A MacBook selfie stick. A salmon phone. An automated voice that calls Trump’s offices and affiliates. A Comic Sans destroyer. A tree giving his opinion on environmental issues. Goodbye poems for people that unfollow you on twitter. Tinder VR edition. Virtually destroying a Monet painting. A guy from Belgium called Tom Galle.
When the World Wide Web opened up its portals to the public, an online space came into existence. New possibilities arose, changing the way we are part of the world and vice versa, forever. The Internet became a platform for expressing reality, and gave birth to a new generation of artists who create art by and for the www. Tom Galle is one of them. He’s a generous liker and thoughtful commenter. A man devoted to online content, contemplating our Internet and social media usage with a healthy dose of humor and sarcasm. Disconnecting for just a brief moment, he explained to us the basic principles of the online world we call Internet art.
On this thing
called internet art.
Like any art form, Internet art is a reflection on society, in this case the one we created online. Internet art is online culture, its memes, pop culture, trolling etc.; everything the web’s been producing since its beginnings. We use those ingredients to create something new and throw it back to the public, where it can go viral again. I like how Internet art isn’t very clear-cut. When I made the Salmon Phone (an exploration of tactile and touch), it got 2 million views on Instagram, yet at least half of them didn’t catch what it was about. It’s a very bipolar process; either people get it, or they don’t — there’s no area in between. It’s also what makes Internet art interesting, and I think if we’d defined it more thoroughly, explained what the Salmon Phone actually meant, we would have destroyed its very nature.
Humor is the basis of what I do. When I was a kid, I got kicked out of five schools and I always felt very bad about that. I feel like I didn’t obtain the knowledge others got from their schooling, and I used to troll my teachers a lot. In the end I built a career out of trolling, as I still use the same kind of humor in my work today. When it comes to my online persona, I’m an extremer version of myself, somewhere in-between serious and messing with people’s minds. I find the balance very funny. It’s how I try to provoke people to think; I want to show what’s happening and what’s possible on social media, and I want to see how far I can take teasing people about their own online behavior. The effect is comparable to stand-up comedy, only using a different medium.
XXXXXX is an educational publisher in The Netherlands. At this moment we’re realising a new schoolbook Dutch language for the secondary schools. In this book we have a text about modern gadgets. As an example of a gadget we would like to reproduce the photo of the macbook selfiestick, I found at the internet.
Can you approve the reproduction of this photo in the new schoolbook Dutch language?
I like to hear from you,
On the comparison
with art installations.
I like to see my work as online performances. I use social media as a way of expression, which ultimately makes for a different way of consuming art. To me, the Internet also generated a whole new way of thinking about exhibiting works of art. I used to start out from an artistic perspective; to just make a piece and that’s that. Now I immediately associate new work with the other output I got from previous work, and how I can keep on radiating that on a consistent basis. If I would exhibit in real live, I’d probably think about how it’ll look like on social media before making the work the best it could be. I’m not sure yet if that’s a good thing, and it does make me wonder sometimes about the motives behind my work.
On the speed and relevance
of internet art.
Internet Art is temporary in the sense that online phenomena can disappear quickly. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t capture a moment in time. The people who were there and understood the art piece will still associate it to a certain event or trend. That way, Internet art maintains its relevance throughout time, even though it moves at the Internet’s rapid pace. It’s also what makes it interesting, as Internet artists receive inspiration and possibilities to create every day. It challenges us to remain relevant.
On those criticizing internet
and social media usage.
I think social media is so integrated into our lives that it’ll never disappear again. The form in which they currently exist could, however, change. When you look at the aggressive strategies Facebook uses to keep its users addicted, it’s very likely there’ll arise a counter movement in the future. It might not be successful at first, but it will offer an alternative to present techniques and advertising. But my prediction is social media is here to stay. We adapted ourselves to it, and it has become part of our everyday life.
It’s also very human to want to expose ourselves. In the 2000s, an artist made a very interesting work about this by putting twenty people inside of a basement filled with cameras, not allowing them to leave. They went insane, even though cameras are very present in our society nowadays. The man became a billionaire because of the Internet boom and spent all of his money on similar projects. His last one was an attempt to live stream his entire life alongside his wife, which —not that surprisingly— ended up in divorce. After that, he disappeared from the landscape, without anyone knowing who he really was. I think, even though these projects were very crazy, he did predict how important exposure would become today.
How that constant exposure
will affect us.
It depends on the aspect of society you associate it with. In the US, an African American man died from a cop’s gunshot while his wife was live streaming the whole thing. It had a huge amount of views and was shared everywhere. The video had so many repercussions on society; suddenly policemen had to adjust their behavior because they could be filmed everywhere. Exposure created more freedom of speech and it allowed more opinions to become known. In the past we needed time and media to share our beliefs, while these days you can get retweeted 40,000 times, forcing the media and a country to take notice.
Yet there’s a side effect.
We shouldn’t forget the freedom of speech we gained is still corporate, as it’s corporations who determine what’s allowed on social media. There’s also the problem of filter bubbles. Because of Facebook’s algorithms I only get information that doesn’t challenge my vision. Facebook knows who I am, what I like, and what I want to read, so I’m constantly in a bubble of info that agrees with that. While people like me get liberal leftwing newscasts, there are a whole lot of people on the other side who never read about the good Obama accomplished, for example. They only get the lost, stupid, brainless messages that invalidate the truth. Republican media keeps smashing in manipulated data, turning facts into hoaxes and paving the way for Donald Trump in the meanwhile. The truth no longer matters.
Media in the US is also pure sensation. This goes back to capitalism, as the media, like any other company, has to grow bigger each year in order to survive. It’s how the system works. Because of social media and alternative news sources, growing becomes more difficult for the media, so they need more views and clicks. During election time in the US, readers were more likely to click on articles that sensationalized the outrageous stuff Trump was uttering, so the media chose to share that information instead of covering a guy like Bernie Sanders, who said educated things that are relevant, but more complex to understand. Trump also knew the media’s tendencies; so on key moments he’d say something very absurd and provocative to divert the attention from his team’s unprofessional behavior. Some 20 years ago, Trump said he knew very well how to trick the media, and he proved to be right.
On the possibilities
I’m quite cynical about change, yet I do believe saying nothing also won’t change a thing. I try to spark people to reflect critically about what’s happening around them. I’m not saying what’s good or what’s bad, I only want to raise attention about the absurd future we could have. I made some political works like Half Light or Call Trump, but the goal isn’t to continuously have a big societal message. I only make them when it feels right and when the moment’s there. Political art shouldn’t be opportunistic, and we shouldn’t use something bad for our own good.
Often, my work also serves as self-criticism, reflecting what I experience on a daily basis. I want to give another take on my reality and the way I act. I can’t easily disconnect, for example, and feel constantly connected to the Internet, so I made a series where I taped devices to my face. It was only afterwards I figured out that work was about the overload of connection I feel. I think the more artists make socially relevant work, the better. New ways of thinking always resonate from the artistic, and I hope I can be a small part of that.