RTSM | Spam Church: "Saint-Étienne"


With the pandemic, our contemplative space has collapsed, at least partially. People all over the world have been forced to live confined indoors for months. The most important cities have become dark and spectral territories, where suddenly nothing was happening and nothing/nobody was moving. In the face of this doomsday scenario, we must learn to manage our emotional impact.

In recent years, social networks have become the great window to share our individual experiences with users across the entire world. Everyone can be interconnected with everyone, no matter how far they live away from each other. It has made the world a smaller place than it ever was before, where everything is within reach. At least that was how it seemed to be. When we use social networks, the perspective of the reality is based on a subjective lens. In a place with millions of subjective realities, a tough struggle to be heard emerges. For this reason, to capture the attention from others has become a new asset. However, the attention span is just a limited resource. In a world where everyone demands attention, no one is willing to give it. Having that in mind, we can understand some major contraindications and drawbacks related to an over-exposure to social networks such as physical loneliness, the degradation of what friendship really means, and the deterioration of our own health, among others. 

Spam.Church Saint.Etienne - Valencia, Spain 2019

Spam.Church Saint.Etienne - Pasadena (CA), United States 2019

The pre-COVID world was moving very fast in all senses. In addition, the connective hypertrophy and apparent (false) proximity between extreme realities that social networks (and the entire machinery of the internet) created, has led to a world full of paradoxes. Against this hectic world, another parallel world has emerged, where meditation, spiritual retreats, digital minimalism, sabbatical cessation of mobile phones, psychedelic drugs, and cannabis are continuously promoted. In any case, both worlds complement the same purpose, i.e., to escape from the daily-life reality and to lose the ability to think critically in a self-determined way. All this must be understood within the context of the liquid societies defined by Z. Bauman and the Hypermodernity Era defined by M. Augé, which introduce some fascinating insights such as the rupture of physical distances or the proliferation of the so-called "non-places", referring to those transit spaces exempt from life that dominated nowadays societies.

A world that changes so quickly is, at the end, a very unstable system. Against it, the art collective Spam Church has developed the movement of Antimodernity (or Negative Modernity), which raises to recover the physical space (traditional "places") where the history must be fixed. This movement is therefore a frontal reaction to the Hypermodernity and an antidote against their negative effects. The principles of this movement are introduced in the Antimodernity Manifesto.    

Spam.Church Saint.Etienne - Oberstaufen, Germany 2019

Some of our most vital emotions are nowadays under threat. Today, most people spend their time on digital devices while our face-to-face interactions are continuously reduced. Our emotions are changing, but also how we feel and/or express them? In fact, we can argue that the internet favors a kind of informational emotion that is basically different to this kind of emotions that we feel when we interact with someone face-to-face. The conflict between both types of emotions is particularly serious in those societies where social interaction and community life are traditionally important.

There exist several initiatives focused on trying to reignite our emotions. The Analog Sea publisher presents a romantic perspective through the disconnection of the digital world through analog books. Other initiatives are framed in purely digital environments, aware that a full disconnection of the digital world is not feasible nowadays. These initiatives are focused on creating some sensorial experiences that users can feel (or remember). It can happen with images, smells, sounds, or even noises that are unique to certain places. For example, Sounds from Hypermodernity presents a virtual journey through sounds and noises recorded in different cities across the world. 

The Nomadic Ambience and the Watched Walker develop similar approaches, although by integrating landscape images and ambient noises on a virtual journey through different parts of the world on any given day. All these initiatives are in line with the principles of the Antimodernity, which proposes a more rational use of technology by raising a new conception of it.

Spam.Church Saint.Etienne - Cambridge (MA), United States 2018

Spam.Church Saint.Etienne - Meilen, Switzerland - 2017

In this same context, Saint-Étienne, a digital art project where the daily reality of movement is captured from a subjective lens, emerges. Real emotions are influenced by the subjective perception that everyone has about one place at any given time. This initiative offers an anonymous personal introspection in the observation of any kind of movement in some mundane situations. Saint-Étienne tries to capture the attention of the observer, although without claiming it at any time. For this purpose, this art project mixes real sounds, music, image, and life in motion.

Humans reinterpret their past by reducing it to a very few particular moments. They do so through concrete memories that emerge randomly from somewhere in our mind. Oddly enough, some of these memories have the power to rekindle the emotion we experienced for the first time. The internet and digital societies break this paradigm by reinterpreting the history from an overload of informational emotion. For example, YouTube will give us a biased perspective of the music of the 90s because its repository only stores a part of all the music available in those years. In this sense, Saint-Étienne is placed between the analog and digital world, and it appeals to our real emotions by using a list of video-clips combined with their own soundtracks. Thus, the project tries to transmit real emotions to observers who are part of an emotionally intangible setup. It does so by developing an artistic expression within the digital world, which is additionally an unusual place for art.

Finally, Saint-Étienne was conceived, since its creation back in 2017, as a digital art project focused on the evasion of the Hypermodernity, as well as an argument in favor of solitude. However, the exceptional situation we are living in these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has given a new value to this art project. It can help us to rekindle some hidden emotions we have experienced someday in the past, but also to revaluate our freedom.

Spam.Church Saint.Etienne - Zurich, Switzerland 2017

About the project

In the early 20th century, corresponding with the renowned Golden Age of Travel, the French city of Saint-Étienne was a popular stop for automobile travelers in Europe. These were times of Modernity, in which emotions were real and located outside.

Nowadays, we spend most of our time in front of laptops, smartphones, and other kinds of digital devices. Most of our basic human emotions are under threat. Saint-Étienne is a digital art project based on the transmission of emotions from the observation of movement. It presents new ways of conceiving forms under which the daily reality of a certain place is perceived from a subjective lens. Saint-Étienne mixes sound, image, and life in motion.

Saint-Étienne is a digital project by and for the diffusion of art. This is intended to provide emotion to the real-life of movement through the music and sound by creating an instant soundtrack for everyday times that are special. The music used is mostly instrumental and ambiental, although it is open to any kind of proposal. Saint-Étienne plans to give a second life to certain songs and to invite new composers to participate with their creations in this project.

About the team


José Balsa-Barreiro and Manuel Cebrián, on behalf of Art collective Spam.Church. 

Spam Church is an artist collective and aggregator of content originated in 2017 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA. Currently headquartered Berlin-Kreuzberg, Germany, its charter is to illuminate the many ways spam mediates our social world through design, installations and field experiments.

An antidote for the modern soul, Spam Church provides digital interaction that subverts the spamminess we have all come to consume without really knowing it. The collective attempts to take back the internet from its colonizers and corporate overlords.

Their recent creations are part of [2019] ARCO Spam in Madrid (Spain), [2020] Caltech Art Contest in Pasadena, CA (United States), Labocine Scenes, Phroom Magazine, and Think:Act Magazine.

Artist Homepage:  https://www.spam.church/saint-etienne

Image, Video and Text Courtesy of the Artist.

Edited by Sue and Emily/CAFA ART INFO