Virtual Identities

Tanja Hollander (b. 1972) studied for a BA in photography, film and feminist studies from Hampshire College in 1994. Since then, a portfolio has grown that consists of snapshots of the landscape and its inhabitants, an everyday tapestry of life where the ordinary is shifting into the public sphere and every act is under scrutiny from multiple lenses.

For a new show at MASS MoCA, Hollander reaches into the deeper questions of contemporary society: how our very existence is changing due to advances in technology and the concurrent changes in domestic and political identities. Is anything private anymore? How are online personas affecting how we perceive our lives? How can this hyper-real structure move forward into the future?

Relevant and perhaps unspoken aspects of life from the modern world are uncovered, considering family structures, social networking and the notion of maintaining human relationships in the 21st century.

In February 2011, the Maine-based artist travelled all over the world to capture snapshots of 626 Facebook friends in their homes. In June 2015, a final 430th portrait was made in Tel Aviv, the closing chapter on a project that spanned 12 countries, 34 states, 180 cities, 260 zip codes and 424 houses. Starting as a perception into defining nature of “friendships” and connectivity globally, the act of physically crossing borders to visit these people turned into a multimedia experience that both records and comments on the reshaping of hidden and public lives based on the intrusion of digital media.

Are you really my friend? is a vast and ambitious project that draws up telling distinctions between “online” and “offline” images, magnifying the “real” and the “orchestrated”, and in turn, delving into larger topics which will be encountered in centuries to come: can what we choose to portray be our true identity? Can our personality be dictated by our decisions or is it something inherent away from the screen?

As Hollander notes, the idea is supposed to be: “a collection of portraits that create a window into the home as each subject defines it, a collection of multi-generational and demographic views on friendship, and a slice of life on the road as a lady artist for over five years.”

As well as the depictions of various different people, ephemera for the travels are included in the event, musings of the modern-day practitioner and the thoughts / ideas that happened spontaneously whilst seeing how long it took to visit every so called “friend.”

Are you really my friend? is at MASS MoCA, opening 18 February. Find out more:

1. Tanja Hollander, Melody, Ike + Zachary Nwangburuka, Converse, Texas. Archival pigment print, (2015).