I read a lot about media echo chambers, survivorship bias and other cognitive distortions. Looks like people can only take in account what is the most visible, and overlook the giant load of things they don’t see, know or understand. I wondered if there’s a way to draw people’s attention to Emptiness.
Experiment I. Blank spaces in Venice
Venice is a city deprived of emptiness: not only that it’s filled with history, every facade is decorated in peculiar fashion and the streets are narrow and irregular – it’s also stuffed with people above all limits. I went there, sticking white sheets of paper to the walls, hoping to see what effect a little islands of nothing can cause.
Result: according to my observations, tourists don’t actually look around. They were busy navigating and taking pictures. I got one woman’s attention – it was on a little street few steps from a major tourist flow, she slowed down to drink her water – and then spent some moments trying to figure out what this poster could mean.
- Void is not interesting by itself. It can attract human attention only if people expect something to be in this empty place.
- Large running crowds are indifferent to artsy stuff. You need people who are taking a pause.
Experiment 2. Blank spaces in conversations
The extremely weird way in which WhatsApp had designed their option of deleting messages is exactly what’s needed for my exploration. It literally screams “Look! An empty space! Something was here! Something should be here! Now you’ll be tortured by doubts forever!”
I played with this option, trying to make an empty space a meaningful peace of the story.
Take out: I’m not sure about the way to measure the effectiveness of this. Looks like these items need certain effort to understand as well.
Experiment 3. Blank spaces in your newsfeed.
People post on social media only when there’s something interesting or noteworthy happening. What about all the other moments? I used my own page to imagine how the void in social media would look like.
Result: some people seem to have a lot of fun with these.
Take out: This works: there is a clear expectation of certain kind of content while browsing, and the void in its place has an effect.
Experiment 4. Mimicking war-time censorship
Once I found this image.
It’s a letter addressed to some soldier, written in Russian during the WWII and corrected by the military censorship. They would blank out all the strategic details and all the bad news in the letters coming to and from the front. So the stories would look like this: “Hi, everything is good, we are well and healthy, except for __________________________ and two weeks later she ________________________. But we are fine, only that ___________________. We all send you kisses and kind regards.”
To me, these blank outs look not only captivating, but terrifying. I decided to recreate the effect, using a local newspaper.
Result: I put the newspaper in my office, and it prompted some strong reactions.
Take out: This should be an exhibition.