Artwork by Larson & Shindelman Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art ‘Geolocation’ has collected public data from tweets and pictures for over 10 years

Social Dilemma

Geolocation
Jan. 15–Mar. 5
Free
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Artists Marni Shindelman and Nate Larson didn’t know how timely Geolocation would be at the beginning of 2021. Their ongoing project, which pairs tweets with photographs from the location posts were uploaded, began in 2009. Geolocation has witnessed social media reactions to the Great Recession, the birth of #BlackLivesMatter, the presidency of Donald Trump and most recently the failed insurrection at the Capitol.

The exhibition, which opened to the public at the Halsey Friday, is a startling commentary on surveillance brought on by tech companies and a less-startling meditation on the ubiquity of social media. Each art piece is a picture taken from the location a tweet was posted, found through publicly accessible geolocation data.

Some are mysterious: An image of a rainy body of water is accompanied by the caption, “Pretty sure I just heard a gunshot lol.” Some speak volumes in just a few words: “Black girls are enough. Black girls are enough. Black girls are enough. Black girls are MORE than enough. #BlackGirlMagic,” is written below a picture of a rural suburb.

For each piece, Shindelman and Larson would start with a tweet, find where it was posted and then take a picture in-person of that place. “I tried to take the sentiment of the tweet, is it sad, is it funny, where does it strike me, where does it hit me, and they generally can be uninspiring,” Shindelman said. “[When] we make them together, and we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, the photograph changes the sentiment of the tweet or enhances it.’”

Artwork by Larson & Shindelman Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
‘Geolocation’ has collected public data from tweets and pictures for over 10 years

The tweet, printed below the photograph, is sometimes out of step with the attached image. But just as often, the viewer can ascertain a parallel between the text and visual. When taken as a whole, Geolocation can be as disorienting as good science fiction, showing both the promising heights and unsettling depths technology can reach.

“Let’s say there’s a regime in power that wants to track its citizens,” Larson said. “Hopefully, the project makes it clear how easy that is in this current moment with these current tools. While we’re not using that information maliciously, there are plenty of opportunities for bad actors to do so.”

The artists’ views on social media are just as varied as the exhibition’s themes. Although she gets frustrated with her friends and family being glued to their smartphones, Shindelman said she’s excited to see teens becoming politically motivated thanks to apps like TikTok.

Larson, on the other hand, is feeling more pessimistic, thanks to the current moment. “Twitter’s a cesspool,” he said. “If you look at all the things happening with Parler and far-right networks, that’s not very encouraging in terms of growth as a society. I also worry tech companies have too much power.”

Part of Geolocation is centered around the #BlackLivesMatter movement and mobilization efforts that occurred on Twitter. In fact, Larson and Shindelman acknowledged social media was instrumental in democratic movements like the Arab Spring, but quickly pointed out that it was also a tool for the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Because the duo has continuously worked on the project for over 10 years, they have monitored several of these historic moments and the role social media played in them. Larson believes the recent coup attempt in the U.S. will be an influence on the future of Geolocation. “Maybe this moment is the most important moment, in terms of what’s next for us,” he said.

Geolocation is open for public viewing Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and Thursdays 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Visit halsey.cofc.edu for more information.