Monday, November 16, 2009

Following Piece 2.0 : Are you following me? by Stella Untalan

Everything is about following.
Are you following me?

I was intrigued by the { following 2.0 } project at many levels. Not the least of which was my twitter handle : stellth. Stellth is one side of me. Stellth is a silent observer, an investigator, a documenter. Stellth is unseen.

Being an observer is essential to stimulating the imagination. Observation and imagination were key to my process in this piece.

I decided that I would use small identifying details in my tweets to hold the thread together for my followers. In this way, if their attention lasped or a tweet or two got past them they could fill in the blanks and recover. It made entering the piece at any point viable. A follower didn’t need the whole story to become engaged and then follow.

Living in a walkable city made picking subjects and logistics easy. I selected someone by a physical attribute: hair color, jacket, bag. I was never really close enough to hear any of the conversations of the individuals that I followed. This is where I mixed the factual and imaginary.

IMG_3273
© 2009 Stella Untalan

The first person I decided to follow, a blonde woman I often see on my way to the gallery, avoided me the first day. I had to decide if I would skip her and follow someone else as my first subject. I decided against it. I imagined that anyone who knew I was doing the piece would wonder what happened. That would be all for the good. Intrigue from the start.

Twitter / stellth: The woman with the blond h ...

My first tweet:

The woman with the blond hair put on her raincoat, took her umbrella and headed up 18th street. #fp20

and then :

How had she avoided me all day yesterday? #fp20


Early on I decided that I would wait if the blonde woman disappeared from view. I would wait as long as it took until she reappeared. On the very first follow I waited from 10:40 AM until 1:56 PM. While I waited, I thought out loud sending a few tweets to keep connected to the story. Letting my followers know I was still making the piece.

tweets :
I'm waiting. For her. #fp20

I have no idea how long it will be. I imagine it must be a meeting, an appointment. 45 minutes? an hour? #fb20


Methodology : observe and let the story unfold, improvise.


By the time the blonde woman emerged I had a couple replies from followers on twitter and Facebook. They asked me, who is the blonde woman? why are you following her? One person asked me if I was stalking... I gave them the link to the project post. They were intrigued and excited to continue following the piece.

I had lunch with a friend who asked me outright, who is the woman? Do I know her? I replied : Follow.

I had decided not to map my actions or use photos in my tweets. I wanted the narrative and my followers to use their observations and imagination to extend the story. They sent me tweets asking, what store, what cafe?

tweet :
The bag is TINY. Thinking about what could be inside. Can't be a pastry can it? #fp20

Dragonfly Cakes - Petits Fours - Petit Four - Home
http://www.dragonflycakes.com/

When I tweeted about the TINY bag a whole flurry of questions came at me. Guesses. I would reply. More guesses. Links to reference materials about different kinds of candy and French pastry. It was an amazing interaction. Surprisingly, the most investigative responses happened on Facebook (I import my feed). Maybe it was because people knew me and felt comfortable.

tweets :
I'm thinking of a name for the woman I am following. Should I name her so that this stream sounds less impersonal? Not her real name. #fp20

The response was a resounding NO. I was pleased. I didn’t really want to give the blonde woman a false name, and my followers agreed.

The last interchanges with my followers were around the sister that visits the blonde woman. I assume it is her sister; they look so much alike. My followers suggest that whatever was in the TINY bag was to share with the sister. A special treat they enjoyed together when they were young and that they still share today.

tweets :
She's coming back out. A car has pulled up. A rental car. I can see the little enterprise e logo. She's greeting the driver. #fp20

The blonde woman is opening a gate for the car to enter. The woman in the car is parking. They are hugging. #fp20

My unexpected joy in making this piece came from the interaction with my followers who were open to writing the story with me. Imagining and embellishing as the story unfolded.

The idea of a cover of the Acconci piece on twitter and compressing the timeline fits our current culture perfectly. All of the performances can be viewed on Twitter using the search term #fp20.

Are you following me?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Those Who Follow

While developing my concept for Following Piece 2.0, I realized that it would be difficult to follow subjects on foot as Acconci did in the original piece, since I live in the suburbs, and not NYC. I shared my intention to participate in the project by posting the @Platea blog post which announced the performance on FaceBook. There was an immediate response from one of my “friends” stating that the piece would amount to stalking, saying “ ... if someone followed ME and tweeted about what I was doing, I'd be freaked out and angry and would probably call the police.” Yet this same person posts to hundreds of people about her daily activities, blurring the line that separates public from private as it exists in the social phenomenon of cyberspace vs. real space.

Because of these initial concerns, and to avoid any misconceptions, I decided to come up with a performance that was different yet in keeping with the Acconci piece. Coincidently, I had been working on the Gagnon family genealogy and had done some fact-finding on the origin of the name.

First, a definition - stalking (the act of following prey stealthily)

Research shows that my family name could have originated from either A) The nickname for an aggressive, belligerent young man, or cruel person from the Old French gagnon “mastiff” or “guard dog” or B) Derived from the Old French “gagneau”, which means “to till or cultivate”. Since my ancestors were farmers, I personally think that option B) is more likely, but if the name indeed came from A), an “aggressive, cruel person” or “guard dog” would probably “follow prey stealthily”. That was it! I was excited that I had developed a concept that was innovative and yet was still faithful to the original.

My plan was to post about my ancestors from as far back in history as possible, chronologically to the present day. Without the internet to do much of the research, my cover of the piece would have been impossible. I realized that instead of just names following one another, these names had existed and had been real people. The story started in the year 1532 with Barnabe Gagnon and finished with me. I previously had a compiled genealogy and even have been to visit the original family home, La Gagnonnierre, in the Perche region of Normandy in France, so I had my tools at hand to start.

@joanie_s_c START: The year 1532. Those who follow. Barnabe Gagnon is born in Tourourvre, Perche, France.

Image: La Gagnonierre, Tourourvre, Perche, Normandy, France

What I didn’t realize was that I would get so affected by these former “just-names” on paper. I became obsessed about these “now-people”, wondered what they did for a living, where they lived, how they survived the crossing to New France, and what they did when they got there.

In my research, I learned that the houses that the three Gagnon brothers built when they arrived from France in Chateau Richer, Quebec in 1635 are also beautifully preserved, as I had witnessed with the farm in Normandy. All the houses are still lived in and commemorated with plaques documenting the family history. The homes which I had previously imagined as shacks, are still impressive. I found that rather than continue as farmers, the Gagnon brothers became shopkeepers shortly after they arrived in Canada. I found ancient land deeds and marriage and death certificates.

@joanie_s_c The year 1635. Those who follow. Pierre Gagnon and his brothers leave Normandy for the New France, now Quebec, Canada


Image: Pierre Gagnon's home in Chateau Richer, Quebec, Canada. Built in 1652.

When they moved to the US, I also learned that my grandparents lived in Nashua, NH before moving to Lawrence, MA, where they stayed until they died.

@joanie_s_c The year 1911. Those who follow. Theodule and Aurore Gagnon move to Nashua, NH from Quebec, Canada

Image: The Gagnon family, 1911. Theodule and Aurore with daughter Reine at left.

@joanie_s_c END: Those who follow. Joan-Marie Estelle Gagnon, Lawrence, MA. Portrait age 5


Utilizing the power of social media, specifically Twitter, my tale unfolded. At one point Quebec News picked up on my posts and started re-tweeting my storytelling. Many of my own followers told me that they were finding my story very interesting and were looking forward to the next “installment”. As a result, my performance evolved into a many layered re-enactment of Following Piece:

1. One generation following the other (My original plan)
2. My new interest from following and learning more about my ancestors (Resulting in unexpected discoveries)
3. Other people began following my story (Social media’s affect on my story telling)
4. Quebec News picking up on my performance and re-tweeting to their followers (My family story had suddenly gone very public)
5. In turn, those who follow that news agency now followed my story (New anonymous followers)

Incidentally, I also found in my research that there are hundreds of Gagnons who are artists. Some I knew about, for instance, the well-known Canadian artist Clarence Gagnon, but there are also many contemporary artists. I’m not sure if this is coincidence or a trait that has been passed down through hundreds of years. I’m fascinated though, and definitely will be investigating this possible common factor.

In the end, the stalking fears turned out to be unsubstantiated. While Acconci’s piece evolved without many people noticing, the result of using social media to create “Those Who Follow” caused hundreds of people - quite a substantial audience, to follow the performance of my Following Piece 2.0 which merged the past with the present. All of the performances can be viewed on Twitter using the search term #fp20.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Project V: Following Piece 2.0 - Oct 26 - 30

Follow The Leader Up Butternut Creek
Image courtesy KaCey97007

Context
A few months ago, shortly after Michael Jackson had died, I was clicking through YouTube to listen to some of his old classics. I stumbled upon this great cover by KT Tunstall of the Jackson 5 favorite, "I Want You Back":



It got me thinking about art, fine art, conceptual art. In the music scene, cover songs are super common, both among emerging musicians who want to connect with the crowd and established musicians. To me, a cover song is not a tribute to another artist, or a derivative work, or imitation, or a remix. A cover song is just darn fun, and it's good music.

Artist Vito Acconci. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Following Piece 1.0
Forty years ago, in October 1969, artist Vito Acconci performed Following Piece. A study in the public spaces we occupy and assumptions around privacy, Acconci followed random people in Manhattan during the month and reported on their activities until they entered a private area such as an apartment or car. Here's what Media Art Net had to say about it:
Following Piece is one of Acconci's early works. The underlying idea was to select a person from the passers-by who were by chance walking by and to follow the person until he or she disappeared into a private place where Acconci could not enter. The act of following could last a few minutes, if the person then got into a car, or four or five hours, if the person went to a cinema or restaurant. Acconci carried out this performance everyday for a month. And he typed up an account of each pursuit, sending it each time to a different member of the art community.
A pioneer in conceptual art, Acconci's Following Piece marked a shift in his own artistic interests, as he began to look at how we occupy public space. His results, which I found on Design Boom, struck me as not unlike a series of Twitter or FourSquare updates, decades before these technologies made the public broadcast of somewhat-private actions in public space normal.

It got me thinking. I always loved his piece, and I wondered how he might perform it in this age of social media and mobile phones. So why not do a cover?

Grand Street: Texting
Image courtesy moriza.

Following Piece 2.0
And so, with that in mind, I thought it might be fun to do a cover of Following Piece, but to look at it specifically in the contemporary context of Twitter, a world where public/private boundaries are shifting and eroding, as once-private activities are broadcast into online public space. In the world of Twitter, the idea of following has taken on a new meaning: once an uncomfortable thought, it's now regularly seen as a good thing to have one's private actions followed by many strangers.

In short, from October 26 to October 30, we're asking anyone interested to join a public performance of Following Piece in the social media sphere. Following Piece 2.0. We would use Twitter, and we'd apply the hashtag #fp20 to make it super clear that our tweets are part of the performance.

What would Following Piece 2.0 look like? Here are some thoughts:
  • Tweeting about a person you're following on Twitter. Let's say you're following @mrskutcher and she says she's going to a party. In Acconci's original piece, he never identified the subject per se, so you might tweet: "Lady with glasses and short hair is going to a release party #fp20"
  • Tweeting about a person you're following in real life. I live in New York, and I accidentally follow people all the time if we happen to be going in the same direction. What if you followed someone for a little bit and live tweeted what they're doing?
  • Tweeting for a person you're following in real life. When sitting on the bus, I often like to imagine what other people are thinking or what they'd be tweeting in that moment.
  • Integrating geolocation social media services like Foursquare and Brightkite.
  • Use your imagination!
If you're interested, drop your name and Twitter handle below, or just start tweeting on October 26. Just be sure to use the hashtag #fp20 so we know what's what!

You're never too old for a good game of follow the leader

Very Important Note
Before we begin, we want to make it super duper ultra clear that we are not encouraging stalking, cyberstalking, harassment or anything else of that nature. If you follow someone online, you may wish to ask them beforehand if they would be okay with your performance. And if you're following someone offline, keep in mind that they may not be comfortable with what you are doing. In all cases, be sure to respect local laws and, importantly, respect people's right to privacy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Project IV: The Dive ... A Rainbow of Paper Airplanes - by Alex von Vaupel

this fickle season
of rain and sunshine
i try my luck
and go in search
the rainbow’s end


Skydiving
When @platea announced Project IV: The Dive, I loved the idea immediately. I had a vision of a rainbow of coloured paper airplanes skydiving into a crowded street. The airplanes would have poems printed on them. Would anybody notice? Would the poems just get trampled, or would people catch an airplane, stop to take a closer look?

The Dive was announced at short notice, so I didn't have much time to prepare. My original idea had been to let the airplanes skydive somewhere in Amsterdam, but as it turned out, I was in Canterbury, UK, on the specified dates. I had fun playing with the idea, trying different things to make it work. Practicing how to fold a paper airplane that will actually fly, selecting poems, walking around town to spot the best location. I came up with an airplane design that had the poem printed on the wings, and links to the Platea blog and my own printed on the inside.

Paper Airplanes - Photo by Julia Freeman

It's hard to find a crowd in Canterbury, on a september week day. The tourists have gone, and the students haven't returned yet. The busiest place I could find was a spot in the highstreet near some popular sandwich bars, where many people buy their lunch.

grey morning
drawing
my own rainbow


So, on wednesday, Sept 9th, I went to the city centre with my bag full of paper airplanes, to launch them into the street. I teamed up with photographer Julia Freeman to take pictures of the airplanes flying around. All the pictures posted here were taken by her.

I had imagined to make a nice rainbow arch with the airplanes, but of course the vision I had did not factor in practicalities like the direction of the wind ...
The airplanes went Everywhere! Some people caught them and read the poem, some people just walked by, others threw the airplanes back at me. A few were annoyed, this was not a crowd of tourists, they were busy people trying to get back to work. I know I had fun throwing the airplanes at them anyway!

Paper Airplane - Photo by Julia Freeman

It was just like the leaves falling off a tree, most people never look up to notice, the leaves get trampled on. Occasionally someone like me will come along and watch, maybe pick up a leaf and take it home.

A dive back into childhood...
Those people who stopped to talk to me all commented how the airplanes reminded them of being a child:'oh i loved to do that when I was a kid' ... 'my daughter would love this'... 'isn't it fun being twelve!'

I think they were right, this was a dive into childhood, for me and for the public. The airplanes invited people to remember that childish curiosity that makes us notice things. Especially those things that busy grownups ignore. A child will stop to marvel at the leaves falling from a tree, collect the leaves, play with them.

Paper Airplane - Photo by Julia Freeman

It's that attitude to the world that is needed to write haiku and tanka poetry, to notice what is happening, take a moment to reflect. The photos Julia managed to get of the flying airplanes have that 'haiku moment' feel to them. Stop, look around you!

they see only street
commuters passing by
the tree
throws conkers
at their heads


Practicality
With hindsight the project could have done with more preparation, and a better location. Perhaps with a more captive audience, like people sitting in a park or a square in a big city, on a summer day. More airplanes and a good spot to throw them down from would help create an actual rainbow.

On the other hand, you have to be careful, if the crowd is too big, it becomes difficult to aim... you don't want the point of an airplane hitting someone. Also beware of the authorities, I am not entirely sure if I would have needed a license, had I done this on a bigger scale. I made sure to pick up after myself, in order not to get nicked for littering.

Paper Airplane - Photo by Julia Freeman

The airplanes went down quickly and many ended up trampled on the street. This skydive was as brief in real life as the pictures and poems dived through my twitterstream.

The practical aspects may need a little work, but clearly the concept worked: people loved the idea, and it had the desired effect of making people stop and wonder, remember what it was like to be a child, before moving on.

I would like to thank the @platea crew for this wonderful, playful opportunity. Please comment and let me know what you think!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ready for The Dive? Here's the list of performers (it's not too late to sign up!)

Alrighty, folks, are you ready for The Dive? Here's the final list of performers for Project IV, but REMEMBER that you can simply add your name to the comments, and we'll pop it on this list. I know I saw a few other folks were talking about The Dive on Twitter, but they didn't formally sign up, so please just feel free to add your name to the comments, and I'll place it on the blog post right away. We may extend the performance to Friday, in any case.

And, just start diving!


PG Stonefly
Twitter

Jorge Alvarez
Twitter, Facebook

Alex Von Vaupel
Twitter, Facebook, Blog

Cynthia Lewis
Twitter, Facebook

Aaron Chen
Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Flickr

Trish Mayo
Facebook, Twitter, Flickr

Amy Finkbeiner
Twitter

Shelby Cunningham
Twitter, Facebook, Flickr

Lisa Hoang
Twitter

Christi Nielsen
Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, 12seconds

Jonny Gray
Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Blogger

Carse Ramos
Facebook, Twitter, Flickr

Joanie San Chirico
Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Blogger

Jennifer Ng
Twitter, Facebook, Flickr

D.
Tumblr, Flickr, Twitter

Yael David
Facebook, Twitter

Ingrid Murnane
Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed

Sheila Cunningham
Twitter, Facebook

An Xiao
FriendFeed and Facebook

Monday, August 31, 2009

Project IV: The Dive - September 8-10

Reene's Swan Dive
Photo via mcescobar1 on Flickr

Context
I've had this idea brewing for a good while now, immediately after I saw that Facebook would be moving into a real-time update model. I knew that I wanted to take a look at this move toward real-time and immediacy online, but had to focus on other @Platea projects for the moment.

It's been almost six months since Facebook went real time in March, and we've seen an even greater trend toward real-time. Facebook acquired popular social media aggregator FriendFeed, which offers push updates in real-time. And we've seen Twitter suffer a number of server hiccups, leading to much angst all around when updates were delayed.

In short, immediacy is quickly becoming the norm in social media.

Lighthouse Diving - Dovercourt Essex
photo via Jibba Jabba on Flickr

Project IV: The Dive
As the summer comes to an end in the northern hemisphere and the fall art season heats up, the steering committee and I thought it might be fun to have one last hurrah with a public dive through social media. The performance will be September 8 to 10, and we're asking our performers to use the real-time news feed as a visual performance space for diving.

Just think about it: you go online, you check your Facebook and FriendFeed feeds, and as the day goes on, each status update and picture post slowly makes its way down. If it's a busy day and you have a lot of friends, these updates slide down quickly. If it's a slow day, they get there eventually. Imagine a picture of yourself diving through this space, gradually making your way down your friends' news feeds.

Sounds kinda fun, huh?

Emerald Dog Dive.
Photo via Jeffrey Beall on Flickr

How to Participate
Participation is simple. For three days, from September 8 to 10, we're going to take a collective plunge. Here's how:

1. Write your name and links to your social media sites in the comments space below. The most effective sites for The Dive will be ones that show a picture as they update. Facebook's news feed is the most obvious, as is FriendFeed. Flickr is also a good option, and I'm sure there are a few more. Even your own personal blog could work--it would just be a very slow dive if you don't update very often!

2. Follow @Platea on Twitter and/or join the @Platea Facebook group. We'll be posting thoughts and ideas for inspiration in preparation for the week. Feel free to share your own, and we'll retweet or repost them.

3. Set up a self-timer or grab a friend and take pictures of yourself "diving". No, you don't have to be wearing a bathing suit. It doesn't even have to be you. All that matters is that you find some way to visually represent a dive. The fun part will be watching this image slowly make its way down your and your friends' news feeds, as if it's, well, diving.

4. It may be helpful to explain what the heck you're doing. If you're using Facebook, you can set up an album called "The Dive: @Platea Project IV" with a description of the images. Here's one suggestion:
From September 8 through 10, I'm participating in "The Dive", a public performance art project organized by the @Platea collective. It's kind of strange but also kind of fun. Learn more about it at http://plateastweets.blogspot.com/2009/08/project-iv-dive-september-8-10.html.
5. By Monday, September 7, we'll post a running list of who's participating, with links to their sites.

6. On September 8, start diving! Dive once a day, dive once an hour. Synchronize dives with friends and do some cool tricks. Dive as much or as little as you want. Dive at different times of day. Have fun and enjoy the end of the summer.

Simon Sky Diving
Photo via GoGap on Flickr

Questions? Ideas? Thoughts? Send an @reply to @Platea on Twitter or leave a comment here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

hopes/dreams/fears: A Global Public Art Potluck

hopes/dreams/fears Wordle
A Wordle of all the hopes/dreams/fears entries. Click to view larger.

Summary
Over two months ago, @Platea kicked off Project III: hopes/dreams/fears, a global online public art project formally launched in New York City during a presentation at the Brooklyn Museum and a public installation at the FIGMENT NYC arts festival on Governor's Island. I was looking for something low-key and community-driven for the summer, as so many people spend their time outdoors this time of year.

We meant to run till the end of July but extended it to almost the end of August (it's in fact still going), with crowdsourced hopes, dreams and fears from communities 'round the world adding up to so much more than I, well, had hoped and dreamed for. Here's where we netted out:
Total hopes/dreams/fears? 552.

Some 200 hopes, 150 dreams, and 175 fears (there were some combination ones, which is why the numbers are fuzzy)

Average age of participants: 31 years old
The youngest at age 5, the oldest at age 82
And two pets!

Nearly 20 countries across 4 continents, though concentrated mainly in North America, western Europe and Australia and New Zealand, as mapped out here:
hopes/dreams/fears geomap

A Collective Unconscious
In many ways, this project has been done before. The ever-popular Post Secret no doubt rested in the back of my mind as we developed the concept, and just today we saw the launch of the Dirty Laundry project. Tapping the Internet for anonymous thoughts is a popular project, but in the wake of a global economic crisis and the rise of social media, I wanted to try this project within the context of the news feed, which has become the central gateway to the Internet for many, if not most, people online these days.

It used to be said that on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. But these days, with intertwined Facebook networks and shared RSS feeds and verified email addresses, everyone not only knows you're dog, but who your parents are and where you went to school. The idea of anonymity on the Internet is quickly fading away.

This is certainly a good thing. The early 90's fears of the Internet have soon morphed into openness about the idea of a mobile, connected world. And yet, there's a cost, isn't there, and that's the idea of a truly honest dialogue. Status updates these days are so ironic and detached because we don't know who will see what, and it can be difficult to truly expose ourselves to the world.

I think back to my school days, to etchings on the backs of chairs and in bathroom stalls, or to today's brand of street art, as much political as it is an expression of self or group identity. Anonymity can breed a certain level of honesty and deep connection. What I wanted to see is how the Facebook news feed, the Fifth Avenue of the Internet, could serve as a channel for anonymous expression, embedded within the otherwise known entities on most people's friends lists. Does the occasional interruption of one's feed lead to a different experience than, say, manually visiting a blog?

Here were some that caught my eye:
Anonymous hopes that my son will be happy in this world and be able to love other and himself. (NYC 20)

Kazue hopes for ice cream in my hand right now. (Kobe, Japan 36)

Lindsay dreams of being a mother (Winchester 42)

C. Avevedo dreams of crime disappearing (Puerto Rico 16)

k.sparkle fears she will always censor herself in both writing and life. (Carbondale, IL 22)

PG Stonefly fears going backwards (Westbury, Australia 36)
And so many more, day after day, started coming in, and as we posted them to the feed, I started to see honest responses, ironic responses, humorous ones and heartbreaking ones, both current and regional and timeless and universal. Jonny Gray put it best:
As with all of these "crowdsourced," on-line art projects, there is an openness to what constitutes a hope, a fear, or a dream. People will offer these statements as they will. My particular interest is in hearing folks address the prompt as if there are no backslashes between the terms -- as if they run together. What is your hope that is also a fear? What is your dream that embodies both elements of desire and anxiety? As the Tarot suggests, before we can predict the future (however loosely) we must address and assess our hopes AND/or fears.

A page from Jonny's hopes/dreams/fears journal, which he's been passing around the Carbondale, IL, area. See more at the hopes/dreams/fears Facebook page.

A Global Public Art Potluck

Ostensibly, what I wanted to explore was ambient awareness, i.e., how the aggregate of little details can lead to something of a picture of an individual. Could ambient awareness apply to a global community? That's a question I pose to you who experienced the project, but as it picked up, I also realized we were exploring something else: networked public art across continents.

The project began in New York, first during a presentation at the Brooklyn Museum and then at Figment 2009, as @Platea members on the east coast gathered attendees hopes, dreams and fears. We collected more than 200 from people of all walks of life attending the fair. Concurrently, however, we had physical gatherings in Carbondale, IL, with Jonny Gray, who passed out his hopes/dreams/fears journal, and during Worldwide Knit in Public Days with Ingrid Murnane. Christi Nielsen passed out hopes/dreams/fears slips to folks attending Los Angeles's downtown art walk.

More learners
h/d/f collection at a cornershop in Winchester, via @innym


Here's what Ingrid had to say:
World Wide Knit in Public Days fell on the 13th and 14th June this year. As part of a library outreach exhibition in Winchester, UK, I taught people to knit. Set up like a living room,’ there were plenty of places to sit and look at patterns from the library or read knitting books. An exhibition of knitted objects from the Knitting Reference Library handling collection were suspended from fishing line in the large bay window and duplicate vintage patterns displayed in the windows. I was invigilating for a good part of the week, and knitted in public like never before (and knitted over half a cardigan). I think that some people thought that we were an art installation, and certainly it felt like that at times!

While there, I collected the hopes, dreams and fears of the exhibition visitors and new knitters. Though at first trepidatious, both young and old took part. Writing their thoughts on slips of paper, they added them to a large brown envelope. Whether living up to the stereotyped English reserve or not, there were plenty who felt that they shouldn’t let anyone else know their inner emotions. Although they didn’t take part at the Knitting Room, some said that they would add their hopes/dreams/fears online. A few people were so embarrassed by the idea of writing their hopes, dreams and fears on paper that they blushed and left the exhibition saying ‘No, I just don’t do that kind of thing.’ I felt as if I was asking too much sometimes; intruding on their inner sanctums. I did wonder afterwards if it was because they knew that I would read them; that I would make a judgement on them.

The hopes, dreams and fears that I collected in Winchester ranged from outright funny to deeply sad and poignant. I’d like to thank all of the exhibition visitors for taking part: I know it wasn’t easy for a lot of you.
Shortly afterward, gatherings popped up at a mall in Hatillo, Puerto Rico, during a dinner party in Australia, even online on Second Life, and folks across the Internet directly entered in their own hopes, dreams and fears. John Casey is working on a Facebook application that will allow the project to continue into perpetuity (stay tuned for more details!). And that's when I started to realize that the hopes/dreams/fears project was becoming a study in global public art, in art that leverages the power of social media to build a global community both online and off.

Cry in SL
Nettrice Gaskins's @Platea installation on Second Life

The phrase "global potluck" came to mind recently. In a traditional potluck dinner, people sign up to bring different types of food. Some will go all out and slave over the oven all day, producing a fabulous casserole that would rival any five star chef. Others will make bring their family's secret pasta recipe and a salad. And some will bring chips and soda and good company. Each person contributes to the collective dinner according to their means and talents. In so many ways, hopes/dreams/fears evolved into a global potluck dinner, a public art project where each person shared only as much as they felt comfortable, whether it be a quick anonymous hope or a fully-organized gathering in their part of the world.

As I wrote recently in Art21 Blog, the runaway success of Antony Gormley's One & Other points to how the everyone-can-play ethic of social media is spilling into the art world, as tens of thousands enter a lottery to try their hand at contemporary public performance art. With hopes/dreams/fears, a project that allowed for numerous levels of involvement, this public art project took shape in both the physical and digital worlds, around the world and within local communities, and I was thrilled with how it's come out.
We may rely heavily on the Internet, but we cannot touch it, taste it or experience the indescribable feeling of togetherness that one gleans from face-to-face interac­tion, from the reassuring sensation of being among a crowd of one's neighbors. Seeing one another in these situations reinforces the importance of sharing resources, of working together, of bal­ancing our own needs with those of others. Online, these values become notions that are much more easily suspended to further our own self-interest. Not surprisingly, political movements that begin online must have a real-world component; otherwise they evaporate and dissolve into the blur of other activities.

John Freeman in the Wall Street Journal


The next @Platea project will be announced next week, and it will take us back into the realm of public performance online. But I'd love hear what you've thought so far about hopes/dreams/fears, especially as someone who's been following the feed. Please feel free to leave your comments here. And of course, we are still posting h/d/f's onto the Facebook page and the @Platea Twitter feed, so if you aren't doing so yet, please add yourself!

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Foam Board, a Parking Lot and Some Hopes/Dreams/Fears, by Jorge Álvarez



“Surely this will work!”

After participating in @Platea’s very fun and interesting Project II: Co-Modify I was understandably quite excited to be part of their next project. So as my part for Project III: hopes/dreams/fears I decided to go out to the mall and gather as many h/d/f’s as I could. The idea was to set up a small table in a corner with a little sign to attract people. I would have little pieces of paper with the project info to hand out and a foam board or two for people to write their h/d/f’s.

I figured that the mall was an excellent place to find people from a variety of backgrounds and would give a good sense of what the public was thinking, which would prove quite useful for the project. I was most curious about how current events would affect people’s h/d/f’s. Would the swine flu, the economic crisis or other current events dominate in the h/d/f’s? Or would the test on Friday (hey, some people take summer classes) be more fresh on someone’s mind?


The Reality…

So maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as I first thought.

I went out with my good friend, her camera, a small foldable table, and a handful of markers to Mayagüez Mall, near where I study to start the gathering. I figured if I simply set up the table without asking for permission I would get kicked out quite fast and no good would come from it. I probably should’ve done this anyways. Once at the mall offices, I got about three whole words out before the lady at the desk started shaking her head. Not even in the parking lot. So I did what anyone in this situation would’ve done: went to Borders and spent a few hours looking at books.

Back in my hometown of Hatillo, the next day I went to the local mall to try out my luck. The lady there was in a much better mood and told me I had to talk to the marketing manager for permission, who unfortunately was still on vacation for the next two days. After checking at another mall with no luck, I decided to wait. Two days later I am finally ready to grab some h/d/f’s and was determined to get them that day no matter how. By then I decided to scrap the table and simply hold the foam board Free Hugs-style (I had done this before, asking for huggers to sign the board, with much success).

After walking around the mall for an hour waiting for the manager, I was finally told today was “not a good day” for it because there was too much traffic in the aisles (“But that is why today is perfect!”), that she would contact me in a few weeks and I could probably do it then. No good. Next destination: Walgreens!


Jorge hopes he doesn’t contract the swine flu doing h/d/f’s… (23, Hatillo, PR)



Did I mention this was the day they officially reported the first swine flu death in Puerto Rico? Yeah, only once I got there did I realize I was going to where most people with flu symptoms go to buy a bottle of NyQuil (heavenly NyQuil...). I, however, was set on doing this. After talking to the manager I was given the green light to do it… only I had to do it in the parking lot (~ 90° of delicious tropical sun). I didn’t care at this point.

So armed with a foam board, a handful of markers, a disposable camera (my friend wasn’t available) and my trusty bottle of hand sanitizer I picked a corner, and sort of looking like I was asking for money began my quest for some h/d/f’s.


Results



It’s to be expected that many will have “world peace” at the top of their list, and sure enough the first person to not give me a weirded out look and participate (ok, maybe she did give me the look) hoped for exactly this. After this first participant I realized that h/d/f’s is a lot more writing than just signing your name after a hug, but the foam board setup helped keep them at “status update” length, which worked very well.

A lot of people looked sort of scared and some annoyed when they saw me holding the board or when I asked them if they wanted to participate. This combined with the guy that was selling raffle tickets (I got him to write his own h/d/f’s) and the guy that was actually just asking for money made it all rather difficult. I was getting about 1 participant in every 20 that walked by me, and I had to resort to saying that I wasn’t asking for money at all.

The people most willing to participate tended to be young parents with their kids. Their h/d/f’s tended to revolve around providing for their kids and worry of their kids coming to harm. Another group that shared their h/d/f’s were the younger crowd, between 11 and 20 years old. It was interesting to see they focused mostly on their dreams or hopes, which consisted mainly of their career aspirations and studies (e.g. “I dream of becoming a pro skater,” “I hope to become a doctor,” etc.).

A very consistent subject was religion, or God, to be more specific. This actually surprised me a little since I wasn’t really expecting it, but makes sense, since Puerto Rican culture tends to be very religion oriented. I did get various participants talk to me about God and one even included me on his dream of eternal life for his family. One confusing lady told me she liked the project a lot and thought it was sweet, but wouldn’t participate because “It’s only God’s place to look into people’s hearts and minds” and then proceeded to preach to me for about 5 minutes.

However, what I found most surprising was the fact that not a lot of participants mentioned the swine flu or the economy (not counting the ones about winning the lotto). I figured since these were the most current or impactful happenings, they would sort of “override” most people’s hopes or fears.


So, what did I learn?

Well, it’s hard to tell. Personally I learned that a hand sanitizer bottle really helps me calm down, people tend to be in a rush when going to the drugstore, and older people tend to distrust younger ones with a foam board reading “hopes fears dreams”. Keep in mind, however, this is an ongoing project and it helps to look at it as a whole, instead of our individual attempts, to really get a sense of the hopes, dreams and fears of people. The steady trickling of individual h/d/f’s on @Platea’s hopes/dreams/fears page on Facebook or their Twitter feed, little by little reveals a bigger picture of the thoughts and feelings from around the world.

Be sure to come back for future posts from other participants on the project. There is already a great post by our friend D. (@sortingtrolley) and I suggest you check it out as well. Feel free to ask anything and comment below or e-mail platea.stweets@gmail.com. And make sure to follow @platea on Twitter!

___

By the way, if any of you were curious, my name is Jorge E. Álvarez and I’m a geology student from Puerto Rico. Also, I like to believe I’m a pirate.

Currently I have no idea of what I want to do with my life, which incidentally turns out to be a great thing for one’s creativity (lots and lots of ideas!). Joining @Platea has been one of the most fun things I’ve done (this sort of thing tends to happen), and has really motivated me to explore my artistic side. If you’re interested you can follow me on Twitter as @whore_hay. Cheers!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Hopes/Dreams/Fears Dinner Party Down Under, by D. (@sortingtrolley)


The Plan

To celebrate @Platea's superfun Project III: hopes/dreams/fears, I decided to host a h/d/f dinner party. I asked friends to come in fancy dress by interpreting the theme as they wish. My girlfriend J. and I planted objects which represented hopes, and/or dreams, and/or fears around the house to stimulate discussion. These included: a horror DVD, a set of bathroom scales, lottery tickets, an injured patient (made with a CPR dummy and blanket), cotton buds (to represent global warming icecaps - a stretch I know!), a guitar, wedding magazines, and some self-help books.


We also created three posters: one for each theme. The idea was for friends to write, draw and/or brainstorm their h/d/f's during the night in a public fashion. This was in addition to private submissions that were written on printouts (from the h/d/f party pack) which I later submitted online.

The Guests

Interestingly, four of the six of us dressed as fears. We had two Fear of old age, one Dream of travel thwarted by Fear of swine flu, & I was Fear of death. Our glass-half-full friends came in their pyjamas as they Dream to go everywhere in their PJs! Best Accessory Awards must go to L. for her snout, pig ears and curly tail and to M. for his slippers. J. took out Best Prop Award for her colostomy bag.


The dinner conversation

We prepared an Indian dinner I hoped and dreamed would be a success. My fears were alleviated and it was well-received - phew! Although one guest noted on the group Fears poster that their fear was "being served Indian by someone dressed as Death". These posters were perhaps helpful, as another brave (or possibly drunk) guest confronted their fear of eyeliner by using it to scrawl "eyeliner" on the fears poster.

An example of a common fear was "not being liked"- it was great to discuss such neuroses so candidly with friends. We also acknowledged while we dream of being financially stable, our hope for general good health and happiness, and our fear of tragedy out way any financial wants. I enjoyed brainstorming our h/d/f's with each other: again it was interesting to note we had more fears than hopes or dreams.

Prompted by this observation, we had a long discussion about whether it is perhaps "Australian," as in culture-specific, to focus on fears rather than on goals, hopes and/or dreams. In my humble opinion, Australians generally emphasise our frailties over our successes. We equate self-promotion and ambition with ego-mania. The discussion concluded that it is Australian to sell yourself short and that we think it is arrogant to dream. Then we laughed and wondered if we're just too lazy to have ambitions. Or is it that we fear sharing them? We spoke about Australia's rampant Tall Poppy Syndrome and our belief that being Australian means being represented as politically apathetic and culturally stunted.


Poignantly, we had an Australian flag displayed as a fear. To some people in Australia--and more importantly in this example, amongst most of the friends I have--, the Australian flag has become a symbol of redneck pride spearheaded by the ugly Cronulla Riots. The flag generated interesting discussions about (some) Australians being embarrassed at being Australian, specifically when we consider some of our social and political history and present. Of course, discussion came full circle to apathy because we all still live here, and very comfortably too, and hardly ever protest our democratically-elected government's policies. I for one often hide behind the apathy-as-default tag because exercise/promotion/saving money/political change is "just too hard". Finally we agreed we were all just lazy and had another glass of wine. Then we danced to another fear of death reference: Michael Jackson. However, contrary to aforementioned "typical Australian attitudes," I am very proud to say our dancing was amazingly excellent, and frankly we outclassed the King of Pop's legendary Motown "Performance".


This bag was the depository of our individual paper slips on which were penned our private hopes, dreams and fears. I was so pleased that during this writing session most people shared with one person, if not all, at least one of their h/d/f's. Of equal importance is the fact that people kept a couple of h/d/f's to themselves: permitting an opportunity to 'silently voice' their most personal h/d/f's. I'm proud of, and thankful to, my friends that their most secret h/d/f's which were not just shared verbally with close friends but were also granted permission to be shared with friends and strangers on the hopes/dreams/fears facebook page & via @Platea's twitter stream. In my mind, a hope or a dream or a fear admitted to oneself is cathartic--it is proof that we are learning to understand ourselves. A hope or a dream or a fear shared with friends and with strangers is a catalyst for change--it is proof that we are yearning to understand others.


....


By means of introduction... Hello! my name is D. & I live in Australia. Playing with the @Platea team especially warms the part of me that once lived on the stage. I love exploring the notion of performing online, and we've formed a lovely community on twitter (and on flickr, facebook, tumblr, etc). As a bonus, these performances also facilitate my penchant for wearing eyeliner.

Nowadays you can find me working in your local public library. Come in, say hi and support your local library: we've been shush-free for 11 years. You can find me @sortingtrolley on twitter.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Recently submitted your hope/dream/fear?

Join us on the hopes/dreams/fears Facebook group at http://tr.im/n6KP.

hopes/dreams/fears on Facebook


Then, gather your friends together and encourage them to participate in hopes/dreams/fears. Here's a sample blurb you can share out:
Hi!

I'm participating in an online public art project and hope you can join. It's called "hopes/dreams/fears", and I hope you can join me. All you have to do is:

1. Fill out the form at http://tinyurl.com/kj75lc.

2. Join the hopes/dreams/fears Facebook group at http://tr.im/n6KP.

3. Wait to see yours and others' hopes, dreams and fears broadcast over the next month and a half in your Facebook feed.

"hopes/dreams/fears" began in New York City on June 12 during the FIGMENT NYC arts festival on Governor's Island and runs till the end of July with participants across the world. Members of online public art collective @Platea are gathering individuals' hopes, dreams and fears in the form of status update language (i.e., "Jessica hopes that she graduates with honors next year." "Fred fears he might lose his job due to the recession"). These will then be broadcast to a broader audience via a Facebook page, with the goal of uniting diverse groups via social media and offering a collective picture of communities' hopes, dreams and fears during this time of economic crisis and transition.

To learn more about @Platea, please visit http://plateastweets.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Project III: hopes/dreams/fears

Governor's Island Trip
Governor's Island, via mjpeacecorps on Flickr

The Concept

After such a strong performance with Co-Modify, I'm pleased to announce @Platea's next public art project, "hopes/dreams/fears". We're moving away from performance per se this time around and are trying a new direction: public participatory art with both digital and physical aspects.

As those of us who use social media know, the collected status updates of an individual over time can paint a picture of who he or she is. We get a sense of his or her life's ups and downs, lunch and dinner preferences, social life and travel schedule, and so much more. Over time, even if you've never met this person, you feel like you know so much about him or her. It's an idea often referred to as "ambient awareness": the aggregate of little details leads to something of a picture of an individual.

At the same time, I do wonder about the power of social media in connecting the world, when most of our social media activity is self-selected. Yes, everyone from the Hollywood glitterati to the homeless and struggling use the Internet, but are we really connecting with each other, or are we just following our friends and a few random strangers?

I'm curious about the power of ambient awareness and how it might apply to broad communities of strangers. What if were able to bring together hundreds, perhaps thousands, of status updates, many of which can come from those who don't even use social media to begin with, into one feed? This feed would show a wide breadth of life perspectives and lifestyles and would bring together disparate groups who don't normally interact.

Hence, @Platea Project III: "hopes/dreams/fears".

"hopes/dreams/fears" is a global online public art project being formally launched in New York City starting June 12 during the FIGMENT NYC arts festival on Governor's Island and running till the end of July with crowdsourced hopes, dreams and fears from other communities. Members of online public art collective @Platea are gathering individuals' hopes, dreams and fears in the form of status update language (i.e., "Jessica hopes that she graduates with honors next year." "Fred fears he might lose his job due to the recession").

These will then be broadcast to a broader audience via a Facebook page, with the goal of uniting diverse groups via social media and offering a collective picture of communities' hopes, dreams and fears during this time of economic crisis and transition. In particular, as status updates can seem so ironic or detached at times, the process of formulating these updates into the language of hopes, dreams and fears can hopefully help us get at the deeper consciousness of communities around the world.


Seeds of Hope
via carf on Flickr

How to Participate
Interested? First, be sure to add the hopes/dreams/fears page on Facebook. This will ensure you see individuals' hopes, dreams and fears appear in your news feed over the next month and a half.

Secondly, help us gather your community's hopes, dreams and fears. Here are a few options:
* Join us in New York City during the FIGMENT NYC festival June 12-14 on Governor's Island. FIGMENT is an annual participatory arts event with artwork in every medium, from installation to performance to music to games and many things in between. To volunteer your time and help gather the hopes, dreams and fears of the thousands of individual in attendance, please contact An Xiao at thatwaszen@gmail.com.

* Form your own "hopes/dreams/fears" gathering in person. Have a community fair or coffee shop where you could host your h/d/f gathering? Some ideas include setting up a table in a local coffee shop during a poetry reading, hosting a dinner party or get-together, participating in a community fair, or any number of summer activities. Some of these can be large events or small events. Everything you need to get your in-person gathering started can be found on this PDF. Then, input folks' h/d/f into our form at http://tinyurl.com/kj75lc. If you have a particularly large number of participants and using the form would be cumbersome, please email us platea.stweets@gmail.com. We will be accepting h/d/f till mid-July for broadcast into the Facebook feed.

* Form your gathering online. Are you part of a Facebook group or online message board system? Gather your friends together and encourage them to participate in hopes/dreams/fears. Here's a sample blurb you can post:
Hi!

I'm participating in an online public art project and hope you can join. It's called "hopes/dreams/fears", and I hope you can join me. All you have to do is:

1. Fill out the form at http://tinyurl.com/kj75lc.

2. Join the hopes/dreams/fears Facebook group at http://tr.im/n6KP.

3. Wait to see yours and others' hopes, dreams and fears broadcast over the next month and a half in your Facebook feed.

"hopes/dreams/fears" began in New York City on June 12 during the FIGMENT NYC arts festival on Governor's Island and runs till the end of July with participants across the world. Members of online public art collective @Platea are gathering individuals' hopes, dreams and fears in the form of status update language (i.e., "Jessica hopes that she graduates with honors next year." "Fred fears he might lose his job due to the recession"). These will then be broadcast to a broader audience via a Facebook page, with the goal of uniting diverse groups via social media and offering a collective picture of communities' hopes, dreams and fears during this time of economic crisis and transition.

To learn more about @Platea, please visit http://plateastweets.blogspot.com.

* Fill out your hope/dream/fear and share the link with others. Too busy to organize a gathering? Not a problem! Just send in your own hope/dream/fear with the following spreadsheet: http://tinyurl.com/kj75lc. You can even send out a tweet or status update to your friends to encourage them to join at the following link: http://tinyurl.com/kj75lc.

Then, be sure to do these very important things:
1. Add the hopes/dreams/fears page on Facebook. This will ensure you see individuals' hopes, dreams and fears appear in your news feed over the next month and a half.

2. And if you plan to form a gathering, leave a comment and let us know how you'll be participating. That way, we'll know to expect your h/d/f and can be in touch to coordinate when they will be posted.

questions questions
via Rock Alien on Flickr

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I submit a hope/dream/fear in a language other than English?
Yes! Our steering committee speaks, to varying degrees, Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin and Cantonese, and we'll do our best to post your hope/dream/fear even if it's in a different language.

Is there anything I can't say?
Not really! We simply ask that you avoid defamatory language. We don't wish to censor folks' thoughts, but we do want to be respectful of the kids and families who will be submitting their hopes/dreams/fears and following the Facebook page.

I'm organizing my own online/offline gathering. Do I have to use the exact language/PDF you provided?
Not at all - they are simply suggestions to help get you started. The most important part is that we receive your gathering's hopes, dreams and fears in status update format. Just be sure to leave a comment so we know you'll be participating.

What happens to the hopes/dreams/fears after they're posted?
Like any Facebook status update, they are thrown into the Internet ether. We're not sure what Facebook does with status updates, but they're probably kept in a server somewhere. We will only be posting these updates using individuals' first names, and we're giving everyone the option to post a pseudonym instead of their actual name.

What's the latest you'll accept hopes/dreams/fears from me/my community?
We will be accepting them till mid-July for broadcast into the Facebook feed. We don't have a firm date just yet until we get a better sense of how many folks will be participating.

I have more questions. How do I get them answered?
Leave a comment here!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Intermission: @Platea Charades!

Charades
Photo by nigelpepper on Flickr

We on the @Platea steering committee are hard at work planning for Project III, which we're quite excited about. It won't be a performance along the lines of Co-Modify, but it will continue in the realm of public participatory art. We'll be announcing it in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, however, we realized that the performance camaraderie and community that built up during Co-Modify is a wonderful thing, and we wanted to continue that, while also encouraging innovation and experimentation in Twitter- and social media-based performance art. To that end, we realized a great "intermission" project-between-projects would be none other than @Platea Charades!

How does this work? Simple:
1. Send a DM or @ to @Platea on Twitter to indicate your interest.
2. If you're chosen, feel free to pick your own prompt, or use this site. Or, we can send you a prompt if you'd like.
3. You'll need then to perform it, and the @Platea feed will announce your twitter username so others can follow you. Be sure your feed is set to public.
4. Start performing! Use hashtag #twarades to broadcast your performance, so folks can follow along. If you're the audience, follow the performer and send @replies with hashtag #twarades to make your guesses.
5. Whoever guesses correctly wins, and, if s/he wishes, gets to perform the next prompt. Otherwise, the winner should pick the next volunteer.
6. Repeat steps 1-5.

Dance with Black
Photo by fofurafelinas on Flickr

But how does it work? Aren't you not allowed to talk during charades?
That's right. You're not, and since Twitter is a word-based medium, it should be all the more interesting. The point is that we want to encourage you to find unique and interesting ways to push performance art forward in this fledgling medium. But here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
  • Try spelling out your pantomime. For instance, if your prompt is Tiger Woods, you might tweet: "I'm crawling and growling, lying close to the ground, as if ready to pounce #twarades".
  • Incorporate video or images. Tweet a link to a Twitpic or Seesmic video.
  • Tweet as if you're a part of the prompt. If your prompt is ER, you could tweet, "I need 50 cc's stat! #twarades".
  • [Insert your neat idea here.]


I've played lots of different versions of charades. What are the rules for this one?
This is a traditional charades game, and we're following the rules as spelled out in Wikipedia as best as we can. At the same time, we're trying to explore and adapt charades for a new medium, so don't be afraid to experiment. The creativity and innovation during Co-Modify and The Great Yawn were fantastic, and we want to continue along those lines. Just be sure to keep your tweets family friendly, as we have lots of different ages and groups represented here, and we want to be sure everyone can participate.

Otherwise, there is no fail whale with @Platea!

Seniors Dancing, Mayfest
Photo by StevenM_61 on Flickr.

When do I perform? And how often?
Any time you wish. Just keep in mind that @Platea members are spread out across the globe, from California to Switzerland to Tasmania, with most of them centered in the U.S. and western Europe. Thus, you'll want to keep in mind the optimal time zones for participation. If you're going to log off for a bit, just be sure to tweet that (don't forget to include the hashtag!) so folks know when you're not available to field guesses. We just ask that you tweet at least a few hints each day to keep the performance moving.


I have more questions - how do I get them answered?
Just leave a comment below and we'll pop your question into this post with an answer.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Co-Modify: Nets that Work

I missed out on the end of Co-Modify. Well, sorta. In the midst of a busy week at work and stealing time to participate in Co-Modify, my home state was hit by an anomalous weather event some have dubbed an “inland hurricane.” Hyperbole perhaps, but sustained winds of 90 mph in a storm that lasted more than 20 minutes? Goodbye power and clean water, goodbye thousands of trees, goodbye graphics pad and internet connection. Well, except I have this new gadget, an iPhone, and where there were enough bars, there was some limited access to the internet and the art that happens there.

iPhone notwithstanding, the storm was an important reminder. As my community collectively celebrated the power companies (Ameren Cips, Egyptian Electric, etc.) and their valiant efforts to get the lights back on over a six county area, I wondered if I needed to change sponsors. As my media-saturated reality was reduced to one radio station sacrificing its commercially generated playlist for call-ins, press conferences, and updates, I found myself thinking about the network of people it represents – people helping people, people arguing with people, people being people. The event gave ample evidence of human frailty and foibles, egocentrism and brutality – but also the human capacity to pull together, to be patient, to help one another.

And all of that digital stuff, including all the angst over consumerism and corporate sponsorship, seemed to take on a different heft as its ephemerality became phenomenologically manifest. If you hear in that a dismissal of the Interweb and its amusements, listen closer. By week’s end, I jonesed for less restricted access to all those pixels and posts, an admission that suggests the need for self-assessment and a recovery program. But then, I felt the same way about fresh water from the tap, clean clothes, fresh food easily stored, and ready-to-hand light at night. Is all that computer interconnectivity a distraction or a daily staple?

These were the sorts of conundrums I thought Co-Modify already explored, although mostly without the “benefit” of downed trees and flood waters. What are the potentials of these virtual spaces for interconnectivity, collaborative art, “crowdsourcing”? In what ways is it unavoidably a site of commercial proliferation and corporate manipulation? In what ways is posturing at either end of this spectrum of possibilities rife with contradiction and hypocrisy? Can my art about commodities made with commodities really be a valid criticism of consumerism and commodity culture? Is the only way out of this conundrum to abandon critical reflection for a celebration of my favorite product(s)? And this @Platea stuff on the internet…is it even really art in the first place?


Why Call it a Performance?

Several @Platea folks refer to Co-Modify as a performance. I don’t challenge this claim in the least, but I think it is worth exploring a little. Is it a performance because, in the massive flow of data that is the Internet, such an event is ultimately ephemeral in the way of a “happening”? Or has the capacity of the medium to copy and reproduce such information almost endlessly added a new nuance to Richard Schechner’s definition of performance as “twice behaved behavior”? Silly questions – say “yes” to both. But I think there is even more to the performance designation to consider.

My own training in performance is varied and dubiously professional. At times I call myself a scholar of Performance Studies, a shambling inter-discipline that claims many mothers. My own route to this practice comes at least partly through the academic discipline of Communication Studies (formerly Speech Communication). In Performance Studies’ celebrated origins in Theatre, Anthropology, and the performative turn in Visual Arts (among several others), the strand of communicative practice in Oral Interpretation often gets lost. It is an important one, though. Old school Oral Interpretation celebrated the virtues of reading, ultimately performing, Literature aloud. In the 80s, with the cultural turn in the humanities and social sciences underway, “Literature” became a troubled concept. And yet rather than bewail the decline of the Canon, many Oral Interpretation practitioners and scholars embraced the power of performance to investigate more than just culturally revered texts. Enter everyday life performance, enter performance ethnography, enter performance and popular culture, enter performance art (well, re-enter), enter digital performance, and enter so many more delicious applications of performance to a variety of phenomena.

From this perspective, performance takes a variety of functions. It is, at its most basic level of speech act, a “doing.” It is celebrated by many as an embodiment. It is also a communicative sharing that happens between performers and audiences. It is a way of doing culture – and, importantly, a way of intervening in and troubling problematic cultural practices. But most intriguingly to me, it is a mode of inquiry and analysis. The old Oral Interpretation credo was that if you truly wanted to understand a text, try performing it. The potential for performance as a mode of engaging the world, of investigating phenomena has ever been the most exciting part of the rigorous study of performance. To me, anyway.

And so the kind and creative folks at @Platea offered a challenge. Investigate corporate sponsorship in on-line social networking sites by means of a week-long performance. I shared some of my friends’ concerns about what this might mean, but trusted that the enactment would, itself, yield insights and discoveries. I am already phenomenologically aware of social networking services like Facebook and Twitter as sites of digital performance, but I have yet to see (or especially participate in) a serious exploration of it that announces itself as such. @Platea’s Co-Modify project seemed to fit the bill nicely.

But is it Art?

As I experienced the Co-Modify project and have read the debriefing posts so far, I am struck by how often the ontological status of “art” in this corporate sponsorship game was challenged by some. At its most basic articulation, this critique posits that mentioning a product or mega-corporation in a tweet or a status update hardly qualifies as art. When not challenging its status as art, some wondered if the true work of an artist should be shilling, especially uncritically, for mega-corporations. The difference between these two positions is one of degree more than kind, I think.

At the heart of this concern is a rather romanticized notion of “art.” Art challenges the dominant power structure; art is at its purest when it is not commercial; art follows agendas of inspiration rather than selling products; etc. Or perhaps, more accurately, artists compromise their integrity and dirty their work when they get into bed with big business. That’s giving up being a visionary and selling your soul to the “art” department of some advertising agency. Better to be pure and starving than support the art-suppressing, art-killing corporate masses of the status quo. Dude!

Okay, I mock. And I shouldn’t. Some of those romantic notions of the rebel artist are near and dear to my own practice. But the fact remains: all of the participants in Co-Modify and, I submit, most of our audiences on our various digital outlets live in consumerist cultures. Jennifer Ng pointed this out so clearly in a comment to one of my Adobe Facebook notes: “The importance of the act, imho, does not lie in resisting commercialism since admittedly it’s a part of our lives. If it is artists’ work to aesthetically examine the features of their lived experience, the elements of their landscape (even if digital), wouldn’t it be a disservice to the vision if they blotted out so much of it? If they ignored the ad banners, the always already corporate sponsored venues of their art?

Perhaps nothing points to the ontological status of the Co-Modify project as art more than that some folks blocked the performers, that some stopped following their work. And what does it tell us about this particular zeitgeist that perhaps the most (well...) avant garde, rebellious artistic act these days is not to set fire to the corporate structure but to embrace it, to take on the tainted relationship of sponsor as locus of aesthetic production? Might that make you as uncomfortable as, say, an artist crucifying himself with a shotgun on the hood of a Volkswagen? Or, well, should it?


The Ties that Double Bind

In one of my Adobe Facebook notes I mentioned my partner, Craig’s, work with an essay by Kristen Langelier and Eric Peterson that articulates the significance of the creative double bind. Briefly put, the claim here is that the double bind (I sometimes use “paradox” or “conundrum”) energizes and makes art go. Read into this, if you want, the aesthetic celebration of indeterminacy or resistance to art that is too overtly didactic. Now, I am not proposing the double bind as a grand theory of art – that all art (or worse, all “good” art) occurs as the result of a double bind. Rather, double binds are exceptionally productive for aesthetic practice.

Some of the most intriguing double binds to me are the multiple bindings of connection that occur in collaboration. My partner and I have just experienced this as we co-directed a group performance for the first time – our biggest collaboration to date. The experience was a good one and one that we would do again, but not without its frustrations and compromises. At the time, I saw these compromises as limitations, as failures to produce a clear and shared vision. Lately, though, I have wondered if those disagreements and their uncertain resolutions in the exigency of the moment weren’t profoundly productive for our shared vision.

Or take my artistic friends and fellow Co-Modify performers, Mary Mercury (Alison Fisher) and Glenda Greenhouse (Janet Donoghue), “The Composters," sponsored by Miracle Gro. These two performers have a perfect combination of performance chemistry and messages that matter. However, as they delve comically into issues of environmental sustainability, unfinished projects of feminism, and economic conundrums of consumerism, they do so in a way that both calls for social change and acknowledges the challenges of such with self-deprecating reflection (and humor!). Their process in producing these performances is not always fun and games. They argue, they disagree, they challenge each other. I fully believe that the nuanced and hilarious work they produce depends on the dialectic tensions of their aesthetic collaboration.

One last example: I came to the Co-Modify project in part as a poacher. I am part of a local project started by several graduate students in our department. “BAR Corporation” is an attempt to foster opportunity for art (particularly performance art) across the Carbondale community. “BAR” stands for “Bureau of Artistic Resources,” and the collective parodies corporate structures as a means of developing community artistic collaboration, transforming bureaucracy into radical democracy. Or, well, that’s the idea, anyway. In practice, however, we often discover the need for hierarchical structure, the call for individuals to be leaders (CEOs) and make decisions, the challenges of the allocation of limited resources, the tendency of audiences to focus their praise or blame on specific individuals in a collective, etc. It is, in practice, a collaborative performance experiment that continuously reveals that the opposite of corporate culture (whatever that is!) is rife with its own challenges and problems. Has this resulted in a throwing up of our hands and giving up? Far from it. If anything, it has lead to productive compromises and the continued production of art. Moreover, it has led to an entity that demonstrates the nonsummativity of a system, its whole being so much more than the sum of its parts.

So I say my participation in Co-Modify was a poaching for BAR Corp because I was looking for ideas. In part, I hope it is evident that there are thematic connections between the two projects. BAR Corp has also expressed interest (particularly as its members begin to disperse away from Carbondale) in investigating the internet and social networking as loci for future projects. In this way, one collaborative collective (BAR Corp) might network its networks with another (@Platea), and so make an even bigger net. Along the way, I discovered that these issues of collaboration that have been so recently emergent in my work with my partner, The Composters’ work, or the work of BAR Corp played out in interesting ways for @Platea and the Co-Modify project. The artist network meets the social network and benefits as much from the chafe as the fit.


Caught in the Net

So much of the audience demand for a work of art, collaborative or otherwise, is a demand to know its “aboutness.” What is it about? What are you trying to accomplish with this? I don’t want to deny the importance of telos or even the benefits of a good prompt. But I think the intersection of virtual interconnectivity with collaborative art projects places a heightened emphasis on conversation – more importantly, on-going conversation.

The art is literally about the conversation it makes happen. The Co-Modify project, to me, became most interesting when the performers started responding to one another. I also enjoyed fielding questions from non-participants about what I was up to with Adobe and who the heck was @Platea. I don’t think I lost any “followers,” but someone sent me information for applying for a Warhol Grant. And then there were the encouraging comments from one of my partner’s former boyfriends – much appreciated, but a little strange. (But that’s a whole other aspect of, um, networking!)

What I see projects like Co-Modify doing is making more explicit a shift in our understanding of the “work of art.” That is, the “work” is less importantly an item (or even a commodity) than a process, a dialogue, a series of shifting allegiances and connections, a “working” of art, an endless performance. I walked the Roman avenue of @Platea until a mighty wind blocked my way with fallen trees. And even so stymied, I saw a net working.

Why look! It still is.



Jonny Gray (a.k.a. Bungy32) is an associate professor of communication studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He specializes in cultural studies and environmental communication and teaches classes in "Environmental Rhetoric," "Performing Nature," and "Visual Rhetoric" (among others). He is also an active director and performer with a current traveling solo show, "Trail Mix: A Sojourn on the Muddy Divide between Nature and Culture." His published work has appeared in The Drama Review, Text and Performance Quarterly, Call to Earth, and Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture.