With Tactical Visual Culture, Visual Methodologies Collective and the Institute of Network Cultures investigate new visual tools at the crossroads of artistic research, journalism, and data visualization. We explore what tactical visual culture is or could be through three main themes: video witnessing, emotive images, and data feminism.

Video Witnessing

Online video has a strong position in the realm of truth-finding and eye-witnessing. In fact, we have seen a visual turn in this realm, where the written testimony seems crowded out by camera footage. Recent protests have been fueled by the viral spread of mobile videos, from the start of the Arab Spring to the recent death of George Floyd.

There are two conflicting trends occurring at the moment: on the one hand we see a proliferation of cameras and camera viewpoints with the emergence of drones, smart doorbells, and streetview. At the same time, we hear of the inflation of camera footage: the omnipresence of cameras has, for instance, not stopped police violence. Within this theme, we conduct critical research and experiments with recent technologies, including drones (‘the flying eyes’), streetview, ultra-short video (tiktok, snap), and synthetic images and the dreaded deep fakes.

With this aim to look at contemporary digital image culture beyond influencer content, we organized two events in the context of Video Witnessing:

  1. The Hmm @ Tactical Visual Culture: 8 speakers, including researchers, artists, performers, and viral TikTok creators, that are working, making, and thinking around the theme of ‘video witnessing’, shared their vision on what the state of online video is.
  2. A Desktop Narrative Workshop with Albert Figurt: within the span of one afternoon, participants learned how to make a short video with nothing but their laptop and a good WiFi-connection.

Emotive Images

Digital visual cultures come with an abundance of more playful, ironic, and emotive imagery, such as GIFs, memes, and emojis. Just as we have studied the prominence of cat videos in the first edition of Video Vortex, we grant importance to this playful side of digital visual culture. GIFs and memes can be tools in research and education. However, we want to free memes from their dominant use in culture wars and reclaim them as an expressive and tactical tool. Similarly, we would like to address cross-cultural emoji theory, design, and critique.

What started as a criticism of the unwillingness of Facebook to implement a dislike button, has grown into a realization of the larger emotional, cultural, and financial value of the emoji. This critical curiosity leads to a range of questions. How do users (knowingly or unknowingly) repurpose standardized features to circumvent limitations that go with button features? What are the unseen or suppressed emotions on a platform such as FB and Insta? Is it a masculine drive to measure something that’s hard to grasp? What habits of daily life do emoji promote? And are social media fit for the expression of sincerity in the first place?

In the context of Emotive Images, we are creating an educational toolkit. In eight knowledge clips, experts and activists present their ideas on the use and future of memes and emojis.

Data Feminism

The field of data visualisation is undergoing strong transformations, driven by data feminism, and efforts to eradicate algorithmic biases of gender and race. Recent criticism of ‘dataism’ (see the new book by INC’s Miriam Rasch) can further inform this field, and push towards novel initiatives that break free of the dominant platforms it criticizes. We know data are not neutral, and neither is data visualisation. How can designers, artists and critical cartographers push this realm further to create inclusive strategies of data visualisation and visual storytelling that are accessible to education, research, and storytelling? How to do data feminism?

The research strand of Data Feminism is currently being developed. We are aiming to create a podcast series, interviewing experts in the field.

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Tactical Visual Culture is supported by the Amsterdam Creative Industries Network and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

The visual identity of Tactical Visual Media was designed by fanfare.