curated by Peter Peng '08
March 15, 2008
To see the online art exhibit, please visit: http://allourlives.wordpress.com/
Screenshot of front page of exhibit:
Or see the copy and pasted, unformatted version below:
Peter Peng '08 is an undergraduate (senior) at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He concentrates in Modern Culture and Media, and "All Our Lives Up For Grabs" is a curatorial project for the Spring 2008 MCM 0750 Digital Art class taught by Professor Mark Tribe.
All Our Lives Up For Grabs: Understanding Our Obsession with Our Narcissistic and Voyeuristic Tendencies
Curated by Peter Peng
March 15, 2008
Contemporary popular culture's obsession with showcasing ourselves and peeping into the lives of others has defined a whole era of watching, surveilling, exposing. Indeed, this is clearly the case as we consider the powerful lure of reality TV shows from "Big Brother" to "The Real World" to "Hogan Knows Best" and others. What is our fascination with everything from the most mundane to the most intimate of activities and information?
Freud argues there is pleasure in seeing - scopophilia, he calls it, an idea which Laura Mulvey furthers and posits as two contradictory phenomenon - fetishistic scopophilia and narcissistic voyeurism - which she describes in her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Fetishistic scopophilia is a process of differentiation from what we see, and often, a dynamic is which we hold some superior power over the passive object we see. Narcissistic voyeurism then is a process of identification with what we see, something we take as an ideal surrogate or extension of ourselves. Mulvey talks about these two concepts within the framework of the active male gaze and passive female to-be-looked-at-ness. Gender issues aside, there is something very real and intricate in the way we see as we obsess with exposing ourselves as if to say, "Look at me!" and simultaneously intruding on the lives of others.
"All Our Lives Up For Grabs" is an art exhibit that explores the issue of our relationship to our identities as they are showcased and viewed, by ourselves as active authors and by others as passive spectators. This active-passive dynamic has been blurred, however, as we constantly find ourselves simultaneously and contradicting-ly both active and passive. This is in large part because of the interactive nature of our projects as the works in this exhibit demonstrate. The audience partakes in authorship. The author becomes part of the audience.
In one sense, this cultural phenomenon can be described as "owning" the lives of one another, possessing the juicy details and privy "secrets" as we put our lives up for exhibition. It is indeed the time where everyone has their "fifteen minutes of fame," but it has become more than that. We love to not only be famous, but also to watch the famous. And even the not-so-famous. We have become obsessed with everyone.
This exhibit hopes to call up issues of how we interact with such exposes of our lives as we think about why we are so fascinated by it. I have chosen several works whose framework deals with putting one's life up for our viewing pleasure in order to explore these concepts. The order of viewing from Exhibit 1 to Exhibit 5 is also deliberate. I have arranged the works as they increasingly complicate the the active author-passive viewer dynamic from first simply being pure observers with no way to intervene to actually owning a physical piece of the authorship. Enjoy!
Work Title: Life Sharing
Artist: Eva and Franco Mattes (www.0100101110101101.org)
Work Link: http://www.0100101110101101.org/home/life_sharing/
Media: Internet webpage, personal computer hard drive and contents
Life Sharing is a real-time digital self-portrait. Started in the year 2000 and active uninterruptedly until 2003, Life Sharingis 0100101110101101.ORG's personal computer turned into a real time sharing system. Any visitor has free and unlimited access to all contents: texts, images, software, 01's private mail. One can get lost in this huge data maze. Based on Linux, Life Sharing is a brand new concept of net architecture turning a website into a sheer personal media for complete digital transparency. Permanent infotainment pioneering the peer to peer mass diffusion. Privacy is stupid.
Interview by Data-Nudism (Matthew Fuller), 01 Jan 2001: http://www.0100101110101101.org/texts/wac_life2-en.html
Media Coverage: http://www.0100101110101101.org/home/life_sharing/media.html
Review in "New Media Art" by Mark Tribe: https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/display/MarkTribe/0100101110101101.org
As a play on the popular P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing networks such as Napster and the like, Life Sharing is a project that takes the home computer of www.0100101110101101.organd exposes its entire hard drive to the public, who not only has access to view every file on the artists' computer, but also copy those files onto their own computers. The project evolved real-time, "live" in a way that was different than most websites and servers were maintained, since it was the computer's hard drive itself that was exposed. As the artists claim, anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time with the computer knows that a massive amount of personal data and information is transferred to the computer, from passwords to bookmarks to personal relationships as depicted in emails to personal images and ideas.
Life Sharing is a digital manifestation of our desire for fetishistic scopophilia, Laura Mulvey's term for being voyeurs and peering into the lives of others. Indeed, the very success of this project lies in the interactivity of it, the ability to see and navigate through every digital trace, fingerprint, and footprint of the artists as documented by their computer. Yet, it is a stifled interactivity. It does not allow the viewer to engage, manipulate, or change the files. In this way, viewers are passive spectators simply taking things in, and at best, copying the files. This passivity of course brings up the dynamic of the active authors (the artists). The authors seems to take the dominant male position in controlling what we see - despite everything on the computer being visible - by simply not putting things that they do not wish the viewers to access. The viewers then are relegated to the passive female position. What does this dynamic say about our relationship with voyeurism? It certainly turns things 180 degrees - instead of the voyeurs who traditionally are the ones intruding, invading, and thus holding the power of control, they become in a sense, the passive subjects. In such a helpless situation (in the sense that they can't do anything to intervene), why do we take such pleasure in catching a glimpse into the lives of these artists? Is it because of the threat of what we might be able to do with such information, or is it merely the novelty of someone brave enough to put their life on exhibition for everyone?
Work Title: Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project
Artist: Hasan Elahi
Work Link: http://trackingtransience.net/ and also within http://elahi.org/
Media: Internet webpage, photographs, DigitalGlobe tracking, Google Earth
Year: 2005-Present (2008)
Artist Statement (for his entire body of works featured on http://elahi.org/ which includes Tracking Transience):
Throughout the past fifteen years, I have found myself with one foot in art and one in science, and consider my media to be databases and other electronic forms of information. I am intrigued by the way humans interact with this information, and prefer to investigate the acceptance of technology rather than technology itself. Even more important to me is how technology is packaged, or should I say marketed, as an object of desire and an item of necessity for the consumer. The consumer's perception of technology as both desirable and essential, I feel, is based on a social understanding and (social) functioning of technology. Just as with any other product that has a pioneering stage, an acceptance stage and an obsolescence stage, the timing of how a certain technology is adopted by society is far more significant than the technology itself.
It is in the border between society and technology that I am interested, and my work attempts to bridge the human and virtual worlds. I juxtapose the tangible aspects of traditional art practice with the electronic elements of current and developing technologies in order to blur the distinctions between the two realms. At the same time, this conjunction of the physical and the virtual parallels my exploration of the intersection of geopolitical conditions and individual circumstances. Both quantitative and qualitative information is incorporated into my work, and the entire process results in translations and mistranslations between the physical and the virtual, between the body politic and the singular citizen. The mutual misunderstandings that inevitably occur provide the inertial energy for the continuing activity and effectiveness of the work.
As a global citizen, I observe states of designed obsolescence in structures and systems of power. As an artist, I prefer lo-fi to hi-fi. And within the absurd reality of synchronized invention and antiquation, I find my work attempting to balance and tumble simultaneously.
More Press can be found at: http://elahi.org/ by clicking the "Press" link on the bottom row
Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project
20 feet x 36 feet x 8 feet
6,15 meters x 11,07 meters x 2,46 meters
as installed at Sundance New Frontier
Sundance Film Festival
Park City, Utah
Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project
48.75 feet x 65 feet x 32.5 feet
15 meters x 20 meters x 10 meters
as installed at Campo Santa Margherita
part of "Migration Addicts"
52nd Venice Biennale
Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project
16.25 feet x 26 feet x 13 feet
5 meters x 8 meters x 4 meters
as installed at the Kulturbahnhof
Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project
12 feet x 4 feet x 3 feet
3,69 meters x 1,23 meters x 0,92 meters
as installed at Exit Art
part of the exhibition "Exit Biennial II: Traffic"
New York, New York
Tracking Transience: Compass
approximately30 feet x 8 inches
9,23 meters x 20 cm
stills from video
as installed at Works/San José
San José, California
35-year old Rutgers University art professor Hasan Elahi was mistaken detained by the F.B.I. for allegedly being a terrorist. It took nine lie detector tests and six months before he was finally cleared as a terrorist suspect, but his detention and the possibility of an indefinite amount of time at Guantanamo Bay scared Elahi so much that he undertook a grand project that he calls "Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project." On the surface, the goal, so he claimed, seemed simple enough - to monitor himself for the F.B.I. wherever he went, which would serve as the perfect alibi. He never wanted to be a suspect again.
The method was to flood the Internet with so much personal data from pictures of every meal to urinals he used to plane schedules to live GPS tracking of his location and photos of many other elements of his everyday life. In a somewhat similar fashion to Kollberg's "My Blue Notes," "Tracking Transience" was an tremendous collection of details of one's life so large that it becomes a daunting, near impossible task to navigate through the sheer density of it all. In this way, both works utilize the Internet as a medium that is both personal (they both document very private info and details) and anonymous. "Tracking Transience" is anonymous because as Elahi argues, he is hiding in plain sight, that the sheer density of the images and info would provide his cover in both senses of the word - cloak and alibi.
An important aspect of the project though is the glaring absence of Elahi himself in the images. We get his point of view and location, but never himself. In this way, Elahi dodges exact identification of himself. This phenomenon of "telling you everything, yet telling you nothing" (Elahi's words) begs the question, what then is Elahi really after? This sort of faulty monitoring would not hold up in the courts or to any F.B.I. investigation, so "Tracking Transience" is more of a statement and exploration of our relationship with surveillance than as protection in the form of the perfect alibi.
In the electronic age, the future is in surveillance and Elahi believes we will one day be monitored in every activity we do, big or small. Thus, he moves himself forward by voluntarily monitoring himself. In a way, this is the opposite of Bentham's idea of the Panopticon, a structure in which prisoners never know for sure if they are being watched by the prison guards, but the very threat or possibility of such observation keeps the prisoners in check.
This subtle, but crucial difference of worrying that one is being watched versus knowing one is being watched drives at the heart of Elahi's project - the sheer density of information as cover, "hiding in plain sight," a new form of anonymity. It complicates our relation in understanding how we see and how we are seen. No longer are we fetishistic voyeurs because what we see is no longer taboo. We no longer derive pleasure in seeing. We grow bored of seeing as there is simply too much to see and so little to find that is actually interesting. Neither are we narcissistic scopophiliacs because our goal is not to be seen, but rather to be hidden (precisely by making too much of ourselves seen). Elahi documents his life so precisely not to showcase himself flamboyantly, but rather so that he may hide in the magnitude of his documents. His work shows how it is possible to become active participants in making ourselves fully visible, but ironically, inducing the effect of creating a passive viewer who no longer actively seeks narcissistic identification nor fetishistic voyeuristic pleasure. He is passive to the point of no longer caring. "Tracking Transience" thus effectively reverses the subject-object relationship.
Work Title: My Blue Notes
Artist: David Lee Kollberg
Work Link: http://www.mybluenotes.tk/
Media: Internet webpage, images, poems, text, audio clips
The Internet is both personal and anonymous. With this in mind net.artist David Lee Kollberg created the web-art-project "My Blue Notes," in which he raises questions regarding his past, present and future. The viewer is induced to remain an anonymous member of the audience so he/she can smoothly become a voyeur meandering through the hundreds of intimate images and texts without any engagement or contribution.
"Birthed by the Web," Rhizome.org art exhibit, curated by Erinn: http://rhizome.org/art/member-curated/exhibit.rhiz?153
"My Blue Notes" is a collection of artist David Lee Kollberg's online portfolio or personal webpage. It includes tidbits in the form of personal facts about himself, images, poems that hold some sort of particular meaning for himself, and other items that relate to his life. It also includes "lies" - but how are we to know if they are indeed false, or for that matter, if the "facts" are indeed true? It is a mass conglomeration of personal items he has collected, documented, or created to represent himself and his life (past, present, and future). However, its presentation is definitely strange in the seeming lack of clear organization. There are categories or sections, but there seems to be little, if any, reason to have them organized as such. This causes the viewer to become engaged in a labyrinth of Kollberg's personal info, as the viewer tries to sort fact from fiction, from relevant to random.
The Internet has become a boon in facilitating the transference and documentation of information, and indeed that is what is is predominantly known for - a champion of communication. Yet, so little thought is given to authorship and the ways the viewership interacts with such authorship. Kollberg has exposed much of his private life in "My Blue Notes," but in a way that is confusing for most. How are we to navigate the maze of his project, which offers no directions, not even an About page. The circled "I"s in the top right corner are in fact links to further pages of his project rather than true "About" or "Info" pages. Precisely via the engine of this confusing organization, Kollberg raises issues of author versus viewer interpretation. Kollberg's interpretation of the specific items of his work will differ from each viewer's interpretation, and indeed that is the point. He wants us to actively explore the relation between author and viewer.
Again, the viewer is caught up in a fetishistic scopophiliac relation with Kollberg. The viewer peeps into Kollberg's life, but unlike "Life Sharing," he is forced to come up with his own interpretations of the meaning of Kollberg's personal effects. "Life Sharing" puts it blatantly and unambiguously out there: here is a personal email, here is an image of someone in my life, etc. My Blue Notes presents instead a more fluid, artistic depiction of the artist's life via poems, phrases, pictures, abstract memories, and even lies. This makes the viewer a much more active participant, actively engaged in interpretation.
At the same time, Kollberg engages in narcissistic voyeurism. What is he trying to accomplish by putting his life up for abstract viewing? Clearly, he thinks his life is important enough to partake on such an elaborate project. In this way, he is narcissistic. One issue we can think about is, why are we as humans so intent on showcasing ourselves? What is the pleasure in doing so? The latter part of the term, voyeurism, also implies Kollberg is looking at something that he can identity with as himself. I believe he is looking at the viewers, not physically in the way the viewers can see his webpage, but he is looking towards the viewers. Kollberg's viewers can conjure up a number of narratives from his collection of items, and that seems to say Kollberg's life can be anyone's life, especially considering how vague and encompassing some of the pages are. Thus, he identifies himself with the audience.
Work Title: Justin.tv Lifecasting
Artist: Justin Kan
Work Link: http://www.justin.tv/justin
Media: Internet, wireless webcams
Year: 2006 (but began broadcasting in March 2007)-Present (2008, although he no longer streams 24/7)
Founded in October 2006, Justin.tv is the destination site for broadcasting and watching live video online while chatting. Our community consists of hundreds of thousands users, and entire network gets millions of unique visits per month and tens of millions of pageviews per month.
Justin.tv began as the crazy brainchild of its founder, Justin Kan, who decided it would be really cool if he could broadcast his entire life, 24/7, to the Internet. To make his idea a reality, he enlisted the help of his friends Michael, Emmett and Kyle, and raised a seed investment from Y Combinator. Together, the team launched "Justin.tv," the very first lifecast, on March 19, 2007. After gaining the national media spotlight, hundreds of people started asking for the ability to broadcast their own live video. As a result, the team went back to work to build the ultimate platform for broadcasting live video to the web.
Press release: http://blog.justin.tv/2007/05/press.html
Justin Kan, following in the footsteps of Jennifer Ringley of JenniCamfame, takes the idea of broadcasting one's private life via webcam on the Internet to another level. In March 2007, Kan began broadcasting his life 24/7 on justin.tv as he went about his daily activities. He calls it "lifecasting." He wore a camera on his head that sent signals to a server from the equipment he carried in his backpack. He would continue to broadcast as he went into the bathroom, as he had sex, and other intimate activities. As he slept, a camcorder continued to stream his life. However, unlike JenniCam - which set up cameras in her dorm or apartment room - Kan decided to keep things "PG-13? and tilted the camera up towards the ceiling while he was in the bathroom, or to the side and switched the mic off during sex. Almost instantly, Kan achieved wild fame as thousands of fans stopped by the site to watch the everyday life of a stranger.
Justin.tv continues to be Kan's site, but he no longer broadcasts 24/7. Instead, at the request of fans, the site has become a platform for anyone who signs up and has access to a webcam and the Internet to broadcast themselves to the world.
The first question that occurs to me is why people would want to watch a complete stranger go about his life? Unlike JenniCam, which included uncensored videos and pictures of Jennifer Ringley engaging in sexual activities, Kan's site has none of that. Yet, clearly the voyeuristic desire goes far beyond sexual voyeurism. With the huge splash of multiple reality TV shows, the next logical progression was Kan's vision of reality - lifecasting. Viewers became privy to nearly all details of Kan's life, able to step in and out of viewing whenever they pleased. Nothing was edited out like reality TV shows. The viewers had full control of when, where, and what they wanted to see. Furthermore, they could view anonymously.
Kan's innovation to the genre of voyeurism? Interactivity. Viewers could chat online with Kan (and other lifecasters) as they broadcast live. In this way, voyeurism no longer became a removed, passive act of only seeing, but instead, it became actively engaging with the object (Kan) viewed. By chatting with Kan, the dynamics of seeing and our relationship to the Gaze are complicated. Of course, webcam chats have been around long before Justin.tv, but Kan was the first to document himself 24/, and it is that idea of ubiquitous and constant, uninterrupted recording that revolutionizes our relationship to voyeurism and narcissism. Kan must enjoy broadcasting himself, and he admits that is is a pretty cool job to just be himself everyday, but the fashion he broadcasts himself redefines viewing and exhibitionist pleasure. I wonder though, if the viewers sometimes watch because they wish to be Kan, for his fame, for his fans, for his life. If so, then in that way, the viewers themselves become narcissistic voyeurs just as Kan is himself one - he often sees his fans (physically seeing them with his eyes, and also going on dates with them), who are of course recorded by his camera and broadcast out to the world.
Work Title: All My Life For Sale
Artist: John D. Freyer
Work Link: http://www.allmylifeforsale.com/
Media: John D. Freyer's personal possessions, eBay
Allmylifeforsale is an online project that explored our relationship to the objects around us, their role in the concept of identity, as well as the emerging commercial systems of the Internet. Using the public/commercial space of the online trading community Ebay in conjunction with his online catalogue Allmylifeforsale.com, John Freyer catalogued and sold nearly everything that he owned, from his kitchen cutlery to his personal hygiene products, his Star Wars sheets and finally even the domain name Allmylifeforsale.com itself.
John D. Freyer was frustrated by the constant influx of more and more items into his apartment, and finally, he was determined to rid them all (or what he could). He and his friends systematically tagged and put up for auction on eBay all of Freyer's personal belongings, sentient and utility foregone. But his project had a second part: after selling everything he could, he went on a journey to find and gather statements from the new owners of his old possessions. His great project was cataloged online at www.allmylifeforsale.com and a book was published about the project by Bloomsbury.
"All My Life For Sale" is a bit unlike the other exhibits in this show in that it does not expose Freyer's personal life to the same level of explicitness, but it is a work that nonetheless engages the question of one's identity and how others view and interact with it. Much like you can tell a great deal about someone via their digital footprints on a personal computer, much like the items in one's wallet might be called representative of oneself, Freyer's personal objects can be seen as a physical representation of his personal identity. By putting everything up for auction via the popular online eBay marketplace, Freyer embarked on a digital transference of his identity upon others. Then he embarked on a physical re-engagement with his old self (his objects) as well as their new owners, the buyers. The viewers (bidders) could not only view the objects with their eyes, they could have a chance at owning the item. Many bidders would not have bid on Freyer's items had they not known about the greater context of Freyer's project. This is an important fact because it suggests the different type of voyeurism. Seeing is not enough; people want to be a part of the experience, and what better way by doing the very act that IS the project - buying - which results in owning a part of the project.
This surely complicates the narcissistic and fetishistic notions of Mulvey's essay. The buyers have become narcissistic in that they want to be Freyer, to at least own a part of him. They identity with him, his objects, his project. On the other hand, they also differentiate themselves from Freyer - they have a fetish to buy a piece of Freyer's identity to assert control over that aspect of the project. They can do whatever they wish with their new item. However, it is Freyer himself who continues to be the author of the project, and in that sense, even having lost/sold all his possessions, he is like an active artist turned passive as he lets eBay run its course turned active again as he embarked on the second portion of his project. His buyers are also active.
The fact that Freyer choose an online platform to sell his goods is important as the Internet becomes the new medium to expose oneself and allow others to view you. Likewise, his journey to meet each of his buyers physically is important as it adds an additional layer of interaction between active seller and passive buyer. In fact, when the buyers bought the item, they can hardly be called passive anymore for now they literally owned a piece of Freyer, or at least his identity.
I hope you enjoyed the exhibition. Please take a moment and leave a comment in the guestbook here. Thanks!