I have moved, you can now find updates on my work at
what happens to your accounts and online existence when you die?
It seems a morbid subject to research, but over the past few years Facebook has become a huge part of daily life for many, from reconnecting with old friends, the convenience of instant messaging, prolific photo sharing to even organizing classes and work.
I have always found the common social media formalities to be unnatural, for example filling the profile of whom ever’s birthday it happens to be that day with brisk depersonalised messages, some it seems to just retain their own digital presence. But the strangest occurrence to me is the convention of an online death from the announcement to the impromptu obituary as the news spreads over peoples feeds.
Just as social media birthday etiquette occurs; as a Facebook friend passes away their profile’s timeline is inundated with detached, impersonal posts among the emotional messages from the friends that knew them. The latter is just as odd to me, if the friend is deeply saddened by the subjects passing and wishes to pay their respects,
why is it the ‘norm’ to automatically turn to social media to directly access and publicly type long messages to lost friends?
Does that person then unintentionally ‘become’ their facebook account?
I have been compiling a list of Facebook profiles for which the owner is dead, only a few I actually knew of when they were alive. Can Facebook preserve the pixelated ‘life’ of someone forever, or is the website lifeless and dehumanising enough for us to never have an online existence in the first place, or both? (read previous post for more discussion)
STUDIUM; What the literal image is, the cultural reading, the narrative
PUNCTUM; a memorable point within the image that draws you in, creates interest
(Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida)
Above is a small selection of the facebook profiles belonging to people passed away that I have collected. I then took the profile photo left behind and cropped them to which I decided was the ‘punctum’, the obvious narrative/studium was mostly removed and they were anonymous. This was an automatic decision to keep my work ethical, there is no way of gaining permission so it seemed morally wrong to show identities, even though these images were found publicly on the internet for anyone to view.
4 of the profile photos photomontaged, abstracting the image further;
Next I decided to return to working digitally, as the subject itself, although still taking steps to remove the narrative. (below created using the algorithms of the google image ‘drag drop’ search option, each thumbnail grid is what google decided were the most similar online images to each of the profile photos)
Projection images at 24 frames/second
[to be continued]
My work over the past few months has been based around the ‘online presence’ and etiquette of social media (as seen in Spooling the Ethnographic).
A significant part of the world of online presence and social accounts that often gets overlooked is what happens to you accounts and online existence when you die? I have been compiling a list of Facebook profiles for which the owner is dead, only a few I actually knew of when they were alive. What struck me was that the majority of these deceased stranger’s profiles only identified as not being alive because someone had previously said so before I clicked on the link, to tell the difference between the profile of a person alive or dead without being an ‘online friend’ is near impossible as their online presence is just as apparent. This is also a paradox in itself, can Facebook preserve the pixelated ‘life’ of someone forever, or is the website lifeless and dehumanising enough for us to never have an online existence in the first place, or both?
I have always found the common social media formalities to be unnatural; becoming ‘friends’ with people whom you may have not seen in years, (no longer to interact but to observe it seems?), filling the profile of whom ever’s birthday it happens to be that day with brisk depersonalised messages, some it seems to just retain their own digital presence. But the strangest occurrence to me is the convention of an online death from the announcement to the impromptu obituary as the news spreads over peoples feeds. Just as social media birthday etiquette occurs; as a Facebook friend passes away their profile’s timeline is inundated with detached, impersonal posts among the emotional messages from the friends that knew them. The latter is just as odd to me, if the friend is deeply saddened by the subjects passing and wishes to pay their respects, why are more and more people now automatically turning to social media?
The Facebook policy for death can be found under ‘report a violation’ and gives you two options; to either remove the Facebook account entirely (whether or not any information is stored internally is not stated) or convert the profile into a memorial page which you cannot log into, just post photos and messages. To complete either of these requests you must first prove yourself as a family member or close friend, and then submit their name, the date they passed away and proof of death. Twitter also requests a death certificate but also asked for optional uploads like obituaries and newspaper clippings describing the death. The internet and having personal online accounts is still a fairly new addition to society and so handling the millions of ‘empty’ accounts left behind as they outlive their creators is still an unfamiliar entity, there’s no obvious process or courtesy. Because of this, submitting death certificates and details of deceased friends to giant global corporations to ‘complete the circle’ allowing their details to be discretely disregarded or memorialised (forever?) feels like crossing a moral boundary, dehumanisation of a very human subject. Plus, where does the information go? If an account is deactivated, it can be re-activated at any time, the information just sitting in a database. Is the information stored in this situation also or used for future research?
Online businesses have been set up to try and manage this predicament, allowing users to pass on digital assets, passwords, messages, photos, videos and images et al to designated heirs and executors. Most of the websites I found allowed these heirs access to your left information when you are confirmed dead by one or several nominated trustees. Another website, ‘Deathswitch’, used a password system. The website periodically prompts the user for a password, and after a few missed password chances then according to their website information ‘the computer deduces you are dead’ to which then your ‘trustees’ are informed.
My following work has been working around these themes and experimenting with the genre of social media imagery.
Been super busy with dissertation writing and studio work so here are a few photos from the past weeks around London, new work posts coming soon!
Canon allowed me to be part of London Fashion Week to experience shooting the catwalk. It was an incredible opportunity and I loved every second! Here are some of my favourites from the AW14 Trends show which were ‘One and Only’, ‘Candy Crush’, ‘Jungle Fever’ and ‘Fairytale Ending’.
Click on a photo to open the gallery!
”Spooling the Ethnographic” was a group exhibition by a group of Central Saint Martins 2nd year Fine Art students including myself. Ethnography is defined ”The scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences”. To begin our research we read Hal Fosters ‘Artist as Ethnographer’, in which Foster claims that anthropology, the science of the state of being other or different , has become the common language between those whose native languages are different within artistic practice. This fitted our location well, we were given a room within Iniva Gallery in which to exhibit our group work. Iniva was established in 1994 to address an imbalance in the representation of culturally diverse artists.
A great inspiration to this series of work for me was photographer Shizuka Yokomizo. For this 1998-2000 series of portraits, photographer, Yokomizo left anonymous letters on the doorsteps of random ground floor apartments with the message:
“Dear Stranger, I am an artist working on a photographic project which involves people I do not know…. I would like to take a photograph of you standing in your front room from the street in the evening.”
These letters gave simple instructions for when the artist would come and take the photograph. The only contact she had with the subjects of these voyeur portraits was when Shizuka sent the subjects a print of the image and her contact info in case they didn’t want the photograph exhibited.
My interests and areas to explore around this subject were very similar to another member of the groups so we decided to collaborate. I wanted to explore social relationships and interactions enhanced by online platforms. How and why people use social media, and the authenticity of the friendships formed there.
To begin our investigations we decided to organise and film a series of individual interviews with the rest of the group. We asked them their opinion on social media, if they like facebook, why they use facebook and if they also used any other social media platforms. We also printed out the first couple of posts and photos the interview subject ever posted on their profile, some being 6 or 7 years ago to present to them unexpectedly.
The majority of the people we spoke to did not care about facebook at first, many deleted their accounts a re-joined later. As most had either been travelling or have lived in different countries they use facebook to keep in contact easily or find people they could not find otherwise. One person even said how while she was travelling she lost her phone and did not have any phone numbers of the people she was meeting to find her hotel and luggage, the only option was to find somewhere with internet as facebook can be accessed so easily from virtually anywhere, she does not know what she would’ve done without it!
Some described facebook as self-indulgent, a guilty pleasure to gain photo and status ‘likes’ and constant comparisons to everyone else uploading the exact same potential ‘like’-provoking content. A negative side that was expressed several times was that even if you delete your profile, you can re-activate it, all of your information is stored infinitely whether you want it to or not.
When we handed the subjects the first status’s and photos they posted the reactions were varied, some were embarrassed at the things they used to share, or the way they shared it, some were emotional at the memories the posts brought back and some could not even recall posting it, or why they would’ve done.
To bring the whole groups ideas together we arranged improvisation workshops to experiment with our themes, for example writing and swapping artist statements, asking and answering questions as another group member, first impressions experiments, matching descriptions to each group member. This gave us the idea of using the group concept ‘Becoming the Other’, as it fitted in perfectly with the ideas and research we were doing on anthropology and ethnography, as well as the gallery space within Iniva.
The Iniva Website promoting our exhibition
improvisation workshops and private view
the gallery space at Iniva
My collaboration partner and I wanted to continue with using Facebook as a base to our investigations but we didn’t want to use the interview footage in a public gallery space as it’s only really effective if you know the subjects personally. We decided to create a fake facebook profile, ”Mary Ann Smith”.
For the weeks building up to the exhibition we worked on making the profile seem as real as possible, adding as many friends as we could, giving it a vaguely common name, adding photographs, ‘liking’ pages, writing generic status’s and interacting with the newsfeed of other peoples posts. As the exhibition time drew nearer we thought the best option was to set out a laptop with Mary Ann’s facebook page logged in. Instead of just letting people view it, we set out a series of instructions so to encourage the audience to participate and let Mary Ann become, in a way, the profile of the exhibition, each viewer allowed to add, like and say what they like to Mary Ann’s ‘friends’, the majority of whom did not know she was an art project.
While deciding how to curate the ‘Becoming the other’ exhibition we came to a decision that the room should have a domestic feel. All the pieces fitted well in this theme, for example there was a rail of clothes to try and fit into next to a mirror, a book to read through, a documentary style video of cooking in a kitchen, a giant cushion-y pizza in the centre of the room that acted as a meeting point to sit on and relax, and others. I put the laptop on a desk in front of a window as to imitate a homely setting. In front of it was a comfy chair with a cushion and on the floor was a rug. Around the laptop on the desk there was a pot of flowers, photo frames and a few random ornaments and the instructions were placed next to the laptop.
I’m really pleased with the outcome, there were so many interactions and posts, even private messages exchanging details with unknowing facebook recipients although some worked it out eventually! Here’s a few examples…
visit or add Mary Ann at https://www.facebook.com/inivaethnography
About a year ago I visited an exhibition in the Barbican Curve Gallery by Geoffrey Farmer called ‘The Surgeon and The Photographer’ which gave me the idea of sculptural or upstanding collage. Geoffrey’s exhibition was full of hundreds of little collaged figures, almost puppet like balancing on sticks.
As I had been animating the city and urban landscapes I thought this would be a good and simple base to attempt 3D work just for fun, I was curious as to how it would turn out and needed an opportunity to put to use all the paper buildings I had been collecting.
I fixed paper buildings onto cardboard for stability and masking-taped them onto the board to easily change their positions. I also folded some and stood them under paper cuttings to bridge gaps and laid buildings flat to build up the landscape and surface. From above it looked messy and random, to view it piece together as a city-scape you had to be eye-level and centered. For the background I just propped up a canvas of ripped newsprint and images to be a blurred sky-like image for the meantime although I would like to improve on this.
from the front;