For Christmas, I gave my 13-year-old daughter a pair of glasses that look like something Alice found in Wonderland. They’re Sweet Tart pink, washed in iridescence, like a seashell. In the place where regular glasses have clear, smooth lenses, these glasses have sparkly faceted crystals set into them like jewels. They’re a fast pass to a psychedelic ride; looking through them turns your surroundings into a thousand starbursts. If you try to walk while wearing them, you feel dizzy and unsteady, like being spun around too fast in front of a piñata.
That’s exactly how I’m feeling in this “post truth,” era. Is there, or is there not, global warming? People are playing tug of war with the truth; they’ve forgotten that we have to share. The definition of “post truth,” which was Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year, means that people’s understandings of their realities are now informed more by appeals to their emotions and personal belief rather than by objective facts. This creates a disjunction from our perceived reality. It’s like everyone has put on a pair of these glasses and they’re just staggering around, being wowed by illusions.
With our technology–all of the fake news stories being disseminated by social media–we’ve created an all-encompassing, seductive net. People are getting trapped inside their own tightly woven emotions and personal beliefs.
Without the clear lens of logic, “There’s no way of knowing where we’re going.” (Willy Wonka says that in the Chocolate Factory, at the beginning of the scary tunnel ride). The glasses and technology remind me of Wonka’s toys: they can either destroy you our uplift you. If we allow ourselves to be seduced and only indulge in their gimmicky allure, then we obliterate our chance for transformation.
The glasses came from the New Museum. I went to see a show there by the Swiss contemporary artist, Pipilotti Rist. Art is another kind of lens that creates a disjuncture with reality, one that shocks us into another way of seeing. Through alternatives such as these offered up by art, we can find a way out of our nets.
Inside the museum, darkened rooms were filled with people taking selfies amidst the spectacle of Rist’s art: posing in a rainbow forest of jellyfish strands or lying on mattresses together looking up at her films, which were projected on the walls and ceilings. In one video, a beautiful woman in a blue dress walks along a city street with a huge smile on her face. She’s carrying a big tropical flower and she uses it to bash in the windows of parked cars. A female police officer passes by and gives her a salute, ignoring her destruction.
That’s what I love about art–it teases, it provokes, it asks open-ended questions. It offers altogether different narratives that touch on the uncanny, the bizarre, the unspoken. It captures feelings and ideas that are hidden beneath the surface, but altogether real. In Rist’s video, when the police officer just walk past the woman, without stopping her, it reminds me of what’s happening right now.
The idea of “post truth” highjacks reality as we know it. We either lose ourselves to this kaleidoscopic free-for-all, where everything’s in flux–leaving the glasses on too long–or we work to maintain a common ground where we can hold one another accountable, where we can look through other lenses and experience the transformative power held by each of us.