iExist is a currently ongoing, serial hybrid project of daily photo documentation and social media posting pursued over two continents and five years during a time of personal dislocation and the global pandemic. The project is conceived as a collaboration between a human subject-- an artist whose usual medium is paint - and her smartphone, with the latter functioning as an extension of the former’s eyes and hands, at once counsellor, notepad and visual diary. In a deadpan format she snaps the view through her window with her smartphone on waking every morning so that the world outside is caught at a specific date and time, in the flux of a private life whose details remain opaque and unpictured. This view is then disseminated electronically to unknown viewers who are free to respond.
The project’s key concerns and organizing questions are as follows. As Covid has accelerated the shift from analog to digital, from "real" to virtual experience, do we now perceive time as a continuum or as a span between events? Do images posted daily constitute a ‘self’ when that self is absent from the image? Do we see there the lineaments of what could be called identity? These questions, prompted by online images, are palpable for viewers who, given the generic, unpopulated nature of the images, can use them as a medium of self-reflection. A mode of artistic practice within the time of Covid, iExist is a daily act of affirmation, transforming representational conventions from Western art history into contemporary inquiry. iExist’s anticipated transformation into book and exhibition formats elaborate this inquiry.
The project began in Basel, Switzerland on November 25, 2016 with the first photograph. One year later photography stopped and recommenced November 25, 2018 from Clinton, New Jersey. After a year this too ceased, and recommenced from Basel, on November 25, 2020. Photography will cease permanently on November 24, 2021. Instagram postings began on March 31, 2018 with the photograph from exactly one year prior being posted on that day and this lag continued in all the daily posts until they ended on November 25 of the same year. Since then all postings have been simultaneous with the day on which the photograph was taken. The lag reflects a foundational shift in the artist’s conception of the project. Four months into the exercise, the artist came to see that what had begun as an intimate project testing the boundaries of self-portraiture demanded a public audience, and that iExist needed to expand the terms of its conception. This expansion was dictated by the smartphone itself, at once camera and transmitter, its images are designed to be posted elsewhere. Daily posting transformed the image into a selfie, enabling the project to propose a new genre of self-portraiture: the selfie without the self.
The exhibition will feature all 1.095 photographs. With all the photographs displayed the serial nature of the project will come into focus. Seriality addresses the fundamental question of human existence, a timeline that is central to the project. This exhibition will give the audience the opportunity to experience an unfolding life. iExist becomes a universal message speaking to a broad audience, prompting reflection of one’s own life and the passage of time.
iExist as artist book, a paper record of the artist’s daily photograph, an extended self-portrait in which the artist’s self goes unrepresented, as well as an exhibition comprising every photograph posted, shown in sequence. The former is conceived as a boxed set of three separate volumes, one for each documented year, in which the cellphone images will be arranged sequentially, one per page, an arrangement that permits the comparison of individual dates across the three years. Within and across each volume this kind of comparison fosters a conscious seeking of variation and similarity, an activity that invites thinking about the meaning of both terms. The two together, the book and the exhibition, are designed to prompt very different modes of viewing and engagement to those available electronically, whether through the haptic flipping of individual pages and the optical scanning of minimally different images en masse or the physical confrontation as an embodied beholder in front of wall-sized displays of same. The iExist project is an official Fiscal Supported Project by the New York Foundation for the Arts.
All rights reserved: @Mariejon de Jong-Buijs, 2022
iExist is an official fiscally sponsored project by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). For more information on NYFA and Donations visit: NYFA-Mariejon de Jong-Buijs