Born in the mid 1970s, I grew up understanding that “tripping” was that thing that happens when one takes LSD or mushrooms or some other type of hallucinogenic substance. By the 1990s, I found myself casually using the word to imply that someone was a bit out of the ordinary, but not necessarily on drugs. In the context of New Orleans’ artist Dave Greber’s new video, “Staying Connected: In the Void,” 2015, “tripping” is physicalized through a snippet from his recent journey along the Appalachian Trail. The four-minute piece is the first video Greber has made since he embarked on his “trip” seven months ago and it was created entirely on his smart phone. It functions as a modified video selfie of Greber walking through the woods while detailing his use of social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr as a platform for his artwork in lieu of his physical presence in society.
Deltaworkers commissioned Greber to create “Staying Connected” as a response to Melanie Bonajo’s “Night Soil/Fake Paradise,” 2014 included in the exhibition “The Colour Out of Space” they curated at PARSE. Bonajo’s video of richly composed visuals consists of a series of voiceovers of women recounting their spiritual, sexual, and emotional responses to the hallucinogenic plant, ayahuasca. Greber’s “trippy” video never mentions any hallucinogenic substance, but refers to “the void” as a mysterious place of potential enlightenment. For large portions of the video his mouth and eyes have been erased while the shell of his form remains. In addition to his ongoing voiceover, Greber has inserted quirky one-liners and sardonic sound effects throughout, playfully eradicating the possibility of too much heavy philosophical discourse.
Greber was raised Quaker, so it is not surprising that spiritual quests and alternate ways of seeing are entrenched in much of his work. In an artist talk he gave in 2014 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in New Orleans, he talked about how he entertained himself during lengthy and largely silent Quaker services as a child by inducing phosphenes. This is the phenomenon that occurs when one rubs their eyes and “sees stars.” This natural way of “tripping” was the inspiration for much of Greber’s early work and it established a language and context that continues in his current explorations. “Staying Connected,” recalls this sensation while considering the relationship between the constructed world of the Internet and the nebulous space one enters when “off the grid.” Though he has managed to escape from most of the trappings of urban society over many months in the woods and essentially tap into yet another dimension, Greber has relied on social media to remain connected to this reality. As he reintegrates into civilization in the weeks ahead, the nuances of his journey may disappear, yet his transformation remains. Perhaps he will experience the ultimate afterimage of all seen and unseen in the void.