Wouldn’t it be nice to organize an exhibition on social media art? – There are all kinds of exhibitions dealing with all kinds of artistic movements – of the past and the present. From prehistoric art all the way to so-called »net.art.« Yet until now, we’ve never seen an exhibition on social media art, where you can enjoy the works on show through social channels.
This is odd; it begs a number of questions (things don’t happen by chance). Finally, we agreed that it would be a good excuse to discover the most interesting examples of art based on social media.
There are social media galleries (#0000FF used to be one of the most interesting); some examples of exhibitions related to »social media« as a theme (see for instance: Thomas Cheneseau’s Unlike); social media artists; and a lot of interesting social media-based works.
What about an exhibition where the visitors could appreciate social media art?
- What would an exhibition on social media look like?
- What would be included and what would be left out?
- Who would the artists be? Where are their works?
- Where are there exhibitions on this specific area of art?
Imagine an exhibition where the visitor could access and enjoy different pieces of art, all of them made using social media as an artistic tool. Something where I can follow the Twitter account of the artist, and – as a part of the artistic process – interact with them. This could be interesting.
We spent several weeks checking out whether such a thing already exists. But we couldn’t find any social media art on social media channels. If we wanted to see such an event, it would be simpler to make one ourselves, which would means organizing an exhibition on social media. This would be a very cool challenge with a lot of issues to be addressed.
This article is to inform our readers where we are, where we would like to go, and to ask for further thoughts, references, and ideas. In order to move on, we need your help. In a traditional exhibition you have one curator; here the curatorial process has to be open, shared, and crowd-sourced.
By the way, this is the first article on Schlosspost with the comment box activated (at the bottom of the article). This is a great honor for us. We invite you to leave a comment after reading this article.
First, in order to set up such an exhibition, we need to address several different issues. We will need:
- to research (finding already existent exhibitions on social media art)
- a (tentative) definition of what social media art is
- to define the curatorial parameters (what would be included and what would be left out and why?)
- to make a preliminary list of interesting artists and works
- to imagine how such an exhibition would work (currently very unclear to us)
1. Research (Finding Already Existent Exhibitions on Social Media Art)
The first part of our work was dedicated to finding references, examples, and any other useful input for our soon-to-be exhibition. Our goal: to find a social media-based exhibition where all the works are made using social media as an artistic tool. Thus far, we have found two interesting examples close to what we are looking for (although they are not exactly what we intend to do):
Tag Ties & Affective Spies curated by Daphne Dragona at The National Museum of Contemporary Arts in Athens (2009) and #TheSocialGraph curated by Hrag Vartanian and hyperallergic.com (2010).
They both deal with the same theme of social media. It’s important to note that the first one was completely digital (web-based), while the second one took place in a physical space in Brooklyn.
A very good start, but we’re not there yet. We’re looking for an exhibition on social media where the visitors can interact with the works (as well as with the artists, curators, and other visitors) via social media channels.
2. A (Tentative) Definition for Social Media Art
Let’s start with a standard definition of art. Oxford Dictionaries states:
»The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.«
Of course, we could find a lot of different (and perhaps more precise) definitions, but this is perfect for our purposes.
Now, let’s see what happens if we modify the aforementioned definition by inserting the words »social media« in place of »painting and sculpture«:
»The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, developed with social media, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.«
Next, let’s see what the Oxford Dictionaries tells us about social media. The definition states:
»Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.«
Now if we combine these two definitions, we arrive at a rough scope for our project:
»The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, developed with websites and applications that enable users to create, share content, and participate in social networking. These expressions or applications aim to produce works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.«
We are perfectly aware that we could find a better definition; we could spend days, weeks, months, or years dealing with it. For the time being however, we will accept it as a start and on move swiftly on!
3. Parameters for Selection
In order to proceed, we need to define our parameters for selecting artworks (what would be included and what would be left out and why?). This is probably the most interesting part of the our challenge.
Barbara Pollack writes:
»Social-media art is an umbrella that covers a mind-boggling array of projects: performances accompanied by Twitter feeds, paintings inspired by Facebook profiles, online works that evolve as people participate, videos compiled from postings on YouTube, start-up companies created as art.«
Hrag Vartanian, the editor of hyperallergic.com, has a broader definition :
»Social-media art, for me, is defined as anything that uses social media as either a medium, as source material, or as a starting point for critique.«
Personally, we would focus on a definition of social media art where the boundaries are much more stringent (as mentioned above). An Xiao, the founder of @Platea (a collective of online artists) defines the boundaries of social media art with a more convincing statement:
»I think social-media art is a new genre of art. It blends many different things. It blends performance art because it is people interacting socially with each other. It blends visual art because Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and the rest all rely on very visual elements. It blends net art, but it is in more of a public space than traditional net art.«
We came to the conclusion that the works of art on social media should have these three features:
- There should be a clearly defined and understandable project. Furthermore, the project has to have limits. These can be expressed in terms of »time« or »space« or both.
- The work should be made and exist on social media accounts.
- The works should be participatory: The audience should be able to be directly involved in the artistic process.
To understand what we mean when we talk about »features,« Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections is a good place to start. Ulman developed this project on her Instagram account, starting in April 2014 and finishing it some five months later. If you check out her Instagram account now, it’s difficult to understand where it starts and where it ends. But if you were following her on daily basis, the beginning and end are clearly marked. For the whole period, she pretended to be a fictional character portrayed by her own selfies and images. She writes:
»Everything was scripted, I spent a month researching the whole thing. There was a beginning, a climax and an end. I dyed my hair. I changed my wardrobe. I was acting: it wasn’t me.«
It is a clearly defined and understandable project. The project has limits expressed in space (Ulman’s Instagram account) and time (the image announcing the start of her project and the images defining the end).
Jesse Darling’s Instagram, on the other hand, is a »life stream« – not a limited project. On her Instagram account, it’s impossible to separate the artist’s life from her work.
Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections is clearly understandable because we know where to start. Jesse Darling’s Instagram however, despite being a collection of great images, is not a clearly defined project, hence does not fulfill the parameters for our selection.
The same could be said for Ai Weiwei’s Instagram account: great images, very interesting, but again we are in a flow of content without clear boundaries and limits. Ai Weiwei is a perfect choice (as we know) for a traditional exhibition, however not he is so good for our purposes (unless he decided to make a specific work for the world of social media).
As stated, the works should be realized and exist on social media. For instance, Richard Prince’s Instagram project was born on Instagram, but it’s presented offline in a traditional art gallery. So we don’t consider it social media art. It’s traditional art, where social media are in play but not the main tool to achieve the final result.
A more complex example is Yung Jake’s e.m-bed.de/d project. It’s actually more of an experience. Based on HTML5, it mixes YouTube, websites, and social media channels for an overwhelming result. After a few seconds, we get lost in Yung Jake’s fictional world. This we like very much, and it increases our desire to learn more about this new breed of artists.
Yung Jake’s work is based on a very complex process. On the other hand, Silvio Lo Russo’s work 851px x 315px on Facebook is based on a few very simple rules. Lo Russo explains:
»851px x 315px took place between September 12th, 2012 and November 1st, 2012. The performance consisted in collecting a series of images that accidentally fit exactly the dimensions of the Facebook cover (851px x 315px) by looking at a period of time prior to the advent of the Facebook timeline. The images were uploaded day by day.«
This is actually a good example of a work which perfectly fits our categories. Do you know any other works like this?
We continue with our introductory exploration:
Hans Ulrich Obrist is not an artist, but a curator. But if we look at his Instagram account, we are faced with an artistic project. Every time Obrist meets an interesting person, he asks them to write a statement on a flat surface. Once the this is done, he takes a picture of the message and shares it on his account. Great!
Another very nice project which perfectly fulfills our parameters for selection is Reese Riley’s Archival Aesthetics, a special Facebook page organized on a series of different groups. In the about section of their page, we read:
»AESTHETICS: Environment and Object is a twelve month long project created and maintained by two individuals under the codename of Archival Aesthetics: Environment and Object. During the span of a year, each month a facebook group is created revolving around a different topic, mass of ideas.«
Some projects are made by artists (like the ones we mentioned above), others live out of so-called »bots« (a bot is a simple computer program used to perform highly repetitive operations).
Pixel Sorter (on Twitter) is a bot. Its programmer, Way Spurr-Chen, set it up in a way that every time you tweet him an image, the software transform into a new image (according to a predefined algorithm).
Big Ben Clock and Fuck Every Word (also on Twitter) are two other very fine examples. In this case the »artist« is the coder who sets up the bot.
Another example of a project where a bot works with a very well-defined timeline comes from Jonas Lund, who tried to break the Guinness World record for the most number of comments on a Facebook post in exactly 11 days. He failed as the Guinness World record judges decided he was not allowed to use a bot to generate the comments.
Finally, we arrive at Olivia Taters’s Twitter account, one of the nicest things we found. Olivia is not a real girl; she is the product of Rob Dubbin. She’s a fictional teenager who speaks just like a real teenager would. Olivia tweets and replies to people following and writing to her. Her curious language (again based on algorithms) is very fascinating. Unfortunately, Twitter suspended her account (they don’t like bots at Twitter). It’s very interesting to read Dubbin’s essay on the rise of Twitter bots.
Now, this is where we have arrived with our research. We spent several weeks searching the internet (and our phones) finding all kinds of possible references. There are a number of recurrent themes, which could be an interesting lead for our future exhibition.
We could say that these are some of the main areas of activities that we should keep in consideration when talking about social media art:
- The border between professional (artistic) and private life is getting narrower and narrower; artists’ social media profiles are often a mix of both of the above. Take Andrea Zittel’s Instagram, for instance: She wouldn’t fit our categories, but her Instagram account is definitely great.
- Most of the works are ephemeral; social media (and the internet at large) change continuously, rendering some of the content often unreachable. For instance, if you find something interesting on 4chan /b/ channel, it’s almost impossible to find it again. In a more traditional way, Man Bartlett staged #24hKith, a social media-based performance within #TheSocialGraph exhibition. It’s a great idea, but we cannot access the experience anymore.
- Every platform has some technological constraints and limitations. Artists often question these constraints, sometimes even finding bugs in the platform itself. For instance, Rosa Menkman uses special characters not allowed on Facebook in order to »break« the strict layout of social media. In a more conceptual way, Paolo Cirio developed several projects where the theme of his work was to challenge the existing limits and rules defined by various channels and platforms. He made works on paywalls, Google Street View, faces on Facebook, Amazon books, amongst others.
- The concept of »fake« and the blurred distinction between what is original and what is not form another recurring theme of artistic exploration.
4. Preliminary List of Interesting Artists and Works
In order to move on, it would be useful to start making a broad preliminary list of artists and works that could belong to our definition of social media art. Here are some more just to trigger your imagination (maybe you know others who are different or better). This current essay is the beginning of a long journey, and we need your help to make it better. Most of the links below do not fulfill our parameters.
We have chosen to share all the interesting things we have found, including things outside our parameters for selection. It would be very useful for us to know what you think about our findings and, moreover, what you think about our categories.
For the sake of simplicity, we have organized our findings according to the social medium used by the artist. We are aware that this is quite a dull system. Ideally, the next step should be towards a more interesting categorization system.
- thereisamajorprobleminaustralia is an online flip book animation made in Sketchup and published on Facebook. If you load the first image and click through the ones following, the image starts to move.
- Using the same principle, Anthony Antonellis’s Line #1 plays with brightness of the Facebook blue color (by the way, this is one of the works we like the most!).
- Antonin Laval publishes Facebook notes that change as you scroll down. Another interesting experiment on Facebook’s boundaries and limits.
- Archival Aesthetics: Environment and Object is an image-based investigative project by Reese Riley. »Envisioned as a twelve-part series, each epoch consists of a categorical Facebook group that aims to disentangle a sphere of meaning in order to find all that is intrinsic to it.«
- In 851px x 315px, Silvio Lorusso changes his Facebook cover photo daily using pictures he finds on Google Images that fit the dimensions of the cover photo box exactly.
- In the art space #0000FF (a Facebook page), you can see a lot of different works, residencies, and other materials.
- Jonas Lund tried to break the world record for the largest number of comments on a Facebook post. Here he talks about the project and how he failed in the end.
- Tapebook is an exercise in media archaeology developed by César Escudero Andaluz. It involves the conversion of data extracted from social networks into audio documents. They are recorded onto cassettes.
- We would expect Instagram to be the medium where we find a lot of interesting things. If we are talking about artists who use this medium to communicate their works, this is undoubtedly true. If we are talking about artists who use the medium to make specific works impossible to make with other media, then we don’t find much.
- Hans Ulrich Obrist collects handwritten messages from people he meets. This is a nice and relevant project, perfectly in fitting with our categories and specific to Instagram.
- Ai Weiwei’s Instagram, on the other hand, mixes the artist’s life with some content produced especially for the social network (for example, the current series of pictures about migrants).
- The series of pictures that Amalia Ulman posted on Instagram (from April to September 2014) represent the artist as someone else.
- Jesse Darling uses Instagram as a personal »life stream.« What she posts is very interesting, yet Instagram is not used as the medium for the artist’s work.
- Richard Prince took a series of pictures from Instagram and printed them, making something born digitally online available offline in an art gallery.
- Man Bartlett, #24hkith is an interesting mix between live performance, Twitter, and other ingredients.
- Ranjit Bhatnagar, Pentametron. The author describe his bot writing as »with algorithms subtle and discrete / I seek iambic writings to retweet.«
- Rob Dubbin, Olivia Taters. Olivia is an imaginary teenagers who tweets (and used to reply to tweets sent to her) using an algorithm-based »teenager language.« Unfortunately, Twitter suspended her tweeting activities several months ago.
- My best day ever. is a twitter project (basically a bot) by Zach Gage. Every day at 6:30pm, it automatically searches twitter for the phrase »best day ever,« picks a tweet it likes, and retweets it as its own.
- Jenny Holzer’s fake account. Here what is interesting is the short circuit between the real Jenny Holzer, her art, and the activities of her fake double on Twitter.
- Allison Parrish, Every Word. The bot does what its name suggests: Since 2007, it has been tweeting all the words of the English language. The task was completed in 2014. Since then, the machine has started its work again. If you like this one, you might enjoy the project Fuck Every Word (unknown author).
- Bob Poekert, A Quilt Bot. The project description reads: »Tweet pictures at me and I’ll try to reproduce them using quilt fabric.«
- Way Spurr Chen, Pixel Sorter. You tweet an image to him, and the bot retweets your original image transformed into new (algorithm-based) images.
- Loren Schmidt’s Lepidoptera Automata is a set of processes that illustrate an endless stream of moths. This project is in collaboration with Katie Rose Pipkin.
- Unknown author, Big Ben Clock. Every hour, the account tolls the appropriate amount of »bongs.«
Websites based on social media
- Yung Jake, http://e.m-bed.de/d/. A layered experience where the viewer is faced with multiple windows opening while the artist sings his song. Some of them are social media based, and a direct interaction between the viewers and the artist is possible.
- The project Bliss by Anthony Antonellis is a website that lets the user increase the number of Facebook notifications.
- Paolo Cirio, The Big Plot. A spy story where the audience can interact with the characters and their social media account. Developed in 2008/9, it is one of the most fascinating examples we’ve found in our research.
- Pizzabook is an art project that turns the Facebook interface into a quirky animated pizza experience, using a special Chrome plugin. Digital interfaces support so many of our most basic daily actions and account for much of the content in contemporary life. However, it is easy to overlook the effect they have on our psychology as it appears that we have no control over the form and function of these tools: Pizzabook distorts the interface in an unexpected way.
- Ben Grosser, Facebook Demetricator. Grosser says that the Facebook interface is filled with numbers that measure and present our social value and activity, enumerating friends, likes, comments, and more. The user tends to be obsessed with how many friends they have or how many likes a status receives. Facebook Demetricator is a web browser add-on that hides these metrics, bringing attention back to the »what,« instead of the »how many.«
Physical/»internet of things«
- Felipe Rivas San Martin uses social networks as a subject for his (physical) paintings, Pinturas de Interfaz.
- Milo Reinhardt, Mass.rip. While we have centuries-old rituals and traditions for memorializing the dead, online communities are still becoming accustomed to the process of mourning in virtual spaces. The monument presents a continuously growing list of deceased Facebook users on a physical tombstone, shifting the mode of grieving on digital platforms into the material world.
- Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonadl, pplkpr app. The project’s description reads: »pplkpr is an app that tracks, analyzes, and auto-manages your relationships. Using a smartwatch, pplkpr monitors your physical and emotional response to the people around you, and optimizes your social life accordingly.«
- Launched in 2009, Wikipedia describes Chatroulette as »an online chat website that pairs random people from around the world together for webcam-based conversations.« Based on this very simple principle, Eva and Franco Mattes (aka: http://0100101110101101.org/) produced the work No Fun. A piece dealing with suicide and how people behave when faced with an unexpected situation online.
5. Imagining How Such an Exhibition Would Work
Let’s assume we reach a point where we have:
- a clear definition of what »social media art« is
- some clear parameters of selection for our exhibition
- a theme (not sure we need one, but let’s say we need one)
- a list of artists to invite and works to show
… what would we do next?
- The question is: What is the most appropriate way to display social media art?
- So far, we agree that it should not be exhibited on other media or platforms; it wouldn’t make sense to print a tweet – especially if the author didn’t want to do so, as with Richard Prince.
- We have the feeling that such an exhibition should live through social media channels. But how? What about the space/time limits?
- For this, we have some ideas. But before we continue, we would like to complete the previous challenges.
If you share our interest in this theme, you might like to read these articles (they helped us to understand better what we wanted to do):
- Ben Davis, artnet.com, “Social Media Art” in the Expanded Field
- Rob Dubbin, newyorker.com, The Rise of the Twitter Bot
- Dale Eisenger, uk.complex.com, 50 Artists You Need to Follow on Instagram
- Alex Hern, theguardian.com, Eight Twitterbots Worth Following
- Tom Jeffreys, apollo-magazine.com, Can Art Exist on Social Media?
- Paddy Johnson, thelmagazine.com, #Don’t Follow Twitter Art
- Steph Kretowicz, dazeddigital.com, Our Ten Favourite Digifeminist Artists
- Barbara Pollack, artnews.com, The Social Revolution
- Zachary M. Seward, quartz.com, The 17 Best Bots on Twitter
- An Xiao, hyperallergic.com, Always Social: Social Media Art (2004-2008) (part I/II/III)
Articles on specific artists:
- Kif Leswing, ibmtimes.com, Twitter Suspends Beloved Teenage Bot ‘Olivia’
- Lizzie Plaugic, theverge.com, The Story of Richard Prince and his $100,000 Instagram Art
- Allison Parrish, decontextualize.com, Task Complete
- Max Read, gawker.com, Weird Internets: The amazing Found-on-Twitter Sonnets of Pentametron
- Leigh Silver, uk.complex.com, How Yung Jake is Pioneering What It Means to be an Artist Born on the Internet
- Alastair Sooke, telegraph.co.uk, Is this the First Instagram Masterpiece?
- Natasha Stagg, dazed.com, Alexandra Marzella
This article can be understood as a call for action. We are curious to know whether anyone else is interested in this theme; whether you know other artists and works; or have different ideas than ours.
Feel free to start the discussion in the comment box below. If you prefer, you can write to us: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Thanks in advance and we look forward to moving further with this project!