Greg Mionske/Red Bull Content Pool
Ryder Ripps' new exhibition is like an aesthetic cross between a reality TV show and a NASA mission. Alone Together is a part-installation, part-performance, that pits six internet users inside of a glass cube on the lower level of Red Bull Studios New York. Their only job is to use the internet for seven hours per day, Thursday through Sunday, for the next six weeks. That's it.
The results of their "work" appear on the second floor of the exhibition, where, inside of an elevated wooden box adorned with little more than two eyeholes into it, viewers can experience a visual feed that displays real-time images from the participants' browsing experiences. "I wanted it to be an agglomeration mash of content and to feel that anxiety of this voracious, never ending, infinite, with no-goal-in-mind, feeling of a feed,” explains Ripps to The Creators Project. The result, according to the artist, “collectively becomes our understanding of the day. It washes over us as we scroll. The totality of everyone we follow becomes the landscape."
So what's it like to have to use the internet for seven hours a day, four days a week? Ripps has already talked at length about his aims for the work, so we decided to talk to his participants. Seated in cadmium red short-sleeve collared shirts adorned with circular Alone Together patches, the six performers told us about the personal projects—or lack total lack thereof—that they're working on, the Craigslist ad that introduced them to Ryder Ripps, and the total weirdness of being watched in a glass box for days on end.
On why he's here:
"I found it through Craigslist, my mom wanted me to get a job."
On what he's been doing:
"Yesterday and the day before that I’ve been learning programming and Python and gaming, but today’s the due date for the application for Marlboro, so I have to finish it. I’ve been playing Hearthstone, and the game that I would like to play is Solforge."
On how she became part of 'Alone Together,' and what she's been up to:
"I found this ad and it said, 'Get Paid to Work on the Computer' and I was like, yeah right. But, it was a legitimate thing. I read a lot of magazine articles and that will probably be consistent throughout. I’m also definitely going to do some shopping. I feel like I should be productive because I have all this time at the computer, but I have no desire to be productive, so I’ll probably just mess around. I’ve watched so many music videos.
On how the experience is changing her relationship to the internet:
"I did notice that when I went home I didn’t go on the computer and that was kind of weird. I carry my phone around in my hand at all times, I rarely put it down, and when you do put it down, it’s like, ‘where did my phone go?’ It can feel like something’s missing, but last night, was probably the first night in a long time where my phone was down and I didn’t touch it and I didn’t have the reaction of ‘Oh man, where did I put my phone?’"
On his reasons for participating:
"I’ve been asking myself the same question that Ryder has been asking himself, so when I came here for the interview, it clicked. I saw a lot of the same paradoxes that kept coming up. It’s also a chance to work online and I was curious to see if I would be more focused, now that I’m in this environment compared to home. It’s like I’m doing my own little experiment on how I will behave and what I’ll get out of this experience.
On how the experience is changing his relationship to the internet:
"It’s a little weird because you feel like you’re always being watched, even when there’s no one behind me, I feel like there are people behind me. I don’t know if I’ve felt different, but one of the predictions I had came true, which is I’m not using it as much at home. When I came home last night, I didn’t want to be online at all.
On what he'll be doing:
"Seven hours is a long time to sit and be working constantly. I’ll probably be listening to music and watching shows."
On her relationship to the exhibit:
"I already followed Ryder on Instagram and I remember seeing him post a photo of just the picture, but you couldn’t see it was a Craigslist ad, and I remember thinking it was a joke because he always posts meme-like things, like “Get Paid to be Online as Art”. Then one of my friends sent me the actual Craigslist post and I thought it was so funny. So I emailed them, and Ryder emailed me back and I was like, 'Wait this is Ryder Ripps?'
On the Alone Together opening:
"The party was pretty wild, it was interesting to see the way people were going to interact with the exhibit. When I was inside the glass box, so many people were yelling at me trying to talk to me but then when I walked out later, during the party, no one came up to me. Not that I wanted them to, I just expected because they were trying to get my attention earlier. I guess it’s the novelty of actually being inside, but when they could actually ask me questions its was like I was just another kid at the party.
"During the opening it was fun though, because I didn’t actually do anything I just opened an online webcam and was just taking photos with people standing behind me, which was fun and I have all those pictures and they’re hilarious. [Editor's note: check out Victoria's images here]
On predictions for the next six weeks:
"After six weeks I think it's going to be very interesting. Because I have unlimited amounts of time to be doing stuff, I’ve been noticing the weird places and tangents I go to that I wouldn’t normally. I mean I always follow tangents, but when you literally have seven hours to just follow a tangent, I end up reading about some weird Russian film star, and I don’t know how I got there. I feel like everyone knows that’s how the internet works, when you just literally stumble upon things, but when you can actually go deeper and deeper because you literally have nothing to do, to the point that I’m just like, what?"
On Alone Together:
"At first it seemed like we were just going to come and it was going to be an art exhibition, but it’s like a tree, things keep branching out more and more things happen. It’s really inspiring, encouraging and fun to see someone’s project get attention and grow.
On what he's been up to:
For the last four years, I’ve worked at home. I’m disciplined, I wouldn’t get anything done if I wasn’t, but, this is kind of what I wanted in that respect, just to be more disciplined. I’ve been working on a lot of coding and ebooks and building websites. I also do some accounting for some people. Basically, like I said, I work at home, so I’m just bringing all my work stuff here, it’s cleaner than my desk! [laughs]"
On how Alone Together has changed her relationship to the internet:
"Being here has made me more aware, now that I know people are watching and climbing the stairs, and staring into the cubicle behind me, I’m more aware of what actually I’m looking at. And it’s weird—sometimes I might click on something that might be interesting for the person behind me to look at. It’s an unspoken relationship between me and the person watching, because I can’t ignore that they’re there. It’s not really influencing what I’m doing because I’m doing what I planned to do, but I’m also very aware that they’re there.
On what she's been up to:
"I’m working on my website, New York City Burlesque, but what I think I’ve spent the most time on is this web store I’m working on, it’s called Percival Haberdashery. It’s going to be a traditional haberdashery where I’ll be selling ribbons, and cute little things, but also I’m recreating 18th Century skin care recipes inspired by Marie Antoinette, because I’m a big fan.
On what being part of the exhibit:
"I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. I just started a blog about this whole experience, to document a little bit how I feel and what’s really going on for anyone who couldn’t make it that day. It was actually Ryder’s idea because I had this old, vintage journal that I was using as a grimoire in high school I told Ryder I was going to bring in to document this experience. I wanted to give it to him at the end, just so he’d have a souvenir of what one of the participants felt like, but he suggested putting it online. Originally it was going to be a little bit more intimate, but you know what, what’s intimacy? I’m in a glass, public, cubicle box."
Ryder Ripps' Alone Together exhibition is on display every Thursday - Sunday, 12-7pm until April 12th, 2015 at Red Bull Studios New York.