The Ghost in Gallery Five

The Ghost in Gallery Five

For the last month strangers have been sending me photos. 

Well, technically Hammer Museum visitors have been sending me Snapchats from an iPad under the alias of ‘almost-there.’ I ‘jbellzamy’ receive mostly PG rated photos that disappear after a few seconds, mimicking a ghost, the app’s mascot. Now perhaps I’ve watched Amelie too many times but I’m addicted; it’s a less haunting alternative to seeing beyond the veil.

The majority of faces look like they are my age–millennials. Some are alone. There’s an older gentleman looking startled at his own reflection.  An old high-school friend I haven’t seen in years. Occasionally they are face-less, holding up whatever flyer, calendar or brochure that they picked up from the welcome desk. Sometimes I receive painfully ironic messages in neon, scrawled over the photo pronouncing “Art is Dead” or “All you need is love." I even get some very ambitious and detailed renditions of other pieces of art. One girl let me know that she was wearing her “first adult pair of overalls.”  It’s all pretty organic and personal. 

But this isn’t just any iPad. It is part of Devin Kenny’s Made in L.A. work, and to me it has a purpose–it reflects. What appears to be a superficial selfie is situated in a way that makes the way we view ourselves much more complex. Kenny has an interactive set-up in the show that encourages a similar reflection and reevaluation. Music, video, and technology are combined with articles and modified common objects that push the visitor past the form to see what it is in the process of becoming. His work gives someone like me an opportunity to explore growing up with what Kenny identifies as “the tropes of a social-media-driven youth culture,” while providing the freedom to relish in the absurdity of technology.  

An article from 1999 sits on the table where fifth graders predict what advances they will see during the millennium (I like to think someone predicted Snapchat). To me it feels like all the work mimics a point in time, except our understanding and relationship to everything else about that time and place has changed.

Can we ever change the essence of something? Is true reality timeless? Is this work a type of online-metaphysics? When something begins to take on a meaning is that accidental? Can anything that brings you to a certain pattern of thinking hold an ontological scope? Did I interpret this right? Where are all those Snapchats actually going? Who are these people? Will I see you again? Should an iPad in a museum give me so many thoughts and feelings? 

But in the meantime, please keep the Snapchats coming.

On August 5, Devin Kenny presents In the Cloud/ On the Ground: the Affective Space of Our Telecommunication EnvironmentThough music, video, spoken word, and audience participation the Made in L.A. 2014 artist looks at structures of power as they relate to social media.

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Tags: Made in L.A., Social Media, Snapchat, Devin Kenny