Conceptual Art: We Could Be Anyone

The beginning of this conference project started much as many of my other conceptual art pieces had begun: I looked around to figure out what I had to work with. In other pieces, this process manifested in a much more literal way. One of the first projects, for instance, required a small physical object so I looked around and saw the most plentiful material I had to work with was apples. Thus my project was crafted primarily out of apples. For this project, I looked around and saw before me the vast expanse of the internet.

The internet in all its absurdity that, somehow, had become our main (or only in some cases) form of interaction these days. Before the era of quarantine, people on the internet were well known to behave differently from their real life actions. If shown by nothing more obvious than the classic troll, the anonymity and distance, both physical and mental, that the internet provides provokes far different reactions and actions than anything in the real world could provide. Yet now, we do things like attend classes, run business meetings, and talk with each other from day to day all as if were perfectly normal. We try to minimize the strangeness inherent to the internet, but all we really do is mask it. In the most unexpected places, that strangeness leaks in anyways.

Beginning with a concept I thought of originally about addressing Zoom and the differences video calls bring to the table, my plan for this conference project soon evolved to something a bit more extreme. The whole idea this planned to demonstrate was that of the constructed realities. The internet as a whole in many ways is a world of our own construction, subject to change upon our collective whims and fancies. But, at the same time, each interaction we have there in that place that doesn’t exist constructs in the other person’s mind a brand new reality of what it’s like on the other side. Each person only knows what the other person shows them and must somehow create a clear image out of the mismatched bits and bobs they observe. Things like our backgrounds, our outfits, our methods of speaking or texting, every individual piece of our little world we share with the others we’re interacting with paints a bit more of the incomplete picture they have of what our true reality is.

So what better to demonstrate the follies of this system and the extent to which we can each curate every tiny detail about ourselves within this strange framework we call the internet than to construct an entirely new persona? Well, maybe there are better ways but this is the one I thought of. So that’s precisely what this project ended up being. I carefully crafted an internet persona designed to be at once as unlike me as possible while also being as believable as a real person as possible. Once created, I infiltrated an existing community that existed solely online and had never met in real life, thus ensuring the sanctity of the project. Having safely hidden my false persona within a web of presumably real people, I invited each of my classmates to join the community as well.

My classmates’ task was simple, in theory at least. It was to, using whatever deduction skills and detective work they wanted, determine which of a select few options within the community were me. I didn’t tell them ahead of time which of the people was actually my false persona, I had just informed them that one existed. On the other end of things, I told the people in said community that some of my classmates would be joining, but not why. I also specifically instructed them not to tell any of my classmates that I was the one who’d invited them unless asked directly.

Once all the pieces were together, all that was left to do was to give some subtle hints and leave my classmates to their task. In doing this I hoped to show just how customizable the internet truly is and, if we want it to be, how customizable we all are within it. In this project not only I was hiding among a crowd with a disguise of my own creation, I showed the potential for anyone to join me including my classmates at the time. With a blank slate, joining a brand new community, the internet allows no ties to bind you to any previous identity either. Any one of them could have entered this community as any type of person and even I might have had a hard time telling which was which had they put their minds to it. Especially since they weren’t tasked with giving out hints that others might recognize…

Unfortunately, by the end of the project I had only received four guesses all of which were tragically incorrect. That the guesses were incorrect was hardly the unfortunate part about this. A wrong guess with legitimate reasoning demonstrates the true nature of this project perhaps better even than a correct guess could have. No, my only disappointment is that more guess weren’t made over the course of the project’s duration.

Perhaps you’ll get more out of this project, good reader. Do YOU think you know who I am yet? Do you know any of the writers on this site, anyone in your strange internet LIFE just from what they’ve written or said? Or do you only know one element of a ghost who could, behind the screen in their own reality, be anyone?

Author: Adam Stockman