Anyways, I’ve been thinking about the concept of semantic satiation. For those who are clueless and don’t follow links, semantic satiation refers to the overwhelming repetition of a word or phrase, wherein it loses meaning and becomes like white noise. Obviously the text version of this would consist of word forms ceasing to be recognized as words (If you’ve ever written a word enough times to where it starts to not even look right and you’re convinced you’ve spelled it wrong, you’re there).
And I’ve been thinking about this in terms of the internet, memory, and collective memory/collective loss. What the hell does that mean?
In terms of the internet— using Tumblr, I see a lot of things show up on my dashboard (homepage) that consists of different people reblogging the same original post. Sometimes the reblog features comments that differ or distinguish one person I follow’s reblog from another’s, and sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, I’ve noticed that as I see these posts, especially if multiple users are reblogging them simultaneously, regardless of content and its interest factor to me, they just become like a white screen. Then, I considered when I’m searching for things. Regardless of what side of the Bing vs Google debate you fall on, searching for stuff seems insane on the internet when you actually look at the results; specifically, the amount of results. And it doesn’t even seem to matter how specific you get; sometimes these numbers are just enormous and completely unfathomable.
In terms of memory— Sometimes you play an event over enough in your mind, that you’re sure that it must have happened exactly like that, even though some alterations come every time you remember something. What I mean is that when you recall memories, subconsciously, your past gets “smoothed out” and becomes linear, as a way of rationalizing and understanding events, rather than being the mesh/mess that it really was. A prime example of this: think of an event you were present for, or have heard about before. Then recall a time when another person there tells someone who wasn’t, or re-tells a story in your presence. Maybe I just have weird friends, but things become exaggerated, or slightly reworded, or larger than life, depending on who is telling it. Regardless, the event has taken a slightly new form. And it does so over and over and over again. Consider another route: small events that suddenly become more significant based on a future event. For instance, imagine you have a simple conversation with a loved one, that you would normally ignore. But then you discover later in that day that that person has died. This “final” conversation now serves as a summation of your relationship together; either you are satisfied with how things were left off, or you have an insurmountable feeling of regret. And so those final moments are painstakingly re-lived, as if focusing on them hard enough and long enough can somehow change what was. It’s crazy.
Collective memory/loss is very similar. Except moments that may not have even been yours suddenly become significant. For instance, many people know or can recall what it is to see smoke coming from a cabin’s chimney, not because they ever lived in a cabin, but because they have viewed Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, or a Thomas Kinkade painting. We can recall a lot of things that never happened to us, because of powerful emotions like empathy, compassion, hatred, jealousy, etcetera. And we gather these memories from television, movies, songs, friends, family, magazines, art, newspapers, the internet, whatever. A highlight of this would be how I could say to someone “I know how you feel” to an event I’ve never experienced first hand. For instance, I’ve never lost my own child, or my own parent. But I may feel I’ve experienced both through knowing others who have and sharing their experience, through reading about times this has happened, through watching Grey’s Anatomy, through my own losses of other relationships, whatever. I mean, think about it. The American population’s reaction to the events of 9/11, for one; specifically those who had no personal loss in that; others’ loss seemed to become theirs, if only for awhile. I watched a season of Grey’s Anatomy in college; I’m not even joking, I felt like I had lost more kids than Octo-mom had by the end, without ever giving birth or adopting. And I was MISERABLE.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to invalidate these experiences or minimize them, I just have been completely reflecting on collective loss and satiation and this weird form of memory-appropriation we go through every day.
I started this project, in which I am combining these aspects into a few pieces. I thought about events that were universal, and naturally I landed on loss and love. I thought about the things I have heard most when it comes to loss; the “I’m sorry”‘s and the ‘I know how you feel”‘s. And I took these two phrases and ran them through Google (Sorry, I’m a Google user, regardless of those dumb commercials for how Bing’s preferred 2 to 1 or whatever) using quotation marks, since research class taught me that’s how you get more accurate results from searches (good Lord). And they still came up with these enormous figures:
I tried to picture what that would be like, to see the phrase ‘I’m sorry’ repeated 213 million times (to put this in perspective, the current population of the entire US is at about 314 million). So I tried to see how many fit on one page. Helvetica, 6pt, single spaced with 0.5 margins allowed for the phrase to be repeated 1584 times per page. This translates into needing nearly 134,470 pages to physically see the phrase 213 million times.
(Side note: I chose to type the words, rather than hand write them, because I felt the mechanical process made it less personal and served to displace the artist from being seen as the author, the voice, the subject, etcetera, making it more generic rather that correlating with a specific event, and therefore more universal.)
Anyways, I wanted to be able to see even a portion of that, so I printed an original filled sheet, then re-printed over it multiple times, leaving one additional row empty every time so I could see how to words layered on top of eachother. I didn’t make it all the way through, because the computer paper can actually only hold so much ink before the page won’t go through the printer again, but here’s a sample.
This method would (theoretically) be comprised of 79,200 repetitions of the phrase per sheet at the above size specifications (yep, I did the math). Which means that approximately 2,690 pages done exactly like this would be necessary to show the 213 million results Google showed.
And that, my friends, is fucking nuts. But, it’s my brain.
Post Title: Greg Laswell: Your Ghost
Edit: I will be the first to acknowledge I didn’t take too many elements directly from Herczeg/Kaehr this week. First of all, I don’t even own an actual camera. Second of all, I don’t know much about explosives (I’m much more of a fire-starting kind of person anyways). But I liked that the project became more about the documentation; about freezing a moment through a photograph rather than about having viewers directly experience it as the work. Which naturally got me dwelling on this work I saw with Rowley/Matt a couple years ago that was someone who photographed unseen things, like conversations, or microwaves. What I mean by this is he took photographic paper out at night and would talk onto it, or heat it up in a microwave, and display the results. Conceptually, the “conversation” (intangible object) or the microwaves would be projected onto the paper during the exposure time, and the paper would remain as evidence of it. So rather than hear a continual loop of people saying I’m sorry, I have chosen to visually represent the concept. I’m not going to lie, I really had no idea what the piece would end up looking like. I knew what a few pages of photocopied text layered on top of one another looked like, but this was a whole weird thing. The grid and consistent font gives it a sense of stability, but the layering and the unpredictable way the pages just slightly dis-aligned every time it went through the printer made that sense of OCD control completely obliterate and overwhelming. For me, the grid-like structure functions a lot like the home settings in Herczeg/Kaehr’s works; it creates a sense of security. Even the repetition of the same words, which are familiar ones and a familiar phrase even, seems safe. The grid is also quite in the realm of “making order out of chaos” conceptually; considering common reasons for the use of ‘I’m sorry’ stems out of arguments or loss.
Anyways, I’ve actually been looking at ways to continue this specific piece to it’s completion (ideally, getting 213 million “I’m sorry’s” on one page somehow) and I seem to be getting somewhere (slowly) so I’ll post that (and probably my failed attempts) when/if it happens.