Migration and the Poor Image

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Ramona Beattie

In this time of mass information, of the digital bureaucracy of the internet mirroring the real almost entirely, systems are built for fracture; instability of systems becomes the rule, and not the exception. Across the board, mistrust of those in positions of power, and in the nature of these positions in the first place. As frantic, constant, in-flux response, makeshift environments of fear and deterrence are pinned up in order to maintain control of individuals. If everyone’s gonna get crushed, something’s gotta splash out from the sides of the shoe. If we think of stomping as the mechanism of control, and the guts flying out of the sides are those who are pushed to the edges: those who are marginalized, degraded, sent into exile. And in a time of mass dissociation and mass frantic control, the realest experience is that of these individuals, traditions, objects and symbols. The imprint of the real chaos and cruelty and stomping of the world is all too heavy on the exiled.

While immediately and clearly this applies to the position of the refugee, it also applies to the position of Hito Steyerl’s “poor image.” In being digitally degraded, what may be lost in photo quality is gained in communicating value, that migrant images which are shared with a promiscuous speed are actually of more value because in the muddled world of the internet it’s incredibly difficult to pique interest at all. This reminds me of Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe’s theory on the migration of art’s aura through facsimiles. Their understanding is one which finds value in a work which has been copied thousands of times throughout history, rejecting the commonly accepted idea that this demeans the work and decreases authenticity, and arguing that the more a work or an image is reflected and represented and reproduced, the richer its history becomes, and the more significant its aura. In favoring the digital migration of images, we may open up an entirely new, and entirely more democratic way of culturally processing and appreciating these images. High resolution and un-downloadable images may protect intellectual property, but the users of the internet are not only constantly finding ways around this, they also have appreciation for the copies, the ghosts of the images and symbols they love and learn from.

In considering “contemporary art through the lens of migration,” Demos provides a hopeful, democratic way of looking at art in modernity which is incredibly congruous with Steyerl’s theory on the migration of images. He recognizes the constant flux of reality and instead of recognizing it as flaw which must be stomped out he allows this to give a new kind of will, a new intentionality, a new individuality to the migrant artist. He speaks of a multifacetedness in those who have been crushed out the sides into the unknown: a “bicultural knowledge produced by living in a foreign environment, generating in its positive expression a sensitivity toward difference and a newfound appreciation of the cultural character of one’s origin.”

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Questions:

  1. What does the current socio-emotional-political climate of the earth seem to want in terms of the dissemination of film? How does this tie into the way we seem to have a cultural distaste for the “poor image?” Does this relate to cultural attitudes about refugees?
  2. What are ways that we can possibly reframe our understanding of images in regards to intellectual property in order to better appreciate the role of the migrant?

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