Exhibit | Catfish: A Group Show at Anat Ebgi Gallery
Installation of “Catfish” at Anat Ebgi Gallery.
I’ve never been catfished, and I haven’t seen the movie Catfish either. There’s a fear of online identity that is perpetuated by the internet, that place where people say things that aren’t fact. There are horrifying catfishing cases like one in which a Tuscaloosa woman created a fake Facebook account named Tre “Topdog” Ellis in order to stalk the online life of her live-in niece, Marissa Williams, who had been inviting random men over to the house, and also blocked her aunt. Marissa started talking to “Topdog” as if he were a regular guy, asking him to come over and get drunk and pay off her phone bill, but things got real dark when she asked him to also “kidnap” her and murder her aunt and her aunt’s fiancé if she intervened. The cops came, Marissa went to jail, and the catfish’s true identity was revealed. This sort of case is pretty rare, involves naïve people, and also discounts the ways that the internet can be both healthy and important for those who frequent it.
The idea of playing with fake identities on social media seems like it could be ripe subject matter for a group show aptly named Catfish at Anat Ebgi Gallery featuring work by all female artists Petra Cortright, Kate Steciw, Letha Wilson and Margo Wolowiec. But the actual show concept and the work in it don’t exactly line up.
First, viewers are presented with a ironicly vague ‘stream-of-conscience’ catfish-y story in the press release, which actually reads more like a sad and inaccurate lust story between a dude and a lady, in which the two start talking and then she goes to meet him at a hotel in Arizona and he is not there. That’s not a case of mistaken catfish identity, persay, but more like a naïve, not-realistic portrayal of a young woman who meets a guy via some Facebook messaging and doesn’t know who he is even though of all the social networks out there, Facebook is the only one that is constantly under fire for its real name policy.
Furthermore, in today’s well-documented rape culture, most young women are more vigilant than ever about learning who a man is before meeting up with him, let alone connecting online. Even Tinder profiles connect to mutual Facebook friends; the process of meeting someone is even more tenuous than it was when just Facebook existed. I have never accepted a friend request from some random with whom I have no mutual friends. Usually those are spambots from East Asia. And I’ve been super clear with guys I met off of Tinder, treating it like a social background check of some variety (unless we had zero mutual friends).
That said, this press release story as premise for a show that is supposedly about basically post-internet art imagery not on the internet doesn’t really make sense. Nothing in the show itself points to any catfish-y story of a digital version of manic pixie dream girl (or rather, #manicpixiedreamgirl); instead, it just fetishizes the #manicpixiedreamgirl in its usual trope kinda way. Actually, the four women in the show are clearly extremely self-aware digital natives, whose main interest in the Internet is focused on mining it for random abstracted content that’s remade into physical manifestations of internet landscapes.
In Petra Cortright’s Night Heat 19 (2013) she does her internet thing, taking random imagery from the web and turning it into some sort of collaged meta-landscape, like a palm tree and other desert plants against a fake ocean scape. This piece exists pinned to the gallery wall, somewhere between a beach towel and a shower curtain, but hung in a way that is both flattened and mischievous. Elsewhere in the gallery, Margo Wolowiec’s rather Lynchian-looking imagery of Warning Signs (2015) depicts red painted fingernails of a woman’s hand that rests, slightly curved, on a surface, with horizontal lines swathed over it, as if looking into a static TV screen. She is a body in space, an image that was probably lifted from an advertisement used to sell a product. The woman is an object for consumption, as usual. Letha Wilson’s Joshua Tree Concrete Bend (2015) could suggest a somewhat arid and deserted place where that catfish-y potential hookup could meet, but it also appears like a weirdly collaged image, cut from non-existent magazines. On the gallery floor we find Kate Steciw’s Composition 028aaa (2015), an arrangement of two rectangles merged into one, creating a corner, with holes carved into it, on wheels, but not meant to go anywhere at all. Its form is as meandering and unclear as the network’s non-existent end.
One of the most interesting things about catfishing is the disparity between the online persona and the person themself, between IRL and URL so to speak. Though the premise of this show draws inspiration from the idea of people misrepresenting themselves on the Internet, the imagery in the show is all abstracted or landscapes and does not represent anything but the seemingly endless networked space that is normal for all of these digital native artists. In effect, this group of female artists could be today an internet-ified version of the all-male Abstract Expressionists meets Pop Art. Sometimes, art history does repeat itself, just in different ways and with new names.