Monday, May 25, 2009

Intermission: @Platea 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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Co-Modify: Were you Hoodwinked? by Ingrid Murnane

Some of my Borderlicious Tweets by @sortingtrolley

There was always bound to be some kind of backlash in relation to a performance project like Co-Modify. Imagine that you are checking your tweets or your Facebook homepage and someone you know or follow is suddenly mentioning a particular brand, over and over and over again. Inevitably you're going to wonder what on earth is going on. Given the amount of spam which we all recieve (and generally filter out) of our online lives, you will have been forgiven for wondering why on earth individual people were acting as if they were sponsored.

Of course, the whole idea of commodifying is to make something commercial; in this case our online lives, in the form of tweets, status updates and other manifestations of social media interaction. Where once we would engage in a monologue or dialogue about our lives and our interest, there seemed an intruder: a sponsor. So, did it seem as if we had sold out to these corporations of which we were seemingly so enamoured? Or had we always been fans, but had now become particularly obsessed? Or maybe we were just being a bit eccentric (some of us have been accused of that on more than one occasion).

In general, the 43 performers who took part in Co-Modify were very well received by their online audience, but a minority did receive some negative responses from people in their online social networks. There were also some comments left on the @Platea blog pertaining to the Co-Modify concept as a whole. It has been very interesting looking at people's reactions and the reasons behind them. Here is some of the feedback which we have had before, during and since the performance.

Joker by @clockity

Before the Performance
As a member of the @Platea steering committee I helped to get the word out to potential performers. One place I posted about it was in the forums of the social network for knitters, Ravelry. There were quite a few responses and some rather NSFW witty banter to boot. Some people seemed interested, and a few ended up joining the performance. As was to be expected, Co-Modify was not for everybody, with a lot of 'disagrees' scored for that post on the forum voting buttons in relation to both the concept and its execution:

'I guess I’m not seeing the point. I’m supposed to give a company free advertising, and that’s art?'

Some others were very forthright in their disapproval, sending notes within the site's messaging system with threats to 'run me out of Ravelry' if I went ahead and performed. I have to admit that this, rightly or wrongly, did affect how I had planned to perform on Ravelry and as a consequence, I very much toned down my sponsorship by Sirdar (a knitting company) on there.

During Co-Modify
Once Co-Modify got underway, our online social circles began to receive updates and interactions 'sponsored' by brands: this led to a number of negative reactions. It is important here to note that unlike myself, most performers staged the week's sponsorship with no prior warning. The reactions which the performers engendered included confusion, concern, annoyance, disgust, and feelings of being 'played'.

My Google Ranking by @Rubaiyat
@Rubaiyat was sponsored by Blizzard Entertainment for the performance and decided to do so in an overt manner. His rebranding of his Twitter avatar was considered particularly intrusive by some as it presented unsolicited advertising whenever they received a tweet from him. As someone who is well known to his friends and acquaintances as a 'label remover' and who in his own words 'really hates marketing', @Rubaiyat was called out by some friends as a hypocrite. He says that although he did not tell them about the performance immediately, he loved them for that questioning of his direction. There was a definite reaction to the perceived inauthenticity of his posts as it appeared a 'deviation in his normal behaviour.' In the end it led to him ending his performance a couple of days early and revealing what had been going on.

Sunday Morning NewCurator Facebook Page

Some performers lost followers in the course of Co-Modify, including New Curator. Sponsored by Red Bull, he added the drink's logo into his own QR code logo on Twitter and Facebook and included the brand in his status updates. One response to this was a follower commenting that 'This is a very stupid marketing performance,' before unfollowing and unfriending on Twitter and Facebook respectively. New Curator decided to address this by engaging in some diplomatic dialogue and pointing the person towards the @platea blog for further explanation. As was the case with the followers of some other performers, New Curator's follower did not like 'being involved as a participant in an art project without being asked.' (Participant in this case meaning being part of the audience.) What is interesting here is that this is by no means the first time that New Curator has mentioned Red Bull in his tweets (it being somewhat of a favourite), but with the accompaniment of its logo, it led to a much more vehement response. With both @Rubaiyat and New Curators' negative experiences being focused somewhat on their profile pictures, I wonder how far this backlash has been escalated by the presence of visual branding?

On a positive note, the person from Ravelry who had decided not to participate because she just didn't 'get' it left a note on my Facebook page, mid-way through the week. Explaining that by seeing the performance she now understood what we were all trying to do, she led the way for a number of other comments of the same nature. But does this defeat the point? These people knew what was going to be happening before Co-Modify began. Would they have felt the same way had they not known? Would it have been even more confusing?

Dilemmas: False and True by Bungy032
Is it Art? Is it Spam?
TheWilk2 commented on the blog during the performance:

So that's what this is about? Seriously, it doesn't come across as Art in any way, shape or form to me. Seems more like Spam... I don't get this, and I don't like it, sorry. If some of you weren't also great people I'd be blocking your tweets SO HARD!

She makes a very good point. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this performance might well seem like spam. All of our inboxes receive spam, and the reaction of most of us is to block it. So how would you differentiate between 'genuine spam' (there's an oxymoron!) and this fictional sponsorship? Part of the answer to might be that this advertising was being done by individuals; individuals whom you were already following. However this only works if you are an established follower of the performer. There are definitely questions surrounding how this might affect new followers or friends of a performer: ones who do not yet know that person's online style and presence. Would it make them think twice?

She went on to add:

All the companies mentioned have huge advertising budgets and viral ads have been around for years.

Again very true. The companies do not need us to be doing this for them. The intention of Co-Modify was not to just give brands free advertising; they do not need us to do this for them. As mentioned in previous blog posts, performers such as Joelle Held were being rather subversive in their sponsorship. Joelle was advertising all the products which Microsoft does not make in a parody of its ever-expanding empire. Even so, in doing this Microsoft are still gaining attention. This does not sit easily, and is ripe for discussion.

The point of Co-Modify was to draw attention and provide a commentary about the fact that everything we did in our online social lives could be monetised and that advertising could become embedded deeper and deeper into our social lives to the point of the individual. It really was, as An Xiao says in her previous post, Ars Ad Absurdum: art taken to the point of absurdity. In fact so absurd that often the point was missed.

Last Dance by Welcome to my Own Little Piece of Heaven

The Reveal and its Aftermath
Once Co-Modify drew to a close on Saturday, most of the participants had explained what they had been doing. Again there were mixed reactions to this reveal. One of @rubaiyat's followers felt as if she had been played, one of mine breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn't sold out to big business and other followers questioned where we drew the line between art and actually providing free ads for these companies. An Xiao's recap of the performance attracted comment from Annie B who did not like Co-Modify and chose not to participate. Like TheWilk2, she had a couple of performers in her Twitter stream and 'almost blocked them until I realized they were performing.' She argues that it is not how she wants her Twitter experience to be. 'I want to hang out with real people' as opposed to those marketing the same message over and over again. She added in later correspondence with me that 'it seemed that the performance was playing to the system' citing the interest of the Sharpie rep in @buddhagirlAZ's performance. (I'm not sure if @BuddhagirlAZ was one of the participants who Annie B was following or not.)

Just to note, not all of the feedback that we got was negative: in fact most of it was very positive!
I think that many more people enjoyed the performance than believed that they had been hoodwinked or spammed, but it has been important to engage in discourse about those negative aspects of the performance. It gives a much fuller picture of how the performances are recieved and whether we have achieved what we set out to do. Of course, it will help in the planning of future projects too.

Over to You
Co-Modify rolled out over a whole raft of social networking platforms and was performed in a myriad of ways: it is a complicated thing to discuss. I feel that in this rather verbose post, I have thrown out a lot of topics for discussion and probably asked more questions than I've given answers... I'd like to turn these negative experiences into a positive now, and open the dialogue. In order to learn and grow as a performance art collective, we'd like to hear what you think.

Please do leave us your comments below on this and all aspects of Co-Modify. Alternatively email us at, send an @reply or DM on Twitter or leave us a comment on the @Platea Facebook page.

Time to hand over to you chaps: what do you think?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Co-Modify: A Recap, by An Xiao

flash (mob)
via @sortingtrolley, sponsored by Borders

This past week, 44 social media performers (including yours truly) across three continents and a half dozen countries carried out @Platea Project II: Co-Modify. The idea was simple. First, choose a megacorporation to be “sponsored by” for the week. Then, act it out, in whatever way you imagine the sponsorship is defined by your company. Like Project I: The Great Yawn, it was slightly self-referential, in that it looked at social media and was designed as a commentary on the commodification of social media, and, by extension, our social lives in general.

The performance was free-form and social, with only basic guidelines. Unlike The Great Yawn, which lasted some 10-15 minutes, Co-Modify played out over an entire week. It seemed important to me, when thinking about sponsorship, that the performances have enough "breathing room" to develop and set hold. I suspected, firstly, that the novelty of performing a sponsorship would capture the performers' imagination for the first few days. This definitely proved true, especially on Sunday morning, when Twitter was abuzz with brand endorsements and strategic product placement. I also suspected that much of the backlash and hesitation about the project would occur in the first few days.

night-target Teacup and Teapot
Target and Twinings, by @joanie_s_c and @runefox

I also took Co-Modify closer to the Web 2.0, social media ethos that's developed over the past few years. Call it Art 2.0--art that's crowdsourced but also collective. The problem with The Great Yawn is that performers hadn't added each other beforehand, so they couldn't see each others' creative interpretations of the prompt. It seemed important to me when constructing the concept that the performance take a collective scale. It had to present a micro-vision of a world in which marketing and product placement have leapt from the billboards and televisions and entered our daily lives and social interactions. At the same time, it had to look at how we, as performers and social media users, participate implicitly or explicitly in this ad-driven social world.

Together, these two elements (time and scale) led to something interesting. By Wednesday, during a massive group hug fest that spontaneously erupted amongst the performers, it seemed like we had reached a crescendo. By Thursday, the ads continued, but the rhythm entered something that I've witnessed when, for instance, Facebook has changed its feed structure: with a few exceptions, it normalized. It became habitual. By Saturday, many performers said they'd miss performing, and a number of them ended it with their own grand finale.

@Platea @remaerdyaD Lego from Amazon
@remaerdyaD's live Lego rendition of Amazon products as @runefox and @clockity look on

Ars Ad Absurdum and the Social Media Carnival
I must say that the performance went far beyond what I ever imagined and took a life of its own. From Target dolls to Aussie hairspray fire to the most subtle of product placement to philosophical discussions on the nature of a commodified world, the @Platea performers stunned me with their brilliance and creativity. Product placement has never been so thought-provoking... and downright hilarious at times. If what you see here seems silly, it probably is. But just as play serves a function in childhood, so can "serious play" and comedic commentary serve a function for grown-up performers.

Thumbs up for Twinings
@runefox shares a cuppa

Performer Joelle Held blogged, tongue-ever-implanted-in-cheek, "I look forward to the other 40-some participant posts, and the confusion that it brings to my Facebook friends. In the mean time, I must retire to my Microsoft pillow and sleep." Jennifer Ng compared the performance to the carnival: "The carnival is a feast, where people can reverse roles, be lifted from dominant, mainstream constraints and legitimately subvert authority. With the intense clashes, one form of discourse is pushed to communicate with another. In the case of Co-Modify, the popular against the corporate."

Jonny Gray (who we'll be hearing from later this week) waxed poetic: "And whatever may have been said about the conundrums of art in a consumerist society or the efficacy of artist activism, I feel so much more alive this week as I do this work, this serious play." During the performances, a phrase popped into my mind, borrowed from the philosophical technique of reductio ad absurdum. In reductio ad absurdum, philosophers trying to prove a point take an idea to its logical ends, to the point of absurdity.

Latin nerd that I am (ask me why I choose the name "@Platea"), I thought to myself, "This is ars ad absurdum." Art taken to the point of absurdity. I'm thinking about other Net art projects, like Rachel Perry Welty's "Rachel is" and's Life Sharing, that rely on basic Internet practices taken to the a logical end. In the former, Rachel Perry Welty shares the entirety of her day on Facebook, minute by minute. In the latter, share the entire contents of their computer.

For this performance, we looked at the monetization of social media and the trending of contextual ads deeper and deeper into our social lives, and what do you get? Advertising embedded in the daily lives of individuals, as individual citizens become sponsored by corporations.

GinaS Ravelry post
@GinaS263 pitches Samsung on Ravelry

The Performers, or, We're All Bilingual Now
What happens when you organize the creative energies of artists from California to Michigan to Switzerland to Australia? "Confusion." "Carnival." "Serious play." "Ars ad absurdum." Performance art that is both fun and engaging but that also asks some basic, thought-provoking questions about the direction of social media and the 21st century, as marketing and our social lives see more and more frequent intersections. Not everyone agreed with this assessment of course, and I personally know I lost a few followers as a result. We'll be hearing more from Ingrid on this, but let's focus on the positive for now.

The collective performance took four broad categories: Storytellers, Subversive, Overt, Embedded. The lines between these categories, of course, are blurry, especially between overt and embedded performers, but I'm going to try to impose this artificial category anyway. Let's take a look:


Q-tips 46 (Done!)
In an epic grand finale, @whore_hay tells a story of a human Q-Tip. See the entire performance here.

The storyteller performers told a fictional story about their brand. At first glance, it could have been taken seriously, but over time, the story just a little too far-fetched to be real. @alijgordon told a lovely tale about a day spent with Tampax in her nose. @christinielsen constructed an entire product trial of C-Urchin, a facial cream of dubious origin equally-dubious effectiveness. And @yberryfurrealz shared quips and facts about Pfizer products with unusual uses.


tweety bird revisited
@_randomthoughts takes a second look at Tweety bird..

Subversives actively deconstructed their brand. Rather than true endorsement, they didn't shy from looking at the downside of their product, or the connotations of their product, or something entirely other than their product. @_randomthoughts tweeted about Twitter, with lyrical imagery drawing from bird- and spring-like connotations of the word "twitter." @bungy32 at once promoted Adobe products and at once questioned their usefulness, all the while asking why he participated in the project at all. Husband and wife duo @cmonstah and @elcelso both openly parodied their brands, with the former interrupting her tweets to remind us about Microsoft Vista's famous uselessness, and the latter shouting out messages from "əl facəbook®". @joelleheld, on the other hand, made up uses from Microsoft products that simply don't exist (as of yet!), and @remaerdyaD, well.. you'll just have to follow his feed to see the fun things he did with Amazon products (including live streaming as he clicked through).

Overt Sponsorship

my google ranking
@rubaiyat's actual search results on Google, along with suggested related searches

co-modify facebook conversation
@raggedj peddling Aussie hair products... despite having no hair.

Those with overt sponsorships took on the classic salesman role, overtly promoting and pushing their product onto others. @cerob, for instance, asked if @plotbunnytiff used Wonderbread for her sandwich. @hragv reminded us that his tweets are brought to us by Marshmallow Fluff. @G_Greenhouse and @alisonaurelia (whom we'll be hearing from later this week), reminded us that "Organic Miracle Gro is now the same price as regular Miracle Grow.....for a limited time only!!! Hurry this won't last!!!" @printgirl08 recommended Burt's Bees when I was feeling stressed out, and @sw00p, well, his products lent themselves to multiple innuendos when "tied into" other products.

Embedded Sponsorship

Burt's Bees Screenshot
@printgirl08 kept Burt's Bees on her desktop while she worked and tweeted.

And the majority, including me, embedded their sponsorships within their daily lives. This doesn't surprise me, as the trend as of late of Internet advertising is that ads are now embedded with the social media we utilize. From contextual ads in Gmail to Facebook ads that advertise to your interests, location and even sexuality, to the physical world, where almost all of us inevitably become walking advertisements for the products we use and prefer, from beverages to clothing to cell phones.

From @micrathene rewarding herself for a long week with some Ben and Jerry's, to @prologi relaxing with a cup of Lipton, to @sheepwithblogs sipping Diet Coke to stay awake, to @tainab enjoying a McDonald's sundae on May Day, these @Platea performers enacted a world that's probably not all that far from reality. I could easily see @cobwebsstir downing Diet Coke Plus, and @happeningfish slipping on Nikes for her run, and @jjcasey mowing the lawn in his New Balance shoes and @laurel43 taking an In-N-Out burger break. Embedded sponsorship is the natural language of advertising, a language we speak each day simply by engaging in the contemporary world.

Collaborative Sponsorship

Together @ last pt. 2
From @sortingtrolley's "Together At Last" co-branding series. See more here.

So I lied. There's a fifth group that emerged, I think around Tuesday or Wednesday, and it's a perfect example of the social aspects of Web 2.0. These were the collaborative sponsorships, i.e., sponsorships that took on more than one brand. As all our performers were following each other, we could see the promos being done and the marketing slogans used. Pretty soon, spontaneous cross-promotions emerged, from Q-Tips and KFC to Borders and Papaw. Other trends, like subliminal advertising and hashtags, spread virally amongst the performers.

An Advertised Tension

Blown Away
@raggedj sprays away

Despite the variety of these amazing performances, and the broad range in which individual performers interpreted and carried out the basic concept and structure, I could sense a tension throughout. On the one hand, it seemed like most of the performers had used their products and felt in some way connected to them. Even the most mocking subversives demonstrated a familiarity with the brand that suggests it's had some function in their lives. On the other hand, I also picked up a profound discomfort with the march of advertising into our very basic social lives and private correspondence, and it felt as if (and maybe I'm projecting here) the hyper-exaggerated product placements and brand endorsements served to assuage this discomfort through comic relief.

Through it all was a fluency with the language and customs of advertising. Language that we don't use in day to day life but that is nonetheless thrown at us everyday. Was it mindless parody? Thoughtful co-optation? Am I just spouting meaningless art-speak to justify a silly game, or is there something worth exploring here?

Friday, May 8, 2009

We’re Nearing the Grand Finale of Co-Modify, Did We Make a Point? By Jennifer Ng

With all the interesting dialogues, fascinating multimedia, and creative endeavours going on since Co-Modify began on Sunday May 3rd, this seems to be an obvious question with an obvious answer. There were many thoughtful commentaries on various topics, such as social advertising and consumerism, and here are some themes and concepts that stood out as I observed our wonderful performers presented their “sponsors” across social media networks.

Advertising the Fail

What commercial advertising never talks about, are their products’ downfalls and disadvantages. With Co-Modify we see performers creating parodies of the same messages that these products present, but in an ironic light addressing the failures that we encounter on a regular basis.

@cmonstah embraced this theme as the core of her Co-Modify performance. In the midst of her regular tweet stream, we see “sponsored” commercial breaks from Microsoft Vista. The latest (as of time of writing) reads, “This Twitter message is brought to you by Microsoft Vista: ‘Not responding’.” Along with other familiar lines such as “Restart to continue” and “An error occurred while creating an error report”, @cmonstah offered a hilarious yet realistic perspective of what Microsoft fails, and will not want, to bring to the limelight.

A Snippet of tweets from @cmonstah

The sense of frustration was definitely not limited to computer products. One early morning, @canker vented her disappointment of having to work out in order to fit in tiny American Apparel shirts, "5am, time to work out I guess. BLAHH. I blame American Apparel, their Small is often uber-tiny. They should rename it Anorexic Dwarf."

Commodifications ‘R Us

In contrary, a majority of Co-Modify performers endorse their products with a pronounced love and enthusiasm, at least seemingly so. I for one considered most of my sponsored tweets for Pringles belonged to this category. Under this theme we see a lot of purposely excessive and flowery language, with many amusing puns and anecdotes to highlight the so-called quality of our products.

On Twitter as @jenniferwyng, I used deliberately the most exaggerated expressions that I could think of to describe individual Pringles flavors, treating the chips as if they really are the gourmet cuisine that the names depict and blurring the lines between reality and artificial flavors. I think that an earlier tweet on Pizza Pringles best illustrated this attempt, "Want a taste of Italia? Pizza Pringles gives u the refresh'g aroma of tomatoes, mozzarella reminiscent of fresh cow's milk, and warm bread."

@whore_hay began his Q-tips campaign with a classic advertising plot - the damsel-in-distress, with the hero(ic) cotton swab that came to the rescue. Once he told of his troubles with the keyboard, "This keyboard is awfully dusty. I wonder what I could use to clean it...Q-tips of course!! Nothing like a gentle cotton swab for the job." With successful rescue, of course came praises and the bliss of being saved. In a subsequent dialogue with @joanie_s_c, he wrote, "...And did you know, @joanie_s_c, that the Q stands for 'Quality'? Quality tips! I'd have to agree."

Profile Picture of @whore_hay

On this note, it was interesting to see the reactions that we have received for our "sponsorships", especially from those who were not performing in Co-Modify. From direct approval such as facebook status "likes", to confused audiences asking whether we were sponsored, to downright feeling offended, responses were greatly varied and indeed projected diverse attitudes towards different commercial products and consumerism in general.

These performances highlight the fact that even though commercial products and messages of consumerism are virtually inevitable, we simply do not talk like the sales pitches we hear in our daily lives. For the times that we do, we become easily labelled as "weird" or being "paid". The discourse reflects advertising like a mirror, mocking its lines with sarcasm, simulating the symbols that corporations created for us, the ones that make no distinction between reality and representation, and voicing our awareness that such messages are only simulacra that attempt to alter our perceptions.

A Social Network Carnival

As Joanie and Inny mentioned in previous posts, much cross-pollination happened as the Co-Modify performance progressed, and even up to this day, it continues to be the trend and morphs into an exciting constant collaboration of commercial products.

Taking up the role of spokesperson for, @remaerdyaD presented the sponsored products of other Co-Modify performers as deals on the mass spending portal. One of the best lines comes from a conversation with @runefox, who was sponsored by Twinings tea, "Don't forget Breakfast - n while ur @ it why just buy 1 box wen u could hav 2 for 13% off from Amazon." Interactions as such generated a lot of response and inspired some rather creative inventions, such as an Amazon-themed Lego creation in honour of @clockity, and a series of photographs in which he posed as models for various Co-Modify sponsored products such as Samsung, Microsoft, Q-tips and Sharpie.

@remaerdyaD's ustream live performance with Lego from Amazon, screen shot by @clockity

In the last few days such interaction and cross-advertising has become a full-blown mode of communication among Co-Modify performers, with instances such as @plotbunnytiff proposing a Dr.Pepper-flavored, "bee"-amazing lip balm to @printgirl08, Carse Ramos (@wraithia) presenting the iTickle - "no mind little, anyway. the iTickle. an individual sensory deprivation chamber, fitted with Q-tips. brought to you by Apple", and @sortingtrolley showing off his photography skills in a serie titled Together @ Last, starring Borders and everyone else.

In Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin described this phenomenon justly with the concept of the carnivalesque. The basic idea is that with humour and chaos, the carnival overturns social hierarchies and the so-called truths that were produced from the top-down. The carnival is a feast, where people can reverse roles, be lifted from dominant, mainstream constraints and legitimately subvert authority. With the intense clashes, one form of discourse is pushed to communicate with another. In the case of Co-Modify, the popular against the corporate.

Take Me to the Carnival, Daddy. By Jonny Gray (@Bungy32)

The Medium is the Message

The above line is a famous quote and book title from Marshall McLuhan, which essentially argues that the medium is not merely a vehicle, but the manner in which it carries and transmits a message works its way into our perceptions and understanding, and thus is part of the message. In our days of digital communication, McLuhan's words were indeed a prophecy that came true. Without the immediacy of online social media networks, the entire Co-Modify project surely would not be the same.

We were presented with wonderful sponsorship stories that offer real-time updates, such as the ones that Ali Gordon and Christi Nielsen have told. Ali (@AliJGordon) told of her bus ride with a sniffling lady, and how much she wanted to help by handing her a Tampax. We were kept up-to-date almost by the minute of her trip, and for that, at least personally, I could imagine a vivid scene of being on the bus with Ali. She then proceeded to describe her work day with Tampax in her nose, and all the little thoughts about it. One minute she tweeted, "Just did a quick mirror check. I'm intact. Nose clean." And the next she worried about changing the Tampax and wrote, "Will I get toxic shock leaving my tampon in my nose for more than 6 hours. When do I change...I can't find any helpful TAMPAX advice...argh"

Another performance that was made possible by the immediacy of digital social media was that created by Christi Nielsen and her breaking (out) news. Christi decided to test out a mysterious (uh-ehm) beauty cream by the name of C-URCHIN, and while experimenting with it, she would also sponsor it during Co-Modify. A few days in from her trial, she posted a nervous video on, showing off her reddened neck and telling us about her allergic reaction to the cream. Using the video as her medium, she has truly created a sense of urgency that viewers cannot fight. Not everyone was convinced, however, as we can see from the following video that Christi called the best response to her post:

It's Not Over Yet!

Although today is the last day of Co-Modify, there are still plenty of interesting performances happening! I think we can even expect a few spectacular closing acts to boot. This blog post is only a tip of an iceberg of all the fascinating works that the performers have done, be sure to check out the @Platea Flickr pool, the @Platea Twitter Faves, and the @Platea Facebook page if you would like to catch up with the performances or stay up-to-date with the latest developments! The steering committee will try as much as we can to help you keep up with the most current performances, but sometimes amazing things do go under the radar and slip our eagle eyes. If you have noticed something that we really should know about, please do send it our way - simply send an @ or DM to @Platea or a Steering Committee member on Twitter or e-mail

Of course, comments are always welcome too!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Some More Co-Modify Performance Highlights! by Ingrid Murnane

Since we lifted the curtain on Sunday, there have been some marvellous things appearing on the web from members of @Platea. Co-Modify has inspired new and ingenious uses for some products, Brand Wars, and some brilliant ‘sponsored’ profile pictures. The members are performing on a range of social media sites and present their products in strikingly different ways, with a lot of time and effort. Here is just a taste of some of the things that have caught my eye during Co-Modify so far.

The Performers

Lego Street Art by Clockity

There have been some really excellent brand related profile pictures including this Lego street-art avatar from @clockity. His Lego sponsorship continues on Facebook where he has been taking themed quizzes. I loved his status update where he considered ‘Lego® Batman or Lego® Star Wars, which is better? There's only one way to find out... Fight...’

GinaS Forum Post from Ravelry. Used with permission.

In advocating the merits of her Samsung phone, @GinaS263 engaged in a brand war with @thatwaszen’s Nokia in an ongoing battle. Gina has also taken Samsung to the mean streets of Ravelry now and is extolling its virtues to the knitters there. Can’t wait to see who wins. Personally I think they should both make covers from Sirdar yarn for their phones: it’s what all the cool kids are doing…

Jim Litzinger continues to find new and inventive things to do with Aussie hair products and posted this great, if slightly dangerous video on Flickr and Facebook this morning. (Don't try this at home!! Jim is a professional Aussie-Hairstuff-Wrangler). He's also been tweeting recommendations for Australian recording artists (my fave so far: Olivia Newton-John's Xanadu). Nikki aka Runefox has also been searching for appropriately monikered songs and bands for her brand Twinings Tea. Track her progress on Tumblr.

Teabags by Freya_Bean

Nikki is proposing to make a collage from all of the teabag packets which she drinks in the duration of Co-Modify.

Pfizer ‘sponsoree’ Yael David has been sending us excellent medication advice all week on Facebook and Twitter. She provoked a great response with ‘In absence of Atarax, making schnitzel is a close second.’ The reply was ‘I'll try that before my next exam...awesome!’

Attracting the ‘Officials’

As mentioned in the blog yesterday, there are those participants that love and those that hate their brands, but what about the ‘sponsors’ who notice what is going on in Co-Modify…

Sharpie / Emotion by BuddhagirlAZ

@buddhagirlAZ has caught the attention of the official Sharpie spokesperson on Twitter who loved her simulated advertisement so much that they are now in regular conversation. Brilliant!

Since the start of Co-Modify, KFC has become a trending topic on Twitter. @kuromentarikku is very proud of his part in this!

Kurometarikku: If you are having trouble printing your KFC coupons at just keep trying, the kurometarikKu eFfeCt is straining the net!’

You might also notice the capitalisation in this tweet, which has become prominent in some status updates, often spelling out the brand name.


To-Do List by Joanie San Chirico

As Joanie mentioned in her post yesterday, the ongoing collaborations and exchanges between performers continue to come thick and fast and are often very funny. Joanie herself wrote a shopping list of other performers’ brands to see how many she could buy in Target and also made a TargetGrll doll at the behest of ‘her public on Facebook.’

As well as witty remarks between @stonefly and @Rainghirl about how Lucas’ Pawpaw ointment might help mend Adidas’s woeful profits, I’ve also noticed that some performers have been more subliminally influenced by others with tweets such as:

sortingtrolley: Whoah...suddenly I feel like knitting... RT @InnyM: Seems as If Rain stoppeD plAy so no picnic foR us.’

Keeping Up With it All

Well, that is going to be a mission for you! There have been lots more fantastic performances (including some kind of hug-fest between participants on Twitter that is going on as I type this!) Of course, there is an awful lot more going on than I have seen, or can tell you about here. The Steering Committee will continue to keep us up to date with the latest goings-on. It is also well worth taking a look at the @Platea Flickr pool, the @Platea Twitter Faves and the @Platea Facebook page too. Sadly, we won’t be able to capture absolutely everything that goes on, so if there is something that has really caught your eye let us know! The best ways to tell us about something you’d like to see in a blog post are by sending an @ or DM to @Platea or a Steering Committee member on Twitter or to email Please do leave your comments here too.

I for one can’t wait to see what happens next!