Interview with Hrag and #thesocialgraph

Art Critic and Editor of art blogazine Hyperallergic, Hrag Vartanian is curating an upcoming show titled #TheSocialGraph, an “evolving exploration of the burgeoning field of social media art and the relation of contemporary art with this populist tool as a medium, facilitator, and subject for art”. Here, he speaks with me about the show, which opens TONIGHT at Outpost and runs thru Nov 27th.

What IS social media art and how does it differ from the ranting, rambling, abbreviating, hash-tagging, and sharing-info-I-don’t-care-to-know found in the likes of Twitter and Facebook?

LMAO…It isn’t, it’s part of the conversation that includes rambling and ranting. Art is simply something professional artists do (doesn’t matter where). Some part-time artists create art in their leisure time and let’s just say that many of us spend lots of leisure time on social media so it’s a nature fit.

But the short answer is social media art is art created, inspired, facilitated, or influenced by social media, social networks, and the social graph.

How is it art when the only medium used is language? Is it conceptual? Is it socially-conscious? Is it self-deprecating (as in the likes of William Powhida) and/or self-promotional (as in the thousands of Jerry Saltz’s “friends”? Is it ironic?

That’s not really true. Tumblr, for instance, is predominantly visual. Facebook is dominated by as many photos as words. Twitter is often littered with links to images or videos and then there is Flickr, YouTube, and other visual services. So social media isn’t only text. It’s in fact just a medium for communication in all its manifestations.

Illustration by Stephanie DeVincentis of Nate Hill’s “Punch Me Panda” (2010) performance, image courtesy the artist

How does social media boost or add onto contemporary art? Isn’t it a tool, a means to an end, that may be in the same category of a showcard and not a medium to create?

Well, that’s what the show is exploring. I’m trying to avoid the obvious Twitter or status update art (which I find played out) and looking at other ways it is used. Surprisingly there are some interesting experiments out there and some are more successful than others.

Performance artists — like Man Bartlett and Nate Hill — use it as a way to connect with a broader audience, some use it as subject matter for their art, like Jennifer Dalton who dug through critic Jerry Saltz’s crazy Facebook profile, and others were banned from it, like the Seychelle Allah of Space Slave Trade who was kicked off Facebook for sharing images deemed inappropriate.

Then there are street artists and street art photographers, like Elbowtoe, Luna Park, Jake Dobkin, Sam Horine, and Becki Fuller, who are having pretty amazing dialogues in real time on the streets and virtually on Flickr (which is the social media site of choice for street art) that involves images of each other and their art, and I’m not even getting into the topic of artists using the social media startup as a medium … which #TheSocialGraph will explore too!

The fact is that most people — including art people — have a very limited idea of social media art. In other words, it’s not what you had for breakfast. Though, if you’re curious, I had a sausage sandwich today and some left over mac ‘n cheese & a cold onion ring…Wait, am I oversharing?

Does this mean the already blurry lines of art and life are just totally fucked now? Is this even a relevant question?

Yes, life is fucked but art is great, so we’ll be fine. I think.

What can be found in the exhibition at Outpost?

There will be some projections, some virtual performances, a social space where events will take place or you can simply hang out. There will be … wait for it … an oil painting!! You’ll find plastic underwear you can take as long as you sign a contract and post an image of yourself with it on social media — that’s James Gilbert‘s brilliant “Tweeted, Googled & Inappropriately Touched” project, which explores the nature of privacy.

There will be installations and Nate Hill will be sleeping in the gallery as Punch Me Panda until someone tweets him to come over to their house so they can slug him for a penny. That’s just some of it. It’s going to be a blast.

Space Slave Trade, “Nuclear Tropics” (2010), image courtesy the artist

What are some events we can look forward to?

There will be a “retrospective” of James Kalm‘s (aka Loren Munk) YouTubes videos, which will be the first ever of the popular online art series. The dude has done an amazing job documenting and infusing his personality into the local art scene so we’re holding a night of communal viewing, which will be introduced and curated by Austin Thomas (who is another major Brooklyn personality). She will then lead a discussion afterwards about the videos and what they mean, inspire, etc.

We’re also curating, with the help of Brent Burket, a retrospective of YouTube videos, which is fun and will explore memes, cat videos, and black metal (one of Brent’s passions). There’s a listening party planned for the closing party, which will feature Paddy Johnson‘s awesome Sound of Art DJ battle record, and there’s more but you’ll just have to wait and see. The full schedule is still evolving and will be available at Hyperallergic.

Are you moving the Hyperallergic office to Outpost because you’re too lazy to commute? By setting up shop at the space will you be considered a performance? Will the office be available for viewing by the public?

Yup, we perform everyday, so why not in the space, right?

Actually, I’m treating Hyperallergic as an object and social hub. The art blogazine was conceived with social media as an integral part of its identity, so we wanted to plop that in the center of the action and generate content for the blogazine, tumblelog, podcast, etc. right from that space.

Social media is as much about revealing layers that aren’t normally seen from our relationships and connections, so we’ll be there and you can watch us work. If you want to show up and watch me peruse Chatroulette, be my guest! Though that’s really started to suck since they are asking people to stay fully clothed … boring. I’ve moved onto, which is just bizarre and all the rage with the tech geek community of New York. So, come watch me answer people’s stupid questions if you wish. Or ask me one at

Ok, I’ll come clean. It’s because I’m lazy, sorry for lying to you.

Can you give us a sneak peak of Man Bartlett’s site-specific work? Can it be described in color, shape, space, and material?

Man will actually be doing a residency in our Williamsburg office while we are in the Bushwick gallery. He’s going to be creating work for the show! LIVE! Don’t you love the World Wide Web? Btw, shouldn’t you have been asking me all this on social media instead of email? I mean, get with it, Joann!


Filed under Art

3 responses to “Interview with Hrag and #thesocialgraph

  1. Pingback: #TheSocialGraph Explores Social Media Art - PSFK

  2. sven

    hrag vartanian wasnt he the bad guy in ghostbusters 2?

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