Digitally wondering through the woods ©
The wolves have long since been skinned in England, and yet their howling shadows hang in the spaces between. The woods cannot be trivialised, reduced to attacking squirrels or ambling badgers, for there exists still, a subliminal anxiety. The small lake may not be a flood, bulging out at its banks; but it could. In its present state, it is a 3M deep, murky world of possibilities. It can suck you down to its floor like a jealous god and lay you to rest in a muddy cloud. Even when you stand on the edge taking photographs of the ducks, you are aware that the water is there and that the water shifts.
But most frightening for our modern Red Riding Hood is that here in the woods she is skirting suburbia. Skipping through the trees, she will occasionally glimpse a parked white van, a motorway, a flashing light. Obscured signs jut through the trees at her like inquisitive beasts. She must follow the path to grandma’s house. To the nostalgic past. Yet those traditions and that dwelling has long been swallowed up by something new. But all is being digested in some acidic melting pot of contemporary ideas.
Red Riding Hood is an artist then, on her way to Grandma’s. She seeks new paths but in the woods they can lead to dead ends and dead ends create a panic, a scramble backwards and a slip down a muddy bank. It can mean failure or it can mean endless possibilities as the mud clings to her cape like a skin. Artists have forgotten what it is to be unclean. In finding a path back to grandma she will encounter the primal unclean, and this interplay between the traditional and the new digital adds to the discomfort of the woods which in turn adds to the wonderful opportunity to be found in the sublime.
Constantly this space between terrorises. There is a terror even in its perceived ‘safety’. It’s ironic ‘facilities’ that cater for the spectator despite the fact that the wolf today, is what the spectator themselves brings to the woods. The spectator is: Red Riding Hood and the wolf. She forgets she howls at the moon through the trees. It is her neediness, her creature comforts that chase her down like a deer. It’s the guide map and a place to park your car. It’s a cup of coffee at the play area. It’s sanitising hand soap and a dryer. Yet despite all this, there is an anxiety. There is a sublime presence. Perhaps it is this presence in the woods itself that summons the wolf, that draws him from his lair. All around, the sublime lies in wait, ready to pounce from the microscopic, the parasitic, the shallow water and squelching mud. It is the idea that the woods, though sanitised and organised, can itself be unexpected and encroaching on all that is suburban. The sublime is not the looming darkness between trees but the subtle swallowing up of the debris of suburbia amidst the trees and undergrowth. It is the bicycle, rusted to hues of aqua green and orange red, being digested leisurely by the earth. All, bar the white, brash peddles with reflectors on, stick out of the ground like the teeth of a decayed corpse.
Yes, the road to grandma’s house is all mapped out and like I said, there are wolves and a nostalgic longing for fear. There is more fear in hearing the rush of a nearby motorway than there is to hearing the sound of an unfamiliar beast. There are moments, alone in this place that the sublime creeps up like a predator. It is the moment when Red Riding Hood acknowledges that she is superstitious. That she saw a shadow that wasn’t a fox or heard a cry that came from both within and outside of herself. She is a spectator to her own existential experience, to her own false nihilism, where trees speak to each other and spirits play tricks with the light. It is the infinity of sky and dust. It is always about the dust. The death.
So the artist in her red cape takes out of her basket another tool meant to subjugate the magical woods: the iPhone. Yet the digital aura is itself a sublime entity, another wolf, so that the small moments of the sublime: the water, the mud, the insects, the trees, the dismal damp, the lost path, are all about to be captured. Yet ‘capture’ in the digital world is an ambiguous term that in turn connotes ‘share’, ‘lose’, ‘forward’, ‘duplicate’ and so on. This is the digital sublime, which bashes up against the natural and simultaneously expounds its potential threat. The over-capturing of moments in nature are themselves futile. She is storing up virtually, a false image of the path she walks on. Virtual data from pixels of light. Yet all this storage in some cloud is never entirely free from corruption. It lies like the wolf. ‘
‘What big ears you have?’
‘All the better to hear you with.’
Who is listening? Even in the woods there is Wi-Fi. Red Riding Hood can be heard even in the stillness. Her breathing heart.
‘What big eyes you have?’
‘All the better to see you with, my dear’.
Seeing or surveillance. Being watched from the outside and permanently watching through the ‘eye’, the ‘i’ of the iPhone. The woods makes the digital sublime all the more terrifying because it is dirty and physical and present as opposed to virtual. It speaks to the primordial past whilst the digital speaks to the future and both have an infinite quality to them that howls like a wolf and swallows little girls whole.
The artist has moved from TS Elliot’s Wasteland of the city to a territory they cannot map unless they step into the binary, the digital and the language of cyberspace. It is a web out there. Beware. And this web is wide. It would take more than a Red Riding Hood and more than a local woods to escape from it.