Compression Artefacts

We Haven’t Spoken in Centuries 150 x 150 cm, Unique (2020) | Oil on canvas & UV Digital Print

Commissioned by Julia Hartmann for ‘Net Works’ in Collaboration with the European Cultural Foundation 

‘We Haven’t Spoken in Centuries’ started with the idea of considering social media platforms as ‘machines’ or algorithms that preserve. However, once content is uploaded onto these platforms, our control over them is quickly lost. We relinquish authority over the image, allowing them to be downloaded, altered, edited, brutalised and re-uploaded by someone else. These ‘machines’ also create copies of the content we feed into them, however, it comes at a price. The content is compressed and as a result, evolves and changes. Once these images are fed into the machine, we lose control over them. They are disseminated, re-downloaded and re-purposed - especially as things go ‘viral’.


As a young artist living in London, I have found myself thrown into contemporary politics, especially as big changes are made - such as Brexit. I have come to realise how everything —including politics— is now run by likes, algorithms and views. A political view no longer holds the same agency, without its view-count. Politicians become social media sensations and attempt to dominate the political sphere through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. These algorithms, built by some of the most powerful people in the world, were carefully designed and integrated into our lives seamlessly. ‘We Haven’t Spoken in Centuries’ uses the aesthetics of these new political platforms to ‘collaborate’ on a painting. As content is uploaded and shared, it becomes vulnerable to attack. People change the news, they alter statistics and thus have the power to change an entire country’s decision on certain topics.


‘We Haven’t Spoken in Centuries’, a sentence borrowed from the curator Julia Hartmann in her writing about the show “Net Works - Pitch for a Social Network Sphere” alludes to the sadness many of us in the UK felt when Brexit went through. I personally felt European and the idea of losing ‘contact’ with the European Union was devastating. Research shows that social media and in particular the lies perpetrated on social media platforms before the vote highly influenced voters.


‘We Haven’t Spoken in Centuries’ was hand-painted in oil on a 1.5m x 1.5m canvas and then photographed. The digital image was then uploaded and re-downloaded over a hundred times on Instagram to allow the Instagram algorithm to compress the image over and over again. This process somewhat replicates the idea of news, statistics and images being shared and altered online - without any fact-checking. The final file downloaded from Instagram became pixelated and a strange purple hue started to appear. This final digital file was then printed back on top of the original oil painting, to create a collaboration between myself and the Instagram algorithm.


The work becomes a physical painting, altered by the Instagram algorithm and then fed back out as a final canvas. It encompasses the process from start to finish, where we see a visual shift in how the ‘machine’ is changing the sentence and its original meaning.  ‘We Haven’t Spoken in Centuries’ reaffirms the importance of the ‘original’, especially in a world where everything from news to politics is altered by these systems - leaving us with lies that serve a specific agenda.