Instead of a diverse world, made of ever new phenomena, of events that cause change and realities that resist, the consummation of "nihilism" imposes itself everywhere; a process by which, under the avalanche of "news" and "notifications," events no longer occur and nothing seems to have to happen anymore.


Barbara Stiegler - Du cap aux grèves (Verdier, 2020)


Heidi Wood is attentive to the polyphony of signs that are part of our everyday landscapes. Whether they are commercial, informative, economic, cultural, security-driven, political, mediatic or otherwise, signs have invaded our visual and cognitive spaces. They organize the society in which we exist. They are so well integrated that we no longer really see or read them. We have an intuitive relationship with them. Yet they are omnipresent and influence our bodies. A major part of the artist's work invites us not only to question the violence of this ultra meta-presence, but also to understand its impact on our behavior, our choices, our relationships to others and to places. Because they affect us directly and/or insidiously, signs have become both a resource and a material for (re)thinking the world.


The proliferation of signs telling you what to do is evident in cities and particularly in so-called disadvantaged areas: commercial zones, the more or less distant outskirts of city centers and satellite suburbs. These are the places that Heidi Wood has observed, frequented and analyzed for many years. The result is critical projects that adopt a formatted language: numbers, signs, graphs, logos and bright, high-impact colors. The artist appropriates the visual expression of those who produce strategic writing. She works with the codes of these means of communication that are simultaneously instructive, basic and authoritarian to create a critical space. To do so, she commandeers and repurposes pictograms, systems of logos, typographies and colors, as well as their layouts and configurations. She exploits the effectiveness of this conditioning and alienating language to formulate her concerns and considerations, in search of meaning. She also invites us to remobilize our critical faculties in the face of these thousands of recommendations, stimuli, identity straitjackets or prohibitions. She asks us to understand their uses and objectives, but also to reinject nuance, detachment and substance into our collective imagination. By corrupting and exposing these signs, Heidi Wood stimulates a collective, pro-active approach to brutally imposed methods of communication; methods that are visually and ideologically formatted to consolidate norms, enslave and condition society.


Critical narratives


So how does society accommodate, suffer or thwart these imposed modes? This multi-faceted question has provoked a complete and profound rethink of her artistic practice. Over the past few years, Heidi Wood has undertaken a critical analysis of her work in order to open up new directions and new ways of making art. She now focuses on a vast subject - contemporary existence - both hers and ours. By means of booklets accessible in PDF format (downloadable and dematerialized), she is developing a critical reflection on life in the West. In doing so, the artist seeks a way and a means to situate her perspective as a woman, as an immigrant, as an artist and as a citizen. This undertaking requires the creation of a situated language.


Heidi Wood is working on a long-term project that began with her monthly Journals (January 2020 - December 2021). Each month, she puts online and distributes by email a digital booklet made up of eleven pages. Conceived as a field of narrative experimentation, each edition is fed by reactions to current events, real-life situations, words taken from the street, statistics, polls or quotes from the media. The artist keeps a close watch on the media and how news is portrayed, in words and images. From the Yellow Vest demonstrations to the pandemic that has dominated the news for over two years now, nothing escapes her. Heidi Wood confronts a range of issues: police and administrative violence, systemic racism, Islamophobia, feminicide, legalized prohibitions, respect for the rule of law, ecology, conspiracy theories, control of bodies, surveillance, image management, animal rights, social distancing, feminist demands, food choices, consumer society and its daily spectacle. They intersect and sometimes clash from page to page and edition to edition. "By juxtaposing bits of evidence, I compose and try to make sense of things. I take blurred, incomplete signs and knit them into critical narratives."[1] The artist puts into dialogue elements photographed in the street, extracts of conversations and information taken from newspapers (French and Australian) or from the Internet.


Their intertwining produces criticism and highlights the prevailing cynicism. For example, a poster informs us that a dog named Hope is lost, and promises a reward for its return. On walls, placards from demonstrations or posters, we read: Contemplate the void / Stop setting the bar so low for mankind / School’s out – surveillance never ends / Under the masks the memory of smiles / PARTRIARSHIT. The text, whether illicit or official, is considered as a visual and political resource. Tags, torn posters, superimposed messages, comments, advertisements: "I observe how digital technology formats our interactions. I seek out traces of current events in the urban environment as well as on our computer screens. I’ve started giving more space to absurdity and randomness.” Since the beginning of 2022, the Journals have been replaced by a new series of digital booklets entitled À la Une (Breaking News), where she explores other stories, born of direct experience and personal musings. In the substrate of the booklets published over two years, Heidi Wood has constructed a self-portrait where her concerns, doubts, questions, exasperations, disbelief, struggles and anger collide.


Emerging from silence


The booklets supplement and make visible a long-term interest in contemporary existence - an existence that is both individual and collective. They introduce an underlying question: what makes culture? Baptiste Morizot, a philosopher, proposes a definition: "Culture is what, as a person and as a member of the social body, transforms you, makes you a more intelligent and more sensitive body, more capable of being fair towards the world that makes you, and that you now take more fully into account."[2] Heidi Wood looks for this elusive and potentially transforming matter in details, snatches of dialogue and tenuous situations. Through her visual and narrative experiments, she questions a state of the world located on a level familiar to her. She highlights the connections, blockages, actions, inactions, battles, cop-outs and paradoxes that make up a culture shared and nourished by a group. Because she chooses to focus on a strategic, mediatic, commercial and political aesthetic, the artist reveals a facet of a Western conditioning culture that is as disturbed as it is disturbing. Out in the field, mostly in the street, she studies the flow of circumstances, debates and profiles. "It’s in the juxtaposition of traces left by others that the narrative is constructed and a point of view voiced. Dialogues also help situate me as a curious spectator. The reader’s interpretation will always elude me." Heidi Wood prefers the status of scribe to that of prophet. She opens up leads or possible avenues for collective consideration. In this sense, juxtapositions bring both options and disruptions. They generate a necessity: the need to wake up and produce thought, analysis and criticism that will emancipate us from an organized and consented enslavement.


This enslavement of bodies is serviced by the mainstream media, which favors efficient messages, limited and formatted thought declaimed via sound bites, punchlines, hashtags, explosive slogans, fake news and unfinished sentences: the ingredients of the "slow poison" against which Barbara Stiegler says she is determined to fight. [3] While the artist's intention is not militant, her booklets make a statement, whose words and images are symptomatic of a deep societal, political and cultural crisis that has been structured over a long period. The Journals lead us to think about the issues and consequences of this crisis. Since they are open to any number of interpretations, we can detect in them a criticism of inertia, of individualistic escape or of collective stupefaction. Caught in a movement where immediacy and flashiness prevail, thought is indeed paralyzed. It runs out of steam and fades away. "Our era is dumbed down by the filter of screens where a new, almost demented way of thinking is rampant, with its simplification, its disproportion and its moralization of everything"[4]. The time is ripe for schematization, extreme binarity and reductive dogmas; for communication that is summed up in a few characters, GIFs, stickers and emojis. For a long time now, we have seen a systematized simplification of thought that leads to totalitarian, sterile and stultifying thought. Well-reasoned articles have given way to snarky comments, tweets, thumbs up or down and ideas that must be expressed in just a few characters. We no longer have time. Hartmut Rosa speaks of a modern crisis that is "entirely a crisis of the relationship to the world, a crisis of the institutional and cultural relationship that society has with the world, a crisis that, at the stage of late modernity, shakes the mode of reproduction of this social formation to its very foundations."[5] We face a structural crisis that, according to the German sociologist and philosopher, reduces the world to silence, to a form of widespread inaction.


We must then emerge from the silence, refuse impotence, shake off an aseptic aesthetic, and counter, through contestation and contradiction, the organized anesthetizing of consciences. The philosopher Aurélien Berlan writes, "the megamachine is not a bulldozer that crushes us from the outside. It is rather a matrix that we are all, willingly or unwillingly, part of. We are not outside of it. We are in it and we are even its basic components. We must therefore stop playing our role as docile little cogs, whether as consumers, employees or citizens. [6] Through her booklets, Heidi Wood informs us that it is urgent to individually and collectively sabotage this system that advocates a loss of meaning. In a humble and direct manner, the artist confides in us at once her concerns about the issues at hand and her love for her era, with all its complexities and confusions. The Journals invite us to mobilize to create a space where a critique of the information-spectacle can take root.


Julie Crenn

February 2022


Notes /

[1] Quotes from the artist, from February 2022, are extracts from emails or telephone conversations.

[2] MORIZOT, Baptiste. “Nouer culture des luttes et culture du vivant” in Socialter, January 2021.

[3] STIEGLER, Barbara. Du cap aux grèves - Récit d’une mobilisation 17 novembre 2018 - 17 mars 2020. Paris: Verdier, 2020.

[4] DUMONT, Bruno. Interview. Le Monde, 25 August 2021.

[5] ROSA, Hartmut. Résonance - Une sociologie de la relation au monde. Paris: La Découverte, 2021, p.657.

[6] BERLAN, Aurélien. Interview. Reporterre, 4 January 2022.