Earth Horror: Digital Geophobia And The Geotraumatic Unconscious

 RND/ To consider the ‘geotraumatic unconscious’ and digital visual artist-cartographer Dlareme:

The Geotraumatic Unconscious

In which you don’t remember where you discovered their unique, strange and arresting art, except that it was several years ago online. At that time, you were searching for anything that involved or featured Megastructures – a pet fascination. You do remember Dlareme in the same temporal, artistic context as (for example): Xaxi by Orihaus and Siseon by Devine Lu Linvega.

Some scenes from beautiful art-game / space Liquorice by Dlareme (images theirs, tints mine) – 2680 x 1476 .png:

Other that the stark, strange even alien seduction of this space, what is there really to say about such a piece of (barely) interactive digital art? Is there even beauty here – or simply naked, raw digital Spectacle – a distinct aesthetic flavor of the Baudrillardian Hyperreal (which might one might unironically suggest tastes like strong liquorice root?) A copy of a landscape without an original – that is perhaps, the landscape of the unconscious collective (/Near Future) imagination.

I’m a sucker for such seemingly contextless, standalone .exe artworks – even though they often annoy and unnecessarily intimidate with their super aggressive FUCKING EVERYTHING BLACK aesthetic – which I (too often negatively) read as the hopelessly pretentious posturing of poncy pale hipsters with a slightly Fashy,  super-spartan fetish for prosumer Minimalism. Sitting in cyber cafes, stroking their oh-so non-invasive Neo Japanese techno-sonic brushed-titanium whatevers. All Post Cyber-Gothed Up and nowhere to go. Psychologically milled down to (alleged) perfection – within industrial tolerances so fine, Apple’s Jonathan Ive gets a sculpted hardon. And yet we find ourselves in a trance of light, our extra-senses firing.

Jack: Where in the hell are we?
Egg: Underneath Chinatown.
Jack: That is not water.
Egg: Black blood of the earth.
Jack: Do you mean oil?
Egg: I mean black blood of the earth! A thousand years ago, huge earthquakes turned the world upside down. Many normal people were killed. Many unnatural people roam free to commit great offences against the gods.
– Big Trouble In Little China (Dir. John Carpenter 1986)

What also bugs me however is how utterly incurious, even anti-intellectual the modern gamer feels when they come across something that isn’t immediately and painfully obvious in What It’s Selling The Consumer (themselves?) As though if it didn’t have brown skinned bad guys to headshot they wouldn’t have heard of the very concept of Art at all. It’s great to see videos of low-watt dolts playing with a Dlareme creation (or maybe it’s the other way around.) The speed to which they default to ‘LOLWUT iz this arty shit’ is incredible; like it’s almost a collective wish fulfillment, a bizarre symbolic prayer meant to ward off unconscious self accusations that (eg. gamespaces like those of Dlareme) aren’t entire fucking Boss Levels above pathetically common or garden ‘AAAA’ Industry bullshit Hyper Shooters – that they aren’t Actually Where It’s Really Fucking At.

Why, it’s almost as if an active hatred of ‘art games’ (whatever they are) is a badge proudly and deliberately warn in gaming public to mark one out as utterly unconcerned at even the remotest possibility that mainstream ‘videogaming culture’ might actually just represent a howling toxic death void of meaningless desert-sand blasted nothing.

Of course, one way to effortlessly deflect such foolishness is to state “OK, tell me how you define Art – and Games” and simply walk away while they get caught up in deliberately trying not to bother – “Because it’s obvious.. isn’t it?” (Just ask artgamespace developer Natalie Lawhead how near impossibly difficult it is to express oneself freely as a digital artist in such a regressive virtual environment.)

In which you were going to discuss the theoretical (academic) notion of Geotrauma – dropping apparently heavyweight names like Nick Land, Reza Negerestani – and deliberately obscure tomes like Hydroplutonic Kernow. But that would entail both a work-like effort you don’t feel philosophically ready to commit to – and a moral willingness to give any extra airtime to such problematic dubious and uncritical, self-regarding voices.

Instead, here are some images from the generally good TV series Katla (Netflix 2021)

1920 x 1080 .jpg

Such a place brings forth several related-but-different terms: “Nordic Horror”, “Geotrauma” and “Geophobia.”

Nordic Horror: A horror – mostly body horror it seems – which arises from the earth. Which is rooted in the vast biomatrix of the organic (perhaps what Freud referred to as the Death Drive – an overabundance of life. A force of strange life which constantly pushes beyond life and living, unstoppable and uncontrollable. Even death cannot stop it.)

Geophobia: A literal (sublime) fear of the Earth itself – not merely of (say) the immensity of mountains, or the benthic depths of caves. Not merely a fear of sinkholes, but of the very planet itself. (Megalophobia however seems related.) It doesn’t seem a particularly well discussed psychic phenomenon, but seems important. SPOILERS Sure, the pseudo-human dopplegangers which arrive deep out of the Earth in Katla are indeed pretty freaky, but it turns out their ultimate source is some ancient meteorite.  Which feels a bit of a cop-out. The cinematography (vision) of the show itself, with its amazing shots of the dark, strange Earth seems the true source. Volcanoes and steam. Almost as if we’ve been thrown, naked and alone onto the terminal beach of some impossibly ancient alien shoreline. Desperate to figure it all out. That is, the world itself as the ultimate cosmic visitor from another dimension. There’s a lot of fictional and artistic possibility in such a bizarre narrative space for those brave andor foolhardy enough to become susceptible to their dark charms..

And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!
– Galadriel, Lady Of The Rings

Geotrauma: A psychic trauma of the geophysical – of the dark weight of the impossibly ancient past, impinging on the present. An existential pressure wave. Of that which is ancient and massive – and therefore largely outside of the total understanding of Space Ape brains which have evolved to understand much – but certainly not everything. (Iceberg metaphor?) There is a ‘natural’ limit. Therefore however to also simultaneously consider The Geotraumatic as a nodal spacetime of liberating possibility; a deep if not limitless crack or fissure in previous limited historical models of the world, of our place in it. A radical departure. Or, perhaps more specifically, a realization of the total inherent displacement and radical alienation of the very existence of This Alien Arc Mother Planet – and therefore the understanding that the truer place we should call ‘home’ is in fact the Absolute Nowhere null of the earth itself. The Earth as the unconscious.

The Roots Of Fascism: That Fascism has (inherently unstable) roots is the first convenient self-justifying myth utterly crushed under the truer weight of the Geotraumatic Unconscious. In Katla, the ash is wiped off the surface to reveal white (‘pure’) bodies – and yet ironically they are already mere copies – psychic projections of the unresolved psychological traumas of the living, mirrored back from the meteorite. Virtually the exact same thing happens in Solaris. Dr. Gibarian states “Our enthusiasm (/to dominate other ‘inferior races’?) is a sham; we don’t want other worlds, we want mirrors.” Ultra nationalists somehow remotely imagine they are ‘protecting their fatherland’ when the land itself simply and continually reflects-darkly the private (collective) delusions of its inhabitants. Well, there’s nothing like a Void – an oily Black Mirror of the Earth to let you know all one’s little ragged flags and hollow insignia are as grey ash in the howling wind of the Geological; of the logic of the Geo. A thousand year empire? Pffft. A stale fart in the wind; we’re dealing in the billions of years.

To consider Dlareme: Hardcore polydimensional Hypercorporate mind-probe (neuro-teleportation) assaults on / from The Video Real. A vision of raw Psychedelic Hyperfuturism, direct from the Near Future Now. Very ‘Big Science‘. A cartographic exploration of the possibility space of the Geotraumatic Unconscious. I put a few questions to Dlareme about their cool work:

0. Tell us a little something about yourself andor your art that the internet doesn’t know.

1. At least by modern gaming standards, your art-game-spaces seem very niche. But place them inside any white cube gallery and they’d feel right at home. What are your feelings about this?

2. To what extend do you feel mainstream gaming culture doesn’t even acknowledge art?

3. Are there any specific theoretical or artistic ideas informing your work?

4. Which (/digital) artists do you admire?

5. Your work seems to express much of the same the bright, dynamic energy of the Demoscene. Would you agree?

6. Are there any particular directions your particular aesthetic / ‘visual language’ is evolving into; what’s next?


// how to play big science