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Dead Tired

Symptoms of Information Overload

Grosse Fatigue (Dead Tired), Camille Henrot, 2013, video, 13 minutes, Silex Film and Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris

The digital age is one of endless connectivity and communication. We now exist, for better or worse, in a time that facilitates an intensive and accelerated consumption of data and information. In a conventionally utopian view of the world, humanity seems to have created a modern democracy, a digital landscape where residents are able to voice their ideas, find new information, and engage in discussion and critique. However, the data smog of the twenty-first century, in harmony with our absolute digital immersion, has not been without its real-life symptoms. Information overload - a term coined by Alvin Toffler in 1970 - is the biggest discomfort of our digital age. It is thought to have enflamed an ‘information anxiety’ of sorts, making individuals feel powerless and disorientated in a world where the limitless accessibility to information can be snaring, as opposed to liberating. From the titans of social media to the peasantry of personal blogs, the information can be demanding, drowning our senses and cutting us off from this mortal coil.

Camille Henrot’s 2013 artwork Grosse Fatigue (Dead Tired) is a profound articulation of humanity’s digital submersion. The artist invites alienation and fragmentation, questioning our own development as internet users. The backbone of the video installation is a spoken-word poem, whilst the visual basis of the artwork is an endless series of filmic shots that reveal the relics hidden inside Washington DC’s Smithsonian Museum, interspersed with images lifted from the web. A parade of screens introduces, among other things, a pickled fish skeleton, an X-ray of a seahorse, a drawer of lifeless Toucans, a male torso showering, a woman masturbating, and the viral video of Darwin, the lost Ikea monkey of 2012. Insects and shells are picked apart by a pair of beautifully manicured hands, which move on to finger a pair of ethnographic textbooks allowing us a glimpse of early twentieth-century photographs of an Orientalist Africa’s indigenous people. More pinpointed shots reveal these same hands at play; rotating an orange, rolling marbles, marking ink on paper - the tactile is central. A twin set of wooden African artefacts pop up, followed then by a screenshot of a Google search; someone’s quest for an answer to the 'History of the universe', and a Wikipedia page; a world map of Schizophrenia diagnoses. At thirteen minutes long, the dizzying array of pictures weave together an abundance of references that appear and disappear almost too quickly for us to establish any coherent narrative, although the artist herself claims that the film is a history of the creation of the universe, encompassing a variety of cultures, histories and mythologies.

Set within the recognisable Mac desktop background - bedecked with the default stars and galaxies background - this universalising story is told through a series of browser pop-ups that again are eerily familiar. We enter into a rabbit hole of online and archival imagery that is reminiscent of a late night, blue-tinted, web-based ramble. It is a descriptive spectacle, figuratively chronicling the insanity-inducing and immobilising nature of our all-encompassing, information culture. In all honesty, Grosse Fatigue is an unpleasant experience. To be confronted with such an accumulation of information at such a rapid rate is paralysing, both physically and mentally. Along these lines, the artwork communicates an ‘information sickness’, or media overdose that prompts feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.

Grosse Fatigue (Dead Tired), Camille Henrot, 2013, video, 13 minutes, Silex Film and Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris

The information and knowledge that is permanently within reach brings with it an awareness and insecurity about the limitations of our own knowledge. The infinite knowledge base of the internet reveals the inconsistencies within our own understandings, reducing us all to the rank of novice. Grosse Fatigue reveals the absolute impossibility of forming any complete basis of knowledge, both individually and collectively. The piece also welcomes a consideration on the differences between knowledge and information, a question that is all the more relevant now, as the reality of knowledge and information becomes politicised. The internet abets the passive consumption of information, as opposed to the active cultivation of knowledge. An inability to distinguish between practical, and expendable information is an embarrassing symptom of the twenty-first century. The information revolution of recent years has failed to enlighten the American public with regards to the election of their latest president, an individual who has ushered in a post-truth era, where facts no longer hold their own. The countless connections we’ve all made did not create the communal sanctity that we hoped it would, instead our digital rights and private information have become pawns to be gambled with in transnational, indirect warfare. The dawning of the iPhone has not prevented what seems to be the collective dumbing-down of entire nations. From Brexit Britain and Trump's America to Catalonian Independence and Trudeaudian Neoliberalism, information has not necessarily manifested in useful worldly knowledge, but instead, as personal echo-chambers, repeating back to us what we know already but with a filter.

Despite its bounty of the visual and textual, Grosse Fatigue progresses with an Adam Curtis-esque degree of fluidity and effortlessness. Although it is ultimately a vision of chaos, the film represents an idea of totality and of completeness that is oddly comforting, in an otherwise isolating experience. It makes seemingly pointless connections between the profound and the banal, drawing pathways between histories, between cultures, between religions and mythologies. There is a reassurance in knowing that Henrot has made public an overwhelming series of fragments that refuse to coagulate into any comprehensive totality. The internet demonstrates a structuring of the world that, when apprehended partially, presents itself as predictable, as incorruptible, as absolute. It has almost evolved into an instrument of prophecy. As Henrot’s Google and Wikipedia screenshots expose, individuals now look to the web as an aid in existential problem-solving, despite it being a tool that is fully under human control. Born through a self-perpetuating myth, the legacy of the Internet has now established itself with uncontested authority.

Henrot’s piece is a profound circumspection on the substance of information within a global society of unbounded ideas, drawing attention to our changing relationship to information and data. She accurately captures a manifestation of our digital age - the insatiable human who is consumed by both a thirst for knowledge and a burning impatience, their skin continually soothed with the blue glow of a high-def screen. Ultimately, Grosse Fatigue addresses the impossibility and immeasurability of universal knowledge, the vastness of our modern existence, and all that existed before it. It embodies the futility of our roles as collectors, as consumers, and the hopelessness of knowing the ‘whole’ story.

This article was first published in SEE:ONE, The Courtauldian’s printed publication. You can find the full first issue of SEE here:

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