On a Sunday afternoon in 2012 while searching through Twitter, Robert Montgomery’s girlfriend came across a photograph of a tattoo reading “THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE BECOME GHOSTS INSIDE OF YOU AND LIKE THIS YOU KEEP THEM ALIVE” on the arm of a 22-year old hairdresser from Culver City, California. Just the Thursday before, Montgomery had an exhibition opening in London in which a sculpture of this text was displayed. The visitors took photographs of the textual sculptures, which they then posted on Facebook and Twitter to circulate around the web, eventually to appear on the computer screen of this woman, and then on her forearm, and then back into the Twitter feed. Over the course of three days, the text’s medium expanded from one to four – a light-based sculpture became a digital image, which became a tattoo on someone’s body, which itself became a digital image. Commenting on this sort of immediate mass-circulation of his work, Montgomery says that “it proves that first, [public installations] are a good medium for poetry, and secondly, the Internet is a really good medium for poetry” (Kaczor, 2012).
Montgomery’s texts travel through many mediums and occupy far more locations than on the streets and in galleries. The artist uses the Internet to promote his site-specific works, and has a heavy presence on social media sites. Through these digital outlets, the artist’s texts travel into various communities of people all over the world, communities far beyond the reach of the contemporary art audience and far beyond the reach that a billboard would have in the streets of London (Simpson, 2012). His words transcend geographical and temporal location. However, the photographs on the web are often unlabeled in circulation. The artist’s name isn’t always mentioned when his photographs are shared. His signature doesn’t appear on a tattoo. The location of the texts’ original installation is rarely specified on social media sites – they are not even given on the artist’s web page.
The artist’s digital presence acts in a way as a foil for his presence on the street. The artist’s public billboards are untitled and anonymous, so most of the public that interacts with these works does not know of Montgomery or his artistic mission. This anonymity means that the texts must stand on their own; they must contain an element of the universal, despite language/translation boundaries, so that broad audiences can relate to and understand the texts. This is also true for his works’ placement on the Internet – without cataloging from a gallery or museum, the text and poetry gain autonomy from the sphere of the art world and gain agency through their circulation.
Through digitally collecting his global yet site-specific artworks on his website, Montgomery could in theory create a virtual map or tour of the world through his installations. He has not yet done so. The photographs on his site are not labeled with a title and do not state the location in which each text was installed; this lack of geographical designation distances his words from their context, yet they still retain impact and meaning.
Montgomery’s position as editor of Dazed & Confused Magazine provides further access to the artist’s creative and thought processes and also provides other mediums of communication and display for his text. Montgomery describes himself as a street artist, a title exemplified, if not exacerbated, by his contextually changing public identities as artist, poet, publisher, writer, Facebook user, Instagram user, and fashion designer. Montgomery’s presence within a variety of social and artistic spheres provides for him a wide and heterogeneous audience, and his use of the digital space capitalizes on the vast outlets for communication now provided by the Web.
Kermarrec sites that the social dimension creates tremendous new opportunities for information exchange over the Internet, as exemplified by the exponential growth of social networks and collaborative platforms; Robert Montgomery has capitalized on the rise of social networks, using them as a means of promoting his art, sharing his poetry, and tracking their impact and reach (Kermarrec, 2013).
Montgomery’s Digital Presence
Montgomery’s Contact, as provided on his website: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kaczor, Eva. (2012). “Up and Coming Artist: Robert Montgomery.” Art Berlin. Berlin: Germany. http://www.artberlin.de/kuenstler/robert-montgomery/
Kermarrec, AM. 2013. Towards a personalized Internet: a case for a full decentralization. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 371, 20120380.
Nuvolari, Jacopo. (2012). “Preposterous/Robert Montgomery.” In 1883 Magazine. http://www.1883magazine.com/art-exhibitions/art-exhibition/preposterous-robert-montgomery
Simpson, Ashley W. (2012). “Word on the Street: Robert Montgomery.” In Interview Magazine. http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/robert-montgomery/#_