My iPhone is Everything
Liat Berdugo is known for her exploration of digital culture and how we implement it into our daily lives. In her 2012 piece, My iPhone is Everything, Berdugo takes iPhones and iPads and pushes the boundaries of what technology is actually capable of doing. In a series of 16 videos available on Vimeo, Berdugo uses her iPhone as lotion, oven mitts, laundry detergent, a cheese grater and much more. In the last video of the series, “v. 16,” we see her prepare a snack for herself. Berdugo is in her kitchen and very nonchalantly takes a plate from the shelf and opens a box of saltines. She sets five crackers side by side on the plate where her iPhone is also lying face up. She unlocks the iPhone to reveal an image of a saltine cracker.
The 2D image sits in contrast to the rest of the square crackers with the iPhone’s backlight making it that more obvious that the image of the cracker does not serve the same function as we anticipate the physical crackers will. Berdugo then opens her cabinets and removes a jar of peanut butter. Next, she reaches for a knife from her sink and then unscrews the lid of the peanut butter jar, her moves seem very intentional. Berdugo proceeds to lather two of the actual crackers with a dollop of peanut butter before she then holds the iPhone between her forefingers and without hesitation applies the same generous amount of peanut butter to the digital image of the saltine. She puts jelly on the remaining three saltines, two of which she places on top of the other two crackers to make a little PB&J sandwich. She does the same to the iPhone, placing a jellied cracker right on top of the peanut butter she has already smeared on the glass screen. The viewer can’t help but cringe as the image of the cracker shifts under the weight on the additional cracker.
Berdugo continues on to eat both of the physical cracker sandwiches and then the camera zooms in as she takes the iPhone cracker sandwich out of the frame and the viewer can hear crunching sounds as they are allowed to imagine what it might be like to eat an iPhone slathered in peanut butter and jelly. The video ends with Berdugo cleaning up after herself, any evidence of the iPhone’s presence is gone.
The other 16 videos follow the same structure and theme. We are introduced to Berdugo and other actors in their natural habitats; taking a shower, doing laundry at the laundromat, practicing yoga at the gym, baking a cake, etc. Discretely the iPhone or iPad is introduced. In each situation, the smart device is used as, in Berdugo’s words, “a do-anything Swiss army knife.” In each video, Berdugo pulls up images on the device’s screen to imitate the object it is supposed to be functioning as.
As the viewer watches these devices take on the role of everyday objects, it becomes increasingly more humorous as Berdugo pushes the limits. One video, in particular, shows just how incapable these "all-capable" devices can be. As she uses her iPad to imitate a shovel, Berdugo uses her foot to try and push the iPad underneath the dirt, only to have it slide right above the surface. While it might seem as though Berdugo is just making fun of technology, with each video we begin to see how just as her iPad/iPhone fails to accomplish any of the tasks she demands of it, technology, although it is capable of so much, fails to fulfill our basic needs.
In a world that has become so consumed with technology, it is hard to imagine how we once survived without it. Berdugo created My iPhone Is Everything in 2012, when the iPhone had just become a household name. Six years later, people are not only using smart devices, they are wearing them; depending on them for health information, even as reminders to drink more water, to exercise more, etc.
In an ongoing work, titled, The Zoom Series, Berdugo examines how these smart devices have created a whole new language made up of gestures. The scroll, the zoom - little movements that have now become as commonplace as waving, walking, even blinking. In the series, Berdugo removes the device from the scenario and films herself replicating the gestures. When the gestures are removed from their context they look quite silly and beg the question, to what extent is technology dictating our lives?
Zoom exemplifies how people have entered into relationships with their phones, often replacing them with human contact. Berdugo also touches on the concept of gesture ownership. In 2011, Apple Inc. patented the zooming gesture (pinch and spread) on smart devices. The fact that human movements can be owned by a corporation is a commentary on the pervasiveness of technology in and of itself.
Artist Lauren McCarthy takes this idea of digital reliance to a whole other level in her project, Lauren. McCarthy attempts to become a human version of the highly popular Amazon Alexa. For Lauren, McCarthy installs a bunch of networked smart devices into the homes of volunteers including multiple cameras so that she can watch, listen and interact with the subjects. Similar to Alexa, Lauren can turn on and off certain objects in the home. The main difference between Lauren and Alexa is as McCarthy describes it, is the relationship between intimacy and privacy.
Like Berdugo, McCarthy examines the relationships people have developed with technology, now even allowing it into their personal spaces in order to perform tasks. While smart devices may not be able to create intimate relationships with their users, user reliance on them is becoming more and more extensive.
Just as Berdugo pushes the limits on what technology is capable of doing, so too is society expanding the boundaries on how far we are willing to rely on technology. The question now remains, how much should we rely on it?
“My iPhone is Everything,” Brown University, Providence, RI
“Making Art | Making Community,” Vicki Myhren Gallery, CO