Digital Noise

I recently took part in a symposium run by Jonathan Kearney and the FADE research group. The event took place at Greenwich University’s Stephen Lawrence Gallery in conjunction with an exhibition by arts duo Chris+Keir. The exhibition documented a series of projects inspired by a mis-communication between Chris+Keir and an artist in Canada. This idea of noise and communication formed the inspiration for the days presentations…

“This symposium will look at the issues of noise in a digital environment. A wide definition of noise will be considered with several speakers presenting the ideas they are working on within fine art practice based research.”


more here…

Myself and a handful of other Digital Arts students were asked to give ‘Pecha Kucha’ style presentations, explaining our work in relation to ‘digital noise’. Pecha Kucha, meaning ‘chit chat’ in Japanese, involves a speaker showing twenty images for twenty seconds each, giving a set duration of six minutes and forty seconds. The idea is to force the presenter into being short and concise and eliminate the rather dull power point format that kills so many presentations.

It was a useful exercise to scale down my ideas into such a short length of time. It was difficult to remain clear whilst being forced to omit so many elements. However with the run in to the final show now underway, its a useful skill to be quick and clear when describing work. The marketing and information around the show requires short descriptions and audiences will obviously not want to be reading reams of text.

I decided to simply present my work as I see it, rather than attempting to relate it to digital noise anymore than actually does. The main problem with this was finding images that supported what I wanted to say without distracting my audience. For example, the only way to illustrate ‘being lost’ was to use my own work. The alternative would have meant resorting to iStockphoto images that define being lost. But 3D mazes, blind folded businessmen and puppies sat on railway lines didn’t really make things any clearer. As a result, I took the lazy-but-stylisly-simple option of talking over excerpts from my work. This meant that I was presenting abstract imagery whilst at the same time blabbing on about augmented cities, psychogeography and the collapsing of space and time!



Although the feedback was good, the amount of information seemed to confuse a few people. I think in hindsight it would have been wiser to use the idea of digital noise as a start point. Not only would this have more clearly tied my presentation into the days events, but would also have given the audience a more generic language with which to discuss my work. In fact thinking about my work in terms of noise is interesting in itself and raises the interesting question of how language can be adapted to provide fresh angles on a concept. As mentioned above, finding the right language and dialogue to describe my work is going to be important in promoting both at the show and in the future.


In discussing Lev Manovich’s idea of augmented space – “…physical space overlaid with dynamically changing information.” – I could have made a clear link to how this information causes noise in physical environments. Its useful now to see the idea in these terms. Noise occurs in physical spaces as a distraction, caused by phones, internet connections, moving displays and even surveillance. As communication becomes ever more accessible, the amount of noise increases.

Although this concept of digital noise was always there in my work, the event gave me the opportunity to view the idea from a different perspective. It also provided a link between my own work and some of the key concepts of FADE’s research. As mentioned in an earlier post related to the FADE, I’ve started to see similarities between my research and their field of inquiry. I was slightly confused however, by their question…

“Is there a relationship between digital memory and anxiety?”

The idea of anything digital causing anxiety seemed slightly far fetched at first thought. However when describing technology such as wireless internet, mobile phones and surveillance as distractions from ones physical position it is possible to see a connection. In my presentation, I used the term ‘social ADHD’. By this I meant that wherever we are we generally have access to information, events and/or people who are not within our immediate vicinity. Although we are more aware of where we are, we also far more aware of where we are not. Is it anxiety related to being lost in this sense?



In contrast to this, Jonathan was keen for the idea of digital noise to be discussed in a positive light. Interference can is even desirable in certain circumstances and it was again useful to consider my own work in this light. I was unable to include any aspects of my research paper – about walking – in the talk, instead choosing to focus more on my photomontages, rather than my experience of capturing them. However, it is interesting to see walking itself as noise in a system of mechanised travel. In cities where cars, buses and trains dominate speed of movement, walking is a contradictory activity that only really makes life difficult for vehicles. Traffic is often caused at points where people are crossing roads on foot. The Situationists themselves saw the act of Derive as destroying the city. By walking against the flow traffic, through back streets and alleyways and avoiding main thoroughfares, they became noise in a society they considered dull and functional.


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