Machine Yearning: John Mack on digital desire

Words by
Andy Morris

12th August 2022

The Artist and Lecturer explores how humanity is leaving the natural world behind.

Presented by Sarah Bridge.

"Humans are a species between worlds" explains artist, author and lecturer John Mack of his brand new exhibition. "We’re on a mass-migration from the natural world to the digital world, abdicating our natural spaces while expanding digital ones. Smartphones, designed to be tools, have become our reality - and with every swipe, tap and pinch, our humanity is being exported, little by little.’

Six years in the making, next month Mack will present his month-long immersive exhibition A Species Between Worlds: Our Nature, Our Screens in New York City’s Chelsea district. Initially Mack was inspired by Youtube footage of a 'Pokemon stampede' in Tapei, where crowds of people, seemingly without regard for their own safety, rushed into traffic to try and secure one of the digital creations.

Mack saw this as an example of the increasingly complicated intersection of humanity and technology and sought to try and restore balance between ourselves and our smart devices. A Species Between Worlds features over 65 of Mack's artworks, featuring imagery of more than 50 U.S. National Parks and the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, all digitally manipulated and combined with artificial landscapes from the Pokémon Go app. As you explore the exhibition, a customised app reacts to your surroundings as reality is restored.

John Mack Artist and Lecturer

Mack says of his new exhibition: ‘I’m very consciously not anti-technology, but rather I aim to foster mindfulness so that our devices serve as our tools and not the other way around. The exhibition is an invitation to contemplate our relationship to our devices and the surrounding world while inspiring the introspection needed to prevent the loss of our humanity.’

Alongside Mack’s ground-breaking artwork, A Species Between Worlds will feature a rich program of talks and events, free to the public. Highlights include social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, philosopher David Chalmers, data engineer turned Facebook whisteblower Frances Haugen and controversial author Yuval Noah Harari, the writer behind Sapiens: A Brief History Of Human Kind.

The exhibition also coincides with the publication of Mack’s collection of poetry, A Land Between Worlds: The Shifting Poetry of the Great American Landscape, which explores how the seduction of technology has led humanity to abandon the natural world. Mack is also the founder of the non-profit initiative Life Calling, whose mission is to foster awareness and balance for society in the Digital Age. Founded in 2021, the charity's fundamental mission is to both raise awareness and to develop educational strategies to help preserve our humanity in light of the encroaching digital landscape.

A Species Between Worlds is supported by Tavros Capital, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.  A Species Between Worlds: Our Nature, Our Screens runs 1-30 September.