Societies of Out of Control

Ryan Trecartin likes to play with language and a bit of wordplay that recurs in his work—sometimes in the words of the scripts, but more frequently in the way characters and scenarios are constructed—is a confusion of the corporate and the corporeal. It’s like a folk etymology or a pun in the way Trecartin exploits a superficial resemblance of two words to generate idiosyncratic connections between them. But there’s a real etymological connection at the words’ root, and Trecartin’s play animates the forgotten bond between the corporeal reality of a person and the social body of a corporation.

Vocabulary review: Corporeal means “of a body.” Corporate means “united in one body.” To incorporate is to “to put (something) into the body or substance of (something else).”

“Corporations are people.” The corporation is the instrument by which a group of people act together as one in order to to make money, to make things happen, to create changes and disturbances in the world and in the social world. How does the corporation do it? How does the corporation unite so many bodies in its one to achieve its ends? It does it with corporate culture, with human resource management, with guidelines of professionalism—all techniques for controlling behaviors and actions and bodies. Corporations are people but their bodies are huge and grotesque—its avatars have stunted bodies, their impulses and affects are subjugated to the fluid discourses of a brand identity, they speak the stilted business tongue of PowerPoint slides and memos. We live in the time of corporate personhood—when corporate bodies and perlocutionary corporate speech make the models of how a person should be.

Look at K-Corea INC.K (section a)—the title of Trecartin’s video is a corporate name, taken on as a collective name by a bevy of career girls. (What does K-Corea INC.K produce? Nothing, other than its own collective subjectivity.) Korea is a geographic entity; it is a place name—a word that transforms a mass of land into a concept, making the substance of Earth legible in discourse and politics—and it is a near homophone of career. Korea, career. A career is a social concept, a technique by which a person identifies as an avatar of his profession and obscures his individual body to merge with a corporate one.

All the Koreas—Argentian Korea, Iran@-itzerland Korea, French adaptation Korea, Post-Canadian Retriever Korea, Another Greek Korea, Mexico Korea—are dressed identically. They must have gone shopping together for ladies’ business casual at Kmart or T.J.Maxx: white blouses, dark skirts, blond wigs. The clothes and the white pancake makeup makes them identical, in a way, but the forced identity just makes the differences of the individual bodies pop out: this Korea has a moustache, that Korea has real female breasts; this Korea has big biceps, that Korea is paunchy. Traits of individual bodies betray the unity of the incorporated one. But they try their best not to let them! The Koreas are mostly silent, or their speech is an inaudible whispered conversation between co-Koreas. Global Korea is the boss; she’s played the charismatic Telfar Clemens, and she speaks for them all. “We had a meeting,” Global Korea says. “So Lets Have A Meeting!” And the avatars of K-Corea INC.K assembles around a picnic table, outdoors, at night. Having meetings is a habit of the corporation’s inner life, and the word “meeting” has accumulated an array of associations: the conference room, the conference table, the hierarchies of who sits where at this table, a water cooler, an agenda, items, goals, objectives, directives… (Etymology facts: The Old English metan meant to encounter or to find; the “meeting” became an assembly in the sixteenth century.) The way K-Corea INC.K has meetings evokes the contemporary corporate usage while returning the word to its most basic bodily meaning: the simultaneous presence of two or bodies in spatial and temporal proximity to each other. What’s more, at K-Corea INC.K the meeting never ends. This corporation is nothing but a meeting: “We had a meeting. So Lets Have A Meeting!” In the script, when it doesn’t matter which of the Koreas speak, or when many of the Koreas are to speak at the same time, the speaker of the line is given as “Meeting.”

Besides Global the company has a few other very important avatars, including Trecartin as USA Korea, who interviews a wannabe career-girl named Jessica. She’s dressed like the rest but she doesn’t have a Korea name. She’s an intern, an outsider on the inside. She’s a slut: interns are promiscuous, commingling with the corporate body for a limited time, unpaid. “Contemporary Slut!” Mexico Korea (Raul Nieves) rages at Jessica/Cindy. “Every Body’s’ Got the Agenda!” Note the split of “Every Body’s” and think about how a collective is named by indicating its constitution in all of its individuated bodies. And this is important to the business of K-Corea INC.K, which produces a group body that is mobile and communicative and regularly grooms itself by designating its avatars and its Others as hires and fires. This meeting of drag queens and their gofers incorporates—incarnates—corporate corporeality.

And what does “corporate corporeality” mean?? Incorporation is the realization of a dream of a body that can be bigger, more powerful, more durable than a human body—better than the gross animal vessel our spirits carry around. But with the new spirit of capitalism the corporation aspires to be flexible, mutable, and fluid, unlike the old kind of company, the generations-old family business, with its rigid mimicry of aristocracy and sturdily pious Protestant values, its emulation of king’s immortal body. In a time when corporations are people, the incorporated body is more like a real one—or at least the model it sets for how a person should be is gross. The corporate body (or its avatar) lives in a state of precarity, much like the real body is vulnerable to disease and mortality; it leaks, strains, and bulges. It screams at the world and it can’t make sense of itself. It is like K-Corea INC.K.

Look at another Ryan Trecartin video, Roamie View (History Enhancement), from the Re’Search Wait’S cycle. In this one, stock video is a stunt double for the idealized corporate body and it is cut with shots of the weird real thing. Glistening skylines and pristine office corridors of stock footage give way to the plain bodies and grotesquely made-up faces in Trecartin’s own footage. Pseudo-corporate business calls between Trecartin’s players are interposed with stock views of suited corporate employees in a brightly lit office corridor; the speech in the handheld devices gets implicitly compared to the bodies in the office, and both sets of footage are juxtaposed to a tracking shot of a big city’s waterfront, apparently shot from a boat: as the camera moves it shows the glass pavilions and twinkling lights around a port, the node of an international trade network. One thing that all of these pieces of footage share is the color blue. Blue is a soothing decorative element in the stock corporate corridor. Blue illuminates the buildings by the waterfront at night, and blue is the color of the water in front of them. Blue is in the streaky make-up and the cheap fabric of the attire on Trecartin’s players—like the white T-shirt emblazoned with a gridded blue globe that brands the body of the player who wears it with global aspirations. Blue represents water, a substance that enables vessels to be transported from one place to another, a substance that takes the shape of the vessels that it is in. Blue represents the values of fluidity and adaptability; it’s in the branding of Chase and Citibank and it’s the new spirit of capitalism.

So much mobility! And yet—have you ever noticed this?—bodies never move very much in Ryan Trecartin’s videos. (The Re’Search begins with a dance number by the pool—moving bodies, still water—but this is an exceptional scene, not a normal one.) Bodies are meat that sits around—but it sits around expressively! The physical movement in these videos is about gestures and facial expressions: grimaces, turning heads, cocking heads to the side, fidgeting in swivel chairs, waving arms, moving mouths to make words. If people are going somewhere, they’re sitting in cars—and sometimes they’re sitting in airplane seats that have been removed from an airplane, pretending to go somewhere but actually going nowhere, talking into their phones and at the camera lens the whole time. The absence of bodily mobility even applies to the stock footage that Trecartin uses in Roamie View. In one sequence, a man stands with a stoic look on his face; he doesn’t move as his colleagues’ bodies (which are depersonalized as a metonym of the bustle of office life) flow around him. In another sequence, the stock models are all frozen in place as the camera twists around them, exploring the corridor. Bodies don’t move much in Trecartin’s videos yet the videos are characterized by a feeling of constant movement. What makes the movement is editing. Movement is reserved for speech and for technology; bodies move thanks to these things, or as them.

“Neoliberal subjectivity,” the way that bodies behave (are handled) because of (by) the late spirit of capitalism is about subdividing the individual into nameable affinities (Facebook likes, dating profile stats) or competencies (the school assessment report, the HR office review), in order to incorporate bodies as other, more usable substances. Networked social being and bureaucratic procedure reify personal attributes and redefine subjecthood as situational and mobile—but the mobility is a characteristic of the attributes and the tools and technologies that move them, rather than of the bodies they came from.

Bodies become objects of operations. Trecartin, as J. J. Check in Roamie View: History Enhancement, says: “I thought it would be neat and cute if someone took out all the times they say ‘people’ or ‘humanity’ [in the U.S. Constitution] and replaced it with ‘situations.’” Meetings are situations (bodies meet because they are situated in the same area). Situations are states of people. Veronica Gelbaum, as North America Korea in K-Corea INC.K (section a), says: “The New Look for This Company, IS re-Thinking the Word |Humanity| as an Object with a (Goal).”

All of these innovations and disruptions, these subdivisions and operations, are related to everyday techniques of control, but their representation in Trecartin’s videos suggests obsessive-compulsive disorders or cases of borderline schizophrenia. When manifested in the corporate body they are normal and acceptable. But when they return to the individual body they appear as psychic maladies. Recall Melanie Klein’s observation that conditions like schizophrenia, narcissism, and so on are considered psychotic when they manifest in adults but the same conditions are normal stages of infant development. Thus the conditions that are normal to the corporate body appear as psychotic when embodied in Trecartin’s individual players. Trecartin often casts children and teens in his videos, as living reminders of how the body grows and changes—as as implicit suggestions of how the body might grow further, in incorporated bodies, and how all of these kinds of bodies have conditions that inhere in them, and look weird when transported to others, when people behave in a way that might not be suited to their bodies, in order to be part of a bigger one.

Does incorporation MAKE people the way they are? Or is incorporation a manifestation of how people ARE already—of their pull toward the whole? This is one of the antinomies that Trecartin presents, and of course there is no way to resolve it.

People like to say that Trecartin’s work is about contemporary networked technologies. OK fine. But only insofar as these technologies are integrated in the array of social techniques and habits characteristic of human life at this point in time. THIS IS ART ABOUT THE HUMAN CONDITION!! Trecartin’s players hold Blackberries—but they’re just as likely to be hold a sledgehammer, or a flute. Any object implies a use but it doesn’t have to be used in that way.

Any system has an organizing principle, and any organizing principle can be broken. It creates a system of control—and at the same it creates ways of how that control can be defied. (When J.J. Check reads the Constitution he gets talking about how the law can be adapted to suit situations.)

Trecartin’s world is a carnival and it shows everything as it could otherwise be. If a tool can be used to make something it can be used to break something. If a technique is applied to achieve an end it can be applied wrongly, to fail. If telecom technologies enable communication they can also be used to disrupt it. Every ideology opens itself to misinterpretation, abuse, and defiance by any individual. Where there are societies of control there are societies of out of control. Ryan Trecartin knows this and feels this; he likes to play with language and so he knows how any word that means one thing can be misheard, misread, misused, made to mean something else.

Tools, techniques, technologies, ideologies are like language. And in language where there’s a right syntax there’s a wrong syntax; grammar begets mistakes. (Look at how Trecartin tweets: “I publicly believe that cardio clot & your god ends with you.  Let’s go on a hike mudda cutta ,” he tweeted in September 2012.) Moreover: language is the medium of incorporation (and other types of transformation). Language provides the techniques by which one substance can be understood as another one. Even if bodies are separate from language and all the things that are like it—and I’m not sure that they are!—language opens up the possibility that they are not. There are languages and there are bodies, and Ryan Trecartin makes videos about how one makes the other, and the other way around.

What Is Art 3

Guess what. I have some ideas about Jay-Z rapping in the gallery, and I decided to blog about it.

First of all, the question that lots of people raised about this event—“is it art?”—seems irrelevant. Jay-Z is making a music video. He’s making entertainment. Yes, he spent six hours lip syncing his rap, but is it more of a “durational performance” than any Hollywood shoot? Making videos for the entertainment industry is always grueling work; setting this shoot up as a six-hour marathon, with extras and guest stars lined up to take turns in front of the camera, was a good way to get the most people involved while expending the least possible effort. The point of setting the video in a gallery was not to present it as a performance but because art is a theme of the song, “Picasso Baby”: “I just want a Picasso, in my casa/ No, my castle … I wanna Rothko, no I wanna brothel, No I want a wife that fuck me like a prostitute.” This is a standard pop-music wish-fantasy about having the immense wealth that allows private access to rare cultural artifacts among many other luxury items; the desire for ownership and the fact of ownership equal sexual desire and sexual satisfaction, etc.

So the people who counted Jay-Z among Tilda Swinton, Lady Gaga, and James Franco as another celebrity who claims status as an artist asks for respect as such from the art world are, I think, mistaken; I doubt that this was Jay-Z’s wish. But I’m interested in the reactions from these self-appointed gatekeepers. It expresses a vision of the art world as professionalized and quasi-corporate, a regulated environment where everyone occupies a well-defined position, where the bosses can decide who gets to do what, and where, and when. People get mad about celebrities encroaching on the art world–and yet they want the art world to be as rigid as the entertainment industry. Where were they when Kenneth Goldsmith invited poets to give readings alongside artworks at the Museum of Modern Art? Were they mad that the last Whitney Biennial devoted nearly an entire floor to choreographer Sarah Michelson? Poets and choreographers aren’t artists, in the professionalized art-world sense of a person who has exhibited in galleries and museums–the credentials one needs to get an artist’s membership card from a museum. But the art world thrives on ignoring these disciplinary boundaries, because art in the broader, anthropological sense (which includes poetry and choreography and other creative pursuits) is about identifying boundaries and ignoring them (cf. What Is Art 1).

But some boundaries are more interesting than others.

There was something art-like about Jay-Z’s appearance at Pace, and the images of it that circulated, and the opinions they generated. People felt invited to treat the event like art, and they could read it as such because of the ambiguities that the situation presented: art can be a “durational performance,” i.e. a unique and ephemeral experience, or it can be a set of objects to be desired and acquired; charisma can manifest itself in the smoothness of pop celebrity, or in the gravitas possessed by Marina Abramovic and Lawrence Weiner. If you approach the “Picasso Baby” shoot as art, then it is art about the power structures of the art world and the status of the art object–issues that William Powhida and Jayson Musson raise in their comics and comedy routines, respectively, although they address them from the position of outsiders, which makes it charming and sympathetic to art-world kids who identify with them. But Jay-Z and Pace and the other participants (if they can all be called the artists in this situation) address it as insiders, which makes it off-putting, and I think that’s largely what generated the negative feeling that launched a thousand Facebook posts.

I’m going to quote myself. This is from a review of Gagosian Gallery’s 24th St. location that I posted to Yelp, about the Richard Phillips show that was there in the fall of 2012 and featured the painted and recorded images of Sasha Grey and Lindsay Lohan: “At the end of the video the titles said ‘Lindsay Lohan [or Sasha Grey, in the Sasha Grey video],’ then ‘Gagosian Gallery,’ then ‘Richard Phillips.’ Maybe I got the order wrong but it was those three, fading from one to the next. So it was like a commercial but you couldn’t tell what the commercial was for. That’s what made it art, if not very good art.”

Likewise, anything that has a lot of people asking “is it art?” probably is art, or it could be art. But it’s not necessarily good art.

“I worry about reaching outside the camera frame”

Robby Rackleff makes video performances around fantasy gaming scenarios or everyday situations, sometimes both at once, and he plays all of the characters; some characters are more powerful than others, some characters do violence (physical or psychological) to the others, but all of them are played with a faint sadness. I wanted to talk to him about it. “When did you first turn the camera on yourself?” I asked him. “Had you worked with other actors before that? Or do you ever?”

“I think it was in the fall of 2007,” Robby said. “I got to the Mount Royal MFA program at MICA and had a rough start. I was doing a lot of drawing and collage that wasn’t really going anywhere and I decided that it would be a good idea to learn something new. Video was the obvious choice for me since a lot of the artists that I was around before MICA were going in that direction and turning out some great work. I started taping myself for a couple reasons. The first was that I was just trying to get the ball rolling and the idea of trying to schedule a bunch of other people to conform around each others’ free time to make a more complicated piece was too much of a hassle. The other thing was that I was still incredibly nervous performing around other people.”

He paused. “In other words I was impatient and shy and over time I just got used to working that way.”

“I have a feeling that for male artists, turning the camera on oneself is generally a gesture of self-abasement or self-deprecation,” I said. “It makes a kind of loser aesthetics. Does that sound like something you’re interested in?”

“Absolutely,” Robby said. “I am a huge loser.”

“OK,” I said. This made me feel kind of awkward… It was, I suppose, exactly what I wanted to hear, but the way he put it in those blunt terms made me feel bad for asking. Anyway, I kept going, turning it to the specifics of his work. “What interests me about your work in particular among loser videos is the theme of gaming subcultures and how you connect the figure of the gaming nerd to guys in offices, at Subway, or in other everyday situations. What does the gamer mean to you?”

“One set of my videos represents the fantasy, the world of supernatural science fiction,” Robby said “That’s Dark Fortress Occult Master of Space. That’s the adolescent fantasy of comic books and video games. The videos where I dress up in a button up, tie, and slacks are more a stylization of what I perceive to be adult reality: vague and oppressive visits to doctors, awkward forced reunions… They’re both fantasy of course. The fantasy of adult behavior is for me just as unrealistic as super heroes and space travel. That’s something I struggle with psychologically. I’m still playing video games and reading sci-fi comics, but I spend more time wondering about whether or not I should get an Amtrak credit card or buy a new suit than I do wishing I could summon lightning.”

He continued: “There was that article a year or two ago in the New York Times about people my age (early thirties) who are taking their sweet time to grow up… Another way of putting it is ‘redefining adulthood.’ I am absolutely stuck in that situation, but from my perspective I have trouble seeing it as positive or constructive. It feels like the by-product of political and economic largesse and going through puberty during the 90s when America was the unmatched world power. I had so many people telling me to follow my dreams and I did and it got me to the point where I am an adjunct college teacher with no job security and I deliver cakes on the weekends to make ends meet. I don’t blame anyone but myself.

“In this new reality, it’s impossible not to daydream about the world of something like Mad Men or The West Wing in the same way I once idolized Batman and the X-Men. Making videos that mimic these daydreams is really just catharsis. I can spend a long bus ride to work thinking about how great my breast pocket is for storing my MTA day pass and then turn that into Interview. It’s just a way of objectifying wandering adult thoughts.

“There is no one figure of the gamer because there are so many variations. There are those who play for sport, those who play for the social experience of co-operative gaming, those who are just casually gaming on the way to work… It’s like asking what the figure of the reader is. I can tell you this: I’m not personally drawn to the multi-player arena games like Call of Duty or to the more organized team-based games like World of Warcraft. I still respond best to the single-player video games. Part of that connection is based in the fact that single-player games are usually the ones that set technical benchmarks and create milestones for what games are expected to be… Think of Doom, Final Fantasy VII, Half Life, Resident Evil 4, Crysis, Skyrim… These all contributed to the advancement of what I think of as the soul of the gaming technology and its maturation as a medium. There are, of course milestones created by multi-player games—Mortal Kombat, Ultima Online, Second Life, etc.—but when gamers harp on video games as an art form, they usually point out a single player game like Shadow of the Colossus over World of Warcraft.

“This is a long way of explaining how I view myself as a gamer. I was 12 when Doom came out and I was 31 when Skyrim did. Part of me likes to think that the maturation of games paralleled my own rise to adulthood. Most likely, however, we (me and the games) are still stuck in a cycle of adolescent fantasy and coming up with images and situations that somehow validate that.

“I also wonder if you see the characters in your videos as avatars, or characters in games,” I said. “Or are they roles in the more traditional sense of theater? Do you even see any distinction between those two?”

“I see gameplay as more of a performance,” he replied. “I have a real knack for suspension of disbelief and I try and use it to the fullest when I’m playing a game. I try and play games as if I (as in the ‘I’ who is writing this) am in whatever fantastic situation the game sets up for me. In a game like Fallout 3 where you create a character and then make decisions that affect the story and place you somewhere on the good/evil spectrum, I always ask myself what I would actually do given the circumstances. I would like to point out again that I play only single-player games and so the performance of trying to squeeze my own conscience and politics into these rigid game rules is really done for no one else but myself.

“The end result is that I start to have these really intense feelings toward the action of playing a game that requires my decisions beyond where to jump or where to point a rifle. I like to think that the level of emotional involvement I have with my favorite games goes beyond nostalgia, competition, or irony. The characters and situations in videos like Dark Fortress and Guild are tools for communicating that involvement.

“Where do you get ideas for facial expressions and gestures?” I asked him. “Are there certain comedians/actors/cartoons you draw on?”

“When I was a young teenager I was overweight and I spent a lot of time in front of my bathroom mirror trying to make faces and poses that hid that fact,” Robby said. “If Facebook had existed in the early 90s there would probably be a very interesting historical record to back this up. Point is that I did a lot of weird stuff in front of that mirror and got into the habit of having these sessions with myself that, I am embarrassed to say, continue to this day.”

I tried to imagine him at the mirror, grimacing and frowning and looking surprised, but when I did I kept seeing him in one of his videos. That is, I could only picture him on a screen—not in a bathroom. I thought about myself in the bathroom, trying to make a selfie, but my actions in front of the mirror were more about getting the right angle and light than what was on my face. Meanwhile, Robby kept answering. “Those expressions and gestures are limited by the border of the mirror, however, and similarly they’re limited by the frame of my dinky camera (and the monitor that faces me when I’m shooting myself). I’m a big guy and so I worry about reaching outside the camera frame, over the edge of the small green screen I set up in my tiny living room… and that makes my movements tense and (somewhat accidentally) a little subtle. I think my favorite gesture I’ve come up with so far is in the video Interview when I tap my breast pocket. I basically have all my fingers spread except my middle finger is crossed over my pointer finger. Something about the way I hold my hand in that video has an effect on people watching it and I don’t have any constructive perspective on why that is…

“Whenever I watch Spalding Gray movies or videos I feel SO intense. His presence is like that of a superhuman. I am entranced by every gesture he makes and every time he stumbles over a line or stutters. The level of control he appears to exert in all these subtle half-seconds is spellbinding and he is probably the single most influential performer on my work.”

I don’t know who Spalding Gray is… something to look into. “Thanks for these great answers!” I said. That was all.

On Humanisms

In the summer of 2011 I wrote a post for Rhizome’s blog called “It’s Only Humanist,” about the popularity of images of classical sculpture in digital art—a trend that notoriously went mainstream in the fall of 2012, when the visuals of Rihanna’s appearance on Saturday Night Live mixed ionic columns and marble busts with palm trees and Photoshop gradients. “It’s Only Humanist” was inspired by Sterling Crispin’s Tumblr Greek New Media Shit, and also included discussions of works by Nick DeMarco & Nicolas Colon, Oliver Laric, and Aids-3D, with a couple of visual examples from Frank Eickhoff and Sara Ludy; I wanted to consider references to classical imagery across a range of works, with sculpture and installation as well as the software etudes posted to Tumblr. The point I tried to make in the post was that the use of this imagery—and the way it was undermined with software editing effects—suggested doubt or skepticism about the integrity of the human subject within technological networks.

About a year after “It’s Only Humanist” was published Tom Moody wrote a series of posts on his own blog mocking “my” idea that the artworks mentioned in the post continued a tradition of humanist art by appropriating its imagery. That is, of course, a ridiculous idea, and I didn’t write anything of the sort. Perhaps I’m partly to blame for Moody’s misunderstanding because I wasn’t explicit enough; I didn’t want to say outright that these artists ere anti-humanist or “pro-machine.” I wanted to respect the ambivalence of the works, some of which seemed melancholy or nostalgic about the loss of an ideal while simultaneously treating it with humor. (A lack of one-sided clarity is a chronic problem of art writing, because art thrives on ambivalence, and the description of ambiguity often produces bad writing.) But the main problem, I think, was that Moody mistook my post’s title as a literal description of the works I discussed—when it was a joke aligned with the light attitude of the artists toward their source material—and wrote his posts on the basis of that mistake.

The funny thing is that when I wrote the post I had no particular interest in humanism—Joanne  McNeil, who was the editor of Rhizome at the time, was interested in the Greek New Media Shit trend and asked me to write about it—but now it’s become the subject of my dissertation. I’m writing about what happens to humanism in the twentieth century when thinkers feel the need to define the human against (or by) the machine. My central case study is Soviet culture of the 1930s, when vitalism resurged as a reaction to rapid industrialization and avant-garde metaphors of man as machine, but I also want to look at the emergence of anti-humanist philosophy in Western Europe in the 1930s, and try to offer some ideas about what humanism is or can be today. I don’t think the humanisms of the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, with their idealization of the individual (male, European) subject using reason as tool to master the world, are viable or interesting now (and this was a problem in the Soviet situation: the disconnect between the neoclassical values that official culture promoted and the values it needed to build a new kind of state; I’m interested in the weird hybrid values in the artworks that this situation produced).

I’m not planning to say much about contemporary art in my dissertation. I think it’s too recent and unsettled to be an object of scholarship. But in my life outside grad school—in my work as a critic and curator—I’m looking at art that embodies these alternative humanisms, work that sees social media and other networks as potential means of expression for a common subjectivity and explores irrationality, abjection, queerness, affect, and other things that humans can do or have and machines can’t, the things that become important when omnipresent technology functions as a prosthesis for reason and calculation—the faculties most prized by the classical humanist subject. Some examples: Jesse Darling’s formless, ongoing online presence/work that ignores distinctions of public and private experience, or of bodies and work; Ann Hirsch’s treatment of networks as means of magnifying and refracting private desires and opening them up into real connections; Body by Body’s fantasies of physical transformation and degradation that identify bodies with digital media. These are all artists I’ve commissioned for Klaus_eBooks, a series of ebooks I’m organizing. What interests me about ebooks is how the device acquires power over the book; the book is formless, and only temporarily occupies the device’s screen. I see this as roughly analogous to how Facebook leeches power from its users over their self-presentation, or, more broadly, how power has passed from individual subjects to corporate ones in governments around the world. (These assertions are contentious and sketchy, I know; I’ll write more about them later.)   The dissolution of the book’s objecthood appears as a companion to the dissolution of liberal subjecthood—and identification with the ebook’s mode of being offers a possible path toward a common subjectivity that defines the human against systems of power. Greek New Media Shit casts doubts on the integrity of the human subject by undermining the imagery of classical sculpture with glitchy pixel decay, or by decentering it amid a network’s web, or by coloring it with the giddy extremes of the Photoshop palette. In other words, it suggests a breakdown of the ideals of classical humanism by cluttering their aesthetic embodiments with a bunch of digital junk. The kind of humanism I’m interested finds the human—or something like it—within that junk.

“i jus like the posi vibes and happy look”

I wanted to talk to Michael Manning about selfies so I email him. “Do you remember your first selfie?” I ask.

“Not really,” he says. He sends me a picture of himself in a room where the light seeps in through the Venetian blinds on the windows behind him. He’s sitting at a computer and holding his iPhone up to the screen—and seen through the phone’s screen the light is liquid and saturates his own image. His face is neutral and obscured by shadows and pixels. Horizontal lines cut it as light and screen striate each other. “That’s the first webcam I ever posted on dump.fm which is probably close to my first selfie,” he says. “I might have posted selfies on my twitter before that, when I first started taking selfies it was mostly for my outfits, cuz i really like clothes, and i mostly jus twitpic’d em cuz i dont think instagram existed yet lol.”

“When we were at the Microsoft Store at Columbus Circle I noticed you going to dump.fm and posting a selfie,” I say. “And since then when I look at people’s dump posts (I don’t usually go into the live chat myself) I notice lots of webcam pics. Is this a way of logging in? or why do people do it?”

“Definitely,” he says, “usually the first thing i do when i want to make people aware that i have logged onto dump is take a webcam, especially a gross one where im like licking a tub of hummus lol.”

A lot of the time in his selfies Michael sticks his tongue out or flashes the peace sign so I asked him why he does that. “for the good vibes,” he replied. “selfies were a big thing for me on dump, but we didnt call them selfies they were jus cams, and i was a pretty big camboy. i learned really early (like after i posted my second or third cam) that people on dump were going to totally do whatever the fuck they wanted with ur cam pix i.e. overlay a flapping cock on them, make ur head explode, have r.kelly piss on you, whatevz. so cuz of that i basically decided i was going to take the grossest and silliest webcams so it’d be like fun for people to use them for those things, and to also basically jus give up ANY possibility of controlling my personal image, cuz you jus can’t it’s jus not possible. below r some links of good examples of what i mean :))) so like sticking my tongue out was kind of something that developed there out of wanting to jus be silly, and i jus give the peace sign a lot so idk about that lol, now that i realized i do it so much ive kind of turned it into my thing, but ya i also jus like the posi vibes and happy look :)”

He sends me some more images. The first one is dark. His neck is bent back and his eyes are rolled up in his head, his mouth open in an expression of pain or indignation. I wonder if it’s really him taking the photo because his arms seem to be down but I guess his arms are long enough that he could be holding the right one out to hold the phone. In the second image he’s leaning against a cushion on a tiled wall, and I suppose there’s a pool or a hot tub nearby because his face is shiny with water or sweat and he’s not wearing a shirt. He’s visible from the shoulders up, eyes closed, tongue lolling out of his mouth—as if he’s overwhelmed by the heat. In the next one he’s inside, shelves of books and a flat-screen TV on adjacent walls. He’s seated at his computer (which I’m guessing is a desktop), leaning toward the webcam, eyes crossed, tongue out, fingers raised in a peace sign. His hair is mussed and spiky. In the last one he’s back in the tiled room, seated against the blue cushion and holding a laptop. This time he’s using his peace-sign fingers to pull his left eye open, yanking the lids in opposite directions and wrecking the symmetry of his crossed eyes.

“i wonder if these funny faces and gestures are ways to keep it “masc” and make it seem like you don’t care about being sexy or w/e,” I say.

“I guess it depends on how you define ‘masc’ like when i think of ‘masc’ i think of like bros in their tiny bathrooms taking pix with an old nokia phone in the mirror of themselves with their shirt off in basketball shorts and they have the most ridiculous pecs and abs u have ever seen,” he says. “I mean i think it’s pretty obvi in most of selfies that i am trying to look cute, and i do care, but idk i cared a lot less on dump, i guess a lot more cute girls follow me on twitter and insta, so im more inclined to be like ‘yo girl’ whereas dump is mostly like weird dudes and a few cool girls mixed in (not that thats bad i luv dump and my dump frans).”

“When you say ‘cam boy’ what do you mean by that?” I ask. “Is a cam boy any different from a cam girl, besides sex?”

“I don’t think I ever really associated cam girls with sex, aside from things like pay cam girls, which is actually an arena where I think a lot of dudes are present just as much now,” he says. “I mean there are implications of sex and like half of molly sodas selfie gifs are her making a sexy pouty face or lifting up her shirt (on the flipside she posts a lot of great selfies of her being jus gross), but i think girls like that are really more the exception than the rule and most of the sexualization of cam girls has more to do with guys being like ‘damn that girl fine i’d hit it’ than the girl being overtly sexually or flirtatious in her pictures. The majority of cam girls I’ve come across (and this applies to girls who frequently post selfies on insta too) are just posting kind of mundane photos of themselves where they happen to look cute. Whether or not they are trying to feed off, or solicit that male recognition I think is a case by case thing and is diff for every girl.

“I think there’s not really much of a difference between camboys and camgirls except perhaps that camgirls are greeted with more overwhelmingly interested male population of viewers whereas female viewers on the whole don’t really give many fucks about cute boy pics (ann hirsch does tho which is cool js). I think camboys and camgirls like to see themselves, I think there is something more interesting about the process of documenting yourself and posting it than whether or not anyone actually sees it or likes it or favs it. It’s like a self affirming ritual or something, not that getting favs doesnt stroke ur ego a bit :)”

“But don’t you think girls do like boy selfies, they just don’t fav or comment so much because they don’t want to seem thirsty?”

“i think that could be a big possibility,” he says. “it’s funny because i dont really understand why a girl would be afraid to admit she likes how a guy looks for fear of being slutty but would then like post a slutty pic of herself trying to get favs from guys u know?

“also i think lately more girls have been like open (if you calling faving cute selfies open) about it, i’ve jus noticed a lot more girls faving my selfies and like some of them are flirt favs and some are like a group of girls ive always been friends with that like selfies like jnet ALWAYS favs my selfies hahaha”

He pauses for a second, then continues. “another thing is that i don’t necessarily think about selfies or cam girls as a sex related thing because most of the pics i end up being into are really more about the attitude of the girl taking them than like her looking really hot in the photo, the fav definitely still comes attraction but its a little bit diff than jus like ‘oh damn she sooooo hot’. Best examples of this are definitely jesse darling and al bedell, they both post a lot of selfies that really don’t hinge on them looking really hot (not that they arent hot, they def are), and in some of them they look down right haggard but like jesse’s attitude is always really strong, almost as if she has jus finished kicking the shit out of someone lol, which is hot to me, and usually Al’s have this insane tinge of black humor that is just fucking amazing and unparalleled.”

“what’s the best selfie you ever took?” I ask.

He sends me an Instagram of him looking into his iPhone and taking a photo in a mirrored Ellsworth Kelly piece, a round thing with a narrow curve at the center, like a palette. Tom Moody is standing beside him, his hands on his hips as if he’s impatient, his body bisected by the indentation of the work. Michael says: “im really proud of this selfie because its def the only selfie in existence that features tom moody.”

To end, I ask: “how does your social media presence (your selfies) relate to your art? if you can think of a simple way to put it, or just some general thoughts.”

“i don’t want to be taken too seriously,” he says. “i mean i like art right, and its cool but people take it way too fucking seriously and i think my overall brand is very lighthearted and kind of jus like ‘fuck it man, lets chill and goto the beach bro’ and i think both my art and selfies reflect that”

What Is Art 2

I don’t think games are art. I don’t think games can be art. This isn’t because I think one is “good” and one is “bad,” that one is “high” and one is “low,” or one is “elite” and the other is “popular,” etc. I really don’t care about those binaries. What I do care about is how games and art operate as social objects. I’m interested in how people engage with them, how people incorporate them in their life. And the ways in which this happens for games and for art are very different—and I don’t think it’s useful or interesting to lump them together under more general rubrics like culture or play. Understanding the distinctions between them is also important because it produces a vocabulary for discussing the special instances when a game has the properties of a work of art, or an artwork has properties of play.

Games have rules. Games are rules—the rules are what gives them form. Gameplay is what happens within the rules’ structure. A game can be repeated limitlessly, and each iteration of play is unique.

There are rules in art too, after a fashion, but they are rules in a broader sense: the rules of how perception is organized, the rules of how relationships are formed and recognized, rules that are more like the ones in grammar than the ones in a game. What makes art special as a social object is that art points to a set of rules and also to how they might be broken, to what lies beyond the domain of those rules. Art is special because it reveals many possibilities of meaning, which it does by simultaneously revealing rules and revealing how things could be otherwise, whether those rules pertain to the relationship between church and state (i.e., Pussy Riot) or to the relationship of lines to a plane (i.e., Agnes Martin).

Works of fiction that follow a set of rules are classified as genre fiction—mysteries, romance novels, thrillers. Paintings that follow a set of rules hang in hotels. Working with the genres and mediums of art while adhering to formal rules produces entertainment and/or decoration. Again, this is not a dis—it’s a distinction! People need entertainment and decoration as much as (or more than) they need art. I just want recognize the differences of those needs.

I suspect that a lot of the guys who insist that games are art (for the purpose of defending them against charges of sexism or making them seem Important or whatever) are the kind of people who think that The Matrix or The Lord of the Rings are art, when in fact those are entertainment. They’re good entertainment, because they push against the conventions of their genre (The Matrix) or invent the genre (The Lord of the Rings, though this is an invention that depends on the rules of folklore’s archetypes), but these pushes remind the audience that the rules are there and their presence gives comfort and satisfaction.

Perhaps the main distinction between a game and a work of art is in the uniqueness (or variability) of form, and how that limits (or enables) audience engagement. A game is unique in each of its iterations, whereas the artwork is unique in its creation. If not physically unique—if it is a poem or a novel or a video or a photograph that can be reproduced—it has a limited form that generates the experience of the audience’s encounter with it. A game’s rules generate the form of an iteration, and that form is unique.

When John Cage introduced elements of chance to music and ceded some of the composer’s decisions to performers, he injected properties of the game into the composition and performance of music—he made something that had certain rules that would be unique with each iteration (to a greater extent than that to which any musical score is unique each time it is played). But by retaining the framework of the audience, the composer, and performer Cage remained within the realm of art. His artistic gesture was to indicate the rules of the artist’s control over the artwork while also indicating how it could be otherwise.

Jason Rohrer is a game designer whose games include Chain World, a modification to Minecraft that can only be played by one person at a time, and which upon completion must be passed along to another player who is willing to accept the rules, and A Game for Someone, a board game constructed from titanium and buried in a desert in Nevada that (Rohrer hopes) will only be found and played hundreds or thousands of years in the future. These games are about limiting how, when, and by whom the game can be played—Rohrer is making games but he’s imposing limitations on them that are close to the limitations inherent to the work of art. A game can played by anyone who knows the rules, and by concealing the game and the rules Rohrer indicates this truth while also indicating how it could be otherwise. As a result, these works of Rohrer circulate primarily as stories or legends among people who haven’t actually played them—and this reminds me of the performance pieces Tino Sehgal, which aren’t documented and are passed to performers verbally, without written instructions.

I admit that I don’t know a lot about the world of indie game design but from the outside it seems like more and more designers are trying to expand the idea of what a game can be in the way Cage tried to expand the idea of what art can be. Games and art fit in certain social context (i.e., the home and the museum, respectively, to name two) and so the areas that are ripe for crossover between them—the places where art can be the most like games—are performance and net art, where artist/game designers can work with the modes of bodily contact or network contact that have been used in both games and art. It will be interesting to see how these new works negotiate between the satisfaction with order that comes with gameplay and the fascination with the mysteries of meaning inherent to the experience of art.

“i really value the personal context around art provided by social media”

A Q&A with Steve Roggenbuck about selfies in anticipation of his forthcoming book, if u dont love the moon your an ass hole: poems and selfies:

Q: I don’t know if you think about things a lot when you tweet them but I’m wondering if you could look at these tweets of yours again and say a few words about why they feel true/right to you:

A: these twets are funny to me because most ppl would say that selfies are nottt providing value that makes the world a better place and are nottt the point of life. i do feel that my selfies are providing value, but its still not nearly the “main point” of lief to me, and not the main way i see myself making the world a beter place. so there mainly to be funny, which is, a form of value that makes the world a better place !!

Q: Your new book is subtitled “poems and selfies.” What do you think putting these two things (categories, genres, whatever) next to each other says about your poems? alternative question, what does it say about your selfies?

A: i really value the personal context provided around someone’s conventional Art (in this case poems) by social media. when u encounter my work online, you dont just get poems, you get my personal updates and images of me, you get my web design and all. it contextualizes the poems and enriches the whole experience, you get my whole personality or at least what i want you to perceive as my personality. you get a more holistic message about the kind of person i am, and if u are influenced by me, you get many more ideas of ways u can be like me. many of my poetry friends and followers have considered veganism more seriously because im vegan and i occasionaly post about it. so the selfies are one tool among many in the ‘personal brand’ toolbox, they help convey my style, my overall ~vibes and personality.. and as a part of that whole, they are very valuable

Q: Isn’t writing in first person basically like taking selfies? or, what can a selfie do that a poem can’t?

A: they are similar yes. selfies are a faster way to convince someone that u are cute

Q: Do you miss MySpace. Did you puts lots of selfies on your MySpace profile? were you taking selfies before you started making videos?

A: yes i miss myspace and i had selfies on myspace. i think we r blessed today with many platforms that are helpin to fill the gap tho, tumblr twitter and instagram most of all. these platforms are providing free and accessible spaces for the youth to express themselve’s holisticly as a personal brand. i think its very fun and awesome that ppl get to express themself in such rich ways.. for example a Tumblr blog, can include original content in so many formats and curated content by others in so many formats, both updated ANYTIME u want, and a visual design, an “about” page, an “ask”/message feature where people can ask u questions and u respond. such a rich space to develop a sense of who u are, what youre about, etc… and the tumblr dashboard, the content feed, is just like, kids are checkin this thing for hours every day, its like the new TV, but its not created or controlled by ad executives, its created by OTHer kids with tumblrs.. with social media we are collectively creating what our culture is… we are living in a very beautiful era in these ways

Q: I just watched your lecture on Boosting Theory & Praxis, and unless I missed it you didn’t mention selfies in it. Do selfies boost and if so, how?

A: one of the most guaranteed ways to boost someone else is to like/fave all their selfies. thats the most direct connection i can think of right now. also like i said about personal brand adding context to art works in general, a selfie could add a context needed for a different post to have more significance /boost to u maybe

Q: here’s a philosophical question for you to ponder: do you take selfies because you’re hot or are you hot because you take selfies?

A: i wish it was entirely the second, but i think both, and i think maybe, you take selfies because you perceive yourself to be hot. ppl are more prone to take selfies when they feel they look good. “o my hair looks good today,” boom, selfie. we are all actively creating these representations of who we are. it’s always been that way, with clothes choices and how u decorate your home, etc.. but this is on another level. i think mostly it’s positive, i think we have an ideal vision of ourselves, and we try to align reality with that vision. i think that is very powerful. this is a lot of the true power of stuff like what im doing, in my opinion.. if i can get a couple hundred/thousand more people to feel like its cool to be spiritual, like its cool to be excited about life, and i start to affect their ideal vision of who they are, then its gonna start to change who they really are. and thats gona effect positive change in the world

Catweb, Dogweb

{NOTE: I wrote this text for the zine that accompanies “The Cat Show,” an exhibition organized by Rhonda Lieberman for White Columns, on view June 14 – July 27.}

1.

I will tell you about a gif. A small dog—a wiener dog—and a cat are sitting on their hind legs, facing each other. The dog reaches out with his paw and strokes the cat’s chest. “Oh, you have such nice fur, cat!” says the dog. (The gif has captions.) “SO NICE!” The dog continues to stroke. “AND FLUFFY!” The cat lifts a paw and places it on the dog’s chest, firmly enough to push him back slightly and force him to put both his paws down for balance. “Dude,” says the cat. “Fuck off.”

Cats are hermetic. Cats observe quietly. Cats keep their distance from strangers.

Dogs want to know everyone. Dogs are joyful. The love of dogs is abundant.

Cats love but they take their time with it. The kisses and caresses of cats are rewards for intimacy and for care.

Dogs want to kiss everyone. Dogs want to know the smell of every ass.

Cats are private animals. They stay inside. Even outdoor cats of the suburbs tend to mind the boundaries of their backyard.

Dogs are public. Dogs have to go outside. Even if they have a backyard to run around in they still want to go for long walks. They want to go to the park; they want to frolic among strange people and strange dogs. They long to immerse themselves in the scents of strange asses.

2.

There are two ways of using the internet—Catweb and Dogweb.

Catweb is secretive. Catweb is password protected.

Dogweb is: “Who can see my stuff?” “Everyone”

There are hardly any people whose use of the internet is exclusively Catweb or Dogweb. Most people use both. Most people LIKE both, even if they prefer one to the other.

Catweb is email, Catweb is Gchat. Catweb is lurking on Facebook. Catweb is a locked Twitter account.

Dogweb is liking on Facebook. Dogweb is leaving comments—”great post!!!! lol”. Dogweb is #TeamFollowback

Catweb is stalking people on Facebook. Dogweb is adding them as friends. Dogweb is stalking people so openly that it’s not even stalking anymore. It’s sniffing.

3.

Cats and dogs are popular on the internet–in both Catweb and Dogweb. People love to share videos of them both by email (Catweb) and on Facebook (Dogweb). People love to follow blogs about them and look at the pictures (Catweb), and they like to make the pictures themselves, or write funny words on them, and hope a lot of other people see them (Dogweb).

A cat can become popular online by embodying the essence of Catweb. For example, Grumpy Cat. She looks like she dislikes everything she sees, observing everything with an aloof distaste. Her mouth turns down at the edges. The shape of her ears and brow suggests a permanent scowl. Grumpy Cat is not really grumpy, say her owners in the FAQ section of http://www.grumpycats.com. It’s just her face. But people love that face, because it makes Grumpy Cat, a real cat, look like how Catweb feels.

Nebula Dog is the cosmic essence of Dogweb. Nebula Dog is a variable collage by poet Steve Roggenbuck, the foundation of which is a picture of the head of a golden retriever against a background of an astral cloud. A big smile splits the dog’s face; his eyes are half-closed in stoned-looking contentment. Roggenbuck puts captions on it, and he’s made the template available so others can make Nebula Dog say different things. “I”M HIGH OFFFF LICKIN HAND”S” Nebula Dog says. “im gona pput a cats paw in your ass hole,” Nebula Dog says.

Nebula Dog is a certain kind of collage: the image macro. An image macro is a picture of a human or an animal with funny words on top, and the captions are meant to be taken as the speech of the figure in the picture. The most famous image macros are pictures of cats—lolcats. The image macro preceded the lolcat but the lolcat made it famous. The original lolcat was the gray kitten who half-turns his face upward with an expectant grin. “i can haz cheezburger?” he asks in the caption. This is a hungry cat, a cat of desire. This is not a cat of cool diffidence. This cat is totally Dogweb! Most of the cats who are popular on the internet are not ones who embody Catweb (e.g., Grumpy Cat), but rather cats who embody Dogweb. People love the thrilling friction of the Dogweb cat!

Grumpy Cat’s antithesis is Maru, a Scottish Fold from Japan with over 185 million views on YouTube. Maru is famous for sticking his head in paper bags and leaping into boxes. He sees emptiness and he wants to fill it. He sees a hole and he wants to make it whole—he longs for completion. Maru is big like a dog, with a broad, dumb dog face, and his attitude is totally Dogweb. Even in his limited domestic environment he is fascinated by all the strange things and wants to immerse himself in them. His domestic world is the whole world, and at every moment he wants to be close to every part of it, to meet every part of it and fill it with his being.

Nebula Dog is a Dogweb dog but the best dogs to look at online are Catweb dogs. Catweb dogs are cool, aloof, self-contained. Tillman the Skateboarding Bulldog—crouching on a skateboard, propelling himself forward with a hind paw, deftly avoiding the pedestrians on the boardwalk and otherwise ignoring them—is totally in control. He’s focused on the task of the present and doesn’t care about anything else. He’s a Catweb dog. Eyebrow Dog—his face pulled back so folds of skin gather at the neck, his nose slightly upturned, his brows drawn on to exaggerate a smug expression—is a Catweb dog. Golden the Guitar Dog listens to a man playing guitar. He bobs his head in time with the rhythm. His tongue is out and he’s smiling. When the guitar stops Golden abruptly shuts his mouth in a frown and goes still. But when the music starts up again he grooves again. Golden is chilling but he knows what he likes and he doesn’t put up with nonsense. Very Catweb!

These dogs are great. But there is no dog equivalent of Maru.

Dog memes are popular but not nearly as beloved as lolcats.

Dogweb cat > Catweb dog

Why?

4.

The cat sits on the keyboard when I’m trying to type. The cat sits on a magazine when I’m trying to read it. These surfaces are filled with meaningful signs for me but they’re nothing but surfaces for the cat.

Pets live in a human world, withdrawn from nature, but the definitive essence of our world’s artifice is invisible to them. The surfaces marked with the signs that fascinate humans are blank to them. Pets can’t read surfaces. But we love to see them on surfaces—on screens, on calendars, on greeting cards. And we love to see videos of the rare pets who respond to surfaces—the dogs who watch cars moving on TV, or the cats who bat at animated fish swimming in an iPad pond.

Mira Gonzalez, a poet, tweeted: “i want to pee on a lot of things, which would be problematic if i was a dog bc dogs pee on things for ownership & i don’t like owning things” I actually don’t think it would be problematic. Dogs don’t think of owning things like we do. Maybe for dogs peeing is like writing. For dogs, peeing is like sharing something on Facebook. It marks an affinity to the peed-on object but what matters more to the dog is that the affinity is public, the affinity is known to other dogs. Gonzalez doesn’t want to own her tweets; she just wants to make them appear on other people’s screens, where people will read her words and recognize her affinity to them. She wants to emit her words in public space of Twitter, like a dog that shits and pisses in a public park.

Dogweb language is abject language.

The language of comments and tweets, the teen language of texting… This is writing that it is an immediate ejaculation from the body. It is writing that doesn’t have to be subjected to the strictures of editing or the mechanisms of the public sphere that safeguard the purity of written language.

Kitty Pidgin—the language of lolcats, the language of Dogweb cats—is poorly spelled, poorly punctuated, unsophisticated. It’s a writing as sloppy and as ephemeral as speech. Like comments, tweets, and text messages, it’s a kind of writing that occurs and recurs like the gestures of bodies, the movements of bowels. It leaves traces in a public space, but on a screen rather than a fire hydrant. It happens in the intimacy between a person and her computer, a person and her phone, but spreads to all the other surfaces of signs. It is like a cat that becomes like a dog.

The Dogweb cat is privacy that empties into publicness.

The Dogweb cat signifies letting go of a private world. The Dogweb cat signifies releasing the self from the safety of privacy and from privacy’s limits. It erases the significance of the bifurcation of public and private, internal and external. It relieves itself of worry and immerses itself in social being.

If cats can do this then humans can too.

 

 

Thanks to: Bea Fremderman, Mira Gonzalez, Ann Hirsch, Faith Holland, Alexandria McCrosky, Gene McHugh, Steve Roggenbuck, Stephen Squibb, Monica Yi

8==>

I don’t have a LinkedIn page but if I did it would be filled with dick jokes.

When you get a LinkedIn page you get a LinkedIn Body—it’s you, reconstituted as a linear aggregate of achievement. A LinkedIn Body is made of the ways in which you’ve made money. A LinkedIn Body makes you into money—the contacts and connections are the lubricants of your professional mobility, and you, as a LinkedIn Body and a product on a networked market, are easily exchangeable, measurable in value. LinkedIn contacts aren’t people; people on LinkedIn are contacts. The LinkedIn Body doesn’t sweat or piss but it does shoot out bots—via email—to invite more contacts. The LinkedIn Body is a vessel that incubates new connections in the big collective networked body of LinkedIn.

The LinkedIn Body is promiscuous, and its promiscuity is purely professional—professionally pure. The LinkedIn Body is clear and flowing, transparent, flat, eager to link in to networking opportunities, to register presence in the mobile zones of white-collar labor. The LinkedIn Body is shaped like a slender strip of netting—the more connections it has, the longer and stronger it gets. Its health is measured by its number of contacts. Its orifices are hermetically sealed but its fingers branch out, offering a slim handshake in all directions. Its arms flex the clout of its connections. Its mouth is impenetrable; it shows a tight mesh of white teeth that circles the whole head, its gleam pinging back the query—Are we connecting?

I don’t want to have a LinkedIn Body and this is why I don’t have a page on LinkedIn. This is why, if I did have a page, it would be filled with dick jokes—to poke holes in the fabric of the LinkedIn Body, to peek through its undone flies, to be reminders of the real, pissing body beyond bloodless LinkedIn one: 8==> HI !!

The LinkedIn Body’s look persuades follow professionals that it never has funny thoughts about dicks. Or if it does it keeps them hidden, just as—on the streets or in the office—it conceals its dick in khakis. The LinkedIn Body’s dick fucks its wife and doesn’t try anything funny. The LinkedIn dick—encased in pleated khakis—only shares its funny dick thoughts in an AFK location like a men’s room where the only ones who can hear them are a couple other LinkedIn dicks who can be trusted not to perforate the condom of integrity encasing their LinkedIn dick buddy.

What does Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, have to say about this? “You have one identity,” says Zuckerberg. “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

What Zuckerberg is saying here is that he thinks we should all have LinkedIn Bodies. No—he thinks the LinkedIn Body should be the only body we have. Co-workers—no, “work friends”—might as well be the only people you know. LinkedIn makes everyone a “contact”; Facebook treats people the same way but makes them “friends.” Friends are friends, kin are friends—you can identify husbands, wives, siblings, cousins on your profile to single a few people out as more than friends but they still count toward your total number of friends. And Facebook connects you to hundreds of friends. Facebook dresses up the strangeness of LinkedIn Bodies in the gooey warmth of friendship. But in spite of that it still shapes bodies as flat, grasping, eager—monstrous.

What does Chris Poole, founder of 4Chan, have to say about this? “Google and Facebook would have you believe that you’re a mirror,” says Poole. “But in fact, we’re more like diamonds.” He means we have a body that’s not a LinkedIn Body—but we have to hide parts of it at times. We’re like diamonds, he says, but Poole’s diamonds oddly reflect light from only one facet at a time: a facet for Facebook, a facet for 4Chan, more facets for other places. “Anonymity is authenticity,” says Poole. “It allows you to share in an unvarnished, unfiltered, raw and real way.”  The truest facet is the hidden one—the dark side of the moon.

4Chan is a community of affinities of what the LinkedIn Body holds in privacy—a water cooler in the dark. 4Chan lives in symbiosis with the LinkedIn Body. It is the private parts of social media, or a glory hole for them. On 4Chan the dicks aren’t in the khakis. They’re out there! It’s the faces that are clad—in Guy Fawkes-type masks.

Both Zuckerberg and Poole are interested in preserving the social status quo through online communities. If one of them is radical it’s Zuckerberg, who wants to eradicate privacy and make public life—professional life—the whole life.

Zuckerberg’s “integrity” and Poole’s raw and real authenticity are spatial conceptions of selfhood derived from the liberal ideal of the subject—an autonomous agent within a bounding line, acting consciously and consistently as the embodiment of principles. Mirrors or diamonds, the pictures of the self that Zuckerberg and Poole like have hard, definite edges—inorganic and discrete.

A LinkedIn identity—Zuckerberg’s integrity—accommodates growth and change but only along a linear path. The change allowed is change in the sense of professional development, or the stepwise movement down the drop-down menu’s options from “single” to “in a relationship” to “engaged” to “married”—it’s better not to muck around in the grab bag below! Facebook’s Timeline tracks life as a chronicle where, when viewed retrospectively, one thing led to another with the inevitability of linear progression. It disposes with the narrative possibilities of biography that can be open to contingencies and the past possibility of other stories, other paths. The Timeline, like the pruned achievements of the LinkedIn page, is a bounding line, delineating people as agents within a nicely rounded public sphere.

But the remarkable thing about social media is its potential to undermine old conceptions of selfhood, by making space for a record of utterances and images of the body that are immediately public and visible, revealing change and the contingency of selfhood is an unvarnished, unfiltered way, as Poole might say. Social media turns the public sphere inside out, collapses and deflates it—the private mingles with the public in the leftover mess. Zuckerburg would clean up that mess by vacuuming the private parts—my dick jokes!—and discarding them; Poole would like to sift the public from the private and glue them to facets of diamonds to keep them apart. But what’s wrong with being real and raw without anonymity? What’s wrong with the real and raw abject dreck of bodies (selves) being with and changing with one another? “You have one identity,” Zuckerberg says, and he’s right—what he’s wrong about is the shape of it; what he misses is its shapelessness.

You only live once. You have one self, one body—and the contact of your self with the world is bound the position of its body in space in time. But singularity shouldn’t be mistaken for stability or solidity. Positions in space and time are always changing, and the self and the body—though one—are always changing with them, always changing with others. Authenticity is bound up in ideals of stability and consistency, but real and raw authenticity is the truth of change, the reality of multiplicity within singularity, the contingency of life.

Life is what happens around LinkedIn but LinkedIn makes it look like the bit of life it records is the one that matters. Facebook adds a film of friendliness to make it feel like LinkedIn living is all there is to life.

Lots of people feel good about their LinkedIn Bodies; lots of people are fine with Facebook.

Lots of people out there hate Life.

***

APPENDIX: Sample CV

1984: Made applesauce in pre-school; teacher said not to put plastic knife in mouth; put plastic knife in mouth to eat a tiny bit of apple; cried, not because cut self but because disobeyed. Skills utilized: Yielding to temptation, crying

1994: Viewed mother’s emaciated corpse. Skills acquired: Skepticism toward medical knowledge, indifference regarding death

1997: Saw therapist weekly; therapist said I only had to talk to him if I wanted to; sat through all sessions in silence; therapist said I didn’t have to keep coming. Skills utilized: Skepticism toward medical knowledge

2000: Did not have sex in twentieth century. Skills acquired: None

2005: Slept with friend’s ex; made people angry. Skills acquired: Rudimentary understanding of emotions associated with romantic relationships

2006: Invited friends over for a small gathering; three guests arrived early and proceeded to have threesome in my bed; tried to get them to stop but could not until other guests rang the buzzer; one of the sex guys ran into bathroom naked and vomited in tub. Skills utilized: None (someone else cleaned the tub for me)

2007: Black eye obtained when beaten by Miami Beach police officer. Skills acquired: Don’t spit at cops even when repeatedly asked: “Do you have AIDS?”

2012-present: Took many selfies. Skills utilized: Social media optimization

Look Away

Last year Constant Dullaart made a video, Crystal Pillars, about leaving Facebook behind. It was edited from footage he’d taken with his phone over the previous few years, with a voiceover that mixed introspection regarding his own feelings about Facebook with some found texts: the prospectus from Facebook’s IPO, a statement by Mark Zuckerberg, the “About” section from Klout’s web site, tweets by Lil B. Crystal Pillars was shown in 2013 at the Rotterdam Film Festival and at bubblebyte.org, an online exhibition series. I didn’t see it in either of these contexts but Constant had sent me the video by email in the fall of 2012 and I watched it then.

For the most part I liked it. I liked the imagery and the editing. I also liked the open, confessional nature of the first-person text and the strangeness of its contrast to the found excerpts collaged with it. I was excited by the personal turn in Constant’s work, which has always tried to identify the traces of human presence in information technologies, but usually does so in an aloof, generalizing way. Take his series of “internets,” the tweaks of the Google homepage—the default gateway to the internet for so many people—that remind us that even though the page is white and blank as if it came out of nowhere, the default is not nothing; it’s a setting that someone chose to put there, and as such there is a flexibility and vulnerability to it. The Revolving Internet spins end over end as users try to navigate it. The Disagreeing Internet waggles in the browser window as if shaking its head no. The Censored Internet changes every character to an X. The Sleeping Internet dims and brightens to the rhythm of a sleeper’s breath, suffusing the coolly empty site with a human warmth. These give a personality to a web site, they make it weird in ways that only people can be weird. The default is already designed to be open and understandable to everyone, and Constant gives them traits that anyone can imagine—though more human than the default, they still have the generalness of the default. There is nothing particular about them.

In other works Constant has featured his own body, if not himself (his self)—like his performances that mimic the DVD screensaver, where he moves the logo to the edges of his webcam’s frame, and Poser, where he adds himself to group photos of strangers that he found on Facebook—but even then the work is not about him, it’s about his transformation into a generalized human presence.

I like Poser a lot and it’s probably my favorite of the landmark net-art works that address social media group photography (others worth mentioning: Guthrie Lonergan’s Internet Group Shot and Daniel Chew’s Cropped). The aloofness feels right in it because it means he’s not putting himself above the strangers in the found photos—he’s embodying the distance felt when encountering pictures of strangers and it’s something that’s easy to relate to. As in the series of internets, feeling is generalized, yet it’s still more effecting and vital than a template or a software setting. But in Crystal Pillars the generalizing feels wrong, because the video is largely about Constant’s personal experience, and the attempt to generalize obscures that. The voiceover text is read aloud by Henna Hyvarinnen, who was his intern at the time. She wrote parts of the text, based on interviews with Constant; Constant wrote the rest himself, and compiled the collage. The single voice partially smooths the differences between the cut excerpts—but not fully, because besides the various styles of writing the voice itself is ragged, with awkward pauses, sniffles, stumbles, and mispronunciations. I liked how the audio track included mistakes. It was unlike videos by Constant’s peers (Oliver Laric or Harm Van den Dorpel) where the text is read by text-to-speech robots or hired voice actors. But I didn’t like how it was a woman who carried the burden of the voice in its abject, imperfect physicality. It seemed sexist, especially when all the texts were written by men, except for one that the voice itself—the intern—had to written to vocalize for Constant.

Besides the phoniness of personal branding and the affective labor that goes with it, Constant’s criticisms of Facebook targeted the atmosphere of the “perpetual high-school classroom” and the feelings of jealousy and competitiveness that it exacerbates. I identified these as Constant’s personal experience of using the site, based on conversations when he’d told me about this. I suppose it’s a common experience but it’s not something I personally feel so I can—personally—attest that it’s not universal. And that’s the source of the contradiction that I think undermines Crystal Pillars. On the one hand, Constant is trying to deliver a critique of ironic distance and packaged personal connections. Yet the artistic methods used in the creation of the audio track replicated the social media conventions of the commodified self that mask vulnerability, weakness, doubt. I think it could have been more honest and effecting if he had recognized the particularity of his own experience and related it in his own voice—and let his audience chose how to identify (or sympathize) with him.

I’ve never given artists suggestions on changing a work but I wrote him an email to tell him all this and urged him to re-record the audio track with his own voice. Constant defended his choices and argued for them and left the video as it was, which is what any artist should do.