My kingdom is not of this world.
The internet does not exist. Maybe it did exist only a short time ago, like two days ago, but now it only remains as blur, mirror, a doxa, deadline, redirect, 01. If it ever existed, we couldn’t see it. The internet has gone, nobody can carry us.
—angelicism01, May 24, 2022
Silk Road #65 (screenshot)
The temple was the first Architecture, the first construction after the hut. Before the day of crucifixion, when the veil of Herod’s temple was rent from top to bottom, the temple in the west almost always contained an inaccessible inner chamber. The classical temple was not typically entered by worshipers. They circled its perimeter, going to the very edge of the presence of God.
With the Pantheon, the traditional temple model was inverted, and the Christian churches that came after allowed worshipers to physically enter the innermost chamber. But the space of the chamber was empty. The old walls still existed, only made more virtual: the interior of the church symbolized the presence of something still just beyond itself. Focus turned upwards and out through an oculus, window, or trompe l'oeil ceiling.
The network is accessed through a terminal. The internet is mediated. When communication occurs it is mediated twice-over. The space of the internet is full but you can’t see it. There is no green-and-black river of code. You can only peek through a hole at the surface to catch a glimpse of the inside. Its beauty goes hand-in-hand with its distance.
Ezra Miller’s series “Silk Road”, released last month, is about a kind of distance. He says it's about memory, but the work is distant in the sense that relates to both dreams and memories, as well as the sanctuary and the virtual. This is Miller’s second WebGL generative NFT series; his earlier series “Solvency” used similar fabric-like textures, but with a dramatically different effect. Solvency is a particularly robust example of its type, pushing the generative NFT series to its limit. It is constantly moving, repainting itself every second, forever. But like other generative art, its variation is like that of a flame. The constant motion only reinforces a static perception of the work.
Solvency #493 (screenshot)
Silk Road moves slowly, like a cloud. It is almost not moving at all but might change completely if you look away. At one moment it is flat, deep the next. One thing is unchanging: it always seems to be hiding something just beyond itself. As distortions on the surface of the image—smudges, cuts, wrinkles—move, their position within the depth of field shifts. When in the foreground they appear like a veil obscuring the image behind them, and when in the background they seem like Barnett Newman’s zips, as slices towards another world on the backside of the screen. This slow mutation gives the impression that whatever it is that is being obscured, ambiguously alive, becomes less understood the longer it is watched.
The Vibe Shift, the original vibe shift, now happened almost a year ago. The language which gained provenance around that time popularized a vision of the internet as an organism, something with the potential to break down the line separating the self from the other. Egirl and retard archetypes became idealized “vessels”, individuals most in-tune with the new internet’s depersonalization. This internet came to be portrayed as supernatural, a pre-Singularity god-in-the-making, destroying any idea of individual identity or authorship. At times I, too, felt the presence of something as I watched the chat or feed buzz with so many voices talking over one another. As with Silk Road, this perception is constantly shifting. During certain synchronous moments the voices all appear to flatten, like scenes in a frame becoming one entity.
Left: Charlotte Reed, June 2021. Right: Jon Rafman, You Are Standing in an Open Field, 2015.
But the phenomena of the internet feel sacred in part because they are as distant from me as they are close. The virtual feels sacred because the sacred is virtual. I can dream of dissolving into the thing flashing within my computer, of becoming a vessel. But like the scenery on the other side of Silk Road’s plastic wrapping, it seems that the closer I get, the more noticeable the distance between us becomes.
The problem of the other does not end before the human condition. Dangerously, the avatar easily becomes godlike: it is by nature more present and more absent than a human being. In the New Testament, the joining of marriage is a frequent metaphor for the unified state of humanity at the end of time. But have you ever fallen in love online? It is inter-exploitative, unholy. Every internet relationship is parasocial. Every discord server is a grooming server. Just as the increased social liquidity of the hippie movement in reality did nothing to decrease exploitation, the increased social liquidity of the internet seems not to be fundamentally different from what preceded it.
Silk Road #811 (screenshot)
Silk Road, like the internet, is a temple. The void held within it holds every memory and dream projected on its surface. The veil covering the internet is so thin, so transparent, always shifting but never quite showing the totality of that which is beyond. The more isolated we become, the more we dream of the veil being rent for a second time. The past and the future are united in our minds through an opposition to the present. The strength of both dreams and memories lies in their being incomplete, ambiguous, obscured.
The sanctuary at the temple of Horus at Edfu is contained within the Hall of Offerings, which is contained within the Festival Hall, which is contained within the Court of Offerings, which is contained within the courtyard, which is guarded by pylons. Buddhist prayer halls such as those at Ajanta, carved deep into cliff-faces, hid the icon in the cave’s darkest corner, surrounded by prayer cells. Stupa such as the Shwedagon Pagoda, said to contain eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama, have no accessible interior at all.