Ethereal Self & Others

Series, 2008

3 works   

I made Ethereal Self at a time when my peers and I were making works that consisted of a single artwork with a single domain name. At the time these were known as ‘single serving sites’. Miltos Manetas, I think, was the first to recognise that this was a valid medium, the domain name. During this time, I became very interested in the people who were visiting the sites.

Ethereal Self was a direct response to that interest. In a gallery context, you can see the people who come to see your work; however, on the web - at least in 2008 when this work was made - your visitors are essentially invisible. These were the first days of attempting to stream images over the web, and in terms of the work, I wondered whether it would even be possible to send the user's webcam photos to my webserver to store. It was a rather complex process at that time, encoding the image in the browser, sending them to a server for decode, and then recording the image, but it was possible to do. The work became, for me, a way of returning the gaze of the internet. The idea that a work existed on the web but as the artist, you really had only a very vague idea who anyone seeing your work might be prompted me to try to find out. These people were watching me without my knowing, and it turned out, over the course of creation of Ethereal Self and Ethereal Others, I was watching them without their knowing too.

In Ethereal Others, the people who visited the site were listed in a grid, and sometimes when visitors had forgotten to turn their cameras off, I would end up with hours of footage, some of it very private, that I didn’t know what to do about. Ultimately I created a script that would filter out all the movement by people in the images so the work could be shown in galleries and museums. Given that this was pre-Edward Snowden, pre-Cambridge Analytica, etc., people read it as a kind of activist work, warning about the dangers to privacy posed by the web, connecting your living room to the entire world potentially. Now, of course, everyone knows about it, and so that reading is less significant, but I find there to be a poetic quality to the empty interiors it depicts, and it reflects a kind of melancholy I felt at the time, wondering who all these people were, what they were making of my work. What did it all mean? Was there any value in any of it? I think there is, but a lot of that meaning is personal.

Reflecting on the darker and more corporate turn the internet has taken in recent years, I’ve decided that what might have been a valid artistic position thirteen years ago has taken a different meaning now, and so I’ve deactivated the work at the present.