A techno sensory anti-ritual?

This article by Anita Hammer was originally published on the website www.kunstkritikk.no in connection with the exhibition of Erotogod at Atelier Nord in Oslo in 2003.

In Erotogod God is no longer just himself (God is God), the first and the last, nor is he just “good” in the good Christian (and Muslim) sense as antithetical in relation to the diabolical polar opposite. God is also “good” when it comes to erotic pleasure.

With a title that not only alludes, but also deliberately uses a multiplicity of dualities, the Erotogod exhibition is techno manipulating itself into the tradition of “transgressing” exhibition and performance practices. Although such measures are no longer entirely unexpected, the project ventures far beyond the limits that post modern approaches often set for themselves. The reflective and techno experimental team consisting of Ståle Stenslie, Knut Morken Skagen, Trond Lossius and Asbjørn Blokkum Flø, has in the project Erotogod dared to tackle the “big stories”, those that the art and avant-garde, in true post modern and post-colonial spirit, once and for all has written off as manipulative constructions. Texts from different religions creation myths – those Joseph Campbell calls the “real” myths – are put together using digital technological finesse. But, as the title more than suggests, in Erotogod God is no longer just himself (God is God), the first and the last, nor is he just “good” in the good Christian (and Muslim) sense as antithetical in relation to the diabolical polar opposite. God is also “good” when it comes to erotic pleasure.

Room, performer-spectator
The various text fragments from the religious mythologies is presented in Erotogod in a nonlinear manner. Text fragments projected on light screens forms a room in the room where the fourth wall is replaced by an opening. Here we can as the audience step into “the sacred” – if we dare. For that which in the blurb is described as “a futuristic media altar linking auto-erotic touch, to stories of creation,” resembles a Speculum. The spectator who enters the room, however, is met with polite and friendly assistance that involves undressing of the outer layers of clothing, and the application of a cyber-suit with sensors that reacts to touch and physical stimulation. The body parts involved are the thighs, stomach, chest, wrists, shoulders and behind, and it is by touching themselves in those places covered by the sensor-suit that the “spectator” is partaking in “creating the work”. The work can be considered an event that is initiated by tactile, visual and auditory stimuli, and which constitute the total multi-sensory experience of Erotogod.

The touching of your own body by way of programmed sensors produce sound, image and movement that makes the individual spectator an interactive performer for the rest of the spectator group. The idea of the spectator / performer as a representative and mediator of sacred interpretation through touching your own body is part of the concept, and defines the specular stick between ones legs as an altar stool in front of the media altar. But which contract is actually agreed to when you climb the altar? As a performer / spectator, I am somewhat perplexed about the extent to which my self-touch determines the story of creation that is multi-sensory unfolding around me, and to what extent the program does its own sequences, independent of me. The dual role that occurs through being some kind of creation priest, the representative of the “church” of other art spectators, while one at the same time is perceived as an experiment, is mildly speaking ambivalent, and likely to put even a fly in embarrassment. The contractual dilemma that in the infancy of performance art was a renewal precisely through the transgression of the art contract, does not work like that in Erotogod. In Erotogod, what I will call the unclear entering of a contract, rather works as an obstacle in achieving the sacral effect that the project advocates. Why is this so?

The cyborg myth
When the artists presents Erotogod as a “heavenly database” activated in front of a “media altar”, this is a deliberate ironizing, not only on the religious texts that are used, but also on the cyber-utopia that reigned in certain U.S. intellectual research environments in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The link between ancient myths and non-linear structures such as cyber and hypertext was by connecting the premodern and the post modern through digital technology, launched as an attempt to avoid the modernist linearity. Donna Haraway’s Cyborg myth from 1989 expressed this clearly. This “Cyber-ontology” considers the distinction between nature and technology as a constructed space, and calls for the construction of human beings as cyber-god.

To invalidate the previously estimated culture-bearing categories, and to use digital technology as an extension of the human into the divine, which one does not believe in anyway, is the cyber project itself. When the creation stories, which exists by virtue of the human sincerity that is projected into them through the millennia – is digitized with ironic distance, they are made the subject of the famous post modern play. To the extent Erotogod wants to produce a sensuous and sensual divine experience, and wants to convey that the divine sensory experience is serious, the project is an admonishment to religions denial of sensuousness and sensuality. This important and serious recognition, however, easily drowns in the distancing that also takes place in the project. The play with, an in itself playful element, the sensuality, can thus easily undermine the “message” about sensual religion, which is the hot topic in Erotogod.

Ritual or anti-ritual contract
Erotogod conveys a tension between different approaches to reality, and to the art contract. The ironic representation denies the experience the spectator might have of a ritual. Nothing is further from a ritual setting than just irony. The irony and distance makes the traditional ritual contract impossible, which is collective and based on common understanding. Erotogod is an experimental and individual-based performance. It experiments with an audience that is being made into individual “performers”, and makes the spectator “set the scene” in a public space in the conduct of a kind of cyber-masturbation.

The performer in front of the cyber-altar does not represent the community and the group’s physical and mental wellbeing, as we know it from the “priest” feature in ritual-based societies. In Erotogod the “performer” rather becomes an instrument to set the scene for both the technology and themselves. What we are witnessing is thus rather a “staging” than a ritual. In a ritual the individual is sheltered. In Erotogod the individual is extradited. The artists indicate that the project is as much a scientific study, as it is art. It is a study of the individuals’ use of technology in relation to bodily sensation. The ritual aspect of the staging can thus be regarded as an anti-ritual, which by its multiple contract negates its own intention. Nothing is further from the religious than the distance located in the reflecting dissociation of irony.

The serious game
The creation myths, which for millennia have been the basis for maintaining social and ideological superstructures, are all common property. They lend themselves generously for any purpose, without deteriorating for that reason. The term “heavenly database” as used in the description of the project, must be considered metaphorically. Nevertheless, we live in a time when the faith in technology as a source of eternal youth, eternal health and eternal life for most people has replaced both the belief in a resistant deity as well as the surrendering to earthly organic processes.

The culture that has brought forth digital technology is a culture driven by superseding patriarchal social systems that has been designed to subdue “the earth”, including the bodily and physical limitations associated with organic life. Structurally speaking however, the mythological texts lends themselves well to ritual, to non-linear forms of representation, rhythmic elements recur in the form of repetition and variation of certain phrases. It is precisely this aspect of the sacred texts that point back to their ritual origin, which is dancing, singing and spatial, bodily presence. This could have been much more focused and exploited in Erotogod, both tactile and visually. The ritual texts are not clear enough.

One could say that it is a paradox when boy’s play with technology is supposed to rebuild the function of the body, sensual intimacy and sensuality in the sacred. Nevertheless, it is important that this issue will be discussed and focused in different ways in different media. It is brave of Flø, Lossius, Skagen and Stenslie to embark on the “big stories”. It’s nice that they play with them too. But the performance genres play with contracts is currently less interesting than the seriousness one senses is behind the project. It is this seriousness that makes Erotogod an exciting project and a project that concerns us. Next time this competent team embarks with mythologies, I wish for a sensual and sensuous collective experience that is framed and shielded by religious seriousness. I wish for a ritual digital rite, perhaps a Techno utopian one?