The New Normal

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Stumbled into the arms of this delightful book by way of hunting more Sophie Calle. This is the post-exhibition catalog published in 2008 with essays about privacy and life post-9/11. The artists include Sophie Calle, Miranda July, Corinna Schnitt, Jill Magid, and Angie Waller, ranging from video to websites, sculpture and found objects/photos. Michael Connor writes the main essay, discussing the art in The New Normal while railing against the surveillance state. “The rise of state and corporate surveillance has not been the only, or perhaps even the most definitive, factor affecting the privacy sphere since 2001. Equally remarkable has been the willingness demonstrated by millions of us to document and reveal our own behavior and the behavior of others, in personal photos and video clips posted on blogs and online dairies, or just sent via email.” This self-narc’ing behavior has only gotten worse in the 8 years since this book came out.

Calle’s work in the exhibition was a video work titled Unfinished (2005) that shows how she grappled with the project for decades after a U.S. bank invited her to take images from their ATM machines and make art, including stills from a woman being mugged at the Minneapolis ATM machine in 1983. The images she was mesmerized by are of people who know they are alone, giving unfiltered expressions. This work is shown in contrast to the MySpace intro playlists that another artist (Guthrie Lonergan) pulls from their context and presents as stand alone; the people here are acting for an audience, being as socially aware as possible.

The other work I was extremely interested in was Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience: JSA/2005. As a brown man post-9/11 he’s put on a watchlist and hassled by the FBI too many times to count. He passes a lie-detector test nine times before finally being “cleared,” and asks for a written letter stating this to avoid any further detention. When they refuse, he begins a project of “aggressive compliance” by putting up a website with images of everywhere he goes and everything he does, showing his exact whereabouts, as a digital alibi. The site’s still up, although it’s redirecting here now.

Found out via his essay about the AOL release in 2006 of 20M web searches that were “anonymized” by changing usernames to IDs. Within 3 days, the NYT has tracked down AOL user 4417749 as Georgia resident Thelma Arnold.

There’s an interesting piece by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy that purchases all the objects listed out in rock star (or other celebrity) riders. Dick Cheney required decaf coffee, temperature setting of 68 degrees, and that all televisions be tuned to Fox News.

Clay Shirky has an essay in here as well: Private, Public, and the Collapse of the Personal. In the “digital dark ages of 1980 or so” we could assume that our behavior wasn’t being recorded, but now it’s cheaper and easier to record everybody all the time. He cites Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that “the contents of the new medium are the old media” since the Internet carries more and more of our phone calls. “Making things public has gone from difficult to easy and from expensive to cheap. Keeping things private has gone in the opposite direction. And the personal sphere-which used to be the envelope that contained most of our speech and action-is slowly disappearing.”  And this gem, “if people are acting out more, it is in part because they understand, correctly, that they are onstage more.”

The Bibliography of this book was a godsend… giving me at least 5 books to check out (Presentation of self in everyday life-1959- by Erving Goffman, Toward a feminist theory of the state-1989- by Catharine MacKinnon, Coming of age in Samoa by Margaret Mead, M’as-tu vue?  by Sophie Calle, and Lincoln, Ocean, Victor, Eddy by Jill Magid). Also a slew of NYT articles, Atlantic article from March 2001 about privacy, How Publicity Makes People Real by David Bromwich, a 1994 Bruce Sterling speech, and the discovery of The New School’s journal, Social Research.