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Today is one of Anna’s nursery days, and Keith took the day off following our vacation last week—and the two of us went on a date! Yes, a date: Out for lunch and coffee and a trip to FOAM, the photography museum. I hadn’t been in ages, and wasn’t even sure what was showing.

Sara Naumann blog FOAM exhibition

I’m so glad I went: On the top floor was Willem Popelier’s Showroom Girls exhibit, which was really, really thought-provoking…this kind of project inspires me more than just about any other kind of exhibit.

The premise is this: Willem Popelier discovered a collection of images on a publicly accessible computer in a store showroom, including photos taken by two teenage girls. Popelier was curious by the girls’ decision to delete a number of the images, but deliberately leave almost 100 pictures in such a public forum.

Sara Naumann blog FOAM exhibition

Because one of the girls was wearing a necklace with her name on it, he was able to go online and find out more about her via her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

(This is where mothers of girls collectively resolve to send their daughters to a nunnery—or, failing that, at least remove the computer.)

Sara Naumann blog FOAM exhibit

What I find so interesting about this project isn’t just the commentary about public versus private personas, the fact that the internet and online privacy issues are so different to adolescents today than for someone (cough, cough) my age…and not just that taking and leaving photo evidence of oneself is done so casually. These are all factors, and things to chew on, but there’s also the question about how an artist can (or should/shouldn’t) use or re-purpose these kinds of public images to make a statement or raise a question.

It fascinates me because it’s a topic we would really be discussing in the same way, say, 50 years ago. But it begs the question: Is Popelier’s project any different from the mixed-media artists who buy vintage photos to use in their art? How has the “image” gone from precious (think of those stiff poses in antique cabinet cards) to disposable (you know, all the photos you delete from your digital camera)?

I should add, Popelier got tons of information about these girls online, without breaking any laws. Is that weird? Spooky? Opportunistic? Or just the way we’ve grown used to gathering information about any topic, any person? After all, we use the word “google” as a verb now.

They’re complex questions, and I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or a wrong answer…the reason I’m so glad I went is because, fundamentally, I believe that projects like this one are really at the crux of “art”—because they raise questions that demand more thought, more consideration, more gray than black-or-white. Maybe the whole idea of what Popelier was able to do makes you angry, or worried, or maybe you find it humorous or simply an interesting commentary on our times.

Regardless, it made me think when I saw the exhibit, it gave Keith and I a lot to discuss on the walk home, and I’m still going over the various facets in my mind now. That’s the beauty of it—that an exhibition, and an artist’s project, can give us fodder for debate, conversation and differing opinions. For more info on Showroom Girls, check out this page on the FOAM website, and for a very interesting commentary, read Popelier’s artist statement here.

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