#Don’t F
 Twitter Art

07/06/2011 4:00 AM |

Twitter art bums me out. Fine, it’s a new medium that we don’t know what to do with yet, but it’s receiving a growing amount of attention and most of it is bad. Between Creative Time’s Twitter artwork commissions and a recent ARTnews feature on social media, there’s enough conversation on the subject to start the complaining. Let me lead the way.

I’ll begin with painter and veteran online news maverick Joy Garnett’s self-described social-media performance #LostLibrary. In spirit, the concept is generous: each day Garnett gives followers a chance to pick up a curated selection of free books she no longer has space for, tweeting the address and an image of each new Soho location where she’s left them. Problem is, it’s not very compelling. The different locations don’t do much more than produce a set of average documentary photographs, and Garnett’s claims that #LostLibrary pushes against the online music and book industries that often prevent sharing aren’t particularly persuasive. Yes, there’s a personal touch to the curation and selection of locations, and books are great for sharing, but we knew all this already. Art that does little but shed light on the pre-existing qualities of objects deemed relevant by the artist sets a pretty low bar for activism.

Though I doubt Garnett conceived #LostLibrary with the notion that it would transform our relationship with digital licensing—reaching a few people at a time by spreading awareness is a much more manageable (and fashionable) model right now—I wish it were more imaginative. This is a problem for much social media art, which while refreshingly clear in intent—statements written by artists working with social media are actually a joy to read—often lacks the creative juice that defines truly great art, and privileges meaningful exchange instead.

An Xiao, a social-media artist receiving growing attention this year, is a consistent offender in this respect, using her projects to engage people in relentlessly banal ways. It isn’t intentional: in a project titled “The Artist is Kind of Present” recently profiled in ARTnews, she asks participants to sit in front of her as they would in Marina Abramovic’s famous stare-off performance, only this time they tweet! Predictably, as evidence of merit, ARTnews quoted Xiao’s account of a conversation made significant by its middlebrow depth. “One woman told me stories about her first child and I asked her about how that felt and she was very forthcoming,” she said, “We never actually spoke but we had a very intimate conversation.”

Fine, but I can’t help being skeptical of art whose success is measured in relationships—after all, we make plenty of those on our own. The social conditions here are mostly irrelevant, making this project and others like it part of a growing worst-case-scenario movement for Relational Aesthetics. Unlike Nicolas Bourriaud’s original description, in Twitter art alternative visions for interaction are never proposed.

Whatever the weaknesses, Xiao still shares one quality nearly every successful Twitter artist needs: endurance. The reigning champion on that front is Man Bartlett, a young artist (and former AFC intern!) who carved out a niche for himself staying up all night tweeting in a single location. Most recently, he performed the like for Creative Time Tweets, asking passengers in the Port Authority bus station “Where have you been” and “Where are you going.” Like many of his Twitter projects, the bulk of his tweets reflect standard use of the medium: most are chitchat, peppered with occasional moments of hilarity or seriousness. As Bartlett’s performances demonstrate, even more so than other media, Twitter art requires complete immersion to attain any kind of success because it’s about cumulative experience. But that’s a suspect accolade, too. As gallerist Jen Bekman recently tweeted,”Persistence, so often mistaken for achievement.”

(Pictured: An Xiao; photo by Alan Lupiani)

10 Comment

  • Thank you for this. I’m open to anything being art but have been particularly turned off recently by the amount of ink Xiao and Bartlett have been getting as of late. Their practice is nothing more than “look at me” art that in no way specifically relates to or addresses the medium (twitter) they are using. Why 24 hours, why share with me your encounters, why blow up balloons, why morse code, why a red carpet event. Come on guys. All I’m seeing is art that latches on to other peoples art and with a very weak spin on it.

    Twitter is just a tool. A tool used poorly is still just a tool, not a movement.

  • They’re getting the ink because they’re friends with the writers who are friends with the writers. Same shit, different day.

    I do like how Man uses twitter to increase audience participation in his performances, however.

    From the previous commenter: “All I’m seeing is art that latches on to other peoples art and with a very weak spin on it.”
    Thank you.

  • All great Art makes us experience the world differently. To have an original idea is a rarity. To transform a medium which was created simply to tell your friends where you are and what you are doing into an artform is a creative act. Evidenced by the initial excitement on many of the Art blogs the first tweeted performances were an original use of the medium of Twitter. As with any form, whether painting, sculpture or Twitter, every effort won’t produce a masterpiece. The newness of the experiment of social media Art guarantees mixed results.

  • As is often the case for writers, I didn’t come up with the title, so I can’t claim the provocative title as my own.

    Anyway, if I thought the verdict was still out on these artists I would have never written this piece. Emerging art should be allowed, to well, emerge. But I think each of these artists is receiving enough attention that at this point criticism will do more good than harm. The work in the medium is maturing, so it’s important to talk about this stuff.

  • I don’t know the other artists’ work well, but I do follow Bartlett closely. Although he bills his work as Twitter-centric, he tends to incorporate ustream video feeds, tumblr promotion & documentation, etc. The work is more reliant on the web-at-large than he likes to admit, and I think that’s an important point when discussing art that bills itself as platform-specific. I think it’s fair to say that when there’s an online platform with public support, someone’s making art on it.

    That said, we can look at how the artists are using the platform vs. intended/possible use of the platform in our critique. If you’re trying to make a point about the platform, you should say something without having to complicate/leave the form. If you’re trying to use the platform as a language to express something, demonstrate why the form aids your exploration. I can see why artists would use Twitter for performance, but I have yet to see anyone – with artistic intentions in mind – dig into the meat of why Twitter is an important method of discourse.

  • Wow. Bo Bartlett, father of Man Bartlett, defends criticism of his son’s completely over-rated, not ready for prime time art. I thought I had seen it all…I guess not.

  • Still haven’t seen anyone use twitter as deftly as Petra Cortright on her 2008-2009 twitter injuries log. http://twitter.com/injuries Every other project on twitter that i’ve seen feels sterile, calculated, and unnecessarily academic in comparison.

  • @JMB: Injuries is pretty great.

    @amazed: I don’t know, I think it’s a very human thing to do, and really kind of sweet.

  • OMG, thank you! Between the near constant coverage of Xiao’s “work” (let’s face it, she can use technology and talk.. alot) and Bartlett’s…persistence, I was beginning to wonder if people were really THAT willing to accept laziness in art making these days. These “tools” are so easy to use, it takes no skill. “The artist is kinda present” was a teenagers interpretation of Abromovic, that anyone with half a brain “got it”. I am not saying “twitter art” or whatever you wanna call it can’t be good. But please, be genius if you are going to be anything. As it stands, this is just boring, art world drivel.