I was surprised to see remnants of magnetic tape on people's hair and clothing at the closing session of Future Places, a digital media festival in Porto, Portugal, reinvented this year as “media lab for citizenship”. Since 2008, the annual event has been hosted by the University of Porto in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin under a program called Collaboratory for Emerging Technologies.
Scholars, artists, musicians, scientists and technologists came together from October 28 to November 2, 2013 for a rich program that included a series of workshops, debates and performances, as well as a doctoral symposium on digital media.
The dark-tape character among the participants who caught my attention was Antifluffy, whose bio simply read “our glorious mascot”. I had the chance to “meet” this fictional character (created by art director and co-curator Heitor Alvelos) at the end of the show, and he was exhausted. Antifluffy had just wrapped his audience in VHS tape during an exercise on ‘post-digital’ immediatism.
The performance explored the idea that part of our past is recorded in analog form. The metaphor of the magnetic tape was also an invitation to consider magnetism between human beings. Can wrapping strangers in tape be a “visible rendition of human connections”? In a post-digital era, Antifluffy believes so.
Building on the concept of immediatism coined by insurrectionist philosopher Hakim Bey in a manifesto from 1994, Antifluffy invites us to partake in “non-mediated experiences” (such as a writing a letter by hand) because it's humanly and psychologically important to build bridges, encounter strangers, and explore new ground.
“The very idea that the future is digital is somehow dissipating. We have entered the post-digital [era] to an extent that there isn't even a possible separation anymore,” says Antifluffy. “Gadgets have entrenched themselves in our lives to an extent that it doesn't even make sense to think of them as being in their own space. They have already taken root in our daily lives.”
Interview with Antifluffy
Global Voices (GV): Who are you, Antifluffy?
Antifluffy (AF): I am a mascot of a media lab in Porto. I am an icon, because I have an image and a catchy name. And I am an idea about how the world can be better a place.
GV: Do you mean the real world or the digital world?
As Antifluffy I don't really make a distinction, it's all connected. Essentially what I try to convey is the thought that there is nothing really fundamentally different from new media if we don't consider its repercussions on the existential level. There is a kind of underlying determinism about media – and even what people call post-media – that is this road to go towards the future without actually considering what it is doing to us and what kind of choices we really have.
GV: Do you choose to be on social media?
Yes, of course, I should say that I have many Facebook accounts and many Twitter accounts in the sense that being an idea, I am essentially something that is in everyone's brains. Antifluffy is a way of describing a quality that every human being has that is called obliquity. It's the capacity that every human being has, intrinsically, to think outside-the-box, to innovate, to not just go with the flow, to not just let themselves be seduced by the mirror of everyday gadgets right away.
Ultimately Antifluffy is the belief that people can get a better deal out of what media is offering them. One thing that strikes me is to realize that we all have incredibly powerful tools at our disposal right now and yet it seems that rather than working in our favor they are acting against us, making us more anxious, more deterministic, more alienated.
Where is the healing aspect of new media? I haven't quite figured it out yet and I think we have a duty to find it and nurture it. Of course I am making a huge generalization, there are people doing something fundamentally right, but they are the exception rather than the rule…
GV: Who is the “We” of the “We are the fluff” performance that has just happened
When I say “we” I mean ‘We human beings', ‘We creatures that happen to be alive in this moment'. I am an invitation for people to develop the obliquity they have within themselves. To reconsider the parameters of their connection with contemporary culture…
Antifluffy was partially inspired by a TV commercial for a mobile phone company that in my opinion represents a syndrome. The ad shows an abridged story of the 20th century, including among other things, historical footage of soldiers on the battlefield. The fact that a mobile company uses images of human beings that very likely didn't make it back home, and then says that the solution is to change your contract for a better deal, 4 cents a minute, is somehow going to do what? In terms of historical heritage, in terms of what our ancestors deserve?
Fluff is the kind of crap that says history can and should be revisited as a mechanism… for what? For fluff! It's just stuff!
GV: Earlier today I saw a crowd on the street led by an orchestra. What initially looked like a spontaneous musical performance was actually a sponsored (and filmed) event with the logo of a mobile company everywhere…
I am not against the fact that there are companies providing access to culture. I think that is absolutely fine, but what it seems to me right now is that it has all become a bit of a minefield. It used to be – or at least it seemed to be – easier to read the cultural and the social landscape, and at the moment it has all become very ambivalent. With those kind of experiences. You know, one little detail can suddenly shift the whole experience into a different territory, from the cultural to the commercial in this case. Not to say that bridges cannot be built, of course they can, but at what price?
GV: Would it be easier to get more people out to the streets in Porto every time there is an anti-austerity demonstration if the call for protest was sponsored by a brand?
The 15th of September, 2012, was a key moment to the understanding of what is going on socially in Portugal. On that day we had what a lot people say it was the biggest demonstration since the revolution of 1974. Avenida dos Aliados [Porto's main avenue, where the City Council is] was filled with hundreds of thousands of people protesting because the government was going to propose a nasty kind of tax. And the strange thing is that a mobile phone company was organizing an outdoor rave party that night.
Usually in my presentations I show two slides: one with the crowd filling out the Avenida dos Aliados at 3pm, and the next slide is the same crowd at Praça Filipa de Lencastre at 1am having beer and listening to some DJ. So what you are describing is actually what we already have. I am sure there was a connection between these two events that was planned.
But my concern is exactly this… what's the word, it's not polarization, but schizophrenia. Is this kind of schizophrenia in which you are either on party mode or on protest mode, and I don't think this is healthy. It's actually very damaging to our integrity as individuals.
It worries me that I don't see that many people proposing new social geometries. The only time when people all come together is to say NO. But what I never see is that same huge group of people proclaiming an alternative together as a whole.
GV: Do you think that digital media can help bring people together to accomplish alternatives?
… I think the first condition for us to get out of this nasty situation is to rearrange the ways in which we connect… I mean how can we be healthy as individuals and as citizens if we keep being bombarded by all of these messages and images of a catastrophe and at the same time we get all this stuff which is all saying ‘Hey it's all great and fine and fun’ you know? There has got to be a middle way, there must be a way to harmonize these two schizophrenic moments. We are hostages of this polarization and being bombarded with the idea that it is all going down hill and then up the next minute. After the TV presenter reads all the tragic news – let's have a commercial break, and it's all about fluff, and love and iPads, and it's not healthy to listen to these messages.
GV: Are you fighting against these kind of alienating messages?
Despite the ‘anti’ in my name, I like to think of Antifluffy more as an invitation first of all, to optimism. You know there are things that will never be taken from us, and one of them is affection. Let's be generous with one another, let's value one another, let's not be afraid to say it. It's about optimism, it's about connecting, and it's also about not insulting people's intelligence. Antifluffy is a way of saying that some things take time to unravel, to be understood, they are complex. Let's take it easy, it's alright, you don't have to understand everything right away, as opposed to the vertigo that is happening on social media and in old media.