This is for the Virtual Participation panel at PSU’s Open Engagement conference. The conference asks the necessary question: can social practice art do more harm than good? My questions do not specifically look at social practice, but more broadly at artists who use the internet (which is inherently social), and how the terrain of audience is navigated. I will discuss this with a handful of people, and post what comes out of our conversations, which will be presented for the panel.
You may post your comments here, which may be selected to be presented at the conference in May.
This inquiry came from an announcement-list and tumblr that I maintained as a yearly project for 2009. I was e-mailing/posting short ideas (almost) everyday for the year. Most of these could be understood as “instructional art-works,” and came out of an “art thinking.” The tumblr, which initially served as documentation of the announcement-list (I considered the list as the center of the project), began to take on a life of its own. The mailing list had roughly 1000 people subscribed, and the tumblr, constantly fluctuating, had around 4000. Because tumblr allows people to like and re-blog posts, it was easy to see what was most popular. I began to somewhat accurately predict what ideas would be more popular than others. A post regarding sadness or boredom would receive much more activity than a post that was more political. One time a viewer berated me in an email because one of the posts had angered him greatly (he then wrote “Fuck You” on a poster I had sent him earlier, and posted it on his blog). This kind of feedback (which in the past may have remained, if not out-of-reach, at a distance) has become more visible and accessible – and not just in emails, but in comments, re-posts, links in Google Alerts, etc… What I want to focus on here is: how artists have navigated their practice with this new phenomena of the online-following – an entity that is actively present. And, a following who isn’t necessarily versed and positioned within the same discourse as the artist. As opposed to hanging something in a gallery, there are no physical walls online, and anyone can stumble into “the room.” I am not being critical of this aspect, this openness is something that should be embraced – but, I am asking, what problems can arise here?
Below is a list of thoughts and questions, which with the above text, a conversation can hopefully emerge:
- What negative and positive aspects arise when artists make something in context of art, puts in online, and a following forms of non-art-context-people?
- What are the negative and positive aspects of the immediate visibility and accessibility of knowing what people are thinking?
- Does the artist feel pressure to be popular and meet the demands of his/her growing audience? If so, can this reduce an integrity in one’s practice? Is it possible to intelligently work inside this?
- Could an online following stunt the development of a young artist’s practice if they were to receive too much attention too early?
- Is there a responsibility towards your online following?
- In the aforementioned example (when a viewer wrote “FUCK YOU” on a poster I had sent him in response to a post he didn’t like, and re-posted it on his blog), how does one understand and react to situations like this?
- There are companies and trend watcher groups who too become part of the audience. I’ve been contacted by some people in past regarding some of my projects. They were “interested” in me, and wanted to know more about what I did and how I did it. In a different, but similar situation: I once posted a photograph on flickr of a friend who had found himself in an American Apparel advertisement without his permission (they used a photo they found online). Though my post probably had no more than 20 hits at the time, my friend was contacted in days by the company regarding the issue (who will probably see this post too). How does this element play in all of this?
(images are culled from a Google image search for “audience”)