I'm a multi-disciplinary artist living and working in Brooklyn. Posting what I make and what I see. Also: manbartlett.com
I’ve had such a busy few months that I haven’t been able to make enough time to go deeper into why I’m doing some of the things I’m doing. And even though my schedule (gratefully) is staying full for the near future, this post is the beginning of an attempt to further describe/contextualize my performance practice, through the immediate lens of our most recent creation together. It’s a lot wordier than how I usually roll online, but, well, there you have it.
First, thanks again to everyone who participated in making #24hEcho what it became. Especially huge thanks to PPOW and The Hostess Project for the space, support, and general coolness, as well as to Olya for helping set up.
Over the course of the 24 hours of the performance we had 648 “unique” viewers (over 1K total), an average of 21 viewing at once, and a high of 52 at one time (at the end). For complicated reasons, an exact number of tweets/messages may be impossible to obtain, but I estimate around 2,000. I share these numbers in part because I’m surprised by how big they were, and also to thank the anonymous folks who chose simply to watch without making me say anything. I was looking at you too. :)
There was such a wildly diverse mix of people involved (see * below for some examples). There were random non-artworld people saying more or less pretty stupid/banal things, there was a sort of new agey crowd offering pearls of wisdom, a handful of art world folks, family, and friends (who would fit in any combination of the above). At times people were battling themselves, at times each other, and at other times they were battling me. Occasionally people used my voice to blatantly promote themselves or their causes. And regardless of what they were having me say, I was repeatedly reminded of the power of the spoken word. In particular I especially dreaded reading messages that were overly rude/degrading/offensive/cynical/misogynistic/etc. Simply because many of them were so antithetical to my nature, and I felt as if by speaking their words I was supporting their worldviews as my own. Thankfully those tweets were few and far in between, and were often followed by people with more positive/constructive offerings.
I was also surprised to see how different people chose to engage in the role of the identity of the speaker. Some people had me addressing their friends or children, some assumed my identity, and some referred to me in the third person. Part of my hope with this performance was that people would interact with each other in unique ways, using me as their channel. There were times when this was happening in exciting capacities, and other times when the whole experience was about as dreadful/mundane/maddening as I could have imagined. In hindsight, it was all a blissful madness.
To be blunt, I often execute these performances to figure out why I’m doing them. An initial concept strikes me, intuitively, as something that I/we *must* do. And as I/we are doing them, the bigger reasons are often made evident by what the audience is providing in real time. Recently what’s been rising is an examining of identity, through process, in the following forms: Physical, virtual, social and personal. For example, for my recent #cleandream performance for the Escape from New York opening, I was engaged in unannounced “cleansing ceremonies” for visitors while I had a third party tweeting as me the entire time. My Twitter voice was willingly hijacked. This enabled “me” to be in two places at once, doing two very different things. The Twitter stream during that time was mostly inconsequential, while the actions being performed with people “IRL” were pretty intense and highly personal.
In the case of #24hEcho, I reversed the roles and acted as a platform for virtually anyone to speak through me with whatever nonsense/mediocrity/genius they had. It can also be viewed, in part, as a response to the very anti-democratic Marina Abramovic performance “The Artist is Present” (which I discussed here). Instead of one person sitting across from me, there were a whole lot of you. And instead of just staring back, I repeated you. There was no line except for the few seconds you had to wait before sending your next message. It existed in physical space as an installation in a gallery, yet the experience was predominantly a virtual one.
In addition to the duration, part of what made the work so challenging was to actually stay “present in repeating your words.” Even more challenging was staying present during the time between messages. Ever-present to those who were watching but not actively participating, to the “silent majority” (as PPOW employee and artist Aaron Zimmerman put it to me shortly before I began). In this context what “presence” means to me is being actively engaged in the experiences happening both within and around me, in the “moment.”
…What I’m driving towards is a performance art that embraces new technologies (specifically social media) while drawing inspiration from the seemingly disparate worlds of post-minimal, conceptual practices. Eek, loaded/potentially irrelevant art terms, I know I know. But they might help contextualize what the heck I’m up to. Or not…
Ok, Whew! That’s all for now.
* Below is a partial list of memorable tweets, broken down into categories. For the next few days you’ll be able to see the search here (unfortunately a lot of great tweets were excluded from the search return, for various reasons. If you know anyone at Twitter, I’m looking to get a hold of them).
And this protected tweet: “may you channel brighter thoughts and deeper meaning”
Humorously Self-Promotional (editor’s note, also wonderfully self-aware!)
There were a TON of people tweeting music lyrics and/or tongue twisters. I found about 95% of them really, really annoying at the time. I’m over it now. One person kept going on (and on) about the Bill of Rights. Which ended up having an interesting point about freedom of speech. Someone created a Cuckoo clock bot that would tweet every half hour with the 24hEcho hashtag. Brilliant. And lastly, guess which famous artist’s name I totally butchered! That was one of the more embarrassing moments, of many, that included names and places I totally couldn’t pronounce. Justin Bieber being another gem. I had literally never been around anyone who mentioned his name out loud! Ahem #outoftouch. Tangentially related is the fact that many years ago I was diagnosed with mild dyslexia. I can read in my head just fine, but out loud it comes out funny (because I have to switch the order of letters/words from the way I see them to the way they should be spoken). It leads to sometimes awkward deliveries, and I’ve always been really self-conscious about it and usually sweat a lot. This performance was one way to explore that in a very public, yet still removed way.
P.S. If you’re still with me, you may be interested in this. :)
Ok, that’s all for real this time. xo