c-print, diasec on dibond & audio/video installation, 4:3 format, 11:00 min, Hubert Blanz, 2010
„Write something…” Facebook invites me to begin a conversation with a new friend. „What’s on your mind?“ I scroll through the photos of the last 27 events and non-events of my new friend. „Write a comment…“, I am invited again, while in the meantime I skim the albums of her friends‘ friends. „I like this,” I comment and am now her friend, one of 351. „We have so many friends online that we need a new word for the real ones” declared an advertisement for a German daily newspaper recently in order to draw attention to the increasing presence of online editions compared to print media—just like our online friends are now eclipsing our real ones?
With his photography and animation project public tracks, Hubert Blanz travels the labyrinthine paths of such friends, their friends’ friends, and their photo albums. public tracks are visualizations of social networks, inspired by debates about inflated and superficial friendships, about the communicative habits of the Facebook generation and their casual interactions in the public and private sphere, their user profiles, forms of self-presentation and exhibitionism.
Who knows whom? Facebook creates a personal friend wheel for you. Hubert Blanz goes further: proceeding at first statistically like the friend wheel, he then chose as an example from 500 Million Facebook users the account of a particularly well-connected and active user (Eric Themel: Austrian, 33 years old and a professional snowboarder, currently 1483 friends), viewed his friendships and connected with his friends’ friends. The public tracks are honest, however, and they call the social capital of these quantity-driven friendships into question: friends become letters, lines, purely graphic elements and are ultimately reduced to mere data, lost in the abyss of the net. Photographs are reduced to contours, surfaces and colors which no longer reference any concrete event, just as the letters no longer characterize the friends—each leaves his trace in the public domain, each (if only as one of 500 million) makes his media appearance, up until now a privilege reserved only for stars or individuals with professions in the public eye. Hubert Blanz thus translates the immense range of these kinds of communicative forums into thickly abstract images, networks saturated with interchangeable photo fragments. Countless dots, devoid of meaning and relegated to the distance, evoke associations with the universe, star clusters and galaxies and thus invoke Facebook’s claim to globality, a claim which their Friend Wheel also suggests in the image of a globe lined with citizens of the world.
Hubert Blanz: “From the mass of photos of the profiled user and from the structure of his network of acquaintances, I attempt to create a kind of “virtual portrait” of this person. The size of the network and the connections within the circle of friends or acquaintances are decisive factors and accordingly determine the form.” Whether one’s social capital rises with the number of friends or indeed depends on a more intensive form of relationship building—write something…74 people like this.
Translations: Annie Falk
Statement zu public tracks
Over the last few years the importance of virtual social networks has greatly increased and has significantly changed the way we communicate. This is especially true regarding communication via images in the form of photoblogs or photo albums, for example. The majority of profiles are immediately filled up with images from digital cameras or mobile phone cameras and, in the main, document the predilections and activities of the profile owner. In my work, public tracks, I am particularly interested in this new form of photography in the World Wide Web. From the mass of photos belonging to a selected profile owner and the structure of their network of friends I attempt to create a “virtual portrait” of the person. In the process the size of the network and the connections within the circle of friends and acquaintances is decisive and has a corresponding effect on form.