Text by CLOT Magazine
This week we are premiering a video track by multidisciplinary artist Castell Lanko for the ‘Cybernetic Emptiness’ track by 04NB, a collaboration between Onsy and ABADIR. The track is included in the second instalment of ZULI & Rama’s irsh series, did you mean: irish vol. 2 due out on July 8th. irsh started as a video series where ZULI & Rama invited friends, fellow Cairene artists and those passing through the city to jam, yet due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, pivoted into compilation format releasing ‘did you mean: irish vol. 1’ in September 2020 to showcase the breadth of talent.
Cybernetic Emptiness e it’s an audio-visual project engaging topics relating to human identity, self-consciousness, virtual reality, communication and control theory. The project’s name is derived from the precise nature of what constitutes a human in the cyber void. It conceptualizes the true nature of the reality that the psychological self must function in through the concept of the self, reality, metaphysics, and epistemology-esque notions.
The project explores identity as a construct without a fixed or unambiguous location. As an entity, the character simultaneously exists in many places and in many modes. She is an extremely detached individual in a completely fundamental way.
This detachment allows her to undergo a profound transformation in the virtual world and in her own fourth dimension by telepresence, which allows her to hide under layers of virtuality and deception to form a secretive detached dimension secured by the illusion of emptiness. Creating a simultaneity that allows for temporal immediacy and spatial isolation, bringing psychical connection in spite of physical separation.
Castell Lanko is a Cairo-based multidisciplinary new media artist whose work spans digital media and A/V installations to more traditional forms such as paintings and illustrations. Her interdisciplinary approach includes studies across the traditional arts disciplines and an embrace of new technologies. Her attention focuses on the sonority and functionality of immaterial illusions between the real and virtual world and the research of the new nature of art.
She uses the digital space to develop expansive worlds that fiddle with the dynamic between her and her audience by creating a storytelling atmosphere with objectified emotions that balances on the edge of warm-hearted intimacy.
04NB were approached by Castell some months ago for scoring her visual project. They share they really like her works which are always rich and full of details; you can easily find a narrative there, and not just generic abstract shapes that end up being too cliche and overused.
They sat down and talked, and Castell started to give sonic ideas on each of the fragments, so she orchestrated the flow of the track. The video was inspiring for 04NB to create this contrast between harshness (as in the 1st part of the track) and a dream-like cinematic atmosphere.
Cybernetic Emptiness’s track name, you mention, is derived from the precise nature of what constitutes a human in the cyber void; what is your personal interpretation of cybernetic emptiness? Is it ever possible to become empty in a cybernetic plane?
Castell: Cybernetic Emptiness constructs the detachment that happens between real life and online presence, in which the self can virtually from the fourth dimension of existing. This detachment can lead to a complete dissociation from the real world and create an altered consciousness in the virtual world, which is a coping mechanism.
But it can develop a desire for disembodiment, which typically presupposes contempt for the obsolete human body and a yearning to escape reality by discarding or annihilating the body, a transcendent state of being, whether spiritual or dimensional, free of mortal and biological constraints. The desire for disembodiment also includes transhuman fantasies of losing consciousness to a new dimension and using the essence of emptiness to secure this dimension.
What was the intellectual process behind the development of the visual part of the project? What were the main visual inspirations behind it? And how did the music inform the visual part?
Castell: The concept of the video is based on an unpublished graphic book I made back in 2019, which consisted of a collection of mixed media, text, drawings, manipulated images, and digital environments that all played the role of documenting this research and formed the visual elements of the project. It also helped me direct the narrative and inspired me to develop it into an audio-visual installation.
The documentation process was inspired by the dark side of the virtual space, which has a heartbreaking and sentimental aspect that’s supposed to disturb human beings.
But it has its own beautiful and powerful aspects as well, which also influenced how I viewed myself and led me to investigate how our identities have been imagined and shaped by societal interpretations of beauty. Having one’s identity dismantled, marginalized and regulated to non-human status demands action. This led me to critically engage in image-making in art and ultimately grapple with whatever power and authority these images have over the human figure.
The nature of the sounds that were made with the visual elements aimed to create and enhance the immersive feeling of the image and portrayed how these virtual dimensions can be emotionally intense. It also reflected the desire for disembodiment, on the one hand, and a desire for re-embodiment, on the other hand.
How is working with virtual/cybernetic spaces that open new narratives or storytelling impacted your art or the vision for your art?
Castell: The struggle of self-consciousness and human identity in virtual space has been rooted in me since my childhood and is considered to be the inspiration behind most of my work, so ongoing research has been on how to project these complex ideas into a narrative. The exploration of identity in such virtual environments enables me to discover the beauty in obscurity.
Regardless of the medium, my deeply considered approach allows me to go beyond what is ‘real’ and give my compositions a different feel. Although there may not always be material similarities between the different projects, they are linked by recurring formal concerns and through the subject matter. The subject matter of each work determines the materials and the forms of the work. Each project often consists of multiple works, often in a range of different media, grouped around specific themes and meanings. New areas of interest arise during research and production and lead to the next work.