Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Project I: The Great Yawn - A Recap, by An Xiao

Great Yawn Screenshot
Photo courtesy freya_bean (click to view larger)

The Concept
On March 31 at 1:15 p.m. Eastern Time (10:15 a.m. Pacific and 5:15 p.m. Greenwich Mean), we launched The Great Yawn, the first performance piece of @Platea. It was a "twerformance art" flash mob, i.e., a statusing (online happening), aimed at examining the twin tensions of Twitter: that it's boring and mundane and that it's an exciting place for viral, up-to-the-second news. After amassing some 350 members, we asked everyone, at the appointed time, to tweet about yawning. It could be anything - an expression of tiredness (@Molo), a reply to someone's message (@hotpinksheets), an act of poetry (@pensivestudio), a historical tidbit (@publichistorian), even a pun (@kulex). All that mattered was that they use the word "yawn" in their message.

I chose yawning because of its interesting parallels with Twitter and the way it breaks past the boundaries of digital space and into physical space. As traditional flash mobs' effectiveness comes from their physicality, this latter part was key. It's a basic psychological phenomenon that when you see someone yawn or even when you think about yawning, you can't help but yawn yourself (are you yawning yet?). As I described this concept to @Platea members, a number of them told me they were yawning just thinking about it. And yet, the purpose of yawning is mysterious. Like Twitter, it has an unclear usefulness for human beings, and yet, like Twitter, it is highly contagious and spreads rapidly in social circles.

This was largely an experimental piece, our first shot at a free-form public art performance on Twitter, inspired by real-world flash mobs and happenings. As I mentioned in my Twitterview with Hrag Vartanian, I was less concerned about numbers per se and would consider the project successful if it got a dialogue going around social media and public art and if folks were engaged. By that measure, I was super happy with how things went, and I'm excited to recap some of it here.

The absolutely heroic Twitpic and tweet from @stonefly in Tasmania... live at 4:15 a.m.!

So What Happened?
So what happens when you ask 350 people to yawn into the Twittersphere at the same time? Here's what we found.
Firstly, after a rough count, we got some 100 yawns, just from @Platea's followers alone. This was a pretty impressive number of people to be yawning at the same time (haven't seen that since undergrad lecture hall!), but it's less than 1/3 of our followers. We suspect this was due to the fact that the flash mob membership was spread out from California to Tasmania, and that many followers were participating during the work week.

Secondly, there was some last-minute synchronization confusion around the fact that we said the mob would occur at "5:15 GMT". London had just recently switched to daylight savings time, technically putting all our UK users at GMT+1. So we saw some early yawners, and I do apologize for that bit of confusion! We finally shared out time.gov as a common clock and a handy dandy time zone chart from @taphead. I can only imagine how confusing it must be for air traffic controllers and other folks who regularly work internationally.

Thirdly, folks just couldn't stop yawning! @Micrathene tweeted, "Another yawn - sorry, I just can't seem to stop." Nikki tweeted, "*yawn* suddenly very 'stweepy' not really stopped yawning all day. Isn't it odd how seeing or reading a yawn makes you yawn even more?" And, impressively, we did get some side effect yawns from non-@Platea members. @Fi4all: "(((((((((((yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawnnnn))))))))) ewwwwwwwwe... look what you've STARTED!! *Ü*" And @reverendreasons: "Wow! Nailed me. I guess I yawned too. Very wily!"

But, really, it was a lot of fun. "I am just cracking up here my myself in my studio!", tweeted @joanie_s_c. @canker's cat joined in, "Here, we have the finalist for biggest kitty yawn: Mia. The yawn is accompanied by a biiiig stretch and a brisk shakeoff to end. *applause*", as did @schun's: "An says, "yawn!" Cat complies, and stretches, too." @Cobwebsstir's son tweeted theirs from a cell phone as they pulled out of a restaurant parking lot, and @joanie_s_c and @_randomthoughts had a hoot talking to each other about getting caffeine to stay awake.

A video yawned by @mattressfactory

Where Were You During the Great Yawn?
I asked folks to send in pictures about their experience with The Great Yawn, both documenting the performance and answering the question, "Where were you during The Great Yawn?"

. : Y A W N : .
@sw00p was listening, appropriately enough, to Iggy Pop's "I'm Bored" for inspiration while he monitored the public timeline (which moved too quickly to really register our yawns).

Great Yawn
Freya_bean was at her desk, yawning away

@joanie_s_c and @_randomthoughts shared a virtual coffee

@raggedj set up a last-minute delayed yawn and both tweeted and took a screenshot on the I-20: "I had a blast participating in the Great Yawn! I found out at 12:45 that afternoon that I had to drive to a nearby town and would be on the road at 1:15. I quickly set myself up with a hootsuite account, scheduled my yawn,, and hit the road. I was hoping to make my destination by the event, bit that was not to happen. Here then, is one of several sceenshots of a public search for "yawn" taken on my phone at 1:15 while doing 80 down I-20."

tweet yawn

Unfortunately, not everyone experienced The Great Yawn equally, as clockspot attested: "I wasn't sure what to watch during the Tweet Yawn - the public timeline goes so quickly - so I just watched my regular feed. Sadly uneventful." I had a theory that, since participation in the flash mob was virally marketed, most @Platea members would already be linked to each other to witness each other's yawns.

From @_randomthoughts, who was well-connected with other @Platea participants (click to view larger)

This appeared to be mostly true (or was it? It's hard to tell from one perspective), but next time, it probably makes sense to ask people to follow each other to get the full effect. And unfortunately, even if some people yawn, there's no way to know unless they tweet about it (as @kurometarikku discovered).

Others, like @sortingtrolley, well, they yawned so hard they fell asleep!

But surely this can't be it. I've probably missed many great moments and some great shots, and frankly, I'm curious to hear how it went for everyone else. Consider this an open thread - what were your favorite yawns? How was the experience for you? Anything you'd change for a future flash mob? Anything you'd keep? And for goodness sake, can we all stop yawning already? Please post your thoughts in the comments, and share and share alike!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

@Platea Partnering with Art K. MacGuffin

After an excellent twitterview with @Platea founder An Xiao and art critic and Twitteratus Hrag Vartanian , @Platea is please to announce a new partnership! Art K. MacGuffin, an online collective of art historians, collectors, art dealers and art brokers, will be collaborating with @Platea and helping promote our activities to the greater arts community.

As Dan of Art K. MacGuffin notes, "We are incredibly pleased to collaborate with an artist of as great a caliber as An Xiao and as innovative an arts group as @Platea. We are excited for the wonderful projects on the horizon." The folks at Art K. MacGuffin have been mentioned alongside An in the Guardian UK's list of the who's who of the Twitter art world, and they were interviewed by Hrag earlier this month about selling art in the blogosphere.

We're super excited to be working with them, and this partnership will enable some exciting new projects down the line in social media land. In the mean time, be sure to check them out online at the following venues:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Live Twitterview with Hrag Vartanian Weds 3/18 @ 9p Eastern

Move over, McCain and Stephanopoulos: none other than art world Twitteratus Hrag Vartanian will be conducting a live Twitterview with An Xiao about the recently-founded @Platea, and @Platea's efforts to bring public art to the digital megacity of online social media.

Portrait by Matt Held
Hrag's and An's portraits painted by Matt Held. It's a little-known fact that excessive Twitter use
causes glasses and a tendency to look left. Scientists have yet to understand why.

And when, dear readers, will this occur? Why, one day after McCain-Stephanopoulos tweet it out:

Hrag Vartanian and An Xiao: A Live Twitterview
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
9:00 pm Eastern (Prime time!)
Add @hragv and @thatwaszen on Twitter

But don't worry, if you're not Twitter-addicted like us a member of the elite Twitterati, Hrag will be posting a recap to his blog afterward, and we will of course link it here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Project I: A Massively Multiperformer Online Social Media Statusing (MMOSMS)!

And now the big announcement you've all been waiting for - how to join @Platea! We're organizing a large scale online happening, a "statusing", so to speak, to occur at some point the week of March 23, and all it will take from you is a single tweet with super secret instructions.

Flaming Lips - Crowd
Photo by Pete Ashton on Flickr

To become truly massively multiperformer, we'll need your help! Here's how:

1. Join the group! Follow @platea on Twitter. You'll get updates on the statusing and a head's up on when it might occur (some time in the next few weeks!). The actual act will be a single tweet with super secret instructions for some point the week of March 23.

2. Tell your friends! Tweet and retweet. We're trying to amass a massively multiperformer team of 500 to 1,000 (or more!) super secret sweet ninjas together to make this pop!

3. Help out! If you want to help organize or have other ideas for the group, send a DM to @platea.

4. Stay tuned! Be sure to keep your eyes and ears out for updates from the @Platea feed. The statusing will go down some time in the next few weeks, but in the mean time, be sure to check out our snazzy new blog and Facebook group.

yellow crowd
Photo by TwOsE on Flickr

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The @Platea Concept, by An Xiao

Empire State Bldg - Bowery
Up the Bowery, New York City

Intellects and the City
The development of the city was a major turning point in human history, an economic and cultural milestone that altered the way we relate to each other. With the advent of concentrated urban life came a rapid exchange of products, services and, importantly, ideas. The large number of individuals under one civic roof increased the likelihood that those of like and complementary minds would come together in the pursuit of a common goal, thus furthering collective human achievement at a pace faster than might previously have been possible. Think, for instance, to the development of philosophy in Greek city states, the rise of poetry in Heian Japan, the explosion of contemporary art in downtown Manhattan.

Until recently, while communications technology could allow for a dialogue amongst creative intellectual minds living far from each other, it could never come close to approximating the effectiveness of geographic proximity. Namely, one of the unique powers of cities lies in the greater number of chance encounters they allow for, and the possibility of casual intimacy thereafter with a greater number of people. When we meet Jill Artist at a party, we can keep in touch, run into her at coffee shops, meet up for drinks with her and other circles of friends, and just generally get to know her on the level of acquaintanceship. In the city, these chance meetings can happen quite frequently, and they help fuel broad networks that foster creative collaboration and dialogue.

Crisscrossing freeways, Los Angeles

The Digital Megacity
In the 21st century, online social media and microblogging have made manifest the late 20th century idea of a global village. As in a physical village, it is now possible, like never before, to maintain relationships both active and passive with people we rarely see or may never have met, whether they live in another borough or another hemisphere. Thanks to technologies such as WiFi broadband and 3G smartphones, the Internet has evolved from a mere tool into an extension of our lives. Indeed, our online social activity can often feel like a walk down a familiar street, composed of friends, acquaintances and the occasional stranger, as intimacy and familiarity build up over time. Social scientists refer to this as "ambient awareness":
This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating....

“It’s just like living in a village, where it’s actually hard to lie because everybody knows the truth already,” [sociologist Zeynep Tufekci] said. “The current generation is never unconnected. They’re never losing touch with their friends. So we’re going back to a more normal place, historically. If you look at human history, the idea that you would drift through life, going from new relation to new relation, that’s very new. It’s just the 20th century.”

Clive Thompson for the New York Times
With 160 million people on Facebook and just over 6 million on Twitter, the world of microblogging media has created a veritable megalopolis of individuals, a stream of miscellany not unlike 5th Ave. or Oxford St. A quick glance at the Twitter public timeline or a popular Facebook user's status feeds makes this readily apparent. Most of us, of course, have learned to filter this stream of information, just as any sane city dweller has to, but, as in any large city, this overwhelming activity brings the potential for a great exchange of ideas, a global cultural marketplace limited only by language. It exists in concert with our own geographic dwelling space, both a part of it and extending past it, with its own rules, habits and practices.

Cloud Gate - Gull
Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, Chicago

Remain Tweeted During the Performance
During my work with the 1stfans Twitter Art Feed, I was so taken by the fact that the project, initially designed as a conceptual one, quickly became a collaborative performance piece. As I was directly managing the feed in January, I expected a few @replies, but I underestimated the enormous creativity that 1stfans members would send back. In fact, I retweeted almost all of them, so their responses would become a permanent part of the @1stfans feed for other members to enjoy.

The feed, part of a new Brooklyn Museum membership program, was private to members, but I soon started to wonder if social media like Twitter and Facebook might serve as a venue for public art, particularly (but not limited to) performance art. A microblogging-based performance art project could displace and activate this online space in a fashion not unlike street performance art. To borrow from the parlance of the Twittersphere, it would be art on the "stweets", taken outside the confines of the white box and even physical geography and embedded within the daily routines of digital citizens' lives.

Ya! - Spotted in midtown Manhattan

@Platea: A Stweet Art Collective

That said, I'm putting together @Platea, a stweet art collective consisting of artists and non-artists who share an interest in the power of public art carried out in the digital megacity. "Platea," from the Latin for "street", came to signify in medieval theatre a neutral space on stage. It morphed and changed as necessary, depending on the actors' actions and the assumed setting. I find it a fitting analogy for the swiftly-evolving, redefining nature of social media, whose tenors change with the tide of user activity but whose effect--discussion and connection--remains overall the same.

I'm excited by the potential of stweet art. The timing here is key: in this difficult economic time, the business world has turned its eyes toward alternative, low-cost methods of marketing, the art world is calling for a new dialogue around the role of art, and people in general are looking for leisure activities that cost very little. Much of us, then, have turned to social media for answers, and, in the past year, Twitter has emerged as a rising star. Its deceptively-simple concept--bursts of text limited to 14o-characters answering the question "What are you doing?"--makes it a highly malleable and engaging form, useful for everything from business to socializing to information sharing. As more people join and embed it into their lives, more potential exists for public art projects.

Art Parade 2006
Performers during Deitch Art Projects' Art Parade 2006

@Platea Projects
So what would @Platea look like? What would public art carried out in the digital megacity do exactly, and how would they parallel and differ from physical public art pieces? To be honest, I'm not sure! I'm excited by the opportunity to explore this with you all and to invite other artists to head up @Platea projects. Online social media are ripe for artistic experimentation. I suspect that some of the projects can be subversive, tucked away in hidden locales in online space for only the most dedicated to find. Others can be overt (but not obvious), causing most daily users to pause and take notice. Some can be playful. Some can be serious. Some "local", some "city-wide". Almost all, I hope, will challenge members of the digital city in the same way the best public art does.

I plan to more formally announce details in the coming weeks, but first, I'm eager to gather "performers". For the first project, I want to focus solely on Twitter. I think it will be important to bring together a critical mass, both as an exciting first act but also as a large-scale online performance, gathered for effect. I suspect 300 would be sufficient, but I want to shoot for 1,000 (why not, right? :), if not more. As with many performance art groups, the group itself will be private but not anonymous, though I suspect it doesn't even have to be private (I'll write more on that later).

For the first project, I'm thinking in particular about two apparently-conflicting stereotypes of Twitter: (1) That it's a place for sharing mindless minutiae about one's life, such as lunch habits and the weather and (2) That it's a place for talking about issues of great importance in a viral and rapid manner. In many ways, Twitter as a whole is a mega-conversation, a public space of millions of users talking at one time, sometimes about diverse topics, sometimes about singular topics. I want to explore this phenomenon further and how it intersects with concepts of ambient awareness and the practice of sharing inane life details.

Stay tuned for more info on how you can join and participate :)