Transmission: Notes Part I, II & III by Marie-Anne McQuay


'When accompanied by Tweed's insistent narratives, formerly banal images are cast in apocalyptic light.'


Whilst masquerading as a fiction - reports from a future dystopia transmitted in episodes by a post-human life force - the world of Charlie Tweed’s Notes series, like all dystopias, mirrors the concerns of the present moment; specifically 21st Century systems of control that perpetuate ideologies of fear.

In Tweed’s sci-fi tinged universe, the 20th Century totalitarian regimes that fuelled the nightmarish visions of Orwell, Huxley and Zamyatin[1], in which citizens watch others whilst also watching themselves, to ensure total loyalty to a technocratic authoritarian state, have been completely decentralised and virtualised. These new systems of social control extend “throughout the depths of consciousness and bodies of the population”[2]; they are distributed, networked, digitised and internalised: they are biopolitical. The register of fear they produce is crucially set at a low drone, rather than maintained at the unsustainable peaks and troughs of terror; constant anxiety about ‘known unknowns’ thus manifests as an overwhelming desire to control risk by continually modifying one’s own behaviour: this is Tweed’s dystopia.

In the Notes series, which is comprised of seven short videos divided into three chapters[3], Tweed uses the device of over-identification, personifying control methodologies as a way of highlighting their effectiveness. In order to do this, the artist has created an anonymous yet omni-present power base that is affecting change on a global scale. Their plans are inexplicable yet apparently urgent: in order to ensure our collective safety, they will bring forth a world wide flood (We are the above), and, more mysteriously still, capture "all of the birds" in order to, "store them securely in places where they can operate freely" (Where we are now). More akin to a computer virus than a definable group, ‘they’ are depicted as swarm-like in their movements, declaring themselves to be “undetectable, invisible” (We are the above). In addition, since they talk only of themselves as ‘we’, they seem to imply our complicity in their collective actions and so, if they speak on our behalf, they may well be ‘us.’

The voices that narrate each episode are computer generated, calm, authoritative, and accompanied by melodic music. Even though they stutter and glitch in places, repeating or mispronouncing words as if struggling to process information, the effect is still hypnotic. In a world at the edge of an unknown civil and environmental disaster, ‘they’, or rather, ‘we’ have a plan and the seductions of a certainty of purpose override any concerns about the logic of these actions.

The scripts, which are the origins of each of the Notes episodes, resonate with the present moment, in part because of their non-fictional origins. Tweed, for example, incorporates the contemporary phenomenon of 'rewilding'[4], taking its theories to extremes and the end of civilisation, whilst also hypothesising on the outcomes of the predicted scenarios in which we arrive at the moment of ultimate technological advancement (Singularity). The final transmission, (Zappisale), in which all networks are to be “disrupted”, is guided by the writings of a real-world, anonymous collective ‘The Invisible Committee’ who predicted the imminent collapse of neoliberal capitalism in their anarchist handbook The Coming Insurrection[5]. This video ends in abstraction, with broken down, overexposed images, identifiable only as colours and shapes, as if following the logic of a narrative bent on disruption, by destroying itself frame by frame.

The collaging of real world schemas into scripts is mirrored by the montaging of clips from freely circulating digital sources to form the visuals of Tweed’s ‘worst of all possible worlds’. Extracts from broadcast documentaries, YouTube clips, instructional videos and amateur news footage are stripped of what remains of their original context. These contemporary ‘poor images’, a term coined by Hito Steyerl to describe the particular quality and status of the low saturation by-products of digital distribution[6], are generically but not specifically recognisable as mountains and sea, power stations and mobile homes, climbing walls and medical procedures, floods and storms. Further distorted with effects, such as additional pixelation or analogue noise, they are almost impossible to place in terms of a specific time or geographical location, other than being ‘of the world’.

Consequently, when accompanied by Tweed's insistent narratives, formerly banal images are cast in apocalyptic light, raising questions as to whether individuals are playing or fleeing, and whether groups are assisting or attacking. As the transmissions accumulate and chaos is the only constant, we start to experience “the ordinariness of the extraordinary” that Doris Lessing identifies in her 1974 dystopian novel The Memoirs of a Survivor[7] ; in which self-protective rationalising of the ‘extraordinary’, an unnamed catastrophe that is potentially a nuclear war, distracts, initially at least, from the irrevocable consequences of this event.

Ultimately, as we watch Notes Part I, II & III, we, the viewer, remain uncertain as to whether what we are experiencing is avertable or if this is a portrait of a future that has already taken place, a time-travelling echo of scenes in which we will have participated as 'the above', as 'the now'. We may therefore already be complicit in the total change of everything we know in order to (paradoxically) maintain our safety, our continuity: our surrender may already be historic. It is therefore possible that those of us who are viewing the Notes series online, projecting what we think are our singular subjectivities onto this flow of words and images, are instead, merely glitches in the machine, flaws in the system, ghosts in the network.



[1] Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949); Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932); WE, Yevgeny Zamyatin (written 1920-1; published in english in 1924; published in USSR 1989).

[2] Empire, Hardt & Negri, Harvard University Press Paperback, 2001, P.24, “[...]When power becomes entirely biopolitical, the whole social body is comprised by power’s machine and developed in its virtuality. This relationship is open, qualitative, and affective. Society, subsumed within a power that reaches down to the ganglia of the social structure and its processes of development, reacts like a single body. Power is thus expressed as a control that extends throughout the depths of consciousness and bodies of the population - and at the same time across the entirety of social relations”.

[3] Notes Part I (2008), 8', We are the above; Where we are now; We must undo. Notes Part II (2009), 8'10", Navstevnici; Singularity; Ionosphere. Notes Part III (2010), 3'50", Zappisale.

[4] Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservative Revolution, Caroline Fraser, Metroplitan Press (2009). Review from New York Review of Books 'Why We Must Bring Back the Wolf', John Terborgh, July 2010.

[5] The Coming Insurrection - The Invisible Committee (2009).

[6] In Defense of the Poor Image, Hito Steyerl, e-flux Journal, 2009, “The poor image is a copy in motion. Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard. As it accelerates, it deteriorates. It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution... It mocks the promises of digital technology. Not only is it often degraded to the point of being just a hurried blur, one even doubts whether it could be called an image at all. Only digital technology could produce such a dilapidated image in the first place.”

[7] The Memoirs of a Survivor, Doris Lessing, Flamingo Press 1995, p.19-20, “Could one perhaps describe that period as ‘the ordinariness of the extraordinary’?... Whilst everything, all forms of social organisation, broke up, we lived on, adjusting our lives as if nothing fundamental was happening... Order could also exist in pockets, of space, of time - through periods of weeks and months or in a particular district... There is nothing that people won’t try to accommodate into ‘ordinary life’. It is precisely this which gave that time its peculiar flavour; the combination of the bizarre, the hectic, the frightening, the threatening, an atmosphere of siege or war - with what was customary, ordinary, even decent.”


Marie-Anne McQuay is Curator at Spike Island, Bristol. She is responsible for the Exhibition, Residency and Public Programmes and has initiated numerous solo shows, most recently Craig Mulholland Grandes et Petites Machines (2008) Elizabeth Price USER GROUP DISCO (20009); Amanda Beech Sanity Assassin (2010); Charlie Tweed Notes Part I, II & III (2010) and Sean Edwards Maelfa (2011). She also shares the co-ordination of the Spike Associates Programme, a post-graduate network of artists, curators and writers, and is a visiting lecturer at UWE (Fine Art) and Chelsea College of Art (Curating).

Previously she worked at FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology), Liverpool developing collaborative digital commissions with artists that include Nick Crowe, Kristin Lucas and Dias & Riedweg before undertaking a Masters in Curating at Goldsmiths and working for BFI Southbank.