In which I go for a walk
In the second half of 2022, I responded to a call for an artist residency in the far north of Sweden. My proposal, a kind of sound walk, or audio-play, with individual components of the story triggered by the listener walking through geofenced areas in an outside space, perhaps a small forest, was to be a kind of murder mystery. The audio would be listened to through bone-conducting headphones, allowing for the impression that ghosts, the murdered, were speaking to the audience, the story through those narrations slowly unfolding.
The idea was appreciated, but the proposal needed to be implemented within the space of a converted shipping container, which was to travel Sweden, and perhaps the Nordic countries.
A second proposal, where I would attach a chair to a fixed spot in the container, and hang a screen on one of the walls, physically decking it out as if it was a window through which the viewer would be looking outside, I envisioned a very long, looping video, where I could be seen in many locations throughout the world, walking from our home in São Paulo, to the tiny village in Moskosel, and back. I soon named this project ‘In which I go for a walk’.
This idea was not only appreciated, but also accepted.
Later, I also had to abandon the chair and any physical installation, as it was decided that all media needed to be projected. But the envisioned video remained.
With the construction of this piece, I wanted to satisfy several goals. Perhaps first and foremost, I wanted to create something playful; something that could have a deeper meaning, but did not necessitate it.
Then, I wanted the piece to allow the audience to slow down, in one way or the other. And I wanted the work to allow for being immersive, ideally whenever it is presented to an audience, not just in the shipping container where I was going to have three walls to play with, but, certainly, at least in this setting for which it would be originally designed.
The core subject of the piece is for the viewer to be given the impression that I leave my house to walk to Moskosel, in the north of Sweden, and back. The residency is paid, but the budget is not unlimited, so for practical reasons, the video will show a number of settings from around Latin America, Europe, and a tiny bit of The Middle East, where, eventually, and in each subsequent scene, I walk through the frame, take a seat for a few minutes, and ponder the view. This is then followed by me continuing on my journey.
Towards Moskosel, walking from right to left, coming back from Moskosel, walking from left to right.
You might deduce that I used this opportunity to, essentially, get paid to travel. And you’d be right.
In a distant past, I ran a successful website called Travelhog.net, which was an index of travelogues. These were the days of Geocities, with Blogger in its infancy, and before WordPress existed.
My own travelogues, not hosted on one of the very limited blog platforms, were custom built websites, each journey documented through a self-contained, freshly designed blog.
In 2002, I went on a trip where the main destination was Bosnia. I had come up with the idea of selling ads alongside my own content. Now, this was a year before Google AdSense launched, and what I built to accompany my vision, was a barebones version of exactly that; advertisers could pick the pages they wanted to advertise on, set a price they were willing to pay, create the ad, and then have their ad, in order of who paid the most, shown next to the content they had picked.
To acquire customers, and start off, I collected the few publicly displayed websites I saw on my journey, and wrote to them, inviting them to advertise.
All this, so that I could justify putting up the cost of my travel as a business expense, as I had turned the documentation of my trip into a commercial publication, with its own revenue stream. In theory, and my accountant was very skeptical.
In the end, my income didn’t rise above the single-digits, and the idea of getting paid to travel by selling ads accompanying the documentation of my journeys died a quiet death.
It did then, but, on the internet, nothing truly dies.
Approaching this project as a ‘walking piece’, is not in the least a consequence of my being part of the team behind walk · listen · create, the home of walking artists and artist walkers. But, also, my intention to nudge the viewer into slowing down, and becoming aware of their role as the observer (more on that below) leans into the ideas of The Situationists, from which, as an artist, I take many of my cues; as members of capitalist society, we are being told what to do, where to go, what to eat, and what to see, while being robbed of the agency to make our own decisions. By making ourselves aware of our own agency, by stepping back from the Spectacle, we can regain control and participate in society on our own terms, not on the terms, nor through the framework, that is enforced upon us.
It was my intention to produce several versions of the work, allowing these to be consumed on different platforms, in different contexts, and in different ways. In addition, I produced some corollary material to emphasise my vision.
An important request for the call was to use new technologies, particularly AR and/or VR.
Having consumed VR from the late 1980s onwards, then with very rudimentary and low-resolution headsets, I have never been a big believer in the likelihood of mass adoption of VR. Even Zuck seems to have come around my way, and if you’ve recently tried any non-gaming implementation of VR, it’s a mystery as to what took him so long. And, even VR gaming can apparently tire a gamer out quickly.
That said, I tried an Oculus in Moskosel for the first time in years, and was impressed by the smoothness of the interface. And horribly frustrated by the lack of user friendliness.
On the other hand, I am a very strong believer in that a reasonably seamless implementation of AR will take over the world in perhaps months. That is, data, textures, context, superimposed on the world around us.
iPhones have been giving us a taste of this for years, the 3D navigation of Apple and Google Maps, while holding your cellphone in front of your face is a better indication of what will soon, likely be possible, through a transparent interface where we might just even stop noticing the hardware providing the technology.
Soon, because at the moment, it’s not. The Apple Glasses that are just around the corner might just be the final revolution in personal tech.
However, for the purpose of my project in Moskosel, whether Apple is going to shake up the world, once more, is moot. By the time Apple will announce their glasses in June 2023, my piece already needs to be ‘on the shelves’.
However, AR, ‘Augmented Reality’, in the literal meaning of the word, is so much more than superimposing data on what we see around us. Augmented Reality is anything that, well, augments, reality. And, the unescapable, and rapidly ubiquitous, tool for this, is AI.
So, I set out to create a number of pieces, all leaning into each other.
- A dynamic web-based version, where each iteration, each time the page is loaded, is different. The videos are displayed as in a kind of mosaic, interspersed with a gallery of images from the two trips I made during which I recorded the raw material.
This is the main product of this project.
This version takes the dimensions of the screen of the user, and creates a grid of videos and images that fits the user’s screen. An alternate version is available which is specifically designed to fit the three projectors in the Moskosel container, such that the grid of videos is projected on the three walls of the exhibition room.
The images in the gallery are slowly replaced by headshots of myself, most of which are very abstract, or glitchy.
- A YouTube playlist of the individual recordings. And, an almost identical playlist with an alternate middle.
You can read up on some more background on this.
I had considered to also create a single very long video, essentially the videos of the playlist all strung together. But, I gave up on this for the challenge of the logistics that this would involve, as I estimate the exported file to approach around 100GB in size.
- A fixed, standalone, version specifically designed for inside the traveling container, and for when the container has no internet access, which will use one very wide format, projected on three walls.
The video is embedded above, and you can read more on it, here.
- A series of location-based podcasts on places I visited on my journey, with texts generated by ChatGPT, and read by a synthesised version of my own voice, running within Placecloud.
- A booklet, highlighting some of my visited locations through AI-generated reflective texts.
- A series of a-photo-a-day, documenting my actual trip from home, to Moskosel, and back.
- Impressed with the output from Midjourney, which I had create gorgeous images which I used to illustrate my location-based podcasts on Placecloud, I figured I should also ask Midjourney for a logo for this project, and I was not disappointed.
When watching the videos, the viewer ends up being a kind of voyeur. By the recurring subject, me, being the one constant in each scene, and by myself being recognisable as the observer of the scene in question, also a kind of voyeur myself, I aim to make the viewer of the video aware of their own role as observer, and hope that that triggers a realisation that, in real life, it is fine, even natural, to take a step back and enjoy the moment, in a similar way to how I do this at the centre of each recording.
By my also resisting the urge to make work that is ever shorter and faster-paced, and, as a consequence, ‘not doing it for the clicks’, that is, creating my work on my own terms, I hope to underscore the realisation that not only can we take a step back from society, also during our daily lives, but perhaps even that we must.