The Noise of Becoming

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.202018 | Issue 5 | October 2020

Ada Hao

University of Brighton


Abstract


This visual essay aims to review a virtual art installation: the cyberformance of NAUT-ADA (2018-2020): a fictional character on Instagram that uses role-playing as the method to provoke the affinity between identity and embodied spectatorship: the overflowing reproductive fragmentation of the self within the hypertextual filter bubble (Instagram), and the irresistible affirmation and validation from others that perpetuate self-abjection. I will use a diffractive analysis along with NAUT-ADA’s visual spectacle to attest to the presence of heterotopia: ‘a spatial otherness’ (Foucault, 1986) in virtual environments. The Instagram character NAUT-ADA underlines a retroactive process of becoming ‘as both matrix and catalyst’ (Ascott, 1966): an intelligent virtual art object acting as a metaphor to perform the embodied spectatorship. The title ‘Noise of Becoming’ is to identify the embodied spectatorship as a primary trigger for self-abjection, which actively discharges an excess of self-censorship as a direct result from the “Instagrammable” affirmation-seeking behaviors and the lattices of virtual affiliation inside of the echo chamber. I will further discuss how to embody the diffractive process in my practice to interrupt the reproduction of the same narrative elsewhere.

Introduction: Becoming known

It is a joy of not knowing: fiction or not. It is a pleasure of knowing: fake or reality.



Fig.1 & Fig. 2 Performance (2018)

The idea of becoming portable or becoming mobile is then carried out in my art practice. This live performance (Fig.1 & 2) was initially conceived within a live event in January, 2018, in the light of moving toward a “room-for-change” to situate the uncertain possibilities of becoming mobile or portable. By becoming mobile, my body was not abandoned, yet been made more aware of itself with newly configured sensory perceptions in reaction to the spectators and audiences in the live situation. The performing body was not only a subject of becoming portable, but also a nameless body in the act of becoming - a nomadic process,

‘that entails the active displacement of dominant formations of identity, memory, and identification… [which] has to do with emptying out the self, opening it out to possible encounters with the “outside”’. (Braidotti, 2011, p. 235)

Performing in a desolate warehouse, I was experiencing the nomadic process of becoming: temporarily decentering from my own subjectivity, while remaining faithful to the possible encounters with the outside world. The “room-for-change” signifies such space of “preserved” (dis)continuity – a vacuum of the parallel reality at a different rate of change.


The “room-for-change” suspends my body in a temporal “future shock” (Toffler, 1970). It evacuates the memories of the body for new archive of consciousness to take place. It compartmentalizes the self-awareness and defamiliarize the body from the known in a transient state of becoming.

Heterotopic body


I use the conceptual idea for Heterotopia (Foucault, Des Espace Autres (Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias), 1986) to draw a parallel alignment between a spatial-temporal performance space for the process of becoming within heterotopias. According to Foucault, heterotopias refer to “counter-sites” that juxtapose with the unreality of utopias to provide a:

‘curious property of being…to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations (that the reality) happens to designate, mirror, or reflect’ (Foucault, Des Espace Autres (Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias), 1986, p. 3).

In addition to the examples given by Foucault (ship, cemetery, garden, museum), I propose that the performing body is also a site of heterotopia. Different from thinking of the body as a site, the body is seen as a fragmented realm that habituates multiple sets of uncertainties Within which, a spatialized “other” flourishes and manifests the imagination of becoming. Perpetuated by the fluidity of the artist’s role in the act of creation, the spatialized “other” functions as a vehicle of research: a mirror, a reflective matrix, and a responsible sounding board for the spectators and audiences.


The ‘noise of becoming’ is to identify the possible traits of otherness that disrupt the representative being and enable the apparition of becoming. This fictional character is actualized ‘in the form of multiplicities made up of differential relations and variations of relations, distinctive points and transformations of points.’ (Deleuze, 1968)

The morphic probable possibility


Performance, as an act of processing, spontaneously triggers the probability and possibility of becoming. In the process of becoming, the set of relations effaces the integral vision of what the human body is and what it could become. During the course of actions, the body becomes a not-quite-human subject, or “abhuman” as pointed out by Kelly Hurley in her book ‘The Gothic body: Sexuality, materialism, and degeneration at the e fin de Siècle:

‘a not-quite-human subject characterized by its morphic variability.’ (Hurley, 2009, p. 3)

The ‘noise of becoming’ also means to abject. By being the abject, the body is granted with extended sensational encounters with the outside world: embellished with the interactions with the spectators and audiences, which could liberate the body from its own habitual way of being by bringing about in an environment it hasn’t been before.

Fig. 3 Performance (2019)

The experience of enduring the first five minutes inside of the polished bronze dome, as shown in Fig. 1 -3, triggered an extended sensory mechanism in my body to communicate with one eye, faceless. Hence, the eye dictates the body in deprivation of knowing. The memory of the five minutes has become the catalyst for

‘an organism, as it were, that derives its initial programme or code from the artists creative activity, and then evolves in specific artistic identity and function in response to the environment which it encounters’. (Ascott, 2001, p. 102)

This organism can also be a way to reframe the heterotopia in relation to Deleuze and Guattari’s BWO, which projects a relational understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the artist and audiences, in opposition to the institutional organization of the body that the artistic activity evolves from. It was a nameless “thing” when initially performed in the live performance, five months before it was named NAUT-ADA, and ten months before it took over a Batman’s fandom account with 20k followers on Instagram.


Fig. 4. Performance (2019)

What if….as if…


John K Shaw and Theo Reeves-Evison mentioned in the introduction of the book, Fiction as Method (2017), about David Garcia’s use of “as if” during his curation ‘How Much of This is Fiction’ (2014):


‘If “what ifs” lead to satirical acts designed to unmask the workings of power and “as if” ‘leads to forms of activism that rather than demanding change.’ (Shaw & Reeves-Evison, 2017)

What if this nameless “thing” wants its own name and identity, as if it has its own power to demand change or stability? What if this nameless “thing” wants to transition from the process of becoming to a metamorphosis of being? As I was performing at different live event as a nameless “thing”, I started to question the integrity of this “thing”. It was a nomadic entity with a certain extent of fluidity of what it could become. What would happen to this process of becoming if this “thing” were to be situated in a virtual environment, where the performance of role-playing is more prevalent for this “thing” to continue the process of becoming? Will the “thing” cease to become, and begin to actualize what it is?


As I was becoming more familiar with this creature and its relational attachments with the spectators and audiences in live performances, there became less uncertainty. From an artistic perspective, there was no more synchronization with premeditated imagination. The performance of this creature evolved into a cycle of repetition and memory-actualization. The memories of performance accumulated from each live performance situation have saturated.

At this point, a friend gifted me an Instagram bot account: A Batman’s fandom account sold online for digital marketing. It used images of fandom art of Batman to accumulate followers. It occurred to be me that there might be a parallel alignment between the accumulation of followers on Instagram (that uses visual aesthetics to attract attention for its recognition and popularity) and the sedimentary process of creating the nameless “thing’ (that used visual trope of uncanny to legitimize its presence). I then uses the visual signifiers to search for the uncanny resemblances between the nameless “thing” and other mythological creatures and mundane objects.

This search is driven by the desire to find a doppelgänger for the creature. So that its singularity could be re-addressed with possibilities of what it could become. I found that the nameless “thing” has a particular uncanny visual resemblance with the wild and lawless one-eyed Greek mythological creatures: the Cyclopes (Fig.5 &6), brothers who were giants with a single eye, who traded one eye in order to see the future; with the pataphysician Alfred Jarry’s best known character Ubu, in his play Ubu Roi (Fig. 7); with the zebrafish embryos (Fig. 8, a contemporary standing light cover (Fig. 9 & Fig.10), and with an astronaut (Fig. 11 & Fig. 12).


These visual references not only inform the possibilities of what the nameless creature could become, but also entail a coded visual archive that shares the common traits of uncanny resemblance between themselves. The memory capacity for this creature is increased through data collection and image searching. This coded archive then reinforce the individuality of this nameless creature with an extended memory. According to Braidotti’s nomadic methodology, ‘memories need the imagination to empower the actualization of virtual possibilities in the subject’. (Braidotti, 2006, p. 169) The imagination of what could become the subjectivity of this performing body, and how to recompose my own memory in coordination with its subjectivity entails the nomadic methodology to empower the creative alterities.

(Left to right)

Fig. 5. Cyclopic infant;

Fig. 6. MONSTROSITY: Cyclop. Ulisse Aldrovandi, Opera omnia Bononiae: apud;

Fig. 7. Veritable Portrait of M Ubu (1896), Alfred Jarry;

Fig. 8. Zebrafish Embryo;

Fig. 9 & 10. Image of vintage brass floor lamp;

Fig. 11. NASA Astronaut Class Mercury 7 (1959);

Fig. 12. Astronaut Thomas Pesquet photographed during a spacewalk (2017)

It is important to differentiate the memories of the performance from memories of the act of performance. The former is a reflective process to remember what happened during the performance, so that the performance is held at a distance to be looked at later; while the later involves a diffractive process that allows the performing body to recompose its “spongy” ability to encompass the discursive entanglement during the act of becoming-other.

A diffractive process was first introduced by Haraway (1992), then further developed by Barad (2007). It is a process of ‘reading insights through one another in ways that help illuminate differences as they emerge: how different differences get made, what gets excluded, and how those exclusions matter.’ (Barad, 2007) In the context of this project, the process of looking at the insights through the series of coded visual archive and the eyes of the beholder allows the performing body to re-negotiate with the accountabilities of the possible traits of uncanny. This leads me to work with the hypertextual online social media environment, Instagram.

Popular on Instagram


The Instagram account was sold to me online for around 200 pounds. For digital marketing, companies buy this kind of “ready-made” Instagram account that comes with a high number of followers to establish the trust relationship with their customers. The price of the “ready-made” Instagram account corresponds to the number of followers. Social media is a demanding area that requires constant engagement and status updates from its users. (Xin, Wenyin, & Jian, 2019) Social media is recalibrating the way individual interact, not only the marketing, but also the creation of art. This marketing communication is sustained by the mobile internet. When Instagram was launched in Oct , 2010 only four month after, the iPhone 4, the first mobile device featuring an improved camera with 5MP (in comparison to the previous iPhone had only 2MP or 3MP sensors with relatively poor lenses quality). (Mottola, 2016) In the paper on Art in the Age of Social Media Interaction Behavior (2019), the group of digital media researchers pointed out that,

‘Social media is all about people, about understanding what triggers people as individuals and in groups, it embedded six persuasive psychological forces, which are reciprocity, social proof, liking, authority, scarcity, and commitment.’ (Xin, Wenyin, & Jian, 2019, p. 10)

Instagram operates its users’ demographic to amplify the experience of making and creating art, while artists have become facilitators who collaborate with audiences by sharing the experience of creating and curating their artworks. However, for Instagram users, it is difficult to identify the authenticity of social media account and to practice conscious ‘audience gatekeeping‘ (Shoemaker & T, 2009). The visual experience on Instagram is dictated by psychological forces and digital marketing advertising pushed in the front of individual’s Instagram feed.

How to be aware of the six persuasive psychological forces (reciprocity, social proof, liking, authority, scarcity and commitment), so that the users could prioritize the cognitive processing (to think) before the perceptual processing (to see and to like a post on Instagram)? How to use the power of ‘audience gatekeeper’ to trigger deeper interaction between the artist and the audience on Instagram, beyond the superficial interaction, such as “Like” and “Follow”?


Instagram has tools and strategies to block such digital marketing bot-like account, by collecting users’ data on engagement. How do I use this digital marketing Instagram account as a new virtual environment for the nameless creature without alarming Instagram’s cyber security? How to use the bite-size ephemeral posts as an entry point to produce virtual-real experience?


While conducting research on Instagram, there are also limitations: how not to fit the Instagram algorithm? How to not become another product for public consumption? Admist the substantial numbers of digital content creators and fictional characters on Instagram, how can I use the universality of fictionality to further explore the limitation of fiction?

Consumer, Content creator, Instagrammer


I take care NAUT-ADA’s Instagram profile like grooming my hair. The spectacle, the fictional narrative and the possibility of what NAUT-ADA could become are perpetually interrupted by the present eyes of the beholders: the Instagram followers. The Instagram profile of NAUT-ADA plays the role of a malleable digital avatar that is made up of the decent of the human body.


If a city’s population increases from 100k to 1 billion, the government will be redesigning the city. Instagram has successfully transformed its identity from an iPhone photography product to a governed community since it first launched in 2010. As a gross product, it has reached 1 billion monthly active users by June, 2020. While Instagram encourages its users to connect with more people, it however has failed to curate the conversations in this internet community.

Anyone could exchange the profile picture, account name, people they follow and past posts. Anyone could become anything on Instagram. This is a popular tactic in the field of underground social media PR & Advertising industries: new companies purchasing popular accounts with high number of Instagram followers and “rebranding” the profile with the information targeting its “naïve” followers. Anyone could buy the number of followers to fabricate the appearance of being a popular account. Once the old posts have been deleted, these advertising companies could selectively unfollow the followers, or even better, purchasing more less bot-like followers who follow and like posts just like a “real person” with an extra charge.

I took the similar approach by “rebranding” the Batman fandom account’s Instagram account using the visual and textual performance documentation of NAUT-ADA. NAUT-ADA embodies Foucault’s interpretation of a “mask”: it veils my head and retreats the self-awareness inhabited in the sensory centre with a set of renewed executive functions (updated functionality of the body) possessing the new body as an archive filled with phantasmagoric imagery.


How to conceptualize the encounter with the unknown? When the subject of knowing is in question? How to consent for unknown? As a performance artist, I conceptualized these two questions into a situational encounter with a malleable fictional character, which then becomes a placeholder for my “insignificant” ‘about-body’. This “insignificant” ‘about-body’ is an alter ego, but a speculative creation emerged from the eyes of the spectators, as well as the desire to address the differences from becoming the “insignificant” ‘about-body’.


The Instagram content of NAUT-ADA is treated as an autobiography of this “insignificant” ‘about-body’ (the fictional character), which not only takes account of the characteristics of this ‘about-body’, but also the foreign Other before it has attained a “proper name” or an identity. However, this foreign Other was a “pure” identity itself at the time of the beginning moment of existence. As it came to be, there was no longer a “pure” identity. This foreign Other becomes the ‘about-body’, in Arthur Rimbaud’s words, ‘Je est un autre [I am another].


As the followers of Batman encountering this unknown new body in their news feed, they are ushered into the trope of an-other-space dilated by this one-eyed creature. This body is empowered to communicate with the Instagram users with ‘entirely enigmatic language’: an affective visual spectacle created for its purpose of being Instagrammable. This “secret language” is activated by the desire to connect, to win the click bait, and to obtain the validation of belief and accountability from the Instagrammers they follow. While internet fosters expression and connection, it produces affinity or connection to the virtual space, which produces longingness, a will to stay.


For online environments, it is necessary to identify what this virtual profile entails. As everyone seeks satisfactory feelings from receiving positive feedbacks and validation for a positive presentation of the self, how to create content to trigger audience interaction beyond superficial responses, such as like and follow on Instagram? Instagram users tends to engage with social media interactions on the account of online self-actualization. (Maslow, 1975)


As Instagram has introduced us to the fragmented method of looking, it also encourages its users to look away from the things. Instead, the users are “trained” to look at a lot of things, while not knowing about them. One could say that Instagram is established upon the voyeuristic desire of its users. The ambiguity of what NAUT-ADA is has hijacked the sense of self-actualization.


‘The optimal-arousal theory explains social media users' desire to engage in exploratory behaviour in uncertain or ambiguous situations. This theory also allows us to understand the desires of social media users in uncertain or ambiguous situations, through "moderate arousal," such as "What is this?” to stimulate people's curiosity and result in more likes.’ (Xin, Wenyin, & Jian, 2019, p. 8)


The account had thousands of Instagram posts when I first accessed the account (as shown in Fig. 13-16). I first changed the name and profile picture from heroic Batman to NAUT-ADA. And then, I started to delete the content in the account little by little every day. Starting at 20k followers, deleting the old archive posts while not updating new content. Consequently, the number of followers for this account began to decrease. Meanwhile, I had been receiving private messages from followers and other Instagram users about digital marketing, account advertisement, request for featuring in this account and Batman fans who sent their selfies dressing up as Batman.

I did not engage with these online behaviours or respond to the private messages (as shown in Fig. 17) However, the Instagram will show the user that their messages were read in the private conversation. In addition, I was also following the Instagram etiquette to like the photos posted by people that this Batman’s fan account has been following, in order to maintain the activity level for this account.


Fig. 13 Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 14. Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 15. Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 16. Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 17. Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 18. Screenshot (2019)

After a month of deleting individual photo from the Batman’s fandom account, there are still about a hundred posts left. I changed the name of the Batman’s fandom account to NAUT-ADA. I fill out the biography/personal description section as follows,

Digital Human Naut, Normdic Naut, NAUT-ADA and Jargonaut, Aeronaut, Astronaut, Afronaut, Argonaut, cybernaut, gastronaut, hallucinaut, infonaut, cosmonaut, aquanaut, spationaut, juggernaut, oceanaut, psychonaut, cryonaut…


The pervasive simulation was made, so that NAUT-ADA could be situated as a common digital creator on Instagram. The materiality of internet-situated character ‘is as vibrant as ever, for the computational engines and artificial intelligences that produce simulations require sophisticated based in the real world.’ (Hayles, 2012) By integrating NAUT-ADA’s online behaviors with the Instagram etiquette, such as hypermedia composition, hashtag signifiers, and consistent effortless clicking on the “like” button, I was able to immerse this “foreign” character from a fiction in the heteronormative society to a homogeneous online society as a fictional character.


Instagram as a networked camera


‘Given the limitations of language to reflect the complexity of lived experience’, (Seaman, 1999, p. 174) this assimilation of another account was explicable for the process of becoming. In comparison to previous performances in the live performance situation, the cyberformance of NAUT-ADA was staged to use text and image to re-imagine the memories of NAUT-ADA. The Instagram account of NAUT-ADA is identified as a sedimental archive of the documentation of NAUT-ADA in live performance situation.


Here, Instagram can be seen as a networked camera, (Rubeninstein & Sluis, 2013) an image sharing platform and a multi-functional virtual institution that facilitates the production, documentation, dissemination and consumption of the cyberformance of NAUT-ADA. Through the course of this durational cyberformance, Instagram is used as a fertile realm for the visual trope of a “superhero avatar”. NAUT-ADA then became a networked image, ‘established by the destabilization of the author-audience paradigm, as every participant within the network is simultaneously a viewer and a performer of the image.’ (Rubeninstein & Sluis, 2013) As the followers of Batman’s fandom account started to receive the feed of ready-made image and poetic writings of NAUT-ADA, simultaneously, the number of followers began to drop substantially.


This networked-image not only reconfigures the authorship of the fictional character, but it also acts as a catalyst to signify the reversal process linking the performativity of the image and text with the subjectivity of the viewer. Rather than ‘offer[ing] a reassuring mirror reflection of a subjectivity already in place’, (O’Sullivan, 2012) NAUT-ADA triggers change in the followers’ behavior, mainly the act of unfollow: unsubscribe to the feed of NAUT-ADA.


To follow does not mean to give consent. How to filter spam contents on Instagram? There is no such function on Instagram. Not only is it not possible to filter the contents users see on Instagram, they are also subject to data collection programs that push advertisements and new accounts based on their online behavior. Instagram does not produce a culture for virtual matters, instead it resembles a network under intense surveillance.

Despite the number of followers decreasing since I started to substitute Batman’s fandom comics and film screenshots with NAUT-ADA’s performance documentations, the rate of decrease has been slowing down. By June 1st, 2020, NAUT-ADA still has 13.1k followers on Instagram.


NAUT-ADA is not animated by the internet-situated social media network. It tries to animate the invisible forces embedded within this network. On Instagram, NAUT-ADA has been continuing its performance regardless of the presence of a camera. However, Instagram has been playing the role of the camera that choreographs acts for its users. Instagram users are made self-aware and self-conscious when they swipe, scroll and tap, instead of touching. Meanwhile, the haptic feedback has made the users ignore the emotional void that is created by the act of looking.

Becoming in parallel


There is a parallel alignment between this choreographed process on Instagram and the artistic process of creation:


‘The artist's creative activity is also dependent on feedback; the changes which he effects in his immediate environment (or "arena") by means of tools and media set up configurations which feedback to affect his subsequent decisions and actions.’ (Ascott, 2001, p. 102)

On one side, this creative process offers more opportunity for artists on Instagram to receive faster feedbacks. On the other hand, these fast-food-like guided feedbacks on Instagram are not as effective for the artist, as its affect is to impact the artist’s self-awareness.


It is argued by Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2010), that there has been changes in how we learn that directly influence how we read and process information on the social networks and searching engines such as Google Search. These changes are affecting ‘our ability to concentrate, leading to superficial thought, diminished capacity to understand complex texts, and a general decline in intellectual capacity.’ (Carr, 2010, p. 141) When we are online, we become a puppet for the ‘juggler’s brain’. (Carr, 2010)When using Instagram, I was not physically double tapping each image. I was experiencing a tactile feeling of the screen. By touching the screen, I ‘enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning’. (Carr, 2010, p. 116) I was less focused and more easily distracted by the pop-ups, the news, the media that are “underneath” this screen. Philosopher Katherine Hayles described these changes and influences on our daily life in her book How We Think (2012) from her personal experiences of imagining a scenario of no internet connection:

‘I feel lost, disoriented, unable to work – in fact, I feel as if my hands have been amputated (perhaps recalling Marshall McLuhan’s claim that media function as prostheses).’ (Hayles, 2012, p. 2)

By going under the cover of NAUT-ADA, I try to bring awareness to such feelings of distress. I posted photos of NAUT-ADA with text that I used in live performances (as shown in Fig. 24 to Fig. 30). When I perform as NAUT-ADA on Instagram, my self-awareness was choreographed by the preferences of the other users. I did not know the identity of the other users. However, when I see the number of likes each time when I post a photo of NAUT-ADA in the action of performance, I cannot help but notice that the number of likes is a limited descriptor of my interaction with other users. NAUT-ADA encourages and invites the public to look at the phenomena of mediated culture through touching, swiping, tapping, and pinching. As Karen Barad defined in her book Meeting The Universe Half Way:


‘phenomena do not merely mark the epistemological inseparability of the observer and observed, or the results of measurements… phenomena are not mere laboratory creations but basic units of reality.’ (Barad, 2007, p. 139)

It is common to say that the ‘basic units of reality’ exist in the contemporary social landscape in the form of independence and freedom as social phenomena. Then performance, as a collective unit of the society, is also a phenomena and an entanglement that does not separate the artists and spectators in the shared common ground of immanent understanding of the ‘basic units of reality’. We are all together in this entanglement that offers a close look into the intersection of archival presence of the human body and its performativity in the practice of everyday life.


Fig. 19. Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 20. Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 21 Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 22 Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 23. Screenshot (2019)
Fig. 24. Screenshot (2019)

Coded Narrative

Fiction is a method. It is employed in administration as a coded narrative. It draws up the contract, articulated by Catherine Gallagher, that attracts what is non-reference (this is not real) with the verisimilitude (this could be real):


In England, between the time when Defoe insisted that Robinson Crusoe was a real individual (1702) and the time when Henry Fielding urged just as strenuously that his characters were not representations of actual specific people (1742), a discourse of fictionality appeared in and around the novel, specifying new rules for its identification and new modes of nonreference. (Gallagher, 2016, p. 337)

Fig. 25. Timeline of NAUT-ADA (2020)

The retrospective Instagram posts of NAUT-ADA and the non-reference of the fictional character creates such discourse of fictionality that triggers the disbelief and decrease of interest in its followers, especially when comparing with the previous “tenant” of this coded profile, the Batman. However, the fictional character’s cyberformativity opens up the possibility of agency through an embodied engagement, which is the extended bodily sensation generated by the process of becoming-other and the interaction with the followers. Looking back at the memories of performance through video and photograph documentation, the inter-corporeal experiences of performing in live situation allows situational encounters.

The death of NAUT-ADA


Cyberformance of NAUT-ADA invites the viewers to create unexpected encounters on Instagram. Instagram, as an online society, provides the essential criteria for the cyberformance of NAUT-ADA. However, I still haven’t found a way to end the expectancy of this fictional character on Instagram. A scene in J.G Ballard’s short story, The Dead Astronaut (1971), proceeds as follows:


‘The figure of this dead astronaut circling the sky above us re-emerged in her mind as an obsession with time. For hours, she would stare at the bedroom clock, as if waiting for something to happen.’ (Ballard, 1971)


It is impossible to picture the ‘death’ of NAUT-ADA: Even if the Instagram account is deleted, the information will remain in the form of coded characters and images. How is it possible to put an end to the fictional character? Is it necessary to arrive at an ending? Perhaps it indicates a new beginning for something apart from coming to be? If the Instagram account of NAUT-ADA is left online with no further maintenance, would it be like Jeremy Bentham’s preservation of his actual body and his well-dressed skeleton hidden in the closet of an institution as an archival presence of an iconic utilitarian? (See in Fig. 31. for Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-icon in UCL, London) NAUT-ADA’s performance on Instagram has been acted as a virtual presence for the absence of an off-line role. It is automated by the automation of Instagram.

This research character is fixated on an alienated future that is overlooked by the melancholic present. The fictional character NAUT-ADA did not create entanglements in relation to the spectators and Instagram followers, it was observing the entanglements that have already taken place. Neither does it create fiction. It was observing the fiction that has already taken place.

I notice that there is another parallel relationship between the growth of Instagram and the process of becoming for NAUT-ADA: both are works in progress. Retrospectively reviewing the process of taking NAUT-ADA to Instagram, it has become apparent that this is just another ‘fictional character’ on Instagram. It’s fictionality is blurred by the vast amount of fictional characters who are even closer to the reality. However, the experimentation of using Instagram as a networked camera is not necessarily a failed attempt. Thus, if you want to invite people to witness a performance, few media technologies would serve you better than Instagram does. Instagram offers the users motivation to touch the screen, double tap the like button, and follow people they empathize with. Concurrently, it does not motivate the practice of deliberation.

Fig. 26. The Jeremy Bentham Auto-icon at University of College, London (2020)

Fig. 27. Screenshot (2020)

From a political standpoint, it is necessary to have both motivation and deliberation to achieve the state of democracy. In a democratic state, individual citizens are actively engaged with the practice of deliberation: knowledge exchange, communication and constant activity to recalibrate the state in relation to its individual citizen’s ability to practice such deliberation. As stated by Siva Vaidjyanathan in Antisocial Media (2018):



‘Democratic republics…need countervailing forces to be able to compete for attention and support within the public sphere… needs norms through which ’those who differ can maintain mutual respect for the process, if not for each other.’ (Vaidjyanathan, 2018, pp. 9-10)

The structure of Instagram is very similar to Facebook, which allows the thread of posts in the same format, regardless of advertising from official account, or the content posted by the general user. In the same format, the comments are located below each image in abbreviation. The text is a supplement that relies on the image to be read. Within the restriction of the word count, like Twitter, the users are nested in a restricted way of speaking, conversing and commenting on Instagram. They are encouraged to respond promptly based on the observation of image on their smartphone. Thus, the users could have a higher chance of commenting rashly. When users leave a comment underneath the image, this will consequently be visible to the public, provided the account is not private and only visible to its followers. To be Instagrammable is to design content to echo among Instagram users.


To post an image on Instagram, the user either needs to crop their content or fit the content to the frame into a smaller scale. The unified aesthetic design provides consistency of the images. This consistency has encouraged the users to become an attention-seeking. Between the technological devices (like an Alexa speaker or Google GPS navigation) and the mobile sensors we ‘increasingly strap to our skin and carry in our pockets, the ‘attention brokers’ need no longer compete for our attention’. (Vaidjyanathan, 2018, p. 99)


According to Instagram’s official websites, these are their main features: sharing stories using Instagram’s 24 hour story post to record , starting a conversation privately with friends using direct messaging, watching long-form videos to discover original content ‘from Creators you already love, ‘shop as you scroll’ from your “favorite brands and creators, and [finally] discover[ing] content that Instagram suggests based on your viewing activity.’ These suggestive features encourage the users to actively engage with this “user-friendly” platform. However, the users are not actively warned about the habitual way of viewing and thinking they nest themselves in when using Instagram repeatedly and over long periods of time.

Instagram Narcissism


When I started to use NAUT-ADA as the new performance space for this project, it was important to occupy this performance space as a media, rather than a technology. As media can amplify a movement that is already present. The character NAUT-ADA was such a ‘movement’, that has its own form, substance and momentum to be present in the internet-situated environment. Instagram is a meditated technology, which has a critical dynamic of freedom or oppression built into it. When this dynamic of freedom and oppression is inherent within the versatile online social media environment, the likely minded users would follow each other and like each other’s photo. However, they form an echo chamber, or what Eli Pariser defines as a ‘filter bubble’ to

‘describe the ways that Google and Facebook reward users with more of what they tell the companies they want, thus narrowing fields, of vision and potentially crating echo chambers of reinforced belief.’ (Vaidjyanathan, 2018, p. 6)

It means that Instagram will reward users who engage with the platform more by recommending content in relation to what they like, and presenting less information with which they wouldn’t be interested in or disagree with. Instagram becomes a technological machine that dictates the freedom of choice for its users. By exchanging the content of the old Batman account with NAUT-ADA’s visual performance documentation, I attempt to overwrite this authoritarian technological intervention that is practiced by Instagram quietly.

The filter bubbles on Instagram distance us from those who with opposing viewpoints by encouraging the practice of positive affirmation significantly different to that has been previously discussed. The affirmation of positive reaction on Instagram is propelled by an unitary vision that encourages users to actively engage with the platform for lucrative growth of the media company. While the positive affirmation, that has been referred to early in this visual essay, is not undermined by a unitary vision, is a non-unitary prediction and can accommodate a broader range of possibilities that could be affirmed. Patterns of these unitary affirmative possibilities influence the construction of subjectivity.

The cyberformance of NAUT-ADA creates an echo of the unknown spectators, who happen to encounter this unknown spectacle. By the end of the film, NAUT-ADA: Here Lies (2019), there’s a delicate female voice singing the following words:

‘I want something to hold on,

something, that you no longer cherish.

While holding my breath,

I can feel that,

there’s a beat for each goose bump pumping.

As one porous purging,

the next one sucks me in.

All are singular, we all are singular.

All are singular, we all are singular.

My mouth,

your words,

say I love you.

My mouth,

your words,

say I love you.’


Footnotes


[1] cyberformance – experiments at the interface of theatre and the internet’, where she used the term to describe the practice of ‘live performance that utilizes internet technologies to bring remote performers together in real-time, for remote and/or proximal audiences’. (Jamieson, 2008)

[2] According to Foucault, heterotopias refer to “counter-sites” that juxtapose with the unreality of utopias to provide a ‘curious property of being…to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations’ that the reality ‘happen to designate, mirror, or reflect’ (Foucault, Des Espace Autres (Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias), 1986, p. 3). I use the ‘Noise of Becoming’ to identify the possible traits of otherness that disrupt the representation of the self-being, and hence enable the apparition of becoming. The fictional character is actualized ‘in the form of multiplicities made up of differential relations and variations of relations, distinctive points and transformations of points.’(Deleuze, 1968) In the context of my art practice, the ‘curious property of being’ is the performance body, and the ‘set of relations’ is the set of uncertain relations of the reciprocal relationships between the role that the performance body is becoming and its embodied spectatorship in the virtual public sphere. The virtual public sphere is identified as a heterotopia that is curated by the social media customs as censorship, which blurs the boundary between private and public sphere in digital realm. Such virtual heterotopia is seen as ‘an organism, as it were, that derives its initial programme or code from the artists’ creative activity, and then evolves in specific individual identity and function in response to the environment which it encounters’. (Ascott, 1966)

[3] Deleuze and Guattari have define the BWO (Body without organs) a: ‘opposed not to the organs but to that organization of the organs called the organism’. (Deleuze & Guattari, A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, 1980, p. 158) D&G’s BWO is compared to Antonin Artaud’s presentation of the identity of the One and the Multiple as a dialectical unity. For Artaud, the unitarian identity reduces the multiple by gathering it into the One. Artaud posits the idea of the body against the organs: ‘The body is the body. Alone it stands. And in no need of organs. Oraganism it never is. Organisms are the enemies of the body.’ (Deleuze & Guattari, A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, 1980) This project takes the D&G’s BWO as a starting point to not think in opposite to the body and to the organs. When I refer to the ‘body’, I am identifying the body as in opposition to the organism, the organization of the organs.

[4] How much of this is fiction. is an exhibition involving artists as tricksters and featuring work which involves the direct use of deception, tricks, hoaxes and hacks. These politically inspired media artists use trickery and deception to exploit the shifting boundary between fiction and reality in a world of ‘post-truth’ politics. How much of this is fiction. is curated David Garcia and Annet Dekker, in collaboration with Ian Alan Paul (Director, Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History).

https://www.fact.co.uk/event/how-much-of-this-is-fiction (Accessed on May 21st, 2020)

[5] Sokolowsky, J (2017) Art in the Instagram Age: How Social Media Is Shaping Art and How You Experience It. Available online: https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/visual-arts/art-in-the-instagram-age-how-social-media-is-shaping-art-and-how-you-experience-it/ (accessed on 1 June 2020).

[6] Instagram founders Kevin Systrom says in 2010, after the app has reached 100k users after it first launched in 2010, that ‘Instagram has taken on a life of its own — it’s definitely no longer our product anymore. It belongs to the community.’ (https://www.viralblog.com/mobile-and-apps/instagram-is-taking-off/, accessed on Aug 25th, 2020)

[7] https://www.statista.com/statistics/253577/number-of-monthly-active-instagram-users/ (Accessed on Aug 25th, 2020)

[8] On Instagram’s official website, it says: ‘Connect with more people, build influence, and create compelling content that's distinctly yours.’( https://about.instagram.com/, accessed on Aug 25th, 2020)

[9] ‘NAUT’, from nautes, the Greek word for ‘sailor’, is a suffix to be used to create travel-specific words, like astronaut, to literally mean a ‘star sailor’; or a cosmonaut, meaning a cosmos/universe sailor. The second part of the name adheres my first name, which is an English name that I have been using since I started to learn English as a child in China. I named myself after Ada Lovelace, who is the first computer programmer in the world. The name was personal to me however, it is not essential for the spectators to acknowledge in live performances. The first stage of substitution process lasted about a month, until it had nothing left from the original profile. Roland Barthes once wrote that ‘the argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name, so that they ended with an entirely new ship, without having to alter either its name or its form.’ (Barthes, 1977) Barthes wrote: ‘The ship Argo…affords the allegory of an eminently structural object… by two modest actions (which cannot be caught up in a any mystique of creation): substitution (one part replaces another, as in a paradigm) and nomination (the name is in no way linked to the stability of the parts)… nothing is left of the origin: Argo is an object with no other cause that its name, with no other identity than its form.’ (Barthes, 1975, p. 46)

[10] NAUT-ADA is not a strategic tool to introduce or to trigger a completely alternative reality like utopia, neither the metamorphosis of humans into non-human nor post-human. It is presented as an actor in all utopias, however, it neither creates nor proposes any idealisation for utopias. NAUT-ADA stands for the limitation and constraints of the human body (my body). It also embodies the human desire: to disappear from the what I appear, and to survive in a perpetual and timeless imaginary space outside of any conventional notions of a place. ‘It is to place the body in communication with secret powers and invisible forces. The mask…lay upon the body an entire language, an entirely enigmatic language, an entire language that is ciphered, secret, sacred, which calls upon this body the violence of the God, the silent power of the Sacred, or the liveliness of Desire. The mask… put(s) the body into an other space….usher(s) it into a place that does not take place in the word directly… make(s) of this body a fragment of imaginary space, which will communicate with the universe of divinities, or with the universe of the other, where one will be taken by the gods, or taken by the person one has just seduced…(is) operation by which the body is torn away from its proper space and projected into an other space. ’ (Foucault, 2006, p. 231)

[11] https://www.vogue.com/article/instagram-rules-social-media (Accessed on August 31, 2020)

[12] Since 2019, Instagram has added a new feature of haptic feedback: when users touch the ‘like’ button, the phone vibrates. It is to encourage the users to actively engaging with content.

[13] Jeremy Bentham is widely regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism. When he died in London on June 6th, 1832, at the age of 84, he bequeathed his body to his friend Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith, and wrote in his will with instructions that direct the doctor to mummify his body and dress it in his clothes and hat. Beginning in the year before his death, Bentham had written a pamphlet, Auto-Icon; or, Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living, in which he advocated, on utilitarian grounds, the practice of becoming one’s own icon (thus “auto-icon”) in the manner he envisaged for himself: dissection followed by the display of a near-replica of the original person, constructed out of a skeleton, stuffing such as hay, and a mummified head. The dissection, he argued, would advance scientific knowledge and greatly facilitate medical education (in Bentham’s day, cadavers for medical education were extremely difficult to obtain). The display of auto-icons would, among other benefits, reduce the need for paintings, statues, and other monuments as remembrances of people (because “identity [is] preferable to similitude”), eliminate the danger posed to public health by accumulating corpses, and “diminish the horrors of death” by leaving only its “agreeable associations.” https://www.britannica.com/story/what-is-jeremy-benthams-auto-icon (Accessed on July 1st, 2020)

[14] Relatively recently Instagram allowed its users to change the profile status (personal blog, sportsman, musician, etc.). The function is available only to business accounts, so you cannot change the category on your personal page. Their list is constantly updated, so from time to time appear very interesting. ‘A fictional character is a category that was available for selection in Instagram. Currently deleted. Available only to those accounts that managed to take it. The function itself is still relevant, users can change the profile status, specify the scope of activity.’ On status “fictional character” in Instagram. http://instagram-biz.blogspot.com/2018/01/status-fictional-character-in-instagram.html (Accessed on June 30th, 2020)

[15] Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, according to Mark: ‘ This is an important milestone for Facebook because it's the first time we've ever acquired a product and company with so many users. We don't plan on doing many more of these, if any at all. But providing the best photo sharing experience is one reason why so many people love Facebook and we knew it would be worth bringing these two companies together.’ https://www.forbes.com/sites/bruceupbin/2012/04/09/facebook-buys-instagram-for-1-billion-wheres-the-revenue/#2bdc04994b8a (Accessed on June 30th, 2020)

[16] Maximum Tweet length is limited to 280 characters. Direct message on twitter is limited to 10,000 characters.

[17] Instagram features, https://about.instagram.com/features (Accessed on June 30th 2020)

[18] ‘This joyful affirmation of the ethics of becoming is in respect of Rosi Bradotti’s nomadic thought, which ‘is conceptually linked to the notion of embodied materialism and to a nonunitary vision of the subject.’ (Braidotti, 2011, p. 300) Courtesy to the author, P8

[19] This is the text used in the live performance and the video of NAUT-ADA: Here Lies, 2019. Courtesy to the author. 


List of figures

  • Fig.1, Performance, 5 Minutes of Your Time, Curated and documented by Nigel Rolfe, Doodle Bar (Testbed 1), London, 2018, Archive of the artist

  • Fig. 2, Performance, 5 Minutes of Your Time, Curated and documented by Nigel Rolfe, Doodle Bar (Testbed 1), London, 2018, Archive of the artist

  • Fig. 3, Performance, Beyond The Body, curated by Nigel Rolfe, Asylum Chapel, 2019 (Photo credit to Eleni Tomadaki, Archive of the artist

  • Fig. 4, Performance, Beyond The Body, curated by Nigel Rolfe, Asylum Chapel, 2019, (Photo credit to Eleni Tomadaki, Archive of the artist

  • Fig. 5, Cyclopic infant, https://wellcomecollection.org/works/hvznkfe8

  • Fig. 6, Franciscum de Franciscis Senensem (& others), 1599-1668. p.13. Vol. 12. EPB/172/D. https://wellcomecollection.org/works/juzv4afz

  • Fig. 7, Veritable Portrait of M Ubu, frontispiece for Ubu Roi, A play written by Alfred Jarry (1896)

  • Fig. 8, Zebrafish embryo, Two zebrafish embryos at 3-4 days of development. The one on the bottom is the wild-type showing normal eye development. The one above has been injected with 'Sonic hedgehog' (Shh) RNA, a molecule which, when overexpressed, disrupts normal signalling in the developing forebrain. This results in greatly reduced eye development. (https://wellcomecollection.org/works/crkx6bcq)

  • Fig. 9, Eglo Single Light Floor Lamp Black and Gold Frame (https://www.keslighting.co.uk/eglo-49618-covaleda-single-light-floor-lamp-black-and-gold-frame.html?gclid=Cj0KCQjw-_j1BRDkARIsAJcfmTHDo8dxownFj_O8cfwM52fNIVifJj5BWDEYrynYZHIjy_RIjBRyNwcaAokbEALw_wc)

  • Fig. 10, Vintage Round Brass Floor Lamp Base (https://www.cabtivist.com/vintage-round-brass-floor-lamp-base.html)

  • Fig. 11, ‘On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced its first astronaut class, the Mercury 7. Front row, left to right: Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, John H. Glenn, Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter; back row, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. 'Gus' Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. The 'Original Seven' astronauts reported to NASA Langley and shared one office until the Space Task Group moved to Houston’, NASA/Langley Research Center (https://www.nasa.gov/langley/100/mercury7-astronauts-april-1959/)

  • Fig. 12, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet is photographed during a spacewalk in January 2017. During the nearly six hour spacewalk, the two astronauts successfully installed three new adapter plates and hooked up electrical connections for three of the six new lithium-ion batteries on the International Space Station. Astronauts were also able to accomplish several get-ahead tasks including stowing padded shields from Node 3 outside of the station to make room inside the airlock and taking photos to document hardware for future spacewalks. (https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/astronaut-thomas-pesquet-takes-a-space-selfie)

  • Fig. 13, Screenshot of Instagram interface from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account (before the transformation from Batman’ fan account to NAUT-ADA), June 2019 , Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 14, Screenshot of Instagram interface from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account (before the transformation from Batman’ fan account to NAUT-ADA), June 2019, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 15, Screenshot of Instagram interface from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account (before the transformation from Batman’ fan account to NAUT-ADA), June 2019, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 16, Screenshot of Instagram interface from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account (before the transformation from Batman to NAUTADA), June 2019, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 17, Screenshot of Instagram interface from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account (before the transformation from Batman to NAUTADA), June 2019, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 18, Screenshot of Instagram from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account (before the transformation from Batman to NAUTADA), June 2019, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 19, Screenshot of Instagram interface from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 20, Screenshot of Instagram from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 21, Screenshot of Instagram from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 22, Screenshot of Instagram from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 23, Screenshot of Instagram from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 24, Screenshot of Instagram from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account, Artist’s archive

  • Fig. 25, Timeline of NAUT-ADA, Archive of the artist

  • Fig. 26, The Jeremy Bentham Auto-icon at University of College, London. https://mysearchformagic.com/2015/07/13/the-jeremy-brntham-auto-icon-london/ (Accessed on July 1st, 2020)

  • Fig. 27, Screenshot of Instagram from the perspective of NAUT-ADA’s account with NAUT-ADA in front of the autoicon of Jeremy Bentham, University College London, Artist’s archive

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