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Telling a Story, in 12 Seconds or Less


by Betsy Lewis 29 Jun 2009

Photographer Christi Nielsen, a UT-Dallas alum, has just wrapped up curating SecondHand, a new media exhibition online,  in preparation for a second show later this summer at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art.  Using the social media sites Twitter, Facebook and 12 Seconds,  Nielsen selects a “prompt” – a short, unusual phrase found on a social media site – […]

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Photo by Christi Nielsen

Photographer Christi Nielsen, a UT-Dallas alum, has just wrapped up curating SecondHand, a new media exhibition online,  in preparation for a second show later this summer at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art.  Using the social media sites Twitter, Facebook and 12 Seconds,  Nielsen selects a “prompt” – a short, unusual phrase found on a social media site – then sends it to 16 video artists, who interpret the prompt in a 10- 12 second video. (The first three prompts in SecondHand: “I recently saw my life flashing;” “Once I used this space to speak without consequence;” and “There’s a dead kitty in the refrigerator.”)

Though some artists participated from as far away as Canada and Providence, R.I., most are located here in North Texas. The idea was born two years ago in a grad level emerging media class at UTD called simply “Mobile Lab.” Professor Dean Terry had a deal with Samsung to test new state-of-the-art cellphones, and one of the tested functions was predicated on content creation. Nielsen lead a small team of graduate students (including me) in creative experimentation that ultimately led to exhibitions at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dallas Contemporary and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Now a Los Angelina, Nielsen has revived the group, called Inter.Sect, and suavely persuaded the LACDA into an impending partnership. SecondHand began its run on June 19 and ended at midnight on the 26. You can now see the videos online at 12Seconds.tv.

Sounds weird, yes? I asked Christi to soothe our collective technology fears with a few questions:

How do social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook factor into an artistic experiment like this?

We seem to believe that we can still express ourselves with shorter and shorter strings of text. The initial frustration of limited characters eventually evolves into an appreciation of the requirement to be succinct. Can our artistic expression be filtered in the same way? Would we still call it art even though it only took 12 seconds.

What frustrations have you encountered so far?

You have the normal frustrations of any exhibition. You just learn to deal with them. I suppose the more technology you keep piling on, the higher chance of something going wrong. The 12seconds.tv Web site was down during one day. We just had to wait until it was back up!

Is there anything taken away from curating a show when it’s available online as well as in a gallery setting?

Not in my opinion. However, I think most of the art world does not take it seriously unless it is shown in a gallery. The viewers, however, respond very positively to this sort of work. It is very accessible to them, and they are very intrigued by the fact that something they did online could become part of the exhibit.

People are very concerned with a central location to view the art. But having the work dispersed all over the Internet was part of the exhibit. It mimics the short status updates that are easily missed but searchable. It functions very much like a live performance. You see the work if you happen to be in the space. However, just like other performance art, there is documentation of it. The videos are searchable, and they also exist on the blog in an edited compilation. As with any exhibition, the space affects how we install the work. This particular exhibit would not work in a gallery, because the Internet is the performance space.

To watch the videos:

http://www.christinielsen.com
http://www.intersectartcollective.com
http://12seconds.tv

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  • I saw Christi Nielsen’s video “Beauty in a Box” on her website. Simple concept, very well executed, and very poignant in its message.