The ‘It’s Not To You’ Syndrome

I recently found myself sitting on a couch in a dark room inside the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts at USC watching a play-test of a brand-new interactive video game.  I use the term ‘interactive,’ because it was less like your typical Nintendo or PlayStation proceeding, and more akin to one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ movies, only digitalized, intricately detailed, and not a little influenced by the likes of Spielberg or Christopher Nolan.  The game takes place in a slightly futuristic society, and at one point, the protagonist, a detective, is sitting in his beat-down, windowless office going over clues, when he puts on a pair of special sunglasses.  These sunglasses allow him, and by proxy, us, the audience, to perceive his spacial environment as a pristine mountain-top, or a Redwood forest.  The effect is novel, and provokes a round of ‘wouldn’t-that-be-cool’ comments from anybody who’s watching, yet it also brings up an interesting, modern phenomenon.  I call it the ‘it’s not to you’ syndrome, and it works like this: you’re sitting in a beat-down, windowless office, but…it’s not to you.

Don’t get me wrong, this syndrome is hardly new or original, although it is intensifying in our digital age.  And one person who’s exploring this intensification is artist Jeffrey Wells with his newest exhibit Seeing While Seeing at the Bergamont Station Arts Center, a part of the Santa Monica Museum of Art.  Wells attempts to recreate the optical illusions of everyday life—the after-image of an exit sign, the undulating intersection of two vertical walls that meet at a right-angle—using video projections.  Thus the viewer is left questioning whether or not an illusion is physical or digital.  Both are percepts, separate from what some would call “objective reality,” but only one is an intentionally manipulated percept.

What Wells—along with the interactive video game, to a certain extent—may be attempting to illustrate is the danger of the ‘it’s not to you’ syndrome.  Because how do you really know what is?  Or who’s presenting what to you, for that matter?  And as the line between what is and what is to you gets smaller and smaller, what becomes of you?

Jeffrey Wells’s Seeing While Seeing is on view until April 17th at Project Room 1 in the Bergamont Station Arts Center, a part of the Santa Monica Museum of Arts.  Bergamont Station is located at 2525 Michigan Ave, Building G-1.  For more information, please call (310) 586-6488, or visit www.smmoa.org.

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