Date of Submission

Spring 2012

Academic Program

Film and Electronic Arts

Project Advisor 1

Jacqueline Goss

Abstract/Artist's Statement

“That is what death means. We exist in the minds of other people, in thousands of memory clusters, and one by one those clusters fade and disappear.” – Roger Ebert

Last year, an acquaintance’s brother died suddenly. I know this because I happened to sign onto Facebook a couple days after his death and noticed her status “I still can’t believe you aren’t here Michael.” His name was a link to his Facebook profile, which had transformed into a “memorial page,” preventing anyone from logging into it in the future while still enabling friends to leave posts. I clicked it and spent the next hour skimming through outpourings of love and grief from his friends and family. The wall posts were mostly direct addresses to Michael, in the same manner one writes on a living person’s Facebook wall (“I was thinking about you at swim practice today. Remember the ridiculous meet in Key West?”). Throughout my education at Bard, I have become increasingly interested in the social norms of online spaces and how they are informed by the human tendency to create rituals. I became fascinated by this ritual in particular, checking back weeks and months later and finding that the posting continued. Why do we do this? Is it the comfort of the illusion of communication? The possibility that dead people might somehow be able to check their Facebooks? The desire to be included in a public display of grief?

I spent several months collecting a body of material. I read books about the grieving process and interviewed friends and family members about their personal experiences with memorial pages. I thought about how death, especially the death of young people, often forces us to think about the chaotic randomness of the everyday. Funerals, sympathy cards, even the “stages” of grief are rituals that we create to cope with the uncertainty of life. And in many aspects, Facebook memorial pages act as an extension of the ways in which we have always dealt with death – looking at photos, recounting happy memories, gathering with others who have been affected by the individual. However, in allowing us to keep a deceased person’s virtual identity alive in the present, Facebook exposes the limitations of online communication.

In this installation, I sought to capture the impulse to connect in a space that detaches us from the reality of that connection. The outside of Smog serves as a place of information and exploration. The sleek, glowing screens, in a natural setting, invite the viewer to both observe and interact with the language of Facebook, while gaining an understanding of how memorial pages function. A path of light draws the viewer inside Smog, where the real and the virtual merge. Computers and humans whisper. Digitized hands appear on real objects and then launch into screensaver motion, trapped by the edges of invisible screens. The projection on the floor reminds us of the distance between the source and the image as well as the loss of the control a dead person once had over his or her meticulously edited online identity. Eventually, patterns emerge that exist within this ritual, such as the intention of posting for multiple audiences (the self, the deceased, and the friends of the deceased), the moments where meaningful becomes monotonous, and the genuine longing to hold onto to someone’s virtual presence. We can “tag” Michael in photos and “like” a friend’s funny memory with him, but we can’t touch him. He isn’t there.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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