Lawrence Abu Hamdan, speaker at Improving Reality 2014. Photo by Roberta Mataityte
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, speaker at Improving Reality 2014. Photo by Roberta Mataityte





Lighthouse's thought-provoking conference of contemporary culture, Improving Reality, returned in September 2014 for a spectacular fourth edition, as part of Brighton Digital Festival. Curated and hosted by Artistic Director Juha van ‘t Zelfde, the conference brought together an international community of artists, thinkers and makers to share and experience groundbreaking art and ideas of the present.

Improving Reality 2014 Audience. Photo by Roberta Mataityte
Improving Reality 2014 Audience. Photo by Roberta Mataityte

The theme for Improving Reality 2014 – Visibility is a Trap – was a visceral response to the tension between the tendency to share every detail of our lives, and our desire and right for more privacy. Our understanding of the life of the information we share and publish has become increasingly more complex as we see it transformed on the countless online networks, by individuals, organisations and even bots.

We are delighted to present the videos of the eight speakers and performers from the three sessions at Improving Reality 2014 – Visibility is a Trap.


As we experience news through broadcasters and social media, duration and distance become longer, events become more abstract and their meaning re-appropriated. As our images are shared and decontextualized, we risk losing a connection to the reality of modern conflict and warfare. The speakers in our second session look at how the images we produce and consume shape our ability to make sense of our environment, while simultaneously influencing our understanding of the stories they tell.

Jananne Al Ani – ‘The Aesthetics of Disappearance: A land without people’

Artist Jananne Al-Ani explores the relationship between film, photography and the landscape, and how technology has the potential to remove literal and virtual bodies from warzones in twentieth century conflict. Using her own work, Shadow Sites II, Al-Ani shows how abstract representations of the impact of modern warfare enables new perceptions of war, and where previous depictions have shown the ability to desensitise and influence our understanding of human experience during periods of conflict.

Using investigative archaeological methods and aerial photography, Al-Ani is able to reconstruct and rediscover human occupation in contested lands, and considers how historic visual material informs and influences the way in which we understand and represent the present.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan – ’Contra Diction: Speech Against Itself’

Lawrence Abu-Hamdan shares his most recent body of research, which explores the multifaceted relationship between the semantics of discourse, politics, truth, human rights and international law. Exploring our understanding of the voice of the law, and the changing nature of testimony in the face of new regimes such as border control, algorithmic technologies, and methodologies of eavesdropping, Lawrence examines the nature of speech and the consequences of listening. In the words of whistleblower Edward Snowden, whilst speech may be free, the conditions of listening have now certainly changed. Abu-Hamdan focuses specifically on taqqiya, an Islamic legal dispensation whereby a believing individual can vocally deny their faith, blaspheme or do illegal acts when they are at the risk of persecution or in a condition of statelessness.

Susan Schuppli – ‘Secrecy and Imagined Truths’

Through a series of case studies, Forensic Architecture’s Susan Schuppli asks if imagination is the very condition by which secrecy gains its traction and political agency. How do we document devastation and attacks when there is nothing left but rubble and memory? How do we reveal the devastation of drone attacks when evidence is controlled and concealed by the state, and obscured from UN investigation? Schuppli examines how through the forensic analysis of images, from selfies to satellite imagery, we can decode and reconstruct past events and communicate the reality of drone warfare upon the Middle East.

Juha opens the group discussion by asking: “how can we improve public awareness of the importance of artists in this discussion of surveillance”. Susan Schuppli comments that Human Rights lawyers have used some of Forensic Architecture’s research, and that artists have the potential to provide logical tools to unpack complex issues through the clarity of images. Jananne Al-Ani agrees that it’s perhaps good that artists are often not perceived as ‘part of the establishment’, making it easier for people to connect with what they see rather than how they are told to interpret what they see through the media. Members of the audience joined the discussion, asking a pertinent question about the interpretation of truth in a world mediated by machines. Do algorithms make decisions that we accept as truthful, if they can tell truth at all?

Watch films from SESSION 1: The Coming of Immediacy

Watch films from SESSION 3: The Experience of Visibility

Improving Reality was part of Lighthouse’s programme for Brighton Digital Festival 2014. Brighton Digital Festival is a month long celebration of digital culture. It is run by members of Brighton’s arts and digital communities and supported by Arts Council England and Brighton & Hove City Council.




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