Within the pages of Digital Folklore Reader, Olia Lialina, one of the book’s editors, refers to a claim by the social media researcher Danah Boyd, that some American teenagers identify as Facebook and others as MySpace—preferring a conformist and clean interface persona, or a rebellious and visually pimped one, respectively.
This book, co-edited by Dragan Espenschied, is by all outward appearances a MySpace, brimming with exuberant design elements culled from all over the net and reaching deep into online history. The dust jacket repeats a background image of a unicorn perched on a boulder at sunset under a meteor shower. Its reverse is wallpapered in 32 by 32 pixel gif icons representing the gamut of popular user-generated online imagery: cartoon characters, porno ladies, geometric designs, quotidian objects, flags, logos, landscapes and text, from WTF to FREE TIBET. One layer deeper, the cover and back of the book are white, or, probably (in RGB concept), nothing. The spine is also nude, showing off the motley sequencing of pages inside, the first and last of which are a flat, vibrant #00FF00 green, allusive of web-safe color and maybe of a green screen, primed for content to be transposed onto it.
There is a deeply confessional element involved in our private interactions with technology. We confide in machines because the illusion of their detachment creates a false sense of anonymity. Transmissions examines how automatons facilitate interactive fantasy realms in direct response to our unspoken emotional projections. The virtual dream space aspires to be a reflection of the individual but is not autonomous. Fallout data arbitrarily collides and resonates within a larger network of users. This network can be thought of as a sentient organism, one that feeds and redistributes our collective subconscious.
In Harun Farocki’s latest work, Immersion (2009), at London’s Raven Row in its current show ‘Harun Farocki. Against What? Against Whom?’, a US soldier from the Iraq war, coaxed on by a therapist and aided by virtual simulation, relives the experience of a reconnaissance mission in which a mistake he committed led to his partner’s death. The film, as does much of Farocki’s astoundingly relevant and astute catalogue of film and media installation work, investigates overlaps between military and industrial production - here, the use of technology pioneered in the video game/entertainment industry to treat post-traumatic stress disorder - and, most importantly, the role of the image in this negotiation.
Farocki has been making films since the late 1960s and can be labelled a critical film-essayist - a broad category drawn to include other European filmmakers such as Straub-Huillet, Chris Marker, Alexander Kluge and Jean-Luc Godard, and, latterly, younger filmmakers such as Hito Steyerl, who were or are invested in film as a mode of political and economic critique, and whose films operate mainly through the montage of footage of different provenance and the collision of word and image. Farocki is perhaps unique among these peers for his insistent focus on the image in its historical and real-world relevance - that is, in aesthetic but also ethical terms - and as a changing site of technology. The intensity of his interest and the breadth of conclusions he draws became all the more clear throughout the course of London’s two concurrent retrospectives devoted to his work this past November. While Raven Row’s program, organised by the foundation’s director, Alex Sainsbury, focused on the multi-screen and installation work that Farocki began making in the mid-1990s, when he began showing in an art world context, Tate Modern hosted a program of his films from 1968 to 2009, curated by Stuart Comer, Antje Ehmann and the Otolith Group, which took an explicitly retrospective stance towards his work. (The majority of the films from this program are available on DVD at Raven Row.)