Twittage (2018)

Jason E. Geistweidt currently serves as Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Media Study at the University of Buffalo where he delivers courses in experimental audio, wearable computing, creative coding, and installation. He also directs the activities of the Media Lab, a collaborative space bringing media and architecture students together in coordination with the Center for Architecture and Situated Technologies.

While not teaching, Geistweidt tinkers with automatic image composition via Twitter to create his latest work, Twittage. A portmanteau of Twitter (the subject) and frottage (the technique), Twittage pulls images from Twitter in real time, as they are posted, layering them one upon another, thus creating a digital rubbing of an ephemeral social media. Geistweidt began working with this technique in early 2017 and has been since used the algorithm to generate images for his Guy Debord bot @GuyDebordBot on Twitter. By controlling the alpha value of these images, the number of layers employed, and the blending algorithm, it is possible to create a range of works from abstract fields of color to complex media barrages.


What Geistweidt opts not to control, however, is the content of the work, the resulting composition of the image, the juxtaposition of subjects across the frame, and the clash of color, shape, and text. Each image is the product of pure destiny, an act guided by Twitter's users. For example, a single unique image layered into the frame is consumed by subsequent layers of material almost immediately, though if this same image is retweeted, it is reiterated, reinforced, effectively burned into the composition. At face value, one could read these works as temporal documents, static records of some dynamic activity. However, Geistweidt believes if we step back from the content of these works, we can ascertain something even larger about society.

Twitter is a system of bite-sized commentary, attention-grabbing messages enhanced by eye-catching images. It is designed to deliver its payload - the serotonin rush of discovery - quickly, heighten our emotions, and derail critical thinking. This is what is reflected in these images, a way of thinking that is immediate, visceral, ephemeral, and fleeting. As Geistweidt says: “These are digital hallucinations - both dreams and nightmares - being played out across the frame.”

- J. Sinha