who are you, after living virtually as someone else 24/7 for 28 days?
Artist Mark Farid questions identity, privacy and public art in his work. As he begins his new project Seeing-I, we ask his old classmate Lily Bonesso to find out the challenges of living completely through someone else's eyes and ears for a month.
Seeing Mark Farid over Skype reminded me of an old habit of his: Mark constantly twizzles his afro. In fact, I really don't know if he would be the same without this trademark tick. But, his current project Seeing-I is either going to reinforce this tendency or shake it off completely. He is planning to wear a Virtual Reality Headset for 28 days. All that he will see or hear for that period will be what is experienced by a complete stranger. It is commonly believed that we begin to loose or adopt habits after three weeks, and the extremity of this total submersion into the life of another is the surest way to provoke some serious changes in my old classmate.
The project will culminate in a documentary, which will analyse the implications of the experiment on human nature and its relationship with technology. These are big topics to cover, but the project also hones in on the most intimate of subject matter: personal autonomy and identity. Mark could become so involved in this guys life that he believes it's his, he might adopt his habits or feel like he's had actual sex with his girlfriend. If our identity is the construct of our experiences, then living through another may totally disintegrate Marks sense of self.
Mark's art has always been a conceptual mindfuck. His past projects have often stepped way beyond the line of what most people are comfortable with. Recently Mark stalked a paparazzi and then presented the findings, including explicit text messages and photographs, to him in a private view for one. He got away with it because he waited 6 months (the legal amount of time for a stalker to become exempt from their actions) before revealing the project. He also curated an exhibition under the title A Satire On Corporate Art. Just before the opening he took down all the artwork because "corporate art is just a filler, it might as well not be there" and yet, summing up the concept perfectly, someone still sold a piece. For his project Profile Picture, Mark rigged an exhibition so that as you entered the gallery you saw every private Facebook message you had ever written, alongside other personal information, being printed by a receipt printer. However Mark insists "There is a line, it's just very specific to each project. For example, in Profile Picture I coded the machine to delete all of your information immediately so that no one else could look at it".
Mark's commitment to his ideas might appear callous but he explained to me the importance he places on remaining objective 'I'm making work to raise a point about society. How can you highlight the point without endeavouring to remain objective? Subjectivity, and being personal causes compromises to be made, and I want to compromise as little as possible.' The constant balancing act between subjectivity and objectivity is one of Mark's main concerns with Seeing-I. The scale and costs of the project meant it needed to become public, but he wants to produce an unbiased piece without the interference of corporations: "A production company from Channel4 actually have offered to buy the idea from me, but then they would take creative control. When it's my personal life that's being given up, I can't let them have the final say. If I am wanking, which I probably will be, then they will have control over if that is shown. It gets that intimate… Talks with my psychologist… That's really letting someone in as far as you can and I'm happy to give up an amount of anonymity, in terms of people knowing who I am, but not them knowing actually who I am."
Mark had been exploring ideas about virtual reality for a while but what triggered it properly was the trailer for Josh Harris's 'We All Live In Public', "then I watched the actual thing and it blew my mind even more." Harris's most important influence on the project actually came later when he got in touch with Mark over email: "Josh Harris's initial advice was 'Make sure you record the shrink sessions beginning to end… much of what made the 'We Live in Public' piece a mind blow was people getting into our heads and controlling us. As much as reasonably possible try to incorporate this aspect.' That was the best piece of advice I've got because stopping people from getting into my head is actually the most important thing and I didn't realise it until he said that. The idea that we can use language to get into each others heads is something I strongly disagree with, I think is a terrible thing that is way too easily done."
For someone as outspoken and outrageous as Mark can be, it was very interesting to discover his belief that "anonymity is the most important and only right we have today in society" and that his greatest concern "would be changing to the point that his relationship with his girlfriend was different", but sacrificing comfort in order to test a point is not something Mark is un-used to. When I asked him if he had any reservations about the project itself his response was: 'No - I think its ridiculous that people aren't doing stuff like this all the time, if this is what you really believe, you should do it, test it out… I just do it and deal with the repercussions later."
Text Lily Bonesso
Images courtesy Mark Farid