Thatssosad: to be seen, but not to be seen - the obsession of the Self

The Internet Era has brought means to our existence that did not exist before smartphones. Screens became part of who we are, not a fashion accessory or a tool. An essential item we need to carry with us anywhere we go. Smartphones, tablets, whatever the size of the screen, it facilitated our access to the world wide web and opened up a market for on-the-go entertaining. It gave new meanings to what it means to be entertained and how to entertain. All devices come with an inbuilt camera which quality has been improving massively fast over the past few years. Having a camera on your smart devices is as essential as the device itself. Cameras became so important to us because we are cultivating a self-centred culture. A society where being entertained is no longer enough. We became the entertainment. Rita Castanheira, a 2019 masters graduate from Chelsea College of Arts, brings these concepts together in her video work "Thatssosad".

"Thatssosad" is a 14:53 minutes long video work, curated as an immersive two video projection installation for the artist's MA Summer Show (July 2019). When the viewer enters the room, there is a feeling of intimacy. The artist created a violet layer around the floor surrounding a sofa in the middle of the room, producing an inviting ambience that gives the viewer the feeling of being transported to another dimension —a dimension that is floating between the internet void and the viewer personal voyeuristic experiences. "Thatssosad" is a video performance where the artist is depicting the cute, naive, self-centred alter-ego that outlines the millennial generation. This character is having a conversation with the spectator throughout the video, a discourse that acts as a reflective diary- a monologue that brings numerous vague confessions to the viewer as an invitation to a silent interplay where neither of the individuals will ever be heard.

The video work begins with a deep, dramatic wind noise in the background, followed by a clip of saturated moving clouds with yellow subtitles. "My body feels weird" is the first confession of this persona- here, the artist automatically engages the viewer to watch more. No voice, just text. The text feels more intimate than it would with voice over. Reading gives us the sensation that we should not read it. But it is already too late, we are doing it: this voyeuristic feeling defines our social media culture. To be seen, but not to be seen: it is private, but I am sharing this experience with 50 other people I've only seen once in my life—this desperation for attention, to be acknowledged, famous is somehow life goals for the Internet generation. Social media feeds our insecurities: "she has the perfect body, the perfect smile and she's successful". We pursue this ideology of success and perfection, cultivating the anxiety of being. A goal defined by numbers, data: the more likes and followers, the more successful, prettier and respected you are.

After reading this persona consciousness floating in the clouds, then the artist makes her point clear: she wants the viewer to really feel like a viewer, to take awareness of its voyeuristic position as the video work continues playing inside a virtual computer screen—a screen within a screen where our eyes are just another screen. Momentarily, we are no longer in a space as we know it, now the glitches and the trueness of the digital are revealed. As the music is disrupted, the viewer is presented with pure, bright and pixelated colours. The clouds are not as real as in the first few seconds of the video. This new digital dimension is taking us into a game like scene, and we are playing the game by feeding the persona desperation to be watched. And at this point, the persona makes an entrance in a centred smartphone screen. Pink neon lights creating some kind of ambience to the self-obsessed performance to the sound of "Diamonds are a girl's best friend". "Please watch me", the desperation to be seen comes up once again. This persona is worried that even though she is portraying this extraordinary, seductive Self, no one will like her anyway- "Would you be with somebody like me?".

Following what looks like the second section of the video, another form of screen appears- a tablet surrounded by moving glitchy bubbles with a green pixelated background. Yellow text continues, highlighting the conflict that this persona feels for being so addicted to screens: "My body is the screen. The screen is my body". A difficulty to understand where the soul stands and where it belongs. We are so dependent on screens that the line that separates us from a screen is blurred. Internet generation spends a large amount of their daily life interacting with screens, and it gets hard to differentiate the real from the digital. We struggle to define who we are because it feels like we are always performing, living for the virtual. The anxiety and pressure of digital life prompt its users to forget their identity in the false advertising to be whoever we want to be.

Rita Castanheira through this seductive, self-obsessed persona draws awareness to what it means to be online and its impact on mental health. Although most of the video conveys this happy, bright imagery, the reality of what goes through behind the scenes is not exactly a happy tale. The social media generation is growing up in an era pressured to be a certain someone; there is an anxiety, a fear for the future. Data became the new self-love and "likes"/"follows" the normalized trade.


The artist

Born in Coimbra, Rita Castanheira is a Portuguese artist based in London. She graduated from University of Porto in 2018 and is currently finishing her master’s degree in fine art at Chelsea College of Arts. Her research focuses on the body’s relationship with technology through video and performance. She is interested in how digital devices and popular internet culture are shaping our identities.

Recently curated Finding a Click in a Haystack exhibition in Porto, Portugal. The show took place at Cedofeita’s Shopping Mall and brought together 22 upcoming artists from Portugal, China, Pakistan, USA and UK. The works ranged from installation and video to photography and painting.

Rita is also a member of the Wasteland collective. Previous installation topics include fake recycling, coral bleaching, sensationalism in urban life, contemporary spirituality, the destructiveness of progress in modern society, and other environmental issues. 

She has exhibited in London in galleries such as Wells Projects and HARTslane, and performed at Solar Art Gallery, in Vila Nova do Conde, as well as at the Old Biscuit Factory, in London.

Instagram @thatssoreta

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