Lindsey Raymond


Tabita Rezaire, deep down title, 2017. Courtesy of the artist

Algorithms: Not angels or extra terrestrials, only human input. 

In Jaron Lanier’s lecture, How the Internet Failed & How to Recreate It, [1] he discusses the coercive nurturing of algorithms to manipulate, retain, and expand power. This extends to the internet at large: a trading game in human futures. The lecture ends with Lanier’s irresolute confessional, a summary of our end: “It is neither a whimper or a bang, but just sort of a cranky rant…” 

↵ [Enter] Tabita Rezaire’s video work Deep Down Tidal (2017). [2]

The first time I viewed Deep Down Tidal (2017), I watched it back-to-back with Hito Steyerl’s How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013) [3] and Tracey Rose’s Global Feminisms performance documentation. [4] YouTube’s algorithms and each respective video’s Search Engine Optimisation strategy collaborated to curate a killer video programme. The result was a stream of consciousness, cross-dimensional engagement with the Information Age; social media; surveillance technologies; the colonial routing of internet cable networks; white feminism of the Anglo-American academy; absurdity, animation, and play. One thing informs the next (with the interjection of the odd make-up tutorial). This is the place where systems meet, where humans converse with machines.

In the case of Rezaire’s film, the infrastructure of submarine fibre optic cables informs the transferral of users’ digital data. Incentives run the world, and these cable networks, laid on transatlantic slave trade routes, characterise the trajectory of our future-present. In one scene, a Black cyborg emerges from a sea anemone while an AI generated voice narrates: “The West urgently needs new places to come conquer, and where they don’t actually exist, they must be created: Enter Cyberspace.” A sign reading ‘Cyber Slaves’ pops up and lands above two whirling Stormtroopers, spinning until it transitions out of frame. This slapstick use of moving objects is laced with the acidic wit characteristic of a generational humour sprung on by the saturated imagery of the Techno Age. This is the equivalent of a meme being screenshotted, altered, and sent thousands of times over, until it becomes a pixelated potato-quality relic in itself. Once these memes are well-travelled and deep-fried it is no longer the message that counts, it is the thing.

Rezaire reinforces that this thing is a token of human engagement — of labour. A more dignified data economy could see the establishment of a universal standard income. Where housing, healthcare, and education, are provided for just by users having fun on the internet (read: handing over our personal data for psychographics). It is this current exploitation and dangerous misconception of the internet as a ‘free’ space that Rezaire contests, using comic relief to address these naive perceptions. 

Soothing seascapes are also thrown into the mix, connecting the historical, cosmological, spiritual, political, and technological impetuses of water and its pivotal role in carrying messages. These moments of connectivity are encoded into the video to shift our behavioural responses. From entertained to content… and then suddenly distraught? Unsettled? Oh, now joyous. This is the same manipulation tactic used to drive user engagement for the benefit of third parties. Randomised dopamine hits are looped in to break repetitive chains, keeping us hooked to our devices. 

This is Rezaire’s point and prophetic offering: the Internet is not neutral, it is human and it is history. And the way it currently exists and operates threatens our basic survival. It compels us further and further away from the realities of a failing economy, poverty, inequality, and climate change, and towards a cranky rant and on the way to demise. 

[1] Jaron Lanier, 2018. How the Internet Failed & How to Recreate It. Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture, UC Santa Cruz: California. Available here.

[2] Tabita Rezaire, Deep Down Tidal, 2017. Digital Video. 18:40 mins. Available here.

[3] Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013. Digital Video, 15:52 mins. Available here.

[4] Tracey Rose, The Cunt Show, 2007. From The Can’t Show, Global Feminisms Exhibition, Brooklyn Museum: New York. Available here