Private Arts

Posted September 10, 2009 in Arts & Culture

When Myspace and Facebook first launched, personal profiles were for the most part open to the public. Over the years, after sorting out many messy controversies, the social network sites have increased security or at least made higher security options available. But, while your profile may be set on private, other sites like Pipl and sometimes even Google still allow a peep into your personal life. “At best, this is the new normal,” says former Vice President Dick Cheney. Of course he was referring to a different invasion of privacy—heightened surveillance, characterized by the spread of public cameras, luggage searches, Internet monitoring and wiretapping in the wake of 9/11. 


But, are we slowly gaining a Big Brother? 

In October 2001, 13 artists came together to complete a series they termed “The New Normal” and took the show on the road. On Aug. 25, the show arrived at Pomona College Museum of Art.


The exhibit puts on display what “privacy” means now. At first glace, something as simple as an ATM camera’s video on loop (Sophie Calle’s Unfinished) is normal and expected. But after a couple head turns you begin to wonder if placing your profile on private spares any privacy at all and what does it mean for those already under the public lens.


In Kota Ezawa’s Home Video II, the artist animates the infamous Pamela Anderson/Tommy Lee Stolen Honeymoon video that was leaked via the Internet.


“The fact that you have something that was so intimate that is now kind of a part of urban lore or digital lure or web lure, if you will, is an interesting commentary to make because these things are actually newly occurring,” says museum coordinator Jessica Wimbley.


But the YouTube phenomenon—the instant viral spread of personal videos uploaded on to the Web—seems insignificant once you walk past Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s Band Rider Series: Dick Cheney. The installation sets up a hotel room according to Cheney’s rider following all his requests from “private bathroom” to having “all televisions tuned to FOX News”—and did you know he likes diet caffeine-free Sprite (four cans)?


“Again dealing with the public or private, we’re not supposed to really have access to it . . . or are we?” comments Wimbley. The installation fits perfectly into the exhibit and the questioning of what privacy means even more because not only was the rider was obtained, it was obtained shortly after 9/11. 


The revealing and unveiling of what was once considered personal seems to have faded into mere information readily available at a click of a button. Skirts revealing ankles were once considered scandalous, but now, with booty shorts and string bikinis, it’s actually the opposite, a more conservative means of dressing. What once was considered private is now commonplace to be and can be easily viewed by thousands. The growing interest in other people’s personal lives seems to only fuel the fire burning the curtains protecting privacy: What is news?


“It’s interesting if you think of what the difference is between the mediation of the format of somebody actually doing research and investigations and presenting information versus information leaked onto the Internet,” Wimbley says. “What is considered more authentic? How much of it is usually more viral? The leaked stuff usually makes a greater impact.”


When Dick Cheney termed “The New Normal” he was speaking on behalf of public security from terrorist attacks, but it seems this public security invading privacy is only an underlying theme for a greater controversy eloquently on display. George Orwell must be rolling his eyes singing the praises of “I told you so.”


“The New Normal” at Pomona College Museum of Art, 333 N. College Way, Claremont, (909) 621-8283; Thru Oct 18, Tue-Fri, noon-5PM, Sat-Sun, 1-5PM. 




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