In an era in which every second of our lives can be documented and recorded, new technology is enabling the human race to examine itself in a level of detail that can turn everyday life into an ongoing research project. From wearable computers to endless postings on social media, the age of information overload has entered a new era of self-examination.
But our increasingly Orwellian universe doesn’t manifest itself solely in episodes of “Hoarders” or secret NSA wiretaps. It can also be used for art, as the Elmhurst Art Museum’s new “LifeLoggers: Chronicling the Everyday” exhibit demonstrates.
The exhibit, running through Aug. 17, brings together 13 artists who have spent years documenting intimate aspects of their lives in a variety of excruciatingly detailed ways, from daily self portraits painted on wood blocks to one man’s mission to record his exact longitude and latitude every hour of every day for the past 15 years.
The practice of lifelogging — the extensive documentation of one’s personal experience through a myriad of data — has been criticized for being overly narcissistic, but Elmhurst Art Museum Chief Curator Staci Boris sees a positive role for the increasingly popular practice as well.
“People can learn about themselves and thus improve in positive aspects of their life through self-exploration and documentation,” Boris said. “But they also can share that information, just like any research, with a broader community and perhaps help other people, whether it’s about your health or exercise or the right train to take or whatever.”
Transitioning from its origins in the scientific community and now making its way into the artistic world, memory may also be another significant beneficiary of the practice. “People involved with lifelogging on a more intense level think of their work as e-memory,” said Boris. “It’s a way to organize your life and the information around it. We’re all wishing we had better memories as time goes on and there’s only so much we can retrieve at a certain time, so this way of documenting is a way of being able to remember things and look back on things and study them from a different vantage point….and maybe assess and draw some conclusions from the data and the way you live your life.”
Examples of this can be found through the “LifeLoggers” exhibit. One artist featured in the exhibit is Clive Smith, who marked the passage of time by painting a self-portrait on small blocks of wood every day for a year. “It’s a different way of making a portrait. It requires you as a viewer to look at it a slower way,” said Boris. “You really sense the passage of time, so it’s a way to insert time and process into a self-portrait.”
Perhaps the most interesting exhibit is that of Illinois artist Stephen Cartwright, who has charted his movement through the world around him by logging his longitude and latitude every hour of every day since 1999 and then translated that numerical data from log books into kinetic sculptures. “What [the sculptures] are actually showing you in graph form are his locations at a certain place,” said Boris. “It’s a way to use a diagram or graph format that is based on certain information and create an interesting abstract sculpture out of it.”
In another work, artist Suzanne Szucs chronicled the passage of time through 15 years of Polaroid self-portraits that currently are taking up 60 feet of museum space, filling almost an entire room that the visitor can walk through. “It’s a very intimate examination of one person’s life over a 15-year period, every single day,” said Boris. “You are really immersed in this person’s life.”
But not everything in the exhibit exists solely in the physical realm. One work, by artist Renato Umali, is an awards ceremony performance titled The Top Umali Award Speeches of All Time. The artist keeps track of everyday things like the Top 10 people he talked to the most in a year and his most consumed beer, presenting his findings in a humorous awards ceremony in which audience members can vote for their favorite speech.
Just be sure to bring your video camera so you can log it.