August 27, 2003    Arts

The Works of Jonah Brucker-Cohen

If we are to use a ternary model of intellect, emotion, and body to analyze our being, what can we say, from the perspective of each, about our current highly technological world? This is what Jonah Brucker-Cohen seems to be exploring.

Many of us sit in front of computers all day typing and clicking away. What would my body say about its experience of an ordinary day? Look at Jonah’s “MouseTraces”. That is how my typical day may look like from the perspective of my body, especially from my hand. When my emotion sends a signal of frustration to my body caused by some computer problem, how does the latter wish it could react? Look at Jonah’s “LiveWindow”. My body would like to see the content of the screen react to my slapping of the computer monitor, but on my computer, this would not succeed in causing any reaction. My body must feel helpless. When someone explains to me about how two computers communicate with one another, what does my body really want to see in order to understand it physically? Look at Jonah’s “StreamingMedia (H2O/IP). My body would probably say, “Aha, I see!” The same can be said of his “SearchEngine” and “Crank The Web”.

Our emotions such as frustration, loneliness, annoyance, sense of belonging, and sense of exclusion manifest differently in the virtual world from the real world. What happens to our emotions when you artificially create situations in the virtual world that mimic the emotional situations of the real world? Look at Jonah’s “WiFi-Hog” and “BumpList”, and observe how people react to them emotionally.

When we observe our own reactions as well as those of the others towards the works of Jonah Brucker-Cohen, we realize how alienated we have become as a human being. The virtual world is so much driven especially by our intellect that our bodies feel entirely excluded from the process. They are being subjected to utterly alienating environment and activities where they have no intuitive comprehension of what is going on. Jonah aptly demonstrates and illustrates our own unawareness of this alienation. He uses metaphors that our bodies or emotions can easily understand in order to narrow the ever-widening gap from our intellect.

Our desires, the drive behind our productive lives and societies, emanate from the harmonious working of our three aspects: intellect, emotion, and body. If one of them were to be left out of the loop, our desires would wane, which in turn would diminish our social production. Our increasingly cerebral way of life promotes not only obesity but also alienation. It is an important aspect of our lives to be aware of.

Impressively, Jonah’s body of work has harmony between all three aspects. Unlike many digital artists, he does not make gimmicks out of his technical know-how. It is clearly not about technology for the sake of technology. He only appropriates it in order to make our alienation visible to our naked eyes. His intelligence does not take hold of the other facets of himself. The voices of his emotion and body are fairly represented.

He also uses his artistic license only when appropriate and effective. Unlike many websites of digital artists, his website is presented in a straight-forward and comprehensive manner. He distinguishes what should be communicated logically and what should be shown artistically, and he does not pointlessly mix them up. He seems to know intuitively when to draw from his intellect, emotion, or body, and when not to.

When I see artists like Jonah, I see a sign of great things to come. Those who are in their twenties now would probably bring the art world into the 21st century. Once this generation that breathes technology like air becomes powerful members of our society, things will really change. It would be a good thing for the art world which hasn’t seen any compelling artistic movement in decades.