and the Internet offers a sense of democratisation, empowerment and communication (Bisschoff, 2, 2017). Through creating my own worlds I have the space to create my own context. This is important as it allows me to speak from a space outside of the imposed historical and geographical burdens of that context. In this manner I am enacting an aesthetic methodology that reflects, in a similar but not exact manner the methodology of African-American Afro-Futurism – who purposely put the black man in space in order to rid him of the histories of racial exploitation and prejudice in the United States of America (Yehouessi, 2020). The Internet itself is such a huge world and there is space to exist and navigate new ways of how I want to be represented. In this world I can figure out what my agency means online vs IRL (in real life) as I go; I can recalibrate how much I need to address specific questions, thereby observing and acting on what boundaries exist for me as a young South African female. By harnessing this agency I dismantle archetypes and create new versions of myself.

As a young black female body IRL, I aim to dismantle online archetypes for the black body. My artistic practice is rooted in theatre production and performance, which I relocated to the digital in search of alternative modes of representation. I wanted to explore its imagined possibilities, performance being the common thread that can be understood as being involved in role-playing, constructing and staging multiple identities (Schechner, 1988). My creative process in performance now includes me filming myself, editing and posting the work online (footnote 2).

My work is focused on how I perform firstly through different characters and secondly in the worlds they inhabit. The performances are a voyeuristic interaction between myself and those who are watching – which is again further comment on online media and how it is consumed. I express myself through alter egos, who represent different versions of myself in different fictional spaces. These fictional spaces are often closely linked to the recognition of online spaces and the manner in which I navigate around them. In this, Vaporwave as a genre has allowed me to navigate as well as create my world through borrowing visual references and styles and thereby contributing to the genre (which is online and communal) by creating spaces that have similar visual aesthetics. In a Vaporwave response, these worlds can be Microsoft Paint backgrounds, my Instagram feed or even many of the overused Photoshop transparency backgrounds and neon grids found in DIY online media. See VAPORWAVE SOUNDCLUB in linked app.

My Relationship With Vaporwave

In my online performance practice I started to further immerse myself in Vaporwave . The visual aesthetics and related iconography can be characterised by how it combines elements of 1990’s computer graphics, synth based sound from the 1980’s, ‘bad’ web design, tropical landscapes and Japanese culture (Pinto, 2017, 5) and unrelated pop-culture icons. Vaporwave is deeply grounded in digital nostalgia and makes both use of and reference to historical digital tools (1990’s Microsoft paint as an example), historical software interfaces and the visual aesthetic of 1980’s and 1990’s digital references. In this it acts to comment on current Internet use and interaction through a nostalgic lens. Vaporwave artists make use of the genre to critique the hyperrealism of online media in consumerism (Pinto, 2017, 7). I use Vaporwave as both the visual language and a mechanism to align my projects with a degree of pop-culture nostalgia: making use of Vaporwave’s tools to influence my characters and strengthen the features of their worlds.

A Nice Research Booth and Vaporwave Response Computer

Vaporwave Response Computer (2019): A pink, blue and purple structure with flashing colorful hoops stands in a room. On closer engagement one sees that it is equipped with a pink desktop, headphones and a mouse. The structure is the first prototype of A Nice Research Booth and the Vaporwave Response Computer within which an app is embedded, which has been reproduced for online consumption in the project below. The concept behind both is based on the term ‘Desk Research’ which refers to the act of gathering and analyzing information already available via print or online sources. Vaporwave Response Computer and A Nice Research Booth (Prototype 1) brought together elements of research and archiving and aimed to be a reference tool for future digital artists, documenting and creatively responding to the use of Vaporwave as an aesthetic methodology by South African artists.

Vaporwave Response Computer specifically offers users a platform to research and explore digital art in the Vaporwave genre. It mimics the interface of Windows 2000 as an ode to the software I was first exposed to as a child. Through demonstration it aims to respond, archive and provide the tools necessary to engage further with the subject matter of the app. The app itself acts as an artistic response to the Internet, art made on and with it and finding ways to archive art that is made and shared in this way. Aligning with the methodologies of the Internet, it embodies nostalgia and persona, while acting as a research tool and an artwork. In many ways Vaporwave Response Computer links my own practice as a performance and internet artist with an opportunity to document and link with the work of other South African artists who have historically used this medium and form a community of practice in ‘alternative world making’. The app additionally offers the viewer another option to explore the genre as it also has a browser function. This is to ensure that the viewer extends their understanding of the genre of Vaporwave without the subjective influence of my related archiving and perspective. See Press START and WHAT IS VAPORWAVE in linked app.

Layered Response

In archiving and linking to the work of other South African artists interacting with the genre, the app presents artistic responses to two artists; Bogosi Sekhukhuni and Tabita Rezaire in addition to the Internet cult Unicult. The aim of these responses are to firstly present an ode to local artists who have inspired and influenced my work – their online work often missed in their gallery-held exhibitions. The responses are a demonstration of applying the genre and creating Vaporwave Internet-art in a self and multi-referential style common to the Vaporwave genre. The response work then becomes a contribution to the genre. The aim here is to push the idea of online research by finding ways to present layers of perspectives from the basic understanding of what Vaporwave is as a genre, archiving work and performative interpretation. See VAPORWAVE ODE: TABITA, VAPORWAVE ODE: BOGOSI and KAWAII PROPAGANDA in linked app.

The app is a presentation tool, yet I consider it to be a functional art piece. The work on the app aims to present research. The work aims to act as a tool that speaks to cultural production, archiving African artists’ work and concerns in a globalised Internet genre. Although it does not archive this work in the traditional sense, it is an attempt to engage the practice and processes of making digital art within a community of practice online. Making reference to Between The Real and The Archive, Christopher Williams-Wynn and Samantha McCulloch break down how it is possible for the archive of digital images to be left open for reconfiguration – rather than be read as a unchangeable museum-like archive – and therefore it allows for new connections to be made (Williams-Wynn & McCulloch, 2015, 431). The work presented on the app applies this thinking.

In closing, my Internet universe is one in which I am constantly building and actively participating in through performance, research, response and archiving. Vaporwave has been a genre I have explored in my practice and I am finding ways to contribute back to this online, collaborative and fluid genre of practice that has had a significant influence on my practice.

 

Footnote 1

Vaporwave is an Internet mirco-genre of electronic music as well as a visual art style. The genre both lives and was born online in the early 2010’s and speaks back to globalization and consumerism, using electronic media as a medium to express these ideas.

Footnote 2

Nice: My Alter Ego 

Nice speaks back to her experience of being watched, she is often aware that the gaze is focused on her because she puts it on herself and allows an online audience to participate through viewing. Through each performance she offers her perspective, one which informs her viewer that she too is observing them observe her. Along with this she aims to share her world with the viewer, inviting them to her imagined world. Often playful and awkward she stares into the screen, makes awkward dance moves and makes a few arbitrary poetic statements. She aims to share a moment of wonder with her viewers, showing them how she has used the Internet to curate her own fantasy world. Nice makes use of the access that online platforms offer to create worlds, as well as using the Internet genre of Vaporwave to build visual elements of her world.  The genre is one that is often used to analyze the hyperrealism of online media and commercialism (Pinto, 2017, 7).  Through constant performance online Nice makes use of the genre to assess the relationship we have with the Internet and how we often perform our online presence.  

Sources

Sources:

 

  1. Bisschof, L. (2017). The Future is Digital: An Introduction to African Digital Arts. Critical African Studies, 9(3), pp.261-267.
  2. Schechner, R. (2003). Performance Theory. London and New York. Routledge.
  3. Williams-Wynn, C & McCulloch, S., 2015. Between the Archive and the Real. Third Text, 29(6), pp.415-431.
  4. Pinto, J.(2017)  Vaporwave & Postmodernism: An Analytical Interpretation of Blank Banshee. SAE Institute London.
  5. Yehouessi, M., 2020. MARK DERY (1/4) – PORTRAIT. [online] Blackstothefuture.com. Available at: <http://blackstothefuture.com/en/mark-dery-14-portrait/> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

 


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