Pics or it didn't happen was an exibition of art documentation, itself presented as art, that took place in February 2013 at Pari Nadimi Gallery. Artists included were Rachel de Joode, Felix Kalmenson, Adriana Ramic, David Hanes, Elliot Vredenburg, and Elle Kurancid. Curated by Sarah Friend. The curatorial statement and project description are below. Perhaps fittingly, there are no documentation photos.
Since the early days of the internet, the anonymity of the screen has shielded its users (the first baby trolls emerge from the cave [Plato’s?] and blink) from scrutiny and loosened the ties between what we say and what we are. Instead, a choose-your-own-adventure identity. In forums like 4chan, it became popular to respond to grandiose claims with the rejoinder, “Pics or it didn’t happen.”
“Duuuude. Last night I met Miley Cyrus and she twerked on me.”
“Pics or it didn’t happen.”
As if the photo were proof.
Since the advent of digital editing, the photograph as an indexical sign (a for-sure proof of the existence of its subject matter) has been gradually broken down. Photoshop lies with a whisper . . .
These are the working conditions artists labour under – and it has left them in a place where the documentation of their work is as important as, if not more so, than the work itself. Arguably, the document has become interchangeable with what it documents. So to mimic the form and belabor the point, a show of documentation photos presented as art: “Pics or it didn’t happen.” The catch, of course: None of the art being “documented” is real.
This kind of meditation on art world forms works best when it mimics them as faithfully as possible. The show would be essentially a photo show, the photos being “faked” documentation photos submitted by six artists. As such, the space would be quite austere – simple photos, each no larger than 20x24”, on white walls. Likely, due to space constraints, only one image from each artist will be selected. When selecting images, care will be taken to choose ones that convincingly mimic common documentation tropes: frames, white walls, even lighting, ambiguous scale, etc.
The criteria for and methods by which a documentation photo is determined to be fake will be left to the discretion of the artists. Is the art just an object from the studio floor installed in a “fake” gallery, which is actually just the white kitchen wall? Is it a composite entirely created in photoshop - an object that never did or never could exist in physical space? The fundamental questions of the show have to do with when and how an object becomes an art object, and what is the nature of the relationship between documentation and what is documented. It’s okay and even beneficial if the artists interpret the questions differently, and fake their art with a range of methodologies.
The premise of the show is on some level quite simple – but requires explanation. It’s unlikely that anyone who enters the space, even with considerable knowledge of the art world, would know that the images presented are of “faked” art pieces. Indeed, if they can be easily recognized as such they have failed. Thus, some kind of revelatory text that is open ended but very accessible will need to be readily available. The didactic wall panel is lamented only by those so fluent in the language (of art) that they forget learning.
While the show is obviously designed for an art world audience, it also speaks to a broader set of concerns. The conditions of digital imagery (completely dematerialized, quotidian but unreliable) do not only exist in or effect the art world. Think of other “contested” images – images for which our culture has obsessed but doubtful eyes: photos of the Roswell crash, celebrities airbrushed faces, the moon landing, Osama Bin Ladin’s dead body. These images say nothing about the existence or appearance of the things they depict, and yet they fill the bandwidth of our cultural attention, symbolizing meaning but possessing none.