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Emotional Connection in a Digital Age: Ze Frank

The importance of emotional connections is key to understanding the possibilities offered by certain new media technologies.  While the shift has occurred gradually, it became increasingly easier to bridge large distances with one’s laptop and a webcam.  The novelty of these rules provides artists with new experimental terrain to explore and push the boundaries of the vast social network.  Each medium over time establishes new rules, which eventually get torn down and reimagined. New media art is a nebulous term meant to define the use of technology to innovate new visual ground.

The collaborative and connective nature of certain technologies provides audiences a new form of community, a new form of connection, across a number of different forums. Kit Calloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz used satellites to connect audiences from New York City and Los Angeles, in a project called Hole in Space (1980). This new innovation is staggering, and yet, commonplace given the Skype and other such technologies that allow for instant technological connections across the board.

My favorite vlogger and web personality, Ze Frank uses new media technology for the purpose of providing his many disparate viewers a place to connect and create a social space for his audience. In a number of projects – he is the catalyst for these interactions – he conceives of a collaborative project. This TEDtalk lecture from 2010, wherein he discusses his numerous projects, speaks of his desire to create a shared social space for his audience.

Among the projects he heralds, Frank’s vlog is collaborative. In two separate video logs, on titled The Show with Ze Frank (March 2006 - March 2007) and the other called A Show with Ze Frank (May 2012 – present), he allows his audience to submit videos, logs, blogs, comments, and introductions to the videos. In a number of projects, he encourages audiences to remix a song about workplace frustrations, to sign a portion of a song for a struggling member of the audience, or even write portions of a song that eventually became composed by 2601 people.  These collaborative projects are emotional and evocative in nature. Click here to watch it.

In one fascinating project, Frank opened a hotline for people to excise specific alienating feelings of deeply rooted sadness and dread on an answering machine.  With the submitters’ permission, he sent the audio recordings of their confessionals to DJs, who promptly chopped and remixed the content to become music.  The project - titled PainPack - illustrates perfectly Frank’s unique position as a catalyst for understandably exciting projects, and as a person seeking to understand new media in an all-too-human way.

At its roots, new media technology provides new opportunities for a new set of rules and connections.  It is this that Frank seeks to mine - in a similar way to that of Calloway and Rabinowitz - the deep need for connection.  As he states in the TEDtalk, he discusses the need “to feel and be felt”.

(Source: artandsciencejournal.com)

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