Is reality still real, and if not, what is?

Over recent decades, our use of digital spaces has steadily increased. As their sophistication has developed, so has our dependency on them. Our communication, our memories, our information – all of it now exists in the digital sphere. Because so much of our lives have shifted online, our understanding of what is real has also shifted. Before, we understood reality as objective observations and facts; now it is something much more nebulous and undefined. The digital world exists but cannot be seen or touched or smelled. It can be invented or augmented from standard reality, and it can be edited and manipulated by multiple users. It is no longer simple or straightforward to know what ‘real’ really is.

It is a question that goes beyond just the world we experience around us. We also have to question our own identities. We can create and recreate multiple and malleable digital presences and avatars, through games and social media. These avatars interact as us and might express our inner feelings better than we can in the traditional “reality” due to context and culture. But with these multiple versions and representations of ourselves, how do we know who we are, and how do we know who anyone else is?

Even before 2020, people were interacting more and more in the digital world and less in person. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that trend accelerated faster than anyone could have imagined. Our work, education, and social lives suddenly became entirely online. Indeed, this year our digital selves are often the only way we interact, and the digital sphere the only one we inhabit.

Now, as we enter 2021, we are caught between the desire to return to “normal” and the regressive waves of the pandemic. No doubt the digital reality is here to stay, but we are also experiencing the fatigue of a purely online experience of the world. The overlaps between the two realities shift and evolve in constant dynamic tension.

Lahore Digital Arts Festival 2021 will focus on this theme of Post Reality, meaning a time after reality – after all, our standard model of reality is thoroughly outdated, and our old understanding of reality is no longer applicable.

We invite artists to reflect on the interesting and unique challenges that come with living in a world that is reinventing its own reality. What counts as real? Who decides what is real? How do identity and connection fit in a POST REALITY world? How do the digital and standard realities impact each other, both positively and negatively?