metropolis m

Room with drawing 1, Unwired Landscapes Culture’s House, 78°39’20.9″N 16°18’24.1″E, Pyramiden, Svalbard, Norway, Summer, 22 August 2016 © Jacqueline Hassink

“Social media is making us ill!” or so we are constantly informed by the media, scientists and ex-social media employees, all of whom warn of its perils, and advise us to get disconnected. Their unified cries speak of the harmful effects of being constantly ‘wired’, with a generation of millennials now unable to interact in real life, and indeed the more perilous fact that our personal data is constantly being mined by social media giants for future profiteering and government’s surveillance of our daily digital interaction. More and more people speak of taking digital detoxes and a complete abandonment of online life, with cases made for a return to a slower and more contemplative pace of life without constantly sharing and posting every moment (if you don’t post it, it didn’t happen).

With this in mind, Jacqueline Hassink’s exhibition Unwired, currently on view at the Nederlands Fotomuseum, takes this notion of digital abandonment a step further, by documenting so-called ‘white spots’, areas in the world without cell phone reception or Wi-Fi connection, places that allow one to really physically be offline. Hassink asks the question: “What does it feel like to live without telephone and Wi-Fi connections – to be ‘unwired’?” Adopting a somewhat investigative journalistic approach, the artist travelled around the world to the few remaining white spots. These locations include remote forests on the Japanese island of Yakushima, the Svalbard Islands in the Arctic Ocean and the mountains of Iceland, and even a ‘digital detox’ spa in Germany. At these locations, Hassink photographed the scenery and interviewed people about what it is like to live unwired lives, thus reinforcing romantic ideals of the undiscovered and untouched in the natural world.

Exhibition overview Jacqueline Hassink - Unwired.

Exhibition overview Jacqueline Hassink - Unwired.

The first room is one of large-format photographs depicting lush green landscapes in remote locations including  Langisjór in Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður, Iceland, Onoaida trail in Yakushima Forest, Japan and Svalbard, the Norwegian island close to the Polar Circle. The photographs’ scale is representative of the physical experience of isolation when present in these locations. Scanning the images, there are no people and as such solitude becomes the dominant characteristic of being offline. At least that is how Hassink appears to see it.

The adjoining room pairs more images of mountainous terrain with kitsch interiors of the luxury ‘detox’ spa, Villa Stéphanie in Baden Baden, Germany. The spa prides itself for its unique rooms equipped to block all Wi-Fi signals, thus offering guests a tranquil, tech-free experience. It also promises a tech-free arrangement for those looking to regain control over their digital addictions. Situated in between these two main exhibition spaces are headsets with audio-interviews in which various individuals describe their motivations for seeking out white spots. Some tell of their personal histories in a confessional manner, and seek isolation as escapism from urban life for a more contemplative and slowed-down pace.

Langisjór 2, Unwired Landscapes, 63°58'11"N 18°41'6"W, Road F235, Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður, Iceland, Summer, 17 August 2015 ©Jacqueline Hassink

Suite 634, 1, Unwired Landscapes, Master Bedroom, unwired, Villa Stéphanie Baden - Baden, Germany, 14 December 2015 © Jacqueline Hassink

The exhibition ends with a multi-channel installation shot entirely on several iPhones and aptly titled iPortrait. This brings the viewers’ attention to the startling amount of time people spend on their phones whilst commuting on metros in metropoles such as Beijing, London and Tokyo. One could argue, on the one hand that what else is there to do on a long boring journey, but on the other, seeing the mirroring effect of such extensive disconnectedness from real life magnified and in your face does conjure up some unease of our present digital consumption.

The exhibition is part of a larger collaborative multimedia project, White Spots, which is available for a limited time as an app, that gives locations to white spots across the globe. This collaboration between Hassink, information designer Richard Vijgen and documentary filmmaker Bregtje van der Haak brings together different specializations. They travelled together, arguably on a pilgrimage of sorts only few can afford, to explore and document these unwired landscapes, communities, and lifestyles. The interactive app includes a network scanner, White Spots World Map, 38 videos, 4 virtual reality documentaries by Van der Haak and 4 photographic stories by Hassink.

The exhibition Unwired begins with strict instructions to hand over your mobile phone and take off your shoes prior to entering the exhibition spaces. A move that feels both didactic and creates immediate suspicion as it emphasizes the creation of a disconnected, tranquil space. The momentary transportation into the world of white spots, as experienced by Hassink, Van der Haak and Vijgen seeks to comment on the impacts of digital technologies on how we see the world, and whilst this did not fully manifest in the exhibition, it was evident that Unwired overall, is characteristic of Hassink’s rigorous research methodologies through the interviews and journeys that precede the final images. It still remained unclear how viewing disconnected spaces through images might help shape new social norms for the digital age as one still has to go and experience it for oneself; the untouched and unwired which is a luxury for the limited few.

Jacqueline Hassink – Unwired, Nederlands Fotomuseum, t/m 6.05.2018.

Jareh Das

is een schrijver en curator, momenteel verblijvend in Rotterdam, die schrijft over kunst, mode, muziek en cultuur

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