Nicolas Shawn King Ruley
Adjunct Professor, Columbia College Chicago
This paper explores two things that have popularly been derided as narcissistic and irrelevant – performance art and social networking. In recent years, some artists have started using social media as a chance operation in creating new text for performance. This hybridization has expanded the creative possibilities of these two oft-maligned platforms, while echoing the discursive elements of the great Fluxus performances of the late twentieth century. This paper looks at three works produced over the last two years. Each piece utilizes text generated from social media in innovative ways, allowing for further exploration and problematization of the liminal space between the real and the mediated.
Digital performance artist Max Dovey, in Emotional Stock Market, used real-time Twitter data to calculate the value of three emotions – sadness, happiness, and love – that he framed as marketplace commodities.  These commodified emotions were subsequently ‘sold’ to the gallery audience at rates determined by unwitting Tweeters. Parallels can be drawn between this piece and Nam June Paik’s earliest works in which the artist would distort live television feeds with magnets.  Both works take elements of mediated liveness and manipulate it in ways that extract the emotional value from the content, allowing space for audiences to question their role in endowing media with sentiment.
In Script, performance artist Lauren McCarthy created a Wiki that allowed users from around the globe to construct and edit a script of her life, which McCarthy then performed the next day.  This yielded 30 unique, collaborative performances that lasted 24 hours each. In keeping with the ephemeral nature of the work, very few photos were taken and the Wiki now serves as documentation of the work. Similar to Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece or Abromovic’s Rhythm 0, control was acquiesced to the gallery participant, or in this case, the anonymous editor, which allows for a critical interrogation of the cultural constructed power as it dictates both the body of the artist and the subjected female body in society. [4, 5]
Finally, performance duo They’re Not Gay Together’s most recent creation, Pancakes in my Twitter Place, used hashtags of pancake toppings (e.g., #syrup and #bananas) to generate improvised stories that were subsequently performed for small audiences in a gallery setting.  Following these stories, photographs of audience members holding actual pancakes bearing the hashtagged topping were then re-tweeted to the original Twitter feed, thereby creating a performative loop between the ‘real’ and the mediated. This performance worked to re-humanize what is often viewed as digital refuse, which opens the possibility of access to voices that may not be heard in more traditional performance settings. Some obvious parallels can be drawn to Allison Knowles’ Make a Salad, as they both deploy the notion of consumption as a common point of egress. Further, each piece elevates the banal to the level of high art, whether it be updating a status or making lunch, thereby blurring the lines between performed and lived – performer and audience. 
Certainly, these three works lead to questions in current new media and performance art practices. It’s clear that social media creates possibilities for new performance material that are discursively linked to previous movements in contemporary art, but is this merely a rebirth of those same ideas, or does the added level of mediation fundamentally change the processes that are in play? There is also a question left surrounding the idea of chance. Is this actually randomness, stochastic process, procedural unpredictability, or artistic control masquerading behind a gimmick? Does this question, which has been discussed in relation to performance art since Dada, hold merit any longer? Perhaps the through-line here is merely a human desire for connection and disruption, and the conversation on chance and technology is diverting the possibility of a much deeper understanding about ourselves as humans and our relation to lived and mediated bodies.
1. “The Emotional Stock Market,” on Max Dovey’s official website, accessed January 13, 2013, http://www.maxdovey.com
2. “Essay,” on PaikStudios.com, accessed February 3, 2012, http://www.paikstudios.com.
3. “Script,” on Lauren McCarthy’s official website, accessed January 13, 2013, http://www.laurenmccarthy.com
4. “Cut Piece,” on medienkunstnetz.de, accessed Febrary 5, 2013, http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/cut-piece
5. “Marina Abromovic. Rhythm 0. 1974.,” on moma.org, accessed February 3, 2013, http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/190/1972
6. Pancakes and my Twitter Place, by Nic Ruley and Gwen Tulin, directed by Nic Ruley and Gwen Tulin, Defibrillator Gallery, Chicago, Il, November 17, 2013.
7. “Performance,” on Allison Knowle’s official website, accessed February 3, 2013, http://www.allisonknowles.com
Nicolas Shawn King Ruley is a performance artist whose work is heavily influenced by the fusion of media and performance, and the theoretical and psychological role of these two discourses in pedagogy and communication. His most recent performances have included The Last Time I Tried Suicide, Flushed: A Fantasia on Gendered Themes for French Horn, Glockenspiel and Drag Queen, and Casiotone, each of which fused interactive technology, video, drag, and solo performance. He currently teaches Culture, Race and Media at Columbia College Chicago.