Artist uses tech to question our relationship to tech

Artist John Mack was scrolling through the news on the internet in 2016, when a video of people playing a game he’d never heard of caught his eye.

The video showed a stampede of people looking at their phones rushing down a street in Taipei. The crowd was playing the game Pokemon Go.

“In that Pok√©mon Go stampede what one witnesses is it looks like a mass migration of humanity, leaving the natural landscape and running toward artificiality,” said Mack.

Mack was more than just captivated by the scene, he was troubled by it.

“We are in a migration toward virtuality,” said Mack. “I really wanted to do a show that could bring to life what it is we’re putting behind us and what it is we’re chasing. And is it really worth it?”

For the next four years Mack traveled the globe to seven wonders of the natural world and to national parks in the United States. In all these places, Mack took pictures of what the natural beauty looked like in reality and of what Pokemon Go’s geo-location map showed the scenes to be.

Those photos formed the foundation of his exhibition “A Species Between Worlds,” which opens this week in New York.

Using an augmented reality app he developed, visitors will be guided through the exhibit allowing them move back and forth between nature and a form of computer generated reality.

“What these images on the wall do is they really make you question what is my relationship to nature and to technology?” said Mack this week as he guided The Associated Press through the exhibit.

Mack says he believes the more people embrace the virtual world, whether that be Pokemon Go, or Web 3.0, or the metaverse, the more people are losing what it mean to be human.

“What we’re witnessing on this planet is really the it’s an existential threat to everything it means to be human,” said Mack.

But with all his fear about the direction of the relationship that humans have with their technology, Mack insists he is not anti-tech. He said he believes technology is a tool humans should use, but that too often humans are becoming tools for technology they think they control.

Mack said that all over the world, at some of the most amazing vistas he visited, people would be anxiously trying to get their phones to work.

Mack says that he hopes people walk through the multi-level exhibit and come out questioning their own relationship to technology.

In the final room of “A Species Between Worlds,” no app is needed, it is simply a giant space with benches and Mack’s nature photographs. Mack says he hopes the room helps people reset themselves before they head back out into the world.

The final room will also host a variety of events throughout the month of September. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will speak in the space, as will social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

“A Species Between Worlds” will be on view September 1-30 in New York, and then Mack expects to take the full exhibition on a world-wide tour.