In the think tank
Local artist Chad Sorg spent a week living in a “fishbowl” on public display, ruminating on monks, exhibitionists and voyeurs. Here’s his first-hand account of the experience.
A fter 120 hours—five straight days—of live streaming, my Fishbowl went offline. By this time, I had some way-stinky feet and probably had a sticky butt, too. It wasn’t exactly a harsh environment, but I brought no change of clothes, and I took no food in with me other than some apples, a pear and a bag of pine nuts. I was prepared to rely on others’ generosity for subsistence, and I kept dropping hints (begging) online for beer.
I’d done performance art similar to this before—producing paintings and drawings while sitting in storefront display windows. This time, however, I was to be producing no artwork other than the performance itself.
For “Artist-In-A-Fishbowl,” I was housed in 10,000 vacant square feet in a former bank space at the corner of Liberty and Sierra streets from Sunday, Dec. 7, through Friday, Dec. 12. The webcam was on me basically the whole time, streaming live footage and recording whatever was going on. I occupied my time by talking on the phone with viewers/friends, making videos or embarrassing myself with bad singing, hopefully never picking my nose, but usually doing not much—other than communicating with others doing the same. Meanwhile, the computer broadcast me out to the world.
I wanted to have as little as possible in the way of unnecessary comforts—beer though, was a necessity, because blogging ain’t easy. Ustream, Facebook and Twitter all thrive on activity like this. I had to have beer for this job, and my friends didn’t let me down. They even brought me food. Some people who I had never met in the flesh came out to hook a brother up with sandwiches, chicken, a pizza, coffee, soup, chips, chocolate … for my every meal.
When people visited the space, the webcam streamed them live, too. When I was alone, I was usually talking online in one way or another. Basically, I talked online the whole time I was there, even when visitors were there to talk to me or see some art. I barely took the time out to brush my teeth—but that was one hygiene thing I did do. I slept on the floor, and I had a good heater.
Each night, I snored away in my corner office, the laptop camera watching the sunrise over Liberty Street. The 8 a.m. sidewalk bustle of business suits woke me every morning. It felt like some kind of pseudo-artistic, corporate vision quest. I wore my black pinstriped pants, gray, untucked casual shirt and a brown corduroy blazer. I never shaved.
I’ve always had a fondness for the wandering monk lifestyle of Eastern philosophies. These monks wandered the countryside, sharing the enlightenment of Zen or the wisdom of the Tao or lessons from Krishna. In return, they would be fed.
Is there something liberating in the idea of attaching yourself to nothing and being influenced by none of the trappings of material society? In order to live this nomadic way, a person has to receive from his environment and those around him—this game is all about balance.
A few years ago, I was influenced by two thin books I read on the subject of nomadic devotion. One was The Way of a Pilgrim, an account by an anonymous Russian beggar who wanted to learn how to engage in constant prayer. The other book was Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, loosely based on the early life of the Buddha, who gave up all worldly possessions as he abruptly renounced his royal status to wander, meditate and teach followers.
I clearly don’t have a religious message. I just want to expand my notoriety as an artist. But these classic parables are a guiding influence. It sounds like the life for me, and I want to act as the digital offspring of these rootless mendicants.
If we can define “spiritual” as that which is bigger than our individual selves, then I think it’s an appropriate word to use for the euphoria found in introspective discovery, as well as that found in extroverted human connection. Without a doubt, for me, this online social experience was spiritual—a game of public relation and societal connection.
If there is a message to come from this project, it is that none of us are islands unto ourselves. To connect, we must engage others, like with a web or a net—you’ve got to put it out there—and a live-streaming broadcast is a pretty good medium with which to reel people in.
Wednesday night in the fishbowl was social night. I even had two girls flash me their breasts and booties up against the windows. My camera broadcast it all, though making out some of the girl-goodies was difficult due to bad reflections—I reviewed the footage myself. You can see it, too, on www.sorgsorg.org. It’s the episode called “Not A Munk” (fast-forward to the good parts).
Thursday I flirted with a girl all evening, and since the camera was on us, at one point, we typed instead of spoke to each other. Yes, she was one of the flashers—and voila! That’s social networking. People like to watch people, and some of us like to be watched. If we put on a show, we hope others will watch through windows or LCD screens.
Attracting an audience is an interesting game of give and take. “What do I let them see? How much can I give them?” At the very end on Friday afternoon, I chatted online with an anonymous guy who identified himself as “an old man watching his wife die.” He asked me two good questions: “Can you justify your existence?” and “Where’s the art?”
Thinking he wanted me to explain my existence in general, I told him I can’t justify what I didn’t choose. He called my answer “pat.” To the other question, my reply was “Didn’t you read the press release? ‘Not one physical piece of art is being made.'”
His retort: “Sorry, it’s lining my litter box.”
He apparently had stumbled across my stream randomly and came to see some art and to question me about my process and intentions. The performance was called “Artist-In-A-Fishbowl.” Where’s the art indeed!
I hope to argue that this banal act of simulated debased-yuppie-blogger-performance was justified by the social connections that were made through the course of 120 hours of blogging. Or at least it was weird entertainment. Art? I don’t know.
A few different people told me that even though most of the time I was doing nothing, they kept watching while they did laundry or worked on their computers just because they didn’t want to miss anything. And to the guy whose wife is dying, I hope our nonsense got him out of his own head for a bit. I would say I can’t relate, but then again, for a minute, I guess I did.