Social Media and the Arts, conference summary

In the conference this Tuesday, March 22, Social Media Club France addressed the effects that the emergence of social media had on modern artistic practices. Contrary to what some may think, the triumph of the digital world did not stifle the artists’ creativity, but rather served as an inspiration for new forms of artistic expression. 

The conference began with Emmanuel Mahé, a researcher in the field of information sciences and communication, specializing in the relationship between innovative technology and digital art, and the author of the French blog He began with a brief history of artists who, by fearlessly embracing technology, helped bring about further technological innovation.

>>Dziga Vertov, a Soviet documentary director and cinema theorist who introduced the theory of Cine-Eye. His famous 1929 work, Man with a Movie Camera, can be seen as the predecessor of the modern video surveillance and facial recognition technology.

cube n°8 Piotr Kowalsk

>>Piotr Kowalski. His 1967 work, entitled Cube n˚8, relied on motion sensors in order to rotate according to the viewer’s position.


Nam June Paik Violoncelle

>>Nam June Paik. This artist often merged different types of media to create different, sometimes provocative, works of art.  In 1971, he introduced TV Cello, an instrument whose body was constructed from television sets, which, when played, showed live images of the performance in addition to some prerecorded ones. With this work, Paik introduced the video synthesizer, which was then used in music videos and tactile interfaces.

>>Allan Kaprow. By installing cameras in a city, he created a structure quite similar to the forums and chats that we are so familiar with today. This video network allowed passers by to communicate with one another. At a time when the only type of television transmission was one directed at the masses, Kaprow’s invention was revolutionary, because it allowed people to have one-on-one conversations via TV.

SMS Guerilla par Stroika>>SMS Guerilla, introduced by Studio Troika in 2002, is a device that makes it possible to project text messages in public spaces. Texas Instruments later adopted the concept and came out with its own cell phone projector. Today, these devices have inspired a new wave of innovation – for instances, projected mobile interfaces and sculptures that react to the environment, such as The Augmented Sculpture Project by Pablo Valbuena.

The examples above, Mahé said, demonstrate artistic innovation which serve also as a basis for further technological development. This process can be seen as a sort of R&C – Research and Creation. Mahé continued by introducing several other art projects that should be noted for their innovative factor:

EAR Studio Listening Post – an art installation that uses over 200 small electronic screens to display, in real time, text fragments from chats and forums across the globe. As the messages appear on the screens, they are also read by a voice synthesizer.

Constraint City – a bizarre and quite unique street performance. It is difficult to describe the concept in few simple sentences, so we will just let the video speak for itself:

Light Painting WiFi – which utilizes light painting to visualize the WiFi signal strength in a city.

Next to speak was Elliot Lepers, the host of the web series L’Œil de Links – a show about new inventions that are appearing on the internet. The web, Lepers pointed out, facilitates artistic creation as both the means of creation and the medium of distribution. The internet also allows for new and unprecedented ways of financing art projects.

On the other hand, art that is driven by social media becomes a constantly mutating entity, which is reused and altered so often that sometimes we actually lose sight of the art itself. Lepers then provided a few examples of artistic expression that have emerged because of the internet.

>>Merton – the Chatroulette Improv guy!

>>Attack of the Moon Robots – a movie made using only Chatroulette.

>>Eric Whitacre, who conducted a virtual choir via YouTube.

>>Bicycle Built for 2000 – which assembles over 2,000 human voices, recorded over the internet, to sing Daisy Bell.

>>The Johnny Cash Project – which asks participants to design one frame of a Johnny Cash video to create a “unique communal work”.

>>Star Wars Uncut – a project that divides a Star Wars movie into 15-second segments, asks participants to refilm them, and then puts it all back together.

These projects clearly demonstrate the opportunities that the internet offers the artists of the 21st century. However, in a private conference a few days earlier, François Berthier – who was not able to make it to the public conference – noted that much too often now, the art installation is given more attention than the work itself. How the work is presented becomes more important than what it actually says.

Finally, Arbia Smiti spoke about a project she launched not so long ago – Carnet de Mode. This website follows a rather unique business model. It features collections by both emerging and already established designers and lets users preorder the pieces they like most at a discounted price. The items that receive a certain number of preorder requests are put into production and are then sold via the site’s e-boutique for full price. Furthermore, the original “investors” receive further returns on investment on all sales of the product made through the e-boutique. Meanwhile, the site itself also becomes a kind of social network, where participant have the opportunity to communicate with designers themselves and read through the company fashion blog.


The conference was moderated by Bertrand Horel.


After the conference, we caught up with Elliot Lepers and asked him to give us a few concluding remarks: