Is there such a thing as TMI? These 4 Canadian artists are out to find the answer

Future Memories, an art show in Montreal, explores how we share our personal lives on social media.

This Montreal art show explores how we share our personal lives on social media

Ambivalently Yours is part of Future Memories, a new group exhibition happening at Montreal's Articule Gallery. It's a rare chance to see the popular Tumblr artist's work IRL. (www.htmlles.net)

What's private and what's public information?

If you've ever blocked a Facebook friend for over-sharing, that question might have crossed your mind. And really, you might ask yourself the exact same thing whenever you choose to post — or not post — on social media.

A new group exhibition in Montreal is exploring how we share our personal lives online, asking whether there is, in fact, such a thing as TMI.

You can publish whatever you want, but in the end, you're creating a story that someone else is interpreting.- Eunice   Bélidor , programming coordinator at Articule

Future Memories, which appears at the city's Articule gallery from November 5 to December 4, features the work of four Canadian artists: Sophia Borowska, Zinnia Naqvi, Zeesy Powers and anonymous Tumblr illustrator Ambivalently Yours.

"Even though they're working in really different mediums, they're all challenging the idea of what is private and what is public," says Eunice Bélidor, the programming coordinator at Articule.

The show is the closing event at this year's HTMLLES, a biannual festival dedicated to exploring art and technology from a feminist perspective. This year's theme is "Terms of Privacy," a topic ripped from Google News, whether we're talking Edward Snowden or the latest celeb gossip. It was just last week, after all, that a U.S. hacker got 18 months in federal prison for stealing — and leaking — personal nude photos from dozens of women, including Jennifer Lawrence. (One of the projects featured in the festival, from German artist Daniela Müller, directly references that incident.)

Ambivalently Yours. As Seen on Tumblr, 2016. (Ambivalently Yours, courtesy of Articule)

Future Memories, however, takes a more everyday approach to the idea of online privacy, specifically the way we use technology to document our lives.

"I use social media a lot, and there's always this feeling that your information is protected, and you can publish whatever you want," says Bélidor. "But in the end, you're creating a story that someone else is interpreting."

Ambivalently Yours

Ambivalently Yours approaches that idea almost literally. Through her popular blog, the Montreal-based artist gets comments and questions from her followers — more messages than any anonymous Tumblr sensation could humanly keep up with, by the looks of things. (According to the counter on her blog, she has more than 1,000 messages pending.)

The anonymous illustrator Ambivalently Yours drew this piece in response to one of her Tumblr followers, Maria Paula. (Tumblr/Ambivalently Yours)

The notes people send are deeply personal and typically tackle feminist issues. They might be confessions of self-doubt or abuse, or requests for advice. In response, she posts empathetic illustrations. Her Future Memories installation is a rare instance of her work being shown IRL.

"She draws upon those comments and questions, so she's trying to create a history," says Bélidor. "And then afterwards these people see how she interpreted that question or that comment and it's a kind of souvenir they can carry from having a conversation with the artist."

"She's reforming [their questions] by creating her work, so what part of that conversation was private and what part of that conversation was public?"

Back to the future

Old technology informs two of the projects — one of the oldest technologies, really, in the case of Montreal's Sophia Borowska. She used a 19th century loom (which works off a binary system, just like a computer) to create her piece, "Data Excess."

Sophia Borowska. Data Excess, 2016. (Sophia Borowska, courtesy of Articule)

The project includes tapestries of spam and low-res screenshots — the dumpster slime of the Internet and the kind of empty information that leaves you wondering why we choose to publish what we do online.

"This idea of going to the past to go to the future — I think that was something that was really strong in all of these works," says Bélidor.

Zinnia Naqvi works with that idea in a much more personal way. "She's looking at her family's past history," says Bélidor, and for her experimental film Seaview, the Toronto artist travelled to her parents' hometown of Karachi, Pakistan to retrace their footsteps and attempt to make their memories her own.

Zeesy Powers. The Averaging Mirror, 2015. (Yuula Benivolski, courtesy of Articule)

The anti-selfie

But interpreting — and repurposing — other people's memories isn't reserved for art projects. In a way, it's just a basic function of social media.

If you look at Zeesy Powers's installation, "The Averaging Mirror," you'll see your reflection — minus your face. Using now-ubiquitous facial-recognition technology, this mirror scratches out the faces that gaze into it. Think of the result as an "anti-selfie."

Zinna Naqvi. Veena, 2016. (Zinnia Naqvi, courtesy of Articule)

"If you can't put it on Instagram, does the thing really exist?" asks Bélidor. According to her, that's one of the main questions being posed by the piece.

And as Powers notes in her writeup for the project, "The Averaging Mirror" confronts every viewer with a truth about social media — a fact every user knows, or at least acknowledges when they sign off on the terms of agreement. "When the service is free, you are the product," Powers writes – and yet, we make a habit of uploading our private thoughts and images without caring about the consequences.

What's private and what's public information? We're all constantly making that call.

Says Bélidor: "What you want to show and what side of yourself you want to display, that's an interesting question."

Future Memories. Featuring Ambivalently Yours, Sophia Borowska, Zinnia Naqvi, Zeesy Powers. Nov. 5 to Dec. 4 at Articule, Montreal. www.articule.org

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.