In the latest of the excellent artist exit screeds published by Spike Art Daily, Finnish artist Jaakko Pallasvuo has written about his recent break from the internet. The artist had previously been a very active and outspoken presence on social media. He writes, “‘Deleting your twitter account’ is the new ‘having a buzzworthy twitter account’. I want to whisper, and to lurk. Sheepishly following this turn gives me pleasure. There’s a reason everyone does the same things. Last week I stumbled upon a freshly photocopied zine, lying on a friend’s sofa in Helsinki and thought: this is the future, reshaped from the past.”
While I enjoyed reading Pallasvuo’s thoughts, I want to highlight and take issue with the binary argument that the art world goes through cycles in which either being “on the internet” or “concertedly offline” is cool. I have noticed that these cycles exist, but are they so simple to pin down? I honestly don’t know. I found it interesting that amid the crest of corporate aesthetics and post-internet art (let’s say 2012), Carolyn Christov Bakargiev’s arcane, encyclopedic documenta felt to many refreshing, which carried through to Massimiliano Gioni’s 2013 Venice Biennale the “Encyclopedic Palace,” which comprised many haptic works and outsider artists. How long do these cycles last? I would guess around 30 months. Are these curatorial and artistic trends really that predictable? And do they cut so deep that artists are really dropping out of social media because of them?
Last month I decided to cease uploading. It was supposed to be a summer break but now I see no reason not to stretch this break out from here, possibly, to eternity. This disturbance to my 12 years of uploading could only begin with a self-defeating announcement. A stab at a contemporary classic: the blog post about how one has grown disillusioned with blogging.
I was 16 when I began ‘sharing content’ on various online platforms. It began on Finnish amateur art and graphic design forums and on an ingenious, also Finnish, proto-Facebook social media website called IRC-galleria. Livejournal, MySpace and Flickr followed.
I was not an artist when I began uploading, but my content was always ‘artistic’. My fantasy of art and artistry was pure then. Youth has a non-causal relationship to purity. It was not my job to share. I was in the process of making a self. It gave me life.
My online presence and my study of art did not flow into each other. I began my full time art studies by painting still lives in natural light. Later on, in other schools, came the Michel de Certeaus and the Katharina Grosses: strategies and tactics for how to speak, what posture to adopt, which colors to spray within which bright cubes. The internet did not come into it. This was not that long ago.
When I dropped out and moved to Berlin I gave up on having a studio, bought a laptop and registered a Tumblr blog or two. The Jogging had begun, and still contained anonymous vitality. A potato attached to the wall with a band-aid, rapidly photographed and abandoned. The photograph posted online, gathering notes, gently mocking the weight of history and gesture I was still holding onto. I felt like a peasant, but also that I could change. I could still become light.
2010-2011 were the peak of my upload years. In Berlin the internet began to merge with AFK life. The people I followed turned up at the bar one would go to. The things you took part in went up into the network. We did not know if we had an audience or not, but the potential of an audience kept one going. The audience was a fantastical construction instead of a punishing economic factor to take into account. I remember receiving a phone call from a friend who enthused about how a video of mine had been blogged by someone who seemed to matter. I watched the view count climb. It was wonderful. In 2011 I felt true online.
Post-Internet was around. It was a joke, I thought. I was into it. It felt good to joke around. I was still lolling about when it began to transform into a hashtag for financial investment, something to grind in the gallery-fair-biennial-retrospective mill. Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram. The platforms were sleeker, more rapid. ‘Dialogue’ became a relentless and repetitive mode of (self)-promotion. The same five group shows happened a hundred times with minor differences. The short story as an FB event description, the animist tech musing as an A4 press release. Hot artists who took taxis to the gym and posed for strategic selfies. Contemporary Art Daily. The exhaustion mounted.
I’ve been more “guilty” of attention-fishing and like-mining than most. I produced mindlessly and documented in an instant. I posted something on Tumblr. I had set my Twitter up to automatically tweet about my Tumblr posts. My Facebook account automatically reporter my Twitter activity.
The same half-thought image echoed through, I bullied my network with it. I waited to be accepted. I waited for someone to realize that they loved me, but wanted nothing from me. I waited to feel like I was being understood. I wanted to know that I could communicate to you, that my communication was culturally intense. It should cut through all the other things, all the other people trying to do the same thing.
The confusion had fully set in. To be an artist was to command attention. Attention could be quantified in likes, reblogs, faves and retweets. Somehow, murkily, these would translate into shows, which would perhaps, down the road, translate into financial resources. These resources could be used to produce more content, pay ever-increasing rents, produce more shows, upload more installation shots. What did a lack of attention represent in this pattern? Invisibility was death.
My posts demoted me. I became a sub-artist. Someone who people call to comment on stuff, a hipster, not a cultural issue myself. No one needs to reflect upon my practice, because it contains zero mystery. I’m more of a columnist than a prophet. Is ‘criticality’ my gimmick? Is bitterness? Forming opinions for a living is the fast lane to feeling insubstantial. I’ve began my retreat.
There’s nothing new here. The internet has been declared (un)dead, being cute and running a bar for your cute friends instead of posting these played out think pieces is now called “Network Fatigue”. Carles, the blogger to end all bloggers has suffered an existential crisis and has sort of faded.
I want to make things that are unseen by design. I want to insist on being a boring and generally insignificant operator. I want to read and understand what I’ve read. ‘Deleting your twitter account’ is the new ‘having a buzzworthy twitter account’. I want to whisper, and to lurk. Sheepishly following this turn gives me pleasure. There’s a reason everyone does the same things. Last week I stumbled upon a freshly photocopied zine, lying on a friend’s sofa in Helsinki and thought: this is the future, reshaped from the past.
I’m doing a 30 day yoga challenge with Adriene, a YouTube wellbeing star exhuming cheery comfort and acceptance. I awkwardly position myself into a Sphinx Pose. My 20€ yoga mat smells of PVC. It mixes with the scent of incense, something I never thought I would have at my house. Maybe I’m becoming that priggish neo-hippie friend you can’t stand. Trying this pose on, it occurs to me that this is what I want: to be a sphinx. The sphinx does not have a social media presence. The sphinx poses a riddle instead.
Jaakko Pallasvuo lives in Helsinki. He makes videos, ceramics, texts and pictures. His work deals with social hierarchies, feels, fantasies & online culture. A collection of Pallasvuo’s writings, titled Scorched Earth, will be published by Arcadia Missa in July.
*All drawings by Jaakko Pallasvuo courtesy Spike Art Daily