I’m sure all of us have, at one point or another, typed the word ‘headache’ into a search engine and then decided we were definitely dying from a brain tumour.
For all their positive qualities, the filters and algorithms that make up our online experience can increase our paranoia about medical conditions. Artist Robert Powell and academic Hadi Mehrpouya are exploring this phenomenon in their new work Maladox, commissioned as part of the Weave group exhibition during this year’s NEoN digital arts festival.
“We started to talk about health and fear and some of the challenges we have, for example the obsession with having a name for a condition,” explains Hadi. “As long as you don’t have a name for this thing you’re experiencing you’re in a limbo. And people start searching, but searching will bring a whole range of information that’s not always helpful. It ends up with people having more extreme fears and feeling very fragile and very ill.”
In response Maladox is a satirical piece with information on diseases like Cyberchondria, Infolepsy, and Data Diarrhoea. The piece is a sort of thought-experiment into the type of diseases that might afflict cyborgs of the future, and will feature illustrations and drawings from Robert – like in their last collaboration Philodox, which was a search engine with its own character and opinions.
Hadi said: “At the moment we’re thinking about whether the search engine should be in the form of an anatomical body so you move the mouse and you will see the diseases in different parts of the body… so you go to different parts of the body and the different ailments will be visualised with text and information about it.”
He describes an entry he recently wrote about a ‘fear of communication’ where sufferers become more and more afraid that their messages aren’t making the right impression, so start writing simpler and simpler messages until eventually they’re sending messages that are completely blank. He says at the moment both he and Robert are making one or two entries each week.
“All the ailments are made up but they’re based on our research and what is happening around us,” says Hadi, “I’m going to then do the search engine technology side and Robert’s going to do some illustrations and drawings… I don’t really know what it’s going to look like yet.”
Maladox will be part of the Weave exhibition space in Unit 9-11 of the Wellgate Shopping Centre in Dundee city centre from 6th – 18th of November.
By Ana Hine