Lance Wakeling

by Lenny Spruce

Her Artistic Sense Was Exquisitely Refined, like Someone Who Can Tell the Difference between Butter and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

Lance Wakeling is a busy dude. The 32-year-old Brooklyn-based artist’s current project, Field Visits for Chelsea Manning, follows the course of detention sites in which Manning was held until ultimately being imprisoned for her submission of military documents to Wikileaks. Each site is explored and given consideration outside of Manning’s overall narrative, as well as expanded upon with other related but enigmatic topics—like the history of fingerprinting. The video travelogue is the “third in a trilogy of videos about the physicality of the Internet,” and was funded through a Kickstarter last March. Subida al cielo, a “video essay on the internet, obsidian, and the symbol of the eagle in Aztec and American mythologies,” and Private Circulation, a monthly bulletin of artists and artwork, are some of Wakeling’s other notable projects.

Where do you feel you’ve come from, where do you feel you’re going?

For the last several years I’ve been making narrative videos. They are usually travelogues where my own voice and perspectives play large parts. Until finding out that I loved making videos, I struggled with different mediums—sculpture, drawing, photography, HTML, PDFs, etc. The switch to making narratives was unexpected. The moment came when I was rejected from art school. I thought that this whole graduate school thing is fairly new. So I asked myself what others had done before me. That’s when I decided to travel and follow an underwater Internet cable to the places where it makes landfall—in the U.S., England, the Netherlands, and Germany. When I set out, the piece was not meant to become a narrative. But I had no assumptions going into it. Since then, each project has created future projects. I feel I have only begun to scratch the surface. My fourth video, Field Visits for Chelsea Manning, is premiering in December and already I am at work on two new scripts.

Are our lives forever intertwined with “media” or do you see a breaking point?

I see many breaking points. But mainly, I see media as extensions of our consciousness and a byproduct of our ability to use language to communicate. I feel most of us have still not come to terms with the fact that language no longer merely describes and represents. Today language does things. It creates. I’m referring to the breaking point, or rather the point of convergence, when the discovery of DNA coincided with the invention of computer code. The diagrams we use to draw circuits were developed first by a scientist and mathematician studying the neural networks of the brain. Our code does not begin to approach the elegance of DNA, but eventually our machines will be self-reproducing. Some say that is the next breaking point.

Can we separate our online lives from our real lives, and how?

There’s this poem by T.S. Eliot where he says the blackened street was anxious to assume the world. I think the Internet is hungry. It is a gift from the sun and we must feed it. Yesterday I was reading a myth told by a remote island people in the Pacific. In it, there is this island populated by demons who burn fires all day and all night to power their spells. In the beginning “IRL” meant something. Today it is meaningless.

As two entities that often lend to each other, where are art and technology headed in the future? do the lines become more blurred?

I don’t know what it means for art and tech to become blurred. Tech is a dominant force in society, whereas art is arcane. Two things that are so unequal cannot be blurred. That said, I think certain forms of “art” will be automated. For instance, writing, design, Hollywood, etc. But the irrationality and the necessary excess of art will survive. Dionysus cannot be co-opted.

Stills From "Field Visits for Chelsea Manning," (2014). HD Video. 45 Minutes. Courtesy the Artist. Soldiers Fire Artillery for a Salute to the Union on July 4th, 2013, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Where Chelsea Manning Was Detained.
The Sun Sets on the Arabian Gulf in Kuwait on Liberation Day, 2014.
On the Day Manning Announced Her New Life as Chelsea,
 I Found This Sign on the Side of Highway 295 in Fort Meade, Maryland, Where the Trial United States vs Manning Had Just Ended.