As part of the final push toward publication of the Routledge volume that I am co-editing with Ulrik Ekman, Jay Bolter, Lily Diaz and Morten Søndergaard (Ubiquitous Computing, Complexity, and Culture, forthcoming 2015), I am working on the images that our authors will use. This lead me to discover the work of Alex Gross. In wonderfully detailed and with a remarkably acute eye for the vagaries of our media condition, Gross turns his eye on us and our devices. In Selfie, Gross captures the complexity of that dual gesture of self portraits in its 21st century versions: a turning inward, gazing upon oneself through a camera’s eye, and that curious turning outward, as photos are instantly shared on social media sites.
Gross’ paintings remind me of another artist, Dan Witz, who captured the pre-selfie glow of smart phone users’ and their preoccupation with their phones. Witz’ girls turn away their gaze from us and are captured, like flies, in the light from their devices.
While I am uncomfortable watching Witz’s subjects, I find that the gaze of Gross’s girl is more startling. She looks at us and does not look at us at all. Not as provocative as Manet’s Olympia perhaps, but somehow she is equally preoccupied with catching–capturing and holding–us who are watching, drawing us in, implicating us in the scene. Implicating us in the social scene that is being portrayed.
I just can’t figure out yet what complicity with the social fabric of the three images really entails.