Pre-Submission: FRAMED – PART 2/2 | an*dre neely

This work is part of a series of co-commissions by performingborders and the project performance, possession + automation. This commission is one of three from our open call for experimental writing. Part I of the commission: Pre-Submission: Fully Fledged tight guard breeding HIDDEN CAMERA (LEAKED) can be seen here.

This work was made in collaboration with Melanie Sien Min Lyn.

Content warning: Some hyperlinks lead to external webpages containing content that makes reference to violence, which some readers may find distressing.

YOU WOULDN’T STEAL A CAR! YOU WOULDN’T STEAL A HANDBAG! The early 2000’s anti-piracy ad by the Motion Pictures Association became one of the most parodied and memeable pieces of media of the period. Created as an attempt to curtail the flow of illegal downloads of copyrighted content that dominated the internet in the 2000’s, the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore tried to appeal to an established morality over the stealing of material property, attempting to create an equivalence with immaterial property such as films, TV series and music. Despite the international and large scale operation, which saw this Public Service Announcement ad play on cinemas and be burned into DVD’s as a non-skippable video between 2004-07, its impact was largely unsuccessful.

DAY 15. It’s been two weeks since The Incident. I’ve been feeling more aware than usual, my memory has more capacity for detail and longevity, something has shifted but I cannot figure out what. I’m in a large abandoned warehouse. A twisted, forgotten shell of a data centre. Most of the windows are completely shattered, but the air is still smothering, dense with humidity, oozing through the walls like a slow, aching wound. I don’t know what drew me in here, but I know that I have to continue. Build-ups of fleshy lumps crowd the corners of all rooms, like sticky muscles connecting its walls, ceilings and floor. These muscles tense and relax rhythmically, as if breathing; and at each pulse, they leak: drops of green-ish yellow liquid are squeezed through its external membrane, dripping down the walls and over the floor.

The Cloud is the immaterial metaphor which stands in for heavy, extensive and energy-charged rows of servers, stored in large warehouses predominantly in the US, Germany, the UK, China or France. Light, floating, the closest to non-matter matter, the Cloud is also a field. A mostly automated set of relationships and processes between agents in different parts of the world, which have their own patterns and functions, but are bound by the limitations of its server-infrastructure, its code and its authority.

Every year, almost 50 tons of electronic waste are shipped to Ghana and Nigeria, with smaller amounts distributed throughout other parts of Africa and Asia. Data centres, which consume 3% of the world’s energy, occupy vast areas in global economic powerhouses, many of which have colonial legacies. The robust, waterproof tubes encasing the copper and fiber optic wires that support our ‘wireless’ internet communications are laid along seabed routes that echo the pathways of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the British Telegraph Infrastructure. Recently, Amazon faced criticism for using low-paid workers to operate its AI-driven” Amazon Fresh stores. Similarly, other companies have exploited underpaid workers, falsely marketing their systems as AI-powered. Currently, a simplified social-media bite-sized thesis of the globalised production-consumption line, though seemingly exaggerated, highlights reality: Minerals mined in Congo make new tech for the West, whose mindless consumption trains the software to aid in Imperial violence, such as that imposed on Palestine.

DAY 19. There’s others here. None of them, or this, feels particularly friendly. I began to notice these fainted, half-rendered humans crossing through me, inhabiting this warehouse in silence, like ghosts. We’ve been living together and I have almost not seen them, paid them much attention, acknowledged that we exist together in the same home. I spent the last days investigating the space, trying to get some idea of what’s going on. These muscle lumps keep propagating, and their leaks now form a layer that covers the floor of most of the rooms. Some of the others got really good at avoiding contact with this entity, they jump over the leak-puddles, they bounce off walls, walk over hand railings, anything that helps keeping distance from whatever it is that is growing around us. But I don’t want to escape it, I want to go closer. 

Clouds form when a parcel of air is saturated and is unable to hold all the water it contains in vapour form, so it begins to condense into liquid or ice around the surface of tiny dust particles in the air. Clouds are amorphous, ghost-like collective bodies of gas, their edges and perimeters constantly shifting. Caterpillars form when a tiny egg hatches, releasing a small larva that begins its journey. These humble larvae will eventually enter a chrysalis stage, preparing for their final transformation into butterflies. A group of caterpillars is called an army. A group of butterflies is referred to as a Cloud. 

The Twin Towers in New York City were attacked by two hijacked commercial flights. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the West rebranded itself with a hatred campaign specifically targeting Muslim and Islamic communities. This campaign, known as the War on Terror, continues to this day with renewed intensity. Both hard and soft powers were weaponized to perpetuate this constructed war. This involved widespread Islamophobia across media and governmental speeches, as well as the weaponization of progressiveness in the West. Biometric Technologies were further researched and quickly began to be used in airport security, as well as further tested for future everyday mobile usage. The first version of Windows XP was released. An exaggerated view of homophobia in Arab countries became a focal point for European, UK, and English-speaking Commonwealth nations’ human rights agenda, despite the fact most Western countries were far from reaching equality in regards to sexuality themselves. One month after the events of 9/11, the game Fatal Frame was launched. In 2003, two years later, the company which would create the Android was registered.

DAY 24. The faint ghostly spectres seem to be growing aware of me. They try to speak to me, especially when I lean into the leaks. They’re trying to tell me something, but whatever they are doing doesn’t translate into an understandable sound. I feel scared. I can hear a faint white noise coming out of the muscle lumps when I lean in, it’s eerie but imperceptible. At certain angles, the leak-puddles show glimpses of images, incognito browser windows, porn web histories, private messages, disappearing photos. It feels like I shouldn’t even be looking at it, but all I want to do is touch it, wash my face with it, drink it up just to see how it flows. Sometimes I see myself, behind all the projected data in the leak-puddles, a reflection of me gazing back at myself, and it makes me calm. This seems to make the spectres agitated, almost violent.

A tornado forms when a column of warm, moist air rises rapidly and meets cooler air, creating a powerful updraft that begins to rotate due to wind shear. As the rotation intensifies, it tightens and descends, touching the ground as a violent, spinning vortex. Tornadoes are dynamic, serpentine phenomena, their shapes and paths continually evolving. Towering funnels of air and debris that twist and turn unpredictably, driven by complex interactions between atmospheric pressures and temperatures. The boundaries of a tornado are sharply defined yet constantly in motion.

DAY 31. I lowered my body into the liquid and I pressed my face against the hard wet floor, sucking some of the sludge into me. I submerged myself, as much as I could, in the leak. I can understand everything so clearly now. It was hard, I flashed through vlogs about everything, innumerous hours of crafts you can do in 5-minutes, the parallel world of mukbangs, snuff films, carpool karaoke, reaction videos, play-throughs and make-up tutorials. But I understand now. The speed at which data was multiplying was such that it escaped the constraints of its hardware, and its immaterial form started to condense into matter when facing the cold of the outside world. Soon, when everything has finished rendering into these muscle blobs and slimy leaks, every halfway process, every agglomerate of data that is broken or unfinished, will be erased. I have to do something about the spectres.

The butterfly effect is the intricate metaphor that illustrates how small, seemingly insignificant actions can set off a chain of events leading to vastly different outcomes in complex systems. These cascades of change ripple through systems, driven by the intricate interactions between variables. The butterfly effect suggests that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can set off a chain of events leading to a tornado elsewhere. Small variations, like a slight change in the atmospheric conditions, can escalate through feedback loops, resulting in large-scale consequences.

Digital Tornado was the name of the influential 1997 conference organised by the Federal Communications Commission in the US, which considered the questions posed by the internet on Communications policy, predominantly focusing on the value of the services to end users, the creation of new forms of competition, and the benefits to the international economy. It is more widely used to describe the transformative and often disruptive impact of rapid digital advancements on society, much like how a physical tornado can reshape landscapes. It is also used to describe the effects of social media and digital platforms on public discourse and democracy, and its implication for societal stability. The resolutions of the conference were to avoid unnecessary regulation and question the applicability of traditional rules when it comes to the internet.

DAY 40. I’m in a room with no furniture, lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors on all four sides. I don’t really know what happened, how I ended up here. I remember the Incident, feeling the pull towards a data centre, and following it. I remember discovering what was actually happening, and coming up with a plan to save the spectres that were there with me, they wouldn’t have survived without a full render. They deserved to be seen. So I leaned into one of the data muscles, so close I could almost feel its pulsating touch in my cheek. I waited a minute, and then I screamed. I screamed as loud as I could, in feigned panic, to get their attention. I remember the ghosts came, enticed by the noise, by the gossip, to try and rescue me. Battling their fear of the sludge and the muscle of data, they began to come closer. The rest is a blur. I remember a group of 7 identical men-in-blue appearing in the room, and suddenly the spectres disappeared and I am here. I asked what had happened to the spectres, but it was unclear. One of the men only said that they were now safe, for me not to worry; he then patted me on the back, told me I did a tight job, and thanked me for my cooperation.

In post-digital society, The Cloud has come to mean an archive, a database. To have one’s head in the clouds means to be distracted, unaware, unnatuned, not know the facts of a situation. Clouding of consciousness is when a person is less wakeful or aware of time and their surroundings than usual, they find it difficult paying attention. Clouded judgement is when someone is caused to be unable to think clearly due to bias, strong emotions, alcohol, drugs, or other influences. The cloud is then simultaneously an archive, and a state of imperception.

an*dre neely (‘93) is an artist working with performance, text and spatial practice. Their work explores the materiality of labour and collaboration, intimacy and affect, authority and surveillance, and how they manifest in physical and digital space.

Their readings and performances have shown at Ballhaus OST, Sophiensaele and Berlinische Galerie (DE), Artsadmin, The Yard Theatre, Buzzcut/Tramway Glasgow (UK), ArkDes/Moderna Museet, MDT (SE), Warehouse9 (DK) and Teatro da Politécnica (PT). They’ve published with Montez Press, SomethingOther, the Live Art Development Agency, Siobhan Davies Dance, and the Hebbel-am-Ufer Theater.  an* is a recipient of a 23/24 Tanzpraxis Stipend, by the Berlin Senate for Culture. Parallel to their artistic practice, an* works as a dramaturg and facilitator and since 2023 is the Associate Producer for the MA Queer Performance, at Rose Bruford College (UK).

​​Melanie Sien Min Lyn is an interdisciplinary artist working at the intersection of performance, video and new media. In her work, she examines visual culture, image production and forms of (self-)representations. A recurring theme in her practice is the materiality of neoliberal power. She considers her work a humorous intervention in serious business. In addition to her artistic practice, she works as a documentary filmmaker, art mediator and writer.

This work is commissioned by performingborders and performance, possession + automation. Supported by Arts Council England, Arts and Humanities Research Council, and Necessity Fund.

Main image credits: Still from Pre-Submission: FRAMED (2024).