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More Love in the Time of Digital Reproduction at the Ackland Museum

Paul, · Categories: General

As folks getting my announcements on Facebook know, I was a speaker in the Tea at Two series at UNC’s Ackland Art Museum last Thursday. We were celebrating and adding a bit to the More Love: Art, Politics, and Sharing since the 1990s show at the museum.

Janine Antoni, American, born 1964: Mortar and Pestle, 1999; chromogenic print. 48 x 48 inches. Edition of 10.

Here’s how the program was described:

“The Work of Art, Technology, and Love in the Age of Digital Reproduction”

What do light-weight, long-lasting batteries, Match.com, 4chan, Kittehz, SnapChat, Skype, Open Source software, Wikileaks and texting have to do with love and art? They put very contemporary twists on Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and on More Love’s subtitle: “Art, Politics, and Sharing since the 1990s.”

In the spirit of the description and in the spirit of the works in the show, I first began my talk weeks before by creating a conversation on the Facebook event page for the talk. First I collected as many versions of Bert Berns’ “Tell Him” from YouTube. There are easily 30 or more versions of this song done since the first recording by Johnny Thunder in 1962 and the more famous cover by the Exciters that same year. I love the beginning, the lead in and the first line “I know something about love.” The song has been covered by the Mod singer Billie Davis in the UK, Kenny Loggins in the US, Alma Cogan in several languages, by the glam rock bands Hello and Glitter Band, as Northern Soul by Dean Parrish, by the cast of Glee, incorporated into a musical “Return to the Forbidden Planet,” and parodied on Saturday Night Live.

I made a YouTube list of 34 of these.

Along the way, I managed to pick up the idea of inviting people to join the talk via Google+ HangOut. Part of this idea came from a conversation with Mark Katz who was expressing his regrets that he would be in Venice on the day of the talk. Mark said something like “I’ll be in the City of Love tho.” It struck me that there are several Cities of Love — San Francisco especially the Haight, Philadelphia, Paris and to some degree Boston (where couples of all genders may marry). I arranged a HangOut with Bebo White who lives in the Haight, Lorraine Richards who is on the faculty of Drexel in Philadelphia, Courtney Pulitzer who lives in Paris, and Edwin Huff in Boston.

One of the interesting side effects of this Hangout is that while I know Ed, Courtney, Lori and Bebo none of them knew any of the others. Each was from some different time of my own life. Still we all played together well.

Part of the idea for the Hangout was to bring Citizens of Cities of Love into the museum by using common consumer technology, but another part was to mirror and draw attention to Emily Jacir’s piece “Where We Come From.” Jacir solicites and performs small acts of remembrance and love in Israel on behalf of Palestinians who are forbidden to return to the places of their birth. Our aim was not so charged. Each Citizen offered to perform some small task for some one attending the talk. But as love should be bidirectional, the person requesting was asked by the Citizen to perform some small act on behalf of the Citizen.

Bebo will be documenting a visit to Spike, a coffee house in the Castro where Michael Williams’ friend Austin Miller is a barrista. Michael in turn will be recreating a human pyramid that Bebo and his friends created at UNC during the 1967 Human Be-in. Bebo also took us on a stroll thru the Haight using his phone camera including an interview with a modern flower girl.

Edwin showed us the spring snow outside his window. He was asked by Iris Tillman Hill to run out and toss a snowball. Ed grabbed his phone and took us out while he did just that. Iris was only asked to enjoy the warm sunshine on Ed’s behalf.

Lori, who introduced herself by describing the complex relationship between Philly and sk8erz in the Love Park (a great story worth reading), was asked to visit the successful skateboard park under the Interstate in FDR Park by Jeff Shear. Jeff will visit Carrburritos for Lori.

French PhD student, Rox Ane, asked Courtney to attend a Paris Saint-Germain soccer/football game. UNC stand out Tobin Heath is signed to PSG for 6 months. Ideally, Courtney will get a photo of Tobin Heath in PSG uniform. Rox Ane will feast on a plate of Allen and Son BBQ as Courtney’s proxy.

Reflecting Frances Stark’s “My Best Thing” which uses Xtranormal characters to enact a sexually charged internet chat, I took to Xtranormal to present instead four quotes/discussions on technological determinism by Paul LaFargue, Marshall McLuhan, me and Larry Page. I took the Dude as my proxy and our guide.

Additionally, I did a short presentation on Walter Benjamin using Prezi which included a video explaining part of his “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936) made by Warren Hedges. Also included in the presentation is a heart shaped word cloud I created in Tagxedo.

As much as time allowed, I spoke about the timeline for the Technologies for Hooking Up from Minitel to SnapChat that I created with Tiki-toki.

Thanks to the Ackland and especially to Amanda Hughes and Allison Portnow for making this possible. Amanda helped document expressions of love by the Citizens who in return are at this moment receiving prisms as tokens of love from Yoko Ono as part of her “Time to Tell Your Love” piece.

During questions someone asked more about Benjamin’s ideas. I referred them to John Berger’s 1972 BBC series “Ways of Seeing” Particularly the first episode. Here it is:


John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 (1972) from shihlun on Vimeo.