In many ways participation in the elaborate communication networks that now underlie social interaction is no longer a matter of choice, since failure to participate is, in many demographics, akin to social withdrawal. Our decision to connect with and perform within online networks also plays an increasingly large role in determining professional success. The question, however, is what are the other effects of our growing reliance on online communication and community on our lives, culture, and society?
With the opportunity for connectivity and limitless access to information, comes the obligation to be increasingly available to receive and transmit; to be perpetually connected. The consequent erosion of true leisure time, the blurring of the traditional professional / personal, public / private dichotomies, and an information overload are creating hitherto unknown levels of psychological pressure.
Controlling_Connectivity uses the pervasiveness of internet-based social networking, as well as the obligation and opportunity for constant connection with these platforms as a paradigm for a severe and systematic disruption of normal, socially accepted patterns of life and interpersonal interaction during a self-documented performance. Taking to its natural extreme the notion that new technologies are increasingly dictating our social interaction, professional life, and have a far reaching effect on many other aspects of daily life, Gretta Louw completed a durational performance, living in the gallery space in complete isolation except for contact through various social networking sites and the internet.
For 10 days the artist was available 24 hr/day for discussions, emails, comments, or interviews of both private and professional nature for any internet user wishing to take part in the project. All necessary supplies were stored within the gallery and the windows were blacked out to ensure that the environment was not normalised by natural light or social rhythms outside, but defined purely by the internet connection to external participants. A number of planned online events (the artist’s 30th birthday, live talks with partners in New York, interviews with press) were scheduled at intervals throughout the performance, with these social and professional pressures becoming progressively more difficult to fulfill as sleep deprivation and isolation take effect.
During the performance the artist created and installed the subsequent exhibition at Art Laboratory Berlin, with the aim of examining how extreme internet use and our reliance on online connectivity could affect psychological functioning; our ability to censor ourselves and continue to behave in a socially acceptable and comprehensible way under the constant pressure of inexorably increasing connectivity.