Participatory Poverty (after Hito Steyerl)

This piece collects a variety of images circulating online and thinks about the status of what Hito Steyerl calls “the poor image.” Of particular interest is the conjunction of technological, political, socio-economic, and aesthetic facets, factors, and practices that Steyerl identifies in her provocative essay on the subject. Significantly, Steyerl breaks with both nostalgic or backwards-looking approaches to the “end” or “death” of cinema and with the one-sided celebration of a so-called “participatory culture,” which tends to ignore the capitalist framework within which fan-based acts of appropriation and expansion are themselves appropriated as “immaterial labor” in the service of big-business entertainment franchises. This project seeks to highlight the ambivalent status of the poor image, utilizing techniques of datamoshing and databending, themselves fan-based techniques for image impoverishment that have also been employed in high-profile projects (e.g. big-budget music videos) and projects with a high-cultural cachet (e.g. gallery art).

In order to question the confluence of technical and socio-economic/political considerations at work in the poor image while avoiding too much editorial interference or interpretation on my part, the video above works generatively – drawing materials from YouTube and collating them according to the itinerary dictated by the search results for the term “poor image.” That is, the first 44 search results (from a query conducted on April 8, 2015) are cycled three times, in the order of their appearance in the list of results – initially taking the first ten seconds of each clip, then the next five, and finally the next second. After combining the images, in this order, all I-frames were removed (so-called “datamoshing”), thus establishing unexpected – and, I think, interesting and sometimes telling – connections between the clips.

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