We’ve stopped trusting institutions and started trusting strangers / Reflection

Rachel Botsman mentions in a 2016 TED conference titled ‘We’ve stopped trusting institutions and started trusting strangers’ that “technology is creating new mechanisms that are enabling us to trust unknown people, companies and ideas. And yet at the same time, trust in institutions — banks, governments and even churches — is collapsing”.

Botsman makes reference to platforms like Airbnb, Tinder and car sharing services that are widely in use today. This phenomenon is made possible because of accountability. Each platform requires you to create an account that displays how highly you are rated on how reliable your services are, creating a sense of accountability. For ages, we’ve trusted large corporations and organisations. These people create the rules, and when they mess up, we just have to suck it up because they were the governing body. 

Entering the digital, we realise that institutional trust is not meant for this age and dealt with each other with the help of technology instead. This new form of trust that is being invented will advance person-to-person relationships through distributed networks and collaborative marketplaces and changes the dynamic of how ideas are created and shared. For example, Amazon’s Flex that was launched in Seattle in 2015 was a crowdsourced delivery service that employed the ordinary man (no uniforms, logos or branded vehicles) to deliver packages and the fact that there was trust in this transaction is a huge step.

Image result for Amazon Flex

This trust shift adds another layer to what we have to worry about, like device hacking and abuse of the system. What the future holds for this new shift in dynamics is no doubt uncertain and frightening even. But instead of focusing on the disruption of this trust shift, Botsman encourages us to learn and embrace the opportunities to redesign systems. This can be said for collaborative art and narratives, that are more transparent, inclusive and accountable. 

Tatsuo Miyajima’s Mega Death (1999)

My second visit to Minimalism at the National Gallery was guided by head curator Silke Schmickl who brought character and insight to the seemingly simple artworks on display. I will be discussing Tatsuo Miyajima’s Mega Death (1999), the first piece she brought us to see and coincidently also the first piece I experienced on my previous trip there.

We began by stepping into a room, lit by only the glow of a few hundred blue LED counters from panels that were mounted on three sides of the wall. They would count down at different speeds from 9 to 1, skipping 0, over and over. Though the room was silent, each counter made a little tick sound in my brain and they would overlap, leaving me in an almost meditative state, counting in my head together with the LEDs.

Image by ANNA KUČERA, The Saturday Paper

Miyajima was commissioned to do a piece that summed up the 20th century. It was a simple set up, but the artist had intended for the numbers to represent the Buddhist cycle of life. If you had read about the piece, you would know that these lights would completely shut off at one point (Silke informed us that it happens when a certain sensor is triggered), which he termed Mega Death, as though the cycle of life was abruptly broken. Miyajima wanted this break of darkness to recognise the great and instantaneous number of lives lost in the 20th century through wars and killings. He also wanted to show how we picked ourselves up and begun again when the lights came back on one at a time, counting backwards again.

Video at: https://archive.mca.com.au/miyajima/miyajima-artworks/mega-death/

The first time I visited, the lights blinded me in a starburst effect and I didn’t stay to experience the shut down – and missed the whole point of Mega Death. On the guided tour, perhaps it was the many feet of my classmates that triggered the sensor – mega death happened quite instantaneously after we entered. It was quite terrifying to be in the sudden blanket of darkness, even while knowing that it was supposed to happen. Put in context with the artist’s intentions in mind, this simple room with blue lights held substance and told a narrative.

Image by National Gallery Singapore

I enjoyed how he attached life and death, something so universal, to simple LED counters and programming them to turn off. When the lights started turning back on, we noticed there was one glitching counter that counted forward instead, and this was somehow endearing to me and really humanised this digital piece of work and I could empathise with it. I guess there’s always something different you experience in a piece of work each time you visit it.

I guess in relation to the project we are working on, we can learn how to strip things down to their essence, to find a relatable point and tell the narrative through different manifestations that are not entirely understandable at first glance. In a way, it is what we are doing with Mee Pok Man by stripping away the actors and telling the narrative through the presence of the props in each scene.






Maurice Benayoun’s Tunnel Under the Atlantic

Maurice Benayoun is a French new media artist who dabbles with many forms of media in his work including video, immersive virtual reality, the web, wireless technology, performance, large-scale urban art installations and interactive exhibitions. (Benayoun, 2018)

Fig 1. Tunnel in Paris

One of Benayoun’s better known installations, The Tunnel under the Atlantic, 1995 was a televirtual event that linked the Pompidou center in Paris to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montréal through a virtual tunnel. The tunnels were two-meter-diameter tubes simulated a linear crossing of our planet, as if it were dug under the ground. It enabled hundreds of people from both sides to meet virtually as seen in Fig 1 and 2.

Fig 2. People meeting across the Atlantic through the virtual event

How it worked was that people would ‘dig’ into memories and pictures of the past for five days before they could meet the people on the other side. The event was filmed with four virtual cameras. The audience could automatically hear audio recordings of them that were being mixed and edited. In the event of a counter-shot, they were able to view their own live pictures floating within the space they have just dug up. This can be observed in the clip below:

Having these remains would allow each person’s route to have a unique experience that pertains to sounds and images from them. Essentially, they would be travelling through a three dimensional space that was created through their movements. 

With this interaction and contribution from the audience, the writing process of the installation would no longer be a definite and established build up of sounds and pictures. Instead, it played with the immediate creations of the audiences exploratory behaviour.  It displayed a combination of chance and determination which defined the result architecture, similar to the balance of chaos and determinant in real life. 

After the exchange, other participants could take the same route or create new ones as if in a collective quest of a shared memory. This very much embraces the idea of entropy, where a natural progression towards an amorphous quality of the signal in the act of exchange occurs.

This reminds me of John Cage’s ideas in Variations V,  1964 when he explored the use of chance to break away from usual deterministic musical compositions. Likewise, he did choose certain elements like sound, texture, and other musical relationships to be determinants. We can observe the similarities in terms of interactivity in both works, where the artist uses systems that transfer control from creator to the creation process. 

To quote Norbert Wiener inCybernetics in History,” 1954, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Realityhe mentions:

“We are now no longer concerned with the study of all possible outgoing and incoming messages which we may send and receive, but with the theory of much more specific outgoing and incoming messages; and it involves a measurement of the no-longer infinite amount of information that they yield us. (Wiener, 1954)

In essence, it is not so much physical phenomena that we explore, rather individual trinkets of information that are being connected and passed to and from observer and machine.

With the installation, Benayoun also displays ideas of immersion. To quote from Ivan Sutherland in The Ultimate Display,” 1965,  he states:

“The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked.” (Sutherland, 1965)

However, Benayoun’s idea of immersion was slightly different from Sutherland’s, and he focused on the essence of a place instead of the realness of it through programming. Here is a quote by him:

“Artificial Intelligence, real time graphics, sound generation, multi-sensory apparatuses and robotics may be highly sophisticated, but making art is not just a complex form of DIY to be confused with funny electronic gadgets.” 

To conclude, Benayoun chose not to not immerse the audience in real time footage of the actual places each party was situated in. Rather, by using footage of the audience themselves, he created a fantastical tunnel that was immersive in its own form. It created a new world that brought both audiences from each location together in an immersive and virtual tunnel that each of them created together. This idea of immersion created an artwork that balanced both interactivity and immersion in a single event which contributed to its breathtaking performance.

772 words



Benayoun, M. (2018). The Tunnel under the Atlantic. Retrieved from http://benayoun.com/moben/1995/09/14/the-tunnel-under-the-atlantic/

Wiener, N. (1954). Multimedia: from Wagner to virtual reality. Choice Reviews Online39(05), 39-2840-39-2840. doi: 10.5860/choice.39-2840

Sutherland, I. (1965). Augmented Reality: “The Ultimate Display” by Ivan Sutherland, 1965. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2009/09/augmented-reality-the-ultimate-display-by-ivan-sutherland-1965/