disciple (plural disciples)

A person who learns from another, especially one who then teaches others.

An active follower or adherent of someone, or some philosophy etc.

(Ireland) miserable-looking creature of a man (from Wiktionary)


For this performance, we purchased 5000+ Twitter followers for account @colleoproject via FanMeNow.com, a website that creates and sells fictitious followers. “Fictitious” in the sense that, according to Fan Me Now,

“[A]re NOT real. Most of them may appear to be real and may have aged established dates, actual photos uploaded and a few tweets in the system but they are NOT REAL.” (FanMeNow, 2012)

In other words, our Twitter followers were specifically created by FanMeNow.

In other worlds, these followers may exist. In our particular space-time continuum, however, they are “NOT REAL”.

Nonetheless, they perform the act of following @colleoproject which, for us, is real enough.

Upon purchasing 5000+ followers via PayPal, @colleoproject received the virtual followers in less than 24 hours. Thus, @colleoproject was able to “boost the following figures and create a great first impression” as promised by FanMeNow. We optimized our social media capabilities. We maximized our support base. Having more than 5000 followers is an impressive achievement considering that, at that time, @colleoproject produced only one tweet and does not follow anybody. As @colleoproject are trend setters rather than trend followers it is of the uttermost importance for the collective not to follow other Twitter users, either real or “NOT REAL”. Not only our followers looked “real” - they had screen profiles, with images and descriptions… They also acted “realistically”: they favorited our posts and even retweeted some of them. They were very social, too, as they followed thousands of other people. We felt loved, for the very first time, by comedians, teachers, politicians, artists, marketers, even fashion designers. Our appeal was universal. They really understood us. Our followers made us feel more real. As in “credible”. They made us feel as if we mattered. We suddenly had clout. Influence. Status.

DISCIPLES is a modern-day adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls (1842). The novel tells the story of a social climber, Pavel Ivanovič Čičikov, who travels Russia to buy the souls of deceased serfs for a very low price. The “dead souls” are human beings who were once registers while alive with the census and are still accounted for in property registers, but died since. Chichikov tries to collect the legal ownership rights to dead serfs as a way of inflating his virtual (as in “apparent”) wealth and power.

DISCIPLES is also an homage to Lynn Hershman Leeson’s seminal creation of her avatars Prudence Juris, Herbert Goode, and Gay Abandon, who performed between 1968 and 1972. As the story goes, Hershman invented three fictitious reviewers to write about her work. The stated goal of her performance was “to study the effects of three simulated critics on public opinion”, but the understated objective was to game the system by providing intellectual capital (i.e. show reviews) that should be produced “independently”, according to the rules of that GAME otherwise known as the Artworld. As Hershman wrote,

“To complete my master’s thesis, I wrote art reviews and essays under three pseudonyms: Prudence Juris, Herbert Goode, and Gay Abandon. One pseudo-critic had a column in a local paper and was an editor at Artweek; another wrote for national art magazines, and the third freelanced for several European journals.” (Hershman, 2009: 17)

In the contemporary regime of “social media” which dictates that communication should not exceed 140 characters, COLL.EO suggests that a retweet by a follower is considerably more important than a review by a critic which will be likely ignored by the masses. The “virtuality” of the follower is not problematic because a follower is, ontologically speaking, always already virtual. Followers are virtual because their loyalty is fleeting. Sic transit gloria mundi etc. It is especially fragile in an environment, the web, where all ties are weak. In a sense, all ties are lies.

Yesterday, pseudo-critics.

Today, pseudo-followers.

In 1968, Hershman wrote:

“When real objects are artificially inserted into real environments, they simultaneously become simulated symbols that function as virtual reality.” (ibidem)

We wanted to update Hershman’s prophecy: when simulated beings are effectively inserted into digital environments, they simultaneously become real symbols that function as reality.

By “real symbols that function as reality” think - in addition to fictitious Twitter followers - to bots that appear to be “as human as possible”. In the digital spaces of online games, some of these bots are often indiscernible from “REAL” human beings. In fact, they have often passed the Turing Test and, in 2012, won The 2K BotPrize, a competition that has been challenging programmers since 2008 to create game simulated entities that act as human beings, playing like fallible meat-made gamers rather than near-perfect computer artificial intelligence.

This performance is not intended to devalue Twitter as a social channel as we truly believe in the power of Web 2.0. Sharing means a lot to us. Sharing is caring.

We do care about our 5000+ DISCIPLES and we love them dearly.

We will not block our DISCIPLES or report them for spam.

We consider them our true friends. They are reliable, pragmatic, and affordable.

They are our DISCIPLES.


COLL.EO is Colleen Flaherty and Matteo Bittanti

San Francisco, Oct 1, 2012


Works cited


Gogol, Nikolai, Dead Souls, 1842.

Tromble, Meredith, Hershman, Lynn (Eds), The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agents, Private I. University of California Press, 2009.