Gil Kuno points to the moon explaining that the filmy aura around it is the result of the salty atmospheric haze of Neve Midbar, at the northern basin of the Dead Sea and over 400 metres below sea level. It’s our first night at the lowest point of land in the world, the shock of the busy car park and compound-like resort still resonating as the mosquitos start to sting. Kuno is an artist, spending the last two months across the Dead Sea coast for some comparatively brief respite from eczema, his skin now dark and leathery, lips burnt to a peeling crisp. He sets a laptop on a plastic chair and plays his past projects: an impressive tower of single-string-picking people playing the sideways composition of The Six Strings Sonics and a music video featuring a porno-ish CGI cyborg flouncing to Japanese lyrics screamed over the cracked and looping tech-metal of ‘Daisuki Me’. This is “probably” the first ever net-band to come into existence. It’s called ‘Wiggle’, was signed to Universal Japan in 1996 and was produced remotely between Kuno and an Australian teenager called ‘Kwook‘ who may also be a furry. There’s a group of us watching it, sat on a brown and sandy incline with the orange glimmer of lights reflecting off the water emerging from a craggy shadow to the east, and we’re all well aware that this is an exceptional situation.
Neve Midbar: it’s meant to mean ‘oasis’ but to my ears it suggests its situation as a mid place, a perpetual limbo –even a kind of purgatory –positioned at a crossroads between Jordan, Palestine and Israel. There’s certainly an unreal quality to the region and, although I have no doubt hindsight has a lot to do with my dreamy glance back to a time equal parts therapeutic and uneasy, that The Eternal Internet Brotherhood is a special place to be.
It’s a nomadic residency that floats in the cloud-based ether for most of the year, finding form for ten days when artists, technologists and writers; an actor, architect and urban planner, converge in a location with spiritual, therapeutic or mythological properties. Here the multidisciplinary group are free to work together, interact and bond over their diverse and divergent backgrounds brought together by a common blanket of networked culture. As temporary aliens, perpetual ex-pats and explorers, #ETINTERBRO (as Twitter understands it) descends on a neutral space with limited Wi-Fi to sometimes talk, sometimes stare silently at their smartphones.
Except that this is hardly neutral space. It’s one fraught with a history of conflict, uncertainty and injustice that is hard to ignore, whether it’s through distant gunshots coming from Jordan, too-late warnings that after dark dips could attract the unwelcome attention of Israeli patrol boats and complicated stories on how to see Eminem live in Tel Aviv as a Palestinian. On any given day –beyond the low-rising fencing of the shade cloth covered wooden ‘China Huts’ where we’re staying –there’ll be Palestinian school groups in the week and Israeli revelers on Shabbat; Malay tours and Nigerian pilgrims visiting Neve Midbar, all seeking their own specific answers tailored to their own particular questions.
“Jean, why you hate the internet?” founder and intrepid organiser Angelo Plessas asks me in slightly broken English as part of his ‘Golden Question’ series. He’s sat on a now familiar gold sheet, the symbol of the trip that swathes a hut, an Arabian horse, a manicured kibbutz lawn and the black mud of Neve Midbar. Stunned and slightly embarrassed, I say I was being facetious; part of an offhand comment while stoned and seeking answers via Meir Kordevani’s ‘Vision Quest’ card readings –read in the light of birthday candles jammed into the seven arms of a mini-Menora. But I kind of do hate the internet, or at least am wary of its existence. Otherwise I wouldn’t have opted out and offline for the duration of the trip, not just as an ironic gesture but as much-needed rest from the over-stimulation of constant connectivity. The true irony though is that there’s no real escape from the internet’s influence, whether logged in or not.
“Man’s relationship to technology is bipolar”, curator and gallerist Ché Zara Blomfield says to me, paraphrasing an article channelling Bruno Latour during one of our inexplicably existential bedtime conversations in a shared No. 23 shack. That’s probably part of the reason a handful of tech-savvy creatives would elect to rough it on the Dead Sea as an extension of a largely online practice. Luca Pozzi would realise the “suspended moments as frozen in time” of his ‘Big Jump Theory’ in a series of photos featuring the artist leaping into the rectangular void of a sheet that resembles a PhotoShop pixel grid, framed by awesome nature. He insists we stop the car and run up a rocky mountain to do so on more than one occasion. Vincent Charlebois marries the experience of the harsh conditions and isolation of seasonal tree planting in the Canadian forest with a cloud-based art practice to develop his idea of anti-utilitarian “contemplative software”. It’s a duality that manifests itself quite literally in his physical body dotted with tiny Unicode tattoos.
The idea of the body as canvas, sculpture and mode for self-expression extends to Elcin Pia Joyner’s practice, where the double-meaning of the Sanskrit word for ‘thing’ as also ‘event’ inspires her yoga-as-sculpture exercises for ‘Breath’. Anastasios Logothetis makes up for the lack of an image projector with a different kind of energy transfer via the group’s mud-smeared hands on his nude form for ‘The Possibility of a Beach’.
Therein lies the persistent question characterising #ETINTERBRO’s Dead Sea residency: how does one distinguish the artist from the person, the event or the experience from the artwork? Danai Anesiadou and Alkistis Poulopoulou insist there is a distinction between their Pranic healing sessions and their chosen fields as artist and “mostly theatre actress”, respectively. The former going as far as to jokingly inscribe “no work only play” in my notebook when asked to write down what art she intends to make over the week.
The border between life and art is further blurred by someone like Mirko De Lisi whose online presence barely exists beyond Instagram and Facebook. His focus is perpetually on the idea of the spontaneity of art-making through dynamic social relationships and identity-creation. He and Mai Ueda use a voluntary ‘lottery ceremony’ for allocating shared sleeping arrangements in an attempt to initiate, experiment and observe individual reactions to randomised inter-group connections.
Beyond that, there are opportunities to see how an artist’s personality comes through in their work and how their work comes through in their personality. Mike Calvert, ever independent in his attitude to group excursions, takes an almost contrarian approach, choosing painting as his medium for representing a “new style of computer aesthetic” at #ETINTERBRO, while –during an obliviously dangerous first night swim in the buoyant salt water of a pitch black Dead Sea –he describes a Milan gallery’s outrage over an exhibition with fellow brotherhood member Miltos Manetas in 2001. There the latter long-established artist’s paintings upstairs were met with Calvert’s adorable ‘strawberries and pizza’ animation below.
But then, testing boundaries is what the dynamic fields of art and technology thrive on. If it isn’t Israeli Kordevani calmly crossing into Jericho to meet with some newfound Palestinian friends, then it’s Israeli-born, Brighton-based artist and philosopher Aharon (hands down the strangest and most sincere member of #ETINTERBRO) literally skateboarding between cities to bring Palestinian artists to us. That’s all via a localised pop-up internet hub called the ‘CommunityBox’ carried in his bumbag. Eventually a handful of the Dead Sea group make the trip to Ramallah to see the artwork and meet the artists for themselves.
But communication isn’t limited between people, but human, beast and object too. Urban planner and horse owner Mia Lundström takes us to meet and ride Arabian horses at the Yasser Arafat-founded Jericho Equestrian Club. From there, the comical and sometimes rather dramatic outcome of clashes of character between #ETINTERBRO members and these famously temperamental horses are later laughed at by instructors Hussein and Amer over coffee and a narghile that night. As for the seemingly inanimate, some people joined Andreas Angelidakis for a visit to Zvi Hecker’s Ramot Polin housing in east Jerusalem. It’s a neighbourhood designed around the Metabolist principle of what Andreas calls in his blog “buildings as living organisms”, a sort of modulated architecture that could continue to grow after its initial construction. These dodecahedron pods have since lived up to the promise of extension and evolution thanks to its Haredi Jewish inhabitants, except that the new additions and extensions involve square walls, stairs and awnings –not just more pentagonal windows. It’s the sort of customisation, corruption and disruption that leads Andreas to dryly suggest that this could in fact be the IRL expression of “a post Metabolist internet hood”.
The #ETINTERBRO post-internet hood on the other hand, with its 15-plus people from Japan, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Greece, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, exists as a dynamic cluster, uprooted and dotted across the globe in the nebulous online vortex of the Easyjet generation. That’s a freedom of movement not everyone has, as we’re reminded by towering red signs flanking the roads and warning against Israeli entry into Jericho, Palestinian movement ruled out of areas via checkpoints, permit regulations and uncompromising concrete walls. Hire-car insurance clauses and a GPS message cautioning, “selected destination is in the West Bank Territories. Entering these areas might be risky. Proceed?” sends a message that our own is restricted to the sanctioned spaces and motorways of a highly controlled urban landscape.
But that restricted infrastructure goes well beyond the physical geography of our immediate surroundings; further still from that small pocket on the Mediterranean Sea nestled precariously between Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. There, beer-fuelled late-night conversation centres around surveillance, Google search engines and Facebook; mailchimp mail tracking and unnervingly pre-informed border police. Here, the distant flutter of dread still lingers. **