Faith and Technology: Joey Holder Interviewed by Caroline Elbaor

A multi-screen installation investigates the nature of truth and information.

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Joey Holder, Adcredo—The Deep Belief Network, 2018. Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and QUAD, Derby. Photograph by Damian Griffiths.

British artist Joey Holder’s most recent work, Adcredo—The Deep Belief Network (2018), is currently enjoying a tour of sorts: since April of this year, the multimedia work has been exhibited at several different spaces across the United Kingdom, and is currently in Greece for the 6th Athens Biennale.

This ambitious itinerary speaks to the urgency inherent in Holder’s latest presentation. Less a singular artwork than a highly involved, interdisciplinary project, Adcredo—The Deep Belief Network addresses topics critical to understanding the human condition as it has been shaped by the twenty-first century. Though her undertaking is expansive—deftly balancing elements of the psychological, mystical, digital, and political—it is, at its core, an exploration of the distrust we now collectively hold toward the idea of “truth,” and how truth’s unstable definition in contemporary culture jeopardizes that which unites instead of divides.

—Caroline Elbaor

Caroline Elbaor Adcredo—The Deep Belief Network, which addresses urgent issues including conspiracy theory, cyber-espionage, and fake news, is somehow at once simple, in that its themes are clear, while also being incredibly complex and multi-faceted. Can you begin by explaining the foundation of and process for producing the work?

Joey Holder During the last two years I’ve done rigorous research and exploration via interviews, reading groups, and conversations that feed into this multi-dimensional artwork, which has also involved collaborations with other artists and writers, sociologists, psychologists, and investigative journalists, in an effort to present different perspectives across a broad range of culture, politics, religion, and myth. I feel like I’m still barely scratching the surface—there’s so much to process and unpack.

The work’s initial aims were to examine the structures of online social platforms and how this affects the segregation of certain groups and their beliefs. In the modern Western world, we’ve lost a lot of the community ties and religious beliefs that used to bind us, and I think this has contributed to the rise of dangerous ideologies and conspiracy theories, particularly through online networks. Throughout the project, I wanted to highlight the fluid, transformative nature of political and religious opinions and beliefs. How they can be shaped. How they can be manipulated by others.

CE The term central to the title, Adcredo, translates from Latin to mean “to put faith in; to believe in; to give credence to.” Considering that the project can be interpreted as a commentary on the deconstruction of a collective trust in higher systems, this makes sense. Yet I’m wondering why you chose to use an obsolete word, taken from a dead language, as the title for a project that deals with contemporary concerns.

JH Belief is something that is part of being human, something that has always been with us, stretching back through the whole of human civilization. We want to believe—whether in a higher power, UFOs, the supernatural. Our minds are wired in this way.

We need meaning beyond our own lives. So with this project, it was very important to link it to the past, which has of course affected where we are now. What we believe depends upon our life experiences: the society we grew up in, the media, etc. All of this contributes to what creates our own reality. Our belief is what we know to be true.

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Joey Holder, Adcredo—The Deep Belief Network, 2018. Installation view. Courtesy of the artist. Courtesy the artist and Matt’s Gallery, London.  Photograph by Jonathan Bassett.

CE I’ve visited, and it makes a striking impression; the site is unnerving in that it could easily be passed off as a page for the services it is “advertising.” What about creating the fictional website for the bogus company of Adcredo felt imperative to the development of the project as a whole?

JH A statement from the website reads: “It’s our vision to support people in being able to connect, network, interact and form an opinion of the world they live in. To create beliefs through data and science.”    

Companies like Adcredo exist. There are hundreds of them performing these operations and making similar claims. I wanted to create a pseudo-corporation that was based upon the now-infamous Cambridge Analytica. The 2016 Brexit and Donald Trump campaigns both used Cambridge Analytica to influence voters during the run-up to the UK referendum and the US election. The company combines data mining and data analysis with strategic communication and is known for involvement “in military disinformation campaigns to social media branding and voter targeting.”

Cambridge Analytica specifically used Facebook user activity to create psychological profiles and model personalities. This isn’t something new. The Obama campaign used micro-targeting on social media, which also had an influence on the vote.

The recent exhibition at QUAD Gallery in Derby, England, had two separate rooms: one that acted as a kind of corporate showroom for Adcredo, and the other perhaps represented the fallout from the actions of the corporation—an immersive hellscape, with advertising screens embedded in rock faces playing fragmented speeches from a mix of characters from politics, popular culture, and science fiction.

CE According to your description of the project, it is based around the concept of “Synchromysticism,” a term coined in 2006 by experimental, US filmmaker Jake Kotze on his blog Brave New World Order. The idea, as Kotze outlines it, is defined as “the art of realizing meaningful coincidence in the seemingly mundane with mystical or esoteric significance.” Can you break down how Adcredo functions in relation to this concept?

JH As we’ve seen during the political upheavals in the last two years, popular opinions and attitudes may not be grounded in certain truths but based upon the success of ideas and beliefs. This is reflected in the logic of memetics, where units of information can be replicated across cultural networks.

While researching the themes of the project, I came across multiple articles that talked about how certain individuals and groups believed that chaos magic and meme magic had put Trump into power. Pepe the Frog, a popular internet meme, was used by the alt-right to spread nationalist and right-wing messages and has even been compared to an Egyptian deity with the power to stir chaos in the real world.

It’s difficult to unpack everything here, but I’m interested in the creation of these myths and how ideas can mutate into monsters. I came across the concept of Synchromysticism and Hyperstition, which for me help to describe a kind of techno-magical connection between real life events and the online networks that influence them.

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Joey Holder, Adcredo: The Deep Belief Network, 2018. Installation view. Courtesy of the artist.

CE Speaking logistically, Adcredo is presented in the form of a multi-screen installation, with twenty-two videos playing in random sequence. The exhibition format is immersive, and the videos themselves are a lot to digest visually. Was this somewhat all-encompassing structure meant to mimic the way in which information is absorbed nowadays?

JH I wanted the work to be made up of fragments. The twenty-two videos are short, two-minute clips of CGI talking heads of characters including Egyptian Gods, Trump, Pepe the Frog, Kanye West, Peter Thiel, and others. The clips express different belief systems and ideologies from both the left and right sides of politics, which are mixed with classic conspiracy themes from the Illuminati to the existence of aliens.

The current era of predicted and customized media has resulted in a landscape rife with spurious narratives and conspiracy theories. If you want to believe something, you just type it into Google to have it confirmed and connect the dots. People don’t trust the media and are unable to distinguish between fact and fiction online. News events are more visceral and dramatic than ever, and are delivered through real-time reporting.

Within the installation, I wanted to create a sense of a fragmented visual and audio bombardment—the videos are randomly triggered and the audio is layered—with nine channels of sound across multiple speakers throughout the space. Although these elements are seemingly chaotic, there is also structure. In what looks like touchscreen control panels, animated graphics display the characters in a geometric diagram, hinting that they are all interlinked and controlled by some sacred order, which begs the question: by what or by whom?

Joey Holder, Adcredo—The Deep Belief Network is on view in the Athens Biennale in Greece through December 9.

Caroline Elbaor is a writer and curator at Dallas Contemporary in Texas. 

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