We’re all bored to death of hearing about fake news and alternative facts and how social media is crap. So when we heard about the latest issue of isthisit? there was a small part of us that thought we knew what we were going to yet. But on closer inspection, this new publication is an engaging collection of voices and artwork that explores why terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts” have become such buzzwords that not even the most recluse hermits of society can escape.
Bob Bicknell-Knight founded the contemporary art platform isthisit? in May 2016 as a “simple, easy and cost-effective way of learning about what a curator was and could be”, he tells It’s Nice That. He started off hosting weekly online exhibitions which evolved into an online residency, and since then, the platform has expanded into a series of books, exhibitions both offline and online, where Bob invites curators to come on board to help produce the exhibitions.
The sixth issue of the book champions internet art and explores what this even means. While its editorial content delves into the use of how the internet is altering our perception of news and digital media, the book’s accompanying design makes use of Facebook’s blue (the Pantone code is PMS 7684 C, by the way) hinting at the corporation’s controversy with Cambridge Analytica.
Bob talks us through three noteworthy editorial pieces, the first being Beverley Gadsden’s Went for Netflix & Chill – Ended up with a Law Degree. In the piece, she discusses “citizen journalism and how social media platforms allow the public to use news as a way of interpreting reality, undermining historical journalism by picking and choosing what to believe and by forming opinions via friendship groups and individual filter bubbles.” She also assesses how true crime programs like Making a Murderer and Serial frequently use social media as a tool to solve crimes; “utilising audience participation on Facebook groups and Reddit threads to collectively disseminate and interrogate pieces of data”.
In another piece, Vanessa Kowalski considers how social media has become less about escaping ourselves “as once was promised”, and instead acts like a mirror “reflecting one’s own misery of modern life”. And in an equally disconcerting yet insightful editorial piece, Alif Ibrahim explores the notion of Deepfakes. Deepfakes, is “the act of digitally inserting someone’s face onto another’s in a piece of existing video footage” explains Bob. “It’s currently being used as a fear mongering tactic by the news and media, forewarning of a future whereby anyone’s face can be inserted onto another’s.”
On the front cover, isthisit? features an image from AES+F’s series Islamic Project. Created back in 1996, the artists “alter existing imagery of Western cities to make it look as if they had been taken over by a radical and backward form of Islamic culture.” As prevalent as ever, the work comments on Western Islamophobia while also being one of the “first instances where an art collective produces their own form of fake news, altering public perception”.
Though the artwork and written pieces cover a vast expanse thematically, the publication’s content mutually “seeks to answer why the news has become so untrustworthy to the general public, as many prefer to browse through their Facebook or Twitter feeds in search of an opinion”, says Bob. And if anyone thinks this publication isn’t jam-packed with enough thought-provoking content, there’s plenty more ridiculously interesting work to make you think twice about “how our digital selves are slowly overtaking our physical attributes, becoming more like us than we can ever be”.
One example being Raphaël Fabre’s CNI where he created a digital, 3D-modelled version of his face and submitted it to the French passport office. He conveys how our digital projections are slowly overtaking our lives “while propagating a false or edited document of himself as a form of alternative facts.” Other works (which we can’t help but mention because they are so interesting) question the propaganda insinuated throughout American films and finally, to round up the staggering amount of content in this publication, Jonas Lund explores how Donald Trump uses Twitter as his “own personal propaganda machine”.
While all of this is designed through a post-internet aesthetic, reminiscent of dense Wikipedia pages and the old Windows screens, Bob has evidently thrown himself into the project; unearthing some crucial works of propagandist-themed art; definitely worth our attentions. In a conclusive comment, Bob finally adds, “the only way to move forward is to trust professional insight and make sure your data and news content is coming from a reliable source.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.