Alone together is an interactive and immersive experience featured at RedBull Studios in New York City in 2015. This informative and observational piece was created by Ryder Ripps, a very controversial yet successful digital artist. This experience is separated into two divided sections of the building, the first being upstairs and the second below. Viewers initially walk up a set of stairs to a large wooden box (roughly 2m^3). On the front of this box is a mirror so as the viewer approaches they can see a reflection of themselves. As they get closer they can look through two small, circular eye holes through the mirror and into the wooden structure. Behind the mirror and inside the box is an array of mirrors arranged at different angles almost creating a kaleidoscope effect. Projected onto these mirrors is web content that comes from a seemingly unknown source.
If viewers follow a 70’ cable away from the initial wooden box they will find themselves downstairs on an elevated surface. This area looks down onto 6 individuals all using computers and wearing the same, orange t-shirts. Viewers can walk all around the elevated enclosure supported by scaffolding, allowing them to see any of the participants' screens. After observation, one realizes that these 6 actors/participants web content is what is being projected into the wooden box upstairs. These actors/participants were found using a public Craigslist ad titled “Do you want to get paid to use the internet as art?” Ripps then selected his participants based on their unique usage of the internet. These participants had relatively unique passions or interests creating a wide spectrum of overall content viewed in the wooden box. Viewers can freely move between the two sections of this piece and receive a truly unique and controlled way of witnessing how our social networks operate in today's world.
This piece explores the concept of the underlying forces behind the social content everyone is exposed to. Ripps portrays the system of social networks in a simplified and understandable way. As Kyle Chayka writes,
Alone Together explores how engines (in this case hired actors) completely control what we are exposed to online. This control is being conveyed through the separation and isolation as well as the "70 foot ambilical cord-esque," cable connecting the two stations. Viewers cannot physically interact with the actors, they are merely spectators at the mercy of selectively produced content. This context of physical separation presents one with a sense of helplessness and lack of control. At first one has no idea where the images are coming from and even when they discover the source there's nothing they can do to interfere. In addition, this piece was recently shown at RedBull Studios in New York City beginning in 2015. This allowed many individuals who were intimately united with their social media profiles to experience an almost behind the scenes look at what produces their content. Alone Together is an eye-opening and stimulating as well as social yet isolating experience.
Alone Together is one of many projects currently exploring and attempting to understand the complex social networks that have formed in modern society. Another piece exploring a similar topic is The Artist is Kind of Present by An Xiao. This performance was put on at the MoMA in 2010 and allowed visitors to communicate and interact with Xiao. Upon sitting across from the artist one would attempt to communicate with her via twitter while the artist hides behind her laptop, phone, and sunglasses. This piece explores the modern ways we now interact with one another similarly to Alone Together, but explores more of a human, face-to-face disconnection rather than the undermining forces driving content.
Another project that closely relates to Ripps' Alone Together is Jiyeon Kim's piece Tinder Project in which Tinder users are painted based on their user profiles. Rather than painting an exact copy of one of their images, Kim tries to paint how she would perceive that actual person to be in reality, exploring the contrast between one's real and digital identities. Ripps also explored the idea of digital identity in his actor selection process. He specifically chose the participants he did, to create a controlled micro-cosm of the internet. Many contemporary artists are exploring the subjects of social, digital media and the effects it is having on both individual and societal scales. Alone Together is a captivating experience that makes one think twice about the feeds they devote so much time to.
This Piece was on exhibit at RedBull Studios, NYC from February 27th - April 12th.