Vibrating, pulsating, claustrophobic: words that may spring to mind were you to find yourself stuck in a working database. Though this is an experience unlikely to present itself, Small Gate, Infinite Field, an exhibition by Glasgow artist Christopher Macinnes, comes as close as it may be possible to get. But database like or not, the Small Gate experience is the talk of the town.
The first room is filled with one massive projection, a dizzying choreography of darkness that leaves its audience in a swoon. It’s not clear where the film begins and ends – its endless looping pulls you along for the ride. It invokes the same symptoms of motion sickness, panic and claustrophobia that you might have experienced in a roller coaster simulator. The generated environment within which the darkness holds you acts as the heavy harness across your chest. Except it’s more than a simulation: panic is thrown at you in the inevitable question of, quite literally, the “bigger picture”. Floating through a dark, repetitive, endless city stamped by the logo of one sole corporation, the simulator takes a vertical turn, like the climb before the drop of a ride, creeping up the metaphorical skyscraper of digital hierarchy, of which we will undoubtedly never reach the top.
An alarm sounds and an army of solar panels flashes on screen. Ironically, they can catch no sunlight – they’re in the midst of a perpetual electrical storm that cannot be harnessed. The calm precedes the storm, and vice versa: a paradox. The simulation symbolises humanity constantly approaching ‘the next big thing’. It never amounts to anything, a concept which echoes the transience of the digital age, where we are so overloaded with information and quick thrills that distinctions are swiftly leveled. This work questions whether that levelling is purposeful – are we the hundreds of identical solar panels, waiting to be charged?
Escaping from the inky darkness, the next room is a breath of fresh air. Two videos fill the room: one, a utopian jungle, projected on to a standing screen; the other, a canopy of leaves and wires, suspended above our heads. Music reminiscent of a 2000s relaxation tape floats around the room.
“Welcome to our happy world. Welcome to the network…
… Do you feel refreshed? I feel refreshed.”
The languid voice is the only human element of the video and is both tempting and relaxing, like a hypnotherapist. Pink screens nod and tilt their heads as if listening – another parody of a therapist, illustrating the reassuring falsity of the net. The network wants you to give in to its lull, and the conveniently situated bean bags are almost too much to resist. Plonked down in front of one massive screen while simultaneously relaxing beneath another suggests the seductive (and comfortably addictive) nature of screens.
By deceptively displaying the supposed “inner workings” of the digital utopia of the post-human era, with the wires hanging from the canopy above our heads and the conversing screens, Macinnes has revealed a hypnotic lie in itself. Cyber blue sunlight streams through the generated paradise of the palm tree jungle and blinds the viewer to an age old tradition of only “saying so”. The network can do everything for us, but only with visuals and words. It knows what we need, but only because Google tells it so. Small Gate, Infinite Field may seem like it’s luring us further into digital reliance, but if we dig below the surface we can see that it is an ironic illustration of all the ways in which we’re fooled; life as a generated simulation.