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Newsletter #5, June/July 2015: Eyeball Slaves
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Eyeball slaves drawing

Eyeball Slaves

A few weeks ago, halfway through transcribing hours of interviews from a trip to Borneo, my eyes started to malfunction. 

First they itched, then they burned. I rubbed them and continued to type, closer and closer to the screen, determined to power through. Mind over matter is the mantra when worshiping at the altar of productivity. Devotees must plow and harvest the digital glow. 

My vision started to blur. When I finally got up to look at myself in the mirror, the skin around my eyes had become puffy red rings.

For the next two days, my eyes burned in my head. I tried googling eye-strain, but I couldn't look at a screen for more than five seconds. I couldn't read, and couldn't draw.

So I sat on my doorstep, and looked out at trees. I made a cake in my ricecooker. I slept, and listened to podcasts, or lay in bed with my eyes closed, begrudging every moment of unproductive time. 

Without my computer and phone, none of my current work is possible - these devices let me do amazing things. But as my eyeballs reminded me, painfully, that they were sacs of tissue and jelly and membrane, not tireless content scanners/producers made of hard glass, I wondered again which were the tools and which the user. 
 

More in this great video:
Douglas Rushkoff: Our Tech Plays Us More Than We Play It

My favorite part is at 03:17 - "We have people trying to act like robots. We all multitask as if we can parallel process like our chips. That’s for chips, not for people! Or we wanna scale. Everybody thinks they have to scale. Computers are great at scaling, people don’t scale. We’re in real time, real space, we’re just HERE [grabs face]. This is it. I cannot scale!”

Latest Updates

APT 8 QAGOMA
I'm happy to announce that I will be taking part in the 8th Asia Pacific Triennale of Contemporary Art, 'the world's largest exhibition focused on art from Asia and the Pacific' held once every three years at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in Brisbane, Australia. It opens 21 Nov 2015 and goes on until 10 Apr 2016. 

More, including full list of artists here and here.
 
Crab God painting
I made illustrations for 'Whalebone and Crabshell', a fable by Zedeck Siew. It was spurred by the Rohingya refugee crisis, or rather by our shameful response towards said crisis. Read it on Projek Dialog.
 
Art stuffed envelope
New to the mailing list? Here lies the vault of past newsletters. Also, I'm trying to think of a name for this, instead of, you know, 'Newsletter #3'. Ideas? EMAIL ME. 

#1, Dec 2014: The Blank Page
#2, Jan/Feb 2015: The City at 4.30AM
#3 Apr 2015: Dear Janet
#4 May 2015: What I'm Reading
Longing mermaid
It's a picture of a mermaid! Follow me on Tumblr or Instagram for more (if you want). 
The Unseen Files

Drawing or writing that I don't post anywhere else online. 
Oil palm boundary
These are some notes I made about a recent trip to Sarawak, which I'm not sure I'll use:

The plane from Miri to Lawas seats less than two dozen. I look out the window and the land below is oil palm stretching to the edges of my vision – geometric grids filled with more geometry, rows and columns planted as neat as a spreadsheet.
 
15 minutes into the flight, we cross the border of Brunei. It’s easy to tell because the grids of oil palm end abruptly along a stark line, the other side of which is lush forest, looking like densely packed heads of broccoli.
 
I feel tears start, hot at the back of my throat. It’s the same sick grief I felt walking a beach on the northwest coast of Japan, where every step kicked up sand embedded with countless tiny shards of coloured plastic.
 
I’ve known this grief for a few years now. It’s sharp and sudden, and always specific – I’m reading an article titled ‘The Oceans are Broken’ in a hotel room in Singapore; I’m watching trash stream out of the drains in Port Klang and drift towards the open sea during a rainstorm; I’m awake in the night, drenched in sweat from a bad dream about the world turned to grey desert.
 
It’s not the kind of grief that leaves you fragile. It’s hard, like a jewel. I grip it and hold it to the light, looking for direction, looking for clues. 

~

We each have our own rooms. Mine is upstairs, comfortable, with blue lace curtains that let in the breeze.
 
All week, I wake up to the church bell clanging, followed by an orchestra of howling dogs. It’s 5am and dark out. I tell myself I’ll get up, catch the sunrise or the scheduled slaughter of a pig, but I always fall back asleep. Days after I get back to the city, I jerk awake at the same time, the animal of my body still wound to kampung rhythm.
 
All week, I eat large quantities of meat and fish. Out of politeness, or perhaps a wish to avoid scrutiny, I don’t mention I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years. The food sits in me like a brick, and passes out of me like one, with great difficulty. 

~

On the third or fourth day we’re given new names. Lun Bawang names. Names of the upriver people.
 
Mine is Bulan. Combined with the name of my host father, I’m Bulan Baru: new moon. The others are called Padan, Meripa, Balang - tiger, Lasung, Baru, Dayang - maiden, Labid, Agung, Gituan - star, Acho - sun, another Bulan. In these names I start to hear the music of the language, and feel its muscle.
 
A quote by Quinn Norton, one of my favourite writers and journalists in the west, repeats in my head:
 
It is details and human labour that give the name of home to the cities and towns that earn that name inside of people. Society is mostly built away from power, by the politically distant and ideologically vague.”
 
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