The Accidental Archivist: Criticism on Facebook, and How to Preserve It

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In mid-January, a Facebook friend liked a status update, causing it to pop up in my News Feed; I've been avidly following its thread ever since. Now at 675 comments and counting, this rich exchange encapsulates the increasing importance of the art-related discourse that takes place on Facebook, and its precarity.

Los Angeles-based artist, writer, curator, and educator Micol Hebron initiated this conversation with a simple request:

Facebookers, what do you think of this: artist Joe Scanlan, an older white male artist, invented a fictional artist, Donelle Woolford, who is female, black, and seems a bit younger than he is. Scanlan hires actresses to 'play' Donelle for pictures and interviews, and he makes the artwork that she 'makes'. He began this project about 13 years ago. Donelle Woolford is in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Here is an interview with Scanlan by Jeremy Sigler. Is this racism? Conceptual performance? Critical discourse on artworld hierarchies? Problematic exploitation? Discuss.

Critics, artists, former students, and, often, Scanlan himself responded, generating a thorough critique of the artist's practice, meaningful discussion about race and gender in contemporary art today, and a crowdsourced bibliography. Strikingly, its ebb and flow mimicked the public dialogue around Scanlan/Woolford in the art press—from curiosity (many had no idea of the project at the outset) to confrontation (stoked anew in May by The Yams' public withdrawal from the Biennial in protest), all in a slow burn. The texture and depth of this response evidenced Facebook's specific ability (for better and worse) to produce engaged networks and make visible their interactions.

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