Stalking has become easy in an age of social media. In fact, most of us are quite content to release private information into the whacky world of the www. Christine Hogg spoke to Alice Toich, who examined this phenomenon by painting portraits of Facebook users who she ‘stalked’.
“None is so famous than the example of portraits depicting Queen Victoria I, who would have any portrait that she did not like promptly burnt; right-click remove tag much?” states the pamphlet of The Stalked, by Alice Toich, which opened on Friday the 21st at 177 Long Street. The queen’s vanity was one of the reasons Toich decided to use oil paint to connect our modern day Facebook pride to the past. With that choice made, she was able to create flattering portraits of 10 aesthetically pleasing profile pictures of people she stalked. There had to be some rules though: none of the subjects were allowed to be her Facebook friends and she wasn’t allowed to have access to further information about them. The next challenge was to get the people who were spied upon to attend the exhibition. It was important to Toich that she saw their reaction and the project was an interactive social experiment because, she explains,
art can’t be something that can only live on walls, it has to live in society.
Six subjects attended the exhibition as a result of a mutual friend’s word-of-mouth recommendation. Overthrown by astonishment, they went through three successive emotions, said Toich, “creeped out while trying not to show it, contemplative while trying to wrap their heads around the idea and eventually appreciative for being chosen”.
Just a few days before the exhibition Facebook messages were sent out to the rest, yet the confused stalker victims didn’t take them seriously and were quick to label them spam. Clinton J. Campbell was one of them and thus didn’t attend the exhibition at first. Interestingly, his friends happened to be at the opening and found their buddy’s face spread across a pompous canvas on an exhibition wall. A wave of tweets and texts overwhelmed Campbell and convinced him to come and inquire into The Stalked. “When he arrived the first thing he said was: I’m so sorry I didn’t reply to your message, I didn’t know what it was,” explains Toich.
The aim was to expose the constructed nature of, as Toich puts it, “an edited life” rather than uncovering pretentiousness. “I Facebook stalk, I change my profiles, I do all of that,” she declares. And she’s not going to stop snooping in on other people’s self-portrayals any time soon, a part two of The Stalked may come to life in the near future. “I might consider choosing one subject and possibly really freaking them out by using all of their profile pictures,” she chuckles cheekily. So in future, think twice about what you put on your Facebook wall because it might just end up on a real one!
Words: Christine Hogg
Images: Ian Skene