Jake Myers is visible on and offline as an artist and in the artist-run project space scene through The Octagon Gallery, a space that he runs out of his home. It's not a stretch to say that Jake Myers is everywhere. In his artwork, Myers seeks to deconstruct the myth of artists as pale, gangly and unathletic. In the READ Posters series, he appropriates those 90s-era READ posters that typically picture athletes holding up a book and replaces them with Chicago artists. The posters act like offline memes, yet they embody Myers’ distinct aesthetic—equal doses light 90s nostalgia and local art community participation. The opposite of an egotistical artist, Myers is instead most concerned with remaining chill and making sure everyone else has a good time. When I arrived at Jake and his girlfriend Lara’s loftspace/studio that doubles as The Octagon Gallery, I was greeted by Leland, their loveable, two-year-old greyhound rescue pup. "He only raced for two years," says Myers, sympathetically rubbing Lee’s elongated skull. "That’s not very long, but he didn’t do very well." As I sat down on the couch to start our conversation, Lee hopped up and nestled his long body next to mine. Then Jake and I put away our touchscreen phones and started talking, IRL.
This is the third post in a five-part series about how artists use social media. Read the previous two posts about artists Sabina Ott and Ellen Greene. Have ideas for a topic you'd really like covered on the OPP blog? Email us at blog [at] otherpeoplespixels.com.
Alicia Eler: How do use social media as an artist? I'm talking about Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, Digg…
Jake Myers: I pretty much only use Facebook—that is the only social media outlet that I do. I've set up Tumblrs, but that’s mostly to show documentation of things, and to show the aftermath of projects. I'm not doing the sharing, liking, following of people on Tumblr. It's a fast way for me to be at a show, take a picture, and share it. The Tumblrs end up acting more like archives. I send people to those Tumblr links when I'm applying for grants.
To be honest, I mostly use Facebook. I feel really annoying—I'm always inviting my friends to art events that happen at least once a month. But it's cool, because they show up. They wouldn't know about these things otherwise, because we don't go to high school or college together anymore. Facebook is the channel that can pull all these people in. I can kind of keep tabs on how many people will probably show up. I have a formula: You take the number of people who say they are going and divide it in half. That's usually about the number of people who will show up. Facebook helps you know how much beer to get and also what kind of expectations to have for the show.
AE: Do you post your own work to Facebook?
JM: I don't know. I'll occasionally post work-in-progress, and I'll occasionally post those READ posters like the one with Eric Fleischauer reading a the book Howl by Allen Ginsburg, but yeah….I don't know what the significance is as far as copyright goes on Facebook. Do they own it?
Eric Fleischauer Reads, 2012
AE: There was some weird copyright stuff going on lately about how if you don't repost this Facebook status update, Facebook will own all your images and text.
JM: Which is weird because I don't know if I necessarily believe in copyright, so I don't know why I'd repost that or even be concerned with it. I guess I occasionally post things, but mostly in-progress work. I don't want to post too much, because you don't want to give away everything that you're about to have at an opening.
AE: That's something I think about a lot. There's this one artist who posts all of his work in-progress, almost-done…it's like watching reality TV, watching him go through the emotional turmoil of making work. If I am watching the entire thing on Facebook, I'm less inclined to go to the show.
JM: Yeah, I'm mostly concerned with annoying people by filling up their news feeds. I already feel like I'm posting too much about my artwork. I'll post "hey I'm at this show!" or "hey I'm doing this tonight." After awhile it becomes white noise to people. I have one friend who invites me to events of his three or four times a week. It gets to a point where you almost stop paying attention to it if you hear it so many times. I try to post just enough so people are like, "oh, I didn't even know that was happening!" I don’t want people to think, "oh my god, this guy again!"
Jake Myers takes a break from clogging everyone's news feeds with posts about his artwork and event invites to The Octagon Gallery for this serious portrait of him and Leland, 2012
AE: So what's a good posting amount? How do you find a balance?
JM: I'm still figuring that out. If I'm in really huge group shows, a lot of the time I won't invite all of my friends. I'll just invite the few people who I know will want to go. If I'm in a solo show, I’m solely responsible for bringing people there. It's a really weird equation that is mostly about guessing.
AE: I see you on Facebook as a real community leader. I don’t think you’re over-the-top or obnoxious—just a guy who’s trying to get the word out. I remember thinking “oh, it’s that Octagon Gallery guy! He’s having a show!” Judging from your Facebook presence, you just appear really involved in the local art community.
JM: OK, that's cool. That'd be awesome if other people thought that, too. I like to try to bring together as many of the cool, endearing art people as I can. Just judging by the amount of people that are coming to Octagon, I feel like I've been pretty successful. We show amazing artists at Octagon, too. So I guess I am successful as an organizer.
The Octagon Gallery's team-focused logo
AE: Do you think Facebook actually makes a difference in the way you organize? Do you think you would be at the same point you are without Facebook?
JM: That's hard. I don't think I would have met as many people or gotten as many people to show up without Facebook. It has been integral. It's really weird, because I've thought about it, and my uncle is an artist at Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago. He does paintings about the Internet and YouTube—Doug Smithenry is his name. Yet he does very little Facebook or social media promotion. I invited him to be at the show I curated called Society of the Spectacular, which questioned how simulated realities, virtual landscapes and digital social networks shape our daily experiences and what we perceive as reality. Because the show was all about how social media has affects us, I went overboard with the Facebook posts—it was a conceptual gesture. Doug was just floored by how many people showed up. He was like, "this is unreal! How did you get so many people to show up?" People were sharing the event and posting about the event, so I feel like in that way. Facebook has been really positive in spreading the influence.
JM: That's cool. I want to make as many of them as possible. I want to build on them and photograph as many Chicago artists as I can in this weird, athletic, super official way…they're bossy, really bossy, but also funny and quirky, because there's this other thing of them being artists and athletes. It’d be cool if they became a meme. Right now it's more of a physical meme. I made a READ poster for the Industry of the Ordinary’s mid-career survey at the Cultural Center. You can take one of those for free. I'm hoping that the 2,500 posters I printed will be up all over Chicago.
AE: Memes are memes, and then art that references a meme is different than a meme itself. But what if other people wanted to make their own READ posters? That’s very much in the spirit of the social web—like, “hey, we can all join in and make this!”
JM: Like, we all join in and make our own READ posters? That'd be pretty cool. I'll just start a website that's a hub of these. Not a Tumblr. I think it would be better to do an archive of them with the original file size, so people could download them and print them off and just have a collection of these absurd posters. Cuz I give 'em away for free, and it would be awesome if I didn't have to pay for the printing cost.
AE: I think you should meme-ify them.
JM: It's weird faux nostalgia too, so to meme-ify it and make it fresh is a weird gesture.
AE: This has been a pretty weird IRL interview, so I might send you some Facebook follow-up questions….
JM: OK, that sounds good. I'm way better at responding to email questions, I've lived in the Internet age so long. When I'm talking with someone face-to-face, I feel like I leave my body and someone else just starts talking for me. It almost becomes like word salad, a stream of consciousness. It happens all the time when I'm giving a lecture at school. I'll realize that I've been talking for like five minutes straight.
Jake and I said our goodbyes. I rubbed Leland’s head, walked past the giant skull outside of the Octagon Gallery wall curtain, and headed out the door. The very next day, I spotted an article on Hyperallergic that I thought might interest Mr. Myers, especially in light of our recent conversation about visibility via social media. The Hyperallergic article I forwarded to Jake was an interview between two NYC-based performance artists. This part seemed pretty relevant:
SR: Do you have any advice for young artists trying to make it in the art world?
JC: Work really, really hard. Go to openings, meet people in the art world, make them recognize you. Then any small show you have, make it count. Take a huge risk, spend money you don’t have. Invite important people. Eventually, they will come.
PO: Don’t worry about selling your work. Worry about people knowing who you are and what you do. Be seen. Nobody’s going to know you if they don’t see you. It’s a chess game whether you like it or not."
Jake responded via email:
JM: I read the article and thought these guys would be fun to party with. Probably obnoxiously overconfident and ironic, but they still seem like fun. I'm wondering how this works in terms of social media. This idea of "being seen" vs. just being annoying and eventually getting blocked from peoples’ feeds. Maybe I'm being overly self-aware?
Either way, I am so excited about the future Internet exposure coming from your article with OPP and will promote it a bunch on Facebook!
AE: Do you think we're different on social media than we are in real life?
JM: Probably. That's a really loaded question. You can't really pick up on someone's body language or verbal tone on social media, but I guess that's pretty obvious. I think social media informs how others view you and can definitely inform your interactions in real life. Your interactions with people in person and how well you know their personalities probably gives the text you read and the pictures you see of them additional context as well. To answer your question: Yes, we're different people online, but both identities inform each other.
AE: How do you decide when to change your profile picture? Why do you change your profile picture?
JM: I tend to decide on impulse.
AE: Should our offline lives mirror our online lives? Is Facebook a mirror or a refraction?
I don't have any concrete advice about how people should construct their online identities. Everyone does it differently, and some are more of a mirror while some are more of a refraction. Circumstances for people change as well, and sometimes people won't post something for weeks just because they are busy but if they have newfound free time, you might see a lot more activity.
Again, I think that both online and physical identities affect one another. Or, depending on your audience, they might not: I bet my relatives who aren't on Facebook might not even know that I'm making art or curating.
AE: Is it possible to have too many Facebook friends?
JM: I don't know. I don't have anywhere near 5,000 which is the maximum number of friends you can have. Maybe after this article I'll have some more.