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Teenage Kicks: How Stuart Semple’s Pictures Came and Broke My Heart
by Jonathan R Jones
“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.”
François de la Rochefoucauld, quoted by Donna Tartt in The Goldfinch
My loneliness is killing me…
“Public and private spaces have become inverted. We’re on view all the time. And whereas this used to be something only of concern to those in the public eye, it has implications for all of us now. If you’ve ever untagged yourself in a photo then you’re the same as Lady Gaga; you’re in the business of managing your brand.” Stuart Semple
On Monday 10 August 2015 a teenage boy yawned from the dock during his two-hour court appearance, facing a change of grievous bodily harm with intent. Earlier this year the 14-year-old got into an argument with his teacher Vincent Uzomah at school in Bradford in the north of England. Refusing to surrender his gold iPhone, he stabbed Uzomah in the stomach, puncturing his bowel. After the attack he updated his Facebook status: “The motherfucker getin [sic] funny so I stick the blade straight in his tummy.” The post had soon gained 69 likes.
The anonymity of the perpetrator was a cause of concern for many in online forums. Following the sentence, readers of The Daily Mail – the UK’s print answer to Fox News – took to the paper’s online edition to post their views. “ozy” from Cambridge posted “I never understand this nonsense about not naming a criminal because of age. If he’s able to stab someone and happy to share the details on Facebook, I really don’t see why he should remain anonymous.” “Bluto Mactavish” from Bradford had a more medieval suggestion: “He ought to be branded so on his release people will know he is a dangerous criminal.” Others suggested an even stronger punishment. “jodaco” from Woking asked “ What happened to hard labour and the rope?”, whilst “MANUgirl” from Manchester simply stated “It should be put down”.
…and it feels better than love…
“My art isn’t about art, it’s about people. I’m fed up with art just ‘presenting’ things. Come on, tell us! Point to a solution. Or even just point to a problem if you don’t know the solution. I know it’s old fashioned to re-present something but when you re-present something you can express an opinion about something. And you can be a human in the process.” Stuart Semple
In October 2012 15-year-old Amanda Todd posted a YouTube video. In it she used flashcards to describe her experience of having been convinced to show her breasts on a video chat site called BlogTV. Someone had recorded her. A year later, he contacted her on Facebook, threatening to distribute the images unless she performed more explicit acts on camera. When she refused, the blackmailer released the images. She took her own life on Wednesday 10 October 2012.
Ask.fm is a global social networking site with over 150 million unique users each month. Users can send each other questions, with many choosing to do so anonymously. In November 2012, an anonymous user asked 16-year-old Jessica Laney what she thought about suicide. Others asked if she was a virgin and described her as a “fuckin ugly ass hoe.” Posted almost three years ago, these comments are still easily accessible online. “Can you kill yourself already?” asked one commenter, whilst another wrote, “Nobody even cares about you.” Laney took her own life on Sunday 9 December 2012. Friends set up a Facebook page called “RIP Jessica Laney”. At the time of writing it has 3,749 likes.
…here we are now, entertain us…
“Erasure can be a creative act, not just a destruction. It relates to memory. And obsolescence. How things are replaced and refreshed, like your social media feed.” Stuart Semple
For the last twenty years there have been calls to reopen the investigation of Kurt Cobain’s death, most recently via a sustained Twitter campaign. In 1994 the Seattle Police Department recommended a verdict of suicide, following the discovery of Cobain’s body by an electrician entering his home near Lake Washington.
In March 2014 police released apparently previously undeveloped 35mm film images of the death scene. CBS news cooed: “A cigarette lighter, a pack of cigarettes, a winter hat, cigarette butts, a wallet and sunglasses lie on the floor strewn around Cobain’s heroin kit, depicting a sadly iconic rock and roll tragedy.” Other images showed a name tag which appeared to relate to a hospital admission on Cobain’s arm, his ‘suicide’ note, and a bag of ammunition resting by his foot.
“Inevitably these images will wind up on the internet,” Cobain’s widow Courtney Love said in a declaration filed in support of the City Attorney’s effort to block release of the photos. “I have never seen these graphic and disturbing images, nor do I ever want to. I cannot believe that there exists any genuine public interest which might be served by the public release of these images.”
…why don’t you come on over, Valerie?
“Online it feels like the ultimate quest is to be liked. Or to have have some kind of ‘success’. Which trickles into celebrity. It plays into the Warholian ‘fifteen minutes of fame’. But I think online it’s more like fifteen seconds.” Stuart Semple
In 1967 Valerie Solanas published SCUM Manifesto, a radical feminist treatise. In some sources, ‘SCUM’ appears as the acronym S. C. U. M (for ‘Society for Cutting Up Men’). The work, which some believe to be intended as a work of satire, might have been largely forgotten now had Solanas not gone on the following year to shoot Andy Warhol. On 3 June 1968 she entered the Factory and openedd fire on Warhol, art critic Mario Amaya, and Warhol’s manager Fred Hughes.
Solanas’ definition of men in the SCUM Manifesto might fittingly describe the online persona of some individuals of both genders today: “The male is completely egocentric, trapped inside himself, incapable of empathizing or identifying with others, or love, friendship, affection or tenderness. He is a completely isolated unit, incapable of rapport with anyone.”
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: www.afsp.org
National Suicide Prevention Helpline: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
No Bullying: nobullying.com
Stop Bullying: www.stopbullying.gov
Stuart Semple’s words are taken from the author’s interview with the artist on Wednesday 5 August 2015.