John Kelsey: Mobile Devices
The fresh, streamlined bodies we see posed in mid-leap from a high rock, superimposed with orgasmic bursts of fireworks, or captured naked in a flash in the back of The Hole or some other downtown club, are the new mobile devices and they know it. Stripped down and live streaming into New York between the Gulf War and 9-11, this is the same skin that showed up in the pages of Vice and in the first American Apparel ads. Here, we encounter a specific, abstract, specifically abstract kind of nakedness that’s self-mediating and always hooked up to an apparatus like a laptop or a smart phone. Radically dispersed and connected in space and in time, these models are information in jeans or without jeans, perpetually mobilized within the self-communicating network that some call “cybercapitalism.” And the Manhattan they know is the abstract one that began to appear when cell phone antennas and surveillance cameras were systematically integrated into the urban infrastructure, along with infinite consumer options for customizing our individual lifestyles. This was when nakedness finally became whatever-naked, because by suddenly being everywhere it was suddenly also nowhere – in an ad or in a cave, on the road or on a screen, wherever.
When kids and cameras show up in a field or a forest, nature becomes an extension of the metropolis. It’s also an immediate extension of our new sped-up, metropolitan nudity. Leaping into American landscapes, these models are the distant progeny of Yves Klein, whose Leap Into the Void is now as searchable as anything — kittlers, Britney’s vagina, etc. But the void we’re leaping into today is the hyper-productive, never-not-working air of the contemporary workspace, from which no exit seems possible at this point. We frolic in a carefree and at the same time anxious space of total communication. Go forth where? It doesn’t matter, because now we manage without horizons: we circulate. Perhaps it’s the void itself that leaps today. And in these images, social and geographical dispersion/connection is visualized as smooth, tattooed, naked life on the run. Here, as in a dream, running is strange . . . closer to flying: bodies appear buoyant, as if in a state of suspended animation. Floating in a night sky or within the illuminated void of a cavern, they are individual examples of a swarming, airborne whateverness, modeling the anonymity of our common abstraction. Now every gesture and each moment is always already both mediated and mediating. What can a body do in a space as abstract and endless as this? It can leap, fall,
run, fuck, float, be photographed. . . .
The evident joy of running in a field and in a viewfinder is the whatever-joy of self-mediating nudity. And if, in these images, mediation has seemingly found its fresh and actual body, it’s also possible that images themselves now rely on such bodies to do their immaterial work of mediation. The photographs run and fly with the kids and vice versa, producing and extending the metropolis. Their specific beauty involves the zero gravity effect of bodies becoming like liquid or light. Image: several bodies flow as one, streaming together. The liquid light that sometimes bursts in the night sky and sometimes stains and colorizes the entire space of an image is corrosive and ecstatic, making nudity show up while at the same time displacing it within a design program and within the horizontal spread of our general image bank. These kids seem beamed or projected into the photographs. Another image: in a forest at night, the camera flash captures nature (trees, kids) in a party-like moment where the woods become a sort of rave or backroom for anonymous hooking up. The contemporary relationship between camera and body involves a new confidence in mediation, taking an almost contractual form: we agree to become part of the camera’s program, making ourselves functional within it. Extending the camera and its program, we produce an image via our movement within a workspace that is constantly leaping beyond its own spatiotemporal coordinates. In contemporary warfare, unmanned, remotely operated drones perform a similar function by extending both perception and the space of war.
Decades after the sexual revolution and in the wake of AIDS, we now experience the possibility of going viral without actually touching and without physical risk. In our rampant dispersion/connection, we are ecstatically promiscuous at the level of language and image. Meanwhile, as we spread like gossip through multiple channels, inhabiting increased bandwidths and speeds, everyday communication becomes more and more pornographic. Sexting, for example, or making our own page on Facebook or OK Cupid, file sharing, posting a list of friends or things we like, uploading Flickr photos from the depths of the party, or whatever we are constantly doing when we transmit our personal information into this communicating air. I’m not saying these are “pornographic” images, only that they are produced under pornographic conditions, and that nowadays pornography has lost any distinction from the means of our daily communication. We are always putting out, always on screen, always leaking, and our new nakedness puts a fresh body on so much everyday exposure and connection. But we also remain somehow innocent in our promiscuity. The emoticon is the emblem of our innocent, promiscuous, free, and unstoppable leaking. And our new nakedness is as easy-going and generic as an emoticon.
We are the mobile components of an abstract machine that integrates our gestures and potentialities within the automatic intelligence of its feedback loops. Naked life streams through the camera’s lens and the circuitry that stores and transmits our information, as well as the programs that organize, combine, and adjust the images we are. Meanwhile, the machine becomes smarter about us. Meanwhile, we use and participate in its intelligence. And it’s not only images but also language and life itself that are elaborated within a program that seems to have everything to do with design. Whether we know it or not, we are designing our world, every step of the way. Naked/program would be the most compressed and abbreviated formulation of this abstract machine. And if, in these images, naked youth shows up splattered with mud or scratched by tree branches, it’s only to prove its nudity, to show that our abstraction is also real. Like farmers after a long day in the fields, these slim bodies wear the signs of their carefree adventuring with prideful joy. There is a sort of mute dignity in these images that strangely recalls the men and women in Walker Evans’ Depression era photographs of itinerant hillbillies. We too are a displaced people, looking for a California we can call our own. Going forth, smooth as jpegs, our new nudity travels at the speed of light in work and in play (no longer sure where the one ends and the other begins), seeking ever more buoyant, joyful states of animation.