In the solemn halls of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, better known as UMFA, you can let your mind drift along the period pieces, surrounded by the works of the masters. Centuries have passed before the watchful eyes of cherubs, wild african masks, and biblical scenes. Photographs slide out of silent rollers encased by glass to keep out the light, and everything is quiet.
Meandering through the eras you will encroach upon the modern art section. The exhibit is soundless, but not at all quiet. As you enter a room surrounded in green sand and projected images of clouds, you witness Jillian Mayer giving birth to herself. The video is an authentic video of the young artist’s birth, digitally edited with her adult self in place of her mother. Flat screen televisions line the walls with various works, all digital. A ceiling-mounted screen projector displays a blue sky as clouds slowly form hidden messages. It is apparent, this is not your everyday art show.
Technology is everywhere, all around us, everyday. It is not shocking that we should find digital medium at an art museum, but the message delivered is. I was given the opportunity to ask Jillian Mayer about her relationship with technology and how it affects her art as well as her life.
“We are now in somewhat of a state of a collective consciousness. Ideas are often not fully rendered because there is a pressure to share at a quicker speed. Everything is shared, and subcultures are overexposed and are non-existent if they are online.”
Mayer’s artist bio at the UMFA describes her work as, “designed for mass appeal but asks big questions about human connection and manufactured realities. Her work lives in, and is activated by, viewer participation.”
By using modern forms of communication Mayers shows the lack of actual involvement within society. As a whole, humanity has accepted substituting hugs for ‘likes’, and conversation for ‘shares’.
Mayer’s somewhat darkened views exploits our intimate relationship with the Internet and social media at large. Lacquered with satirical humor, Mayer’s art expands and dissects what she calls a “state of a collective consciousness.” The exhibit combines photography, installation, drawing, interactive websites, and video, which forces us to ask ourselves important questions as to the importance we place on our connectivity.
The exhibition includes a computer screen logged on to selfeed.com, a web page designed by Mayer’s web design colleagues Tyler Madsen and Erik Carter. The site is a real time feed of any Instagram photo tagged with #selfie. During low traffic hours the site is quirky and entertaining, but during high upload times the site overwhelms the viewer and forces them to examines society’s love/hate relationship with personal image and desire to ‘be’.
I asked Mayer to elaborate on her view of technologies role in youth. She explained,
“If an event occurs, and no one photographs and shares it, did it happen? Does it matter?”
Gone are the questions of trees falling in woods. The modern ideological question asks, Does food taste as good if your followers haven’t witnessed digital evidence of your plate?
Mayer also explains the perpetual paradox for youth growing up in the information era,
“On one hand, you could guide a younger person to be weary of personal over exposure at such a formative time in their lives, where their posts might hinder them in ways they can’t yet understand later in life. But on the other hand, if all these young fully web integrated people are constantly over exposing themselves and confessing their thoughts, perhaps another behavioral shift comes and that is the new right of passage. We will have to adjust to them.”
MegaMega Upload is Mayer’s catchy pop sing-a-long youtube video that has been viewed over 40,000 times. She asks her audience,
“What’s the point of living offline anymore?” as she demonstrates the method of uploading yourself. The emphasis on total online absorption is awkwardly presented as a plausible situation. Considering that the average person spends 9 hours a day online, the importance of scrutinizing our screen time activities raises cause concern.
The casual demeanor of Mayer’s art camouflages the motivations of creation, allowing participants to erase their favorite website, as in eraseypage.com, or confess their dreams in a public forum market with a #sleepsite. Individuals can participate with or without the understanding that the general undertones mock their actions as well as the platform as a whole.
Mayer ends our interview with optimism explaining,
“The Internet is about accessibility. A show of mine in a museum in a city that is not incredibly dense is viewed several hundred times to several thousands. But if I make a video or website that provides a tour of the show, tens of thousands of people can experience it. But is it the same? No. There is a different experiential quality to attending a physical space. Many of my projects are about that.”
Jillian Mayer’s work has been featured in New York, Berlin, Miami, Venice, Bilbao, as well as the Sundance Film Festival. For more information about her work visit jillianmayer.net.
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