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Down the rabbit hole

My artwork this semester will engage with the themes of conspiracy and gullibility as the ‘matrix’ within the site of pandemic life.


I had a strange experience with some strident anti-vaxxers a month ago. I’d put a benign pro-vax post up on Facebook and was astounded by the ferocity and fervour some anti-vaxxers responded over days. This situation, which became a little all-encompassing for a few days, coincided with my watching The Matrix for the first time. It was interesting to reflect that this was a film produced by progressives, the Wachowski sisters, about the ultimate conspiracy – that reality is an illusion. Today the far right has latched onto conspiracy theories in a way the Wachowski sisters probably never imagined in 1999. Anti-vaxxers and the many other conspiracy believers that have grown in the era of Trumpian fake news, fuelled by the Murdoch media (Four Corners, 2021) and COVID pandemic conditions, probably think they are The Matrix’ Neo, seeing a truth most do not. The recent podcast by ABC RN, This Much Is True, talks to the increasing amount of dangerous misinformation there is in the world currently


I recently discovered The Skeptic magazine when a neighbour, Peter, put his old magazines into my Street Library. Peter and I have become friends, and he has given me several resources to help with this project. Scepticism has a long historical tradition dating back to ancient Greece when Socrates observed: "All I know is that I know nothing" (Long 2011). Modern scepticism embodies the scientific method, which involves gathering data to formulate and test explanations for phenomena. Modern sceptics want compelling evidence before they believe. They also want to understand what makes people gullible. 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who the Renaissance sceptics influenced, said, “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them” (Spinoza 2010).


My work is interested in what makes people susceptible. Alessandra Teunisse is a PhD student at Macquarie University investigating the psychology of gullibility. Her Gullibility Scale score will hopefully be handy in measuring people’s propensity to be gullible (Teunisse 2018). I am inspired to use her work and link it to imagery from the 1865 English children's tale by Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (the book was also a handy donation received in my Street Library!). Reading the novel for the first time recently, I was bewildered that Alice could keep going down the rabbit hole and through the whole Wonderland experience without ever wondering how she would get back to reality! She became fully immersed ‘in the matrix’ until she awoke from her dream. There is something gentle and respectful towards conspiracy believers about linking their gullibility to the likeable child Alice. Julia Galef, the author of The Scout Mindset, cautions about being judgemental when exploring topics of susceptibility. She says, "studying 'irrationality' isn't just about studying how 'other people think!" (Galef 2021).

The beautiful original Alice in Wonderland illustrations by Sir John Tenniel have fantastic compositions and atmosphere. Charles Blackman's Alice series, which depicted his wife Barbara's experience of going blind, has also inspired me. Salvador Dali also engaged with the novel with a surrealist ‘out of the matrix’ vision. I have used these artist’s work as inspiration but combined it with motifs of tin foil hats and face masks to relate the works to a conspiracy-laden contemporary context.


I hope to create art that explores gullibility within a contemporary context. In the home studio and lockdown context, I wish my art to creatively engage with a print medium that is ‘out of the matrix’, that being, out of its conventional studio-based construct and possibly public. I will explore taking my art to the street so that people can see it when they go on their lockdown walks. I want to depict the whimsy and childishness of gullibility. In doing so, I have been experimenting with one-off unique state monoprints (inspired by Heather Shimmen), and ink and crayon drawings using lithography-style layering. I have explored printing on transparent paper and collage in an effort to help the viewer consider what our rational blind spots are.


References


Galef, J 2021, The Scout Mindset – Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Do Not, Penguin, New York City.


Carrol, L, 2010, Alice In Wonderland, originally published 1865, Harper Press, London.


Teunisse A. Believe it or not, The Skeptic, Vol 38. No. 3, 2018, pp. 36-37.


Fox and the Big Lie, 2021 ABC TV, Sydney, 23 August https://www.abc.net.au/4corners/fox-and-the-big-lie:-how-the-network-promoted/13510238


This Much is True, 2021, ABC RN Radio Podcast Series, https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rn-presents/


Long, A 2011, Socrates in Later Greek Philosophy, The Cambridge Companion to Socrates, Cambridge University Press, London.


Spinoza, B, Ethics, 2010, originally published 1677, Penguin, London.


The Matrix, 1999, Wachowski L & L.

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