Selphish, an exhibition of the self

Artists : Martin John Callanan, Alix Desaubliaux, Lauren Lee McCarthy, !Mediengruppe Bitnik
Curators : Thierry Fournier and Pau Waelder
Participants : Franck Ancel, Flora Bousquet, Flore Baudry, Aina Coca, Alexandra Ehrlich Speiser, Sophie Fontanel, Will Fredo, Raquel Herrera, Azahara Juaneda, Margot Saint-Réal, Claire Valageas

Mécènes du sud Montpellier-Sète, March 12th to June 7th, 2020
Opening on March 11th, 2020

Produced by Mécènes du Sud Montpellier-Sète
With the support of Dicréam, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication / CNC

In our daily interaction with the world through our digital devices, it’s all about us. When we are online, what we see is adapted to our personal profile, and what we share is tailored to present the best version of ourselves. The services we use want us to be extremely selfish. Inside our filter bubble, everyone shares our opinions and likes what we do or say, provided we also like what they post. Our online ego is therefore made of data, which build a portrait that can be quite apart from reality. Lawyer and researcher Bernard E. Harcourt coined the term “expository society”1 to refer the culture in which the constant need to expose the self facilitates a generalized surveillance, which does not even have to be imposed. How can an art exhibition question this “exhibition of the self” that takes place online? How can this project create a specific link between the exhibition space, the city, and social media? Can we reflect the short attention span of social media in the temporality of an art exhibition in a gallery?

Selphish addresses the exposition of the self online, through four generative artworks that are modified each week to form the portrait of an individual from the audience.

The exhibition consists of four artworks (two of which are generative), created for the exhibition by four artists: Martin John Callanan, Alix Desaubliaux, Lauren Lee McCarthy and the duo !Mediengruppe Bitnik (Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo). All four artists have already critically addressed the issues related to the exhibition of oneself on the internet; they create code-based and generative pieces, often in the form of installations. Eleven international participants have also agreed to have their Instagram profiles and Google traces read (sometimes in real time) by the artworks in the exhibition.

Each artwork interprets the profiles and traces of the participants, based on the data that its program finds, in the form of projections, screens, objects, prints, etc. The four installations change each week: the entire exhibition is dedicated simultaneously to a single participant. The title, Selphish, is a play on words between selfish and phishing (phishing is the act of improperly capturing a person’s data in order to commit identity theft).

Martin John Callanan explores the position of the individual vis-à-vis the systems that regulate our lives in contemporary society. His installation creates a confrontation between the participants’ Instagram posts and current events occurring at exactly the same time, in the form of a side-by-side comparison between two screens and paper prints that invade the exhibition space. The artwork reflects the constant flow of information on a global scale, at a pace that no individual can control. It amplifies and highlights the fundamentally public dimension of any participation on social networks.

Alix Desaubliaux explores the evolution of the notion of identity through gaming and digital manufacturing. She has created a video game universe in which each level is visually composed with the contents of each participant’s Instagram profile. She then presents a video in the form of a machinima: a stroll through these digital landscapes composed of animated images and text, derived from the information that has been gathered about the participant. This artificial universe is projected in front of a series of 3D ceramic prints, composed from the “worlds” created for each participant.

Lauren Lee McCarthy works on the radical changes in interpersonal relationships linked to technology. The environment she creates invites visitors to enter a staged space reminiscent of a medical consultation room. They are confronted with images and sentences that appear on a large screen, to which they can provide an answer. These sentences turn out to be extracted from the participant’s Instagram profile; the audience’s answers appear in her comments, creating a kind of disjointed and impossible conversation between strangers.

The duo !Mediengruppe Bitnik displaces technological devices from their usual setting to reveal their dimensions of control and power. Their piece explores how users’ privacy and personal data constitute a hidden but extremely lucrative market. Their installation confronts the flow of images of the participant’s posts on social media with their transcription into merchandise. Presented as something that reminds both a commercial and a private space, the installation evokes the consequences of our online life.

The exhibition thus becomes a kind of monograph of the participant, in a way his or her “Warholian fifteen minutes” on the networks and in a contemporary art space – but it can also reveal information about his or her digital traces, raising questions related to surveillance. The whole may resemble a large installation, in which the four works revolve around the same person. Encouraging participants to organize encounters, the exhibition space at Mécènes du Sud becomes a performative space in which digital identities are represented and transformed by the exhibition – and then, in a kind of loop, re-exposed in turn on social networks.


Thierry Fournier (artist and curator) and Pau Waelder (curator and critic) have already collaborated several times on curatorial and research projects. Each of them has frequently tackled the issues of the relationships between network, identity and data, through several exhibitions such as Données a voir, Heterotopia, Axolotl (Thierry Fournier), Real Time, Media Art Futures and Extimacy (Pau Waelder).

The IT development of the project is handled by Maxime Foisseau, a Toulouse-based developer whose work focuses on web development, mobile applications and network data visualization.