Thursday 11 December 2014

Laura Davidson: Cy Twombly's social media death package

By Cy Twombly By Cy Twombly Bob Doran, CC licence

At the end of November reports began to slide down my twitter feed of a fox let loose in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Without context it could sound like a catastrophic error in building maintenance, a politically motivated direct action or a bizarre attempt to market the NPG as a destination to a wider audience. Those well versed in contemporary art already knew the punchline to this. 

The footage of a fox strutting around the tudor galleries was in fact Francis Alys' Artangel commission Nightwatch, made ten years ago in 2004. Tweets and retweets started appearing, either the ignorant found it amusing or those in the know found it mildly infuriating. The critic Ben Street shared this exchange on Twitter:

I browsed some further commentary about the Francis Alys re-event and then joyously fell backwards into a Sunday nap. About 20 minutes later I was disturbed by something flashing on my screen. I had stupidly left my Gchat running. I sat up and pulled my laptop onto my knees. I had a message from someone called Cy. I tried to remember if I even had a friend called Cy, recalling such an unusual name should normally happen in an instant. Curious, I opened the chat into a pop-out.

Cy: does this Francis Alys thing remind you of the time I died?
Cy: again.
Laura: do I know you?!
Laura: you died? again? hahhahaaaahha WTF
Cy: yeah. I like died twice.
Cy: it's me, Cy Twombly, duh:
Cy: sorry to be tacky by sharing my Wikipedia entry :/
Cy: but sure you know me
Laura: ha i do. is this some next Charlie Brooker sci fi thing?
Laura: HEY CY
Cy: hey.
Cy: so. do you remember the time I died? and then died again?
Laura: lol i do actually. both times
Laura: it was so funny, but sort of made me mad. I think it was July this year you died again? is that right?
Cy: yeah, it took me by surprise tbf
Cy: y u mad?!!!
Laura: you were popping up all over my feeds, my timelines and I was a bit like, y don't ppl know you like died already in 2011? someone even shared an obituary dated to then lol, they weren't even checking the stuff they were sharing
Cy: ikr
Laura: lemme see if I can get a screengrab to share
Cy: i died July 5th 2011 and then I died again on social media sometime in July 2014. i can't be sure of an exact date but, I'm guessing it was around my 3 year death anniversary
*~*~* cute *~*~*
Laura: [screengrab]
Cy: yup, my phone over this side was going cray with that shit
Laura: haaaaaaaaaaaaa you get social media updates 'over that side' ?!
Cy: sure.
Laura: Google Alerts?
Cy: yeah.
Cy: who gets clicks and shares on a head stone? no one. who gets clicks and shares by dying again on social media? me. ~ Cy Twombly ~
Laura: looo0000oo00000oool this blows my mind haha
Cy: * brushes off shoulder *
Laura: do you know about this story? this guy died and then started emailing his family and friends from 'over that side':
Laura: this chat TOTALLY reminds me of that
Laura: actually kinda wrote this lame thing a couple of years ago on my blog about it
Laura: ~ kinda ~
Laura: sorry total link overload and #shamelessplug
Cy: no, no. thnx for link, am watching now
Cy: v.interesting – esp bit about reinventing artists from archives :) i guess no new thing but, there is now SO much information stored abt ppl, resurrections can probably happen seconds after death without much effort. Just boot up the server
Cy: i like this: “...archival projects propose questions about what we do with the information we gather, after generating the material has ceased. In some cases this could imply that information about the self ceases upon death. But what of the afterlife? For me, in the works, there is a subtle prediction that a digital resurrection is a tangible concept, not far in the future.”
Laura: OMG!!!!! Cy Twombly just cited me in a gchat !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Cy: heh totes
Laura: i was right abt digital resurrection then
Laura: lol i don't mean to sound like an authority, im not an authority lmao
Cy: ;)
Cy: i feel for the friends and family of that guy who is sending emails from over here. mb I should reach out to him :'(
Laura: yh mb
Laura: hey, are you still there? Joanne McNeil also published this thing recently about holograms that links to resurrecting the dead virtually (i guess):
Laura: she talks about the Michael Jackson tour that uses his hologram
Cy: hey, sorry my connection keeps coming and going. all sorts of weird shit happens when U DEAD
Laura: heh sorry #obvs forgot U DEAD
Cy: i cant believe Beyonce has an actual server to keep all the footage of her 0_0
Cy: did you click on that link in the article?
Cy: it's evidently so she can stage a comeback posthumously, fuck cryogenics, lets go sr8 to the virtual resurrection
Cy: actually I can't really talk, I died once irl and then again on social media #mr2deaths
Laura: lol tru. yr a dead artist and a dead hypocrite
Cy: in fact, the 2nd death I had on social media provided something more profound than a carved stone epitaph ever could
Laura: rly?
Cy: yh course. Well, its nice to be remembered, more ppl visited me virtually over those few days than they did my IRL grave. it's lonely over here. Coming back as a recently deceased man on social media made me feel alive again, like I was up and running... gotta love irony
Cy: this beyonce thing got me thinking you know
Laura: oh yeah?
Cy: well these days any public figure needs to plan for a social media death in the future after their IRL death
Laura: social media come back deaths could be built into some kind of social media death package
Laura: I bet some PR company will specialise in communication strategies like that. yr level of repeat death comeback will depend on the amount of information stored on you during life, after you die i guess
Cy: heh
Cy: OH I think they do already
Laura: OMG I just did a Google search for 'digital storage after death'
Laura: look at all these results!!
Laura: lol you can even write a will that states how you want your data to be handled after YOU DIE :
Laura: hey?
Laura: U DEAD?
Laura: again again lmao
Laura: hey???????!!!????
Laura: CyyyyyYYyyycyyYYYYYyyYYyyyyyYYyy TwomblaaaaAAaaaAAAAAaaaayy?
Laura: oh dear. u actually dead 4 real (?) this time :(
Laura: RIP until nxt time I guess

* * *
Like what tends to happen with an analog ouija board at a sleepover, the digital spirit of Cy Twombly hasn't reached out to me again. I actually felt quite melancholy for a few days after our interaction on Gchat. Then one evening after work I checked my phone. I had a Google Alert notification for Cy Twombly and I'm 99.9% sure it wasn't my hand that set it. It was the Ghost... of Cy Twombly... in the Machine.


Laura Davidson

Laura is a London-based writer, covering emergent themes within digital culture and artistic practices.

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