Stranger is Typing (the Search for Nenny)

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If I was to try to unravel the journey of this work or rather the journey of thought around this work, I suppose it begins with a rash of scam emails I received, professing love in an outpouring of questionable prose. This fed into a series of work questioning our sense of truth and relationship with truth.

The digital world has unlocked the gates to a playground where identity is no longer a fixed entity and each of us can inhabit a persona far beyond the constraints of the world we trudge through, in our familiar, somewhat worn, habit day-by-day. Suddenly our societal structures and frameworks are tossed aside, superfluous in a virtual landscape where the idea that ‘the truth is black and white’ couldn’t, ironically, be further from the truth.

As most of us have come to appreciate, the truth can be fluid, untethered, full of nuanced shades, organic in matter, amorphous, unfixed and changeable. Moulding itself to the hand that holds it. Teething issues arise of course, in this transitional period, when those native to a pre-digital age perhaps carry real life frameworks with them into an online world. This landscape of human communication, so overwhelming facilitated (and seemingly boundless, albeit within it’s own subtle behavioural constraints: from 140 characters to ready-made emojis) by social media, is littered with the casualties of this foray.

I find it fascinating that, at times when men and women have been victims of online romantic scams, and are then presented with the truth about the scammer by the authorities, they have chosen to reject the undeniable evidence offered to them about their fictional lover and instead choose to continue to believe wholeheartedly in this virtual relationship. This opens up an interesting conversation as to how truth of any sort is a decision, invested in and embraced by the believer through subconscious choice or otherwise.

Some time ago an email from a Mrs Nenny William arrived in my inbox . From the far flung shores of the Ivory Coast, she reached out to me in her strangely compiled turn of phrase, the  widow of a former Archdeacon, bullied by her money grabbing relatives, the mother of two soon-to-be orphans, asking me to become the controller of her wealth.

I took a simple experiment. I chose to believe Nenny. I took her offer to ‘become the controller’ but rather than her wealth I claimed control over this truth. I embraced it and I went online to find her. My journey to own this truth brought me in contact with others who, in turn, took on this truth in one form or another for themselves.  And a strange exchange of power took place. Identity and truth, at times, lost their footing. Once or twice I experienced a strange and fragile state which is difficult to convey in words,  a tremulous, fluctuating hold if you like on my surety of what was real or otherwise. Before long, I began to converse, less and less in my own dialect and increasingly so in the alien language of such social encounters.

I learnt much. Our digital selves are new beings, new skins, with possibilities we have never had to grapple with before. Identity and truth are quite loosely tethered in a virtual world, but their multifaceted online form is perhaps merely an outward manifestation of what always has been. In a moment, as I discovered, our selves can be cut free, so effortlessly, from their moorings and allowed to float freely down stream.


Susan Francis is a Belfast born artist now based in the South West of England. Her work moves between object, installation and film, with an increasing focus on film as a means to tease out momentary narratives, uncomfortable histories and fragile exchanges. Past work has included solo shows both within the UK and abroad, residencies in a number of countries, including The Bemis Centre for Contemporary Art in the United States, and work held in public and private collections internationally. http://www.susanfrancis.com

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