putting 99 other artists out of work
June 14, 2011 11:08 PM   Subscribe

Shea Hembrey created an "inaugural biennial" showing the works of 100 artists - all fictitious. (SLTED) Over a two-year period, he created over 100 pieces in a wide variety of forms, media and styles as well as profiles and bios for the 100 artists (plus two fictional curators). Is this Meta-Art, Art Deconstruction, open fraud, parody, large-scale pranking, the worst case of Dissociative Identity Disorder ever or All Of The Above? (exhibition website and catalogue)
posted by oneswellfoop (11 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is good. Great talk, very interesting work, smart, funny, intelligent.
posted by Neale at 11:19 PM on June 14, 2011

Are we sure that Shea Hembley isn't really Mr. Brainwash? Or Banksy, even?!
posted by markkraft at 11:20 PM on June 14, 2011

No, we really aren't. In fact, we're not sure if Shea Hembley isn't really YOU, markkraft... (sorry you brought it up?)
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:23 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I thought I'd hate this but actually found it was awesome.

However, what Hembley's doing isn't new. The earliest example of it that I'm aware of is Fernando Pessoa and he called it Heteronyms--he had 70 of them and that count isn't necessarily final.

I've never heard of non-writers doing it though, so kudos to Hembley. One difference might be whether Hembley actually inhabits those fictional creatures or if he just creates the work and assigns a name/personality to them.

It's a very difficult thing to attempt, to live a life as a fictional person, especially if you've lived in the same city your whole life as it's hard to not run into someone who knows you as one of your other heteronyms. Once the heteronym achieves any notoriety whatsoever, especially in this day and age, with cameras everywhere, it's bloody hellish. You can't be published or interviewed without them wanting to run a picture so you either have to sub someone in (which I personally think breaks the "rules", though Hembley's done it), not show for the photo shoot or somehow obscure yourself in the photo (I've done the latter), or decline the interview altogether (I've done this as well), which defeats the purpose if you're making an attempt at notoriety.

If one of your other heteronyms (or your true identity) works in the public eye then things get even more complicated. My work causes me to be recognized throughout the city, something I dislike, so I resist any scenario under every other heteronym that would allow me to be photographed (one reason I've never been to a Mefi meetup).

It's interesting to me that Hembley approached the project from the outside in, at least it would appear, meaning he meant for the thing to be exposed. I think it would have been more interesting if he'd managed to make ground as any of these personalities and not been outed till after his death, but perhaps that's just my fascination with trickery and flimflam.

I know some people who find the idea of heteronyms despicable but I've been fascinated with them since before knowing what they were called. I have a friend who insists I'm a con man and I used to struggle with whether this is the case (though I do not take any money or other tangible items from people under my heteronyms), but have mostly gotten over it. None of my heteronyms have been exposed, and I'm delighted at that fact, but the struggle of living as some of them has been overwhelming. I haven't "killed" any yet, but some are, lets say, hibernating.

The worst problem I know of that someone can encounter under a heteronym is for others to like or love the heteronym on a personal level greater than the "true" person is liked/loved for being themselves. One could imagine that, well, then you could just continue life on as the "popular" person or at least adopt some of the successful traits that you're able to bring to that personality. However, in my experience, this is not just difficult, but impossible, and generally leads to self-loathing.

The greatest pleasures I've had in life/love/creativity belong to one of my heteronyms and this fact is also my life's biggest disappointment.
posted by dobbs at 12:06 AM on June 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

GUY'S NAME IS ACTUALLY HEMBREY, not Hemley. Perhaps a mod could do a quick S&R? I think everyone took the name from the OP.
posted by dobbs at 12:10 AM on June 15, 2011

This is so quirky, imaginative and fun - a good way to start the day. I loved The Sober Dobermans who are dedicated to spreading pragmatism one person at a time. Too funny. I hope he writes a book about his family someday, too, I'd love to hear more. Thanks, oneswellfoop.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:42 AM on June 15, 2011

This seems like a remarkable output for just two years. Each of the pieces clearly has a lot of thought and craftsmanship put into it, but when you divide two years by 100 artists (and that might mean more than one piece by each artist?) you get less than a week to make each piece.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:38 AM on June 15, 2011

I really loved this.

He reminded me, oddly, of my mom and her siblings; they're always making up imaginary people and talking about them as if they're real, and days later they'll have entire biographies. My uncle, for example, will talk to my aunt's dog about a made-up dog exorcist character that he will pretend to call; after a couple of weeks, the character was an ex-preacher with a couple of drug problems and some other unseemly habits. The character started as a way to mess with the dog when he was acting bad, but then he'd work his way into any conversation where someone was ill or in pain; "I could call the father and see if he has anything for you. You sure?"

When I asked about him last Christmas, all three of them said almost simultaneously, "Oh, he's in jail," and explained why. A couple days later when we were all sitting around talking, my uncle let slip that he heard he'd gotten out of jail, to which my mom casually replied, "Oh? How'd he swing that?"

They just make this stuff up as they go. If anyone brings up something new or contrary, it's resolved very quickly as one of them hearing wrong, or the character had been lying about something, or there had been some confusion but it turns out...

Over that same Christmas break, my brother-in-law was visiting briefly. I cracked up when he walked into the guest bedroom with a perplexed expression and said, "Does your aunt's dog have an exorcist?"

They'll also launch into biographies of pictures of people in magazines, or people they see walking around outside, or people in the background of TV shows, etc. They've always done this, since I was a little kid.

After watching this video, it made me wonder if it might somewhat be a Southern thing. I have to say, I'm not sure if it's my family's influence or what, but since I was a kid my two big hobbies were singing and writing, and my Stupid Human Trick is being able to imitate a lot of singing and writing styles. It just always seemed normal to me to take the whole pretending to be another person thing very far.
posted by Nattie at 5:42 AM on June 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

I love it. The memaw test will now be used to test the aesthetic authenticity of EVERYTHING in my world. MetaFilter, you are not exempt.
posted by madred at 6:15 AM on June 15, 2011

The problem with this (if, indeed, it is a problem) is that each of these 99 other artists needs their own PR, website, blog, Facebook account, agent, accountant and lawyer just to get into the game. Sometimes I think the arts are going the way of appliance repair: work for two, money for one.

Also, Nattie: Best. Relatives. EVAR.
posted by tspae at 10:22 AM on June 15, 2011

each of these 99 other artists needs their own PR, website, blog, Facebook account, agent, accountant and lawyer just to get into the game.

But... is that art?
posted by Twang at 8:52 PM on June 15, 2011

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