Are you really my friend?

On a recent summer trip, I visited MASS MOCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) located in North Adams, Massachusetts. It is quite a place. Situated in a series of buildings that were originally factories, it is now one of the largest centers of contemporary art in the United States. Not bad for the northeast corner of Massachusetts in a town of about 13,000 people.

One of the exhibits on display was a piece entitled “are you really my friend” by artist Tanja Hollander of Auburn, Maine. Like many, Tanya had a Facebook account with a total of 626 Facebook “friends.” Most of these friends were not located in Auburn, but all over. Tanja came to wonder, as I imagine most do at some point when conducting the never-ending scroll through Facebook friends’ posts, “are they really my friends?”

Perhaps seeking respite from Auburn, Tanja decided to visit and take a personal photograph of all of her Facebook friends. The results are staggering: Of 626 Facebook friends she took a total of 430 photos (in portraiture format), visited 424 homes across 260 U.S. zip codes, in 180 different cities and towns across 34 states. She also visited 12 countries and created over 100,000 digital and video image files. She traveled over 200,000 miles in a period of five years, and along the way added 72 new friends!

Even more staggering is the visual tapestry she creates with her photo portraits. She presents them in a form of ‘wallpaper’ laid onto the walls of MASS MOCA.  While traveling she had a tendency to jot down thoughts onto Post-it notes – a total of 5,000 or so, which are also included, as well as snapshots, short videos and random travel bits such as boarding passes and currencies – all weaved into a quilt of visual experience.

There’s much to posit on the premise of her undertaking. It can be assessed as a critique of modern life or simply a summary of the accumulation of relationships bundled into one contained extravaganza. I’d rather not take a stand on such matters for, to me, it’s not the point of her exercise.

While the physical scope and visual lens are daunting, it is the emotional resonance viewing the images and taking in the enormity of her psychic spiral that really hit home for me. It made me feel the “human” side of my daily life – so many people come and go and perhaps we’re lucky enough to have come back to us once again. For friendship is, more often than not, a fleeting stance. People enter our lives, and due to the trek of life, tend to at some point move on. It’s just the nature of humanity, I think. To have a chance, or in this case take the bold step to retrace one’s path to many of the friends we have made in life, must have been an enormous emotional undertaking – for they, and we, are not who we once were. To visit all of them in a set period of time, opening oneself up to the totality of one’s friendships, is an enormously courageous endeavor. I applaud her for the effort. Check it out!

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