For his first solo exhibition in Switzerland, Aram Bartholl delves in to origins, effects and legacies of our daily usage of social media through portable devices. Built on the ashes of a scaled, thin-paper model of the Facebook HQ front sign in Menlo Park, California, which burned down in a fire before the opening, the exhibition brings together in a cohesive installation a new set of printed, sculptural and video works.
A recent study reported on the New York Times by writer and journalist Benedict Carey, found that phone users switched screen activities every 20 seconds on average, and rarely spent more than 20 minutes uninterrupted doing any one of them. With the daily screen time of an adult being 8 to 10 hours today, scientists have started to look into our habits and screen-shifting patterns. Adapting the concept of genome, the genetic code that determines the characteristics of a living beings, experts feel now able to identify a “screenome”, as each individual screen-time experience appears to be sequential, disjointed and unique.
A series of floating open hands, the images of which are photos from an online stock agency, gesture towards one another in a semi-open position, as a sign of collaboration and participation as well as leading back to the way we hold our smartphones. The withstanding frame of the burned-up work remains on its ashes at the center of the room, while a video of the fire – apolitical act of protest against what is today the largest sharing platform, is playing on a screen. A number of disused phones lies on the ground on a pile of fire-retardant debris, some of which have come to cover copies of a free local newspaper on a nearby table. Inside, an article denounces swimmers’ difficulties in separating from their smartphone while in the waters of the river Aare, Switzerland.
The personal computer, the internet and, most recently, the smartphone represents a paradigm shift in the way we communicate today. The promise of openness and equality of the World Wide Web has now been superseded by gigantic sharing platforms such as Facebook which, together with our devices, collect and contain the most intimate track record of our emotional and personal history. Shading light on a society of which interactions are shaped and controlled by machines we cannot fully understand neither control, making us in fact controlled by them, Bartholl addresses electronic waste as a moment of emotional detachment from our past experiences though equally liberating from the slavery of control to which we are involuntarily subjected.