Tell us more about the project – what inspired it and how did it all start?
Juliette: Florian, Monika Grūzīte, and I have a background in graphic design, and we started NXS WORLD in 2016 after graduating from Sandberg Instituut here in Amsterdam. Our goal was to find the intersection of our interests, and the overlapping research question of our work was the self in the age of digital technology. Eventually we decided to have each issue cover a subtopic or a particular question of interest within this broader topic. Karolien, who was a contributor in the second issue, joined our team at the end of 2017. She studied social psychology and works as a curator, so this addition provided a new perspective for the editorial process.
Florian: Each of us has their own inspirations; for me it was the idea of creating a conversation between a lot of different people based on the concept that you can read a whole book, but you can also talk to the person who wrote it and get other pieces of information that interest you. In a way, that speeds up the process of obtaining information and expanding your knowledge. So one of our initial ideas was to bring a lot of new people together in one format that would help us develop our research and consequently make that research public by compiling it in a publication.
J: Another main goal, in addition to creating a research platform, was to get in touch with people whom we admire or support – artists, designers, and thinkers who we believe should have more visibility. The reactions have been really positive, and many have been interested in taking part, in learning about the process and the topic, and in getting connected with others.
NXS – standing for Nexus – is a collaborative artwork which takes the form of a cross-platform structure with exhibitions, performances, lectures, and a biannual publication as its core. BLUE talked with two of the project’s initiators, Florian Mecklenburg and Juliette Lizotte, about their inspirations, unique editorial process, and evolving exploration of ‘the self’ in the age of digital technology.
What is the editorial process like, and what are some influences behind it?
J: Our editorial process is quite unusual: we always send a previous contribution to the next contributor which they are free to respond to. It was inspired by the surrealist technique of the exquisite corpse where drawings or text are assembled without the full knowledge of what has been done before; you only have a few elements to build upon, and this method creates a chimera of sorts, something fascinating that doesn’t make much sense but from which new discussions arise.
Another influence is Internet culture. We wanted to experiment with the format which is a reflection on how we read today, what kind of attention we give to text, and how we drift from one piece of content to another without necessarily following a linear path. It’s interesting to see where the jumps are and what links things to each other, so we explore this concept through our editorial process and through the design.
It usually takes a few months to collect all the content; then we design the publication and send it to the printer, and there’s a big event at the end.
Issue #3: Viral Bodies
You mentioned that you have a lot of different contributors – who are some of them and what kinds of forms does their content take?
F: Some of the content is more text-based and some is more visual. Within that, there is huge diversity: there are essays, poems, abstract writing formats, short stories, personal almost diary-like notes; photographs, illustrations. At the first issue release event, we tried to expand the content into the physical space as well, so there were performances related to the issue – for example, the House of Vineyard (a vogueing house from Amsterdam).
J: It was also important for us to try to connect people whom you wouldn’t expect to see together, so we invited people outside of our art circles. That provides new, unexpected directions that the conversation can take. For example, in the first issue (called Cyber Sensuality) we had a coding poem by Katrina Burch that came along with an experimental video work that we showed at the release event. We also conducted an interview with Matt McMullen from the Silicon Valley who created a love doll called RealDoll. At the time, he was developing an app to go along with the dolls and let users interact with them, so we talked about how he was basically trying to find the recipe for love.
The second issue is called Synthetic Selves and is about the building up of identities and the curation of oneself online/offline. We started the discussion by inviting Armen Avanessian and Ivan Cheng - two people you probably wouldn’t expect to see together: Armen is an Austrian philosopher and is quite a big name while Ivan is an Australian/Amsterdam-based artist, performer, and writer and is more of an upcoming figure. The long, strange conversation that came out of this collaboration was the starting point for the issue. The following contributions were intriguing because a lot of academics from different areas took part, and they tackled the challenge of trying to define the concept of the synthetic self – from one person to the next.
F: There’s another interesting combination in the third issue, Viral Bodies. We conducted an interview with Lil Miquela – an avatar model that lives on Instagram and that has collaborated with brands like Prada. In response to that, there’s a short fiction story by Alan Dean Foster, a science fiction author from the States.
Issue #2: Synthetic Selves
Would you elaborate on this uniting concept of the self in the age of digital technology and how it has evolved throughout the different issues?
J: Our main goal is to try to understand how our existence is changing with the technology surrounding us. The first issue is about senses and love and feelings, and it explores the merging of human and technology - how all the screens, algorithms, and infrastructures are coming in between us, and whether they’re bringing us together or isolating us. It also questions whether or not technology makes us feel more intensely, how much space it takes in our lives, and what kinds of new physical interactions emerge from the proximity of these technological tools.
The second issue was more about identity – about how you create and build up yourself online or offline, and if there is any difference between the two. We explore how we represent ourselves on social media platforms and how much importance that holds in the physical world; how much agency we actually have in curating and updating ourselves – online where our data is constantly being collected and we’re being profiled, and offline where there are so many influences that direct the building of our selves.
The third issue talks about bodies in relation to new technologies. We invited people to speculate with us on what kinds of changes these new (and maybe future) technologies could bring in terms of body norms – how we see the body, what a body is or is expected to be (especially in online environments where the physical body no longer exists), and which bodies are being represented (having in mind that a body can also be a group of people). The contributors have a lot of freedom, so this last issue turned out more personal.
F: We received emails that we made people emotional – both readers and contributors. Someone told me they were initially critical of the project, but then they read this last issue and started crying. That was an amazing response because, as Juliet mentioned, the format of each issue is different, so this one gets under the skin, and you can connect to it on a deeper emotional level. Going back to the concept of the self in the age of digital technology, I don’t think it could ever be defined; instead, we simply try to focus on certain aspects within this vast topic.
Issue #1: Cyber Sensuality
Do you aim for the pieces to be at a certain level of intimacy, or do you leave that freedom to the contributors?
J: It’s quite open-ended, but since they receive a previous contribution, it’s always influenced by something created beforehand.
F: The second issue is quite complex content-wise, and it’s more of a theoretical approach that tries to define what it means to synthesize the self in any kind of format. On the other hand, the third one talks about a big topic in a really accessible way, and that’s what I really like about it. We’re experimenting with every issue, so perhaps the right direction for the future would be to mix these two elements more.
What are your future plans for the project?
J: We launched the last issue at De School with an evening program with talks and performances. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to use the space of De School for a month, so we produced and continuously screened a visual essay that channeled all the content and knowledge collected over the past year and a half (from all three issues). Now the challenge is where to go after that. The next issue will probably be about artificial intelligence/trans-species since we’re organizing a few events around this topic over the next few months. We’re also planning to go to Japan in the fall to prepare for the next issue. We also organized an inspirational dinner last May, so we want to create a side publication or a special issue based on it.
F: We used this dinner for collective brainstorming, and it allowed us to consider important questions that we have to deal with in the near future. This side publication will have a different format since it represents more of an in-between moment; we don’t know how it will turn out yet, but I think it will be something interesting and inspiring to read.
Still from a speculative investigation/visual essay shown at the launch of Viral Bodies
Photos from the launch of NXS #3 Viral Bodies