For my final project, I wanted to play with the ideas of identity and authorship in the digital age. I had been thinking a bit about Charlotte's presentation on Sophie Calle, and decided to engage myself in the question of privacy and invasion in art.
For subjects, I chose my classmates. Despite having spent a semester in a seminar setting with them, they remain, to some extent, strangers. I had thought of a more thorough investigation, Calle-style, using Facebook and other ways of actually invading their privacy, but I chose instead a more subtle invasion, through the class wiki. Here is a space that all of us can edit, and yet we all have "our own" page, under our name, with the work that represents our creativity, our diligence, and our interest in this class. Though somewhat informal, there is nevertheless something personal about this space of authorship, this place where we use our own words to talk about work that is otherwise open to any and all interpretation.
So I decided to infiltrate that personal space, in a way that was both obvious and puzzling. With the title "This is me." at the top of each person's wiki page, without any other heading to explain it, I linked to another page with a collage I had created. These collages both are and are not the "me" described, the name in parentheses following the title.
When I think about identity, I think about portraiture (perhaps as a result of my art historical training). In some ways, all that is left of the physical persons of all the generations that came before is their image, which means nothing if not attached to a name (think of the scholarly scrambling to identify the Mona Lisa, for example). Writing you can put another name to (who wrote the Bible? Shakespeare's plays?) but an image and a definitive name attached to it has a certain aura and authenticity, whether in paint, mosaic, sculpture, or especially photographed (Barthes in Camera Lucida, for one explanation). A name and a face; in the end, that is all we can lay claim to as our own.
Or can we even have that? Today, when we want to find out if we know someone, recognize them, we go to the internet. There, we can find... pretty much everyone with access to the internet. Our searching can go by two main methods: social media like Facebook, and search engines like Google. Social media are where people define themselves, what they think of as their best selves, for the world to see. We may be more likely to (eventually) find the person we are looking for, the normal person, among pages of same-name-different-face on social media. Search engines are somewhat more intriguing: they are not a self-chosen selection: they reflect everything in the world database, and prioritize it all according a public consciousness that decides who or what is the most (). We have all Google-image searched ourselves at some point: depending on our name, we may end up with images of strangers, of ourselves, of (un)related things, of nothing. This is how we measure our presence in the world, in that hyper-mediated global space that is the internet, that is a/the world consciousness.
So, to find out who they may or may not be, despite whether or not they try to present themselves in one way on the internet, I Google-image searched all of my classmates. Using (for the most part, with a few tweaks to fill space and/or avoid excessive repetition) the first page of results, I created a collage for each person. The collages filled a standard 8.5" by 11" page, grid-style, with a bar across the bottom. They are somewhat based on the various sizes of the images that appeared, but also are the result of chance and my own attempts to fit them to the page. In some ways, the clearly handmade and amateur quality of the collages emphasizes the idea of stolen authorship, I think, in the fact that they appear more likely to have been created by the "me" of the title. They are informal and perhaps evoke a class project or yearbook page in middle and high school.
My classmates now have the opportunity to alter or remove the collages, just as I have the opportunity to put them back (at least as long as my Brown ID works!). I also issue an open invitation to them to make one for me as well.
As a final note: I originally wanted nothing on my page to tie me to the others' pages, or to explain what had been done, but alas the necessities of a classroom setting demanded documentation.
CHARLOTTE ANDERSON ED BROWN
GAVIN ATKINSON JACK HORKINGS
JULIA MADSEN KAT LEE
KEVIN COCHRAN NARA SHIN
ROBERT SANDLER ROSEY SELIG-ADDISS