Online: Sideways Through Time; Memeification
by Beauchamp Art
Sideways Through Time; Memeification
Photography, Facebook, and Hyperbole
Sideways Through Time; Memeification
(Photography, Facebook, and Hyperbole / Linguistics, Memes, and the Online)
Sideways Through Time is a series of photo-manipulated images embedded in Facebook as part of a discourse. This functions as exercise in self-parody and the exploration of the memeification of images (within online societies relating to objective world happenings; paralleling exchanges and relationships between individuals through physical and digital communication.)
The images were made by importing the photograph into Photoshop, and overlaying the stellar image over the whole image, but having a low opacity of the centre of the image, becoming more visible towards the lower half of the figure, and full opaque, then combined with the Doctor Who banner, an image of the Tardis, a rendered lens-flare emanating over the figure’s shoulder, and a luminous blue/purple colour scheme in order to establish a clear sci-fi poster aesthetic.
The original picture was uploaded (on request) by the photographer, Roseanna Hanson (who had taken the picture at the end of a photo-shoot that I was modelling for, and I had requested a plain picture in my regular clothes at the end of the shoot. It was then commented that I resembled figures from popular culture, initially the scientist Carl Sagan, and the Television character Doctor Who. The use of integrated references to popular culture is not limited to the visual field, such as the inclusion of the official BBC logo and an image of the Tardis in a style that resembles a sci-fi poster, stemming from the surrounding discussion, referring to song lyrics, such as ‘Doctor, doctor, can you give me the news’, from Robert Palmer’s Bad Case of Loving You. As well as in the titling of this piece as Sideways Through Time, in reference to the sci-fi imagery and the narrative of the time-travelling Doctor Who, and to the chorus in Silver Machine by the band Hawkwind. Such a plethora of seemingly disconnected (often net-based) references could be seen as a major product of “an era of screen based image overabundance and ephemerality,” [Ritchin, 2013: 49], as Fred Ritchin put it.
This use of socially dependant pragmatic humour (a form of passive in-jokes) is an inclusive activity at it alludes to common, well-known iconography and materials, however it is also and exclusive activity as it discounts audience members that may to be aware of the material in question. Nevertheless, as this was hosted on Facebook, and only visible to my peers, whom I know are aware of what is being referenced, then the audience predetermines the exclusivity, and it should not be expected that such humour would be unilaterally well received. This is one of the problematic elements of using this form of humour as part of an artwork.
However, though the images were edited by me, and taken on my request, the discussion is a collaborative exercise, and as a piece is was designed to be displayed online, embedded as part of the Facebook website, to be more directly socially engaging. Nevertheless, the original intention was not wholly academic, and it could be argued that I appropriated a discourse in which I was participating in, to transubstantiate a commonplace occurrence into an art piece, illuminating the “The ‘dailiness’ of ordinary, everyday interactions on screen.” [Bell, 2007: 37]. The images and transcript could therefore be seen as just documentation, not a piece itself. Though inevitably it becomes multi-faceted through online ubiquity.
Julian Stallabrass argued that “the Internet is not a medium, as painting I, but rather encompasses simulations of all reproducible media” [Stallabras, 169] this could be seen as untrue as the very multi-faceted pluralistic nature of net makes it stand out against other media, and by simply describing it like a non-place [Auge, 1995] of media exchange it disregards the mediating factor of the internet; the ability to transmit information en mass effects how one values and sees that data, and therefore may be considered a medium. To continue an Augerian metaphor, does the motorway not effect how the landscape one passes through is seen? Surely it is not too much of a stretch to argue the same is true of cyberspace.
As the piece can be seen on any computer screen or device with online capability and access to the social media website, as long as they comply with the privacy settings if the site and the individual’s privacy rights. This does mean that the image, subsequent manipulations and discussion is only really accessible to a small select group of individuals, the 140 or so Facebook ‘Friends’ who are allowed, by me, to view my page. This does limit the audience to a small social group, a mix of peers and other acquaintances.
Moreover, another element to consider by having this piece hosted online is that is may easily overlooked, as “billions of images are available for viewing (some 3,400 are uploaded every second to Facebook along)” [Ritchin, 2013: 29]. Though the rhizomorphous appearance of the internet may create the impression of unilateral flatness; that all information is one the same, mosaic [McLuhan, 1964] level, and that this democratisation renders all data equal, it is nevertheless a flawed assumption, as through a system of ubiquity new hierarchies are formed, with regards to the internet, this comes through the establishment of connections between points, rather than the inherent validity of the contents.
It through the interconnectivity of things rather than the things themselves that un-levels the playing field, which is why “search traffic is worth more than other traffic” [Auerbach, 2014] and why Google uses a connection-based ontological system of ordering its searches, rather than being entirely dependant on key terms. This could be seen as problematic for an artist who would wish for his work to be seen, however, a limited audience or availability may increase demand (like having a limited series of prints), as well as functioning as another form of mediating and filtering how a piece will be received. Moreover, this sprang spontaneously out of a humorous series of tangents, rather than beginning entirely seriously.
The online format of this piece; presented as an image with a series of manipulations accompanying written comments, owes much to the frantic visual-meme-based Internet humour of sites like 9gag, but is especially indebted to Australian Satirical Writer and Design Director, David Thorne’s Missing Missy [Thorne, 2010]. In this, he is requested to make a missing cat sign by his colleague, and proceeds to make appropriate, melodramatic posters that draw on the semantic features of movie advertisements. He uses deliberate miscommunications and self-deprecating humour often at the expense of his family and peers as part of his writings on is website (27bslash6). He described, “the Internet is a playground and I would not have it any other way.” [Bachl, 2009] The Internet offers access to an innumerable range of, often free, sources of entertainment and information, so the natural instinct to play will inevitably take hold. However, constructive play may result in success and increase the demand for what is produced, for whatever purpose, such as the entertainment value of Thorne’s writing (though does state on the complaints page of his site that “This site contains none of your business and is for my amusement only.” [Thorne, 2008]). The viral distribution of his works resulted in a rapid Internet fame for Thorne that then transcended into mainstream fame, when examples of his writings were featured on international television. The format of his comedy significant in its simplicity, and he uses a deliberately naïve-sounding writing style in conjunction with images creating a sophisticated satirical effect.
In Sideways Through Time, I have used a similar format with am image of myself, along with a simplistic use of found/stock image digital collage, appropriating the style use by Thorne, and other who share in this meme, to create my own parody piece, with direct feedback from an online audience, in comments and Likes. The two most well received of these images was the Doctor Who-Themed image, which currently has 11 Likes, though the photographer’s initial manipulation was Liked 9 times – this version I then remade, with only 3 Likes. However, the final glitched variation suffered a worse fate with only 2 Likes, indicative that within the audience group, that process and the resulting image is less accessible than the more straight-forward manipulations, and as a result the online discourse ceased.
As with previous examples, this piece is only a factor in the on-going process of the work; the Artwork serving as a catalyst for Discussion; though the discussion as catalytic and embodied within the piece itself is an inescapable facet of the work. In this case, conversation it literally embedded in the work, and would not exist without it. The various manipulations were integral to the resulting discourse (however light-hearted it may have been) and the connection between the pictorial and linguistic exchange cannot be overlooked.
Through the medium of written language, there are inevitable limitations to the information that can be exchange, as compared to face-to-face conversation.
The paralinguistic, international and body language are lost when transcribing from spoken to written discourse, thus other means of conveying the same information must be established. The use of images in conjunction with text as not merely illustrations or glyphs, but as a fundamental element of the established means of communication, thus forming neologisms of text and image based phrases contributing to a socially dependent meta-language; in which the pragmatics of the text and semiotics of the image become intertwined and mutually necessary in order to sustain a comprehensible discourse. This image could therefore be seen as a substitute for the body, not just in terms of representation but also as fundamental to the phenomenology of digital discourse.
Indeed, any discussion of art as a means of communication, whether in relation to the effects of Internet mediation or otherwise, when deconstructed will undoubtedly lead to an examination of language, and subsequently the psychological understanding of the relationship between any two or more points and any medium between (artist, media, audience).
The term memeification was coined recently, referring to the rapid expansion of a subject to the cultural object known as the meme – as described by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene. “An ‘idea-meme’ might be defined as an entity that is capable of being transmitted from one brain to another.” [Dawkins, 1976] Moreover, after an extended discussion with the artist Cecile B. Evans, we discussed the two primary aspects to establishing one’s legacy; genes and memes. Arguably, as genetic information becomes so rapidly distilled through the generations, it could be seen that memes are what is truly significant in the eyes of history. It is not Socrates’ ancestors that are important [Williams, 1996], but his ideas that have been passed down and preserved. “When we die there are two things we can leave behind us: genes and memes. […] As each generation passes, the contribution of your genes is halved.” [Dawkins, 1976] The conservation of the self is through the memeification and intellectual distribution rather than mummification or sexual reproduction. As Edvard Munch said (in the same ilk but more poetically), “From my rotting body flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.” [Thompson, 2008]
The term meme has since been hijacked [Solon, 2013] by the online community to refer to certain sorts of widely distributed images or culturally dependant subject matter that proliferates rapidly through cyberspace, being reformed and re-distributed across a range of online media, often descending into parody and ridiculous self-referencing and obscure rhizomorphous relationships, connecting and cross-pollinating semantic exchange.
Memeification becoming popularly used in reference to the figure of Charles Ramsey, a figure/public commenter from a recent news story, who shot and fell from fame and popular opinion at a hyperbolic speed, especially due to the viral redistribution of a particular interview [VisualiveTV, 2013]. The term pre-dates this particularly exponential example, though it is worth noting the association the popularisation of neologism and such events (especially with regards to memes, a term that has accelerated into public use outside of the original scientific context).
In conclusion, the piece itself acted as a catalyst to discussion, both online and as the basis for an extended body of writing, and was made using a range of media instigated by the internet and the format can be used for later works, and was fed by previous pieces (such as the profile picture comments in International Art English), therefore this could be seen as a relatively successful piece in that regard. Though as a means of conveying ideas and information, the Facebook text and image discourse when presented outside of that format may have little impact, and as an art piece in that regard may not be that successful. Though net art can be a difficult affair, whether successful or not, it can still evoke an engaging debate; and if that was my aim then I believe this to be a relatively effective means of making and presenting work, which I shall return to. However, it would have been better if I could have taken the original piece and presented to a secondary audience, who could then start their own discussions, rather than just being forgotten as a faintly amusing online anecdote. This format has some necessary flaws that may be difficult to overcome.
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Original Photo: Roseanna Hanson
My Primary Manipulation: Space Themed
My Secondary Manipulation: Doctor Who Themed
My Third Manipulation: Glitched
Zef Zo-ster: [Image of Carl Sagan] 
Henry Driver: hahaahh please put the universe in the background of the photo 
Benj Beauchamp: Hold on… 
Roseanna Hanson: like this? [Image with space background] 
Benj Beauchamp: Yes. I may do my own too. 
Benj Beauchamp: I think I look more like Dr Who in mine… 
Zef Zo-ster: TOO FUNNY 
Benj Beauchamp: Doctor, doctor, can you give me the news? [Image with Doctor Who graphics] 
Simon Emmett: The earth is screwd!:-) 
Benj Beauchamp: Mocker Who… 
Caitlin Mullally: Was gonna say there’s some major Carl Sagan vibes about this 
Benj Beauchamp: Sorry, I think Henry looked at the picture for too long…