Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2012 (1475 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's a given that some viewers will find the current show at Platform Centre objectionable.
Cheryl Sourkes collects photos she finds on the Internet and exhibits them mostly unaltered. Rather than producing original images, she accumulates existing content, rearranging it to create new associations. She draws out patterns, grouping the photographs according to shared subject matter or visual similarities; she pairs disparate images to produce odd juxtapositions or highlight unexpected parallels; she places others in sequence, creating radically condensed "films" that plot fragmentary, sometimes jarring narratives. It's an approach to art-making with ample precedent, but for some people it inevitably rankles.
It's also worth noting that, as its deliberately sleazy-sounding title suggests, the exhibition includes a fair amount of sexually explicit material, making it a probable non-starter for some. It's certainly not suitable for younger audiences.
The show comprises a series of prints and an interactive projection. To make them, Sourkes amassed nearly 2,000 photographs captured by personal webcams, digital cameras set up in domestic spaces that broadcast continuously updated images to the Internet. Some show empty rooms; others show people watching TV, talking on the phone, or sleeping. This being the Internet, quite a few involve nudity and sexual activity.
The feeds that Sourkes mines are all publicly accessible, and there's no reason to imagine that any of those pictured are aware that their likenesses have been co-opted. We can't even be certain all of them were aware of being filmed in the first place -- a number of explicit scenes were shot from ceiling height, raising the possibility that they could have been filmed covertly.
It seems safe to assume that the gentleman in the lace camisole and thigh-high stockings seen masturbating a few inches from the camera lens wants an audience. He'd also presumably understand that someone could save images of his "performance" for later use (though he probably wouldn't have imagined they'd end up on a gallery wall in Winnipeg). What about the young children we see playing video games or jumping on couches in other images?
Most of Sourkes's "borrowed" photographs seem to originate in modest, working-class living environments, and the explicit scenes in particular skew toward subjects who are older or not conventionally attractive, gender-nonconforming people, and members of sexual minorities. It's unclear whether this reflects the demographics of webcam users, the artist's conscious or unconscious selection bias, or both, but it isn't important, either. In part because Sourkes makes little effort to humanize her "subjects" (such as securing their consent, as a courtesy if not out of legal obligation) or give them context, the work seems to invite ridicule at least as readily as it does identification or empathy. It feels exploitative, mean-spirited, gross.
The technologies that Sourkes explores and exploits raise interesting, important concerns surrounding "performance," self-representation, photography, the passage of time, and yes, privacy and consent. Critiques of exactly those issues, with specific regard to webcams, were around in art schools a decade ago (though they seemed oddly dated even then). It would be nice to be able to say that *Best*Amateur*Webcams* contributed something meaningful to that discussion or that it communicated something about its subjects beyond a disinterested contempt, but it's tough to see how it does.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based emerging artist, writer and educator from Tampa, Fla.
CHERYL SOURKES: *BEST*AMATEUR*WEBCAMS*
Platform Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts
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