Evan Roth, floating between worlds

TED Talk

Evan Roth at Eyebeam in NYC. Photo courtesy of Evan Roth.

Evan Roth is an absolute king of viral art. Many of his projects, whether on his own or with the art laboratories F.A.T. Lab or Graffiti Research Lab, are made for the Bored at Work Network, and his projects are often designed or at least announced with the aim of going viral. Roth tries to make work that simultaneously appeals to two audiences: The art world and the Bored At Work Network. Most, but not all, of Roth’s viral art projects fall under the category of organic viral art.

Roth (along with Jamie Wilkinson and James Powderly) has even taught a class on how to be “internet famous.” As part of that class, Roth wrote a blog post with eight tips for going viral. An artist following Roth’s tips and thinking about them from the start of a project is probably trying to make organic viral art, even though most of the tips have little to do with the artwork itself but rather how to promote it.

A work from Evan Roth’s TSA Communication series. Photo courtesy of Evan Roth.

A work from Evan Roth’s TSA Communication series. Photo courtesy of Evan Roth.

To highlight just one of Roth’s organic viral artworks, with TSA Communication series, he took a very private artwork and turned it into something viral. Roth made a series of metal signs with text such as “NOTHING TO SEE HERE” and put them in his carry-on bag at airports so that could be read by the employee at the X-ray scanner as his bag passed through. But he didn’t want only TSA employees to know what he was doing, even if the work was theirs to see on their monitors. The signs had a political motivation and needed to be shared with a wider audience. So, naturally, Roth photographed the signs and documented his experiences using them at airports, eventually posting those results online. It’s really no different from a graffiti writer painting in an abandoned building and posting photos of that work online, except that I think most people probably wouldn’t think of TSA Communications public art, street art or graffiti. Like with Banksy’s work in Mali, the setting and the performance provided context for the component of the artwork that Roth physically manufactured and the context completed the piece. It’s important to note that documentation of the TSA Communication series was meant to be seen by a large audience. Graffiti writers can paint in abandoned places without any intention of sharing the work, but as much as Roth might have been trying to entertain TSA employees, he was also clearly hoping to get his project in front of as many people as possible and join in a conversation.

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