Virtual Background, 13.10.2020
During the lockdown, American artist Michael Mandiberg painted the background of his call partners during video calls and translated this virtual scenery into something haptic. For the HEK Net Works series, Mandiberg provided some of these images as virtual backgrounds that could be downloaded to your own computer. The Virtual Backgrounds from Mandiberg could be downloaded from 13.10. to 10.11.2020 and used as a virtual background for online video calls.
Michael Mandiberg is an interdisciplinary artist who reflects on the socio-political dimensions of information technology, while exploring its poetic expressions. For example he has developed a software that converts all prices on any webpage into their equivalent value in barrels of oil, and thus drew attention to an ongoing ecological crisis (Oil Standard, 2005). He was the co-founder of the Art+Feminism (2013-ongoing) initiative, which aims to promote the presence of women in the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. Mandiberg also wrote software that transforms the entire online encyclopedia into 7,473 volumes of 700 pages between 2009 and 2016, underlining the incongruity of such an operation (Print Wikipedia, 2009-16). His recent work, Postmodern Times (2016–18), consists of short films commissioned to the online crowdsourcing platform Fiverr.com, for the creation of a film that takes up the theme of Charlie Chaplin's famous film, Modern Times, to propose a current portrait of work in the digital age. Lately, Mandiberg painted the background of the friends they had video calls with during the lockdown.
Statement by the artist:
"As New York paused for COVID-19, my human contact and communication ceased. Like many information workers, I found myself on hours of daily video calls. A rotation of familiar faces, sitting across from me in unfamiliar rooms punctuated my work-day. I’ve visited makeshift office spaces, the kitchens of co-workers, and the childhood bedrooms of my students, observing the ways in which people choose to frame their environment for a call, or completely neglect to. In response, I have begun a series of paintings that capture and collect these interactions. Each painting corresponds to one of the video calls I have made while in quarantine, and depicts the room of the person on my call. Sized at 6” x 11” each painting reflecting the Zoom call’s 9:16 proportions. If possible, I have tried to complete each painting in the time-span of the video call from which it was sourced. Still, when the demands of my call keep me from painting, I let myself complete the paintings after the fact. I paint these rooms without the person sitting before the camera. In doing so, this series serves as a record of interactions marked by absence. An absence mediated low quality lenses, compression algorithms, and choppy connections that skew off-white colors into light-pinks, yellows, and cool blues. This painting practice has helped me cope with the cognitive exhaustion from all the video calls, and the anxiety of self-isolation while the sirens howled through the streets around me. I know that isolation is a privilege, but for me it is a necessary one, as I am immunocompromised. Painting these canvasses has been an attempt to log memory, as much as it is also a practice of self-care and preservation. Time has shifted in the absence of regular routine, and I have lost track of what day it is. These paintings help me keep track of digital experiences that are more likely to slip away and be forgotten. They are memory, and memorials.”