Joanne Lee

I See Faces' - Popular Pareidolia and the Proliferation of Meaning


Output: Chapter In Book

This chapter, a contribution to a book in the Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies series, presents findings from an inquiry into the human propensity for making meaning with and from ordinary things and materials. It forms part of Lee’s broader artistic research project concerned with investigating ‘the everyday’ and enlarging what can be generated critically and aesthetically from the objects that surround us in our daily life.

The research focuses on the phenomenon of ‘pareidolia’, a staple of popular online culture where the hashtag #iseefaces designates photographs of cheese graters, parking meters, coat hooks and buildings whose form seems to suggest a facial appearance. It explores how pareidolia, which occurs because of the human visual system’s tendency to extract patterns from noise, leads to people perceiving ‘meaning’ from random source material and to it playing a considerable role in creativity, religion, mythmaking, science, psychoanalysis and psychiatry.

The research draws together a constellation of references, responses and reinterpretations to broaden the scope and propriety of what it is possible to think, and the species of knowledge generated when ‘possible thoughts’ are pursued creatively and critically.

The research was initiated through artistic research for an edition of the Pam Flett Press, Lee’s independent artists’ serial publication. Aspects of this work were tested through invited research seminars in the Department of English, Liverpool John Moore’s University, and the Department of History, English, Linguistics and Music at the University of Huddersfield.

A substantive presentation of research for this chapter was presented at the international conference ‘The Popular Life of Things. Material Culture(s) and Popular Processes’ hosted by The Institute of English Cultures and Literatures, University of Silesia, Sosnowiec, Poland in 2014, at which Lee was also an invited plenary speaker.

Research Output

This collection of images displays the outputs from this project. Find out more details in the full case study below.

Research Method

Primary research took place through the analysis of online cultural artefacts and through creative practice (drawing, photography and writing). Secondary research generated and investigated a critical constellation of cultural references.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

To learn more about the output, methods and dissemination of this work, explore the full project submission.