"Like everyone in the world, we're Facebook friends," quipped visual artist Cliff Eyland. He and writer George Toles are presenting an exhibition called Facebook Posts by George Toles, Illustrated by Cliff Eyland at McNally Robinson, presented by Gurevich Fine Art, opening on June 16.
'I love nonsense, I feel life itself is irreducibly strange, as are the contents of every person's head once you get beneath the top soil.' - George Toles
Back in 2009, Toles got the idea to invent fictional status updates on Facebook.
"I began doing status updates as a way of making my time on Facebook seem less completely wasted," he laughed.
"Also, I don't enjoy talking about myself on Facebook, and so this curious entity -- the status update -- just struck me as something that might be a place to try something that had art aspirations built into it."
At the time, there was a fixed number of characters permitted, "so I began to create mini narratives with what I hoped would be enough definition and surprise and oddity to hold a Facebook reader's attention," he said.
"I just feel that the whole game plan was to trade in both surprise and uncertainty. The last thing I wanted was a reliable mood for these updates. I wanted there to be constant collisions from day to day and I did not want it to be cute whimsy, I wanted there to be an edge to it, I wanted if possible for them to be mysterious."
And they are bizarre. "I've worked with Guy Maddin a long time," explained Toles, who has co-written a number of movies with Maddin and is also an active actor and theatre director. "I love nonsense, I feel life itself is irreducibly strange, as are the contents of every person's head once you get beneath the top soil."
Eyland describes Toles' style as "wacky Winnipeg eccentricity. It's common here."
One day Eyland, who had been receiving Toles' status updates, decided to illustrate one of them. Then, of his own volition, he decided to go back and illustrate all of them. So the project was born, and now Eyland has 1680 illustrations to go with Toles' texts. Eyland decided to make his cut-off date Dec. 31, 2013, but Toles is still going strong, inventing a new status update each and every day.
Some of Eyland's illustrations are literal, and others seem only peripherally related.
"I'd pick a word or phrase and make an illustration of that. I tried to have a range of explicit references and other illustrations that are a little elusive."
Eyland, whose 1000 3 X 5 inch paintings are on display at the Millennium Library, says that artists are trying to figure out the relationship between art and social media. Toles has some ideas.
"Facebook is a place, like any other, where art might happen, might sprout without too much fuss or fanfare. And the very fact that something called a status update exists and may be the basis for a genre, well I like the sheer democracy of Facebook, the fact that it's free, that there's no obligation for anybody to do anything with it. I like the fact that you have basically one sentence to seal the deal with the reader. I like instant response. Within a minute of posting one of these things someone might have read and liked it and there's something nifty about that," he said.
Eyland also created a nine-hour movie featuring 500 of the posts. And there is talk about a book down the road.
Facebook Posts by George Toles, Illustrated by Cliff Eyland opens at McNally Robinson on June 16 in Prairie Ink restaurant and will be up for one month.