As anyone who owns an iPhone knows, the human relationship with technology can sometimes be more tumultuous than it is harmonious. Our growing symbiosis with our social tools has changed the way we develop relationships and construct our very identities.
“I often say that I’m programmed to feel intimate with my devices, and I think this is largely because of my experiences with building identities online from such a young age,” says Alexis Avedisian, curator and experimental artist. “Having a community on the Internet is very important to me, and I often feel as if I invest more time, and subsequently, more emotional energy into my digital communities than my real-world one.”
In Second Selves, a new exhibit housed at the Distillery Gallery, Avedisian casts a romantic eye on our evolving intimacy with our devices, as well as the duality inherent in housing both our private selves and our public personae online. Second Selves brings together artists Leah Schrager, Sam Metcalf, Julie Nymann, Philip Fryer, and Blake Hiltunen—several of whom Avedisian met in a digital context—whose work each explores the oft-overlooked and highly personal facets of our networked culture.
“I started texting myself last summer,” Avedisian says, explaining the inspiration behind her contribution to the exhibit: “I want to feel you vibrate in my hands*.” “I enjoyed the feeling of my phone instantly vibrating, repeating the words I had sent it. The slight delay followed by gratification mimicked the feelings I get when I text someone I care about.”
Her piece invites visitors to lie in an unmade bed and engage in that most scandalous and satisfying of modern transgressions—picking up an unlocked iPhone and reading a thread of private texts. “A visitor told me that the experience was uncomfortable,” Avedisian says. “[That is] what I was going for.”
At the core of the exhibit is a meditation on our addiction to self-archiving (or pathological navel-gazing, depending on whom you talk to), and the separate selves that we create and immortalize within the infinite spaces of our connected networks. Avedisian emphasizes the deliberate selection of works that nicely coexist in the gallery’s space, and display what she describes as “multiple layers of conceptual thought.”
In Hiltunen’s “lovers,” two intertwined sculptures are haloed by static dead noise, orchestrated by Fryer. Avedisian’s mattress is surrounded by entangled wires, which feed into a projector that displays a video of Fryer’s hands, prone and extended.
“Both of these circumstances give the feeling of being wrapped up and enclosed by technology, but it is meant to be tender and subtle, as if you were being held and comforted by these devices.”
When internalized as a whole along with these central installations, Avedisian’s Second Selves is unique in the way it highlights and focuses on our networked existence, as well as the way we interact with our gadgets with a sense of tenderness and intimacy—qualities often absent from our discourse on technology.