The Only Way Is Up

Ellen Mara De Wachter

This text was written for the publication for the exhibition:

Who Wants to Act Now, or Even See Acting
Curated by Nazli Gurlek at Depo Istanbul (June 15-22 2010)

The mood is strong in We Are the Above, a video parable that addresses our relationships with online life and the very real threats of natural and man-made disasters. The work has a spectral quality that taps into our underlying anxieties and fears. Its content is culled from the Internet and our collective unconscious; its form suggests the confusion of an addled but resolute mind, imagining and imaging a future too fractional to believe in, but which nonetheless seems inevitable.

Water courses through the video’s narrative, a fluid menace that ‘will prevail us’. A series of predictions and practical recommendations come together in what feels like a handbook for constructing a modern-day Ark. Issues of global warming and overpopulation are dealt with obliquely, through statements in a future-speak subject to a new grammar and syntax, to the brutally truncated semantics of the post-digitised world. Incongruous nuances float along in an undialected, unaccented digitized voice. She’s female, or so it would seem, and ‘she’ is adept at conveying her message.

Like the best science fiction, We Are the Above somehow seems more real than reality. Tweed captured these clips by trawling the Internet. They are the readymades of travelogues, sports videos and amateur documentaries. After reaping the products of the online world, Tweed uses them to construct a critique of our schizoid relationship with our own online alter egos. The Internet is a tool with which we hone our fixation with omniscience, precognition and planning. Here, it seems impotent in the face of the man-made environmental disasters that dominate the daily news.

Uncertainty and dread permeate We Are the Above. They grip the viewer with a pulsating sequence of seemingly innocuous words and familiar images. The stark contrast between and utterly pragmatic narrative and a maudlin score infuses the work with a powerful subliminal anxiety.

The narrator seems to repeat herself, but her repetitions contains minor variations that bring to mind Beckettian repetition ad absurdum and anxious high modernists word games. Her phrases plod on, apparently meaningful but ultimately vacuous: ‘The time has come to immerge. The time has come to submerge. The time has come to bring things to a state of eventuality and utmost probability.’

Tweed uses a wealth of data, but resists the impulse to overlay it with a definitive interpretation. The script is structured like a modern manifesto – a call to arms – but it is also redolent of ancient mythology. Preparing for an uncertain future is not a new impulse; it’s as old as mankind and as wide as the world. We Are the Above ends with the thrice-spoken exhortation: ‘The only way is up.’ It’s an ambiguous proclamation, a quotation perhaps, whose tone and intention remain unclear: is it a light-hearted quotation from a 1980s pop song, or a cautionary biblical reference to betrayal and the ill-fated tower of Babel?