Datamosh Bardo (or The Retinal Circus), Guy Mayman exhibition, 2014


The experience is one of sensory inundation. Fragments of sound, some familiar, some alien, drift in the ether of the audio canal, while all around one is washed by projected images, faded slide projections, flickering film reels and the humming drone of many old machines. In a dark room, one wanders among these ruins - technological and narrative ruins that are gradually becoming extinct. One enters a slippage in time, surrounded by the sights and sounds of an archaic modernity. This is an analogue realm of frames, tape and print, where information is somehow more physical than the digital. This brings a heaviness and a materiality to the proceedings, a weight both in actual stuff but also in experience. Does one wade through this like a thick mud? The machines click and hum and expel warm air. Carried on this surface of heavy impedimenta, image and sound chart unlikely flight paths, sometimes intersecting, sometimes remaining companionless. The sound-image matrix forms a constantly changing, fluorescent octopi skin, a counter-weight to its material base. But they are locked together, an inseparable organism of skeletal and muscular mass and rapidly flowing vertiginous information. Somewhere inside this are two human beings wearing white lab coats, controllers, hosts and doctors. Ostensibly they ‘order’ the organism, select sound and image, press buttons, initiate rhythms, but I suspect that they are as much inundated as the visitor. The fiction of art is that the artist ‘knows’ what he does, or at least its presentation is conveyed in such a way that ‘things are under a measure of control’, in the orbit of ‘culture’. My hunch has always been the opposite. Culture’s purpose is to give outline and meaning to art, but this invariably tends to narrow its pertinent aspects. We should be more open to admitting our state of incapacity, our state of surrender. And in this sense, the datamosh situation makes visible and experiential a state of surrender and bewilderment. I also happen to think that this situation is something akin to ‘seeing one’s whole life’ moments before some catastrophic event or near-death. At moments of extreme psychological surrender why do our brains purportedly replay a hyper montage of one’s life? Is it a manifestation of a stage or transition from one state to another? We have a good antecedent in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and particularly in Timothy Leary’s psychedelic rendering of it. Three Bardo’s or stages are outlined, originally a complex framework to aid the dying and the deceased on their journey to different states of reincarnation. The second bardo seems relevant to the datamosh experience. Timothy Leary explains the second bardo thus: “The underlying problem of the Second Bardo is that any and every shape - human, divine, diabolical, heroic, evil, animal, thing - which the human brain conjures up or the past life recalls, can present itself to consciousness: shapes and forms and sounds whirling by endlessly.” Within the second Bardo Leary speaks of various kinds of visions including the ‘Retinal Circus’ and the ‘Magic Theatre’, which include whirling fragmenting symbols, dance-like forms, dream states, mandalic shapes, kaleidoscopic colors, archetypal figures and a host of accompanying emotions. I would suggest that the datamosh situation may be understood as a rehearsal space for surrender, which ultimately would be dying. Depending on one’s attitude or state of preparation, the datamosh situation can be effectively used as a visualization of the far horizon of human consciousness.