appropriation, copy, reinterpretation, plagiary, remix, reproduction
accumulation, archive, wunderkammer, database, cabinet of curiosities, encyclopedia
disclosure, reprint, multiplication, republishing, replication, fac-simile
destruction, deletion, burning, damage, programmed obsolescence, hidden
When it comes to social networks, images created or selected with artistic ambitions can be easily confused with the production or the appropriation of pictures made for other purposes, such as fun or propaganda. Things get even more complicated when on the one hand users emulate and manipulate works of art, and on the other hand, artists adopt visual languages properly taken from the Internet culture like selfies and memes.
But what happens if someone uses a social network as an artistic medium? Can a Facebook post be considered as a piece of art and can a private profile be seen as an exhibition room? Moreover, what are the possibilities offered by this tool for experiencing new modes of authorial, archival and curatorial practices? These inquiries constitute a fundamental part of the experiments conducted by the Vilnius-based artist Pavel Pavel.
Born in Lithuania in 1976, he has Ukrainian and Polish roots but his mother tongue is the former lingua franca of Eastern Europe: Russian. For this reason, Lithuanian people often mistake him for a foreigner, although he has spent his entire life in Vilnius. Yet this condition allows him to question his own identity and play with it. For instance, Pavel Pavel is a Facebook nickname that should destroy the artist’s given name by simply repeating it twice. By his own admission his virtual identity has begun to break away from him, developing its own personality, will, and needs. In order not to confuse the issue too much, let’s try to focus on what this man/character does.
His occupation could be described as an alternative social art practice which fights against the concept of property (both material and intellectual) and which focuses on phenomena and practices on the verge, with a particular interest in the boundaries between art and non-art, in the marginal, in the peripheral. Indeed, according to him, the art world is something that limits the work of artists and often narrows the view at someone’s activity. This conviction makes him highly skeptical about the art market so that he avoids any contact with art institutions, refusing what the New York-based curator Daniel S. Palmer has described as the “cynical view of art as property—and specifically as a functional financial instrument”.
Searching for an ideal place where action and observation merge – and where observation becomes an action itself – he has shaped an artistic language that perfectly reflects his intents, and has chosen a platform where he can put it in place. His works emerge in the digital space of his Facebook personal profile, but far from being promotional reproductions of artifacts, his posts are rather to be considered artworks themselves. By seeing the page as an artistic platform, ideally, everything that appears on it becomes part of his art project – even friends’ posts on his wall. However, it should be noted that this curious use of the page is not publicly declared, and thus it is often not understood; sometimes its comprehension is not facilitated by the visual characteristics of the published content, at first glance so easily mistakable with ordinary Facebook posts. That makes it quite hard to identify the case of Pavel Pavel in already existing artistic genres. What is sure is that his work mimetically hides itself, playing with the rules of the system in which it occurs. Its value lies only in the intentions of the author and in those who decide to recognise them. One may ask: Who is his public? At the beginning of 2017 Pavel Pavel has merely 128 friends and 16 followers on Facebook, and he does nothing to enlarge his audience. In the era in which everyone cultivates hundreds if not thousands of friendships using the web for self-promotion, he only cares about playing with this tool as a repository for the imaginary that surrounds him and that populates his mind. “For me, these things only exist when I publish them”, he confessed.
The grotesque, disturbing narrative he has generated with a strong sense of humor seems always to hover between fiction and documentary. His obsessions and phobias are filtered by an archival need to accumulate other people’s visual memories through which he reads and reinterprets the reality. Not to mention the strong desire for appropriation and manipulation as acts of resistance to his surroundings. What emerges in the end, is especially his capacity and need to possess, share and annihilate his own personality. Looking at the whole Pavel Pavel’s production of images, the private memories he borrows from strangers’ old family photo albums collapse with echoes of Soviet and post-Soviet pop culture. At the same time, the way he manipulates and recontextualises his body in the ironic self-portraits that he takes (see the series Vonios kambarys, literally "Bathroom") intertwines with the sarcastic and cynical gaze over society in his short videotapes taken in the urban space.
Pavel Pavel’s eclectic and non-disciplinary activity takes different forms such as straight photography, video art, and performance, using the tools at his disposal: A scanner, a printer, a laptop, a smartphone, and an analogue photo camera. The artist is working on various series of posts, and each of them is always consistent in terms of technique and aesthetics – thus it is clearly distinguishable from the rest. Yet there are many exceptions: For instance, Homelife is the only series in which he uses the gif format, while videos are more frequent and sorted according to the specific subject or theme. Nevertheless, most of these projects are carried on simultaneously, but not separated in albums. In this way, it is impossible to browse the images of a single series – we can only go with the flow and enjoy Pavel Pavel’s twisted path. This does not mean that the content is messy. On the contrary, he writes the title and the date in each post, adding also the location when needed. In this manner he ignores the Facebook’s intrinsic and mechanical archival function, in order to stress his own role of active archivist. In a similar way, some of the words he uses in his titles, such as “Intervention”, “Documentation”, and “Copy” highlight or clarify some of his actions.
There is something genuinely naive and profoundly revealing at the same time in what Pavel Pavel is doing. And this contradictory attitude dominates his production, which seems to be always intimate and universal, local and globalised, basic and intricate, shy and provocative. Curating, showing or even just talking about his work outside its original context can be quite tricky, properly because where and what he does are inseparable elements. For this reason, this article is above all an invitation to visit his Facebook page and eventually send him a friend request. Let's spread Pavel Pavel's word.