Storytime

artists Magdaléna Kašparová
institution Czech Republic
tags technology tělo apropriace zdraví digitální platformy
translation Brian Vondrak
category Audio-visual Art
published 26. 3. 2021
duration 0:13:42
language Česky / English
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The End of History

Storytime is a diary entry, coming of age story and confessional by artist Magdalena Kašparová questioning privacy, subjectivity and authenticity of online sharing. What is shared, what is private and what are the possibilities of self-presentation in contemporary screen based culture?

Adopting conventions of a YouTube vlog, Magdalena’s teenage diary entries surface raw and seemingly unedited. Stored in a number of disused mobile phones; songs, gifs, low-fi images and movies weave into and trail off in unfinished stories, anecdotes, soundbites and faces from childhood, where experience of mental illness is quickly interrupted by pop lyrics.

As Amalia Ulman discusses in her work The Annals of Private History , historically, the contents of female diaries were locked away from a public discourse, with their potentially explosive records of mental illness, rape, and abuse out of sight of patriarchs. To contain what men have called ‘inner ramblings’ — or if we go with Freud, ‘women’s infantilised emotions’ — miniature locks and keys were designed for the diaries of girls and women, whereas boys were given notebooks to share their ideas and heartbreak with the world as public writers and poets. It is in this context that the selfie—a trope and weapon of the fourth wave of feminism, with its provocative assertion of visibility— claims its cultural significance. With a few exceptions, this power has been hardly explored by Czech female artists, and those who do use it have often been labelled self-centred, narcissistic, pathetic, and self-obsessive. Nevertheless, the selfie has weaponised feminised storytelling through the use of one’s own image, its immediacy in the everyday and its unprecedented degree of control over self-presentation online. Magdalena employs the selfie’s conventions — its intense closeness and direct eye contact — but in moving to a prosumer use of technology, she replaces the shaky handheld phone and emotional breakdowns with a static camera, a well-lit scene, and utter composure.

Unlike the work of artists such as Amalia Ulman or Ann Hirsch, who explored self-representation through participation and interaction on Instagram and YouTube, Storytime was not conceived as a project that would begin as an online interaction on the artist’s social media. The commodified language used by vloggers and the plethora of audio and video transitions that help Magdalena to deliver her story has perhaps more to say about the ways online performativity has entrenched itself in our subjectivity and our privacy has become a readymade.

Storytime does not indulge in attempting to formally capture the zeitgeist – a method that has rendered quite a few works using the latest technologies quickly obsolete. We don’t get to see the latest Instagram filters, 3D, or AR — the emoticons and visual effects used here are of the prosumer standard, and the rest are mostly low-fi, retro gifs. The shift from the private/public division of our life to the want-to-be-watched culture of social media, though, is worked into the fabric of the work. By presenting this internet folklore together with a treasured collection of aged mobile phones, the artist builds our engagement with the narrative through the way her source material is performed — through her unfeigned awe at the technology’s slowness and malfunctioning, as well as at her own likeness as a teenager. What was designed as a user’s individualized experience is immediately understood and recognisable here, building a considerable emotional connection to the viewer.

By sharing her deeply personal and traumatic experience, Storytime questions the limits of screen mediation as much as playing with women’s self-representation online. Regardless of the content delivered, the artist’s luminous, delicately made-up and perfectly-lit face, never shows any strain of distress (such as sweat or palpitations) throughout the entire 13 minutes. I have wondered about this. Is this performance of the archetype — by which I mean conventional femininity—the thing that makes Magdalena’s story so utterly believable? How would a display of emotions affect our final reading of the work? At times, her face seems as flat as the screen itself, always upbeat and vivid, until a very subtle gesture in the final few minutes, when the artist, in line with the narrated story self-consciously touches her tastefully made-up face. What is revealed and concealed by the screen, and — equally — what is lost and gained by our online presence in the present?

Hana Janečková

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