Strecker, Lucine

Lucine Strecker

Lucine Strecker responds to the question: What features of knowledge have an impact on its reliability?

Object 1: Igdir Genocide Memorial

The Igdir Genocide Memorial is a memorial-museum complex in Eastern Turkey. Commissioned by the Turkish government in 1999, it is the nation’s tallest monument (43.5 metres) and features a sheaf of three swords resembling the star of the Turkish flag when viewed from above.1 Situated near the Armenian border, it points towards the sky to boast Turkey’s military might. This monument denies the Ottoman Empire’s systematic killing of Armenians between 1915-1917, and conveys the features of knowledge that corrupt the reliability of historical narratives.

This memorial demonstrates that power is a feature of knowledge impacting the reliability of widely held beliefs, such as national mythologies. A national mythology is an “inspiring narrative about a nation’s past” which “affirms a set of national values.”2 In casting Turkey as a victim of massacres, the memorial denies the Armenian Genocide and absolves Turkey as the perpetrator of war crimes. The government exerts power to bury historical injustices by creating what historian Pierre Nora calls a “place of memory.” This site shapes Turkish collective memory about Ottoman heritage and historical events. Although the memorial is a patently unreliable account of the Genocide, it serves as a Trojan Horse by concealing political motives while rewriting history.

Statistical data usually serves as primary source information, but the memorial illustrates how reporting erroneous figures is a feature of knowledge transfer that can simultaneously increase believability while decreasing reliability. Although the memorial alleges the massacre of 80,000 Turks in Igdir, census records show that the district’s population was only 89,000, with Turks comprising 46%.3 Thus, a slaughter of this magnitude is impossible since only 40,000 Turks resided in the region at the time. Despite this inconsistency, the public “remembers” Turkey as a victim because “statistical data” presents unreliable figures in an objective manner. Consequently, this manoeuvre manipulates power as a feature of knowledge to misinform the public and promote anti-Armenian ideology.

 

Object 2: Caught in the Act, Eleanor Antin

Caught in the Act (1973) is a 36-minute film directed by Eleanor Antin, an American conceptual artist who focuses on themes of originality and genius.4 In this black & white photo from the film set, we observe Antin posing as a ballerina while holding onto a pole for stability. With only 3 months of training, Antin cannot yet balance on pointe, so the cameraman in the foreground crops the image to conceal her lack of skill. The videographer filming Caught in the Act exposes the technical features of photography which unreliably frame Antin as a skilled ballerina.

Photography intrinsically attempts to reflect reality, yet Antin debunks the myth that “seeing is believing.” By taking the audience behind-the-scenes, Caught in the Act demonstrates how the technical elements of photography can subvert its reliability as a form of knowledge. Antin’s work illustrates mimesis, the theory that art is an “imitation” and “re-representation of nature”5 because she contracts the notion that “the camera never lies.” Although the camera portrays Antin as posing on her own, our perspective shows Antin as needing technical support. This dichotomy reveals that photography is not an entirely reliable medium to convey knowledge since it can be staged.

The technical elements required to produce “quality” art are often valued over an artist’s creative vision. For example, the formal properties of painting (shading, colour, etc) are frequently celebrated more than the artist’s intended message. Caught in the Act exposes Antin’s deficiency of skills to challenge the concept that technical mastery is the most important aspect of art. Technique can be deceitful and unreliable, so perhaps it is not the most significant indicator of artistic quality. Technical expertise is just one of many ingredients which connote value and knowledge. Caught in the Act implies that our interaction with art as a form of knowledge is diluted by our obsession with technique, which cannot reliably reflect its value and meaning.

 

Object 3: Fleur de Mimosa perfume

This is a vial of Fleur de Mimosa perfume which I purchased in 2020. I wore it during a Californian vacation spent touring universities with my sister. It is my favourite scent as it reminds me of happy moments travelling and envisioning a future at university. This perfume offers insights into the features of memory (as a medium of personal knowledge) that implicate the reliability of my outlook on the holiday.

Cognitive bias is a feature of memory that affects my experience of this scent, and the reliability of my perceptions of the holiday. Although Fleur de Mimosa conjures happy memories, it cannot capture every nuanced moment from my trip. It is simply a trigger for reflecting on events which are filtered and incomplete. This is explained by the “peak-end rule,” a cognitive bias where individuals judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak and its end, rather than the average of every moment.6 Memory as a means of knowledge is hampered by psychological bias, so the perfume’s scent cannot offer an objective or accurate recall of my vacation.

The reconstructive nature of memory also undermines the reliability of real events. Memory involves the active reconstruction of information, rather than passive retrieval. It is influenced by emotion and post-event information which can create inconsistencies. Effectively, I piece together recollections of my vacation like a puzzle each time I smell my perfume. I am remembering a reconstruction rather than the actual holiday itself. It is possible that our experience of the real world is filtered through warped perceptions of past events. It is difficult to trust that what we “know” is reliable since it is impacted by cognitive biases wired in our brains.