‘Ana Meisel, External Pages’
An interview with Ana Meisel—London-based digital artist, web developer and founder of External Pages, a net.art platform that commissions artists to transform their ideas through and for the internet. Published by Coeval Magazine on 11 March 2021
The interview was conducted on the occaison of its latest exhibition by Camila Galaz, REDES: bread and justice, peaches and bananas. The interview focused on the philosophy and workflow of External Pages, and focused on how their latest exhibition explores the impact of COVID-19 on the current Estallido Social movement in Chile.
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Charlie Mills: Your latest commission is from Camila Galaz, a Chilean-Australian artist based in Los Angeles. Focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on the current Estallido Social movement, we find ourselves navigating the online video-essay through a control panel interface found on the classic Tulip chairs of the Cybersyn Opsroom. How does Camila’s work bring together this piece of ergonomic 70’s cybernetica with the ongoing protests in Chile?
Ana Meisel: Project Cybersyn was a socialist technological project that aimed to create an automated system for the management of a national planned economy. Camila’s proposal made a comparison between the current protests and Cybersyn in order to add a historic perspective of Chile. Her piece, REDES: bread and justice, peaches and bananas, conveys what the Chilean demonstrators have done with platform technologies despite their neoliberal origin. Instagram, an app designed in principle for users to gloat, is now used to mobilise by voicing acts of state violence, and call-outs to demonstrate.
Placing protesting content against the Cybersyn interface, Camila communicates the strange evolution of these technologies. Cybersyn was conceived to distribute and equalise the economy, and capitalists gave us Instagram to protest capitalism. The significance of the ergonomic chair is that it is symbolic of the 60s and 70s when digital technology was first being publicly implemented. The 7 tulip chairs in the Cybersyn Ops room were distributed in a circle, so that the operators could interact with the screens on the walls via a control panel on the chair’s arm and then swivel around to communicate with their co-workers. This physical connectedness highlights how at odds our current technology is with cybersyn’s ergonomic ideology.
CM: Your previous commissions have looked at how issues including gender identity, black visual culture, service work or intimacy influence digital space. In your own experience, and from that of External Pages, how has the interface of the internet transformed in recent years to one where minority groups are often still-left at the receiving end of a typically white and masculine-coded environment?
AM: There is so much bigotry that translates from offline biases to online. Just because something is automated or computerised doesn’t mean it’s progressive, which is what External Pages aims to highlight. In Uchronia et Uchromia, Rhea Dillon looked at the act of questioning: how it can be harmful and how the user’s passiveness can be challenged by appropriating this confrontation of questioning. Forms, questionnaires and tests are a perfect format for digitalisation and are often seized by institutions as surveillance and gatekeeping techniques. Dillon was able to make that really clear in this piece, while taking the concept even further and turning it back at the user, probing our deeper and sometimes subconscious instillings of white supremacist thought.