A Major Research Project submitted to the McMaster University Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree Master of Arts in Communication and New Media.
This was another rewarding exercise for my New Media Studio grad program. I’ve never done a sustained series of self-portraits, and being challenged to do so caused me to ponder how to compose these perhaps in a critical and new way (at least for me).
We had been looking at a lot of “selfies” so I decided to take more “anti-selfie” approach: instead of up close, I would far away from the camera. Instead of relying on the gesture of a raised arm with a camera pointed back at me, I decided to use a remote shutter release with a cord. Instead of framing the environment to be about me and my dominance of it, I wanted my presence to instead be awkwardly inserted into environments where people were busy doing other things.
What I call “Intervention Selfies” was born.
I made an 11th meta-selfie with some of the other selfies I did not use. It’s pretty funny – can you find all the me’s? Do you really want to?
This is the 3rd performance intervention at the arts festival in Hamilton, Ontario and perhaps my last here.
My recurring character for these enactments is the Consultant persona – a outside critical eye from an outside theoretical framework, and not always welcome. This series of my work is not meant to settle as part of a landscape (the Consultant may describe the same concern as “becoming a monument”) but a slight affront to it, and three times in the same context is probably approaching a demystified state of local cultural interpretation.
The first intervention was a interpretation of the local concerns of gentrification of an area, and took the form of evaluating the worth of gallery spaces, but outside of considering the cultural worth but the physical shape and other detached values. The second was in collaboration with a poet and performance artists and we adopted a social theory induction approach that was more aloof of our immediate surroundings, but drawing our “data” from it.
This, the third time, was based on my earlier concerns about the presentation of the role of the visual arts as a brief form of entertainment in a carnival context that would lead to expectations of public art’s function as almost purely theatrical. I reject the notion that art is entertainment, and worry about the political economy interpretations of art as function for entertainment. This is the crux of the criticism.
To enact this, I designed the performance to skirt around the edges, the fringes, of the festival as a sort of walking “Salon des Refusés” of the curatorial process for these kind of brief public constructions of precious arts funding. Being a closed ecosystem for artists outside of property owners and the jury, all others participation of serious contemporary creation are, by definition, an intervention.
I’ve been interested and incorporating elements of popular myths into my performance interventions for well over a decade now, starting with UFO mythology as embraced in the group performances of The UFO Research Group collection (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto). The Consultant incorporates common reports of behaviour and situation as reported in Sasquatch reports.
Specifically, some of the elements I am researching through this practice are:
1. Just outside of civilization (the border of the art festival).
2. An aloofness; a sense of purpose, value and priorities unknown and unknowable to the observer (projection my own “art” onto objects that do not normally warrant close or equal scrutiny).
3. A reaction of confrontation, hiding, and moving away into darkness, i.e the bush (hiding in doorways, behind signs).
4. A reliance, a faith in, a tertiary media (social media, photos, oral retelling and interpretation) to substantiate the documentation of the event.
I am happy to report it worked – someone told me of the “creepy guy” they saw. What a great opportunity to find out why! I learned from him it was my “odd” behaviour and the confusing costume (he couldn’t see “where the face was supposed to be”) that prevented meaningful interpretations based on the immediate cultural / ceremonial context.
In other words, I was out of place and not cooperating by providing instant meaning in an entertaining, accessible way. I was creepy. Most people keep their distance. I’ve had groups follow me for awhile, almost as if they are waiting for something to happen. Sometimes I get trapped by a group of people circling around. Believe it or not, sometimes people get really mad and confrontational when I don’t acknowledge or interact with them. You’ll see an example of this in the video below.
This time, I incorporated a catcher’s mask with an iphone displaying an animated swirl (as did my papered (bureaucratic) costume). These are “null” symbols – the swirl is universal enough to be without any set cultural meaning other than usually meaning something. They broadcast an intent, but not my meaning. They aren’t meant to as tools to decode, but to establish questions in a public sphere.
I had a second iphone mounted on the frame in front of my face, but this one was with the camera facing outwards and recording whatever I was looking at. It was very shaky and poor quality – perfect media for an imperfect experience. I wanted to document the experience of being … different in a crowd. The quality of alientation and intrusion are very present, I think. I’ve included a three minute clip. It’s very shaky, grainy, inconclusive and heavily processed with anti-shake and anti-wobble algorithms – just like a number of media fragments surround the Sasquatch mythology. Thanks to my support team, Jen and Cedric.
Here’s a sneak peek at the 2 editions of 25. These are part of my generative optical series of group functions in public spaces. These two are “anon protest 1” and “anon protest 2”, and feature a march as landscape and the police presence as another landscape. Confused yet?
There is precious little information on the back to identify me as the artist, but the title, date is there and I hand initialed and numbered them. I’ll be leaving them in various places along James Street N through out Friday and Saturday, hopefully without anyone seeing – you know, the anonymous reference in the title – and I truly don’t expect many if any to survive beyond a quick glance and then thrown out. But maybe, just maybe, someone will find one and search for info on the net and find this post … Please let me know if that is you. Bonus: finding one of each edition for a complete diptych.
P.s – yes, part of the text on the back is censored. I won’t explain any further but to say it acts as another layer adding statistical improbability to decoding this work entirely. Also looks kinda cool.