“I won’t hurt you”
About halfway through Linn Phyllis Seeger’s first book, You I Everything Else, these four words sit repeated on the page like an omen. It is not a photograph in itself, at least in the traditional sense of what we think of as a photograph. Rather, it is a screenshot of a web browser on a mobile device with multiple tabs open, the words typed into a search engine, floating slightly above a music video open in another tab. Apart from its materialization in the physical object of the book and its glossy paper, the resonance of the phrase lies in the fact that it is an impossibility. As humans we are flawed and inevitably bound to fail, to hurt and to be hurt.
On its surface, YIEE appears to be a meditation on the interplay between humanity and technology, in the present or a not too distant future. Dig deeper, take it in with one’s psyche and not merely one’s eyes, and the work unfolds into an immaterial, atemporal sequence of conscious and unconscious moments and memories, half-buried somewhere within the recesses of an experience that has been lived but has all too soon come to an end.
Everything plays out on devices and screens, battery powered objects that run out of life just as a fire smolders, just as the bond between two people might gradually lose its initial magnetism.
The visual vehicle behind Seeger’s work is in some ways more conceptual art than traditional photobook. The book is entirely a collection of screenshots taken by the artist during the course of a two year romantic relationship, mapping out the digital correspondence between two lovers. The presentation and arrangement of these screenshots in the sequence create a virtual, shapeshifting, time-warped experience of images, as we are let into the inner workings of this relationship, and often into the deepest reaches of Seeger’s own consciousness.
Scattered throughout the book are snippets of text message exchanges that, stripped of context, play out like poetry on the page:
“One plus one makes two. / A murder of crows.”
“I’d buy you lilies if I could. / Space too.”
“Reconstructing depth. / Ready when you are.”
“My eyes hurt. / We’re still exiled in my dreams.”
They might seem like cryptic messages to the viewer, but to the two people on the inside of a romantic encounter, the words must be charged with a subtle yet electric significance, typed out into their devices as a form of manufactured identity wrapped inside personal expression, all while in the magical haze one often feels when interacting with a new person.
The spark that mysteriously ignites love, or an intense bond with another person, also seems to exist outside the window of time; we are oblivious to the temporal once this spark has been lit.
Seeger, who describes herself as a “cloud-based artist”, uses elements of technology to subliminally frame the content of the relationship in a wider context. Everything plays out on devices and screens, battery powered objects that run out of life just as a fire smolders, just as the bond between two people might gradually lose its initial magnetism. The speed at which we use technology to communicate, to present a filtered and curated version of ourselves to others, is effectively conveyed throughout the book. Images appear in rapid succession, an almost unconscious outpouring of thoughts and feelings, of bits and pieces of consumed media and observations, unconcerned with nuance or hesitation. All at once, we see self-portraits in surveillance cameras, the weather forecast, facial recognition applications, online map searches, flight maps, and a still frame of a scene from Dirty Dancing. These elements transcend the conventional limits of time and space, insofar as they do not work together to present a sense of chronology within the relationship, but rather act as a threshold into a dual stream of consciousness.
“If I sleep here the distance is shorter. / 3242 hours left.”
Somehow the book still feels like a natural depiction of the correspondence as it is happening in real time. By blending the sensations of remembering past events with their lived experience in the present, the communication appears as a whirlwind of intimate connections and moments gradually building upon each other over a period of time, the exact length of which is inconsequential. The spark that mysteriously ignites love, or an intense bond with another person, also seems to exist outside the window of time; we are oblivious to the temporal once this spark has been lit. The corporeal and emotional take precedence over everything. A single day could feel like a thousand years, a month might feel like hours.
“I am scared. / You’ll be fine.”
Seeger also manages to powerfully depict the impermanence of love through the work, a slow unfolding of the ominous feeling encapsulated in the phrase “I won’t hurt you”. In the end, we are all still trapped in the problem of being temporary entities in a finite world. As much as we might fall into the ecstatic experiences of romance and connection, we cannot escape the necessary ending of all things that begin. Even as things more often become immortalized through technological advances, captured or created and stored in the “cloud” as digital artifacts, as humans we remain fundamentally lost in the world, separated by physical and psychological distance and held down by our own weaknesses and failures.
“The moon is emerging from the shadow of the Earth now. / See you in one hundred years.”
“It’s all happening again. / If you zoom out.”
One of the standout sequences in the book contains several pages beginning with the above interchange. Low-resolution pictures of a blood moon follow, then an image of the artist herself captured while looking up at the sky with an expression of momentary awe, the red-orange sphere of the moon mirrored in her pupil.
Perhaps in the end all that remains is memory. Slivers of time and space and moments when we feel like we are able to transcend those physical limitations, to exist beyond human boundaries.
Perhaps in the end all that remains is memory. Slivers of time and space and moments when we feel like we are able to transcend those physical limitations, to exist beyond human boundaries. Zoomed out from a finite perspective and looking down at ourselves from a distance, we might be able to see the memory of love and the experience of wounds apart from our personal histories, shared with other creatures in the spectacle that is the blip of our existence on a single planet, together gazing up at a pale moon.