The Digital Psyche by Dallas Simms
Last spring at OpenGrounds, then fourth-year Dallas Simms posed some difficult questions about the growing challenges of life in the 21stCentury in a fascinating and multi-dimensional thesis presentation called The Digital Psyche: Disembodied Embodiment, Massurrealism and Social Media. The Cape Charles, Virginia’s self-described “surrealist multimedia exhibition investigated the experience of being viewed and viewing others on social media, examining what it means to exist in a timeless dimension online while constantly managing the collision and disappearance of our various digital identities.” The presentation combined looped videos, projection mapping and 360-video, all presented in collaboration with performer Isabella VanKesteren (College ‘17), who produced chilling, echoic vocals throughout the event. The project was inspired by Simms’ Interdisciplinary Arts Administration major, which he built around three pillars of study: arts administration, digital arts, and psychology. “The interdisciplinary component of my major encouraged me to seek out connections in all of my classes,” Simms said, “and these connections led to questions of study such as: How can social media be a tool to explore social psychology? How can the human psyche be presented through new modes of art? How can viewing itself be a form of art? And what does it really mean to be a viewer, especially in today’s age of social media, where people participate in viewing so often?” Those avenues of exploration led Simms to the intersection between digital media and Surrealism and the constant wrestling the human psyche must do just to find its way in the increasingly complex technological jungle. The exhibition featured multiple screens and surfaces onto which Simms projected continually looping short videos, creating the feel of an art exhibit with moving images. VanKesteren served as a constant anchor through the various pieces, her changing appearance allowing viewers to see their own fragmented and shifting identities that regularly appear and disappear on social media. In The Mask, which dominated the landscape of the exhibition, viewers were forced to look upwards to consider the metaphorical facades we present online, and the increasing difficulty that comes with trying to shed them and return to our real world selves. Pain of Relevancy projected intensely emotional real time images of VanKesteren over previously taken footage of her to symbolize the claustrophobic pressures of having to simultaneously live in the past, present, and future online, while trying to stay relevant among one’s peers. Veil, the most technologically complex piece, was a surreal 360-degree music video presented with a VR headset. The piece symbolized the experience of being in the spotlight in today’s media sphere, blurring reality and imagination in a kaleidoscopic and hallucinatory dreamscape. Adding a participatory element to the exhibit, Simms passed out plastic masks at the door of OpenGrounds to bring the dichotomy of public vs. private viewing to the Gallery setting, while also tangibly implicating viewers in the depicted themes apparent in his works.