A focus on faces, familiarity, and Facebook
February 26, 2012|By Mark Feeney
What could be more familiar than your friends? Except that Facebook, having turned the word into a verb, has made the concept so elastic as to lose meaning. This alteration provides the inspiration for
“Tanja Alexia Hollander: Are You Really My Friend?’’
Facebook is and isn’t about friendship. How many of your “friends’’ do you even know? More to the point, it’s definitely not about images. The face you choose to present to the Facebook world is a kind of social resume. It can include an image, or images, yes; but also name, employer, academic background, all that other stuff in your profile.
The original Facebook, the Harvard Freshman Register, was about images. It was like a high school yearbook with this crucial difference: It looked forward rather than backward. Not a few future power couples had their origin in one party scoping out the other’s picture in “the facebook.’’
What Hollander has done is use the facial aspect of Facebook friendship as her point of departure. Since January 2011, she’s been engaged in an ongoing project: to go to where her Facebook friends live and photograph them. That’s a lot of traveling. She has more than 600 friends.
The results are on display at the museum in two sections. One consists of a long horizontal strip of 61 portraits pinned to the wall - unframed, giving them a casual, immediate look. Around the corner, there are several dozen more photos. They have a magnetized backing, and viewers are encouraged to arrange them on the wall as they like. It’s interactivity of the old-fashioned, dimensional sort - literally hands-on.
The photographs are in color, shot indoors and in natural light. The interest they afford is more conceptual and sociological than visual, though that interest proves to be limited. While Facebook provides Hollander with an armature for her project, that project really doesn’t offer much in the way of commentary on or insight into social media. As for sociology, sameness limits its utility. The people appear comfortable, both socially and economically. A gathering of Walmart customers this isn’t.
Hollander’s sitters are in the 99 percent, all right, but the part that considers itself culturally and morally superior to the 1 percent. They may well be right in assuming so. For that matter, you and I (the sort of person who writes art reviews and the sort of person who reads them) are likely in this same social sub-stratum. But pretty soon the realization dawns that that means you’re looking into a lot more mirrors than windows. Facebook, Facebook, on the screen, who’s the fairest on the scene? The question answers itself, which is one reason Mark Zuckerberg’s so rich.