Harrison details how social media makes us feel as though we’re "employed as administrators for our own lives" in this special text for Oliver Braid’s exhibition My Five New Friends at The Royal Standard in 2012. (Word count: 903)

Oliver Braid’s five new friends – Alex, Arron, Joe, Oskar and Tim – are really only ‘friends’ in the new sense of the word which has emerged over the last few years. I think you know what I’m talking about right?

Being the nerd that I am, I found myself spending quite a large proportion of my ‘days off’ over Christmas sorting through and re-categorising the 1,500-odd ‘friends’ I have accumulated on Facebook over the last five years – painstaking shifting them into a variety of different ‘lists’.

No doubt aware of the ever-expanding network of connections we diehard work-and-leisure Facebook users have, their restless team of developers have recently introduced a new list for ‘close friends’ to enable us to customise our privacy settings, and, should we have the spare time, to sort the wheat from the chaff.

In the six hours I spent meticulously reviewing each of my ‘friend’s’ credentials, I evolved a makeshift set of criteria for deciding who exactly should be granted access to this salubrious inner-circle. I decided that it should only be those who could be described in one or more of the following ways:

  • People who I wouldn’t cringe if I knew had seen the recently uploaded photos of my sad family Christmas
  • People who I have sat in a pub and had an interesting / intimate chat with in the past (or people who I’d like to do this with in the future)
  • People who I fancy N.B.

It was this final category that Oliver also used to select his five new friends. Back in the lonely spring of 2010, as we were both nearing the end of the Master of Fine Art (MFA) course at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) where we first met, they were the five boys from the whole GSA undergraduate, who he fancied the most. They were the ones who he had admired from a distance, watched around the campus, fallen for and then decided to stalk online.

It was Oliver’s naïve belief that incorporating their likenesses (pilfered from their Facebook profiles without their knowledge or consent) into an artwork displayed in the prestigious MFA degree show, would be a beautiful surprise. It would be perceived as the ‘ultimate romantic gesture’ and would flatter them to such an extent that (at least one of the five) would eventually requite his love and they would be married that very summer and live happily ever after…

Things did not go according to plan. But ever optimistic Oliver persevered. The initial horror of these five unsuspecting young art students had, at least, made them aware of his existence, and, initiated a dialogue. Over the next year a series of meetings took place, in which Oliver sought to justify his actions to each of the boys, to get to know them better and to convince them that, despite his slightly unconventional tactics, he really could be the one.

These awkward encounters of forced friendship were, perhaps, doomed to fail. But, obsessively documented and compiled into a secret journal, they formed the starting point for My Five New Friends and were offered up to five filmmakers to interpret (David Hoyle & Lee Baxter, Patrick Staff, Maayke Schurer, Roxy Topia & Paddy Gould and Tether). For the exhibition these films are shown alongside a series of five ‘gifts’ laboriously handcrafted by Oliver for each of the five boys, as his last ditch attempt to win their hearts.

A lot of people take issue with Oliver’s working methodologies. Not least for the outrageous invasion of privacy of his initial subjects, but also for his other rather excessive reliance on collaboration. For My Five New Friends this extends way beyond his first conversations with the chosen boys, to his use of other people’s skills and imagination to visualise his research in the gallery space. (This project alone involves the labour of twelve individual creatives, in addition to the five boys).

But these two tiers of collaboration are, perhaps, key to understanding more about how our social lives have evolved thanks to Facebook. For the consequences of social networking are – to paraphrase one of Oliver’s childhood icons Alanis Morissette – somewhat ironic. On the one hand Facebook appears to allow us intimate and sometimes unlimited access to other people’s lives (especially those not savvy with the privacy settings 😉 ) whilst on the other, in reality, it only serves to confine us further to the loneliness our laptops.

We single artists – the self-employed individuals engrossed in our own self-initiated projects that we are – are particularly at risk of this isolation. In an interview about her early collaborative video-making projects, Miranda July puts forward the notion that ‘it’s always the loneliest people who organise these sorts of things’: that their projects are almost conceived as a necessary reaching out to others. So, for Oliver, as much as it may be misconstrued, collaboration is an important tool in counteracting the atomisation of the Facebook generation, for creating real social networks and hopefully, one day, finding love.

Ellie Harrison
Artist, flatmate and ‘close friend’

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Note: If you are considering using similar criteria to help with your own Facebook organisation, I recommend you regularly review and update your ‘close friends’ list. I have found that my feelings about these people change quite dramatically over time. Recommended reshuffle frequency = every six months.