As the first to grow up in the digital age, our generation has experienced firsthand a revolution in communication. We’ve learned to navigate the distances between ourselves and others in radically different ways than our parents once did, using platforms that memorialize our interactions across online spaces. “(Intimacy) Limits and Consequences” is an exhibit that harnesses this perspective, showcasing work by young artists who are uniquely placed to explore private lives in public cyberspaces.
The exhibit is part of Concordia’s Art Matters, a festival now in its 15th year that gives Concordia students the opportunity to gain experience working with local galleries and curating their own exhibitions. For “(Intimacy),” eight student artists each submitted one piece to grapple with the subject.
The exhibit mixes traditional artistic mediums and modern digital visuals to dwell on the distortion of what is public and what is private in the internet era. Leah Schulli’s Thanks bemoans the status update that has come to serve as an open invitation to publish the personal and the trivial. Riffing on meme aesthetics, Schulli’s piece displays a Facebook status bemoaning interviews one has to conduct in large red letters across the backdrop of a mountain range. The open landscape points to the way people’s statuses echo across cyberspace only to be drowned out by the mass production of similar anecdotes. The personal, magnified and made available for everyone by the internet’s infinite memory, has its intimacy cheapened and worn away.
Her fuzzy, pixeled representation makes her anonymous enough to convey the universality of the situation – everyone is at risk of having these intimate self-portraits plastered across the web.
Public exposure isn’t always this self-aggrandizing; Katie Stienstra’s I’ll Show You Mine delves into the nude selfie and its easy slip into popular circulation. A long-haired blonde peeks out seductively from a curtain, holding her iPhone up to capture her physique on camera. She is printed in ink jet onto a transparent plastic canvas and her fuzzy, pixeled representation makes her anonymous enough to convey the universality of the situation – everyone is at risk of having these intimate self-portraits plastered across the web. Unlike Schulli’s status, the nude selfie is usually meant for a specific audience – often a romantic partner – with the belief that it will stay within that relationship. When her private photos are shared, the intimacy she intends to convey becomes as commodified and public as that of the models on billboard posters that her seductive pose replicates.
The personal, magnified and made available for everyone by the internet’s infinite memory, has its intimacy cheapened and worn away.
Other pieces use comedy to access the more confusing aspects of individual identity in contemporary society. Shawn Christopher’s Cochon grapples with sexual intimacy in his dark and humourous work. This sculpture features about thirty penises of different shapes and sizes standing erect around a statue of a man with a pig’s head sitting on the floor. Some of the penises have had their tops replaced by pig heads; others have been cut down to just the tip. Almost all of the pinkish body and body parts are singed from the fire they were baked in.
The dismembered members, in their quantity and anonymity, bring to mind dating apps like Tinder and Grindr that have the power to make sex another exchange in social media’s gift economy. Nowadays sex is as on demand as Netflix and as a result we often become sexually greedy – the pig’s downcast eyes are a guilty confession. The singe marks on Christopher’s pig and penises reminds the viewer that sex in the age of the internet makes it that much easier to get burned.
Intimacy is getting turned inside out by our technologies and the cultures that germinate from them, changing forms and evolving into a confusing, complex organism that’s becoming increasingly difficult to define. As we all experience the strangeness of being caught up in the World Wide Web, any attempt to help us navigate what it means when everybody and nobody is our audience is desperately needed. These students’ pieces generously offer a little guidance.
“(Intimacy) Limits and Consequences” is on display at the the Yellow Fish Art Gallery until March 20.