Everything has been said about social media. Not so, claims painter, photographer, and digital artist Mónica Márquez in an exhibition titled One and No One at the Voix Visuelle artist-run centre. She presents two visual proposals on Twitter and on Facebook.
The Twitter series – which Márquez identifies with a butterfly instead of a bird, shows snapshots of daily public life in various parts of the world. The photos are framed by banners which resemble the format of a tweet. But not quite. One wonders if these can really be screen captures given the sharpness of the images. The giveaway comes by noting that most images contain elements altered by computer – in colour or in pattern. Márquez has set the viewer up: all of her images are montages. The scenes they depict turn out to have been shot by the artist and carefully selected. They represent people on the move and echo the continuous flow of information and exchange on the Twitter platform. If everyone is following everyone else, where are we all going?
The Facebook series reveals additional complexity. Its topic moves away from the crowd to focus on individuals. The titles of the works refer to people’s name, fictitious or not, such as “Nana Kimura” or “Amani Jabir”. In addition to banners, the artist introduces various input boxes and informative quotes. This, of course, is also pure fantasy with respect to the real Facebook interface. Yet, these additions indicate a need or even an urge to communicate. Equally significant are the coloured squares found in many pictures. These are reminiscent of the squares used by face recognition applications. Are we being observed and sought by some Big Brother or simply but no less dreadfully by anybody on Facebook? As in the Twitter series, the Facebook photos have been altered by computer.
The aesthetics of the photos behind Márquez’s montages raise questions. It clearly belongs to street photography. The photos represent instants in the life of people going about their daily activities. They were taken surreptitiously and their composition is haphazard. On the other hand, most of the real photos posted on Twitter or Facebook do not share this kind of aesthetic. They largely belong to two categories: the intimate and the spectacular. By falling between these extremes, the ordinary images of One and No One act as a symbol, not of the contents of social medias, but of social medias in themselves as networks.
Indeed, Márquez poses the question of identity in the day and age of social media. Networks represent the main vehicle to construct identity. Yet it is difficult to build a coherent narrative from them given their disparate and fleeting nature. Interacting with Twitter and Facebook is, on the one hand, a solitary act (on the computer, on the tablet, on the smartphone) and, on the other hand, an act of total immersion and interconnection within “the network”. From Márquez’s photomontages and photo alterations, one gets the sense that identity resides at the surface of things. The alterations made to the photographs behave as a metaphor of the made-up nature of what gets posted on social media. This is magnified by the choice of materials, each work being produced by inkjet on paper glued under acrylic. The pieces look like glossy screens, partially reflecting the image of the viewer himself or herself. The works in the Twitter series have the dimensions of a tablet (26 x 34 cm) while those in the Facebook series have the dimensions of a computer screen (52 x 79 cm).
Mónica Márquez was born in Colombia and has practiced as an artist in Ottawa since 2001. Artist-run centre Voix Visuelle in one of a few that promote digital art in their programming. It is located on Beechwood Avenue.