Affect and Presence

One of the main trends in the contemporary humanities is the attempt to rethink the role of affects and emotions in our personal and social life. In the light of the affective turn, everyday human choices and interactions with others are guided largely by a combination of emotions and desires, whose expression has a fundamental impact on the way people function in the society.

The Internet and new technologies are areas where emotions are manifested on an increasing scale: from affective statuses and emoticons on Facebook, which constantly provokes users to express their moods and interests, to the imperative to express approval in the form of “likes”, to antisocial attitudes of cyber hate. Functioning in a system where daily activity, travels, contacts with friends and gourmet adventures are constantly documented and updated engages us in specific mode of emotional production, which carries a promise of popularity and gratification.

The video artist Ed Atkins reflects critically on the hypermedia forms of sociability as well as attention economy; at the same time, he uses the sterile and perfect High Definition aesthetics as a means to convey a deeply emotional and personal narrative. To the viewer’s discomfort, Atkins investigates through dehumanised digital technology the intensity of visual representations of love, alienation, depression and pathos. On the opposite side of the spectrum sits the work of artists Hannah Perry, Bunny Rogers and Jennifer Chan, who resign from direct critical dissent in favour of pathos and overtly sentimental display of emotions. The natural straightforwardness and confessional authenticity of the message, saturated with existential concerns, serve an attempt to define one’s own self and the relation with the surrounding world.