The Mechanics of Fluids:
Navigating the Internet’s Loneliness

Gala Hernández López (b. 1993) is an artist-researcher and filmmaker. Her work is interdisciplinary and includes the production of essay films, video installations and performances on new modes of subjectivation being produced, specifically, by computational digital capitalism. Through a feminist and critical lens, she examines the discourse circulating in virtual communities as symptomatic fiction. In 2018, an incel (involuntary celibate) called Anathematic Anarchist posted a suicide letter on Reddit entitled “America is responsible for my death.” In response to this, Hernández López created a film in attempt to find the answer to the user’s words. The resulting work is the Emerging Award Winner of the Aesthetica Art Prize. It is a virtual drift through the internet in search of Anarchsist’s digital trace, resulting in a journey that draws upon similarities between shared isolation and solitude in a digital world. Here, we speak to the artist on her inspiration and process in creating the complex and compelling film.

A: What inspired The Mechanics of Fluids?

GHL: My initial intention was to make a film about the connected loneliness of digital capitalism, using dating apps as an example. But when I found and read Anathematic’s suicide note, which really moved me, I decided to introduce the incels as interlocutors. For me, they embody a very dark human desolation, linked to the social atomisation produced by the Internet and screens. I wanted to explore their affects, which resonated with me in an unexpected way, because I’ve also often found myself terribly alone behind the screen of my cell phone, obsessed by its illusion of connectivity and sociability. Young people – of my generation, Y, but it’s even worse for Z – spend less and less time with their friends, have less sex and are more depressed and anxious than ever. Personally, I’m convinced that the cause of all these sad transformations is the same: digital platforms, virtualisation and the increasing automation of our lives. In making La Mécanique des Fluides, I also realised the contradictions and complexities of masculinity as a socio-cultural construct. In approaching these communities, I’d like to understand how they participate in the production of a patriarchal masculinity that seems to me dangerous for women and men alike.

A: Where does the title come from?

GHL: The film’s title refers to the cybernetics of the 1950s-1960s, when computer science was born. Fluids mechanics is a discipline in physics that studies the behavior of fluids. The movement of fluids is inherently unpredictable, but we need to establish the fiction of “mechanics” to be able to predict how they adapt and move. For me, this corresponds to the idea of governing reality by putting it into figures; it’s a reduction, a simplification of reality to be able to control it. That’s what’s happening with dating apps: a profile consists of four photos, an age and a nickname. But you don’t fall in love with a photo, you fall in love with a gesture, a voice, eyes … Computational digital capitalism tries to predict reality, to anticipate it. That’s why falling in love is such a disruptive event. Love, affects and emotions are fluid and ungovernable.

A: What inspired the aesthetic or “cinematography” of the film? Here I’m thinking of something like the dream sequence in the film.

GHL: I’m very interested in thinking about the plastic and sensitive strategies available to cinema. How do they represent the affects and psychic and physical sensations we experience when surfing the Internet? I think there’s a lot to be explored here, as if for some strange reason cinema has difficulty in depicting or making us feel the Internet. When I started the project, I wanted the film’s experience to resemble my own as an Internet user: the constant leap between contents that are often opaquely linked, the disruption of notifications, the leap between different applications and platforms, between very heterogeneous image regimes and texts, numbers, icons, gifs … All this semiotic density of the internet experience sometimes seems to me close to a hypnotic trance, overflowing and overwhelming because of the extension of the “domain of struggle” (to quote the most incel writer I know). The desire to reproduce this experience of interminable virtual drift is at the root of the discursive wandering you feel in the film.

A large part of the work involved spending many hours a day on the Internet – and as I went along, downloading videos, making screen recordings and so on. I came to have quite a detailed knowledge of the incel ecosystem on YouTube, I had lists of users posting interesting videos, forums with the most poignant topics and so on. I never did it rigorously and systematically, like an info com researcher would, because that would have killed the inspiration and fun for me. But I have catalogued and organised my discoveries in order to find my way through this colossal mass of data. This process went hand in hand with research of a more theoretical nature (reading numerous books and articles on incels and dating apps, among others) and the two intertwined organically, feeding into the writing of the voiceover that structures the film. 

While I was writing the film, I had a dream about a flood. I grew up in southern Spain, where the climate is semi-desert and it hardly ever rains. But when it does, it’s a deluge, there are floods, especially with the climate crisis. So I have a lot of memories of floods from my childhood. This dream of an island, of my life being flooded, I thought it was a way of expressing the solitude I felt, while avoiding exhibitionism. The only shot we shot ourselves was a shot of the sea. When the dream dissolves, collapses into pixels, I wanted to get back to reality, to show the real fluids. It’s a metaphor for the bottle I’m throwing into the sea.

A: How do you use or conceive of juxtaposition/collage in your practice?

GHL: The problem, when the (an)archive you’re working with is the entire internet, is that you run the risk of getting lost in this constant search for meaningful serendipity. You always have the feeling that if you keep exploring a little further, one click further, you’ll find an even more exciting video, an even more interesting message … In a way, this is both an obstacle to overcome and an opportunity for the creator, because of the amount of material at his or her disposal without the need for a camera or a budget or a human team. 

The idea was that the juxtaposition of videos of different types, cameras and visual regimes would give a sense of immersion like the one we experience on the Internet. The temporal montage had to be combined with the spatial montage, typical of computer spaces and digital interfaces, in order to account for this experience, hence the search to generate images composed of images, superimpositions, mise en abymes, like computer windows.

A: How do you want viewers to come away feeling after watching the film?

GHL: I hope the spectator will reflect upon issues such as masculinity and computational capitalism, i.e. capitalism based on Big Data and computer calculations. I’m interested in this because I think the patriarchal capitalism we live in is computational. This idea of governing reality, the living, through science, progress and technology, is a very patriarchal and historically masculine way of thinking. For me, the incel community was born out of the clash between historical misogyny and computational capitalism.

A: What does winning the Emerging Award for the Aesthetica Art Prize mean for you?

GHL: I’m very happy, thankful and honoured about it, and hoping the film will connect with new audiences in the exhibition!

Hernández López features in the Aesthetica Art Prize 2024 Exhibition at York Art Gallery from 16 February – 21 April. Plus, meet over 250 longlisted international artists in our new online gallery.

Want to get involved? The next edition of the Prize is open for entries. Submit your work by 31 August. Win £10,000, exhibition and publication. Find out more here.

All images courtesy of Gala Hernández López.

Words: Gala Hernández López and Chloe Elliott.