Me Not Me
As I write this, my Twitter account (@ManBartlett) is being piloted by 9 different people. Eight artists and one arts administrator, to be exact. I am willingly locked out of the account, and currently there is a rather ominous “countdown” that started at 100 and is ssslowly winding its way down to a fate unknown.
There were no rules other than that the nine were asked not to change the default email on the account, and to not read my DMs. Besides that, anything and everything is fair game, including deleting my account. Which could happen at any moment.
Considering how much Twitter and @ManBartlett have become a part of my life and career, I am a little unnerved to say the least. So much so that a few days after this experiment started I created a Fake Man Bartlett account so that I could respond to, and subvert, “myself.” I also missed following the people “I” follow. Funny enough, the account was temporarily suspended due to excessive use. That irony is not lost on me.
I am also currently tweeting as @resunlimited, which is a big part of where the initial idea came from. I started that virtual residency a couple months ago and have been using it as dedicated time to consider notions of identity and individualism as related to artists and social media.
And to further complicate the experiment yet another Twitter account, @AlsoManBartlett has recently cropped up. This one I have nothing to do with (dead give away is the misspelling of my last name).
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Great! Why am I writing this?! Well, over the past two and a half years I’ve created probably somewhere close to 20 “performances” that have used Twitter in some capacity. I put “performance” in quotes because I’ve never been fully comfortable using that word to describe what I do.*
These 20-ish projects have become increasingly burdened by a self-imposed expectation of how to use the “medium.” I suspect that a portion of this burden is a biological function that also exists in many humans, wherein we attempt to create order from chaos (which is probably related to the denial of our own mortality). However I suspect a large portion is a result of the pressure to establish oneself within a contemporary art context via a mostly predictable product. Put another way, I’ve been crafting my brand identity.
Some artists are content to just keep making the same work over and over. For their entire careers/lives. Provided you are able to get the right encouragement and support, it is one way to create a market for your work. A market that collectors, curators, galleries, museums, etc., can “quantify” and use to “value” your work. To contextualize it. Increasingly, I do not identify with these artists. I am not content to paint the same model in more or less the same painting for years upon end, solely to build a market tied to a manufactured (and ultimately arbitrary) dollar amount. Some artists believe that the art they’re making is “worth” what we might have to go through in order to “get it out there.” I’m not sold on that. Many of these artists I’ve found to be pretty delusional. One of them is my father. But that’s a subject for another long-winded post.
Further, I am not striving to create a legacy. Not striving to be known as Man Bartlett, the guy who does whatever (e.g. 24-hour Twitter performances!). That, in my opinion, is for an older generation. A dying generation. A generation that often had people in singular, life-long careers. While there is fiscal and maybe emotional benefit to a certain type of consistency (e.g. my drawings), I’m also of a generation of rapidly dematerializing nature. And not a Relational Aesthetics type of demateriality, but rather a sort of digital demateriality. One in which our identities are wrapped up in the virtual representations of our identities, and of the virtual actions carried out by these identities. I’m sure more academic writers have covered this territory at length; feel free to post links in the comments. One that comes to my mind, and which is thankfully mostly readable, is this essay from a few months ago. In many ways, turning over @ManBartlett to nine people to run and/or potentially destroy is a “bold social risk,” as discussed in that essay. And in one sense, this post is an effort to undermine @ManBartlett before (or if) any of the nine, decide to delete “me.” There is also a big part of me that wants to delete @ManBartlett myself, and either leave Twitter, or transition fully into @FakeManBartlett. This remains to be seen, and is at least partly out of my control.
To be clear, I am not walking away from art that uses social media (whatever that really means), or all the work I have done over the last few years to get here (wherever that is). Rather, I am seeking to recontextualize the framework within which I approach it. At its core, what has always attracted me to creating work within various platforms are their accessibility. The audience I’ve been lucky enough to cultivate is far more encompassing than what might be perceived as a more elitist or privileged art world set. The relative democracy of the Internet makes this possible. However, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned by the cost of these “free” platforms that the work is created with/within. They are not, in fact, free. I recently wrote about some of this in an essay about deleting my Facebook account. And now Twitter is on my mind (and some other people’s too). So much so that I am willing to risk literally countless hours over the last few years for the chance of finding a new perspective that better enables me to envision and/or create new work. Work that is unpredictable, but undeniably and unmistakably “mine.” With or without “@ManBartlett.” It’s a wild ride, it’s messy, and impossible to curate.
A few parting thoughts:
Death to numbers.
I would love to see a social network that doesn’t show any numbers. No follower-counts, number of likes, reblogs, +1s, etc. Instead, user posts are aggregated collectively. Interactions are (somehow) weighted differently, thus giving us another method of experiencing them. That way we would have the opportunity to rethink what we post. I for one have found myself being more likely to post certain content knowing that it might acquire a certain amount of interaction (thus raising the dopamine levels in my brain ever so slightly). Again, there are probably a billion startups trying to do this; post links at will.
This. Inspiring where my new work is headed.
Sign up for it here. It’s fun. And entertaining. And it’s email. My goal is to make you happy about email again. Remember like 20 years ago when you got an email and it was a big deal? Like that. It also has more lasting potential than probably any social network.
I’m committed to this performance this weekend for the Wassaic Project. Look for it on Twitter and Instagram under the hashtag starting Friday. The project is missing something I can’t quite put my finger on yet. Anyhoo, if you’re into it, follow its development this week here.
I’ve recently changed the pronunciation of my last name to “pineapple.” It is still spelled B-A-R-T-L-E-T-T.
Ok thank you, and sorry for the verbal diarrhea. A lot going through the old system these days.
* In fact, there are a lot of words and terms that I’m not comfortable with when talking about my work, not least of which is the phrase “social media artist.” Even though I’ve used those words to describe my work (and other convenient letter assemblages), it’s mostly to fill space that people are desperately looking to have filled.
The problem is, as a method of communication, written and spoken language is often remarkably limiting. Yet we have invested an inordinate amount of time using and defending it. Especially when we talk about “Art.” And here I am, using it now to attempt to define, and UNdefine my “practice.”