Stephen Wolf | Open + Connected

Stephen Wolf

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Open + Connected


Artist Statement

You fit ... hook eye

You fit into me like a hook through an eye, 2018, archival inkjet, 99" x 48" (253 cm x 123 cm)


Crowdsourced

Because You Have This Preference, 2018, archival inkjet, 30" x 32.5" (76 cm x 82.5 cm)


Dreaming

The Space Between Dreaming and Living, 2018, archival inkjet, 96" x 48" (244 cm x 122 cm)


Enjoy

Enjoy, 2018, archival inkjet, 48" x 60" (122 cm x 152 cm)



Spoils (red margin), 2019, VR experience. Video grab; details.


Calm down

Calm down. Breathe. We hear you., 2018, archival inkjet, 40" x 40" (102 cm x 102 cm) on Breathing Color Optica archival paper; also 90" x 90" (228 cm x 228 cm) on 13 oz. polyester vinyl.


Dark Posts

Dark Posts, 2019, video projection, wood, enamel, thermoplastic, 96" x 80" (244 cm x 203 cm)


Bicameral

Bicameral, 2019, video projection, 72" x 84" (189 cm x 213 cm)


Quadrille

Quadrille (Don't Look Now), 2019, archival inkjet, 48" x 72" (122 cm x 183 cm)


Click/Wait

Click/Wait, 2019, needlepoint (acrylic on polyester mesh), 51" x 9" (130 cm x 23 cm)


About Open + Connected

There is no denying the impact of electronic communications, and particularly social media, on human society and endeavor. Our individual reach and connectedness has expanded exponentially, while the emotional engines of human behavior -- the powerful motivators of hope, fear and ambition -- remain unscathed. Our newly-enhanced ability to touch each other's minds and lives has only heightened both our best and worst tendencies, at least in the digital realm. And, for better or worse, it is in this realm that more and more of us are spending more and more of our lives.

Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have become the most powerful marketing enterprises ever to have existed, not just by creating useful products, but by growing supremely adept at harvesting a golden egg long prized by marketers: consumers' personal, demographic data.

This is not news. Nor is the notion that the term "marketers" includes not just purveyors of for-profit goods and services, but also social causes, political campaigns and ideologies. However, it's one thing for these so-called Hidden Persuaders to influence our choice of laundry soap. It's quite another when our (persuaded) choices have dire consequences -- for minorities, the disenfranchised, the environment -- that adversely affect millions of lives worldwide.

"Open and connected" is the phrase repeatedly uttered by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in media interviews, employee pep rallies and in congressional hearings. It describes their vision of a world where information is free, and forges ties that bind us in our common humanity. However, despite this lofty and noble ambition, the engine of Facebook is profit. For Facebook, the single product driving its profitability is the personal data of its users, a powerful marketing weapon in the hands of its advertiser clients. But if there is a marketing gun pointed at Facebook users' heads, their own fingers are on the triggers.

As Tom Bissell writes in the NY Times: "A tech company founded on creating human connection is now ripping American society apart and compromising our civic foundation, though not because it has overtly wicked intent. As [early Facebook investor Roger] McNamee elucidates, our 'democracy has been undermined because of design choices.' Choices including the platform's pleasurable, frictionless interface, which encourages users to stay and return. It's no stretch to posit that because human neurotransmitters respond to the platform's iconic use of a certain shade of blue, and spark with dopamine upon receiving a 'like' or 'tag' notification, desperate children are now living in cages and a raving madman occupies the Oval Office."

This project illuminates this phenomenon through images drawn from online and consumer culture, juxtaposed in ways that encourage viewers to question their own complicity in this process. Dense imagery reflects the visceral online experience, wherein users are bombarded with visual and written messages at a rate unprecedented in human history. Picture scale mimics the immersive sensation of device screens that suck energy through our visual cortices and effectively remove us from our physical environs. Scant verbiage and apparently dissonant image pairings force the viewer to consider image source, meaning and context.

In The Space Between Dreaming and Living, a blue Rolodex's tab dividers are labeled with zip codes of the voting districts that were key to winning the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Embossed on its side is the logo of Cambridge Analytica, the data-collection firm that facilitated Facebook user data analysis for the Trump campaign. At center is the prone face of a sleeping woman, the "dreamer" of the title. Before her, at the bottom of the frame, is a field of poppies. Hovering over her are a series of images arranged in the format of Apple's "coverflow" interface; taken from Facebook personality quizzes, they are used to elicit feelings of hope, romance, fear, and aspiration. A dot pattern in the upper background is used in color-blindness tests; blindness here being synonymous with sleeping. Dropping in from frame-top as though military ordnance are silver soda cans, contents unknown but guaranteed devoid of nutrition if not outright harmful. Underlying the entire image is a 5,000-square grid, in reference to the 5,000 personality data points (generated through techniques like Facebook quizzes) that Cambridge Analytica claims is all it needs to predict and influence an individual's opinion about anything. A large, pixellated image of couture footwear is a proxy for the dreamer's ultimate fantasy of consumer fulfillment. Finally, in the lower right corner is a desaturated image of two women enjoying a day at Disneyland -- real people in the real world, as compared to the glossy, virtual-world imagery that surrounds them.

In fact, Disneyland (aka "The Happiest Place on Earth"), an icon of consumer aspiration, is a relative constant in this series: The viewer will find images similarly-degraded (in relation to the highly-saturated images that represent the digital world) throughout. These provide connective tissue to the artist's prior series, "Happiest Place," and relate thematically to his ongoing concerns of identity, consciousness and culture.