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Commentaries on this Media!

The Errant Pixel

by Ethan Tussey

by Genevieve Yue for IN MEDIA RES

We have become accustomed to the glitches that appear when we stream media online or watch digital, satellite-beamed television: the blocky grays that crowd the dark margins of a media file, or a figure momentarily frozen and buried in a mess of pixelated blurs. We naturalize these incidental "corruptions" as part of the condition of viewing digital media, chiefly as the result of compression. In her essay, "In Defense of the Poor Image," Hito Steyerl contends that the economy of compression, particularly the media files that are copied and clandestinely circulated online, also corresponds to a political economy. In this hierarchy, high resolution images are valued over their degraded and illicit copies, a kind of high culture for high definition. "Focus," she writes, "is identified as a class position." In considering the poor image at work in Basma Alsharif's Home Movies Gaza (2013), we might also understand it as an effect of war.

The poor image is most acutely manifest in pixels that appear out of place: frozen where they should be moving, moving where they should be still, oddly clustered, or singularly straying. Such errant pixels may appear as artifacts of the compression or transmission process, or tiny pinpoints on our LCD monitors that refuse to obey their software protocols. (The latter, alternatively called stuck, frozen, or dead pixels, can sometimes be "woken up" by running screensaver flicker programs, or by rubbing the screen.) They trace the routes of media circulation, the flows of political economy, and, with Home Movies Gaza, the movements of war.

In Alsharif's film, the television signal is scrambled by an unseen force, that of Israeli drones patrolling the Gaza Strip. We see a lion pride climbing over an elephant at night, a view of a stealth attack enabled by infared camera technology. The image on the monitor intermittently chokes, riven with streams of pixels. What we might normally dismiss as system hiccups become, in Alsharif's steady view, an injunction to look at the political constitution of the screen. Because the film is shot almost entirely indoors, in the absence of explicit images of war, the errant pixel is what registers the pervasive, though invisible, presence of an occupation. Home Movies Gaza calls on us to notice these erratic, indeed besieged pixels, and to unearth in them political forces that only appear as momentary disruptions on a smooth surface, their paths otherwise traceless.

Home Movies Gaza

Streaming video in film

from Home Movies Gaza (2013)
Creator: Basma Alsharif
Distributor: Vimeo
Posted by Ethan Tussey