People Eaters

It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality, but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real.

-Jean Baudrillard

People Eaters is an Instagram based work of art that draws upon the language of the internet and its remix culture to attempt to offer a critique our inter-connected, visually saturated, post-truth world.

Contrary to all appearances People Eaters is not a work about cannibalism but about (un)reality, or the hyper-reality in which we exist today. We are increasingly inter-connected to one another via our wi-fi’d and 5g’d interfaces. In this interconnected world we continually and constantly react to visual information and what Baudrillard terms simulations of reality – to televised (or streamed) news rather than the world around us. We react to apps rather than to physical social interactions, and to email rather than vocal communication. In all these situations we react to visual simulations rather than to the immediate environment.

The internet has blurred the boundaries between the real and the imaginary, between the real and unreal, and between truth and lies further than any other media that preceded it. So what is real anymore?

Whilst they have been manipulated, the images in the @People_Eaters Instagram feed are as ‘real’ as any other image that we might encounter online – despite their apparent absurdity. The false signs contained within them are entangled with remnants of the real in a stream of other real and unreal signs.

Social media is a hyper-real experience which is frequently perceived as being more real than the real. Social media platforms act as digital reproductions of real life, heightened versions of real communication between friends and acquaintances. But ultimately it does not reflect real life interaction – it is hyper-real, a digital simulation of reality. Just as digital interactions between friends are simulated via tools such as email and DMs, People Eaters presents a series of images that are a hyper-real digital simulation of reality.

The People Eaters images are entangled in the torrent of visual information we are subjected to on a daily basis. The feed is a simulation of reality to be consumed, to be reacted to. They are what Steyerl might describe as ‘poor images’ – bastards of original images, defying copyright, and with a low image quality, and of a resolution is below what we might ordinarily consider to be a suitable standard for a work of Art.

As previously stated, these works are not about cannibalism as they might appear at first glance. The cannibal theme has been adopted as a cohesive thread tying the images together in the feed since cannibalistic practices mirror the inner logic of the capitalist economics in which social media is interwoven. Capitalism unleashes appetites that have no limits, and so in the end it eats its own. Similarly, our collective appetite for visual content apparently knows no bounds as we constantly consume one another via our platform of choice.

Commentators such as Paul Virlio, writing before the WWW got a stranglehold on us, drew attention to just how over-saturated the world is with images. Since the rise of the WWW and social media the world has been saturated further still with visual information not least because of the openness and accessibility that the WWW affords.

The universality and decentralisation of the WWW allows anyone to publish anything online for anyone in the whole world to consume. Whilst we are caught up in a torrent of visual information there are no gatekeepers vetting online content to assess its accuracy or truthfulness. This has led to suggestions that we are living in a post-truth era. But this is not new, just an amplification of all that has gone before. As John Diamond observed in 1995 “the real problem with the internet is that everything written on it is true”. What he was alluding to is that there is no real way of discerning the truth from untruths online. Furthermore, as Ball (2019) explains, if an untruth chimes with a viewers worldview they are unlikely to challenge it’s validity, but very much more likely to share that content. The Media today are also complicit in this, constantly repeating and recycling claims that are often entirely untrue which are shared and reposted by thousands if not millions of internet users.

People Eaters responds to this by posting unreal images into the public realm. They may be poor images, meme-like in their creation, but they are convincingly manipulated to cause audiences to double-take if not wholly lure them into their absurd cannibalistic simulation.

The People Eaters Instagram feed presents a simulation of reality that is no more untrue than the accounts from which the images contained within have been appropriated. In the twenty first century the concept of truth seems more complicated than ever, and if reality is a truth then it’s fair to say that the boundaries between reality and unreality are far from black and white.

With all of this in mind could you honestly say that it is not true that eating people is the solution to many of our current global problems? After all man was born a cannibal… it is civilisation that put him in chains.

You can find the People Eaters project on Instagram here @People_Eaters