Online performance, documented with screenshots
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 fictitious followers. They are “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. Having more than 5000 followers is an impressive achievement considering that @colleoproject produced only one tween 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”.
This project was influenced by 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 apparent wealth and power.
DISCIPLES is also an homage to Lynn Hershman Leeson’s seminal creation of Prudence Juris, Herbert Goode, and Gay Abandon 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.
“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 ideas cannot be longer than 140 characters to be taken into consideration, coll.eo argues that a retweet by a follower is considerably more important than a review by a critic which will be likely ignored by the masses. It is also important to remember that the “virtuality” of the follower is not problematic because a follower is, ontologically speaking, always already virtual. They are virtual because their loyalty is fleeting. It is especially fragile in an environment - the internet - where all ties are weak, weaker than in REAL life.
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 propose 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 AI.
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.
We do care about our 5000+ DISCIPLES and we love them dearly.
We will not block our DISCIPLES or report them for spam.
coll.eo is Colleen Flaherty and Matteo Bittanti
San Francisco, Oct 1 2012
Gogol, Nikolai, Dead Souls, 1842.
Tromble, Meredith, Hershman, Lyn (Eds), The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agents, Private I. University of California Press, 2009.