Status Update

Shane Brennan’s talk about the Creative Time show reminded me of earlier examples of artists working with social media – which may not be the focus of a course, but make for fascinating class discussions nonetheless. I was thinking of Rachel Perry Welty’s 2009 performance piece “Rachel Is,” in which she updated her Facebook status once a minute, from the time she woke up until she fell asleep. It was painful to witness, and many of us found ourselves unable to stop hitting “refresh” until past 11pm – that is, until her comment page started blowing up. “Are you asleep yet?” “Did you fall asleep? “Is Rachel asleep?” “She’s asleep!”

She’s a sculptor known primarily for her installation work with found materials – which perhaps was why watching that work was particularly mind-bending for me.  Even though I am now at Art21 even I can’t keep up with the blog, but this post from around the same time – 2009 – is a terrific one:

That shift Facebook made from using the prompt  “What are you doing right now?” to “What’s on your mind” should have scared more people. Scarier still, I don’t think I even notice the prompt anymore.

“Status Update,” the Haskell/Yale show from around the same time underscored the importance of viewing social media as just another tool, although clearly one more mutable and more reactive than something like a browser window, still bound by a frame.

And the writer of that Art21 blogpost was also one of the artists also included in the show:

Identity through social media is also the core of An Xiao’s work. Trained in philosophy, Ms. Xiao, 28, came to art through photography, writing and an interest in communication that goes back to her childhood, when she wrote letters to her grandmother in the Philippines. The letters, she said, related little moments that add up to a portrait of the writer, the way social networking does now with a series of — as she put it — “totally inane things.”

Her installation, called “Nothing to Tweet Home About,” is a group of postcards written as Twitter feeds that she is mailing to the gallery. “Sometimes I take the slow bus just to get a seat. And talk on the phone,” she wrote on one from New York.

“The mediums change,” she said in a telephone interview. “But the basic human need to communicate, to share your life and talk about your life — that’s going to be there forever.”

Change they do. Never underestimate human desire to share, and over-share in a share-share kind of way.