Making art out of tweets
By using GPS, Geolocation shows where Twitter feeds originated
Wed, Feb 9, 2011 (5:41 p.m.)
Artists Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman collaborate long distance (he from Baltimore, she from Rochester), and distance of every shape and variety is a key nuance in their collaborative investigations. Contemporary, networked modes of communication become raw material in work that looks at gaps between real and imagined connectivity. Although operating from separate locations, Larson and Shindelman often use place or geography as a common denominator, both for themselves and for the viewer, so that a physical location (or at least the image of one) serves to ground an experience rooted in the virtual.
Their current project, Geolocation, generates from a brief but potent beast: the Twitter feed. Larson and Shindelman follow the tweets of strangers while noting the GPS location of the posts, embedded into the application. Using this universally accessible geolocation, the artists pair the text of the post with a photograph of the spot where the post was made. “My husband says I have to return to the real world and help w/the household chores,” for example, is the caption for an image of a cluttered windowsill. Eighteen of the C-prints are on view at the Contemporary Arts Center, where the collection of images attempts to personalize the Twitter experience.
The theater of social networking, the grand charade of building a persona online, is minimized on Twitter. With only 140 characters, a tweet has the potential for spontaneity and danger. It is less highly orchestrated, more off the cuff, emotional and reactionary.
The site of each correlating Twitter post, as photographed by the artists, has a mysterious banality. Odd angles, secret corners and flying rooftops add up to a series of images that, for the most part, highlight fairly unremarkable locations (an empty field, a loading dock). And there isn’t a soul in sight. We experience the location through the eyes of the artists, if indeed we are really seeing the actual site at all. Our perspective is entirely framed through their perception of the location and the relationship between the physical place and the virtual post, however poetic or plain.
There’s a lingering sadness to Geolocation, and it occasionally feels like a one-liner. But the artists remain neutral, even while fielding difficult questions. What is the relationship between internal thought process and external environment? Is there one? Are we aware that we are willing participants in the rapid erosion of our privacy? Is society in general retreating from real human intimacy?
The viewer is placed uncomfortably in the position of the person tweeting. It’s an apt metaphor for the act of posting itself—our thoughts hurl through data feeds into a vast unknown without the comfort, or disappointment, of an understanding eye or a compassionate hand.