Encased in a white chat box with black monotype text is a statement “I think one day we will be able to go outside again.” A down arrow follows the statement, prompting the user to expand the context of the conversation.
As we waited in the middle of everything last March, I kept thinking about how “later” had taken on new importance. It had been elevated from that place to which we’d relegate anything that did not really concern us to a place where we’d do everything. I built a web interface to facilitate a series of online chats with people where we would make plans for a “later date”, when we were able to go outside again. I fantasized about these later dates. Being in the same space as other people. Reaching out and touching. Shared surfaces. Breathing, talking, anything really. It is a performance in two parts. In the first, we chat and imagine together our first meeting. Where will we go, what will we do, what will we say? This future plan gets saved as a sort of script. Later, when allowed out again, they receive a request to meet and we enact this script. This is part two.
You were one of the last people I saw before the UCLA campus closed dow that day. We were having grad reviews. We sat on a couch together looking at a jittery data visualization I made using flight data. Would it be that jittery if I took data just a few weeks later? Everything in the room was dark, minus the projection light. The furniture was shifted around to accommodate my install. Changes to a familiar space seemed to add dramatic effect to what was going on outside the school walls.
The future was looming in the air. We both wondered what would happen. Or if anything would happen at all.How would the events that were to unfold going to change our lives?
We were planning with each other while we were negotiating with the future. What season will it be? Will we be able to embrace? Will that place still exist? We talked about the first days when frantic decisions were being made, and each of our personal boundaries closing in as we began to feel unsafe with one another. We acknowledged the discomfort of trying to find a stable place in a situation we refuse to accept as normal. We make extremely specific plans, subject to change.
Our conversation was the opposite of a Zoom grid. It was one-to-one, slow, text-only. I called this piece a performance, but with the camera off, it felt like the first non-performance I had experienced in weeks. The interaction is about waiting instead of streaming. And in this lack of bandwidth, we are left space to imagine. The person on the other end, whose presence we are only certain of at brief moments when messages pop onscreen. The later with this person when we will meet in highest fidelity. The days and months that will unfold after this exchange.
I heard TALKING IS DANGEROUS
Lauren stands on a patch of grass outside a home with her back towards the camera. Two young masked people stand at the top of a small set of stairs. At this distance, it is uncertain if they are looking at Lauren or at the smartphone in Lauren’s left hand. The phone is extended forward for legibility and rotated in landscape mode. All three people pictured are nicely dressed.
It is important to be kind in stressful times. It's hard to hold all these different contexts in mind. Anybody that can live in solitude is a powerful being. At a crowded supermarket, the panic was palpable.
This was the first in a series of gestures over the past year trying to deal with the profound isolation I felt, stuck behind screens, backgrounded by a pervasive fear, suspended in time. I think most of us were feeling it. With the murder of George Floyd, that anxiety exploded into rage and grief that took over the streets, simultaneously bringing us together and pushing us further apart.
Our understanding of who is trustworthy, what is safe to do and talk about shifted. While the medical advice continued to evolve and update. Avoid surfaces. Check in with your friends. Don’t wear masks. Wear two. Don’t call, give them space. Keep six feet. Do take a stand. Protest the right things. Don’t fly. Don’t talk politics. Restaurants are open, schools are unsafe.
Feeling completely disconnected, I created I heard TALKING IS DANGEROUS trying to break through. Showing up on doorsteps, I deliver a monologue via phone screen and text-to-speech. I explain that I just heard masks and six feet are not safe enough. Because when you speak, tiny particles fly out through your mask at high velocity. They’ve recommended we stop talking to each other, they say talking is dangerous. So I made an alternative. I invite each person to visit a URL on their phone to continue the conversation. We proceed, discussing danger, safety, the future. Over the months we have learned to say things via text that perhaps we couldn’t in a more embodied way. Could this form of typing-speaking open anything for us?
Sometimes I feel like listening is more dangerous than talking. Is there really safety in distance? Can we understand each other without talking?
Ah, I remember how short I am again. I completely forgot what your lower body looked like. I never thought I needed to remember. Sorry, I can’t read that fast. Can you bring the phone a little closer? Is the audio up all the way?
I keep wondering, in moments before laughter, when our gut is about to push out air from our mouths with a force greater than speaking, how will we compose ourselves then?
I care about you immensely.
What do you want me to say?
When I became exhausted with the constant Zoom calls, I created a digital clone of my voice to replace me. This voice allows me to puppet myself, using it to say all the things I hadn't previously been able to vocalize. I play with the phrases we expect from one another, and from machines. You can say turn off the lights. You can say wake me up at 7am. You can say talk to me. I am captivated by the ways we are taught to interact with algorithms, Sorry, I didn't get that and how this shapes the way we interact with each other. What are the rules, what happens when we introduce glitches? Sorry, I didn't get that.
I feel a sense of power owning the data of my own voice. Haha ha hahaahahah hahahahha hahahaha... I am taking it back from the tech companies, constantly tapping my conversations, sampling and analyzing and archiving my speech for future use yet unknown. Instead, I offer the control of my voice to others. Upon visiting my website, each visitor is asked by my voice, “What do you want me to say?” However they reply, my voice responds by speaking their own words back to them. Then it asks again, “What do you want me to say?”
I feel so abhorrent. I feel so absorbed. I feel so accepting. I feel so aching. I feel so admiring.
You can say "What time is it?" You can say "What day is it?" You can say "What am I doing tomorrow?"
In the foreground, a silhouette of shrubs frame Lauren in the midground. She lays in a sleeping bag in her friend’s backyard. Her form is disguised into the surrounding darkness apart from the light from her smartphone screen illuminating her face. An overhead light also shows traces of outdoor furniture behind her and the fences that reveal the boundary of the backyard.
The further I got into this series of voice experiments, the more I began to dissociate. It became hard to tell what existed beyond my computer screen. Months of caution began to induce feelings of extreme recklessness and futility. In a last ditch effort to get close, I sent text messages to friends. A holiday offering of my live body outside their home. We have only text communication. I spend the night out on their lawn. Each of us thinking of the other’s physicality. Seeking presence.
Suddenly, my motion sensor lights turned off. Your whole body disappeared into the night. Aside from your face which was illuminated by your phone you held above you. Slightly uneased and amused, I messaged you, “I left the back door unlocked in case you need to use the restroom tonight.” The typing bubble appeared and I looked to see your fingers move across your screen in that instance. “Thanks!” you reply.
I feel safety in this closeness at distance. While I’m thinking of all the others outside every night in more precarious positions. Last spring we witnessed extraordinary measures taken to provide housing and care, measures we were previously told were too hard and too expensive and would take too much time. As these safety nets are now being unravelled, how do we keep demanding support for the most vulnerable? Who are the people outside our homes that we choose to think of at night?
After a year spent fearing for our health, grieving the loss of loved ones, watching the ever growing death counts, I have never felt so in touch with my own mortality. Drifting confused between utter stagnation and overwhelming transience, I started Good Night. A performance for one person that continues as long as I am alive. Every night before sleep, I text the owner of the work good night. At any point, that person may choose to pass the work to someone else, at which point the good night texts transfer to the next person. It is the first in a series of rest-of-life performances I plan to complete. What does it mean to commit, to something or someone, when the end is so palpable yet unknown?
This series of pandemic works are about isolation, breakdown, danger, disconnection, grief, frustration, communication, wanting. Streaming ourselves through every possible channel, platform, and app, how do we hold each other together?
Performances & Description
Image Description & Text
Programming & Design
Lauren Lee McCarthy
This work was supported by grants from IDFA DocLab and UCLA, and a residency at Pioneer Works.
Later Date: Later date recordings by Dalena Tran and Lauren Lee McCarthy. Spraying, door sounds, wiping, projector, screen, sofa, leather and keyboard sounds recorded by Chisato Hughes and Brian Kamerer. Cargoshipstarfleet.wav sampled from vumseplutten1709. Park ambience.wav sampled from Marissrar. Rumble sampled from WavJunction.com. Breathing-noise-calm-2.wav sampled from giddster. Waterphone 2.wav sampled from kostasvomvolos. Dutch_supermarket.wav sampled from koenbram. Cooped up at Home with a Fever and a Tape Loop by Lullatone.
I Heard Talking is Dangerous: I Heard Talking is Dangerous recordings by Dalena Tran and Lauren Lee McCarthy. Recordings from performances with Evelyn Masso, Harvey Moon, Qianqian Ye, and David Leonard. Kettle boil sound recorded by Chisato Hughes and Brian Kamerer. Los Angeles morning Ambience.WAV sampled from mmplisskin. 2020-06-12 blm protest goes by.wav sampled from tim.kahn.
What do you want me to say? What do you want me to say? recording by Lauren Lee McCarthy. Synthesized voice trained on Lauren Lee McCarthy’s voice. Zoom effects and keyboard typing recorded by Chisato Hughes and Brian Kamerer. Touchpad, clicking.wav sampled from 16FPanskaVyskocil_Tom. Computer mouse clicking.wav sampled from FREE_SOUND_ENTERTAINMENT. Mouse click and mouse wheel sampled from NWSP. Cargoshipstarfleet.wav sampled from vumseplutten1709.
Sleepover: Sleepover recordings by Dalena Tran and Lauren Lee McCarthy. Texts and sounds of gate recorded by Chisato Hughes and Brian Kamerer. Cricket in the Garden | Garden at Night.mp3 sampled from Bricklover. Highway night 2.wav sampled from maark6000. Acapella Mac sound effects sampled from Maytree. Sleeping Bag.WAV sampled from Chinique. Night street atmosphere sampled from Maurice_J_K.
Good Night: Good Night recording by Lauren Lee McCarthy. Sending goodbye texts and bird sounds recorded by Chisato Hughes. Wind Chime, Gamelan Gong, A.wav sampled from InspectorJ. Wind blown mouth.wav sampled from Wesselorg.