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Voiding Effects and Terrorized Language
Video & The Unreality of ISIS (Part 2)
published in Kill Your Darlings No.23, Melbourne, 2015

(This text constitutes part 2 of a 5-part PowerPoint presentation given across 2 evenings in July 2015 as a Discipline lecture, at The Wheeler Centre and the Westspace Gallery, Melbourne, and as keynote for the Artspace Finissage in December 2015 at Artspace, Sydney.)

(excerpt only currently available online)

On January 20th this year, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, thus called at the time) uploaded a video titled A Message to the Government and People of Japan (1). Jihadi John stands masked and dressed in black. Kneeling either side are Japanese freelance journalist Kenji Goto and fellow countryman Haruma Yukawa. They are dressed in bright orange nylon sack-tops. Jihadi John demands that the Japanese government pay $200,000,000 or Yukawa will be killed. A pale desert rock expanse slopes upward to the right behind them; a baby blue sky with hints of low cloud rises behind the hill. Already, Hollywood is silently intoned through these visuals, contrasting Mission Impossible black op gear against Guantanamo Bay detainees. The prosumer HD imagery similarly evokes Hollywood’s post-millennial pursuit of digital grain, news cam footage and photogenic texturing. You squint at the small YouTube screen, unable to tell whether the landscape is real, or whether all three bodies are there at the one time. Depth in the image dissolves before your gaze; the body shapes resemble vector co-ordinates filled with texture.

This is how images work now. The image detaches itself from its own imagery, appearing as realistic as it does unreal. Its artifice is embedded within its realism, and modulates your digestion and assessment of what’s happening on the small YouTube screen. Partly this is to do with the heady collusion between pixels which now govern the terrain of image encoding and transcoding. But more so it’s to do with how transitional this type of image is, in a realm well past the parsing of signifier from signified. It occurs as reality TV shows, film mockumentaries, contemporary art interventions, covert documentaries, Wikileaked data, prankster QuickTimes, amateur porn uploading and mass illegal downloading collectively raze the notion of all image veracity through their saturation, repetition and atomization. Each references the other, dialogues with the other, reworks the other, creating a fabric of interlaced imagery which is simultaneously itself and its apparitions. This is the ‘unreality’ of the ISIS internet videos: it’s the state not of data or information, but of how imagery resonates and interpolates image modes and codes in the current mediasphere. They engage in the voiding of effects.

On January 24th, a different video is uploaded, titled This Message Was Received By The Family Of Kenji Goto Jogo And The Government Of Japan (2). You hear the voice of Goto announcing that Yukawa has been executed. But this isn’t even a video: it’s a still image. Goto is standing in a white void, holding an A4 print, bearing a digital diptych. The right image is Yukawa kneeling on ploughed ground. The left image is his prone body, atop of which sits his severed head. Here’s the rough math of the screen real estate: YouTube video screen - 25% of one’s computer screen; Goto’s image within the YouTube screen – 10%; Yukawa’s body on the digital print – 2%. On a 1440 x 900 pixel display at 72dpi, that’s about a 100 pixel square. This digital snuff postage stamp thus becomes a frightening example of terrorized language delivered care of ‘the world’. If the first ISIS internet video cited above inaugurates doubt in the face of verisimilitude, the second one establishes the futility of querying its veracity.

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Healing The Believers' Chests
Section 1: movie image appropriation

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Healing The Believers' Chests
Section 2: media evidence of collaboration (...)

Healing The Believers' Chests
Section 3: constructing a dataspace

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Healing The Believers' Chests
Section 4: special effects atomization

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Healing The Believers' Chests
Section 5: the execution

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Contents of this page © Philip Brophy - images © their respective holders