Who are the spies? We are the spies

Franz Thalmair interviews Daphne Dragona.

“Tagging”, “posting”, “sharing”, “commenting”, “rating” and … once again, the other way around: affective and opinion-driven practices of exchange seem to be essential key issues for the everyday behaviour on the so called Social Web. But, what happens with us, the users of commercially hosted platforms, when we share our experiences and comment on opinions and statements brought in by other users? Do those mechanisms of interaction have any effect on the clever systems of pre-defined templates we move in? Tag ties and affective spies is the title of an online-exhibition which presents a selection of Internet-based artworks that highlight different aspects of the Social Web. With the exhibition, hosted by the National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (EMST), curator of the show Daphne Dragona asks if we are really connecting or if we are also forming the structure of the Social Web itself?

The linked artworks reflect some of the controversies brought up by the inflationary use of Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Delicious, just to name a few of the most popular examples of Web 2.0: We Feel Fine (2006) by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, for example, refers to the Social Web’s most basic human and affective character, its influence on our everyday lives and the inability of the users to transcend mental and physical borders, as do Gregory Chatonsky’s L’Attente – The Waiting (2007) and Folded-In (2008) by Personal Cinema & The Erasers. Wayne Clements’ IOUs (2008) tests the possibilities of forming content, whereas Internet Delivers People (2008) by Ramsay Stirling visualises the fact that a user still remains a victim of the companies, offering now his subjectivity as a product. Furthermore, the presented artworks point out how Social Media themselves can record and reflect the current trends of the users employing their own contributions (A Tag’s Life (2008), by George Holsheimer, et al) and how they can construct fake realities (The Big Plot (2008/2009), by Paolo Cirio). With a sense of humour, Christophe Bruno refers to the redemption of language by the internet companies in Dadameter (2008) and finally Jodi (Delicious – Winning Information, 2008) and Les Liens Invisibles (Subvertr, 2007) encourage users to escape the conventions and the formalisms the Social Net cleverly imposes.

Who is wearing ties? Who are the spies?

The title of the exhibition, Tag ties and affective spies, is referring to us, the users of the social media and to our current modes of connecting and socialising. I think tagging is one of the most interesting features of the social web. Have we entered the “I tag therefore I am” period? Maybe, as tagging seems to imply a number of issues for the social web. It refers to our subjectivity as it is a process of naming, defining, highlighting our uploaded material. Our choices and order of tags, our taxonomies known as folksonomies, create interrelations and interactions for the users on today’s web. Tags are about associating content, and therefore about sharing, linking with others. They are about attracting attention, connecting and building relationships. Tags are about us and the others. Spying is a fundamental issue in this relationship and it is basically a form of surveillance based on affection. As we are given so many opportunities to express our feelings in the social platforms today, as we are exposing ourselves constantly with our own will, surveillance is becoming a unconscious habit. Exposure justifies it all. In this complex environment that there could be no better instance for the market to observe, to evaluate and to take advantage of the data offered in order to cover our “needs” and encourage the continuous growth of new ones.

In the exhibition concept you raise the question if users of Social Media sites are really connecting or if they are also forming the structure of those sites. What is the difference between the two activities?

This is one of the main contradictions the social web presents. What are we being promised by all these platforms? That we can be creative, that we can be ourselves and that we can connect with others. While great possibilities might be opening up with the social web, at the same time we are asked to play double roles; to be spectators but also actors; to be consumers but also producers. There is no social web without us. There is no content and no structure without our participation. We are no longer in the web era of the 90s when pages were static and we were discussing authorship and access. Now in the user generated period, the web in constantly being formed by us, by our images, our videos, our posts, our tags, our networks, our tastes, our friends, our own voluntary input. It is very interesting to see how the political notions of immaterial labour and affective labour, as defined by Lazzarato and Hardt respectively have found their expression in the social web. Leisure and work have become one today because it is our own will, interest and affection that are being invested to support the social platforms. We are all cultural workers in the internet.

Many of the presented artworks do have a playful approach to Social Media. Is this characteristic for nowadays use of Social Media in general, or is it the artistic point of view?

I find that play has a central role in the social media. Not only because most of our activities within them have a playful side – lets think about the ways of interacting, of playing roles and of competing in the social platforms. But also because we have the tendency to play, to cheat, to doubt, to transcend the norms and the rules that the social media impose. The works presented are playful in this sense. They examine the features of the social media, in order to decode them and reverse them; I see their processes as playful tactics that succeed in revealing their mechanisms and functioning. They somehow remind us of our right to disobey that we often forget. So, this aspect refers to us all – no it is not an artistic point of view exclusively. Irony and humour merged with play are introduced to form a critique that can be exercised by any user.

Folded-In, one of the projects presented in the show, is a multiuser online game by Personal Cinema & The Erasers where content as well as form are generated from YouTube and related to the topic of war. Why do you think it is important for Internet-based art to reflect the mechanisms of the medium it is settled in?

This is an issue that reminds us of the net art of the 90s and of other forms of media art – game art mods is another characteristic example- where creators are using the platforms so as to critisize them. Such an approach presupposes a good knowledge from the side of the creators. They need to be participants, residents, players in the social web in order to comment on it, to transform it, to reveal it. So my answer to your question is positive but principally for one reason; for the audience. Who do we – or most accurately the creators- want to address this to? The main audience would probably be the users of the social media, the people who use them as a tool of communication, of socialisation, as a mode of entertainment, of information and education. It would be absurd to talk about social media through sculpture or painting – although this also does happen… -. If you want to talk to poeple directly you talk to them in their own language and within their natural environment.

How could the online exhibition be presented in a physical setting? Do you think this would add any value – as well as to the art/artists as for the spectators?

This period the exhibition is presented physically in two venues: at the media lounge of the National Museum of Contemporary Art – Athens, and in the exhibition space of Enter festival in Prague. Yes, I believe it does add value for several reasons that interconnect. Firstly, I believe that through a physical installation, institutions can communicate the information to a wider audience that might not be familiar with net based art. Secondly, acknowledge and support in terms of presentation is very important for an art that is contradictory to institutions by its nature and it is out of the marketing system. Furthermore, such works, as the projects on social media, can raise fruitful discussions about issues of art, society and politics and build bridges between institutions, artists and visitors as they are based on platforms that the people know and use.

The project is settled within an institutional framework: How do you think that a museum like the EMST can come to terms with the artworks the 21st century “networked society” develops when “everything becomes changeable, interconnected and rhizomatic; personified, exposed and exploitable”?

That’s a good bet for the future. Will it work? We shall see. Because in a way we are talking about vertical versus horizontal structures. If one absorbs the other, then their nature will fatally alter. I think changes occur and adaptations happen that bring edges closer together. Museums are not what they were in the past. You can not have a network museum – at least not yet – but museums do work in networks today. They also aim to work as public spaces, as environments open to collaborations and discussions. They are trying to bring more people in and allow them to have roles, to be active spectators. I think that museums are learning from the forms of interaction from the virtual public spaces and are developing environments that respond to today’s needs. Artworks are not the peculiarity we should pay attention to – they are only part of the phenomenon. Museums are changing as society is changing itself in an interconnected world.

What was the latest Social Media site you opened an account at?

Dont ask! It was my blog believe it or not… a month ago… I wanted to start it for a couple of years now and I only recently decided to go ahead…

Do you still use it?

Well yes… but as a site mostly. I’ve uploaded the info I wanted and sometime soon… I hope i ll make it more lively. Blogs need energy… I was always admiring bloggers for the time they were giving into this.

posted on April 18 2009
from http://www.furtherfield.org/displayreview.php?review_id=343
and http://cont3xt.net/blog/?p=1395

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