Artist Talk: Constant Dullaart in conversation with Axelle Van Wynsberghe at LIMA, Amsterdam

  • Axelle Van Wynsberghe
  • Pier Taylor
At LIMA, I helped with the theoretical framing of the artist talk with Dutch artist Constant Dullaart, and also interviewed him onstage to talk about the artworks and performances he has created witht the use of digital technologies.
Constant’s artwork not only sheds light on the role of digital technologies in society, but also how they have shifted our visual language, and the ways in which we relate to each other, and even how we constitute our identities—what identities have come to represent and how they get subsumed into different systems of value. In the works we will be dealing with today—High Retention, Slow Delivery; Phantom Love; The Possibility Of An Army, and Constant’s new piece on the Amazon Echo, we’ll be exploring the underlying economies of the Internet and what role identity plays in the attention economy.
The Possibility Of An Army is part of a broader exploration of the ways in which identity and data interact in a the virtual environment of the web. As part of his Instagram intervention, High Retention, Slow Delivery, Constant Dullaart bought 2.5 million followers for 5,000 dollars through a Lithuanian contact (Dullaart, 2015). In this work commissioned by Jeu de Paume, Constant leveled the quantified ‘social capital’ of members of the art world by making them all reach 100,000 followers—buying 40,000 for Ai Weiwei, and 2,700 for Hans Ulrich Obrist. By manipulating the numbers on Instagram, he brings to light the unseen industries that influence the reputation of certain people, and also showcases how ‘the audience has become a commodity’. In his other Instagram-based work, Phantom Love, he choreographed an army of Instagram accounts to recite poems in the comment sections of certain posts, each line being written by a separate account. The poems constitute a public intervention and includes the hashtag ‘this is public space’. In all these works, artificial identities are used to explore and intervene in the ways in which data and algorithms have begun to shape our lives—as he states they can be used to influence politics, to elevate a brand or public persona, and even add relevance to art in an increasingly spectacular contemporary art world.”
The Possibility Of An Army emerged out of a collaboration between Schirn Kunsthalle in Hesse, which invited Constant Dullaart to create a project. Constant Dullaart created an army of artificial profiles inspired by the Hessian troops which fought in the American War of Independence of 1775-83, framing his new artificial profile army as one which could bring about a second revolution. In order to authenticate his profiles, Dullaart also used unique SIM cards, some of which will be exhibited downstairs, to authenticate the profiles. His recreation of the Hessian army on Facebook involved finding the names of these German soldiers, and looking for Black Hat hacker platforms that could bring the work to life. Through a Pakistani operative, he set up 15,000 accounts, whose names represented that of the original Hessian Army. The work eventually got picked up by several media sources, including the BBC, after which the army was largely eliminated. Verified with unique phone numbers, these soldiers, however, have since then been brought back ‘to life’. Despite the artificial identities being tethered to particular ‘profiles’, Dullaart uses them as a material or as a gesture, rather than as distinct actors in space.