#JenniferAllen #SommerakademieSalzburg #cities #public #private #surveillance #circulation #socialmedia
Sommerakademie Salzburg, also historically known as the “school of vision,” opened its doors in 1959 to anyone interested in studying art. Now entering its 61st year, the academy attracts a broad range of practitioners to participate in courses taught by artists and cultural theorists. This year’s public program was entitled Cities—Spaces for Art and Living, and I was especially drawn to Jennifer Allen’s talk, “The End of Privacy and the Fate of the Public Sphere.” Although I recently relocated to Berlin, I spent the previous three years living in San Francisco—a city that has undergone tumultuous changes as a result of the third wave of tech gentrification. My response to Allen’s talk on privacy is certainly colored by interrelated topics like affective labor, the relationship between technology and the arts, and gentrification, all of which are ongoing conversations within the Bay Area arts community.
Allen began her presentation with the premise that she no longer believes in the divide between public and private space. “Sure, the traditional divisions between public and private still exist—from abstract laws to concrete fences,” she concedes, “but the virtual realm of digitization can permeate both abstract and concrete barriers, like magic dust or voodoo.” Allen’s argument extends claims made by artist Seth Price in his now-canonical text Dispersion—written “way back in 2002” before the age of YouTube, tablets, and smartphones. More than a decade later, when even my grandmother uses Facebook on a daily basis, it’s not only “digital natives” who prove Price’s assertion that “collective experience is now based on simultaneous private experiences, distributed across the field of media culture, knit together by ongoing debate, publicity, promotion, and discussion.” Yet if our notion of collectivity has expanded—now extending from the town square to the deep web—Allen argues that our notion of public art largely has not. To support this claim, she sketches a line from the classical monument—linking the genealogy of public art to Abbé Henri Grégoire’s conception of the “national object[s],” which, he writes, “belonging to no one, are the property of everyone”—to incursions of private, customized gestures into public space. One such gesture, a work by Swedish artist Lena Malm titled Have You Wondered How Many People Have the Same Name as You? I Did (1994–99), entailed the artist poring over the phone book and other public records in her native Stockholm, looking for other individuals with her name; her labors resulted in a lunch for fifty-five Lena Malms at the Moderna Museet, which Allen likened to the analog version of a Google (image) Search. Other examples, like the artist and architect Vasiliki-Maria Plavou’s work Locus Erectus (2013) treat the physical and digital public as “continuous” spaces. In this work Plavou feeds algorithms of her physical and virtual observations of a gay cruising zone outside of Athens into her computer to generate a digital design for a drilling machine that would enable her to penetrate this forbidden territory. Allen considers these works self-portraits executed in public, noting that they often extend beyond the realm of media into the virtual. Allen considers these works self-portraits executed in public, noting that they often extend beyond the realm of media into the virtual.