It took a bit longer than expected, but the six interviews of my Tagging Aesthetics series are now online at Digicult. Each interview discusses different tagging practices, which materialise across a diverse range of aesthetic objects. What I wanted to collect was a sort of glossary of media tactics that respond in imaginative ways to the types of habitual — if not downright automated — forms of identity labelling that become naturalised through social media. In this post I’m just providing a convenient recap so that it’s clear why I put them all together, but you can explore each one individually by following the links.
Hi-jacking Cats in the Attention Economy
Instagram hashtags are one of the most popular forms of tagging at the moment, often appearing in confusing clouds full of trending buzzwords. These hashtags are most useful to users with small followings, who hope to tap into the fleeting flows of global attention and get a chance at micro-celebrity. When major tags get hi-jacked by satirical discourse, however, the result can be a critical reflection on Instagram logic itself. I spoke with Jacopo Calonaci about his @catonacci_official account, discussing how he appropriated the Internet-lucky format of the cat for his own purposes.
Read the interview here.
Ephemerality and Reluctance
The performance of femininity is often bound to specific formats, and even more so online. Marguerite Kalhor’s art indulges social media in a spontaneous, if reluctant fashion, leveraging physical presence and calculated theatre at the same time. Tags here are not literal or textual, but often appearing as clever titles in food reviews or reaction videos, as well as Snapchat stickers. Read the interview here.
Social media have a way of defining collective identities from the banal actions of individuals, who become entangled in ambivalent or revealing configurations. A false sense of anonymity allows the performance of social voyeurism or misogyny, but the materiality of data can also be leveraged to expose the naturalising impact of digital infrastructures in terms of both categorisation and problematic behaviours. As Midgray, Simon Boas and Kris Blackmore work on using digital marketing techniques for social good.
Read the interview here.
Teaching Cultural Stereotypes to Algorithms
Tagging is also a key element in machine learning and an important reminder of its cumbersome nature. Artist Max Dovey has been grappling with artificial intelligences for a while, along with themes of digital labour and physical presence. In our conversation we focus on his attempts to teach algorithms to understand cultural stereotypes like “hipster” or label human bodies outside of pre-formatted conventions. Read the interview here.
Feminist Politics of (Geo)Location
Geo-tagging is rarely considered a form of identity labelling, but it is an interesting element to put infrastructural concepts like Benjamin H. Bratton’s theory of the Stack in dialogue with identity-driven theories like Adrienne Rich’s feminist politics of location. In this respect, Helena Suárez Val’s investigation of digital mapping and feminicide in Latin America is an extremely interesting endeavour. Read the interview here.
The ANON collective also addresses infrastructural themes as well as more aesthetic, cultural topics — most relevantly through the #AltWoke and #BlackPopMatters hashtags, which they discuss in a complex theoretical manifesto. At the root of their dense manifesto is a preoccupation with the memetic appeal of the alt-right and a fascination with accelerationism and Afro-Pessimism. While they discuss the topics in much more nuance and detail in their own texts, our conversation focused on social media, tagging, and aesthetics. Read the interview here.