EXHIBITION IMAGES

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The Digital Weird parodies the format of an online scavenger hunt. Visitors are asked to find hyperlinks within each work to progress through a sequence of carefully placed videos, stills, texts and games. These works are disseminated across a number of platforms, websites, and other methods of communication; supplanted into subcultured social scenes, added into niche video platforms, appearing as links into the esotericism of Reddit debates, and bogus landmarks within the Google map matrix. Nothing is what it seems, and nothing is given context of artist name or exhibition title. Using nonsense usernames and phoney accounts, the embedded works exist in a chain of discovery but can equally be stumbled upon by unsuspecting viewers at random.

Whether a passive intruder, or an active participant in the hunt, viewers are encouraged to waste time on the internet – to inhabit the privileged position of the digital Flâneur – and to succumb to their inherent curiosity of going down an internet rabbit hole. Always a follower of visitors before them, newer explorers will be looking for the warmth of a seat that has just been departed (the infrathin [1] of the digital between-space).

The exhibition is an exploration into the underbelly: subcultures, underground practitioners, theories, genres and artists, all grazing the surface of what the weird could encompass. The works are used as tools to rethink our positioning towards terminology often given to that which some would rather ignore: creepy, unnatural, freaky, unfamiliar, weird. Unpacking the negative connotations of these words (rejection, embarrassment, and different) may enable us to better understand the non-binaries, and the varied realms and meanings of the weird or wyrd [2] that have existed for centuries.

Often traced back to the horror and science fiction / fantasy literary genre, including writers like H.P. Lovecraft, the idea of the weird has frequently existed as an antithesis to that which is accepted or welcomed. But it had also found its centre within that of othering; of othering darkness, the outside, or unfamiliar lands and landscapes. This has been retroactively termed the Old Weird. Contrary to the thematics and ideas written about in “old weird” texts is what Elvia Wilk phrases The New Weird in an article for Literary Hub in 2019.

Titled Toward a Theory of the New Weird, Wilk traces the rise of the genre with a feminist lens, and with a positioning on the the terminology of the weird as ascribed by Mark Fisher in his book The Weird and the Eerie. Fisher defines the “weird” as an “outside space,” that “lies beyond standard perception, cognition, and experience”, and therefore a space that cannot be truly explained.

In her article Wilk traces the weird through describing what weird fiction isn’t – science fiction and science fantasy – and how these genres often produce normative ideas around gender and promote hierarchies of power including colonisation and racial bias. Recontextualising the weird through femme-authored stories of women and plants from Kathe Koja (The Neglected Garden, 1991) and Margaret Atwood (Death by Landscape, 1990), and through a film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation where we witness another woman-becoming non-human tale, Wilk explains that biology, nature and humanness are interlinked with our encountering of the weird; weirdness is a confrontation with the nonhuman in whatever form that nonhuman takes.

The works in the exhibition are also positioned in relation to an idea of the weird brought to us via Mark Fisher’s explanation of “ambient discontent” – that which exists hidden in plain sight, behind closed doors or as portals to otherworldly, but parallely linked, universes. In the case of the exhibition, that is to say the works exist as part of a pre-designed chain of encounters, but can also be stumbled upon as an unexplained event or strange occurrence to the unsuspecting internet user. As with Wilk’s theory of the ability of the weird to de-naturalise our sense of reality, the encounters with the exhibition (via the screen, via the random assignment of usernames and accounts hosting the works, via the peripheral links opening new pathways to explore) elaborate that the weird is only a click away. The weird hovers between explaining everything and nothing and trying to explain what it is, how it makes us feel, or where it comes from in fact neutralises it – we try to add caveats to everything to explain away that which we don’t understand.

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