On the Internet Nobody Knows You’re a Dog (a Confessional)

Curated by mikelev
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Reaching a creative and criminal zenith in the wildly popular Nigerian email scam, the peculiar art of the internet self-portrait has a history as long and storied as the internet itself. Because the internet offers (or at least has offered) users a platform for completely anonymous social interaction, it has offered at the same time a platform for imaginative, subversive, and deceptive self-presentation. From the chat room A/S/L to the phony Facebook profile, it seems that every generation of internet users has experienced its own flavor of imposterism. Running parallel to this history is a similarly rich tradition of the internet as confessional booth, in which users pour their hearts out to online audiences, telling truths about themselves they would never share in physical space. But as any seasoned message board reader will tell you, these confessions are often fabricated in pursuit of attention, money, or any other conceivable kind of gain. Anonymity engenders a tension between the deeply honest and the blatantly false that plays itself out most vividly in internet self-portraiture. This exhibition charts some of the ways artists have explored, responded to, and/or embodied this tension. ******************************* Heath Bunting's "Untitled (Splash Page)" is an early example of net art dealing with the possibilities of self-portraiture on the internet. Although the piece probably predates the phrase "pics or it didn't happen," "Untitled" exploits that maxim by documenting, however vaguely, works and actions that may not have ever happened. ******************************* Mendi Obadike's "Keeping Up Appearances," occupying the pole opposite Bunting's "Untitled," turns our attention the internet as a space to confess, reveal, and unburden. Although the narrative itself may be fictional, the text that is revealed "between the lines" speaks to a very real set of limitations affecting the communication of racialized experience. ******************************* If Bunting is constructing an online self, and Obadike is revealing a hidden self on the net, Ian Haig's "Men of the Internet" focuses on a stereotypical notion of the "real" person behind any supposed confession or grandiose resume. On the internet, in other words, no one knows you are a dog, but everyone suspects you are a neckbeard. ******************************* Lets we become to absorbed in the notion that the "average internet user" is a man, "World of Female Avatars," a collective work originating from Ljubljana, opens up a discussion of the internet as a space for feminist self-portraiture. Utilizing the confessional format, "Female Avatars" gathers the personal truths of each of its participants into a set of ideals arrayed against masculinist constructions of the online self. ******************************* PETITION TO INCLUDE ANGELA WASHKO'S "PLAYING A GIRL!", a screencapped video of a long, eyeroll-inducing discussion of the gender politics behind choosing a World of Warcraft avatar. This piece shows very clearly and hilariously what is at stake in the "World of Female Avatars:" a gendered internet in which patriarchy reigns over all attempts at self-presentation. ******************************* "A Mirror Unto Itself," by Krystal South, takes the mirror, perhaps the strongest symbol of the traditional self-portrait available, and shows us Craigslist posters avoiding its art historical promise like the plague. This piece elegantly captures the ways in which the internet can be a space to conceal one's identity just as much as to expose or reimagine it. The tension between fabrication and revelation here turns negative; the conversation is now about how not to reveal, how to give as little information as possible, factual or invented. ******************************* Jonas Lund's "I'm Here and There," which follows his internet-browsing in real time, speaks to the ways in which an online self-portrait can be constructed cumulatively, by charting behavior. In some ways, this is self-portraiture in the abstract, dealing not with representation but performance. As another piece on this database quipped, "I link, therefore I am." ******************************* The final piece, "Whispers of an Electronic You," by Ian Wojtowicz, takes Lund's concept and turns it upside down. While Lund offers us a view into his identity, "Whispers" takes us as its subject, creepily. Given recent political events, this piece reminds us that our use of the internet as a space for self-presentation is now being or will soon be watched and recorded, and that self-portraiture is now something we engage in constantly with the littlest sliver of intentionality.


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