During the graduation ceremony at my previous university, one of the speakers began her talk by asking the question: ‘how do you measure success?’ This is a critical question, as it touches on the deeper argument of what is the purpose of the university. Is the university a tool to educate and enlighten its students, or an institution that prepares people for a life of work? So the speaker by answering the question ‘how do you measure success?’ is actually revealing what the upper management of the university believe to be the purpose of the university.
So how did the speaker choose to answer this question? ‘How do you measure success?’ she again proclaimed, her answer: ‘Well its quite easy actually. We have had an 52% increases in applications for our courses in the last five years. A much larger increase then most other universities in our sector.’ This quick and definite answer surprised me. It seemed to dismiss the complexity of the question. Suggesting that success of a university can be judged through business statistics alone. She does not seem to factor even the most basic idea of the quality of education. This viewing of education solely through the prism of business statistics risks becoming endemic. As education is increasingly being run like a commercial enterprise.
The current British governments tertiary education strategy, involves funding largely being sourced from students tuition fees. This results in a situation where students are seen as consumers of a product. As well as the source of income for the university. This pushes a modal where the empathise is in attracting new students. This is often done through enticing new students with the promise of better career prospects. This has lead to an overt focus of time and funding in increasing careers advice and employment possiblities. The universities ideals of enlightenment and intellectual advancement risk being forgotten in favour of viewing the university through a corporate scope were student numbers and job prospects are the two most important things.
The corporate parts of the university should not be prioritized over its educational function but this is precisely what is happing. This can be seen when looking at the staggering rise of Vice Chancellors salaries. The average wage for Vice Chancellors at Russell Group universities, is now reaching a staggering £293,000 a year. This is an salary increase of £20,000 in one academic year. This increase comes at a time of fiscal restraint, where salaries are shrinking in real terms for lectures and other university staff. Restricting the ability of universities to keep hold of academic talent.
A universities main focus should be on fostering creativity, inspiring its students to have a new outlook on the world. Surely these ideas deserve to be considered when answering the question ‘how do you measure success?’ A successful university should inspire the next generation of thinkers, artists and academics. Giving them the skills and resources to allow their talent to shine. These should be at the very least the ideals of a university.
A graduation ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate these ideals. Fill the halls with inspirational speeches, to give them the confidence and desire to achieve their goals. The only ideals I saw on display during my graduation ceremony was the corporate one. This transformed an event that should have been a celebration of talent, into another advertisement on the corporate success of my university.
Without conscious thought the idea of the uncanny has began creeping into my work. A face rendered through Facebook imagery has a vague resemblance to the image of the person but enough difference to make something scary. What point is this making? Does this eerie familiarity have a connection to our digital reflections? One could not argue that facebook is a particularly uncomfortable technology to one of a social disposition. If I am honest with myself I used the uncanny in order to cause a feeling of dissonance. To try to build upon the idea that virtual copies of our selves exist. This is almost mythical metaphorical interpretation on digital reality.
In Melissa Gronlund essay on eflux, Return of the Gothic: Digital Anxiety in the Domestic Sphere,
she makes a connection between the gothic novels and post Internet artists looking at the ‘otherness’ of new technology. She goes onto claim that ‘A similar substrate of anxiety and domestic disruption can be found in recent moving image work. Their reappearance or re-conjuring in these settings suggests a return of the gothic as a way to wrestle with daunting, ongoing questions prompted by current technological shifts: How has the internet affected our sense of self? Our interactions with others? The structures of family and kindship?’ She refers on how post Internet art often uses the ‘gothic tropes of the uncanny’. Perhaps it is not unusual for my work to have an uncanny element to it, after all much of online technology is similar to offline life minus a couple of significant differences. Ed Atkins, Wendy Vainity and Mark Leckey all could be called post Internet artists and all use the uncanny to cause an unsettling effect in their work. But I think the major difference between gothic literature and post Internet art that Gronlund fails to mention is that there was a genuine public fear of technology in the 1800s there is not one now despite diminishing privacy and the massive amount of information that is now being stored. The public reaction NSA scandal was one closer to apathy then to fear. I believe the trend towards the uncanny has more to do with the personification of the inanimate used to highlight and bring to the public attention the questions about online identity or perhaps simply as an attempt to bring more mythos into the world through the magical nature of the virtual.
What you experience in your childhood often ends up engraved into your psychological make up. A place that I visited often as a child and hold a special place in my memory is the Barbican Centre. Its Brutalist architecture, fountains and publicly inaccessible areas have captured my imagination. Despite it not being overly large it often appeares in my wild flights of fantasy, coming back to me through dreams and imagination. As a child the possibility of the spaces seemed infinite. It inspired me to loose my self in such a space, a space where my thoughts seem to reside.
The Conservatory found within the Barbican is a very surreal experience. The industrial concrete being a reminder to Modernism, a time of expansive human development that now, perhaps wrongly, seem to represent grubby cities and rough council estates, hid away a tropical temperate paradise. This creates a bizarre mixture of environments and makes the Barbican go beyond just ambitious concrete it creates a level of fantasy to it. This is what always strikes me about Brutalism is the inflexible and unimaginative connotations that concrete brings to mind are shaped in such imaginative ways manipulating space in such a way that it almost becomes an oxymoron. This makes them incredibly beautiful and imaginative buildings.
Kew Gardens are another place that remain in my memory but no way near as much as the Barbican. Perhaps because it was visited infrequently, but I think there’s something more to it. A visit to Kew Gardens was an event something to be excited by. A visit to the Barbarian was routine a two hour wait at the weekends as my brother was at Italia Conti. This was a time of boredom not excitement. As Gaston Bachelard writes in his book The Poetics of Space:
“Centres of boredom, centres of solitude, centres of daydream group together to constitute the oneiric house which is more lasting then the scattered memories of our birthplace”.
The Barbican was all these things for me. Moments of boredom make time seem longer it also was a time where my imagination was most active trying to find a way to entertain myself. Through the constant returning to the Barbican in my dreams it has become an analogy of my mind. Spaces are often triggers of emotions and the Barbican caries feelings of memory, fantasy, imagination but also alienation if not quite loneliness. This lonerism creates a happiness, a safe place for me to reside. It has become a place for my solitude. My post-nomad self sees it as an image of my early life, its image has grown to remind me of the fantastical individualism of the curious introverted child I still am.
The online virtual post-internet world we now live in has changed the way we communicate. We have replaced long distance written communication to vocal and now visual communication. What I shall focus on is the new tool Skype, and the potentially negative consequences this has. As imagination is replaced by image.
We shall start by taking the analogy of of the digital camera in Baudrillards book “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?“. Here he explains that the digital cameras functions by transforming a reflected image into data and then this collected data is used to recreate an image on screen. In summery his argument is that we no longer have an image but a replica of an image which has the same properties as the original. But this copy is not genuinely the same thing as the original, as it doesn’t change or age it just repeats. He uses this analogy to explain his belief that society has likewise become an replica of its self. But skype and and webcam based technology takes this analogy a step further. Skype creates the illusion of face to face conversation when actually it is merely a replica. A collection of code to represent the face of your distant friend.
The Skype conversation, that is focused on coded image is limiting. Ones eyes are not free to roam around, touch is of course out of the question. Even feelings such as anger no longer fill the conversation. Emotion has a presence and cannot so easily be replicated by a flat 2d image. At most you will receive a faint shadow of true emotion. Skype aims to mimic face to face conversation but lacks the physicality to truly be more then a poor substitute. It is a replica that attempts to have the same qualities of the original but is not the same as the original. When you find your self in a new place these conversation tools can become alienating. It encourages you to have a bad replica of a conversation with someone you know, rather then seeking a real conversation with someone you do not.
But the true social risk found in Skype is the control one can exert over it. In a genuine three dimensional conversation one can only control there perception to a certain extent. An interview is effective because although there is an illusion aspect to the proceedings, this illusion is some form of game that the participants are aware they are involved in. They are actively presenting themselves in a positive way. The knowledge of this game gives the interview an subtext. Where the participants try to find certain information through the way the others maintain their illusion. This phenomenon is also found in dating and even in day to day conversation to a lesser extent.
Where Skype differs is in its two dimensional aspect. The body language on show can easily be hidden, and barley exists at all. It acts within a frame where you position yourself within a box. The onlooker has no choice in where to look at you. You are positioning yourself into a flat frame. At no point during a conversation on Skype do you look into the others eyes. To do so would require both participants to stare directly into the webcam. The webcam becomes the others eye. You can tell it where to look. This is where Skype becomes less personal then the other means of long distance communication. By attempting to mimic face to face conversation it becomes a bad copy of it, and one that should not be mistaken as any less far away from it, then other forms of long distance communication.
Why Skype can be worse then other forms of long distance communication is because it attempts at being a replica. All the imagination of a phone call or letter is gone. During a letter or phone call one fills the lack of image with memories. The sole voice in a phone call can trigger an imagination of the body language and eye contact found within a conversation. In Skype the personality one fills in through a phone call is replaced by a bad replica of communication.
The good thing is that unlike the digital camera it is obvious that Skype is not face to face conversation. It replaces the phone or letter not all conversation. But the technological drive to make long distance conversation more like face to face conversation sets a bad precedent. Bauldrillards nightmare is the point where the two become indistinguishable. Where the illusion of face to face conversation has become so good that it is unnoticeable. Then distance ceases to matter. What is real or not becomes a moot point. At that point the meaning of face to face conversation disappears. Our reality is replaced with a new one, a perfect replica of one.