The Simulated Metropolis

Art and Identity Within the Network

By Leah St. Lawrence, Feature Editor 37.1

In our physical city centers, we regularly encounter artistic and personal expressions as street performances, community engagements (street fairs/ marches), public art, and manifestations of subcultures. These experiences are now similarly presented in the digital world through our participation in the simulated metropolis of online social networks. This ARCADE feature highlights artists, curators, and writers who use these technological platforms—such as Instagram and Tumblr—and emerging technologies—such as VR/AR headsets and immersive content—to carve out digital space for self-expression and community. Ranging from poeticisms, manifesto manifestations, an interview to musings, the works presented in this issue can be understood as contemporary public performances, constructed and shared digitally, that mirror societal issues we regularly encounter in our tangible lives.

In November, the New York Times Magazine published an article titled “On Instagram, Seeing Between the (Gender) Lines” by Jenna Wortham. Wortham discusses how social media equips nonbinary and queer individuals with a powerful way to explore and share their identities. To enter digital space as a truly anonymous individual is to be able to build a unique self—a digital identity that manifests our desire for an authentic existence.

As a result, we are seeing an increasing number of identity based and conceptual artists integrating technology and social media into their work—sometimes as the main platform. In this feature, digital artist and performer Coley Mixan translates their hyperfemme, queer, and antipatriarchal artistic practice into manifesto-esque dialogue. Performance artist and writer Patty Gone brings images and text from their online (YouTube) soap opera series, Painted Dreams, to us in the form of a script. In the following pages, the reader will also find a poetic collaboration between Liz Mputu and Kemi Adeyemi, which draws from Mputu’s work creating POC/queer-centered digital spaces through online platforms such as NewHive and Facebook. Queer identity and the experience of the black body both online and engaged within a white patriarchal society represents the cornerstone of their expressions. What do Kemi, Liz, Coley, and Patty gain by performing identity online? Accessibility to a thriving network. This utilization of digital platforms revitalizes their original intent: to connect us with specified communities and link us in a globalized world.

The simple fact that we exist within our constructed digital spaces as we exist in our cities means that we have a right to alter, use, and conceptualize them in new ways—or to harken back to a spirit of advancement, which we are always in danger of straying from. Our potential to “stray” is the focus of Seattle-based artist Aidan Fitzgerald’s performance, Work Day, which he discusses in his essay “Online Gluttony.” Fitzgerald’s performance is a commentary on the massive influx of online content we experience through our phones and the resulting overstimulation. Artists such as Reilly Donovan, however, approach electronic media from a humanistic point of view, showcasing the potential of these technologies to connect rather than overwhelm.

New media curator Julia Greenway brings digital work to physical spaces, creating powerful manifestations of digital translation, which allow users to interact bodily with formations of the network. The representation of the digital as a textual narrative can be more difficult because it reduces the physical interaction to a cerebral one, resulting in certain elements of the presentation being inherently incomplete. This feature introduces digital and electronic work in a catalogue like format, but each contribution begs for further engagement in its original, digital context. I would encourage you, our readers, to seek out and experience the work of these artists and thinkers within the shared simulated city—online.

Leah St. Lawrence is an art critic, new media curator, NewHive advocate, and chair enthusiast. St. Lawrence writes about and curates contemporary new media, digital interaction, and online engagement—specifically related to political/social/LGBTQI issues. You can contact St. Lawrence through her website: