We’ll start soon! is streaming on the screen of tonight’s live event: The Hmm at Tactical Visual Culture, while I’m changing my font to Helvetica. The sound of Synth Sinatra gives a feeling that what will follow is, indeed, exciting.
Margarita Osipian, tonight’s moderator, introduces us to The Hmm’s guest programmer, Sepp Eckenhaussen, who guides us through three baseline observations in internet culture from which the event was programmed (the prominent role of moving images, memes and emojis to express emotions, data feminism). With online footage becoming ever-present, we want to know what can really be said with the stories that snippets of online videos are telling. While camera recording seems to be the daily habit, how effective is it in stopping the camera violence? With streaming information overload, what is the alternative space for criticism? All of these juicy questions should give an insight into what the tactical visual culture is today.
The guest speakers will show the ways in which visual internet can be used and with them, we hope for new perspectives. As usual, there is a lot to cover over a short period of time, so let’s get started.
Len Borghuis a.k.a. Lennoz finds YouTube a weird place where an algorithm analyzes and recommends videos to its viewers. The existence of this algorithm is no news to us, knowledgeable people, bringing forth different online behaviors. What we see happen on Youtube now is an attempt to pursue the algorithm into generating more views. What makes a lot of views? According to Len, loss of meaning is the answer. Based on his experience of publishing a video of a funny dancing guy (which became a Youtube’s delight), this proved to be a green light for pursuing goals of becoming an independent artist. So, he decided to give advice to other aspiring artists to just make it on Youtube. Here are some tips:
- Be you
- Make a plan by mapping your mind
- Find your unique flow with tools of your choice!
- Please be consistent (and the right people will follow)
- Be relatable (trends they come they go, but emotions always return)
- For inspiration check: Bill Wurz and Jack Stauber.
Following these tips in exactly the same order will result in a clear Youtube identity, therefore a position of an independent artist.
I am not surprised that the algorithm’s predictability is paralleled to the production of an artwork.
Anyhow, Florian Göttke speaks next about a thought-evoking topic which is about the monuments. Monuments are semi-forgotten, architectural statements of our pasts – but what else are they when expanded in digital realms? While they stand tall in their representation of (i.e.) colonial supremacy and European dominance, they continue to oppress people. They represent the dominant version of our history, exclude other memories and histories, and at the same time, challenge what gets to remain the dominant factor. While the monuments were being brought down by Arab, Iranian, and American revolutions, the media was being recorded. Images were produced, reproduced, falling in endless repetition. Videos streaming in this loop not only document a happening, but also the aesthetic energy which leads to immediacy, which is not easily found in still images. Florian suggests to re-focus on still images as a tool for remembering. We want to make sense out of them, more than they want to give a sense of what they might/might not be about.
Leyla-Nour Benouniche welcomes us on board her spaceship through which she introduces us to sustainable digital activism.
The video format is cool, it serves to witness criminality, intimacy, and whatnot. Through her justice spaceship, video action aims to base itself on preservation rather than urgency. Her spaceship, which was bred as her KABK graduation work, is an emotional digital toolkit to contain justice (contextualized diversity in the academy). The sci-fi spaceship journeyed around the Royal Academy and collected content in the form of videos, notes, and recordings, from the people, caught in it. Its core focus was to initiate conversations from mutual mental health. From various positions of participants, they would explore their dreams, bodies, and ultimate bodies. It was not meant to be a smooth and comfortable journey. Although documenting may come off as a privacy-delicate gesture, the point was rather for the participant to preserve oneself and sacrifice oneself for justice. During the journey, the artist got tired, meaning that the solar system got sick. Her reaction to this personal crisis was to change the structure of the spaceship so that it could accommodate ‘unhealthy’ situations as well. Other stars got sick too, meaning that the spaceship also became a stage for collective rest. For more information, check out this pretty project on justthis-spaceship.com
With his presentation about TikTok’s influence on Indian elections, Alex Gekker (an assistant professor of New Media) makes us wonder what playfulness on such a platform means for political participation. Play triggering online spaces have a deeper and darker side beneath the surface. When playfulness becomes subversive, it becomes hard to track geographically. This leads to play becoming permissible or not permissible. Unfortunately, I missed out on a big part of this presentation. If there’s one conclusion I can remember, it is that while online platforms can influence people to do horrible things (such as operating multiple fake accounts), they can also influence them to do less horrible things. I dearly remember Alex advising the audience to buy a beer because there is nothing better to do at this point.
We are taking another break, accompanied by tricky questions streaming on the screen, with an aim to challenge our internet knowledge. If you didn’t know how many active users TikTok has, now you know that it’s 800 million. Let’s play some bardcore.
We heard enough, thank you very much.
Marieke Kuypers‘s new obsession is hamsters on TikTok. She has about 35K followers, million likes, and a lot more online experience. Through her account, she posts videos of herself and hamsters. Her journey started on the 4u TikTok page, where she was watching dances and animals. Eventually, the algorithm captured her gaze and personalized her taste by suggesting more similar content. She got inspired enough to start streaming good hamster care content through her account. The core question to answer with her help is: what to do and what not to do with hamsters? Marieke gives TikTok tips through her most liked video (600 000 likes). She claims that the reason why it’s the most liked is that she makes a strong statement in Dutch, at the beginning of the video. By doing that, the viewers are already informed of what the rest of the video will be about. The tip here is not to make an introductory statement in Dutch, but to trigger the viewers into staying and watching the video until the end. I think that as viewers, more than we want to be surprised, we want to be on top of our expectations and find out if they will be met and how closely. When I don’t really want to watch something, and I do anyways, I end up mainly trying to find out if the content will turn out to be more interesting than what I expect it to be. Marieke ends her presentation by introducing us to her hamster called Milka. Cute stuff.
Hilda Moucharrafieh & Dina Mohamed talk about their collaborative project Tracing Erased Memories, a mission to bring back erased voices through video format. Having moved to Amsterdam from Cairo and Beirut, they found no relatable histories/memories which would help them to connect with the city. Memories which get to shape a certain history is what they question in their work. From these ponderings, the core mission of their work is to reconstruct + reinject memories back to cities. This becomes clear through their exemplary work: walks through the city they feel alienated from (in this case, Amsterdam). iPads and headphones are included in the walks, through which (to them) important memories are streamed. For instance, footage of police violence, palaces burning down, ruins, etc. These visuals merge with similar buildings and spots in Amsterdam. Besides found footage, another visual layer is added to the video in order to convey the complexity of different emotions, and that is an illustrative moving image. By overlapping realities from Cairo and Amsterdam through video and sound, they offer a feeling of being in two places at the same time.
The audience is heated up for taking the walk!
Now, it is true that high-quality videos are more in demand, and it is true that we can manipulate images to the point of removing anything we don’t like about them (Stalin is the founder of such an idea, who removed everyone he didn’t like from a picture). Mark Evenblij is on a mission to expose deep fakes through AI. With his start-up company called Duck Duck Goose, which believes that the boundary between reality and virtuality is becoming vaguer, they want to develop detection models between fake and real for forensics. They believe that the machine might be able to detect between the two and that machines and humans can work together on that. There might be hope for human agency with this start-up.
Albert Figurt is a video artisan who is interested in all sorts of videos. He narrates a desktop screencast with settings being a single fixed skeleton, while files and folders are the new interior design of the digital space. There is a protagonist of the story who goes online and while downloading something, gives us a feeling of digital time. The story goes on very poetically that I missed writing about it and rather listened. It was beautiful. [Editorial note: Albert was the workshop leader of the Desktop Narrative Workshop. Find out more about his work with us here.]
Shortly after the event, I read Jack Self’s article about the machine’s logic of production:
“The machine demands relevance, but not newness. Relevance means familiarity, building on conventions, power norms, and codes of conduct (as with TikTok trends).”
We can conclude by saying that the evening was rich and definitely put a spotlight on some new perspectives on the digital. Together with Jack Self’s remark, what we can get inspired by here is an attempt to revive the human agency, re-claim history, improve collaboration with the machine, and produce more poetry.