All images are my own. Used with permission from Hester Lyon.
There is a sense of pride in accumulating events on Facebook.
A quantifiable claim to social capital.
An accessible, clickable dose of self-worth.
Endless exhibition openings, book launches, academic lectures, and artist talks fill the virtual calendar. Conveniently subordinated to the category of ‘INTERESTED’ (or perhaps ‘dis-interested’ would necessarily complicate the futility of this action), these events become reminders of self-preservation: an ode to non-commitment. ‘GOING’ would prove far too committal. It would too closely align the real and the virtual self with the autonomous click of a button. It would propel you into a pool of professional envy: at once distant and close.
There is rarely an intention to actually go. Or to even try and convince anyone else of actually going.
As Geert Lovink identified in his essay ‘What is the social in social media?’ “social networking is experienced in terms of an actual potentiality: I could contact this or that person (but I won’t).” It is a potentiality that maintains the façade of professional hyperbole. The administrative reminders become personal reminders: to keep up, to maintain ambition, to cultivate envy, to be harder on oneself.
[I hope to become the professional peripatetic; the perfect student; the future self.]
‘GOING’ connects the online self and the real self.
‘INTERESTED’ conveniently suspends them.
Accumulating ‘interesting’ events on Facebook is a genuine project towards the cycle of personal expectation and subsequent failure. The project of professional betterment both welcomes this disappointment in oneself and acknowledges its capacity to stifle success.
[My Facebook self is my future self,
my better self,
my more ambitious self that disables pride in my actual self.]
In a lecture at New York’s Artists Space, cultural theorist and contemporary art critic Suhail Malik defined a similar logic of contemporary art’s self-sabotage.
Malik problematizes contemporary art’s future by exposing it’s idealist obsession with betterment, removed from its actuality. In an attack of artist Dan Graham’s definition of the artist’s dream to do “something that’s more social, more collaborative, more real than art,” (Bishop, 2012, p. 6) Malik critiques the institutionalisation of contemporary art’s ambition and failure.
In an argument for a return to the present, Malik declares “art observing its maxim condemn its current actuality in order to recover its better self.” The harmful personal outcomes of such a fixation on the future dream are no more poetically interrogated than in writer Heather Havrilesky’s advice column Ask Polly.
In a recent edition titled, ‘How Can I Make Art or Write When So Many People Expect So Much Greatness From Me?’ , Havrilesky appeals for the return to the creative process of making, rather than a fixation on future outcomes, for self-preservation. This is not a proposed fetishization of the present (which would further perpetuate the instrumentalisation of a future) but the acceptance of what already is. It is a plea to let go of, what Havrilesky perfectly phrases, the “escape fantasy” to accept creative fulfilment in the process of making, doing, seeing, reading, listening, and asking.
[I accept the impulsive, endless accumulation of ‘INTERESTED’ events in my Facebook calendar as definitive of this process.]
The ambitions of contemporary art are the same as human anxieties: to fixate on what we will become, on what will be more social, on what will be more correctly political. Just as contemporary art institutionalises its own ‘maxim’ (as Malik defines it), Facebook institutionalises our own expectations and failures. The indeterminacy of the institution (for Malik, contemporary art; here, Facebook representing contemporary art) enables a secret operation of power: the power to dictate professional self-worth. An operation perpetuated because its users allow it to.
But no matter how digital our experience of art seems to have become, a shallow commitment to attending exhibitions is a reminder of the importance of experiencing art in situ. It is a reminder of the boundaries of architecture to provoke critical engagement. It is the potential transcendence of physicality. Because the overwhelming boundarilessness of the Internet is given form in the gallery. A deep cynicism for the Internet’s capabilities (validated more often than it should be) is humbled by the experience of interacting with objects and the conditions of their display in real time.
The gallery should be the architecture for contemplation – solemn, violent or otherwise. The gallery should be the architecture for actuality not escape.
The power relations of administrative structures, of audience demographic, and of art historical precedents are not readily attained with the impulsive click of a button.
[The exhibition event, a vital and necessary tool for marketing becomes a vital and necessary tool for self-sabotage.]
Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, London: Verso Books, 2012.