Gaze-Daze: an Open Letter of Concern


Chloe Watson Victoria Maxwell

 

What is Gaze-daze?

Gaze-daze can be understood as an environmentally specific iteration of vertigo, best described as the illusion of movement at a moment of stasis. Sufferers will often feel their head spinning and/or body swaying as if on a boat or attached to a pendulum. Less commonly, individuals note a sensation akin to astral projection—an out of body experience where the sufferer looks back upon their form as though from within the art object itself.

A disorder of perception and balance, Gaze-daze often results in nausea, falls and disorientation. Sufferers may appear unsteady on their feet or may be observed walking aimlessly in circles. In more acute cases, it becomes impossible for afflicted individuals to move at all. Increasingly, prone individuals have been found littering the floors of our venerable art institutions, whilst the incidence of visitor expulsion due to reckless walking has sky-rocketed.

 

What causes Gaze-daze?

Overwhelming and conflicting sensorium are the primary cause of Gaze-daze, due to heightened or discordant stimulation. In contrast, some sufferers allude to a deep ambivalence about the stimuli surrounding them, to the extent that nothing means anything, leading to a complete lack of orienting focal points. But who, you may ask, is to blame—the curators, the artists, society at large? We argue that Gaze-daze is the result of a toxic interaction between all of the above, and then some.

Once the domain of quiet and disinterested contemplation, the art gallery has become a frenetic place of 3-second experiences. Time poor, distracted individuals commute to these spaces with a vague desire for transcendence, but find themselves buffeted across time periods and visual styles, searching for masterpieces amidst a maelstrom of esoteric footnotes. As in the carefully constructed labyrinths of Westfield and Mirvac, individuals are ushered through endless levels of reflective gloss and fluorescent lighting—frantically stopping, looking, moving on, stopping, looking, moving on.

Each art object presents a new, a different and difficult line of sight—vanishing points collide, horizon lines do not situate, perspective is shattered, images are designed to be disorienting or uncanny. And if cubism or Op Art wasn’t bad enough, many contemporary artists are deliberately and self-consciously invoking the symptoms of Gaze-daze in their work through the manipulation of principles first developed by market researchers. For instance, Sydney based artist Marilyn Schneider has utilized features of the shopping centre and the casino as active ingredients in her work. ‘So much marble and mirror,’ she commented, ‘you need to take Nurofen.’

 

Marilyn Schneider, Level 1 Westfield, 2011, felt scratch guard and foil board, 180 x 90cm.

Marilyn Schneider, Level 1 Westfield, 2011, felt scratch guard and foil board, 180 x 90cm.

 

A woman lies unable to move after coming into contact with the pulsating LED arrow in Brook Andrew’s Warrang, 2012 outside the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. A man photographs her with his smartphone.

A woman lies unable to move after coming into contact with the pulsating LED arrow in Brook Andrew’s Warrang, 2012 outside the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. A man photographs her with his smartphone.

 

How can I manage my Gaze-daze symptoms?

Unfortunately, there are currently no established treatments for Gaze-daze, and abstinence from art provides the only sure-fire form of prevention. In a desperate attempt at self-medication, many have resorted to incessant photography of offending artworks. In so doing, these individuals may be effectively distancing themselves from a disconcerting visceral sensation in order to feel stable, if only momentarily.

As the individual proceeds through the gallery space, they experience a compulsive need to qualify and quantify their surroundings via the shoot and snap, lest risk feeling overwhelmed and disorientated. It appears this incessant photography is also a coping mechanism for individuals suffering from the second form of Gaze-daze which is brought about by existential malaise. These individuals feel unable to decipher stimuli and thus feel nothing at all. Regardless of whether the individual is of the overstimulated of understimulated Gaze-daze variant, you will find in their smartphones archives full of parallaxed paintings and  bodies of bewildered and contextually confused self-portraits.

Although symptoms of Gaze-daze are predominately experienced in art institutions, the effects may be felt even once the individual has left the building. Confused about what they may have just experienced, many turn to their smartphone’s archive once again to ground themselves in reality. Here, a secondary vertiginous experience may occur. The individual must decide whether the photos should remain locked in their cacophony or uploaded to various social media. The latter compulsion is best understood by a kind of Lacanian anxiety where the individual grapples with the human compulsion to move and be moved by the art stimuli—to see and be seen—and in the words of Kanye West, once again ‘it all falls down’.

 

 

Jonathan Zawada and Ben Barretto, 100% Potential, 2014, Los Angeles

Jonathan Zawada and Ben Barretto, 100% Potential, 2014, Los Angeles

 

Individuals suffering from Gaze-daze will continue to try and orientate themselves by tweeting, blogging, sharing and commenting but in the process they create a digital noise incapable of being deciphered. The never-ending scroll of the newsfeed is a vertiginous freefall par exemple. In this sense, sufferers exacerbate their symptoms. They snap to ground, they upload to ground but there is no verifiable ground in sight.

 

Ben Barretto, Selfie, Selfie (iphone version), 2014

Ben Barretto, Selfie, Selfie (iPhone version), 2014

 

Perth born, Los Angeles based artist Ben Barretto’s Selfie, Selfie (iPhone version) (2014) is useful in thinking about this conundrum. By facing two iPhones towards each other with the cameras on ‘selfie mode’, Barretto presents the selfie as an endless loop of feedback generating flashing lights and colour like bursts of ego. Barretto imagines a ‘post-selfie-apocalyptic world where smartphones are stuck in a perpetual loop of selfie-taking, unable to focus’.[1] Perhaps we can hypothesise that the individual suffering from Gaze-daze is already trapped inside a Barretto-esque feedback loop. In an attempt to locate and stabilise ego via the lens, the ego becomes spectacularised and thus arguably dissolves. Unable to focus and in a state of perpetual stasis, individuals using the lens as a crutch invariably divorce themselves further from any comprehendible reality.

 

What should we do?

There’s really not much we can do. While potentially both physically and psychologically distressing for the individual, sufferers of Gaze-daze can go on to live perfectly normal lives. The condition does not prevent people from holding jobs, maintaining healthy relationships or reproducing. In fact, 90 percent of sufferers are unaware they are even afflicted by the condition at all. The other 10 percent write fictitious art criticism.


[1] Quotes by artists taken from conversation with the authors, July 2015.

Chloe Watson is a scholar, writer and artist, with an academic background in art history and psychology. She is interested in perceptual systems, lived experience,...

A recent Art Theory/ History graduate from the University of New South Wales (Art & Design), Victoria doesn’t do much except criticise others. After spending...


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