The Context of Narcissus’ Lair
The creation of the virtual reality performance The wonderful Heartfelt Sentiment explores the psychic dimensions of the use of sound frequencies, narrative, and 3D design as a laboratory of poetic experimentation to initiate a new perspective on the emotional and sentimental aspects in which we are inserted by the viral pandemic initiated in 2020. As far as the development of the project is concerned, online digital tools are the big focus of this article. In 2021 I was invited by Prater Gallery to participate in the residency program Prater Digital, created while the gallery itself was being renovated, making it impossible to use the physical space. The virtual space then became a feasibility for a creative and experimental laboratory for artists. Mozilla Hubs, an open-source tool for making interactive online spaces, was the platform used for the residency, and the space where poem-narrative-theatre-music took place.
Narcissus’ Lair is a world-poem I created on this platform, which tells the story of Narcissus, a child who died prematurely and had his memories archived in a virtual reality environment. The narrative of this Narcissus is told through the story of Bento da Costa and Moanara, his parents, creating a dressing for the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus through the decolonial eyes of a transcendental archive of a Black family, marked by the complex range of feelings and legacies of the colonization of “South America”.
As a pragmatic approach I will stick to three elements that integrally constitute a poem in this essay, while also considering the technical specifications necessary for the construction of 3D scenarios. The first is the concept of ‘dimension’ in its purest content: considering spiritual, visual, and tactile perception, as well as imagination, as ‘dimensions’. The second element is ‘virtual backgrounds’, analysing the construction of politics of the colonial capitalistic unconscious and how it occurs within an ephemeral archive as a background. The final element is ‘sound fiction’, interconnecting virtual reality, narrative, and musicality to propose poetic incisions in 3D environments.
To approach the concept of dimension inside of the digital-poem, I will use three dimensions to understand the script and the visual process: the psychological, the colonial, and the technological dimension. As an initial form we have the psycho-analytical dimension, which is presented in the written text of my artwork and which I used as speech during my performance. Using the intersection of the Ulysses epic and the myth of Narcissus, Narcissus’ Lair takes place in the context of the dissolution of the family institution and the Narcissistic process we are facing in contemporaneity. In order to render this idea more precisely, I use the term “celibate machines”3, used by the psychologist Suely Rolnik (Guattari & Rolnik 1996)5, to describe the dissolution of the metaphorical conjugal cell (a term used by Rolnik to denote the nuclear family) due to the advance of capitalism and the financialisation of affective relations. Rolnik sees no way out but to live a solo life of constant adventure. In her text, Rolnik uses the epic of Ulysses and Penelope, who carry the man-woman symbol with predetermined roles to fulfil, as an archetypical pattern for society. She describes how Ulysses needs to leave, and Penelope is always waiting to be abandoned. It is a waiting in the mirror, for she obtains identity through this relationship. Rolnik shows how our collective, social unconscious runs from this Penelope/Ulysses myth trauma, partially causing the traditional family to die in the 20th century, and giving place to the contemporary situation of atomised celibate machines, which deterritorialise and expand. In their celibate misery, social defences and safety nets fade away: there is an unravelling, and a collective immunodeficiency.
In the context of The Wonderful Heartfelt Sentiment, the main aspect that forms Narcissus is the abandonment of family resources, which in a certain way are promised, but never fulfilled. The child in this context, the inner child, housed in the subconscious of the celibate machines that are his parents, seeks the resource of affection in order to not become a prisoner of the mirror like his parents. He searches for identity, but sees in the mirror his best friend: he is living the duality of the mask, in which one presents to the world the best version of oneself.
The 3D world I created in six scenes inside of Mozilla Hub is a Simulacrum, something that comes from the simulation of an imagined real. Narcissus’ Lair is a flawed environment due to being created from a child’s imagination. Colours and visual elements were chosen that refer to a playful and graphically simple world of video games, presented in an immersive yet lo-fi digital archive. Narcissus is a ghost-archive, a spectre that tries to decode the complexity of human relations in the capitalistic world. Where would love be then? That is Suely Rolnik’s question, and it is presented in Narcissus’ Lair as something that has been distorted by the colonial capitalist unconscious.
From here we can approach the colonial journey that exists in the stories of The Wonderful Heartfelt Sentiment, where I fictionalise historical aspects of colonialism, the material relations that extract the subjective experience, turning capitalism into the “capitalistic” (capital+mystic), a term I use to express the immense emotional and mystical charge that capitalism holds today.
The colonial aspect contained in the story of Narcissus is in the interrelation between consumer products and the emotional structure of the father and mother celibate machines. Sugar and coffee are products that were largely exported from the Caribbean colonies. Coffee Father and Sugar Mother are archetypes in the emotional game of early colonial capitalism that extends through the temporal weft of a history of the economy of affections.
There are several archives from the Caribbean colonies that report infanticide as a mystery or even the demonisation of the Black and enslaved mother2, the tragedy of ‘Black Medea’. Due to cruel and hopeless living conditions, some enslaved women killed their children as an act of everyday resistance. Resistances were generally non-violent, therefore slave infanticide was both tragic and imbued with subversive meanings. By killing their infants, enslaved women denied slave owners the bodies that slavery required to function. Caribbean planters, like those in the United States, saw slave infanticide as a form of robbery of their corporal capital. This context is of great importance to understand Narcissus’ Lair, as Narcissus is portrayed in the work as a ghost child who has died under mysterious circumstances, but whose database is saved in a digital archive.
The sound experience of The Wonderful Heartfelt Sentiment is the biggest part of the project, creating a poetic experience inside the 3D world of Narcissus through an atmosphere of healing sound. Healing sound is connected to frequencies, which in several spiritual and religious fronts are connected to angelic sounds, mourners, and psychic catharsis of memories. My intention was to create a sound that could be connected to the healing of repressed feelings in a society that does not give time to mourn the viral pandemic or even believes digitalisation to be pleasant, aligned with the cooling of the emotional system through the mystical novelties of cognitive capitalism.
Using Kodwo Eshun’s freedom of thought in his book-manifesto More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (1998)4, I politically insert “Digital Grios” into my writing, a term that draws from ancient African storytelling practices and ephemeral stories for ephemeral spaces, situating the production of oral language through technology and Diasporic science fiction. I used elements of sacred geometry, angelic frequencies, and Laurie Anderson’s track “Born Never Asked” (1982)1, to elaborate a narrative that unravels the plot that persists in the capitalist colonial unconscious, pointing to an archive that doesn’t exist outside of the fiction of making an archive. It is a futuristic speculation about the future of digital archives.
The sacred geometry presents itself in the polygons present in all 3D design, which explains the mystical fascination of the interdimensional worlds of virtual reality environments. The same architectural consecrations of churches and temples immemorial gain a new layer of understanding when under the aegis of contemporary technology. Polyhedra, triangles, octagons, all this ancestral information is recalculated to create a new narrative of reality, a hybrid reality.
In this aspect, Laurie’s “Born Never Asked”, is a poem-music, a storytelling that connects the dots between life and death, through the birthday, that in a context like the celibacy machines, has the anti-colonial perspective of forced birth, the body-woman as a reproduction machine, and promise of freedom since birth. This same promise of freedom that is taken by colonial forces and financialised as a currency of exchange in a world orchestrated by white European hegemony. Narcissus, then, would be the generational legacy of the celibate machines, who are born without immunity and live in virtual bubbles, with over-protected, hologramised lives. Secretly Narcissus wishes to become polygonal and sacred. What actually exists behind the curtains that Laurie mentions can be interpreted by the other dimensions, and in a great development since the 1980s, we now have virtual reality, which simulates in some way the multidimensional possibilities that so many long to achieve. The great and true journey of Narcissus is not to reach the moon or another planet, but to overcome the world of three dimensions.
- Laurie Anderson, 1982 debut album, Big Science, track: Born Never Asked.
2. Anon M. Anon 2014. Infanticide as Slave Resistance: Evidence from Barbados, Jamaica, and Saint-Domingue. Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse 6 (04).
3. Michel Carrouges, Les Machines célibataires (Arcanes, 1954), where the term “celibate machines” designates a kind of fantastic machine that he finds in the works of Kafka, Jarry, Poe, Roussel, Duchamp and others. The concept is taken up by Deleuze and Guattari in 1972, in L’Anti-Oedipe. Capitalisme et Schizophrénie. (Paris: Minuit), to designate what the authors call the “third synthesis of the unconscious”, which succeeds the “paranoid machine” and the “miraculous machine”. In the 1970s, the celibate machines were the subject and title of an exhibition at the then-newly created Centre Georges Pompidou.
4. Kodwo Eshun. “More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction.” 1998.
5. Félix Guattari and Suely Rolnik. Micropolítica: cartografias do desejo. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1996.
D’Andrade is a non-binary musician*, poet* and writer* whose conceptual approach is oriented towards Afro-futurism and decolonial theory, as well as the development of investigative works, new and counter-narratives through sound design, coding, archives, and interactions. D’Andrade co-curated the interdisciplinary festival “Jardim Suspenso” in Brazil and founded the solo project “Noise Vivarium” in 2020, based on open workshops with sound experiments, decoloniality, and nature. D’Andrades works have been exhibited at international venues as well as in Berlin, including the Sophiensälen, feldfünf, nGbK, Iwalwahaus, and the AKE ARTS & BOOK FESTIVAL in Nigeria.