Sunday, 27 February 2011

Image Threads: an installation proposal

‘There are very few places, now, where you can go and not have identity, to be completely anonymous and say whatever you’d like. And saying whatever you like, I think, is powerful’ - moot, founder of 4chan

This installation will explore how the tactile aspects of our interface with communication devices affect the content of discourse and inscribe particular modes of self-presentation, by recreating in material form the digital communications structure of the image board. Visitors will be invited to contribute to anonymous discussions by writing messages on the backs of postcards and attaching them to message threads hanging from helium balloons. This combination of graphical and written communication in the hands of anonymous contributors will simulate online ‘image boards’ such as those hosted on the infamous 4chan.

Receiving as much web traffic as the New York Times or the Washington Post, 4chan is home to an enormously influential online subculture. Any regular user of the internet has participated in modes of discourse and expression that originate on 4chan’s imageboards. It has a reputation for depravity; much of its discourse is explicitly sexual or otherwise offensive. However, it is also the source of the most well-known memes of internet culture, and its hive mind of anonymous contributors has powered some of the most high- profile collective actions in the history of the internet. The image board is an important site of contemporary cultural production that should be explored by anybody interested in identity and discourse in the internet age. In this installation, the plan is not to deliberately include offensive content, but to see how the same communication platform in materialised form changes the nature of the content contributed by users - presumably people won't post offensive material, and I'm interested in what they will post instead.

This installation will be an experiment into how the virtuality of digital media affects self-presentation and the content of discourse. Visitors will be given the opportunity to interact in a tactile way with a communication structure that simulates the virtual communication of an image board. It is a chance to reflect on the effects of anonymity and virtuality on digital communications media, and also to consider materiality and simulation in the unusual case of an installation that represents the virtual.

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