Tanja Hollander: Are You Really My Friend
There are projects that I follow over time and Tanja Hollander’s spectacular effort, Are You Really My Friend? has been at the top of my list since I discovered it in 2011. Over the years Tanja has crisscrossed the globe to meet and photograph her 262 Facebook friends, raising money for travel along the way, and enriching her life by truly connecting with her on-line community. The project has expanded over time, beyond the portraits, and last year she had a fantastic year-long exhibition at Mass MOCA that included portraits, typologies of items she collected on her travels, and post-it notes describing the idea of friendship, created by museum goers during the exhibition. As Mass MOCA describes, “she traveled across the globe, setting up in-person meetings in her friends’ homes to discover the ways in which friendship is defined, and how permission is granted into one’s private — yet also very public — online life. Through this project, the artist was able to take the virtual out of friendship.“
The result of these efforts is the book, Are You Really My Friend?, published by Mass MOCA.
Tanja Hollander is an artist who works with photography, video, social media and data to understand cultural and visual relationships. Hollander was born in 1972 in St. Louis, Missouri; she resides in Auburn, Maine. Hollander received a BA in photography, film, and feminist studies from Hampshire College in 1994. Her seven year project, Are you really my friend? debuted in it’s entirety as an exhibition, short documentary and book at MASS MoCA in 2017. Sections of it have been exhibited at the Portland Museum of Art, Maine; the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden, Germany. The project was shown in its entirety at MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts, in 2017. Hollander has lectured extensively, including at Demanio Marittimo.Km-278, Marzocca, Italy; the University of Maryland, College Park; Clemson University, South Carolina; SXSW, Austin, Texas; and Facebook headquarters, Menlo Park, California. She has received internal media attention for this work as well.
On New Year’s Eve 2010, Tanja Hollander was in her kitchen in Auburn, Maine, simultaneously writing to two friends: one deployed in Afghanistan, with whom she corresponded via pencil on paper; the other working in Jakarta, to whom she sent a Facebook message. In this moment, between the tangible and digital, Hollander decided to photograph all 626 of her Facebook friends in real life. The journey began in Washington, DC, in March 2011 and ended in Tel Aviv, Israel, on June 4, 2016. During this time, Hollander immersed herself in the lives and communities of both close friends and virtual strangers, all the while sating her curiosity about the differences between the analogue and digital lives we lead.
The statistics surrounding this project are staggering:
626 Facebook friends
72 new friends added
424 homes visited
260 zip codes, 180 cities/towns, and 34 states traveled
12 countries visited
102, 000 digital video and image files created
5,000 Post-it notes collected
203,207 miles traveled, just 35,000 shy of reaching the moon
After six years of working on Are you really my friend? Hollander had over 100,000 images. Plus, an enormous archive of e-mail correspondence, text messages, Facebook posts and messages, Tweets, Instagrams, monthly mailing-list updates, blog posts, and notes on her phone, computer, and journals. She’d amassed tens of thousands of Post-It notes on friendship from third graders in the South Bronx to PhD candidates at MIT, and from many people all over the world in between.
Now, this book is the latest iteration of the project. In it, she articulates the challenges and pleasures of integrating social media into her creative practice—including how to navigate the complexities of maintaining a private life while engaged in such a public project. Short essays by contributors Elisa Albert, Jacoba Urist, and Wendy Richmond deepen and extend these themes: Albert by investigating the potentially ephemeral nature of friendship in a digital age, Urist by analyzing the ways in which class disparity shapes our daily interactions, and Richmond by celebrating the real and lasting friendships collected along the way. Hollander’s own writings and documentation of the six-year project are dispersed throughout. It is both a partial archive of the project and a meditation on the nature of travel and friendship in the twenty-first century. It’s a combination of diary, travelogue and monograph.
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