Written: The Effects of Mediated Perception in an Era of Screen-Based Overabundance

by Beauchamp Art

Benjamin Samuel Beauchamp

BA5: Focus 2: Developing Critique and Dialogue. 20.2.2014


The Effects of Mediated Perception in an Era of Screen-Based Overabundance

How do digital environments effect the interpretation of images and information?

“The monitor is everywhere in the network society. It is not merely a medium for reproduction which increasingly dominates mass communication.” [Dijk, 1991: 177]

When considering how the mediation of perception affects the individual’s interpretation of images and information in the contemporary network society, the role of individuals’ interactions with digital imagery in “an era of screen based image overabundance and ephemerality” [Ritchin, 2013: 49] its importance cannot be ignored compared to other socio-mechanical advances. This essay’s focal point is computer-screen image, though related media will be discussed: television, cinema, books, and the “electronic super highway” [Danzico, 2012] of the Internet.

The Screen

Paolo Antonelli observed, “over the course of the twentieth century our perception of the world has been changed by momentous technological breakthroughs.” [Antonelli, 2011: 132] Through the rapid acceleration of information exchange, daily engagements with media have progressed exponentially, compared to the development of other media, such as the printing press or telegraph. In spite of “obsolescence [being] a natural counterpoint of innovation” [Defleur, 1989: 83], even when superseded, existing technologies survive and hybridise into multi-media forms, blurring the distinctions “between media themselves [and] social spheres of living.” [Dijk, 1991:126] Despite computers arguably being superior for storing and transmitting information,  “we still have books,” [Bachelard, 1958: 25], remaining relevant in their tactility. New media reinvent, cannibalise and, like a Catherine Wheel, constantly revolve.

The changing perceptions of society due to the expansion of screens in public consciousness for consuming information through flat electronic representations functioning as “extensions of man” [McLuhan, 1964: 142] cannot be overlooked. Although the television was the precursor to the personal computer, [Gronlund, 2014] monitors prioritise participation through graphical interfaces, functioning as an interactive “window into an illusionary space.” [Manovich, 2001: 90]

The screen’s proliferation epitomises recent popularisation of meditated information consumption. From cinema and television, to computers and mobile-phones; the screen encompasses a range of technologies that extends physical space into the visual realm. In a post-spectacle society, [Debord, 1967] “visuality [still] overwhelms aurality in the cultural balance of the senses.” [Kahn, 1999, 158] Thus, the screen can denote extensive interactions within a visual culture. Although telephones abolish physical frontiers [Midal, 2011: 95] the integration of optical media in everyday life may characterise phenomenological experience’s mediation by semiotic deconstruction, translated into pragmatic discourse.

[Fig. 1] Michael Wolf (2012) A Series of Unfortunate Events. 24

Michael Wolf’ A Series of Unfortunate Events [Fig. 1] transubstantiate commonplace imagery into art, by re-photographing a monitor displaying images from Google Street View, containing events of interest and exposing the presence of the interface and pixilation of the screen, illuminating “the ‘dailiness’ of ordinary, everyday interactions on screen.” [Bell, 2007: 37]

Wolf’s magnification of the image hyperbolises the physical components of the digital image. As “attention itself is an enlarging glass.” [Bachelard, 1958: 158], photographing the screen rather than downloading the image, the audience may consider the observation of graphical representations, shifting focus towards the act of seeing, increasing active participation in the photograph’s viewing. The layered pixilation of the figure’s faces into a grid censors the obscured figures, dehumanising the image, exposing the concrete structure of plastic display. The screen’s pixels could be likened to skyscraper’s windows: offering little individually, but collectively portraying a fractured, busy world; deconstructing digital representations through visual amplification.

Where Wolf took digital photos commenting on digital images, Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho [Fig 4.] is a film about film, and Roy Lichtenstein’s Ohhh…Alright… [Fig. 2] (or much of Andy Warhol’s works) are derived and scrutinise print; utilizing contemporary technological tools of their society to create an accurate mirror. [Uglow, 2014]

[Fig. 2] Roy Lichtenstein (1964) Ohhh…Alright…

Brian Eno noted, “whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature [and] will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided.” [Eno, 1996] By exposing and incorporating medias’ imperfect mechanisms, like the abstracting properties of the pixilated monitor in [Fig. 1], the expansion of the halftone Ben-Day dots of the printed image in [Fig. 2], or the distortion of the glitch in [Fig. 3] artists can destabilize representational imagery, fetishizing it and questioning the perception of the viewer, exemplifying art’s “critical relationship to itself.” [Waller, 2014]

By readdressing the focus of the viewer to the surface, Wolf and Lichtenstein deny the verisimilitude, forcing them to “[look] directly at the noise, not past it.” [Kahn, 1999: 28] Much as Seurat dissected colour though paint in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, applying a mental prism, breaking apart light to understand it, reacting to the advent of photography: deconstructing as a means of constructing [Cooper, 2014]. Whereas contemporary painters may reference online images, as a shortcut to a range of materials, they may conceal their source. Wolf’s approach highlights [Fig. 1] the original format and the presence of the screen, photographing “to see what things look like when they are photographed,” [Ritchin, 2013: 10] as Garry Winogrand suggested, rather than just as documentation.


[Fig. 3] Yoshihide Sodeoka, Noise 4

Furthermore, the glitch exemplifies problematic aspects of digital display; reflecting a world filled with incomprehensibly bugs. [Arbesman, 2014] The unpredictable distortion of a glitch alluding to physical world, such as in Yoshihide Sodeoka, Noise 4 [Fig. 3], highlights digitalisation’s unprecedented effects on perceived reality. “A glitch disrupts the data behind a digital representation in such a way that its simulation of analog can no longer remain covert,” [Manon, 2011] creating a digital uncanny [Freud, 1919] of horrifically unfamiliar forms, upsetting the superficial authenticity of the hyper-real screen-infested realm.

The Network

Networked screens can compensate for communication limitations of other media through pluralistic exchanges. Although Julian Stallabrass argued, “the Internet is not a medium [instead encompasses] simulations of all reproducible media” [Stallabrass, 2003: 169] engaging with screen-based web-browsers, online content is susceptible to additional intermediary interference, altering the perception of the source material, through “data smog”, cultivating stress, confusion and ignorance [Schenk, 1997, 183]. Such ignoramus banality is “the fatality of the modern world” [Baudrillard, 1987: 91] and symptomatic of the screen.

By acting as a server to the expanding informational glut, the monitor’s electronic environment may be increasingly unnavigable, and prioritising attention onto a single picture may seem increasingly challenging. As “billions of images are available for viewing (some 3,400 are uploaded every second to Facebook alone)” [Ritchin, 2013: 29] being seen is unproblematic: the difficulty is distinguishability. As minor deviations from reality may seem negligible, “the blandest imagery may be the most deceptive” [Ritchen, 2013: 17].

Walls of pictures are not so concrete: screens not so plastic.

If images can be ubiquitously seen freely, then how is an audience established? With a profusion of viewing platforms, not only is the nature of the art object called into question [Stallabrass, 2003: 49] but also its value and structure amongst other virtual objects. As “the public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one,” [Benjamin, 1936] much of what is passively consumed is undigested, chewing gum for the eyes. Paraphrasing George Orwell, as all information is equal, but some is more equal than others,  [Orwell, 1945] the tendency towards establishing an attention hierarchy is inevitable. Such systems may depend upon the topological taxonomies [Auerbach, 2014] of interconnectivity over inherent authoritative value.

As multiple independent screens can simultaneously display identical materials, then the distributor’s intention must be considered: no host is without an agenda, no window is entirely transparent, and no medium lacks a message. Even in a dematerialized world [Gronlun, 2014] any media viewed through a screen is unavoidably biased by the broadcaster. Much as the “mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses,” online distribution affects individuals’ relationships with image.

Nevertheless, as “art has always been reproducible,” [Benjamin, 1936], then reproducibility and unoriginality is neither new nor negative. Online images have the potential to go viral, becoming disembodied and globalised, [Menick, 2014] In a network society, the absence of a definitive article may be immaterial as multifaceted viewing is not intrinsically devaluing; but rather the capacity for decentralisation defines the existence of the democratised digital image. Homogeny is problematic for individuals and artists alike.

The digital era’s tendency towards multi-platform interaction may lead to the production post-convergence artworks “that occur after the various art media converge into code and become dematerialized representational data embodied in the digital domain,” [Nechvatal, 2014] reliant on diversification, but dependent on the yet-unsurpassed screen.

[Fig. 4] Douglas Gordon, (1993) 24 Hour Psycho

The Individual

Individuals are inescapably reliant on categorization and personally mediated stimuli to “help […] reduce the complexity of the world.” [Auerbach, 2014] With structure there is order. Accessibility to hyper-abundant information and “computers able to handle far more than any possible amount of information that could be generated by a homeowner,” [Defleur, 1989: 330], overloading the senses is a perpetual hazard. Consequently “a constant aurality [results] in a pervasive deafness” [Kahn, 1999: 201] and most encountered visual information is disregarded.

Such superfluity of stimuli may cause hyperbolic ambiguity and a disjointed internal narrative, much as David Gordon’s slowing of footage in 24 Hour Psycho [Fig. 3] breaks down the narrative of the film, disrupting the shared, regressive film experience [Kelly, 2002: 51]. Each frame becomes severed from the continuality of the sequence, unveiling the film’s inner workings, querying the value placed on the suspension of disbelief offered by the moving image as simulation of life, and the willing acceptance of this verisimilitude.

Unravelling the film reels, elongating and magnifying each frame and the time in-between, could be compared to a fragmentation of perception through a system of screens and cropped windows, rather than as a continuous image. “Windows have become a powerful metaphor for think about the self as multiple, distributed system […] In the culture of simulation, cycle through is coming to be the way we think about life itself.” [Turkle, 1995: 14, 174]

‘Virtual reality’ may be a redundant term if, like Plato’s cave dwellers, the constructing shared meanings for reality have no actual counterparts in the world. [Defleur, 1989: 239] The belief the screen’s verisimilitude may be considered as “substituting shadows for substance,” [McLuhan, 1964: 193] but if the subjectivity of cyberspace phenomenologically equates to direct observation, then digital communication simply extends physical interaction. The hallucination is a psychological reality.

Pixels Proliferating - 09
[Fig. 5] Benjamin S. Beauchamp (2014) Pixels Proliferating

In a number of my own works, I reprocessed digital representations to break them down to their source, undermining any sense of objectivity. Such as in my Pixels Proliferating [Fig. 5] where I repeatedly filmed a piece of heavily distorted footage, looking increasingly closely at the screen until it became nothing but fluctuating pixels. Pixel all the way down. [Hawking, 1988] This was then displayed online across twenty-four computers, for each hour of the day staring at screens.


The Synthetic


As mass culture reintegrates image into language, “by a remarkable regression, [coming] back to the level of expression of the Egyptians,” [Benjamin, 1936] the universal presence of screens gradually supplementing direct personal experience with mediated interaction supports the notion that “people consider contact with a computer to be a dialogue.” [Dijk, 1991: 181, 214] Such synthetic interchanges are not intrinsically inferior. If this giddy simulation offers an equivalent or “more real than […] real” level of stimulation as the authentic, [Bauldrillard. 1987: 72, 83], then how or why discriminate? For example, recently a scientific paper found that “emoticons are processed in occipitotemporal sites similarly to faces due to their familiar configuration.” [Churches, 2014] So even basic graphic representations of human forms may equate the phenomenological experience of the screen’s hyper-reality to the objective world: becoming neurologically identical and psychologically indistinguishable from the emotive engagement offered through direct, face-to-face communication.

Although “synthetic computer-generated imagery is not an inferior representation of our reality, but a realistic representation of a different reality” [Manovich, 2001: 202], one reason the individual may substitute the screen-based simulated experience is that “computers and other media serve as a safe substitute for direct human company.” [Dijk, 1991: 217] The screen is a platform for multi-media and a means of producing new iconography superficially separate from the concrete reality. Though digital media are primarily used to communicate through, rather than with, it may be worth considering “what happens when a complex engineered infrastructure speaks to you?” [Hunt, 2011: 48] The computer offers a greater dialogue and control than the television set. Whereas broadcast media will continue speaking without audience, the telephone, “an irresistible intruder in time […] place” [McLuhan, 1964, 271], is less of a monologue than both are, requiring two active consumption participants.

Simon During discusses how the understanding and decoding of what is presented and perceived is inevitably altered by the representation of information; “since the visual discourse translates a three-dimensional world into two-dimensional planes, it cannot of course, be the referent or concept it signifies. The dog in the film can bark but it cannot bite!” [During, 2007: 96] Reality exists outside of constructed environments, but is constantly mediated through interaction, and shaped through discourse. All interchanges mediate. An overabundance of mediums may result in exponentially distorted meaning. As Richard Dawkins observed, such modes of “meme transmission [are] subject to continuous mutation, and […] blending.” [Dawkings, 1976]

In hyper-saturated, networked-image environment, the ramifications of screen-based media and “mediated interactive communications” [Dijk, 1991: 9] on individuals’ perceptions may be considerable, though undeterminable from within. Society is directly impacted by an epidemically image-rich culture, as mass public and personal exchanges is flattened onto screens, unknowingly transformed.

Word Count: 2033

Subtotal: 2278

Titles, Captions & References: 243




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