A Response to swfer Written by Kate Hyland

Hātarei 9 Mei

Saturday 9 May


swfer’s artistic value is only fully realised with engagement from its audience; voluntarily ‘scratching the surface’ is key to uncovering the complex, intelligent and challenging dimensions of Munn’s work.

iChat consists of a simple URL address printed upon one of the gallery’s main walls and is compelling when the viewer visits the web page on their smart phone. Doing so takes the contributor to a web application emulating a chat room, complete with a cutesy teenage background  of love hearts and rain clouds and a light-hearted  ‘ding’ to alert the user of a new message. iChat connotes girlish innocence through its interface; however, this work has a much darker tone that is revealed in the conversation that takes place. The application plays through a real-world conversation between two impersonators.  One is a male predator attempting to meet young girls through the internet and the other a decoy user posing as a thirteen year old girl called Katy with the intention of entrapping online paedophiles.  

The way in which Munn uses this iChat to explore the construction of identity in a digital space can be seen in how both parties involved in the conversation exercise their ability to create and speak through an online persona; neither is really who they claim to be and both operate through a fictitious identity in the interest of seduction. In situating the viewer as a third party observer whose role is to decode this conversation, Munn cleverly draws our attention to the falsities underpinning this sort of digital interaction. For me, iChat reflects on society’s compulsion to establish and to nurture the ‘online self,’ vividly depicting how there is significant leeway for manipulating who we are or who we appear to be. The application  caused me to consider how the online self is often misconnected to the material self (the body). The absence of the body in a digital landscape allows users to live through false characters and creates confusion around the idea of ‘true’ identity. 

Munn’s focus on the body continues into the gallery’s second space, where an empty, exposed CD drive occupies a stand. An unsettling noise plays on repeat through a speaker. Playfully named SeeDee, the work incorporates bodily fluid by way of burning a silent track onto a CD, then applying semen to the disc, and recording the outcome. The result is a glitched CD that produces a gritty and uncomfortable ticking noise throughout the gallery. Employing semen as a material humourously references some of the more ‘seedy’ uses for technology; it is difficult not to see a connection to pornography’s place in the digital world. What is slightly more difficult to decipher is the intention behind the uncomfortable soundtrack that Munn has produced—it presents an ‘incompatibility’ between bodily and digital materials. The human body, particularly in a sexual context, is shown to be fleshy, messy, and therefore at odds with the clean, slick perfection of technology. The addition of semen interrupts the smooth running of the CD, and the awkward sound that results highlights an incompatibility between digital objects and the human body; while modern day technology is sleek and effortless, the body is shown to be a flawed entity in comparison. 

The third and final piece in swfer, Code Swishing, continues to explore the tension between the human and the digital. Like iChat, this work is accessible outside of the exhibition, as the work itself is simply a projection of an active web page. The viewer is confronted with a cycle of overcrompressed, glitched three letter acronyms that appear and then fade one after the other. Some relate to information systems, for example SWI (Split Windows Image) and others are shorthand codes used in social media, such as FWB (Friends With Benefits). The work exposes how in a digital paradigm, expressions of identity and intimacy are compressed into a technological language. Code Swishing drew my attention to the strange practice of reducing human expressions to succinct formulas that attempt to match the performativity of technology. 

swfer does not deliver visually in the first instance; it takes time to digest and requires a willingness to participate. This is what makes swfer a solid example of an intellectual practice, and in many ways is also what makes engaging with the exhibition such a rewarding experience. swfer left me questioning what it is that continues to define human beings from machines in a world that grows ever more naturalised with the digital.

Kate Hyland