Perpetual Provisional Selves: A conversation about authenticity and social media

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On December 4 at Art Basel Miami Beach, I was part of a panel titled "Instagram as an artistic medium," along with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Klaus Biesenbach, Simon de Pury, and Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram.

I gave a presentation about my project Excellences & Perfections [recently presented as part of the First Look online exhibition series], a carbon copy of a talk previously given at the ICA. After my presentation, the talk became pure propaganda and the words "genuinely," "self-expression," "creativity" and "community" were mentioned without further discussion. The panel ended with Systrom saying that the platform he had created was a tool for users to be authentic.

For several weeks before the panel, Rob Horning and I had been having the following conversation on Google Drive, which deals with many of these topics. —Amalia Ulman


Ed.: Perhaps it's a little backwards to make the artist start the interview, but I thought it might work this time. What do you think? 

AU: I think Rob should start; he doesn't know me, so he might have a few questions…?

Ed.:I think that's a good idea.

R: I will do some more background reading today, and return with some questions. Also, I will be this serif font for the purposes of this conversation.

Okay, I will be using this blue one—also printing some of your writings today to read through/ take notes.

Trying to get it together but need more time. I have to finish a few other things today, then I can give this my full attention tomorrow! I think I want to talk about the sort of narcissism that makes it hard for me to conduct interviews, and what that has to do with performing the self on social media—an endless interview with no interviewers and competing interviewees projecting the questions they want to answer onto an audience that may already be largely preoccupied with questions they were wishing to be asked. What keeps interviews from being performances—what can define them outside that sphere, if anything? The tactical presentation of self in social media makes the genre conventions of the Q&A suspect; we don't presume we are getting straight answers, but instead "straight answers"—a calculated pose that evokes the reified sensation of sincerity. Yet the more aggressively one tries to convey sincerity, the more cartoonish one's behavior seems to become. All the old tropes of sincerity can't withstand the foregrounding of self-construction in social-media profiles, and the way these are increasingly used to mediate reputation. Maybe this is why sad earnest types are always pleading for "new sincerity" while seeming to epitomize the ultimate nadir of insincerity. Being boring no longer connotes sincerity (or the absence of irony, which is wrongly equated with sincerity). Danger is the new sincerity. 

Can one write revealingly about narcissism in a narcissistic way, or is that like trying to convey the emotion of boredom by writing sentences so boring that no one can tolerate reading them and instead finds more interesting things to do? Is there an interesting way to be boring? Is that the ultimate goal on Facebook? Is that the end Facebook has been engineered to make users pursue, given that being boring is the safest way to protect oneself from accusations of being craven or narcissistic?

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Artist Profile: Nick DeMarco

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The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

Nick DeMarco

You hop felicitously from medium to medium: sculptures, gifs, videos, fonts,T-shirts, tweets, products, furniture, and guerilla culture-jamming. I want to talk about your sensibility, which is identifiable throughout your different projects. I remember three descriptions that you yourself have used: "Transcendental banality," "Funky lil-ness" and "Dilbert on acid." They each point to something, so I thought we could riff on them a little, beginning with "Transcendental banality."

I've phased out "Transcendental banality" because it sounded kinda wanky, but it was really one of the first ways in which I tried to describe what I was doing. I came up with it early on in school, where I was interested in both art and design. Art was supposed to be this more transcendental thing—and a failure if it became banal. Design that became banal, however, was considered a success—so successful that it became ubiquitous. Now, the phrase seems a little trite because everyone is interested in "The mundane" in a very NPR kind of way. But for me, it wasn't so much about elevating the mundane in itself,but inserting myself into it and melting into it in my own way. I'm very much an opportunist in that the things around you are usually such wasted opportunities for the transcendent. That's kind of what I meant.

It seems you'd be unfazed without museums or galleriesnot that you're against them in any way, just that you'd be as comfortable or excited if a restaurant approached you to make their toothpick dispensers or if NPR asked for a ten minute Nick show. Or, to use a real example, like the "abstract" font you made, Inscrutable Regular, which produces doodles all over the screen as you type. It seemed like just one more opportunity for you, though I can't imagine it becoming a new standard in Switzerland.

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Y2K: Welcome to the Jungle

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Copresented with the New Museum and Creative Time Reports. For more of Chen's work on the topic of Y2K, see the online exhibition "Computers in Crisis" and the upcoming event Y2K+15, Friday, December 12 at the New Museum in New York.

Russian military officers collaborate with their American counterparts at a U.S. military facility in Colorado, Jan. 1, 2000. Screenshot of AP newsreel footage courtesy the artist.

On December 30, 1999, 20 Russian military officers began a unique mission in a strange land. For the next several weeks they would be stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, a U.S. military facility in Colorado, monitoring incoming data from satellites and radar systems around the world.

With their U.S. counterparts, and with interpreters, the Russian officers worked nonstop in eight-hour shifts in Building 1840—the ad hoc Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability—to ensure the best possible flow of information between the United States and Russia while keeping a close eye on ballistic missile activity.

Decades of mistrust were set aside to reckon with the potential crisis of Y2K, a moment in time when computers might fail or behave unpredictably if they read the digits "00" as the year 1900, not 2000, on midnight of the new millennium.

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"Please don't call me uncanny": Cécile B. Evans at Seventeen Gallery

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Cécile B. Evans, Hyperlinks or it didn't happen (2014). Still frame from HD video. Courtesy of Seventeen.

Media saturation in the internet's "cut & paste" ecology has become so naturalized that contemporary film's collaged aspects are not readily considered. Who are the subjects in, for example, a Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch film? And for whom do they perform? When I show these films in my class, my students switch tabs in their browsers, Snapchat each other, like photos, fav tweets—often on multiple screens at once—then state that this "work is about strange fake-tanned kids' search for a toilet."

What has made this answer stay in my mind pertains to the word "about." When used for these works, the banal statement "this work is about…" registers as a crisis of categorical closure that the simultaneous existence of disparate, accumulated content on a single screen constantly thwarts.

Central to Cécile B. Evans' show Hyperlinks at Seventeen Gallery in London is the video-essay, Hyperlinks or it didn't happen, displayed on a high-resolution TV with headphone cords installed at a comfortable cartoon-watching height in a corner of the space. Entering at the opposite corner, I navigate the gallery space, attempting to link the objects together—a prosthetic leg atop an upturned Eames chair replica near a rubber plant that counterbalances a plexiglass structure supporting 3D-printed arms (One Foot In The Grave, 2014), another Eames replica sitting in one corner (just a chair), various prints on the floor and walls—before sitting down, cross-legged, on a thick-pile rug strewn with postcard-sized images.  

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Friday, December 12: Y2K+15 at the New Museum

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Screenshot of C-SPAN2 programming, July 14, 1998

7pm, Friday, December 12, 2014
The New Museum, 235 Bowery 
Tickets 

Fifteen years after the turn of the millennium, artist Perry Chen invites audiences to join him in exploring the phenomenon and legacy of Y2K as an inquiry into our entanglement with technology and its rapidly increasing complexity. This evening's event is presented in anticipation of the upcoming release of his online archive of Y2K books for First Look, copresented by New Museum and Rhizome, and in partnership with Creative Time Reports.

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Rhizome Today: A split-screen society

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This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and usually taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at rhizome.org/today. This post will not be deleted.

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'Phillip Seymour Hoffman Died, Are You Over Me?'

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Promotional images for Tex (Penny Ante, 2014)

In my brief appearance in Beau Rice's new book, TEXItell the narrator he lives in a perpetual state of "topping from the bottom." I submit the whole book as further evidence. Compiled from about a year of the writer's digital correspondence, TEX brandishes a kind of authorial whip only the masochist understands. It is an ultimately relational authority, diffused into multiple voices of friends, potential Craiglist sex partners, and mostly "Matt G."

If it was possible to say exactly who Matt G was to "Beau R," the book would lack one of its central joys: tracking the shifting relationship between Beau R (an employee of an alt bookstore in LA) and Matt G (a social worker in Austin, Texas), or Beau R (socially dysfunctional, well read) and Matt G (socially dysfunctional, well read), or Beau R (biting) and Matt G (deadpan), or Beau R (texter) and Matt G (textee), or, finally, Beau (the lover) and Matt G (the loved).

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In a Field of '90s Barbieland Wreckage, Chop Suey Got Gaming for Girls Totally Right

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Originally published on MotherboardReprinted with permission from the author. Please support Rhizome's Kickstarter to make Chop Suey and the other Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs available online.

From Chop Suey.

Developed in 1994 and published the following year, Chop Suey was a cunning piece of multimedia edutainment, suited just as well to grown-ups—smirking hipsters and punk rockers, probably—as it was to the prescribed "girls 7 to 12" crowd.

But it wasn't a computer game. It was something else: a loosely-strung system of vignettes; a psychedelic exercise in "let's-pretend"; a daydream in which the mundanity of smalltown Ohio collides with the interior lives of its two young protagonists.

As the game opens, the Bugg sisters are idling on a grassy knoll, counting clouds and recalling the day's events. Lily and June Bugg, we are informed, have spent the afternoon with Aunt Vera. The narrator—a yet-unknown David Sedaris—sets the scene in nasally twee, occasionally grating reeds.

When Sedaris concludes his opening narration, our player immediately regains control of her cursor. From here, she can survey Cortland's landmarks in any order she chooses, repeating anything she likes. She might revisit lunch at the Ping Ping Palace, where the food is so exotic, it's often tinted cyan or hot pink. She might play dress-up with Aunt Vera—whom, we suspect, is something of a lush and a man-eater.

The player might go to the carnival to have her fortune read; she might play Bingo. Perhaps she might visit Aunt Vera's second husband, Bob, or else she could visit Vera's third husband, also Bob. (Tragically, it is impossible to visit Bob #1, except through occasional flashbacks.) 

Most in-game stories are delivered secondhand from a reminiscing grown-up, while Lily and June's own imaginations illustrate those stories in happier, more magical idioms. The game never oversteps, never makes "regret" its central concern; after all, this is a children's game. But an adult player might be surprised at how wistful the game actually is.

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