We run an online magazine, so of course, we’re interested in what’s happening with art on the web. Every other Wednesday online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, selects a Web Artist of the Week.
Karin Ferrari was one of my favorite discoveries from the latest edition of The Wrong digital art biennale. Her work emulates the conspiracy theory videos that have become a ubiquitous part of YouTube culture. Ferrari so perfectly captures the mood and aesthetic of these videos that the line between artistic creation and genuine belief becomes completely blurred.
Many viewers, unaware that these videos—a decoding of Illuminati symbolism in an Azealia Banks’ music video, for example—were created by an artist, accept them at face value. The YouTube comments sections are a testament to how seriously and thoroughly Ferrari approaches her works’ creation. Fall down the rabbit hole Ferrari has excavated, and you’ll find her videos are ripe for generating complex conspiracy theories of their own!
Though Ferrari’s videos focus on a relatively small corner of the web, they deftly provide unique and unexpected insights into the nature and meaning of the internet and contemporary culture as a whole—even if we are left with more questions than answers.
Christian Petersen: When did you first become aware of the existence of the internet?
Karin Ferrari: I was held captive in a satanic cult as a spiritual medium and came into contact with the internet quite late.
CP: Can you describe your early experiences of the internet?
KF: I was the administrator of the closed group Facebook page for the satanic cult.
CP: When did you first understand the creative possibilities of the internet?
KF: 2009. I got caught up deep into the rabbit hole of the weird part of YouTube. I worked at a museum for applied arts at that time as a curatorial assistant for design. After watching, for the whole weekend, badly produced educational videos with trashy techno background music about various Alien species living among us I realized that this touches me way more deeply than most white cube art products.
CP: What was your favorite product of popular culture when you were a kid?
KF: I liked He-man so much. I remember running around the apartment and shouting “By the power of Greyskull!” in Italian. For a very long time I considered him to be a grown up girl who did not turn into a woman.
CP: Did you question authority when you were young?
KF: I was a very happy sweet child. I don’t know where this came from but there was a phase when I couldn’t stop thinking “God is bad, the devil is good.” These thoughts just popped up sometimes. I must explain I come from a traditionally Catholic region. South Tyrol, it’s in the Italian Alps. Cows and churches everywhere. It’s beautiful. I was six years old and the religion teacher brought us to church for our first confession. And amongst the other children making up fake crimes in order to have something to talk about, there I was having a theological crisis. The priest was cool about it. I guess because the devil is at the innermost core of their secret teachings.
CP: You studied painting at college. What were your paintings like and how did you transition to digital art?
KF: Yes, I am an academic painter and still draw. I experimented with materials, surrealist narratives, and gestural abstraction. My new drawings incorporate internet imagery, the aesthetics of digital image production, and neotrash materialism. They are inspired by vapor wave aesthetics and pulp fantasy illustrations and feature a fascination with the utopian desires of esoteric pop and consumer capitalism.
CP: When did you first become interested in alternatives to mainstream thinking?
KF: As a child I loved to be upside down and stare at the ceiling until it started to look like a floor.
CP: When did you fist become aware of the idea of hidden symbolism in mainstream culture?
KF: On a Sunday afternoon during summer break there was a broadcast of “They live” by John Carpenter. “They live”… I wonder if that’s a reference to images as well, that images are alive.
CP: In another interview I read you describe yourself and life with three words: Aliens, sex, and paranoia. Can you explain these choices further?
KF: Being alive is about exploring the unknown. Meeting otherness. Sometimes it scares you, sometimes you want to fuck it.
CP: Is paranoia a reasonable/logical reaction to the modern world?
KF: Yes. Paranoid imagination is a natural backlash against paranoid politix—they are part of the same coin. For me as an artist, paranoia is interesting because it shows how powerful the creative mind is, bending the world towards our beliefs. We do that all the time without even realizing. It’s always the same principle in magic, meme magic, advertising, and quantum physics: attention creates reality.
CP: The internet vastly expanded a relatively small subculture of conspiracy theorists. What factors do you think caused this?
KF: The internet is a veritable conspiracy theory generator, and at the same time it operates the invisible stalking gaze of global surveillance programs, military espionage, data-mining, micro-targeting, etc. The internet is a creepy echo chamber for several recursive levels of communication and control. The Google Chrome browser compresses this wicked dynamic into one icon: three superimposed sixes spinning like a whirlpool around their circular center (does the circular center represent the empty gaze of a non-sentient artificial super-intelligence from another dimension, reigned by chaos and decay, that spreads into our human realm through infected technological devices?). I assume everyone knows that the numerical value of www is 666.
CP: How would you describe your work?
KF: I examine images and symbols of pop culture and everyday culture in order to analyze the present. My video series DECODING (THE WHOLE TRUTH) reveals hidden messages in music videos and TV clips. It is inspired by counter-cultural YouTube videos that try to understand “what’s really going on.” I deal with and create speculative narratives on the threshold of academic theory, spiritual utopian desires, and paranoid political imagination.
CP: When and why did you first decide to make work exploring that world? What was the motivation behind your The Whole Truth series?
KF: After binge watching videos about reptilian shape-shifting news reporters in the weird part of YouTube I wondered why nobody is making art with this stuff and decided I was going to be the one. There is a huge creative and imaginative power. I like to call these speculative narrations that bloom in the New Internet Age “trash mysticism” because they are a sketchy version of Western esotericism and occultism. These narrations and explanations might not always be literally true and sometimes even delusional. Nonetheless they are symptomatic for our present, its opaque powers structures, the repressive structures of academic knowledge production, the challenges of new media, and the collective craving for something otherworldly, something new.
With my DECODING (THE WHOLE TRUTH) series I want to blow people’s minds. And on a meta level for the skeptics and art people I want to provide the experience to witness firsthand how information and attention influences perception. When I proclaim “the whole truth” in the title of my videos I refer to a bigger reality. A reality that includes the realms of possibilities and imagination as well. And it is there, in the imaginative realm, where the worlds of human agency, technology, natural laws, animals, objects, and facts converge.
CP: Knowing that you’re an artist makes it harder to define your “true” level of belief in the theories in your videos. Can you talk a little about the balance between you actual beliefs and your creativity?
KF: I believe everything. To maintain emotional stability I go jogging everyday. And I am a bit psychic. During (intergalactic) telepathic communication messages appear as mental images, smells, and other substitutes. These have to be translated back into human language as precisely as possible. I get facts mixed up. It just happens. I guess that’s why the secret military space program didn’t want me. But I am still good enough to make art.
CP: Can you talk a little about the differing reactions to your videos from “regular” YouTube users and “art” people?
KF: Some people are more impressed about research that consists in opening the book on the right page than having read the whole volume. Because it’s proof that I’m magic.
CP: Where do YouTube comments fit into your work? Do they become part of it?
KF: I put my videos on YouTube. This way they feed back into the realm were they came from. Yes, I consider the comments themselves part of the artwork. I published them as screenshot images in the philosophy book Epidemic Subjects – Radical Ontology (ed. by Elisabeth von Samsonow). When Azealia Banks tweeted about my DECODING of her music video “Atlantis,” I produced her tweet as an object.
Photo: Philippe Gerlach, 2015
CP: Do you think the term “conspiracy theory” is used to reduce people’s desire to consider certain ideas?
KF: The term conspiracy theory has definitely been and is still used as a verbal weapon. Historically you can trace that back to 1967 when the US government used the term to de-legitimize critique on the Warren Commission, naming Lee Harvey Oswald as the only murderer of Kennedy.
CP: Why do you think a lot of people are so hostile towards conspiracy theories and alternative ideas?
KF: That’s a good question. I can only talk for myself, but I think generally nobody likes to be told that they’re wrong. It’s mind blowing to realize that every single person walking on earth believes and does the right thing from his or her perspective. It’s incredible. Especially if one considers all the idiots that cross one’s way. It was challenging to find a gentle way and artful strategies to broach the issue of conspiracy theories and explanatory schemas that differ radically from dominant views. In the end there is little left one can say is true with certainty once one starts questioning the world and one’s own beliefs. I mean, I have never met anyone claiming to be part of the Illuminati, in contrast to Hybrid Reptiles. I have met Reptiles (ex-boyfriend, etc.). However it was impressive when I started to face my own biases and complicities in the reproduction of repressive power structures. And I consider myself a good person.
CP: What are your favorite and least favorite conspiracy theories?
KF: I like the gnostic revisions of Christian texts and ideas. Erik Davis called it the first metaphysical conspiracy theory: the snake in Eden was not the bad guy—finally the snake provided Adam and Eve with a knowledge upgrade. Monocausal fear-based scapegoat ideologies are dull and predictable. But truly alarming is the preemptive logic of paranoid politics.
Detail Hyperconnected (The Whole Picture), Karin Ferrari 2016
CP: Can you talk a little about the process of creating your videos?
KF: Usually someone points out a suspicious pop music video packed with Illuminati symbolism. I mean, I don’t believe in the Illuminati in the literal sense, at least most of the time. But there is definitely a cluster of symbols drawn from the tapestry of western Occultism and rooting back to ancient Egypt that keeps reappearing in contemporary design in high budget pop music video productions. For me the predominant message shines immediately through the video but it takes me months of unsystematic research and cosmic downloads until every detail of the video is completely decoded. It’s like a puzzle where all the pieces fall together.
CP: What projects do you have coming up?
KF: Mhtynix is a hypnagogic road movie about the dark anthropocene in artistic collaboration with the artists Bernhard Garnicnig and Peter Moosgaard that will be produced 2018 for the Austrian national TV art program Pixel, Bytes & Film. Over the Christmas holidays I worked on the DECODING of a Taylor Swift video that secretly tells the galactic origin myth of the global black magic elite.
And then there is DECODING Earth, a pseudo sci-fi documentary that claims to reveal hidden messages within TV News opening titles. DECODING Earth is based on the thesis that the depictions of the planet and of time in the TV news intros are representative for the dominant worldview and Zeitgeist. So it is possible to psychologically analyze these images and deduce how a society conceives itself, the world, reality, and their contemporaneity. DECODING Earth is a work in progress. During my residency at the Cité des Arts in Paris I produced a trailer with French News opening titles appropriating the format of Blockbuster movie trailers. The work was realized with the support of the Forum Culturel Autrichien, Paris.
The idea to work with news intros was first applied in 2016 on Austria’s leading TV news magazine Zeit im Bild. The film DECODING Austria’s News Intros (THE WHOLE TRUTH) was produced for the Austrian national television channel ORFIII within the TV art program Pixel, Bytes & Film with support of the Federal Chancellery of Austria.