Judge-Mentalities: On Politics of Usership
Edited by: Matt Hanson
The seeds of this essay sprouted from the fruits of an earlier piece. During the period of voluntary quarantine in Turkey due to COVID-19, I prepared an essay series called Mecra Araştırmaları [Research on Media] for the Turkish magazine, Art Unlimited. Only You Can Judge Me, by artist duo Molino & Lucidi, was a pearl, establishing good relations with its medium. It was exhibited among many poor examples. In collaboration with AVTO, the duo used Instagram as an exhibition venue and played with the application’s technical features, with contributions from the audience.
Unfortunately, the Turkish arts and culture scene met digital media relatively late, and this introduction had to be done in a rush. It was impossible to foresee the situation that came with the pandemic. Moreover, the effects and boundaries of the Internet evolve day by day, which makes it possible to discover from scratch every day. As a result of this, during the quarantine, we were stuck in limbo, surrounded by callow 3D modelings, shallow PDF exhibitions, and broadcasts with cliche subjects. Moreover, most of the art pieces we were looking at via those online exhibitions were produced according to sensory experiences that source from looking, smelling, and measuring a physical space. In fact, some of those pieces were even site-specific works. And when they were transferred to an online platform in a rush, they were out of their “aura” in Benjaminian terms. In this case, one of the main goals of the Only You Can Judge Me can be considered as an act of solving this dilemma.
If technical inability is one of the main problems, another problem is to neglect the empowerment of the audiences who come through digital media. The role and number of the formerly anonymous audiences of an art piece have drastically increased via online platforms, especially in works published through social media, as it enabled the audience to exist with a name (or a chosen nickname). Moreover, the obstacle of physical distance disappeared, and every art piece could be reached from different cities and countries by a wide range of audiences. Therefore, the role and the number of the audience became enlarged, to a greater extent, and in a way that traditional art institutions did not foresee.
After this long prologue, maybe I should start by describing the work itself. Only You Can Judge Me is an interactive project, produced in the process of taking over AVTO and SAHA Association’s Instagram accounts. It consists of seven questions, such as Are You Motivated?, Are You Focused?, Are You Bored?, Is Your Face Aligned To Be Selfie-Worthy Enough?. Each question appears in a filter format with a different hand gesture that addresses the audience directly. The format of the filter enables the audience to apply them in their own spaces and address the gesture to their followers. As soon as they do this, the audience turns into the producer and their followers take the audience’s role. While I try to describe the work, the words “space” and “audience” shine in my mind, and I would like to unpack these words a little more with my recent readings of academic/social writings. In this essay, I try to construct a trivet where the artist, space, and audience form its three legs.
In this case, to discuss the concept of space further, it might be beneficial to recall Henri Lefebvre’s statement in his book, The Production of Space. According to his almost mathematical system; space is a living phenomenon, and it is continuously transformed/reproduced by different actors, relationships, and modes of production. In this sense, Lefebvre introduces three concepts to explain various characteristics of space. These are spaces that we all contact in the different faces of our daily lives: These are spatial practice, representations of space, and representational space. Within this context, the spatial practice ensures continuity in society for Lefebvre. It includes an association between daily routine and “private life”. Representations of space, on the other hand, is the layer constructed by planners, urbanists, and social engineers as well as a certain type of artist with a scientific bent. That is the dominant space in any society (or mode of production). However, these two, which can be criticized for playing the role of paternalism, are not the only concepts. Last but not least, he introduces representational spaces which are directly lived through by their “inhabitants” and “users”. These three layers form a complex network of relationships in which all the actors produce/reproduce space consciously/unconsciously.
His theory of the production of space can be summarised by his words: “Social space is a social product.” What is more, today, we have a fourth layer causing even more complexity: An unpredictable pandemic is included in these network relationships, and everything becomes even more complicated. As a result of these layers, “art in public space” refers to the Internet, definitely more than physical spaces. And an art piece needs to withdraw from the “aura” of the outside and deal with the indoors. And, to sum up, while reconsidering an art piece in a public space these days, remembering all of the various components provides us with a different perspective.
The concept of public space transformed will direct us to social media. Social media, especially Instagram, takes an active role as a space between exterior and interior spaces, renewing perceptions of limbo. It is a space where the private and public spheres intersect. And it is used quite frequently by institutions to influence people. Even though it has certain limitations, it is a space that users can transform within the application itself. For this reason, it has all three of the characteristics that Lefebvre determined in his spatial theory, and it adapts to new conditions very quickly compared to its physical counterparts.
At this point, we should turn back to the third leg of this trivet, the audience. Although, in theory, the audience is the crucial actor, they are often seen as no more than an anonymous actor whose role forms “the public”. In Only You Can Judge Me, the audience plays a role in representing private life beyond the public one. The audience and their private space turn into the real actor that creates the art piece. “The personal space” and “the public space” begin to merge. Suddenly the role assumed by the audience increases from the anonymous visitor in an art venue to the leading role. While the audience becomes a producer, a follower turns into an audience, and the reversal of roles goes on. Molino & Lucidi become a mediator representing the audience’s invisible labor to the public.
The Instagram account of AVTO and SAHA turns into a meeting point where every actor has a name. Moreover, AVTO, reacting to all of its users one by one, creates a dialogue between users and media in the full sense of the word. For that reason, Only You Can Judge Me is a limbo in every sense: It is a limbo between the personal and public, between modes of production, between roles, and between the different characteristics of the spaces involved. Even I feel like I am contributing to the project as a critic. Everything tends to be interchangeable and everything, including Instagram, is about to push its limits.
¹ Walter Benjamin, The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. London: Penguin, 2008.
² Henri Lefebvre, The production of space (trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith). Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
³ Piu Fung Wong, Shanghai, China’s capital of modernity: the production of space and urban experience of World Expo 2010 (PhD Thesis), University of Birmingham, 2014.