Charlotte Potter, the glass studio manager for the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, recently unveiled a piece at The Oklahoma City Museum of Art demonstrating nearly one thousand reasons not to kick your kids off Facebook. Her piece, part of the museum’s group exhibition, “Fusion: a Century of New Glass” features hand-carved glass images of her 864 Facebook friends and bears the kitschy and self-referential title, Charlotte’s Web. (2012) The exhibit opened June 14 and runs through September 9, 2012.
While many artists consider their personal landscape both a canvas and a tool for the creative process, Potter’s labor-intensive project achieves new levels of self consciousness. The work is arranged on a curved wall and each glass cameo is linked with wire in a way that represents the nature of her personal relationship with the “friend.” If at first glance the work appears to be a vague map of the United States, you are not just seeing things. In a phone interview with the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet she said: “It’s America.” Each visage is clustered in the area in which she first met that person rather than where they live currently, or where they grew up. It is what Potter refers to as, “Personal cartography.”
It is shocking to think that Charlotte Potter and her assistant, Hannah Kirkpatrick, went through the taxing and tedious process of engraving each of her 864 Facebook friends with glass, wax, and diamond-tipped dental tools. Even more shocking is how effective a commentary that very act is, the polar opposite of the ease with which we “Friend” one another on the site. It is easy for one young American to marvel at another’s determination to labor through that execution in the name of art, yet don’t we engage in the tedium of collecting “friends” one by one? Don’t we network and poke each other while collecting names and faces for public view? Potter chose Facebook as the basis for this project, but goes on to discuss the delirium and focus people can use in all manner of virtual contact. OkCupid for instance, or Second Life. She recalls, “How much time I would spend engraving each of these pieces, relating it to online avatars or false fantasy involvement with a very tedious activity kind of like Second Life.”
While Potter’s work would suggest she spends more time on the internet than a twelve year old in Fairbanks, she actually holds some pretty stringent rules regarding Facebook. “Before this projects was even conceived,” she explains, “I was suspicious of Facebook in general. I was bullied into it at RISD. One of my rules was that I had to physically know the person to ‘friend’ them.” While her art has brought into contact with at least 864 people, this guideline definitely excludes some people she has entered into artistic relationships with including the shows curators, Alison Amick and Jennifer Klos – and myself.
None of her friends were spared, however, in the creation of Charlotte’s Web. While they are all included, none were consulted, mostly out of fear of being told, “No.” Better to ask forgiveness than permission is a popular mindset for artists, writers and common opportunists everywhere, but Potter’s integrity has been in no way compromised. She claims, “After the fact my process is completely transparent. So far the response is they’re honored.” The question of the ethics of “Posting” friends images on the wall of a museum is muddy. Facebook and Google in particular are constantly at the center of discussions regarding exploitation of personal information and ethical boundaries, and so Potter’s act forces us to consider the ways our identity is used without our full control. To allow your image or personal information onto the internet at all is to relinquish any former concept of privacy.
These questions fit seamlessly into the overarching theme of the museum’s exhibition which aims to use glass medium as a conceptual tool into the concerns of the 21st century. The exhibit’s press release details, “themes of social isolationism, paranoia, the passage of time, and also address the impact of technology on humanity and the environment,” as interpreted by glass media artists. Andrew Erdos’ video installations is alongside Luke Jerram’s “E. Coli” along with 17 other artists of varying styles. Charlotte Potter’s “Web,” at once self-effacing and sentimental, pared-down in appearance while laborious in execution should round out the exhibition with a flair and humor beyond her 31 years.
—Katharine MoralesIF YOU GO:
“Fusion: A New Century in Glass”
June 14, 2012 – September 9, 2012
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
tel: (405) 236 3100Website: www.okcmoa.com