In July I wrote a piece about Simulated Realities, Manipulated Perceptions. In it I queried our apparent pre-occupation with the gruesomeness of war, as seen through a media lens. I took Pakistan as a case study for our obsession with disaster and attempted to apply a Baudrillardian theory to new coverage of terrorism in the country. The irony is, that this article was picked up by an editor for one of the biggest Pakistani news agencies, and ever since I have been writing a weekly column for them.
Having spent years watching and commenting on the media, I have crossed sides, and although I remain a “blogger” not a “writer”, I feel as if I am on the periphery of the very beast I have long deplored. My short, but intense time at Dawn has been a real challenge, as I have sought to write in a way that I have advocated journalists to and continue to challenge the mainstream media perceptions from within.
I have been watching the media in a different way too. Together with fellow artist, Janice Wilkins, a few weeks ago, we parked our deck-chairs outside the headquarters of News International and “looked”. We did some sketches and took some notes, but mostly we looked. It was part of a project we are calling Overt Surveillance – and whilst our bright yellow t-shirts draw smiles, we have a serious point. Two in fact. The first is an act of watching the watchers (we have also publicly “watched” our Government and Scotland Yard amongst others). But the second point to emerge in our work is the neutrality that emerges from concentrated watching.
As artists we are often told to “look more” – and having read John Berger, Jean Baudrillard, and a bit of Foucault we thought it best to get out into the real world to do more looking. It is the transformation of seeing, hearing, thinking, feeling into an art form that is the crux of most artistic practices. After several missions of overt watching, and sketching and making notes, we both felt we reached another level. You get in a zone, when you really look, and all sorts of things begin to appear to you – minute revelations, that you might have missed with a mere glance.
We both believe there is value in this – in getting beyond objects as symbols, signs and signifiers – in observing flat neutrality. Perhaps this is where artists can add value in society. Not simply in communicating the obvious using the usual cliché’s, but in noticing and sharing the intricacies and apparent irrelevancies in life.
Jean Baudrillard, remains a huge influence on my work – and my obsession with the manipulation of reality, and I have introduced my fascination for his theories in several pieces on Dawn too – using his ideas to spark questions about self and national perception and introduce his notions of hyper-reality. But perhaps I can agree with Baudrillard that there is no one single truth or reality to anything, the starting point and perhaps only point is by undertaking entirely neutral, non-judgmental real-life observations. Overt Surveillance is something that Janice and I would like to share – both as a fun and engaging activity, but also to encourage the public into deeper thought. Having first written about virtual reality two decades ago, Baudrillard may have been impressed with the irony that a quest for The Art of Watching in real terms, was being promulgated by hyper-real terms via the internet and we have launched a crowd-funding initiative through We Did This. Perhaps Clay Shirky would also approve.