In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Multiple Exposures:Sean Fader's #Wishingpelt And Humor In Social Media Performance
  • David J. Getsy (bio)

It was a laughable premise. Sean Fader staged a performance at a 2014 art fair in New York City in which he invited participants to rub his chest hair and make a wish. And they did. Lots of them. He and I are good friends, and he told me about his plans for #wishingpelt in advance. I told him not to do it, and I was worried that it would make his work seem unserious. I didn't get that the joke was the bait, and the ludicrousness of the situation was a Trojan Horse.

For the past ten years, Fader has been using social media as a photographic and collaborative medium (rather than just a distribution platform), and he designed #wishingpelt for the context of an art fair with its saturation of art-related information, commerce, aspiration, and attention-grabbing. Participants queued up for the event, and Fader stood on a spot-lit pedestal in a darkened room, with attendants managing the crowd. As each participant was called, they were asked to hand their phone to the attendant who then directed the participant to ascend the pedestal, rub Fader's ample pelt, and whisper a wish into his ear. The wish was sealed when the attendant photographed the scene and the participant posted the photograph on Instagram with the titular hashtag. In its art fair premiere, the performance went

Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

Sean Fader, #wishingpelt Instagram image #907 (2014). Digital photograph posted on Instagram from PULSE Art Fair, New York. Image courtesy of the artist.

[End Page 515] on every day for five days, with Fader standing motionless on the platform for the full opening hours of the fair—for a total of almost fifty hours. Since its inception, over 2,500 people have posted hashtagged images from the performance.1

Infiltrating the buzz of the art fair, word of #wishingpelt spread fast. The line was long, creating a scene. Photographs of Fader popped up in more and more social media feeds. Instagram had only recently become a major lubricant of the art world, and at this time in the dawn of the age of influencers it was still often used as visual diaries.2 A crucial part of Fader's work was the co-option of this social medium as a site of performance. Fader activated the potential of hashtags to metastasize, and soon Instagram feeds throughout the fair (and beyond) were flooded with more and more of these posts. Fader's performance overtook the art fair as his photographs appeared on thousands of hand-held screens. The images seemed earnest to some and, to others, as risible, but their unorthodoxy and consistent visual style drew attention, comment, interest, and more sharing and searching of the #wishingpelt hashtag. The absurd premise of Fader's performance acted as lure, with incredulous fairgoers becoming unsure about how to manage (or avoid) this distributed performance. #wishingpelt persisted after the fair, but it is important to understand that it was also a live durational performance involving hundreds of participants (both active and passive) that occurred on and through social media across those five days.

Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

Sean Fader, #wishingpelt Instagram image #1479 (2014). Digital photograph posted on Instagram from PULSE Art Fair, New York. Image courtesy of the artist.

The performance co-opted the social media platforms with which members of the art world follow trends, present themselves, and decide priorities. In these practices, the individual photographic image is only one component of a larger, exponential circulation of images, hashtags, and viewer comments online. The critical effect of Fader's #wishingpelt was to expose the instrumentalization of social media while, at the same time, to offer alternative sites of real-time connection and exchange in the form of the live performance.3

Despite the work's humor, it was not cynical. I've talked to Fader a lot about his experience, and he has repeatedly told me that it was moving and emotional. However ludicrous the premise might have been, the people who...