Most Ephs use Snapchat as a way of communicating with and entertaining friends across campus, or to gain their 15 seconds of fame through a feature on the NESCAC Snapchat story. The artist otherwise known as first-year Gabe Wexler ’19, however, sees Snapchat as an artistic medium.
“I’m experimenting with Snapchat as a vehicle for performance or dissemination of imagery,” Wexler said. So far, he has been dedicating most of his snaps to longer video stories, such as one he showed me depicting various external views of Mission Park. “They’re not narrative pieces; they’re very spontaneous,” Wexler said of his work. “I try to find uncommon perspectives of spaces around [campus] and highlight those and move through those perspectives – perspectives that you normally wouldn’t see or care about – and compile them.”
Snapchat is just one example of the digital art that interests Wexler. Although he has taken formal courses in photography and graphic design, Wexler said he is “more interested in now getting away from more familiar media,” and, instead, looking at some less-conventional forms of art. For instance, rather than exploring the ways websites, hyperlinks and files are used as a means of showcasing art, Wexler is inspired by art that incorporates this technology itself.
Wexler cites Eva and Franco Mattes’s website piece “Life Sharing” as one of his favorite examples of this type of digital art. “Life Sharing,” whose title is an anagram of “file sharing,” is “sort of like a window into [the artists’] personal computer that anyone could come and look at in sort of a voyeuristic sense,” Wexler explained. “But it’s also concerned with issues of privacy and things on the Internet. Anyone could just visit their website and look at any file in their computer or from their email, which exposes you so much. It’s really scary to think about.”
Wexler also admires the digital artist and game developer known as Porpentine. “She tells these surreal sci-fi stories in a game that’s a choose-your-own-adventure format crossed with the structure of Wikipedia,” Wexler said of Porpentine. “So there’s a section of text and then a set of hyperlinks you can choose from to advance the story.”
In addition to Snapchat, Wexler has also been experimenting a lot with a form of art called “glitch art.” “Glitch art takes an existing image and purposefully corrupts its data to break it and come up with something new,” Wexler said. The source image can be anything, from a digitized copy of a Rembrandt painting to a selfie. “The results are highly varied and highly unpredictable but it’s exciting to try one thing, see what the results look like and try something else and play around with it,” Wexler said. “It can be very therapeutic.”
These various art forms and philosophies were the subject of Wexler’s Free University class, “Ephemerides: Time, Space and Conceptual Digital Art,” which he taught on Mondays this Winter Study and describes as “just sort of an exploration.”
“It’s not really me imparting knowledge but more us as a class talking about these things and forming some sort of opinion on them,” Wexler said.
Wexler has yet to take an art history course at the College but is looking forward to taking a studio art class called “Art into Activism” with Professor Laylah Ali ’91 in the spring. Last semester, Wexler completed the theater department’s “Introduction to Theatre Technology” and, although he is only a first-year, he has already been involved in doing lighting for two of the department’s plays – a responsibility he also had at his high school near Chicago and hopes to continue pursuing over his time at the College. Though Wexler is very interested in art, he is, like many Ephs, a true liberal arts student. “Ideally, I would major in poetics, magic and nonsense,” Wexler said. “But I’m leaning towards a math major.”
In general, Wexler says there are lots of distinctions he would like to destroy. “The distinction between math and science and the humanities or art – I think that’s a pretty silly distinction,” Wexler said, “And digital art – that’s almost an oxymoron in that division [between digital and non-digital art] now that we’re bringing them together. And I want to destroy the barrier between the everyday and the artistic, in the sense that in my day-to-day life, I want to be more attentive to beauty in the world in ways that are not super acknowledged or appreciated, which connects to the perspective that I try to capture in my Snapchat stories.”