Site Scavenging

Internet content is the "found object" of the 21st century.

Brian Piana's Journal of the Collective Me culls Twitter and status update posts with the word "me" in them. Created as a part of a virtual residency for (where I am editor, full disclosure), they appear on Piana's Web site,, in real time. A 30-second sample..."At work bored out of my mind...some1 entertain me plz..." "Just had a cafeteria worker talk me out of getting a donut. Thanks man!" "The guy who's beside me in math is creepy. It's his birthday." "My bro-N-Law, Stephen, has cancer/needs help. We're selling raffle tickets 4 a chance 2 win ATV Accessories & guns. Contact me 4 more info!" "Fact: Internet Explorer has caused me more grief than any woman could ever hope to."

When I explained Twitter and Facebook status updates to my sixtysomething mother, she said, "That's so self-absorbed, who would care?" But in the 21st century, it seems like everyone has something to say about themselves and wants their voices to be heard. And it seems many of us want to listen. Clicking through the posts, even the most mundane is fascinating and revealing. It's like surfing the lives of strangers.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a saturation point for self-absorption. Marivi Ortiz's Matter of Two Months and Three Spaces (2007), built around the artist's online conversations with an older man, pretty much finds it. The work includes two large photographs, one of the artist in her cluttered home/studio wearing a dressing gown. She's got one breast showing and is wearing a wig cap; a wig lies on the floor as if she's dressing for a role. Her glowing computer monitor rests on a table, and the guy taking the photograph is visible in her mirror. In another image, a wiry, middle-aged guy sits at his computer in a cluttered office. In between the two photos, a large video monitor displays video, presenting a text and video chat between the artist and the guy in the photo, bassman98. Ortiz has chosen the screen name sexycindy72. What you have is an obvious dynamic in which a lonely old guy is really happy and excited that an attractive young girl has taken the time to chat with him. The chat, at least what is shown, doesn't turn salacious — Ortiz presents herself as some sort of magnanimous counselor — but the artist's screen name no doubt lured her subject.

Jon Rafman's Kool-Aid Man travels the ­Second Life universe.
Courtesy of FotoFest
Jon Rafman's Kool-Aid Man travels the ­Second Life universe.


Through October 24.
FotoFest, 1113 Vine St., 713-223-5522.

I sat down and watched the whole thing. Ortiz comes across as narcissistic, and Bassman comes across as sad and needy and self-absorbed. The content of their conversation isn't profound, revealing, amusing or especially poignant. Ortiz's role seems convoluted, and if the content isn't interesting and the characters aren't appealing or sympathetic, what's the point? We all know people all over the world connect with each other virtually. The idea of the project is far more interesting than the reality. I later found out that while the text in the video was from an actual chat, the guy in the video and the photo is not bassman98, who wouldn't allow his image to be used. It's an actor. Then why use an image at all?

Less self-involved and slightly less problematic, Curtis Mann's work applies traditional artistic media to a digitally derived product. Mann finds Flickr photos from war-torn sites of conflict in the Middle East. He prints the photos out and then selectively bleaches out areas of the prints, sometimes scribbling over parts of the images. The viewer is left with bits of a bombed-out building or clusters of tiny figures. With rare exceptions, the subject matter isn't illuminated in any especially interesting way by the process, and the results aren't particularly visually successful — it's just a lot of white space and some fragments of images. Mann is trying to be arty with his found material, but he just doesn't add anything — he detracts.

In spite of a couple of less-than-stellar pieces, Ward has done a great job pulling together a lot of strong works that aren't just novel in their source material but emblematic of a burgeoning social media-derived avant-garde. "Poke!" is a smart, intriguing and eye-opening show. Tweet your friends about it.

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