The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2010

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SEPT 2010 Issue

LIUBO BORISSOV crowdsource

On View
Eyelevel BQE
June 26 – August 15, 2010
New York

Crowdsourcing, “crowd” and “outsourcing,”* is the act of tasking an often random multitude with solving a problem typically handled by one person or group, entrusting the entire hive to efficiently complete what a single member might find daunting. Cultivating a heady mixture of narcissism, technological wizardry, and the irresistible lure of audience participation, Liubo Borrisov’s crowdsource explores, among other things, the observer’s response to the unexpected confrontation of his or her own gaze in a surreal staredown.

The narcissistic impulse is not new to art, as any cave-painting Cro-Magnon with access to a glossy pond or preening aristocrat with access to Jan van Eyck could likely attest. The concept of crowdsourcing, though only in recent years given a dynamic moniker, is not terribly new to art either, as “add your mark” or “cut my dress” have become familiar concepts that subvert the usually static relationship between creator and consumer. These trends have found new vitality today; our digital culture has transformed every cell phone and laptop into a flattering mirror, while social networking enables the wider dissemination of all things navel-gazing. In this light, nothing could be more hypnotic and compelling for the viewer’s vanity than the opportunity to become an element of an artwork with minimal effort beyond arriving in a space at a specified time.

This concept quickly hooks the unassuming passerby by the eyeballs via “Racing Stripes,” Borissov’s “interactive video painting.” Revealing itself patiently from the gallery window, “Racing Stripes” thrusts all that crosses its sightline into a manipulated and delayed reflection of its P.O.V.’s dreamy, color-streaked cityscape. Stills captured every minute by this stealthy spy-painting are then uploaded onto a flickr page ( where, the artist informs us, all images are available for use under Creative Commons license. This concession, that these images belong, in a sense, to anyone who might want to access them, is both a nod to the openly collaborative nature of this work’s process of creation, and a surprising act of generosity. Here the viewer is not only lured into participation by the promise of gazing upon him or herself as a Work of Art™, but he or she is then rewarded with an online, downloadable, shareable souvenir of The Time I Was a Work of Art™.

This brief flash of imagined celebrity is part curious spectacle and part great equalizer: passersby are compelled to behave like hyperactive, attention-starved children; passersby are compelled to gaze meaningfully into their blurred reflections as if they were the oh-so-soulful eyes of a “Present” Marina Abramovic; passersby are compelled to move past quickly as though the photos could perhaps be used as evidence in court; passersby cease passing by as frame after frame of changing light and parking patterns consume the image archive.

Yet, in spite of any given action, non-action, or reaction, this piece remains impassive, simply a machine spitting out a calculation, albeit an aesthetically pleasing one. Its choppy, watercolor-like aesthetic, dreamlike staccato motion blur, and positively inclusive web presence belie the far darker implications at the core of “Racing Stripes.” This painting is little more than an unblinking electronic eye, a dolled-up surveillance camera dispassionately documenting every minute in its limited field of view and reporting all it sees.

In “The Narcissus Series,” also on view, the artist inflicts momentary self-reflection on the voyeurs and exhibitionists flooding the world of, the recent social networking (and snubbing) phenomenon. He has created a software program that redirects the webcam images of Chatroulette participants so that they receive not a chance chat partner, but a flipped, upside-down image of themselves, as if seducing them into a still reflecting pool to drown. Gazing at the varied states of maturity and undress depicted in Borissov’s survey of narcissists gazing upon their own reflection, the viewer is confronted by the utter lack of self-awareness present in this crushingly self-conscious digital world. While a vast number of these people have surely indulged themselves in one of those cringe-inducing “pouty-faced self-portraits in mirror” now wasting pixels on Facebook, none seem to immediately recognize his or her own face when, by all means of time, space, and Internet logic, it should be the face of another. In the brief moment before his subjects “next” themselves in favor of new random prospects, Borissov captures a kind of yearbook of subtle emotions and blank gazes, all presumably searching for something beyond their own reflections.

With his digital mirrors, Borissov hands the viewer his or her own image to admire and gives nothing in return, just the vacant, detached gaze of a machine masking its intents and silent observations with a familiar face. The hacking and recontextualization of any candid moment in any person’s everyday life is rich with the potential for either inadvertent beauty or casual horror, but here the viewer is handed neither, just the facts arranged in a slightly more pleasing shape, as though assembled by an unseen mechanical hand adhering to some rote algorithm.

    * Howe, Jeff. “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.” Wired, June 2006.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2010

All Issues