Is it possible to create an entire community out of a single document? Artist Matthew Britton is currently putting this question to the test. The process is as simple as it gets. All Britton did was create a blank document on Google Docs on the twenty first of November, and made it open to the public. He titled it “Art Squad”.
“The virtual art community uses Google Docs’ shareable word processing platform to create an endlessly evolving digital graffiti free-for-all” (hyperallergic.com).
Various screenshots of the document have been taken by the authors and users alike which is clever considering that with each “refresh” there is something new to be seen on the document. With no guidelines given with its creation. Anyone and everyone can contribute to the document—the only thing necessary to do so is internet access and the link.
At 5:55pm today, November 29th, 2015 I took a screenshot of the document. It is now 5:58pm and the document has changed from a bright blue background to a deep maroon-ish purple, and the photos of raccoons have been replaced by badgers. My own contribution to the document is in the screenshot above. In response to text saying “shit may happen”, I responded that “shit always happens”. “Always” was later underlined by a different contributor.
“I’ve especially enjoyed how the document title has changed several times, from the original ‘art squad’ to ‘ART SKWAD’ and even to ‘Bart squad’ which was my personal favorite,” Britton says. Britton had no real, concrete intention with the creation of the “Art Squad” document. He is just as eager as anyone else to see what will become of the space he created. Currently, twenty two people including myself are contributing to the document. Observing the constant changes that it is undergoing right before your eyes is surprisingly a very amusing experience. Being able to contribute myself to the piece added something special to my understanding of the artwork itself. It makes the contributors feel a part of something—even if they are not sure what it really is.
At first, I did not really understand the excitement or perhaps “badass” feeling of contributing to this Google Doc. As a university student who uses Google Docs on a regular basis, I was not sure how exactly this differed. Rather than using the platform as a way to write papers with colleagues or study for an exam last minute, “Art Squad” (now titled “artz squartz”) is a document to contribute to without any boundaries. Quite frankly, when I had learned about Britton’s project I thought it a waste of time.
That is until I read that the page was removed by Google, because it “violated the organization’s Terms of Service”. Britton asked Google to review their decision, and the project was later reinstated. Suddenly, the document seemed worthwhile enough to save it under my Bookmarks tab. The threat of the page being taken down again and knowing it was a pain in Google’s side made the project itself that much more interesting and worthwhile to me. Suddenly, I felt this “trollish” thrill of easily defacing public property anonymously.
The document itself is not aesthetically pleasing whatsoever—in fact, it is quite a sight for sore eyes. The concept, however, is artistic in its creation of a pseudo utopia where anyone and everyone is welcome to contribute. No contribution would be too outlandish, and the aspect of anonymity saves face for anyone who worries about the social repercussions of their contribution. That is probably what stands out to me the most about Matthew Britton’s document.
Unlike most public art that includes its audiences, digital art allows a sense of anonymity for any audience member to utilize. The risk of social ridicule is reduced greatly when the public space is digital as opposed to real life. In the real world, not many people would willingly contribute to a public art piece, especially if someone they knew could see them and possibly harass them for it. The digital public space seems significantly more “free” than that of real world public space as well. Of course, as Google has demonstrated, there are legal restrictions to what is put out in the digital world. However, people have increased opportunity to say or express things they normally would not face to face and somewhat escape social consequences in response. Online, people can truly express themselves without restriction, and Matthew Britton’s Google doc is an open space to do so. How one truly expresses themselves with pictures of raccoons and badgers is beyond me, but that is none of my business.
Here is the link to the document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HAJA4lC2ZFpIEIe7ADefSCUAkUUOPHNfNJo4Rdq97qo/edit