The frames which displayed the medieval artworks often contained several paintings. Often positioned behind the altar, each painting would depict a particular scene and together they would form an elaborate representation of the biblical message. The position of the ‘camera’ would change in each photo creating a scene reminiscent of a modern control room. Their perspectival counterpart would usually consist of a larger single image with a working perspective.
I believe this fragmented and non-linear way of representing a story can be found in today’s social media: Every night, before going to bed, I scroll through my Instagram feed. My own vision of London is then supplemented with my friends own visions of the city. My spatial impression of the world is thus drastically altered from an individual’s point of view to a collective view. According to Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report, 1.8 Billion photos where uploaded every day in 2014. Since then, the number has probably increased dramatically.
The entire catalogue of human visual culture is available at a keystroke, served up in grids that dislocate images from their context, with adjacencies formed algorithmically rather than by any coherent classification.
As the dataset grows and the one to one map becomes more detailed, it also becomes harder to read. There is simply too much data and the numbers relate to each other in highly intricate webs. Only algorithms can process the data and we rely on them to create a readable map.
Medieval artworks did not try to simulate reality, but rather displayed something reality can’t. Christianity was at the time deeply imbued with Neo-Platonism so the ideal was outside the material world. Objects in the real world are poor imitations of the idea. This notion manifested itself in the art by a level of abstraction in the paintings and by having the paintings look the same. Virgin Mary would be rendered without much detail, appearing flat on the surface of the painting. Her head would be tilted to the side, either looking down at Baby Jesus or straight out of the canvas. This motif is found countless time and is still dominant in the Orthodox Church. These images conveyed the idea of the Virgin mother as an objective truth.
The perspective relies on a fixed position of an eye. This position is outside of the image, yet within the same world as the image is simulating. Not just part of this world, but the constructing agent. Thus we can see the artist within the image and we are made aware of the fact that the image is a subjective construct. The Virgin was now beautifully rendered as a youthful woman, often displayed in the act of breastfeeding Baby Jesus. Jesus, who previously would be displayed with an oddly adult-looking face, had now become an innocent baby fondly holding on to his mother. The observer was meant to empathise with the subjects as humans, rather than as mere ideas.
Humanism’s celebration of the individual and the subjective is escalated in Dataism. The individual is vastly empowered by technology. Anyone with a smartphone and access to internet can advertise themselves to the whole world. The worship of otherworldly deities is replaced by living celebrities.