Charlois and the Stars:
digital constellations above Rotterdam-Charlois
— Charlois Speciaal Art Festival
‘Charlois and the Stars’ is an art project exploring the stories circulating on social media about Charlois (Rotterdam, the Netherlands). The project is a collaboration between New Momentum and visual artist Rogier Arents.
We gathered 1.5 years of Twitter and YouTube data to analyze discourses about Charlois, a neighborhood that – according to some – has fallen victim to gentrification. We combined social network analysis and narrative analysis to map how social media users talk about the area. The stories that we found were drawn onto the networks – as constellations in a digital sky- and distributed as posters among households and offices throughout the neighborhood.
At the start of the second lockdown in November 2020, we distributed the posters across Charlois and were hung behind windows of houses, apartments, and offices, turning the streets of Charlois into a public exhibition. We highlighted the constellations on the website, Twitter, and Instagram, while asking followers to also hang a poster behind their windows.
In January 2021, the networks were on display on two mega-sized advertising pillars in prominent places in Charlois. We reached out to the most influential Twitter users and YouTubers to mark their stars with a marker and answer a few questions for a mini-documentary on YouTube. In six videos, we talked to a local police officer, an anti-waste activist, a public transport vlogger, a project leader of an open media platform, and a journalist about their relationship with Charlois and social media. The documentary was launched in May 2021 and was on display behind the windows of the New Momentum office.
‘Today, we gaze less at the stars and more on our phones, where we add points to an ever-expanding data universe. What is written in those stars?’
— Trailer Charlois en de Sterren
After releasing the mini-documentary, we translated the project into a VR experience. We will exhibit at various locations in Rotterdam and beyond during 2022. This included a trip to Paris, where we presented this project at the Digital Artifact Expo of the annual congress of the ICA (International Communication Association).
Charlois en de Sterren examines the tension between local communities and polarizing algorithms on social media platforms – precisely at the time when we were locked in our homes and became more dependent on digital communication than ever.
The project aimed to make people aware of the filter bubble effect. After all, what one person sees and thinks they know about a place, can be at odds with how others experience it. The project invited people to look beyond their bubbles and become aware of the initiatives outside of their timelines.