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Chewing the Data Fat

005 / 8 May 2013

'Know with certainty that the secrets of the visible world are veiled from the souls which are defiled by love of the world and most of whose energies are fully absorbed in the pursuit of the present world.'


So here we find ourselves in the fluorescent-lit marble floored and cushioned living room of a Gulf household. The tacky luxury of the nuevo riche is glinting on every glass coffee table and jewel-encrusted tissue box holder. Two young boys lay sprawled on the floor, a Filipina maid clearing up the nest of foil crisp packets and phosphorescent bottles of 'Dew'. They pay no attention to her – they are feeding from and consumed by their screens. GTA rumbles on the older boy's plus-sized Plasma while the younger plays Snake III on a chrome-Nokia 8800 Sirocco. Time shifts around them while they masticate information. Maghreb prayer comes and goes, night falls, morning dawns; they still remain in their spots in the majlis, unmoving as the maid periodically checks up on them. The boys expand, their flesh fattening before our eyes as the intricate networks between gadgetry and each other multiply invisibly.


Colonised by their technology, these are chubby, sexless, frontal lobe-heavy beings – like Tetsuo iron boys.


The tableau you just read is a global one and a tired one. Today our great exodus and mass migration into the virtual world is fully absorbing and destroying our physical world. This is true particularly in the Gulf. National narratives and master plans play out cleanly in 3-D animated intros, divorced from the real sweat and consequences of their construction. Novelty and fantasy bear more clout than practicality and possibility. It is a desert of alienation and absence obsessively mapped out on GPS grids. The architects, consultants and engineers are gamers without any feeling for the environment they are living in and building on.


And with that I leave you with a video elegy composed to little boys of the Gulf.


Sophia Al-Maria, Video # 4, 2007, DV Cam recording, found AVI, JPEGs on transparency. Courtesy of the artist.

About the author

Sophia Al-Maria

Sophia Al-Maria is an artist, writer, and filmmaker whose work has been exhibited at the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, the Dowse Museum in New Zealand and the Architectural Association in London among others. She explores her interest in 'Gulf Futurism' through sculpture, video and sound, explaining it as a, 'projection of conditions the rest of the world is moving towards.' Her writing has appeared in Harper'sTriple Canopy, and Bidoun where she was a contributing editor. Her first book, The Girl Who Fell to Earth, was published in 2012. The New York Times reviewed her book, saying: 'Hers is a more visceral exploration. She offers us an original outlook on ancient ground – what any artist hopes to achieve.'