holy-motors

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The opening scene of Leos Carax’ movie Holy Motors (2013) shows a man using a key, an extension of his finger, entering a cinema theatre. There an audience sits in front of the screen. We don’t know what they are watching, we just see their faces illuminated by the light of the projection. They don’t move, their eyes are following the shadows on the silver screen. It directly brings up the metaphor of Plato’s cave which, appropriated by the director, will soon reveal the deeper message of the movie. A clearly post-modernistic plot and aesthetic  will lead the viewer – as immobilized as the audience in the cinema – through an anecdotic story. Within a complex form it describes a very contemporary world dominated by mechanization and a strong desire to  expose our dissimilarity and individuality. Carax expresses his ideas through a cinematic language, leaving to viewers trails of a wider context. An engraved inscription on a tomb in Père-Lachaise cemetery shown in the movie: Visit my website sends us directly to virtual reality, which Carax puts to a side of his story. Still, we can easily  change the cinema screen he shows into the computer one, and everything will still fit.

The early 1990s brought a significant shift in the computer’s social function. Through the popularization of the Internet and rapid technological progress it became a universal medium machine, a cultural filter and a device which from now will be strongly connected with a human body. Culture was adjusted by the human-machine interface, which determines how the information will be used and viewed. Similarly to Carax’s spectators, the computer user stayed more and more  blocked in front of the screen and at the same time paradoxically forced to move – in a virtual space. The wide analogy with cinema doesn’t end here. According to Lev Manovich New Media Language [1] the Internet interface as we know is based on a constant remixing, appropriating and quoting patterns taken from an already existing human culture. He especially underlines two forms which shaped it:  print/text and cinema.

The particularity of these two cultural categories explains the way we collect digital information in order to make them widely accessible. The constant data visualization possible and common today has raised  few serious questions. Firstly, because of common access to the web, it is not standardized and everybody can easily upload information and publish it. The egalitarian and democratic Internet has become a source of differing qualities of information. What is more, it requires additional knowledge which will allow the digitalizing of the more traditional (books, paintings, photography) in a way that they won’t lose their value. Therefore it has to be clear which way we can read an enormous amount of data uploaded every day. The widow of the browser substitutes  TV screens, a gallery wall, a library, a book.

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Francois Hartog in his text Time and Heritage[1]  describes a notion of presentism referring to contemporary human perception of time. According to the author, time become highly instrumentalized by historians and serves as a common element  for them. The present becomes overpresent and came about as  a history of itself.  One of the consequences of that process is a forceful cultivation of our memory and a cultural heritage, making it possible for the past being present now. Since the 1980s the number of ‘new heritages’ and monuments made out of ruins has increased considerably. Memory and a connection to territory were  key words of the time. Heritage, redefined, served as the method of constructing what one has, what one is, without having known, or even been capable of knowing. The process of ‘heritagization’ lead to constructing identities, by choosing a history. Identifying heritage in buildings, nature or even empty spaces which witnessed historical events are visible in example in politics held by UNESCO.

But what about the future? Where will the next generations ruins appear?  We are destroying our planet at a terribly fast pace. We build new buildings in order to replace others without a thought, not allowing them to get old. How might this situation change the definition of ruins and where shall we look for them? The Internet become a second public space, where we upload data connected with our real life: photos, opinions, articles we read, etc. Each activity, registered in web is easy to be traced and to be found, sooner or later. The Internet doesn’t forget. What is more, our perception of time on the Web is totally opposite to what we experience in reality. Our physical memory is selective and  relatively short and we cannot prevent it from systematic forgetting, disappearing. Digital memory is not in danger of any type of amnesia. Data and users actions are constantly visible on the Web. The lack of data context – so paradoxically insufficient amounts of it – doesn’t allow events to be placed in time and personal experience[2].  All this information, links, images constitute a symbolical architecture of the Web. They can be dug out like ruins of the past. Kari Altman’s artistic online project R-U-In-?S is based on this simple premise. Her website, with the help of other artists and blogs users, is constructed out of reblogged posts, the ruins of ideas still present on the Internet.

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But to understand the idea of ruins and heritage in the Internet we should go back in time to when the GeoCities, a web hosting services, gained popularity. Before 1999 when it was bought by Yahoo, it  was considered as the most popular virtual platform for personal web pages. When finally shut down in 2009[1] the Internet Archive[2] announced a willingness to preserve the data it produced. On the first anniversary of  this event a torrent file was released, making it possible for researchers to work on this topic. Projects investigating this data appeared rapidly. The Inetrnetarcheology.org founded by Ryder Ripps organized visual material found from the GeoCities digital ruins. On the Internet Archeology website, information was catalogued by topics and visual content. Ripps also invited other artists to create artworks inspired by the Archive.  He saw his artistic mission as that of a pseudo-scientist aiming to preserve certain unique moments in the history of World Wide Web. The mission of preserving of this digital heritage is the main aim of Oilia Liliana and Dragan Espenschied research project One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age (Digging through the Geocities Torrent). After downloading the enormous torrent file, they systematically analyzed activity, certain codes of behavior, aesthetics and technical potential of GeoCities users. They consider their work as an act of preserving  data which can be only understood and valued by a human, not a machine. In 2005 and 2007 Liliana published two articles Vernacular Web 1 and Vernacular Web 2 where she lists and analyzes the most popular and characteristic elements of websites  dseigned in the 1990s. Throughout her practice, as a Net Artist and a researcher, nostalgia for a disappearing medium is palpable. The medium which is systematically vanishing, being pushed aside by technological progress. So called ‘digital folklore’ is today more an object of mockery by  Web 2.0 users, who don’t build personal websites anymore. They have Facebook accounts, Flicker, Twitter, Tumblr blog – each of which is easy to ‘design’ and customize by users who – in majority – had no idea how it actually works- an illusionary transparency. Liliana is a World Wide Web historian, who does not trace its development by the appearance of new browsers but in human relations to it. The Internet is no longer  future technology and it has lost its personal character.

Today clearly the Internet has become a natural element of our reality while being less and less immobilized in front of screens. Accessible on different devices and in most of public spaces, it  is no longer a niche for geeks or specialists. This important shift, which took place slightly more than a decade ago, has strongly influenced our already computerised society, emphasized brilliantly by Carax. The archeology of Internet is an actual fact and people working on it confirm by their action that a certain amount of data important for culture exists and needs to be preserved and described for the future. The GeoCities example shows that there is a past on theInternet which, through an arduous process of excavation shows not obviously visible technical changes but cultural ones too. This is the moment to work on it, not only for artists like Liliana or Ripps, but also archeologist, anthropologist and historians.

holly mootrs cinema

[1] L. ManovichNew Media Language, Warszawa 2006, p. 139.
[2] F. Hartog, Time and Heritage, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford
[3] Today forgetting has become costly and difficult, while remembering is inexpensive and easy – these ideas were developed by Victor Mayer-Schonberger in a book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, Princeton, 2009.
[4] is currently available only in Japan.
[5] Internet Archive is non-profit digital library with established in San Francisco. The main goal of it institution is to provide a free access to knowledge. The Wayback Machine, one of the services offered, shows how  enormous numbers of websites looked like on selected dates.

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