On March 21st, 2014, the collaborative duo Nate Larson and Marni Shindleman took to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to answer questions by In the In-Between writer Luke Shaw. This conversation began with the question: How can human intimacy can be attained through digitally mediated dialogue?
What we found was an exchange that quickly became obfuscated and scattered, ultimately telling of how social media correspondence can become tangled in a web of tags, likes, comments, mentions, links, images and videos.
The following is a transcription of the conversation.
Luke Shaw conducting the interview #NateandMarni: A Social Conversation
Facebook (Flak Photo Network)
You two have been thinking about non-spoken, niche communication for some time: Witness was a collaborative effort where you tried to transfer thoughts psychically, which was inspired by government research on psychic transmission during the Cold War. Semaphore was a play on SMS communication. They’re funny and fitting precursors to your Twitter work because neither of them functionally, communicatively worked that well. So there was failure involved.
Could you give us a general overview of what attracted you to the earlier projects?
It’s interesting looking at the older projects too – with Witness it really became about longing and desire to connect, and we see those same threads running through the Geolocation work
But, as you say, I don’t know that that project was entirely successful – instead it allowed us to consider an art idea as a open ended question and set us up for some good future methodology
Marni Shindelman: I was thinking of the same project as I was driving around today and thinking of this interview
Luke Shaw: I’m happy you mentioned the place of the occurrence because half of #geolocation was about going there and being where that tweet occurred. There’s also a performative aspect too to all your work.
Marni Shindelman: I think of it more as a methodology- like a Fluxus score
Luke Shaw: In geolocation it occurred under the hood, behind the scenes, but you can see a nice build up to geolocation.
Nate Larson: With the performative comment, I do think that it’s important for us to be self aware and acknowledge our role as artists in all of our projects. They don’t come from a presumably “neutral space,” rather they are products of a particular culture and space in the world.
Luke Shaw: Returning back to communication, I’ve imagined you as ghost hunters seeking out the residual spirit of an emotional occurrence. In your process of digging through twitter, finding the right post, traveling to the gps coordinates of that post, and photographing in that location, at what point did you feel the strongest connection with whomever posted the tweet? Did you feel a connection when you visited the place?
Luke Shaw: *back to connection
Nate Larson: That image is the very first one in the project and standing in that place and touching that wall was super powerful, for me anyway.
Nate Larson: That person just lost their job and I just imagined them smoking a cigarette and updating their Twitter account on their blackberry.
Marni Shindelman: “Amy is Dying”
Marni Shindelman: It was the first time I really felt the person I was photographing’s story. On the top of a parking garage at a local hospital. It was a real moment in the work for me.
Luke Shaw: Have you spoken with any viewers of the work who have experienced similar connections? Enhanced connections compared to what would have been felt by just looking at the twitter feed?
Nate Larson: That’s one of the reasons we like to make site-specific work now, so that community sees the photographs and perhaps recognizes the places
Marni Shindelman: The work really gives viewers the thought “These vast things, like Twitter, Facebook, etc.” are full of individual people.
Nate Larson: I love that someone walking their dog might encounter it, recognize the locations, and know something more about their surroundings.
Luke Shaw: I’d like to get to the site specific work in a moment. A question about the individuals: Your process affirms that the person who tweeted this thing has a corporeal body, that there is an actual human attached to this floating idea. The act could be celebrated as humanizing, but the images are so sparse, so lonely. The interpretive openness here imparts a great deal of power to the work, but I’m curious how you think the work relates to the twitter user… Does it advocate? Does it empathize? Does it celebrate? Does it alienate?
Marni Shindelman: It does all in different images– the overall idea of the project is to empathize with the user, but then based on the individual tweet, the pieces function is different ways. The #RIP tweets have more empathy than the #HowtoKeepARelationshipWithMe
Nate Larson: (trying to include visual references for those following along that may be less familiar with the work)
Luke Shaw: Back to the sites, How did placing your work in physically social contexts (NYC’s DUMBO area (http://www.larson-shindelman.com/site-specific-proposal), billboards (http://www.larson-shindelman.com/atlanta), buildings (http://www.larson-shindelman.com/shift-change-install#2), airports (http://www.larson-shindelman.com/indianapolis) contribute to the relationship that forms between the tweet-er, you, and the rest of the world? Is there a monumentalization occurring?
Nate Larson: can you expand the monumentalization question?
Nate Larson: What’s been interesting for me about those is the capsule nature of our experience with the site. For example, we spent a week of long days in the airport to make that piece and it’s real strange to not be traveling yourself. It was also interesting to see the nature of tweets in the airport – really makes you think about the state of modern travel to dwell on those posts.
Luke Shaw: The scale and the overwhelming physicality of these site specific works contrasts with the smaller scale prints in a gallery. I was just wondering if your goals or reading of the work changed when it became huge.
Nate Larson: For me, it became more about communicating in a new context – those are the forms appropriate to the place itself.
Luke Shaw: attaching monument to the question has something to do with mourning, loss, remembrance.
Marni Shindelman: hmmmm. . . we always think of the site so much more, not much about the size
Marni Shindelman: We have always talked about these as small, virtual memorials
Nate Larson: sort of like a historical plaque on a battlefield
Luke Shaw: so just to complete the thought, did the work change when it went on a billboard. or did the billboard simply impart a wider audience?
Nate Larson: For me, it was about the audience.
Marni Shindelman: Oh, the work changed. But it changed, because the audience (cue Nate’s comment appearing at this very moment- #psychic) changed. We were pulling tweets from our audience, not just our communities.
Nate Larson: The billboard company claimed 650,000 eyes on impressions a week for some of the locations
Luke Shaw: This is really wonderful. Thank you. At this point, we’re going to switch over @inthein-between’s twitter feed to discuss the nature and implications of digital communication in 140 characters or fewer. Follow along and comment via #nateandmarni @inthein_between.
Nate Larson: See you there!
Marni Shindelman: Over and Out.
@marnimcfly: It was an open platform- and was inherently public, where FB is inherently private
@marnimcfly: I have always been interested in how people “touch and feel” via the Internet. “I got pregnant via the Internet” http://marnishindelman.com/projects/#itemId=51929e18e4b012e20ee5b957
larsnateson: Maybe. But I still find the images as disjointed as twitter text. #nateandmarni
mmarnimcfly: Absolutely!! It goes back to memorials and we think our photographs do serve to reframe tweets.
intheinbetween: @larsnateson @mmarnimcfly what’s with all the selfies? I see a lot of narcissism going on here. Do you think the tweets you sought out had strains of narcissism? Or were they desperate for a different sort of attention?
Snapchats from Nate Larson
Many thanks for participating! I think the content we produced was really fantastic.
I have never held a continos continuous conversation with anyone in that fashion before. The lags, the interrupting posts, and the disjointed nature of the whole experience lead led to a fair amount of pacing about the room between posts.
How was the experience for you? Any closing comments?
Here’s what I have to say:
1) Please accept this lock of hair as proof that the entity you connected with for a 90min was a living, breathing human being.
2) I think until the time comes when “plugging into the net” becomes a more literal action, @huggyythependuin [email protected] will just have to stand the disappointment.
Few things are worse than being in a hug position with no one to hug.
(and the In-Between crew)
I like to imagine Internet people, friends, relationships, like our relationships to starts. We feel connected, we feel we “know” them, we follow them, but yet we can’t touch them. Or it can be likened to my relationship with my dog- I can touch him, talk to him, but he can never talk. Internet relationships are like that- always missing something and yet so much easier than real life
Bio: Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman’s collaborative work focuses on the cultural understanding of distance as perceived in modern life and network culture. Their projects have recently been featured in Wired Magazine, The Picture Show from NPR, The Dish, PetaPixel, Fast Company, Gizmodo, Hyperallergic, the New York Times, Hotshoe Magazine, the Washington Post, Utne Reader, Flavorwire, Frieze Magazine, the British Journal of Photography, the BBC News Viewfinder, and on the radio program Marketplace Tech Report.
Nate Larson is full-time faculty at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He received his MFA from The Ohio State University in 2002. Marni Shindelman is Lecturer in Photography at the University of Georgia. She received her MFA from the University of Florida in 2002.
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Interview by Luke Shaw
Introduction by Gregory Jones
Special thank you to Andy Adams for allowing us to conduct the first portion of this interview on Flak Photo Network