Artifact Readers: pixelated revelations, glitch augury and low-res millenarianism in the age of conspiracy theory

February 2017

Francis Gooding works with music, art and film.

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The images selected for this slideshow are drawn from films made by members of the YouTube conspiracy theorist community. They are presented as traces of the radically heterodox alternate worldviews of their original creators. These worldviews depend to a large degree on the reading of digital images, and more particularly on the reading of digital artifacts within these images. These artifacts are sometimes present in the images as functions of transmission, reception or display; sometimes as a result of file compression or resolution problems in the original image; sometimes they are actively created through image enlargement, enhancement or editing.

In each case, the features of the image that are held to be significant are present primarily in the digital copy that the reader themselves holds or views. And in each case, digital artifacts or pixilation are interpreted as features of a hidden reality beyond the image. They are not seen as errors or by-products of digital processing, but as revealed properties of the object pictured, and thus as concrete signs of a completely different and concealed order of reality, existing beneath the one we are familiar with.

At one level these films and images seem to signify a major crisis of representation, one that begins in a crisis of the representational image in particular. Certain features of the image – artifacts – which belong solely to the image, are being taken to refer to the object; it is as though an out of focus photograph is interpreted as accurately showing an out-of-focus world, and what we would once have seen as technical shortcomings of representation are viewed as its most important features.

Such shortcomings of the image are themselves only understood as representational insofar as they are revelatory. What they show is to be read as a hidden truth revealed. The once and future world will be announced in these images, and it will reveal itself in abstract, algorithmically generated pixel patterns: the digital ectoplasm of a networked spirit world coming into view.

And as the image no longer represents an aspect of normal reality, but acts as a clue or gateway into a different, occluded reality, there is a more fundamental ontological crisis at work. Normal reality has fractured, and each person can find the signs of its failure in images wherever they look. This crisis of reality itself is so severe that the enlightened can find the all signs of collapse in the mere by-products of digital image processing. The first concrete revelations of the coming millennium are visible as a bush that burns in a blaze of pixels in every private monitor.

This work is part of a series: Fauxtography