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My [public] Space: Exhibition Text by Petra Heck

Image by Eduardo Navas, December, 2007

Note: Diary of a Star was part of the exhibition “My [public] Space” in Amsterdam, from May 23 to June 21, 2008. The premise behind the exhibition in part follows the line of thought originally developed for Diary of a Star. Thanks to Petra Heck for including my work in the show.

Diary of a star context: http://navasse.net/star/Context.html

Full text of exhibition follows below. Source: nimk.nl

May 16, 2008

With Twitter, a new application in Web 2.0, all you have to do is push a button to send a message to all the people you have promoted to your social network. The idea is that you indicate where you are, so that you can be ‘followed’ physically or mentally. The question is what need we have for a service like that. Do we really want to make everything public, known “and traceable”.

Andy Warhol was doing it already in the 1970s: showing and sharing as many insignificant details as possible. His magazine Interview was full of transcriptions of inane conversations; every telephone call was important enough to tape or write up. The desire ? and the means ? to be visible everywhere at all times was invented by Warhol in the same decade. With the arrival of Web 2.0 the internet makes this possible for everybody, not just for superstars like Edie Sedgwick, who in Warhol’s Screentest films doesn’t do much more than smoke, chatter and sneeze: nothing special. Forty years later there are suddenly millions of people watching television programs like Big Brother, in which people off the street are filmed sleeping, eating and talking about not much in particular.

With the advent of Web 2.0 powerful media are no longer necessary for realizing a relative ?15 minutes of fame?. Bloggers (webloggers) report every detail of their lives in an online diary that anybody can call up and read on their computer. The difference between an online blog and an old-fashioned diary is that online the content is being revealed for an unknown audience. The dividing line between private and public gets blurred. The text can be rather personal, while still functioning in the public domain. Since bloggers are implicitly aware of this, the information can be regarded as being tainted. The dichotomy between public and private that so interested Andy Warhol becomes visible here.*

Recent web services such as MySpace, Facebook or Twitter contain applications that realize the need to share your intimate world with others in every way possible. The motivations for doing this can range from radical openness, through a search for a new common identity, to seeking new social networks. But what are the consequences of the exaggerated manner in which what is private is now being made public? The new ways of publicizing oneself on the internet not only change our views of what is private, but also our relation to public space.

In the periodical Open on hybrid space Jorinde Seijdel asks, ?Where today is the generally accessible domain where people meet one another, form public opinions, and thus engage in a sort of political undertaking?? She writes that this increasingly takes place publicly in all kinds of locations such as streets and plazas, in mass media such as newspapers and television, but also on the internet in chatrooms and newsgroups. She terms this ?hybrid? in nature, ?an interweaving of concrete and virtual qualities, of static and mobile domains, of public and private spheres, of global and local interests. Particularly wireless and mobile technologies such as GSM, GPS, WI-FI and RFID permit not only the physical and the virtual, but also the private and the public to overflow into one another.? They can not only be used as a means of control, but also to intensify public actions, whether this is by spreading information about parties or demonstrations, or warnings of disasters or attacks.**

The vast majority of participants in Web 2.0 and the applications that go with it approach these services very openly and reveal their most personal feelings and photos. Practicing exhibitionism on such a massive scale however makes no contribution at all to the discursive public of which Jorinde Seijdel writes, but rather to the ?tyranny of intimacy?, as Richard Sennett describes it in The Fall of Public Man.** The urge for expression is greater than the fear of being monitored ? the anxiety we had for a long time about having all our comings and goings and personal data open to investigation, the anxiety about cameras and surveillance in stores and on the streets, has given way to an almost unthinking use of every possible new device and service.

But can we leave behind or shut out the public space that has been created by wireless technology ? chat, mail, GSM? Everywhere is public space now: our homes, our beds, even our bodies. What is still private? And does our private space change in the ever so transparent, traceable world of digital media? Are there still places where, or times when we cannot be tracked, are unreachable or cannot receive messages? Are such times and places necessary ? and is it such a bad thing if there are no such times and places?

These artworks in ‘My [public] space’ make the blurring of the boundaries between public and private space visible, whether this involves the public space of urban streets and squares and their accompanying digital networks of cameras, or the new public domain of the internet. The works stand at the intersection of what are ? or at least once were ? public or personal environments. In the exhibition the role of the camera changes from being a politically engaged instrument, to an application for observation and social control, or for artistic imagination. The works respond to the private being made public, and sometimes also to the invasion of privacy; they employ the mechanisms of control or of worldwide circulation for their own profit or statement. There are no alarming stories about control, but rather fascinations, reactions and possibilities for new domains, from which anxiety has vanished.

For instance, in their work Hasan Elahi and Jill Magid employ mechanisms and technologies of control in public spaces for their own private stories, and with an enormous camera Martijn Engelbregt asks passers-by on the Museumplein what they think of being filmed. The works by Eduardo Navas and Marisa Olson respond in various ways to taking private information into the public domain of the internet. Guy Ben-Ner really is doing the same thing, but in the publicly accessible (though private property) model rooms at IKEA.

With her game Dora Garcia responds in an abstract manner to the gray areas around the borders between the public and private, with a quiz with unanswerable personal questions which nonetheless must be answered yes or no. Eva and Franco Mattes aka 01001011101011101.org respond in an abstract, synthetic way to the phenomenon by taking a performance that was all about impinging on someone’s private space by forcing them to squeeze past naked bodies in order to enter some place, and re-enacting it in Second Life.

Susan H?rtig’s tent makes a really private and mobile space possible, somewhere that no mobile telephone or other device using radio waves can find. And finally, by revealing what is normally invisible on internet or via RFID technology, the t-shirts by Susan H?rtig and Aram Bartholl address today’s hybrid space.

* Eduardo Navas, 2003, see http://navasse.net/star
** Jorinde Seijdel, Open, no. 11, Hybrid Space, 2007, p. 4
*** Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, 1977, p. 15


Aram Bartholl (b. Germany, 1972; lives and works in Berlin)
Are you social?, 2007

Aram Bartholl’s work revolves around the relation between the data space of the internet and everyday life. How do technological developments influence our daily activities? What comes back from cyberspace to the physical world? With the arrival of web 2.0 the internet has very quickly become known as the ?social web?: social, because linking up users with one another plays a central role now. Ever more details of ordinary private life are being made public in the growing number of social networks on the internet. In contrast to the increasing reticence about public exposure in ordinary urban life, in supermarkets or caf?s, in the private sphere on the internet there is a general openness about information. But since the different online social platforms are not connected with one another it is difficult to determine which friends are signed on with which sites. The ?Are you social?? t-shirt lists the best known sites. The wearer can check them off, in order to let everyone see which services he or she subscribes to. It brings public, but hard to find data about network information on the internet into physical life, and in doing so asks how users, with their net identities on their body, reveal themselves in physical public spaces.

Hasan Elahi (b. Bangladesh, 1972; lives and works in New York)
Tracking Transcience: The Orwell Project, 2008
multi-channel video and media installation

Hasan Elahi regards databases and other forms of electronic information as his media. Between June and November 2002 Elahi was the object of an FBI investigation into terrorism. He had crossed the ocean for a residency. When he returned, over a period of sex months the artist was regularly interviewed by FBI agents who wanted to know every detail about the time he had spent outside the US. Ultimately he was cleared and officially he is no longer regarded as a terrorist ? after a three hour long lie detector test. The work ‘Tracking Transcience’, which uses technologies that document every aspect of his life, arose as a response to this experience. Inspired by the jail ankle band, Elahi has chosen to use an apparatus that violates his privacy even more. The apparatus continues to regularly send images including his GPS coordinates to a server, which sends this data on to the ‘United States Geological Survey’. From there a satellite photo of the place where the artist is at that moment is sent back to him. The server collects all the images on the website, to which everyone has access. The installation being shown here emphasizes the voyeuristic character of the images, which offer only a glimpse of all that is happening there. Seeing the images on the three walls makes it possible to experience the installation as a sort of reverse Panopticon, where the role of the spectator alternates from viewer to being the one looked at.

Guy Ben-Ner (b. Israel, 1969; lives and works in Berlin)
Stealing Beauty, 2007
video – DVD, single channel, color with sound, 18′ min., edition of 6
Courtesy of the artist & Gimpel Fils

In his short films and video works Guy Ben-Ner abolishes the boundaries between his studio practice, his private life and the everyday life around him. By portraying himself, his wife and two children, ‘Stealing Beauty’ makes us think of a family tv-series. The images were taken without permission in various IKEA stores in three different countries. The model rooms in the IKEA stores function as a film set for a single-family dwelling in which the Ben-Ner family try to convey to their youngest son the meaning of possessions and private property. Ben-Ner takes IKEA’s invitation to its visitors to feel ‘at home’ very literally by occupying the domestic spaces with his family, as if they were their own. A model bedroom becomes an intimate private space as the artist and his wife lie in bed, but immediately changes into a public space as shoppers wander into the picture. ?Stealing Beauty?, in which the boundaries between public and private spaces blur, plays havoc with the aim of the store to sell private spaces in a public setting. Since Ben-Ner does not ask permission to film, he has to repeatedly move on to other branches, and the film was shot in secret, on the quiet, as though he was engaged in shoplifting. By ?stealing? from the shop spaces, Ben-Ner transforms the public representation of a private space into private property.

Martijn Engelbregt (b. Netherlands, 1972; works and lives in Amsterdam)
W.V.U.E.D.U.G.W.O.D.P.?., 2006
de eerste live voxpop met speelfilmlengte
23’05” min.

Martijn Engelbregt, procedure artist, collector and statistician, uses relatively simple means to expose complex bureaucratic structures. He designs organizations, forms, surveys, reports and procedures that are inspired by existing structures and situations. Martijn Engelbregt’s website is called EGBG (Engelbregt Gegevens Beheer Groep, or Engelbregt Data Management Group). EGBG collects personal information and reflects on the management of data and its processing. Engelbregt is constantly surprised at how much private information people are prepared to provide. But he is neither for or against the recording and categorizing of data. People should merely be aware of what is being done, and make the choice for themselves.
For ‘Plein Museum’, accompanied by a microphone and cameraman he asked visitors to Amsterdam’s Museumplein what they thought of being filmed. This was simultaneously shown on a large projection screen erected in the middle of the park. Spectators could watch the screen from a public grandstand while munching popcorn. In addition, someone filmed people with a hidden camera. The reactions were varied, but the question is who this film is really ultimately about, what is the role of the reporter, of the interviewees and the audience in the grandstand? Spectator, subject, maker: they exchange places with one another and end up in a strange, entangled condition.

Kota Ezawa (Germany, b, 1969; lives and works in Los Angeles)
Two Stolen Honeymoons Are Better Than One, 2007
two channel video
Edition of 7

Home Video, 2001
single channel video
edition of 5
Courtesy Murray Guy, New York

Kota Ezawa does animations of iconic television, film and photo images that remind one both of old-fashioned cartoon strips and of South Park. He stylizes the material, flattens the images and renders them in unreal colors until a generic image is generated ? something like the safety instruction cards in airplanes, for instance. He does not simply run his sources through a filter in order to make them look like animations, but reconstructs the pictures ‘by hand’. He constructs them picture by picture after the originals with the aid of drawing software.
In terms of content, the material comes from what could be described as our collective cultural memory: images from the O.J. Simpson trial, the Kennedy assassination, or a familiar play like ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. The two works shown deal with the fascination for home videos. The video ‘Home Video’ appeals to our voyeuristic wish to get a look into private matters, but ultimately there is not much revealed to the spectator. ‘Two Stolen Honeymoons are Better Than One’ shows visuals from the stolen home video of the marriage and honeymoon of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee that was leaked onto the internet. In terms of form, the source material is radically simplified, serving to emphasize the cartoonesque life style of the celebrities. It includes several hilariously simple sentences from the original video, which makes it all so terribly ordinary. It has become iconic only through our reaction to the video, and holds up a mirror to us with regard to our obsession with the details of the lives of the rich and famous.

Dora Garc?a (b. Spain, 1965; lives and works in Brussels)
Yes or No, 2005
computer game (flash), video and audio installation
Courtesy Michel Rein Gallery, Paris

Dora Garc?a’s work deals with the reciprocal dependence of the individual and society. Her works seem to be an attempt to undermine that prevailing idea. In the audio-visual installation the words ?yes? and ?no? are visible on the wall. A voice formulates questions. The game proceeds only if the question is answered correctly, if not, the game is over. The questions (for instance, ?Does God exist?? or ?Are you younger than 40??) require personal answers, and thus it is not easy to give the correct answers to them. The work, the voice, the artist and the audience only know the possibilities and limitations of the ?game? after they have played it. In order to go on, you have to give the answer for the voice, rather than your personal reaction. Responding to concepts like target audience marketing, Garc?a is interested in what coincidences exist between her ideas and those of the visitors. Rather than using her art to pose open questions, in this work she gives possible answers. In doing so she is alluding to the impersonal character of many of the situations in which we find ourselves, where it is unclear with whom we are dealing and who controls the situation ? situations like the use of public address systems in public places, or the surveillance cameras that ?protect? us at cash machines.

Susan H?rtig (b. Germany, 1980; lives and works in Vienna)
Disconnected, 2007

How can we escape from the invasion of our private space while yet maintaining a mobile life in a world where we are reachable and localized everywhere? The work ?Disconnected? is a tent that is clad with the material ?E-blocker?. E-blocker provides an almost perfect defense against electromagnetic radiation and fields from radio or tv masts, radio applications, Blue tooth or RFID. Mobile telephones in the tent are unreachable. This makes the tent a ?non-space?, a white spot on the telecommunications map. Moreover, as flexible architecture the form of the nomadic tent adapts easily to the fast-changing environment in which we live, and thus can simply be folded up and erected in a new place.

meet me! read me! feed me!, 2006
t-shirts with RFID technology

In addition, Susan H?rtig has designed t-shirts using ? and responding to ? the RFID (radio frequency identification) phenomenon. Clothing (especially t-shirts) is often used to convey particular values, identities or political messages. Since RFID identification data is invisible, you have no influence on information that is stuck on persons, or objects, and gets into other hands or is lost. Susan H?rtig’s t-shirts contain a RFID laundry label on which a small amount of text can be placed. If you buy one of the t-shirts you can determine that text for yourself, which will then be readable everywhere that RFID technology is present in public spaces. That will sometimes cause conflicts with existing RFID systems. In addition, every t-shirt bears a large print of a RFID chip. The normally unseen antenna and components of the chip here become visible, and remind us more of an organic system than of a technological structure.

Jill Magid (U.S.A., 1973, lives and works in New York)
Evidence Locker, 2004
Control Room, 2004, 2 channel DVD, 10′ min. loop
Trust, 2004, DVD, 18′ min.

The work of Jill Magid seeks the emotional and philosophic connections between institutions that ‘protect’ and the individuals they guard. In ‘Evidence Locker’ Magid develops a close relationship with Citywatch (an agency of the Merseyside Police and the City of Liverpool), whose function is camera surveillance covering the whole city. The videos in this project are staged and edited by the artist, but filmed by the police with surveillance cameras in public spaces. In a bright red trench coat Magid phoned the police on duty and asked them to film her, or even to lead her through the city with her eyes closed. The film material is kept on the system for 31 days before it is erased. To get access to the material Magid submitted the necessary legal documents, filled out as love letters.
Jill Magid writes: ‘I seek intimate relationships with impersonal structures. The systems I choose to work with, such as police, secret services, CCTV and forensic identification, function at a distance, with a wide-angle perspective, equalizing everyone and erasing the individual. I seek the potential softness and intimacy of their technologies, the fallacy of their omniscient point of view, the ways in which they hold memory (yet often cease to remember), their ingrained position in society (the cause of their invisibility), their authority, their apparent intangibility and, with all of this, their potential reversibility.’

Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG
(b. Italy, 1976; live and work in New York, Bologna and Barcelona)
Reenactment of Marina Abramovic and Ulay’s Imponderabilia
Synthetic Performance in Second Life, 2007
Courtesy Postmasters Gallery, New York

Among their projects Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG have spread a computer virus as an artwork and promoted a non-existent European blockbuster film. Since 2007, in their ‘Synthetic Performances’ they have been investigating the boundary between the physical and virtual worlds, between spontaneity and construction. They do this by the virtual reenactment of historic performances. ‘Imponderabilia’ was performed by Marina Abramovic and Ulay in Bologna, Italy, in 1977. They stood naked in the main entrance of the Galleria Communale d’Arte Moderna. Everyone who wanted to enter the museum had to turn sideways and maneuver between their naked bodies. Thirty years later Eva and Franco re-enact the performance in Second Life, via avatars. Everything is programed in advance; the once immediate physical action is now constructed and has become predictable. In the public space of Second Life audiences all over the world can react to the event, but the unease that is provoked when you squeeze past a naked body has here been made totally abstract. Nothing is spontaneous, everything is artificial ? the opposite of the concept of a performance in the physical world.

Eduardo Navas (b. El Salvador, 1969; works and lives in Los Angeles and San Diego)
Diary of a Star, 2004 – 2007

In ?Diary of a Star? the artist Eduardo Navas provides a new context for fragments from Andy Warhol’s diaries. He links this early form of legendary self-consciousness, making personal (and sometimes very trifling) details public, to the attitude of online personalities in their blogs. In the form of a blog Navas responds to the tradition of diaries, the private and public, the concept of a celebrity and his/her life as a public person, and the activity of surfing the internet as social, public space. He examines Warhol’s thoughts and puts his own story alongside them, so that it functions as a critical extension of Warhol’s aesthetic, the desire to constantly be the center of publicity. Blogging is an online activity in which the dividing line between the public and private blurs. The personal expressions in blogs are comparable to those in diaries, but these private stories are made public to an unknown audience. Bloggers are implicitly aware of this, which taints the information. The public-private dichotomy that so fascinated Warhol in his work and his life becomes visible here, because Warhol’s diary also reads as if he knew that it would be published some day, making his consciousness as a public figure palpable.

Marisa Olson (b. Germany, 1977; lives and works in New York and Los Angeles)
Marisa’s American Idol Audition Training Blog, 2004
The One That Got Away, 2005
DVD, 9′ min.

Marisa Olson gives performances, works with video and sound, does drawings and installations. Her work stands at the intersection of music, entertainment and the cultural history of technology. She has a number of locations for her work on the internet, so it is not surprising that she opted for a blog when she decided to audition for the popular reality show ?American Idol?, as an art project. On her blog readers responded and gave advice to her in each phase, for each outfit and every number that she chose. Olson ultimately didn’t make the finals, but she revisited her audition experience for her video ‘The One That Got Away’, which is also being shown. Because of the enormous number of press responses that appeared on her ‘Training Blog’, the producers of the show wanted to follow Marisa Olson a number of days during her auditions for ?American Idol?. In the end, not one second of the material was broadcast, and she suspects that was because it finally dawned on them that this was a parody. The video is a fictional re-enactment that plays off the reality tv format and is located somewhere between the real and the simulated. Olson makes it clear visually that not only the tv format of ?American Idol?, but also the blog, the people who responded to it and the artist herself all occupy the strange junction of public and private terrain.

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