In recent years, some people have adopted the list form only to strip it to its foundation, yielding ultra-simple pages consisting of sequences of images cobbled together with little or no explanation, each image radically different from its neighbors, each likely to confound, amuse, or disquiet. These web pages are often “personal” pages belonging to artists or groups of artists. Text is relegated to minimal captions in these Internet wunderkammern, and sometimes abolished entirely.
Let’s call such a page a hoarding. The word can refer to a stash of collected goods, but can also mean a billboard, or the temporary wall thrown up around a construction site. The look of the hoarding is similar to that of a particular type of artist’s book that has flourished in the last 15 years or so, featuring page after page of heterogeneous images, a jumble of magazine scans, amateur snapshots, downloaded jpegs, swipes from pop culture and art history alike, some small, some full-bleed, none with explication. The similarity is not coincidental, for “the last 15 years or so” defines the Internet age as we know it, with its ubiquitous, colorful mosaics, evidently a powerful influence on publishing of all kinds.
What can we say about the experience of scrolling through a hoarding, trying to understand the procession of pictures? As in traditional fashion magazines, we find excitement and confusion in equal measure, with one catalyzing the other. Beyond that, it often seems that any information or knowledge in these pages is glimpsed only through a slight fog of uncertainty. Has an image been spirited out of the military defense community, or is it journalism; is it medical imaging, or pornography; an optical-illusion, or a graph; is it hilarious, disturbing, boring; is it doctored, tweaked, hue-saturated, multiplied, divided; is it a ghost or a vampire? In any event, the ultimate effect is: “What the fuck am I looking at?” Something that hovers in your peripheral vision.
One might ask, how does this depart from the queasily ambivalent celebration of the image that has characterized the last fifty years of pop culture, possibly the last century and a half of mass media? It could be the muteness of the offering, the lack of justification or context. But the observation that modern media divorce phenomena from context is a commonplace, and usually an invitation to reflect on the increasingly fragmented nature of experience. A hoarding is notable because while it is a public representation of a performed, elective identity, it is demonstrated through what appears to be blankness, or at least the generically blank frenzy of media.
This may be a response to the embarrassing and stupid demands of interactivity itself, which foists an infantilizing rationality on all “Internet art,” and possibly Internet use generally, by prioritizing the logic of the connection, thereby endorsing smooth functioning and well-greased transit. Recourse to the almost mystically inscrutable may be understood as a block to the common sensical insistence on the opposition of information to noise, and as a form of ritualized unknowing.
It could also be a dismissal of the ethos of self-consciously generous transparency that characterizes “web 2.0”: the freely offered opinions, the jokey self-effacement, the lapses into folksiness in the name of a desire to forge reasoned agreement and common experience among strangers. It is wise to mistrust this earnest ethos, which is inevitably accompanied by sudden and furious policing of breaches in supposedly normative behavior. This is not to argue that such consensus building is disingenuous, rather that it is simply politics, in the sense that politics is at heart concerned with separating out friends from enemies. In this view, the hard-fought equilibrium of an orderly on-line discussion is indistinguishable from its scourge, the flame war: reasonably or violently, both aim at resolution and a kind of confirmation of established precepts. Might a hoarding—a public billboard that declines to offer a coherent position, a temporary wall that blocks reasoned discourse—escape the duty to engage ratio and mores and resolution, in a kind of negative utopian critique? No, it probably cannot. But the perversity of its arrangement of pictures speaks for itself, and what it speaks of is manipulation.
One cannot just set the pro forma Schmittian (just to give it a proper name) logic of this piece aside, but it is a rather elegant illustration. A ready made image for someone else’s ‘hoard,’ and my first revision would be to replace that 18th-century insult with a coinage from one of blogdom’s dearly departed, an Arcades Blog. Which is itself another reference, which is the whole point. Why does a series of captionless images have to be irrational or perverse? One can imagine future art historians concluding that the age of mass marketing’s greatest achievement lay in convincing the world’s consumers that images (and through the backdoor, ambiguity) are a priori the language of unreason. Certainly images can be used to think. More pernicious is the idea that images which are ‘simply’ affect manipulators (that is, have ‘nonsense’ as their manifest content) are for that reason lacking in logical sequence.
Immaturity. Escape. Vertigo. The cynical romance of commodities.
Though I have made frequent use of the photo montage on this blog, a more concentrated experiment can be found here. Even something like this, an image or two posted every now and then, sometimes with words, sometimes without, all apparently fitting the idea of the ‘hoard,’ is not without pattern or immune to meaning. If the wunderkammern were overdetermined by the excessive display of strange and uncommon objects, the image blog (here‘s one of my favorites; here‘s another) is a collection of moments of an all-too familiar process of circulation, captured, and in that moment of capture recirculated as something novel, their significance altered. ‘Defamiliarized,’ even. Even when their authorial anchor is just an arbitrary sign: traxus4420.
My naive intent for the tumble blog is the same as with this one: for each post to be useful as part of a new process of thought. Failing that, it is also made to be ignored. Is a challenge to ‘common sense’ possible with these things at all? If so, it can only be by demanding different kinds of attention and different kinds of thinking. Because the facade of irrationality that merely prompts us to “reflect on the increasingly fragmented nature of experience” is advertising. Though it might be all that separates one from the other is the presence or absence of a product.