Facebook and The Death of Mystery

I received an email recently notifying me that I was “tagged” in a facebook entry called “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” from an old friend. We actually went on a few dates many many years ago and I haven’t seen him in about three years, but we’ve remained friends. Curious, I clicked on the link and learned twenty five things about him I never knew, like the rest of his four hundred friends. He’s a very witty guy, so it wasn’t quite like “I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain,” but in another way, it was oddly close. By tagging me he was requesting, or essentially daring me, along with the other nine friends he had tagged, to do the same thing. I impulsively started to do it and then never posted anything

My facebook life started off about a year and a half ago with friends and people I know closely, then my family started dribbling in, and the next thing I knew my friends included that person from a job I had ten years ago, students I’ve taught at art school, that really weird guy from high school, and an old roommate in college… and on and on it continued. That was the first sign of “friend leakage”, where I had expanded beyond the scope of intimate friends and was venturing into people outside of my circle, but usually by only a few degrees — at least I knew them.

Then things started getting out of hand. It started with a friend who is a supreme animal rights crusader with a very sexy, come-hither thumbnail picture. I haven’t seen her in years but she wrote a book and is semi-famous for the cause, so because of her, I have about one hundred extra friends. I know this because when someone requests that they be my friend in Facebook, I can see all the friends we have in common. I kept seeing this one friend, and then I realized I had become a part of the save the animals movement because our mutual friends kept including the friends I had met through her. Honestly, I started to get a little loose about whom I would “friend”– that’s right, Facebook made me feel promiscuous– I would wait then say, “Oh what the hell, after all, we have mutual friends.” It was then when I truly appreciated the fractal component of the friending process.

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“The Facebook Friending Process” (Illustration courtesy of Mandelbrot)

When I joined initially, I saw in Facebook something that resembled the early days of AOL when people were giddy about first sending emails and buddy lists and instant messaging were all the rage. Unlike many other people, who put videos of their kid’s first step, pictures from their recent barbecue and the details of their love life (options are “single”, “in a relationship”, “married” and “it’s complicated”), I try not to reveal too much — at least I don’t think I do — but even that’s getting blurry. At some point I must have made the decision that because I am an artist, my work is something I want and need to share, and I think of Facebook as one of many tools to do that. I’ve also come to consider one’s digital footprint to be, in a sense, another form of existence outside of the physical body. And it’s scope and appearance needs to be tended to so that it compositionally represents the portrait you want to present to the outside world.

But what struck me as so odd about the request for 25 secret things about me was I instantly envisioned that I could be creating a white paper on my entire spiritual, intellectual and life DNA. Imagine getting friended by someone who you’ve been set up with on a date, and he goes on your site to read what would ordinarily be doled out like pearls rolling down a pillow after an intimate evening over months or years of getting to know each other. If you fully fill out the profile questionnaire, you could let someone know every movie or favorite song you like, your favorite hobby and, along with your photos, video and baby pictures, it would read like a map of your very essence.

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Kimberly Brooks. Detail from “Delivery” Oil on Panel. 2004

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that Amazon would close Cody’s Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, along with countless other independent bookstores; that I’d see a “going out of business” sign at the Tower Records down the hill; that bloggers and aggregators would somehow supplant (usurp?) journalists for news sources and that the New York Times (The New York Times!) would mortgage it’s building to stay alive.

I cannot help but to cast my mind forward. My ten year old son started a blog while we were at a dinner party. Now he wants to spend hours gathering cool content for it to show his friends. When he’s not begging me for a phone, it’s for me to blog about his blog so he can get a bigger audience. I wonder what they will call the generation who grows up with all this. I believe Time Magazine called mine “X” because it was right after the baby boomers and we hadn’t defined ourselves yet (well, we showed them). Then came “Generation Y” because it was after us. I would rename this one Generation “E” for “Exhibitionist”, (we can throw in “Exposure” and “Electronic” while we’re at it.) These social networking applications are grafted onto their gray matter and perhaps they might never know what mystery is. They’ll google or “friend” every classmate, teacher, co-worker, boss and know everything there is to know about that person. There will be no more boundary between “personal” and “professional”. Everyone will engage in wanton fractal friending and be connected with each other and Kevin Bacon. Maybe, if everybody becomes friends, this is how we will achieve Peace on Earth!

My husband is not on Facebook. I’m kind of jealous. He talks to a small group of people one-on-one via email. Because at the end of the day, and I mean that quite literally, Facebook has become another inbox for me to check. Maybe it’s because I always want to be mysterious or that as an artist, like Greta Garbo, “I just vant to be alone.”

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Michelle Obama’s New White House Portrait

The White House revealed the new official White House Portrait of Michelle Obama today. I’m working on a series of portraits right now and am obsessed with the subject. Even though I love her signature bare arms, I found the blue curtain exploding directly above the center of her head a curious choice of composition, as well as the white rose blocking her hand.

Michelle Obama Portrait

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Vee Speer’s Birthday Party- Bring Balloons!

“When I have something to say that is too difficult for adults, I write for children. They have not closed the shutters. They like it when you rock the boat.” – Madeline L’Engle

During a time when we are passing bills the size of mountains that our children and children’s children will have to pay, the haunting work of photographer Vee Speers seems doubly fresh as well as beautiful. Celebratory children in costumed dresses, beehive hairdos, and wings along with images of children in gas masks and silent pleading looks on their are starkly celebrated on a plain backrop. The washed out photos appear aged and recall a sense of timelessness, that makes them feel removed, but haunting nonetheless.

With these photographs (her daughter mostly) at play or war, Speers invites the viewer to celebrate and experience as a child. We dress up in costumes, we laugh, we cry and we remember what it is like to live in a complicated time with explanations that do not always make sense. With grace and quiet simplicity, we are invited to play “make-believe” and explore Speers’ heightened reality. And just like children, we like it when she serves up the unexpected, whether playful or dire. She has two upcoming shows, one starting tonite at Act2galerie in Paris, Feb 6 – April 10, and Jackson Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta February 13th – March 28th.

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?Vee Speers, Untitled #1, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″

Kimberly Brooks: Your images are at once playful and disturbing. What was the seed of inspiration for these photographs?

Vee Speers: During my daughter’s 8th birthday party in Paris a few years ago, I closely observed the dynamics between the children, and the various levels of role-playing. It reminded me of my own childhood, and that anarchy and freedom of expression. I realized that as we grow older, we lose that sense of play and spontaneity so I decided to capture the last moments of childhood with an imaginary party.

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Vee Speers, Untitled #2, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″, 2007

KB: I was fascinated to learn that a majority of your photos was your daughter. My mother is a psychologist and her dissertation was “Successful Women and Their Female Mentors.” I grew up with her writing it and interviewing women as she got her Ph.D. She was the inspiration for my “Mom’s Friends” Series where I made paintings of my mother and her friends in the 70s. How did your mother inspire you?

VS: My mother was a singer, and we grew up watching her sing in public, so it seemed obvious that I should include an image of my daughter–who also sings–performing. For me, this photo is very poignant, as it captures the nostalgia of my own childhood. I photographed my daughter blowing a bubble with her hands as this particular image expresses creation, and captures the essence of “The Birthday Party.”

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Vee Speers, Untitled #3, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″, 2007

KB: Some of your works have a darker undertone than children at play as in “The Birthday Party” series. What about the images of your daughter wearing the nurses costume or gas mask?

VS: My daughter dressed as a nurse and holding a broken, dirty doll that was inspired by a scene from the war in Lebanon. I have used many symbols of war in this series (the child with gas mask is another) because we are exposed to the repercussions of war in everyday life, and sadly our children are also affected by this.

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Vee Speers, Untitled #4, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″, 2007

KB: So, then do you consider your works politically oriented or is it more so about the viewer’s response?

VS: I like to evoke an immediate response that triggers off an emotion or memory, and perhaps more precisely a kind of empathy with the character I’ve created.

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Vee Speers, Untitled #5, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″, 2007

KB: Tell us a little about your process.

VS: My work process is a very normal process–no magic tricks or ‘routines’. I keep everything simple, and work as quickly as possible so that I maintain the energy of the moment. Taking forever to take a portrait is a recipe for disaster. And in the case of “The Birthday Party,” the children wouldn’t hold the positions for long so I always had to work fast.

KB: Has one particular artist or genre of art influenced your work?

VS: Not one artist in particular–I have a broad appreciation of art, although I am particularly inspired by the cinema, and am a big fan of directors such as David Lynch and Peter Greenaway.

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LEFT: Lost Highway Film Poster, Written and Directed by David Lynch, 1997.
RIGHT: Drowning By Numbers Film Poster, Written and Directed by Peter Greenaway, 1988.

KB: Goodluck with your opening this weekend. Give Paris a french kiss for me.


Vee Speers was born in Australia and has been living in Paris since 1990. Her portraits have been exhibited and published world-wide and are part of important private and public collections. Speers’s most recent work The Birthday Party, is a series of short stories linked by the theme of an imaginary birthday party. The concept is very streamlined and simple, as are the visuals–lone children against the same gray wall staring openly at the camera, the elements working together to create these timeless portraits. Speers is represented by: Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta, Galerie Beckers, Frankfurt. Acte2galerie, Paris.

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Artist Vee Speers

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