A New Dimension of Performance Art

This piece was originally published in LUNA magazine

In 1938, Orson Welles sparked panic when he broadcast a series of fake news bulletins announcing the end of the world.

The radio broadcast was an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. In an atmosphere of tense pre-WWII anxiety, Welles tapped into his audience’s fears.

In the early 20th Century, wireless radio was the most immediately accessible medium, a way for information and culture to be broadcast directly into (sometimes panicked) listeners’ lounge rooms.

Now, there’s an overflow of information coming at us from every direction.

Radio and television have become secondary to the information sent and received instantly on the internet.

With changing platforms, artists are changing their practices too.

In 2011, British artist Ed Fornieles set up a series of fake Facebook accounts for students at the University of California, Berkeley.

The fake profiles were used as a performance piece, tracking dramatic romances, wild parties and eventually a drug scandal.

Fornieles inhabited the Facebook account of the school’s star ‘jock’, while the maths nerds, goth kids and drug dealers were ‘played’ by his friends.

Described as a “Facebook sitcom”, Dorm Daze was largely improvised, escalating every time someone posted a new photo or status update.

Fornieles says the piece had a life of its own. He told Art News:

“It was like narrative on crack—it kept escalating. As an artist, that’s what I’m interested in: that moment in which a piece just takes off and mutates in ways you could never imagine.”

Artists can now use social media to aid in that mutation. No longer something that hangs on a gallery wall, waiting for art appreciators to view it, net art engages directly with the public by appearing as part of everyday networks.

New York-based Italian artists Eva and Franco Mattes, working under the alias 0100101110101101.org, explore the possibilities of online art. The pair have staged a number of dramatic performance pieces online, with viewers often becoming unwitting participants. In an interview with Phaidon, the Matteses reflected:

“In most of our works there is a first phase in which people are not aware they are part of an art piece, they get involved in a very spontaneous way. We often incorporate their reactions in the final work. Once the piece is revealed, it’s presented as an artwork and people became aware of its nature. We try to reach a broader audience than the usual art crowd. Our ideal audience is the neighbour next door. Our hope is to get genuine reactions, and in order to do so we must involve people when they least expect it.”

In 2010, the Matteses created an online performance called No Fun. You can view it at their website, but please take caution that although the piece is staged it contains graphic images of suicide.

In the piece, Franco was hanging from the couple’s Brooklyn apartment ceiling. A webcam was set up, connected to Chatroulette. On their website, the duo describes:

“Eva was shooting a video with all the reactions. Some laugh, some are completely unmoved, some insult the supposed corpse, some take pictures with their phones. Only one calls the police.”

Franco and Eva told Phaidon they were shocked by the internet public’s reactions to their piece:

“We liked the idea of a performance, taking place online, for an unwitting audience, and wanted something people had to react to, something extremely real, like death. Thousands of random people watched while he was hanging from the ceiling, swinging slowly, for hours. The video documentation of the performance is a sequence of reactions: some laugh, some are completely unmoved, some insult the supposed corpse, and some take pictures with their mobiles. At one point a person started masturbating. So while we expected our “performance” would shock the viewer, we were the ones shocked. Maybe it turned us from authors to spectators.”

Last year, the couple compiled videos of the reactions of volunteers who replied to their online call to watch “the worst video ever.” The original video has since been destroyed, with only these second-hand reactions archived.

An interesting feature of net performance art is that pieces often use social media platforms, before proceeding to subvert them. As audience behaviours and expectations change, artists follow the trend, some turning to the internet to stay relevant.

Social media users become a huge potential audience for net art. But more than just a way of tapping into a new array of artistic participants, net performance art shines a light on the evolving, sometimes fascinating and sometimes disturbing, ways the digital public interacts with art and with each other.

via Art News

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