a glimmer of you
film and video-installation
On December 30, 2006, I saw the execution of Saddam Hussein, probably like everybody who watches news on TV or surfs the Internet regularly. The next morning the same pictures were also lying on my doormat, published on the first page of my daily newspaper. It was almost
impossible to avoid them.
What fascinated me most about those images was not the following discussion about whether it is bad taste or ethnically incorrect to show pictures like that, but simply the fact that those pictures were made with the mobile phone of an anonymous spectator during the execution, and that they started their way rapidly into living rooms worldwide via the
Internet. This marked a new epoch of images for me: the epoch in which amateur snapshots finally intervene with an until then unknown vehemence into power-struggles, professional propaganda and thereby the human perception of reality. There had been other incidents before when amateur footage was used in the traditional media, for example the pictures
from the Abu Ghraib prison, a snapshot of the murdered Theo van Gogh, 9/11, the London tube bombing and other terror attacks. But the exclusivity and the impact of the Saddam pictures caught my attention. Were those pictures really made and put online secretly, and so leaked into the traditional media and our consciousness seemingly incidentally, or were they actually commissioned and just a smart part of the official propaganda strategy? They look like typical amateur images, but maybe they aren’t.
Power, images and media are inextricably connected to each other. Images influence almost all parts of our lives; they control our feelings and our mind. Visual information creates the world we want to, or have to, believe in. Once images were almost exclusively commissioned and published by ruling elites. In the name of gods, heroes, advertisements or dictators images showed the plebs what this world is or should be like. Rulers were demonstrating their own power and ideals through images; they were defining and manipulating shared truth and the common values of societies. Today however, for the first time in history, most existing depictions are snapshots made with fully-automatic cameras by common people. They are no longer produced under instructions of rulers for public aims, but merely made for personal reasons, for fun, out of boredom or purely accidentally. Still, those amateur images reflect ideals and the zeitgeist in which their makers live. Directly or indirectly they comment on ruling powers and systems. The former one-dimensional top-down
relation between power and images has become history. 1
The installation A glimmer of you is a work based on my ongoing research Pyjamocracy. Pyjamocracy describes and explores the communication and information revolution which started only recently and in which we are all taking part more or less consciously. The position and function of images has changed due to globally published snapshots.
In pre-Web2.0 and pre-camphone times amateur depictions hardly ever found their way into the public consciousness. There was no way, no media for them to reach a broad audience. Today a large part of the amateur footage reaches a global audience directly via weblogs or portals such as flickr and YouTube; and from there some of them also take a place in the traditional media, news and our collective consciousness and memory. Nowadays snapshots influence and often direct human behaviour; sometimes they even unmask contemporary systems, showing an illogical, ordinary human and bizarre version next to the official truth.
The visual mess this causes redefines the relation between images and reality. Some judge these developments as a democratisation of visual information, others as not much more than the creation of meaningless visual pollution. Both opinions reflect a ray of truth. But the fact that a huge number of people can suddenly participate in the news and communication
process is certainly one of the most important development in the history of communication and media so far. Today everybody has become a potential image, news, truth and reality-maker; at the same time we entered the epoch of aimless pictures and directionless realities.
Pyjamocracy - a glimmer of you focuses on amateur footage depicting the traces and effects of heroes, rulers, ideals and icons. The installation combines a collection of historical and contemporary amateur films and videos projected on the walls of a square room. They show amateur footage of (for instance) communist China, YouTube films of people impersonating Michael Jackson or Lara Croft, next to Cold War Moscow, former East Germany, and American soldiers using their mobiles to capture everyday life in Iraq.
Today our reality is a mixture of information simultaneously created and edited by powers and by private people. Often it has become difficult to tell the original source of images: on the one hand powers use the visuality, the channels, or amateur footage for their aims; on the other hand ordinary people themselves are becoming more and more sophisticated in depicting and publishing visual information.
The omnipresence of amateur footage changes and confuses not only our perception, but also the media landscape and the function of images as such. Our reality looks less logical seen through the eyes of the amateurs. Sometimes it even becomes absurd, especially if we view all footage at the same time, as typical for the contemporary media situation. The one who controls images and information is in power. But what happens to our reality if the majority of image-makers are not following a prearranged, coherent aim or strategy anymore? What happens if the source, the editor or author of the images we view are no longer recognisable?
Pyjamacracy describes not only the democratisation of images and media, but also the end of the former one-dimensional and apparently meaningful reality humans lived in for centuries.
1. For further information see: Eggers M., Pyjamocracy - how snapshots
confuse our lives, Rotterdam 2008