Listen to Tanja Hollander, curator Denise Markonish, and WAMC’s Sarah LaDuke discuss how Are you really my friend? explores, through portraits and paraphernalia, what friendship means to Tanja and what friendship means today — in the age of social media and easy surface relationships.
In 2011, Maine-based photographer Tanja Alexia Hollander set out to differentiate the actual from the virtual by photographing all 626 of her Facebook friends. Since then, she has traveled across the globe, setting up in-person meetings in her friends’ homes to discover the ways in which friendship is defined, and how permission is granted into one’s private — yet also very public — online life. Through this project, the artist has been able to take the virtual out of friendship.
What began as a personal documentary on friendship and environmental portraiture has turned into an exploration of contemporary culture, relationships, generosity and compassion, family structure, community-building, storytelling, meal-sharing, the economy and class, the relationship between technology and travel in the 21st century, social networking, memory, and the history of the portrait. To accomplish this, Hollander follows in the footsteps of the Farm Security Administration photographers, such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, who documented the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. She is also informed by Robert Frank’s The Americans, an iconic book of photography from 1958, which documents postwar America. Like these historic photographers, Hollander has set out to see America and the world. She is recording how society uses photography, the portrait, and social media to create and define a 21st-century existence.
While Hollander has presented segments of this working project at galleries and museums throughout the world, Are you really my friend? premieres in its entirety at MASS MoCA. Visitors to the museum can expect to find a mix of photographs, video, data visualization/mining, travelogue, and landscape images, along with an interactive element that asks viewers to define what a real friend means to them. In the end, the project, while rooted in Facebook, goes beyond the superficial to explore ideas of interpersonal connections, travel, and community in today’s world.