WHAT ARE LEE WALTON'S FRIENDS DOING ON F'BOOK?
For the past several decades, artists have been embracing new forms of digital media in the creation of their work, and challenging the notion of creative experience in diverse ways. With the Boston Cyberarts Festival just around the corner, I have been immersed in a variety of media-based projects and I have become totally enamored with Lee Walton's F'Book: What My Friends Are Doing On Facebook.
Walton first garnered attention online for two of his early projects, Lee Walton vs. Shaquille O'Neill: Free Throw Competition (2004-5) and One Shot A Day (2003). In Free Throw Competition, Walton kept score of the number of free throws Shaq made each game, and responded with short web videos in which he took the same number of shots. His website, redesigned to look like a scoreboard, tracked Walton's and O'Neill's scores, and even featured short videos with shooting advice from Walton's coach. In One Shot A Day, Walton took one shot of golf each day until he had played a full 18 holes of golf. He posted a video each day of his single shot for the duration of the game of golf.
Both of these projects relied on the relatively new possibilities of web-based video. In Free Throw Competition, Walton addressed his commentary to Shaq, starting each short with "Hey Shaq, it's me, Lee." In One Shot A Day he addressed his audience, letting them know which hole he was on and what challenges he faced. In both cases, the direct contact drew viewers in, and made them feel invested in the competitions, fostering a small but meaningful relationship between Walton and the viewer and eliciting empathy from them as he succeeded, or failed, to achieve the task at hand.
At first glance, F'Book appears to abandon this method and rely on a more passive viewer experience. Yet, given some consideration, the commentary Walton is making with F'Book is every bit as interactive as his previous online video pieces, and based on a new relationship to the technology and how people are using it.
Regular Facebook users are certainly familiar with the status update feature, where one can post any mundane fact about their life for all of their friends to see. As I type this, my Facebook home page includes such trivialities as "Evan just realized its almost 5:30pm and it's not pitch black out. Longer days! What!" and "Thomas is enjoying the nice sunny day!" and "Stephanie is awaiting pizza...mmm." Gone are the days when people could complain about email as the end of the long-form letter, now it is common to communicate via Facebook and Twitter in the shortest, and least meaningful, tidbits of mundanity.
"I have been preparing to do a web project that involves numerous performers acting out mundane everyday activities in the private space of their own homes. There would be no documentation or witnesses, just the text describing the performance and time. Of course, when I started focusing on the Status Updates, I realized that this sort of thing was already happening! It was pure poetry," Walton says of the origins of the project. "A few days later, my good buddy in California posts this Status Update that Rob Hayes is ironing his clothes while listening to country music. This one got me off the couch. I had to re-enact this. I thought the script was beautiful."
In F'Book, Walton is playing with this new form of online interaction, and toying with it. His short videos enact his vision of what his friends are up to, as theatre created in the mind of the Facebook user imagining the lives of others through these miniature insights offered as Status Updates. These tiny, useless blips of narcissism become the script from which he creates short, web-friendly videos that are posted to Facebook for all his friends to see. In this way, he is both activating his friends' status updates, and validating their intention of sharing information about their author, while also commenting on the ways in which we create identity, or understand the identities of others, in the age of Facebook and Twitter.
By allowing and fostering a broad audience for any minor thought one could have, Twitter and Facebook both encourage the idea that any action is important and that even the mundane has value. Walton's videos put that to the test, often with humorous results, as these mini-scripts become distorted when Walton enacts them. In Andy Diaz Hope is wielding a knife we see Walton, going about his day, holding a knife. In Joseph Del Pesco is over caffeinated, Walton anxiously vacuums the house, rides an exercise bike, and can't seem to sit still. Each video stars Walton, who has envisioned these status updates as tiny stories and now must act them out for the camera.
F'Book is the kind of new media art that I wish I saw more of in the age of Web 2.0. Often discussions around "new media" art imply that technical skills and expensive equipment are required, yet Walton has always shown that artists who want to create artistic experiences with web media need only to have a good idea and a willingness to embrace the most accessible technologies. Facebook art was inevitable, but it took Lee Walton to make work that truly belongs on Facebook and comments on the ways in which this technology is altering our expectations of interaction, and what we elevate to the status of a Facebook status update.
F'Book is available to everyone. To see his videos, all you need to do is become Walton's Facebook friend.
All images are screen grabs from Facebook.