Written by Zhaoyu Zhu
Mark Ghuneim’s twitter streaming artwork is a collection of video installations curating the twitter texts, the uploaded images, and emojis under a real-time condition. These installations are under different themes, including politics, fashion, and societal affairs. Through querying the data from some representative Twitter accounts in each theme, and intercepting their recent Tweets into a video streaming flow, these video artworks try to capture the interactivity within the social media in their narration. Huhtamo (1992) argues that a participatory art can be a “metacommentary of the state of interactivity”. He defines the metacommentary as “an art practice which continuously demythicizes and deautomates prevailing discourses and applications of interactivity from the inside utilizing the very same techniques for different ends.” In my blog, I want to use his concept of metacommentary to dissect these artworks, to extrapolate how they assess the interactive condition of various mediums detailedly.
From the aspect of video/cinema, this collection of media artworks cannot be considered as an uncontaminated cinematic work. The videos are fused with the characteristics of the other mediums. As Balsom (2009) suggests, “the media convergence allows for a rethinking of medium specificity in favor of variable and multiple medium specificities” (p.412). Although these artworks are uniform amalgamations of heterogeneous mediums, they still maintain the specialized discourses of these mediums. In my discussion, I will focus on the real-time narrative of documentary and the surveillant interactivity of twitter, coexistent in this collection of artworks.
THE REAL-TIME NARRATIVE OF DOCUMENTARY
In these videos, the informational components are automatically edited under the unseen operation of background computer programs. Such components are functioned to objectively represent the societal affairs, popular trends, and current phenomenon, which actually exist in the reality. Basically, these techniques give us an impression of documentary, which objectively records the society in a real-time paradigm.
In the history of documentary, the real-time narrative can be traced back to the appearance of the direct cinema. Leacock (Quoted by Cagle, 1991) argues that “the direct cinema filmmakers sought to observe and to respond to the events, to make an uncontrolled cinema. (p.50) ” In Chris Cagle’s analysis, he generalizes that the films of direct cinema always “leave an open argumentation and loose structure in its editorializing juxtaposition of actual scenes, to let spectators observe and interact”(p.55).Then, the real-time narrative was remediated into television. News reports, live broadcasting, and television documentaries all absorb the real-time paradigm into their narration discourses. Marie-Laure Ryan (1993) dissects the real-time narrative of television into three aspects, and elaborates on how the spectators participate into the interactivity with these aspects. The first one is chronicle. It enumerates a series of events to satisfy the spectators’ curiosity of what has happened in reality. The second one is mimesis. It confers presence to the flow of events and enables spectators to constitute a mental picture to participate actively in the events. The last one is plot. It is a global design allowing spectators to recognize why these events can be juxtaposed. (p.140)
Ryan’s analysis of real-time narrative also can be applied into these artworks. I want to use one of these works, the Hotness, to exemplify the application. This artwork is a streaming video juxtaposing the pictures of many beautiful and erotic female bodies through intercepting them with the hashtag “hotness”. Firstly, it chronicles the publicly acceptable image of beauty through the enumeration and accumulation of the pictures of the female bodies which have been commented as “hot” in Twitter. Then, the mimesis is constructed through the appearance of some images of currently popular celebrities, such as Gigi Hadid and Kim Kardashian. These iconic celebrities enable spectators to be aware of that this artwork authentically and substantially reflects the actual popular trend in its topic. Distinctively, this artwork dilutes and minimizes the sense of plot. There is no linear narrative or global plot above the flow of images. However, the artwork emphasizes the sense of theme, which is clearly expressed by the title, the hotness, stationarily superimposed above the changing images. The theme of hotness is dissolved globally into every picture that the artwork selects, urging spectators to articulately acknowledge the theme itself.
Compared with the real-time narrative in most documentaries, a distinguished characteristic of the Twitter streaming artworks is that they give us the sense of “now” instead of the sense of “past”. Although the real-time narrative of documentary pretends to amplify that it represents the current condition, the medium of documentary indexically abandons “the present tense” due to the pre-selected materials and the pre-edited flow. In contrast, the information flow is generated currently in these interactive artworks. The clock on the corner also emphasizes that the time in the artworks is synchronous with the time of reality. In fact, a questionable trait is that the artworks do not show the published time of the information. If there is no any recent information published by the users whose messages the artworks continuously intercept, or there is some hysteresis in the background interception program, some information will appear repetitively. The occasional loops question the “present tense” of the artworks. Generally, the interactive participation in Twitter becomes the creation of the artworks. The real-time interactivity of social media proves that the artworks intend to immerse the spectators into the state of recentness. Although spectators can find that the information is not published at the time that the clock manifests, they also can distinguish that the information is published recently.
THE SURVEILLANT INTERACTIVITY OF TWITTER
Another direct impression of these videos is that they become another accesses to Twitter, in place of web browsers or mobile applications. To make the viewing experience more similar to using Twitter, the interface of these video installations still maintains some basic language of Twitter, including the names of users’ account, hyperlinks, and the @ sign. However, these videos do not contain most fundamental functions of Twitter, such as publishing or reposting. They just leave spectators to observe the Tweets in an only-read mode. The spectators are the passive receivers of the information flow appearing on the screen. They cannot be allowed to participate in the interaction which generates the flows of information. Thus the spectatorship becomes a state of surveillance.
Actually, surveillance is an important feature in the interactivity of Twitter. In Dhiraj Murthy (2012) ’s sociological analysis of social media, he points out the inequality between the Twitter users and their followers. He finds that the Twitter users have the ability to follow the other users whose messages they want to receive. but they cannot determine who can receive their own messages. Thus the communication in Twitter is non-bidirectional. (p.1061) When a message is published on a user’s private account, it can be publicly seen by any other Twitter users. The non-bidirectional interactivity gives users the privileged and superior vision of the Big Brother, to have a broad and dynamic surveillance over many private accounts who cannot perceive that they are constantly monitored.
This video collection is curated in an exhibition called “Public, Private, Secret” in the ICP museum in New York. This exhibition aims to explore new ways to delineate the relationship between public and private expressions under the influences of the visual creations and the online activities. These artworks correspond with the general aim of this exhibition. It tries to emulate the state of surveillance which blurs the private sphere and the public sphere in the social media. Moreover, these artworks also can be interpreted as the actions of translation. From the virtual environment of social media to the real environment of the gallery, the surveillant state is translated from a virtual relationship between users and followers to the corporeal relationship between spectators and screens. In my opinion, such translation is more evocative in the gallery. In the virtual environment of social media, the state of surveillance becomes an overlooked, incognizable experience. Users cannot be aware of the condition that they monitor the others. However, in the public space surrounding these artworks, the sense of surveillance is readily evoked in the spectatorship. The artworks place the spectators in front of a monitor-like high-definition screen, which emulates the environment of a CCTV control room.
This blog is an attempt to assess the collection of Twitter streaming artwork as a metacommentary of the multimedia interactivity. Although these artworks are composites of various mediums, but the medium specificity of them also can be recognized in its narration. the real-time narration discourse is inherited from direct cinema documentary as well as many live-broadcasting television programs. The state of surveillance is a vivid emulation of the non-bidirectional communication of Twitter.
Balsom, Erika. “A Cinema in the Gallery, A Cinema in Ruins.” 2009.
Huhtamo, Errki. “Seeking Deeper Contact: Interactive Art as Metacommentary.” 1992.
Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Narrative in Real Time: Chronicle, Mimesis and Plot in the Baseball Broadcast”, Edited in Narration, vol.1. No.2, pp. 138-155. 1993.
Cagle, Chris. “Postclassical Nonfiction: Narration in the Contemporary Documentary”,Edited in Cinema Journal, Vol.52, No.1. pp.45-65. 2012.
Murthy, Dhiraj. “Towards a Sociological Understanding of Social Media: Theorizing Twitter”, Edited in Sociology, vol. 46, No.6. pp.1059-1073, 2012.