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Horse_ebooks on Twitter (screenshot via Twitter)

@Horse_ebooks, that paragon of Twitter non sequitur humor, has turned out to be the “conceptual art” handiwork of Jacob Bakkila, a Buzzfeed “creative strategist,” and Thomas Bender. The duo is also responsible for the similarly-conceived YouTube channel Pronunciation Book. This was revealed at 10am EDT today in a coordinated spectacle of some kind in the Lower East Side’s Fitzroy Gallery; the news broke in a blog post by the New Yorker‘s Susan Orlean. Orlean, who reportedly appears in a video projection at the gallery — though she does not disclose any affiliation in her story — began her dispatch with an announcement: “The Internet is full of mysteries.” It sure is: artists have been using Twitter for years.

No horses were harmed in the creation of this GIF.

Bakkila and Bender write that their project is “influenced by data” in an explanatory panel of text accompanying the gallery event. Forget, for a second, that this is a meaningless thing to say, especially since @Horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book traffic in a seemingly narrow corpus of English language texts from which they ingest aleatory fragments for regurgitation on Twitter and Youtube. As a Twitter account, @Horse_ebooks was no doubt successful, an entertainment that played on an ironic view of (self-)publishing, the comedy of seemingly random snippets of “bad” language and ribald spambots. The YouTube channel, though somewhat different and less popular, seems to have similarly resonated.

A popular @Horse_ebooks tweet.

But if evasion is profound and “data” an acceptable impetus for this drive-by bricolage of mimetic phrases and fragments, their approach to conceptualism is still hard to parse. A surfeit of retweets does not an artwork make. If Bakkila and Bender were influenced by data, theirs is the squandered inheritance of Dada’s heirs, the Lettrists of the 1940s. Lettrism, which took a recombinative approach to newspapers, pamphlets, and other artifacts of the printed word, elevated into an artform some of the approaches to language that the @Horse_ebooks project haphazardly clobbers. Orlean indulges this morning’s affair, during which a phone line could be called for a reading of tweets, as “a performance that is the final flourish in this suite of conceptual-art pieces, weaving together @Horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book.” At Fitrzoy, the pair also introduced a forthcoming “choose-your-own-adventure interactive-video piece” called Bear Sterns Bravo.

It doesn’t help that the intellectual scaffolding of conceptual and performance art was and remains rickety. Even Sol LeWitt’s seminal “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” which appeared in Artforum in June 1967, presages this type of free-for-all, offering a disjointed definition of in-crowd conceptualism while grasping for exclusionary tenets. The only thing we get from LeWitt in the way of a negative definition circles around the very thing that seems to be the foundation for @Horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book’s novelty: “New materials are one of the great afflictions of contemporary art. Some artists confuse new materials with new ideas.”

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Mostafa Heddaya

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.

One reply on “From Weird Twitter to Mundane Conceptualism: The @Horse_ebooks Story”

  1. “influenced by data” they meant the guy on Star Trek and Bender is a robot anyway.

    “The Internet is full of mysteries.” someone who says that prefers a world they can filter like a Brita, at a safe distance on a screen, somewhere that has no smell or texture.

    I feel the art accurately reflects this. Not sure why anyone would want to go to the bother though?

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