We, the people
In 2016 I had the honour of being a Visiting Artist Fellow at the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Social Science, as part of the ANU Vice-Chancellor’s College Visiting Artist Fellows Scheme.
I collaborated with Dr Robert Ackland who is developing new methods for studying networks on the World Wide Web, including the visualisation of data and analysis of social networks. Dr Ackland provided me with a steady stream of data detailing the levels of abuse directed at Australian politicians on Twitter, allowing me to explore my interest in society’s capacity for ‘digital rage’.
Access to this data gave me the opportunity to discuss the use of abusive language on social media as a new and accepted form of
public discourse – a digital version of toilet door graffiti, with users eagerly slandering and defaming public figures.
The resulting two works I created are part data visualisation and part social commentary – inspired and informed by data, and expressed through the physicality and emotive language of sculpture.
‘Sub-rosa’ is a Latin term that translates to ‘under the rose’ and means ‘done in secret’. The rose is an ancient symbol of secrecy – I’ve used roses to highlight that even though we may tweet and post in private, nothing we say on social media is truly private or secret. There are 100 paper roses of four sizes. The % of roses at each size denotes the % of abusive tweets aimed at Australian politicians, which I have rated as mild, medium, strong or strongest.
The work simulates a casket spray – the floral arrangement seen on a casket during a funeral service. Its death references, including the choice of black paper, relate to what I see as the death of polite society, of ethics and social etiquette.
Shooting from the hip
15 ammunition belts representing 15 days of 2016 – seven days before the federal election on 2 June, Election Day itself, and seven days after. The number of bullets in each belt equals the number of abusive tweets aimed at Australian politicians on that day.
The words embossed on each bullet holder are the abusive words that were contained in each tweet.
Each bullet is made from one sheet of A4 copy paper – at once referencing bureaucracy and also reminding us of the power of both paper and words.
Just as we may not consider the potential damage caused by our off-hand remarks on social media, we may also not consider that a piece of paper could seriously injure. Yet, when rolled into a bullet shape, the paper could cause considerable damage if used as a projectile.