The Peep Diaries: Chapter 1
The same could be said of many of the current generation of Peep documentaries. The 2008 lineup for the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto, one of the world's premier festivals for documentary, was awash in the undertaking of personal journeys that, just coincidentally, happen to occur with the camera on. Randomly picking one day, I see that twenty-three films are playing. Eight of them, or just about one-third of the day's program, are part of what I consider to be Peep culture. For example, there's Wild Blue Yonder, in which Celia Maysles explores her acclaimed filmmaking father's absent presence in a "first-person search for answers in images, in the hope they might bring back the dead." Then there's Second Skin, which peeps into the lives of those devoted to Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) gaming, including Second Life and World of Warcraft. In the film, "four friends bond and break up; a couple falls in love without meeting; a disabled man grows wings; a gaming addict enters rehab." Then there's Searching for Sandeep: "Poppy sends Sandeep a camera and we watch as their virtual long-distance crush blossoms into a very real physical relationship. But they face obstacles greater than the vast oceans that separate them. Sandeep is Sikh, lives at home with her conservative family and, at 31, is still in the closet about her sexuality." Finally, there's a documentary that tells the story of, as the title puts it, The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins. It's about New York artist Vanessa Beecroft's attempt to adopt Sudanese twins while making art that tackles the theme of Western neglect of Africa.
As Beecroft's creative choices, life choices, and "true story" merge, so too do the forms of documentary and art. Documentary is increasingly driven by the paradigms of Peep—real-life revelation for the purposes of entertainment and catharsis (entertaining catharsis)—and art is increasingly about turning individual life into a vehicle for self-revelation, narrative reinvention, and, inevitably, entertainment. I know of at least two projects centered around artists taking photographs of everything they've eaten over the course of a month or a year. London-based Lebanese artist Mona Hatoum has exhibited photos and videos of the interior of her body as a camera is inserted and passed through various orifices. Berlin-based Canadian artist Michelle Teran stages public screenings of CCTV camera feeds showing back alleys and baby's bedrooms. New Jersey art professor Hasan Elah has put more than 20,000 time-stamped photos of himself online after the FBI mistakenly put him on a terrorist watch list. Margot Lovejoy's Turns, an online work displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is composed of the contributions of viewers who write essays about important moments in their lives. The essays can, in turn, be sifted through and sorted by viewers, who are invited to add to the project. Finally and decisively, prizewinning German artist Gregor Schneider has proposed putting a dying person on display in a gallery. "The dying person would determine everything in advance, he would be the absolute centre of attention," Schneider told the London Times. "Everything will be done in consultation with the relatives, and the public will watch the death in an appropriately private atmosphere." These Peep artists, a small sample of what's out there, suggest not just how much Peep is happening but how much remains yet to be understood, explored, and known about this shift to Peep culture. Artists explore the gaps in culture, the cracks where meanings dissemble, and so it's no accident that they are increasingly attuned to the multiple meanings and endless fragmentation that Peep represents.