The World of Fama: Hadjithomas and Joreige’s “2008, A Matrix”

In their project The Rumors of the World, Lebanese artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khali Joreige investigate the abundance of spamming and scamming on the internet and the resulting questions of trust and the construction of identity in the post-internet world. In addition to installations of video works in which actors play the roles of the scammers, Hadjithomas and Joreige also make work that offers a more holistic perspective on the network of spam. For example, using the coordinates of the (ostensible) location of the senders of the scam emails, the artists generate steel sculptures of that represent the global network of this phenomenon. In making these sculptures, they used a wooden mass that represents the earth with all the visible points of the scam trajectories.

This wooden mass has itself become a work, called 2008, A Matrix, which includes an audio element. Here is how the artists describe the work:

A voice enumerates all the countries, the precise locations where these scams and encounters happen. Beyond the scams, the victims, the scammers, scambeaters and actors are linked together, involuntarily, tracing a network, a virtual constellation, like the projection screens of various histories both political and artistic.

More than the video works of performing spam narratives, 2008, A Matrix brought to mind the description of Rumor (Fama) in the 12th book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Here it is in John Dryden’s 1717 translation:

Full in the midst of this created space,
Betwixt Heav’n, Earth, and skies, there stands a place,
Confining on all three, with triple bound;
Whence all things, tho’ remote, are view’d around;
And thither bring their undulating sound.
The palace of loud Fame, her seat of pow’r,
Plac’d on the summet of a lofty tow’r;
A thousand winding entries long and wide,
Receive of fresh reports a flowing tide.
A thousand crannies in the walls are made;
Nor gate, nor bars exclude the busie trade.
‘Tis built of brass, the better to diffuse
The spreading sounds, and multiply the news:
Where eccho’s in repeated eccho’s play:
A mart for ever full, and open night and day.
Nor silence is within, nor voice express,
But a deaf noise of sounds, that never cease.
Confus’d and chiding, like the hollow roar
Of tides, receding from th’ insulted shore,
Or like the broken thunder heard from far,
When Jove at distance drives the rouling war.
The courts are fill’d with a tumultuous din
Of crouds, or issuing forth, or entring in:
A thorough-fare of news: where some devise
Things never heard, some mingle truth with lies;
The troubled air with empty sounds they beat,
Intent to hear, and eager to repeat.
Error sits brooding there, with added train
Of vain credulity, and joys as vain:
Suspicion, with sedition join’d, are near,
And rumours rais’d, and murmurs mix’d, and panique fear.
Fame sits aloft, and sees the subject ground,
And seas about, and skies above; enquiring all around.

Both the interplay of emptiness of space with the swirl and mass of sound and the cosmic dimensions of Fama’s dwelling seem to me to be at work in 2008, A Matrix as well. Furthermore, just as Hadjithomas and Joreige use this work to generate their steel sculptures, Ovid’s narrative rationale for describing Fama is to ignite his account of the Trojan War. For both ancient poet and contemporary artists, rumor becomes something that is both contained as a description, but at the same time escapes its containment in that very description.

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