'I see faces': popular pareidolia and the proliferation of meaning

LEE, Joanne (2014). 'I see faces': popular pareidolia and the proliferation of meaning. In: The Popular Life of Things: Material Culture(s) and Popular Processes, Institute of English Literatures and Cultures at University of Silesia, Sosnowiec, Poland, 3 - 4 July 2014. (Unpublished)

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Official URL: https://popularlifeofthings.wordpress.com


A popular favourite of the contemporary internet is the curious facial recognition performed upon everyday things and places – a cheese grater, parking meter, coat hook – examples of which are frequently shared via social networks using an #iseefaces hashtag. There are countless blogs and Flickr pools devoted to the idea (including one from British comedian Dave Gorman), and even a calendar featuring Francois Robert’s many photographs of the faces he discerned amongst mops, sockets, hinges, and cameras, a marbled sponge cake or a lemon… It even featured in the arguably more highbrow context of the 2013 Venice Biennale when Roger Callois’ collection of ‘pictorial stones’ were exhibited; they included an agate wherein one easily discerns a ghostly little creature, to which has been assigned the name Le Petit Fantôme… This phenomenon of pareidolia – the term originates from the Greek ‘para’ (παρά - beside or beyond) and ‘eidōlon’ (εἴδωλον - form or image) – occurs because the human visual system has a tendency to extract patterns from noise, thus perceiving ‘meaning’ in random source material.

In my paper I am interested to use this current fascination for pareidolia as the occasion to think about our desire to read meaning and significance into things. As an artist/scholar working with the everyday, rather than attempting to pin down definitive interpretations, I am interested in enlarging what can be generated from the ordinary objects and materials that surround us. My desire for richer, multiplied possibilities takes up Michel Foucault’s assertion that as academics we are suffering from ‘channels that are too narrow, skimpy, quasi-monopolistic, insufficient’, and his suggestion that ‘we must multiply the paths and the possibility of comings and goings...’ My own attempt to do so occurs through an independent serial publication, the Pam Flett Press, each issue of which begins by recognising some instance of everyday life (graffiti on urban walls, the ubiquitous plastic bag, the scatter of gum on city pavements, the pareidolic desire to see faces in ordinary objects…) before using this as a means with which to think creatively and critically. The current paper focuses upon instances from issue #5 ‘I see faces’ and posits making as a making-one’s-way-into-understanding the everyday, before suggesting that using the everyday as material can in turn rethink academic and creative work.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
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Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Cultural Communication and Computing Research Institute > Art and Design Research Centre
Depositing User: Joanne Lee
Date Deposited: 16 Jun 2015 13:21
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 08:45
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/10252

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