Twart: Twitter and art

On: October 11, 2010
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About Cendy Calis
I recently finished a Media and Culture bachelor at the University of Amsterdam with a specialization in New Media and so it seemed a logical step to broaden my knowledge with a Master degree in New Media. During my time in Amsterdam I have actively participated in student life and organization. Being pretty much a dreamer myself my area of interests are always all over the place.


Twitter offers many interesting opportunities for interactive artists. While in many projects and installations participation by interacters needs to be requested, Twitter acts as an enormous database of the human psyche that artists can rely on for their work. Some say Twitter is the perfect recording system for capturing our zeitgeist, others disagree. Fact is, what we tweet says a lot about us. As Twitter is the newest “it” social networking site at the moment, it is only logical that interactive artists find a way to incorporate it in their work. As interactive artist David Rokeby says about interactive art:

The expressive power of the interface, in conjunction with the increasing ‘apparent’ transparency of interface technologies raises complicated ethical issues regarding subjectivity and control. Interactive artists are in a position to take the lead in generating a discussion of these concerns. […] The artists’ role is to explore, but at the same time, question, challenge and transform the technologies that they utilize.

Artists hold a mirror before us and are in a perfect position to explore new technologies within the artistic playground. So what is art trying to tell us about Twitter? To try to answer this question I have looked at some projects and discovered there were roughly two major themes to be discovered. While some seemed amazed by the multitude of possibilities Twitter offered them, others carefully voiced concern or even contempt towards the medium.

In the Longest Poem in the World everyone can unknowingly be a part of poetry. The project is a constantly growing poem which aggregates real time public Twitter updates and selects them on the basis of rhyme. It has a strange and even funny effect to see snippets of people’s lives so randomly come together. In a way it’s like a snapshot of the world. Another popular example is the Pulse of the Nation as can be seen below:

Whereas the Pulse of the Nation can be seen of having at least some kind of anthropologist value, works like Tweeting Colors almost seem like a celebration of Twitter and its possibilities.

A more critical approach seems to come from works like Murmur Study ,Twitter Sk8 and Silence is Golden. Murmur Study is an installation which consists of 30 printers which monitor Twitter for words of emotional utterance. For example, aargh, ooo, ew, aah etc. Different versions of utterances containing the same word are then printed which results in a paper waterfall, an abundance of old media. The artists wants to shine a light on the surveillance culture. Our personal emotions are archived by corporations without us really realizing this.

Twitter Sk8 is a fun project which can be seen here:

While it seems like a lot of fun and this in a way can also be seen as a celebration of Twitter’s possibilities, the destroying nature of the work and the apparent randomness of the tweets might also point to a more critical voice. As one commenter on Rhizome puts it ‘No doubt the best use of twitter I’ve seen yet. The resulting twitter messages have about the same value as 95% of any tweets ever broadcast through twitter.’

Silence is Golden can be seen as a protest on Twitter, using Twitter. With  the tagline ‘enjoy the silence’ the account is regularly updated with empty Twitter messages. This raises the question; while we share so much on Twitter and update several times a day, how much of what we say actually means anything? We talk so much, but say nothing.

The two major themes that can be discovered in art perfectly reflect the way our time perceives the Twitter phenomenon. While the Twitter fanboys revel in the possibilities there is also a reasonably large amount of young media savvy people that consciously don’t Twitter. Just because you can share everything doesn’t mean you should. How much of what we say is actually relevant to anyone? Aside from being relevant, how much of what we say could be in a way harmful to us? Perhaps it is not Twitter which captures our zeitgeist adequately, but it is and has always been Art.


Rokeby, David. Tranforming Mirrors: Subjectivity and Control in Interactive Media. 1996

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