Bit Tourist

Bit Tourist

An Essay by Jessica Foley for Like: Paintings Inspired by Social Media, by Maria O’Brien

Solo Exhibition Award in Nenagh Civic Offices May 2012

“And do they know you’re using them?” I asked her.  She paused. “Not really”. We arranged the paintings over the couch in my sitting room, along the arms of the chair, the back of the couch, along the front. They spilled over onto the side table. It all seemed so entirely random… too eclectic almost. What was it that drove the selection process? It wasn’t a simple search. She grazed images. Pinched them and rearticulated them. They are mostly figures in the landscape. They are on holidays, relaxed, away from work. They are at their leisure, these figures, and leisure demands a uniform. I try to collate them into some order. This is what I try to do. I try to build a logic from them. I group them. “There’s another one with tents”, I say, as if this is some discovery of significance. I am looking for pattern. “And the skies are important too?” I say, “They are drawing on the sublime?”  The answer is unimportant. I am caught in the game that has no rules. A search without concern, and I try desperately to bring some plot to it. There is no design here. None whatsoever. My questions betray my own concern to find pattern – my own scientific leanings, my own literary impulses to draw narrative through or away or beyond or together – The impulse to uncover meaning… the impulse towards the back stage.   There is a new type at work here. This is not familiar territory. This is the vague impression of a virtual landscape upon which the figure sits, through which the figure moves, across which the figure gazes, uneasily. The landscape is not land. It is bits. Binary Digits performing their… magic… to the uninitiated at least. These images come from the land of facebook. The book of faces. The bit space of faces. The word is so dense and yet so superficial: facebook. Irony loves it here. The Bit Tourist loves it here.


bit-tourist n. A person inclined toward associative meaning making through the use of web based search engines via the internet, particularly related to visual image searches. Bit, n. Binary Digit (unit of information in computers) 1948 (a word coined by J.W. Tukey), short for bi(nary) d(igit), and tourist, person who makes a tour, especially for pleasure. adj.  Slang (Americanism), costing 25 cents, inferior or unimportant; small time: a two-bit actor.


“How do you choose your images”, I ask her. She talks about living in the country side, the quiet of it. Growing up on the farm, so ordinary. The break away to the city for study and learning, then back again to rural life. These days she sees people in fluorescent jackets walking the roads down her way, little neon armies out enjoying the splendor of the countryside. As a child she never knew the mundane could be attractive. Now the countryside lights up with a fashion for walking. She sees the same online. Everyone sharing them selves through pose and costume and smiles. The figure and the ground. Friendship and Sharing don’t mean what they appear to mean. Dense and superficial at the same time. It is the age of the paradox. Good for painting, and why not. The drip and spread of the paint could be a metaphor for the bit landscape of the internet, the stomping ground of the bit tourist. It could be, but no commitments are given. This is kitsch after all.  In 1945, scientist Vannevar Bush wrote about a thing that could have been a description of the internet we know today, a thing which he called ‘Memex’. It would contain all the records of all time, all the information of whatever content. It would be the memory of human kind, it’s culture, and it’s history. This ‘memex’ would give humanity the luxury of forgetting all the things that are not required to be held in mind, all the things that are not relevant to the present day situation:


His excursion may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.1


The trouble is perhaps that today we have acquired something like the luxury of forgetting, but in the process, perhaps, we are forgetting to remember what is meaningful at all, what is relevant at all. We are all data and no enterprise. Even with a sense of what must be done we just can’t seem to render it. “I had trouble with the smile”, she said, pointing to the girl standing in front of a central park ice rink. “It looks convincing”, I reply.

J.D.F. 2012


  1. Vannevar Bush, ‘As we may Think’, 1945, The Atlantic Monthly.