In-Between by Olivia Fox
Catalog Number (M-OF01-IB01)
There seems to be a reoccurring narrative for many young ‘zine writers. A confusion as to what direction they are supposed to take take with their lives. Where and how they should live. If the way in which they are living is the correct one. In this respect Olivia Fox’s “In-Between” (publish within months of her college graduation) is no different she even admits, “In short, I feel confused about my identity. I feel in-between.” What separates her zine from so many other examinations of this uncertain time in person’s life is not only Fox’s self awareness, but the way in which she recontextualizes the panic and uncertainty of early adult life as an examination of the the way in which technology has limited her potential futures.
Fox is past the conundrum of what to do with her life. She has chosen to be an artist. The problem she is trying to sort out (“I have a manic need to create art and feel conflicted about it.”), is how to retain a sense of self as an artist in a world that has become increasingly reliant on machines. Having just completed art school, she directs her first critique at the divided position her education has placed her in. On a personal level she feels that “paying so much money for a degree in fine art is decadent.” This decadence coming from her belief that “All art is narcissistic, and all art coming from art school is decadent, privileged, and over abundant.” And with “too many students majoring in unsustainable studies,” the submergence of merit and expression for money becomes less a theoretical concern and instead a very tangible real one. Many students boxed in by debt so that “when the time comes to pay back student loans, the impulse is to create for money rather than purpose.” The art schools even perpetuating this mindset of “careerism and standardization,” of art as product. So that to function in the adult world, we have to wield our laptops towards the creation of sellable product, towards “content”.
In this world where creative goods have become the new mass produced product is the artist then simply a machine operator? Is computer generated art formed more by the toolset than the artist? Fox states, “I find Apple computers to be dangerously ubiquitous.” Even bringing up the fact that her former alma matter will soon require “students to have a macbook pro (equipped with the adobe suite). It is this blind careerist capitulation to technology that Fox is so worried about, admonishing that “The computer should be properly analyzed as a form of artistic discipline to combat a generation of entitled / misinformed artists.” In previous generations, creative output was carefully considered, “I know the tube of paint has been considered since its inception.” But now, when creative energy is spent primarily in the creation of “content”; the tools of creation are no longer means of expression but means of (economic) survival.
Fox addresses this in parodying The Rifleman’s Creed as the “macbookman’s Creed”. Here, the users ability to hone and focus his creative energies sharper than his opponent, “I will click straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must click him before he clicks me,” allow him to earn a living, or at least survive. More than that, proficiency will allow the user’s own specific meme to not only survive but thrive. All web content producers are acutely aware that, “what count’s in this web is not the letters we type, the noise of our trackpad, or the divs we make. We that it is the hits that count. We will hit…” The final line’s ellipses turning it into the almost mantra of the artist producing ideals within the current deluge of information.
If the laptop has then become our rifle, our means to conquer our enemies, to ensure our survival; what then is our personal relationship to this object? In the “macbookman’s Creed” Fox writes about said laptop, “I will learn it as a brother… We will become part of each other.” In such a heightened war-like reality it makes sense to “learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories.” But given breathing room to consider that the computer’s role as an art making tool, Fox sees this intense fetishization of the machine’s content generation ability as at cross purposes with individual expression. The invisible hands of everyone who created the program you use to make your art, then change that production into a secret collaboration between you and the software designers. Fox is wary of this teaming and writes, “I feel uneasy about my collaborators being corporations. I wish I had a more one-to-one relationship with my computer.” Users don’t typically work with the software designers, they work within the limits and structures set by the designers. This is especially true of hardware, where changing your desktop image is actually one of the few places for personalization on a computer. While we might believe “This is my macbook. There are many like it, but this one is mine,” no amount of clever stickers covering the Apple logo makes this true.
With the rifle we expect predictable results, but when it comes to the computer as a tool for the expression of ideas the word “predictable” becomes far more ominous. Analog art mediums have infinite wiggle room, “There is no technological determinism to paint.” But in examining the ever tightening restrictions in design and software in the Apple branded products advertised as being pro-creativity, Fox posits that, “If Apple had their way, they would have a monopoly on every type of hardware and software… it would not only be an economical monopoly; Apple would have a monopoly on innovative and creative people as well.” iMovie updates taking the same position as Expressionism in the art history cannon. Our expressions becoming prisoner to the machines and programs by which we express them. Which then makes us prisoners, and in Fox’s mind “The Prisoner”.
In discussing 1967’s “The Prisoner” she finds it deeply prescient. The danger to Number 6 coming from ‘“The often shuffled and confusing powers-that-be are constantly trying to conform him for the explicit purpose of extracting information from him.” Our computers offer us a similar resort island as trap dichotomy. Our reliance on standardized information channels (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc…) creating the illusion that we are freely sharing information with one another; all while said data is “being categorized, numbered, bought and sold within a larger environment.” Yet we submit to each increasingly curious terms-of-service change “because we’re content with the service they provide us.” If our corporate Number 1’s have their way, then the standardization of artistic tools will ensure that we do their work for them and better than the could ever do.
Fox, much like the rebellious Number 6, rejects (“I feel trapped in a gilded culture I despise.”) this narrowing of expression in favor of new technology. If the definition of art, true art, is an expression of the internal regardless of structures, of taste, of aesthetic, and If we believe that the computer is an extension of ourselves, we must also realize that “we’re not all the same, and our computers shouldn’t be.” Fox wants to, “assert control over the part of me that is a machine, and that part of the machine that is my artwork,” so that “I can exist in-between… I do not need to have a macbook to be up-to-date and equipped to practice relevant art.” It is these small rebellions that allow the artist to carve out a space within the modern world of ideas. Choosing technological obsolescence to maintain autonomy is quickly becoming the most forward thinking choice an artist can make.
- Robin Enrico