Online – Offline: How to Perceive and Communicate in the Artistic Process?

Read Between Pictures is a series of interviews edited by Noora Lehtovuori and Joonas Pulkkinen in collaboration with the artists of the In Continuous Dialogue: Tracing Memories exhibition. It reveals parts of the artistic process of the exhibition.

In this interview, Essi Pellikka and Nabil Himich talk about how their online collaboration began and how working online affects their working processes in relation to text, architecture, place and space at local and global levels. Both artists are particularly interested in architecture, the built environment and a critical approach to its socio-political dimensions, which were also the basis of their Attempts in Localisation project. In this context, they are also inspired by the potential impact of their own geographical location on the relationship between Finland and Morocco.

Collaboration in Online Space

“We first met three years ago in the fugitive flow of the online network, on a blank page of a chat website where users are automatically labelled as strangers. While the reason for both of us being there was to expand our confined situations, we ended up sharing about our practices – and so the conversation got immensely prolonged and puffed-up really fast. We soon realized that what was happening went beyond the social dimension intended and embedded in that platform.Even its accidental nature, due to being able to connect within the context of what we’re concerned with art-wise.

Before long, the social context reached a certain critical phase, as it was asked to respond to something beyond the escapist, consensual, hypnosis experience that it is designed for the online platform being a product of a modern system, a system where we’re trapped inside softwares, as supplements of these softwares – or as software without hardware – a product that destroys the physical conditions of the social and therefore the social itself, suspending and somehow protecting a certain reality from change. We could share the awareness of the place of our meeting , in addition, the observation of our contexts, and through that, to connect with what  is outside of it and in our immediate surroundings in which we are embedded, and since this was happening during a global confinement, we could counterintuitively return to our closed cities and reflect on our environments at large. In this way our exchange quickly became a place for reflection of where we are through familiarising each other with each other’s contexts and both having a specific spatial and theoretical interest in our work to begin with.

In general, the online space idealises spontaneous, genuine encounters and a sense of wonder while isolating itself as a specialised space, separate from the urban experience. In this way, it gets left to its compulsive political and economic designs. As our discourse was the first and last resort, its space started narrowing and the words flooded from us into each other’s physical space in a constant back-and-forth. At the same time, each of us got reached by the other’s locus and local circle of images and background realities, which were uncannily growing, often simulated or poorly arranged in the head of each of the two ‘strangers’ who were now becoming more familiar with each other; strangers – whose relation was mediated by images and noise, a milieu of signs colliding against other signs in the frame of commodified optical fields, spiralling like wheels which never touch the ground, or never find a stable shape.”

Topology of Digital and Physical Spaces

“How to escape escapism when every possible mindset is subjected to its own conditions of production? Images and words suggest themselves as the only protagonists of this social equilibrium, the only elements on which that experience relies. Our discursive flood, implemented by the tendency to match the measure of the accidentality of our encounter, brought us beyond the latter, closer to the primary accidentality being the one of having been born somewhere and being attributed a nationality, which hyper-determines and coordinates our possible and impossible encounters. In this way, the topics of territoriality, of digital communication and its suggested borderlessness meeting collide with the actual walls whether meta– or hyper-physical, with the porosity – and, on the other hand, the solid nature of language too. This encounter is, of course, made possible by the communication technology we have today, but it serves as the baseline and the space for our meeting, in which other things effectively and constantly collide.

We’re interested in the attributes of this space as a place of constant merging and overlapping. As a space which also allows for a certain seamlessness in these collisions, as for example in the entrance work a call is a that we made for the first exhibition in the Oksasenkatu 11 gallery at the very beginning of our research process. Even in the production of these answers for this interview, in which we are able to produce a text which shows no cuts – is not stamped with our voices or handwriting, but allows for our words to exist in a space in a mutual way. This addresses the malleability of language itself, which in an online environment loses its personification, becoming only evenly stamped letters. Also, English is not our mother language, but it is the language of our communication, and this also refers heavily to the gravity of the online context of our generation clashing with one’s actual surroundings.”

The Demanding and Enabling Online

“If we regard these non-spaces of online communication as actual spaces consisting of multiple places at the same time. For example, a video call brings us to questions about the experience of existing in such an overlap, especially when being there so frequently, when still very recently, before the internet, being in a place was of a different form. Now, instead, we’re touched by the demands the online existence places on our bodies, where spatial experiences have become more internally induced, while the possibility of escaping our actual spaces is also something which continues to affect the way our spaces continue to be designed. The physical space has become an infinite backstage, a space of events, containing the possibility of a degree of reality which we would rather escape, such as physical death, hunger, violence — events that never happen online, events that one cannot escape from, on the stage, inside the purely verbal tragedy.

The clash between online and offline realms always reserves this place for absurdity, especially given the fact that our most used online spaces have been created under individualist-consumerist capitalism and are an extension of how it operates in physical space, but it is also there because the online meeting point is within the not-yet-perfected technology itself. In this environment the willingness to communicate in spite of the issues gets underlined, communication itself becomes raw material, subjected to numerous miscommunications and conditions that are or aren’t addressed.

In a sense, we ‘die‘ once we’re offline, once we return to this unbearable exteriority, as if we were meant to dissolve in its air. But the deadliness of this exteriority is more than metaphorical, as long as the configuration of online space and the exteriority around it is identical to what a metaphor is. It is itself a metaphor, since metaphor means à transport, or a transfer from one thing to another – from one place to another. In the etymology of the word, the English word ‘metaphor’ derives from the 16th-century French word ‘métaphore’, which history also holds the words ‘metaphora’ as transference of ownership, and metaphor as in to carry over – behind, along, with and across.

Outside of this metaphorical online space, the external offline becomes an eroded and eroding space, suspended as a promised reply, question or answer. Its co-dependence on chat, turned it to be an excessively transient and provisional silence, where it is reduced to the role of a mere solidity, colour, texture and a chaotic soundscape of a border, which contains the experience of ‘a room without doors or windows’ – an experience that pulls its perceptions and togetherness from the impenetrable darkness, absolute isolation and absence.

We were drawn to work together for the very purpose of contextualising these concerns about the overlap of these multiple spatial typologies, about the multiple specific distortions of space through the online and its hyperconversational, hyper choreographed reality.”

Limits of Dialogue

“In the context of us working together the dialogical aspect is present as a starting point and as a forced condition too, as mentioned before, through our exchange happening first and foremost through verbal exchange, in which we try to merge our spatial contexts. We can observe that since this exchange has already been happening for a duration of three years (especially through working, since this is not the first time we’re working together), a specific common – and undercommon – language has also been developed between us, which involves the outreaches of language and semantics, where each of our contexts are allowed to get mixed. This also has to do with architecture, and how we have begun to use certain language almost as if to create the images and spaces for our words to inhabit.

Our dialogue therefore constructs on a basis of sharing and adding to a pool in which we both bring our own contexts of spatiality. ‘Attempts in Localisation’ is in this sense a project which deals with the different ways of localising and de-localising oneself f, referring to the concepts of territoriality and non-territoriality, but is also concerned with our immediate (clashing) urban environments which movements and developments interest us from the perspective of issues related to the concepts of local and global. As in this example, the positioning of ‘either-or’ / ‘this or that’ is always present, since for our working together and the way our environments too are shaped –there is a constant negotiation– this push and pull between locality and globality.

Referring to the first conversation we ever had, which we happen to have some documentation of:‘as when you walk’,it’s like saying something: by walking, you create links between places – the same applies to talking, which can serve as a bridge when an actual bridge for bodies and stories to cross cannot be built. In a collection of ‘Essays on The Political Economy of Urban Form Vol 4: Reform!’, there is a quotation referring to architectural theory:‘if one cannot build structures,one builds a discourse.’ This also applies to our working conditions, and our shared interest in what kind of possibilities or restrictions actual spatial structures suggest in regards to exchange between bodies.

We’re also tied to delve into the areas of discourse and dialogue in a visceral sense, allowing them to get caught within their core contradictions.The question often goes beyond simply filling the available space of their possibilities, towards transcending the real impossibilities of dialogue and discourse. These impossibilities of dialogue, or the impossibilities of blending, bridging and combining what comes as territorial experiences, are transcended and invested as tools to contrive a just picture of the world, that version of the world which is tied to the earth as well as its obstacles. This equilibrium depends on the critical distances fundamental to it, a world which is now somewhat trapped in the diabolic aspects of new media and communication technologies. We’re keen to invest in these problematizations, which are essential at the point and time in the world being held together by forms of connectedness which are unceasingly perfecting its technologies of maintenance and permutation of (b)orders and hierarchies. As the domiciliary experience of mobility and exchange is rendered possible, it arouses the illusion of volume and texture for the fantasy of a transcontinental network, which disseminates the edifice of the incarceration of a ‘mass’ in the limbo of this digital internalisation, where an unstoppable production of hyper-conformism resides."

New forms of dialogic experiences

“These emerging forms of mediatic and dialogical experiences increasingly reveal their metaphysical standpoint, which, at every stage of its archaeological strata , is maintaining itself in a transhistorical drive which is deployed as an infinite improvement and perfecting of circulation. Fred Moten and Stefano Harney address this obsession with improvement in their book All Incomplete, being about logisticality, or logistics, as the ‘white science’: The science of whitewashing the flesh, the earth and the geographical obstacles coordinating them; ‘a science building up itself to overcome these blocks and achieve access’. In their view, ‘logistics aims to straighten us out, untangle us, and open us to its usufruct’ in practising its favour for the straight line. This science of logistics consists of an edification and ossification of a fantastic world making, which is implanted in the logistical idea that ‘the shortest distance between two points is a straight dimensionless line’.

In her ‘Capital is Dead Is This Something Worse?’ Wark Mckenzie suggests a ‘defamiliarizing’ approach to writing theory, asking what if it were ‘as poetically or narratively rich as we ask of our other kinds of literature.’ In this context, instead of high theory, she suggests a theory that would be without pretensions to legislate or interpret other genres, ‘having no greater or lesser claim to speak of the world than any other’. Maybe this opacification is also a way to challenge the brutalist grid-like geographies we’re embedded in, whether they are the brutalist private grounds of online or offline materiality.

This is the context within which we are processing the current stage of the research in terms of potential artistic and aesthetic materialisations, where these avenues could be deployed in spatial, textual and gestural terms.”